October is American Archives Month (and North Carolina Archives Month), and here at Davidson’s Archives & Special Collections, we’ve had a busy few weeks of sharing stories, leading class discussions, promoting archival advocacy, and assisting users! Here’s a few highlights of what public-facing activities each member of our team did this month:
Jan Blodgett, College Archivist and Records Management Coordinator:
The archives and special collections staff have previously written here in Around the D about our enthusiasmforandcollaborations with the college’s budding Digital Studies initiative. At the end of 2013, Davidson was awarded an $800,000 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant in order to “create a curricular model of digital studies that can be replicated by other small liberal arts colleges.” According to the 2014 – 2015 College Catalog, Digital Studies at Davidson “gives students an opportunity to pursue coursework and research related to the digital tools, cultures, and practices that permeate everyday life” by focusing on three areas: digital creativity, digital culture, and digital methodology.
As we prepare to work with several digital studies and digitally-inflected courses this upcoming semester, we’d like to share a peek into the history of academic computing at Davidson. One of our volunteers in the archives, Loretta Wertheimer (mother of history professor John Wertheimer), came across this October 11, 1962 memorandum from President David Grier Martin (Class of 1932) to all faculty members as she worked on President Martin’s papers:
President Martin’s closing remark, “that computers will inevitably influence thinking in many fields and therefore it is highly desirable that Davidson students and faculty should have first hand experience with one,” seems particularly apt. We’re looking forward to another semester of the Davidson community experimenting and learning using our now numerous computers – just as we have been for over 50 years!
Professional development is integral to all of the library staff here at Davidson College, so with that in mind, the Discovery Systems team sent three of its members to the Society of North Carolina Archivists (SNCA) annual conference last week – myself, Jan Blodgett, and Susan Kerr. While we all often attend meetings, conferences, and other trainings, we usually reserve our discussion of takeways, thoughts, and interesting ideas to in-person weekly departmental meetings. We thought that my first SNCA meeting would be a great opportunity to compare and contrast what the Davidson attendees got out of the meeting. So, first up: my takeaways!
To start off the morning, Jan moderated the “Publishing and Managing Digital Collections without CONTENTdm” session, which I presented at. The session was a great opportunity to talk about our ongoing development and roll-out of our institutional repository, as well as to hear about how two other institutions are dealing with increasingly larger and larger digital collections.
One of the sessions that made the biggest impact on me was “North Carolina and the Digital Public Library of America.” I’ve long been fascinated by the DPLA, and hearing about contributing to the DPLA from the point of view of the staff of a service hub (the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center) and from a contributing institution (Wake Forest University) definitely inspired me to think about whether an agile development cycle like the one employed at Wake Forest might work for Davidson. We currently have contributed 404 items to the DPLA, but this is a great time to plan what our next contributions and digitization projects will be.
Another one of my favorite parts of the day was the plenary luncheon presentation by Sarah E. Koonts, Director of the North Carolina Division of Archives and Records. Koonts filled in SNCA members on trends from archives around the U.S., with a focus on advocacy and outreach. Throughout the day of the SNCA conference, I was liveblogging as part of my participation in Day of DH, a digital humanities community-building project. I wrote a bit more on my blog there about what I got out of the plenary, but my main takeaway is that archival advocacy is incredibly important to the field, yet often hard to teach in graduate programs.
When I asked Susan about what she felt the biggest takeaways from SNCA were, she emphasized the serendipitous nature of discovering new tools and methods when at professional gatherings. In particular, she’s been playing around with Jason Ronallo’s (North Carolina State University) CSV-to-EAD conversion application, Stead, and freeformatter.com‘s CSV-to-XML convertor since SNCA.
Jan also got a lot out of attending SNCA this year – in her own words:
I’ve never stopped to count but I’ve probably been to 30+ SNCA meetings during my time at Davidson. Over these years I’ve gained much support, information, professional growth and new ideas from SNCA and this meeting was no exception. My official duties in relation to this springs’ SNCA meeting included being a part of the nominating committee and moderating a panel. Unofficially, it was a time to reconnect with colleagues, chat at poster sessions, and gather ideas for new projects.
