Little Orphan Annie Manuscript

For whatever reason, I am having a difficult time understanding Orphan Works in a comprehensive way.  I get it that they are works in which the owner of the copyright cannot be determined or works for which the owner of the copyright cannot be contacted, but I am trying to find real examples of orphan work to help boil it into something I might encounter.

To get a better picture, I checked out the University of Michigan’s Orphan Works project to better understand just what an orphan could be, but the orphan work candidate list did not populate when I clicked on the link.  I found on Tech Dirt that 95% of newspaper articles written prior to 1912 are orphans.   Exploring this Duke University Law project proposal on the subject helped me to understand the barriers researchers could face when exploring a subject heavily dealt with using orphan works (in this proposal, the example was research on a Native American Activists), but also that orphan films are representative of a large portion of America’s film culture.

Maybe I am thinking about this with the wrong perspective here, but instead of focusing on the strategies needed to search as best and as legally as possible for the owner of an orphaned work, I am more just wondering how these works truly become ‘orphaned.’  And are there ever recent texts or creations that fall into this orphan category, or are these orphaned docs mainly from a time frame of the pre-1912 newspaper articles mentioned above?

Either way, I am really looking forward to hearing more tomorrow about how archivists deal with this issue of orphan works, the accession of them and the management of them as researchers explore them in the archive.


Partnering to Preserve

This past summer, I spent time interning for the Development office at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and learned a good deal about the production of history and preservation.  One of the projects I worked on was a brainstorm on how to support the local and family-oriented holdings at HSP with a more corporate style partner who would be interested in listing their name on HSP as a brand for family history.

This morning I noticed on HSP’s website that FamilySearch would be this partner for digital preservation of the collection.  I was really thrilled to see this news (, partly because I was happy to see my internship site advisor doing awesome work in making it happen, but also because FamilySearch is an interesting partner in comparison to the ever-popular

So here is what will happen:
“The initiative will digitally preserve and publish online the society’s many genealogies and local histories, family trees, and related family documents and manuscripts that contribute to the understanding of many family histories. Collections of particular interest might be those of Pennsylvania’s founding families, including Penn and others.”

How cool will it be to access the family history collections of HSP online?  I view this as a huge step forward to HSP’s accessibility and appeal to the wider region as well as a great step forward in terms of sustainability.  Cheers!

How do we deal with disasters we cannot avoid?

After last Tuesday’s class I could not stop thinking about the Fairmount Water Works and their recent flooding incident.  This is not totally surprising– I was commissioned to create a participatory piece for their FLOW (For the Love of Water) festival in September about (drum roll) flood memories.  The FWW staff had some of the most vivid memories to share– oral history clips about the visuals left in the minds of those staff members included computers floating in a pool of water.

So, in light of our class conversation about considering a disaster plan for an archive or space that speaks to the possible problems the space could encounter, I am thinking, how does FWW deal with disaster planning?  Situated on a gorgeous perch along the Schuylkill River behind the Philadelphia Art Museum on Kelly Drive, FWW is a lovely destination, but it is also in the perfect place to flood, on repeat, ad nauseum, forever.

I was told that the exhibition section of the interpretation center is disaster-proof in that it is designed to raise upward in the case of flooding (and that this happened during the 2014 flood).  I would surmise the institutional archive of FWW is kept with the City and therefore possibly off site, but even still, the contemporary memory of this institution was certainly housed within the technology lost in the May flood.  How can an institution like FWW, who thrives because of its location and is in its location because of its purpose, protect itself in the face of the inevitable?  I imagine there are other such places, some national parks for sure, that must embrace their purpose and place with the risk of loss.  I think, at the end of the day, what matters most is that the institution remain accessible and embrace what it does.  If disaster becomes part of the story– if a certain amount of institutional material is lost at some point because of the environment of daily operations– I suppose that risk is simply par for the course.  But it certainly is not easy to settle that in my stomach.

Archiving Diaries Nowadays

After last week’s round of archives website presentations, I found myself thinking a lot about the digital divide and what exactly that means for collecting information we so excitedly explore in archives and in their online collections.  Currently, these things–diaries, manuscripts, correspondence, journals, letters, notes–are falling by the wayside or being created online.

I realized in that moment that while I have done a great job of citizen archiving the stories of those who have helped with the History Truck (either at the neighborhood level or friend level), while I have newspaper clippings to document the journey, while I can reference work created or audio recorded, I do not have any journal depicting how I have felt or thought about things along the way.  Sure, there are e-mails to friends every once in a blue moon that show moments of vulnerability, but there is little of my personality in the record.  I wondered if this was a common issue.

So I decided to try and counteract this lack of personality by creating a tumblr that captures my feelings about public history in a very contemporary and visual way– mimicking the very funny “#whatshouldwecallme,” I created “#whatshouldwecallpublichistory” this weekend.  I am hoping I keep up with it because it should be a very fun page to examine about ten years from now…. if I am still able to explore it ten years from now… oh, digital things, are you as vulnerable to disappearing as I worry you are?  I hope not, and in the meantime, I will try to keep up with the LOC recommendations for archiving digital items.

On a last note, I have to mention Listen to Wikipedia, a site I discovered at Heavily Scripted, Lee Tusman’s current exhibition at Little Berlin.  LtoW is an audiovisual documentation site experience of live Wikipedia edits, and it is super interesting, relaxing, and smart.  I highly encourage exploring it.

Archives I never knew existed and why I value archivists…

This past week’s class was really eye-opening in terms of just how much stuff can really accrue in a collection… room upon room of the Temple University Libraries Special Collections was bursting with interesting, diverse, wonderful documents, books, manuscripts, and objects that stand to tell incredible stories and offer insight to a multiplicity of subjects so numerous I cannot even digest.  The Urban Archives is such an incredible resource to Philadelphia historians.

And yet, within and close to this beautiful city of Philadelphia, there are so many smaller, sometimes tiny collections worth exploring.  I have been very lucky lately to be drawn to these special places.

For one, the Swarthmore Peace Collection is a gem.  While this archives is not very unknown, it is a bit off the beaten track for most Philly historians, requiring a trip to Swarthmore College (a gorgeous campus).  Situated in the basement of the McCabe Library, this collection is run by a very engaged (and excellent listener) named Wendy.  When I approached her about research I am doing this Fall regarding police interactions with activists in terms of space in 1980s Philadelphia, she immediately brought my attention not only to an activist group called the Philadelphia Women’s Encampment for Peace, but also other lesser known groups and the papers of one activist couple who had altercations with the police.  The Peace Collection is not tiny– though I am certain it is not as large as Temple’s Special Collections– as plenty of their collection is stored off site, but it is very focused in subject.  I find this sort of experience to be very soothing, and I wonder if other researchers do also.

Another small archive I recently explored was the John J. Wilcox, Jr. Archives at William Way Community Center.  This resource on LGBT history, with a good deal of gay history relating to Philadelphia, sits on the third floor of William Way’s 13th and Spruce building.  The space is not very large, and there is barely table space to share with another researcher.  Their archivist, Bob Skiba (who also writes for Hidden City and offers tours of the gayborhood), was also very supportive on my research, and their volunteer George helped me tremendously in narrowing my research from a large box on ACT UP Philadelphia to a special file of newsclippings related to ACT UP demonstrations.

Lastly, I have been spending some time at the Center for Art in Wood on a project for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts program related to industrial history.  At CAW, I have been checking out the John Grass papers, the set of boxes and objects from the John Grass Woodturning company which used to exist on 2nd St.  Hanging out with a relatively-unorganized collection (it has only been digested with a basic Finding Aid by the Historical Society’s Hidden Collections Initiative) covered in major dust has been extremely exciting– every little detail found seems like such a “DID YOU KNOW??!!!”” moment– but it is also daunting.  How I wish, in the midst of this treasure that someone like Margery or Wendy or Bob was there to help me break down the material.