After a presentation by archivists at UNC Greensboro, highest on my “let’s do” list is getting our scrapbooks digitized. We have scanned individual images but have yet to tackle the trickier process of scanning whole pages. My first thoughts were of our student scrapbooks – and following UNC-G’s example, I began mentally counting all the scrapbooks from student organizations and campus departments. The numbers could be a bit daunting but bringing Davidson history online through the scrapbooks is an exciting prospect.
We each left the SNCA conference with a different set of takeaways… now to get to work figuring out what we can implement!
Astute readers may have noticed a new name join Jan (the College Archivist and Records Management Coordinator) and Sharon (the Special Collections Outreach Librarian) here on Around the D – mine, as a matter of fact! I joined the staff of E.H. Little Library as the Associate Archivist back in October, and inspired by my old graduate school colleague Stephanie Bennett‘s recent post on what archival processing is all about, I decided to write about what I do on a day-to-day basis. So, notes and highlights on what each day of the first week of classes for the Spring 2014 semester held for the Associate Archivist of Davidson College:
MONDAY (January 13)
Generally, the first thing I do when I get into the office each morning is make a cup of tea and catch up with my inbox. On Monday mornings, there’s usually several dozen unread emails – in part because I subscribe to an assortment of professional listservs.
Post-email-checking, I updated the Archives & Special Collections Twitter, and then went to a Discovery Systems departmental meeting on student workers (possible projects, how many summer students, etc.). I spent the rest of the morning preparing for a class visit to the archives later in the day (including selecting documents and setting up their display with Jan), and working on the Around the D entry to post on Wednesday morning. Sharon and I nailed down a few details related the illumination live demonstration event (set for January 28th, from 11 AM to 12 PM).
After taking a late lunch, I drafted a short news blurb related to the blog topic for the library’s homepage and updated the Archives & Special Collections Facebook. Then Jan and I hosted the first archives class visit of the semester, Dr. Anelise Shrout‘s HIS 458: American Environments to 1893.
After the class ended, Jan, Dr. Shrout, and I discussed ideas for digital exhibits, future projects, and the next archives class visit, then cleaned up and re-filed material from the class. Once back in my office, I Tweeted again, read emails, and pondered a workshop application before heading out for the day.
TUESDAY (January 14)
I started off my day with a walk to the campus coffeehouse, followed by email (both the checking of and the sending of), and reviewing rights usage statements for our institutional repository in preparation for a meeting. I dropped into Jan’s adjacent office (as is my wont) to chat about basketball schedules and how to best tie archival sports material with current events, in order to market the archives to the college community.
Jan and I then headed across the hall to our weekly Discovery Systems departmental meeting. This week’s topic: rights statements. After the shorter-than-expected meeting, I went back to work on the blog entry (editing and resizing images, background research, and transcribing notes from the interview that the blog is based on), followed by the second coffee run of the day.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I cover the Archives & Special Collections desk/ office during lunch, which means that I’m the first line of contact for any users. On this particular Tuesday, there were no visitors to the archives while I was there, so I spent most of that time working on an email reference question.
After lunch, I finished writing the blog post, delivered a draft to the subject of the blog for any factual corrections, and then scheduled the post to be published overnight. I spent the last hour of the day working on a bibliography for potential future research project.
WEDNESDAY (January 15)
This morning followed a similar pattern as Monday and Tuesday – caffeine, emails, listserv reading, preparation for a meeting followed by that meeting. In this case, the meeting was with the Library Director to discuss that potential future research project. I then hightailed it back upstairs to my office, to discuss the project with Jan (and also rehash our Monday conversation by brainstorming possible Southern Conference-related future blog posts, as Davidson is moving to the Atlantic 10 Conference in Fall 2014), and to do a bit of research for several now-ongoing projects.
After lunch, I covered the Archives & Special Collections desk, answered a reference question, and did more research. I finished off the day by beginning to process a small collection of letters from two brothers who briefly attended Davidson in the 1870s.
THURSDAY (January 16)
I began the day by posting an announcement on the internal campus news site (first time ever!), and with my standard email and listserv checking. Since I didn’t have any meetings scheduled until the afternoon, I spent most of the morning alternating between research proposal preparation (including bibliography formatting and some metadata cleanup in Zotero), catching up on professional news, and preparing for that afternoon’s meeting.
After an early lunch, I covered the Archives & Special Collections desk and made a few minor updates to the Archives & Special Collections landing page. I sent a bunch of emails, and then scheduled a phone meeting with a fellow Simmons GSLIS alum. The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to a meeting with the Assistant Director for Discovery Systems, the College Archivist, and the Special Collections Outreach Librarian to discuss goals, followed by some more project research and quick email check before heading out the door at around 5:15 PM.
FRIDAY (January 17)
The morning was occupied by checking email, Twitter, and listservs, followed by an attempt to clean off my desk and a solid hour or so of research project reading. I then decided to (finally) install the driver for my desk scanner (a HP Scanjet 8200), scan the caption for a photo from next month’s Smithsonian Magazine, and then Tweet about it.
After lunch, I answered a reference question and sent several emails, before diving back into processing the student letter collection I began to work with on Wednesday.
So, that’s it: a week in the life of this archivist! As you can see from this sample, the majority of my time isn’t taken up with what many consider the heart of the archival profession – processing collections. Rather, I spend quite a bit of time on outreach (both on social media and face-to-face on campus), research, and reference. Some of these foci change from day to day or week to week, and I expect that my processing time will increase (particularly during times when much of the community is off the campus). For now though, if you’d like to know what this archivist is up to, poke your head into my office on the second floor of E.H. Little Library!
The latest display in the Smith Rare Book Room is “The Art of Illumination: Past and Present,” which will be on view from today (January 15) through February 14. The display focuses on illuminations throughout time, illustrated by examples from the library’s special collections and two new pieces by Clara Nguyen, the Collections Assistant for Government Information here at E.H. Little Library. Clara previously served as the Interim Assistant Curator of the Van Every/ Smith Galleries, and holds a B.A. in Art History (with a studio concentration) from East Carolina University and a M.A. in Art History from the George Washington University.
Clara first became interested in illuminations through an internship at the Ellen Frank Illumination Arts Foundation (EFIAF), where she worked on the Book of Judith. Formed in 2004, EFIAF aims to “revitalize passion for and public awareness of the art of illumination, in part through education and training at the unique Illumination Atelier.” Similarly, when I interviewed Clara last week, she emphasized both the ancient and modern aspects of illumination: “I try to use natural materials because I’m trying to keep in the tradition of illumination.” She uses many of the same materials as the older works on display, such as: papyrus (typically used for practice pieces), vellum (reserved exclusively for final pieces), 23 K leaf, egg tempera, Indian ink, fish glue, bole (Armenian red clay and water), rabbit glue, and garlic glue. Don’t expect Clara’s work to look like a medieval manuscript, though – she says that she “likes taking physical images and then making them abstract;” much of her work is inspired by nature, including one of her pieces in the Rare Book Room display, which is based on an outing on the Davidson cross country trail.
Part of what drew Clara to illuminations was how the materials used force the artistic process: “It’s a fickle medium. You can mold it to where you want it to go… to a degree.” When asked about the creative process, she cited an example her mentor, Dr. Anne Collins Goodyear, gave when describing how ideas are developed: “A man (or woman) is walking and thinking. He waits at the bus stop for his bus to come along, still contemplating but not fully focused on his thoughts. The bus arrives and it is when he takes his first step onto the bus that the ‘idea/inspiration’ strikes him. It is in this in-between state of things that all the pieces finally click and solidify. I feel that my initial creative process occurs in this way. In other words, my mind is quietly thinking with all these ideas and one final element usually ties it all together. In my pieces, the tying element is usually based in nature and occasionally, a man-made element.” One idea formed in such a way inspired a piece in our display: “I was driving one day and saw a smokestack and thought, “Huh… I want that in there, I just don’t know how I want it yet.”
After the seed for the idea has been planted, Clara can then turn to implementing and shaping it: “Once I have an idea, I make a few sketches to lay out the general shapes. I transfer these shapes onto the papyrus/vellum using a very light pencil. Thereafter follows the fun part of the process: I begin an additive process of painting, drawing with quill and Indian ink, and leafing. Like most contemporary illuminators, I work using a 5-diopter glass lens which increases the viewed object size to 225%.”
For those interested in seeing Clara’s process in person, she will be giving an informal live demonstration of illumination techniques on January 28th, from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM, in the Library’s Davidsoniana Room (second floor of E.H. Little Library). Feel free to stay for the hour, or stop by for a few minutes. Light refreshments will be served, and questions and comments are welcomed! As Clara said during our interview, “It’s a lot of fun seeing the connections people make and what they see.”