I suppose that is really the point of this post– the more time I spend in the vast material available for research in Philadelphia, I realize how important archivists truly are in the research actually done.  And upon exploring TU Special Collections last week, I realized how daunting that task– simply locating the ideal resource for an archives user– can be.

Confessions of a Disorganized Organizer

I am an honest person, and so, I will confess here that I am not always the most organized person.  I am constantly on the go with the intention of imposing order on ‘all the things’ when I have a chance, and those ‘chances’ rarely come. (I am not the worst ever, though… I promise.) So, it is with a guilty, but optimistic heart that I embark on the readings involving Arrangement and Description in the Archives.  Of course, as a fly-by-night person, it is somewhat comforting to know that archivists carry a manifesto of respect de fonds (leave it as it was kept)– simply because it makes me feel like if I was an archivist, I would not always be thinking about reorganizing or creating systems for each acquisition.  However, I also realized in reading Schellenberg’s Principles of Arrangement that respect de fonds comes with the responsibility of careful consideration for smart reorganization.  I also realize as a researcher how important it is for the archives to be maintained with specific stack order and maintenance; just today I visited the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, and the first box I requested was missing from its place.  Luckily, the archivist found it while I scrounged to decide what other collections I might examine.

One of the things I wonder about in actual archival practice is how to handle discrepancies between space availability and organization sensibility. Terry Eastwood, in “Counterpoint- Putting the parts of the whole together: Systematic arrangement of archives,”wrote, “The process of identifying records with the aggregation to which they belong is complicated by problems stemming from the effects of administrative change on the structure of organizations on record-keeping,” (98). So- if there are two collections which make sense best to be next to each other, and one of those collections is 300 linear feet and the other is two linear feet, and the space available for storage is not best suited for larger collections, how does an archivist decide how to reorganize?  Do archivists sometimes organize by size of collection as opposed to theme, year, author, etc.?  How do archivists decide which collections are stored off site– is that mostly based on usage or is that partly about size of collection or how close the collection fits with the development policy?  Do items which most closely target the mission of an archive stay closer to home?  I am still exploring the readings for this coming Tuesday, but it looks as through Oliver Holmes may answer some of the questions I have in Archival Arrangement: Five Different Operations at Five Different Levels.  And if not, perhaps class will help me understand better how we move from the thought processes behind organization to the hands-on process of organizing items when they are first accessioned and then as collections grow.



Ending in the Archives.

Well, it is my last semester of classes before writing my thesis this coming Spring.  How interesting for the journey of M.A. public history study to end with Archives and Manuscripts for Public Historians and Managers of Cultural Institutions.  It is almost like this little blog is now an archive of public history study.

I have been a bit focused on the values presented by Mark Greene in “The Power of Archives: Archivists’ Values and Value in the Postmodern Age.”  Firstly, though, I noticed that Greene described the challenge for archivists to describe what they do is very similar to what public historians in general face.  It made me think back to my courses with Seth to consider if any of the history of public history pieces we read had defined values for public historians to substantiate the field with collective meaning.

It will not be a surprise to anyone, I think, that the values I most identify with from Greene’s article have to do with activism– agency, advocacy, and archiving the marginalized.  However, I also am greatly interested in reading more on how the value of use trumps the value of preservation.  I understand why this value arguably matters most, but I would imagine that not all archivists feel this way.  I would like to read a different opinion (and maybe I will with the remaining reading for the week).

The other thing I am wondering about after reading Greene’s article is about appraisal.  Why do archivists fear it?  Better yet– what exactly is appraisal?  What is the process?  How does it work?

A lot of thoughts, really.  I’m now getting into “What is Past is Prologue” by Terry Cook and highly enjoying the way capital M Memory is identified as the “Mother of all Muses”– that through Memory, “society can be nursed to healthy and creative maturity,” but in order to use Memory correctly, we-collectively, perhaps as archivists or as citizens or as humans– must battle the balance of remembering and forgetting.  This passage ended with a gorgeous quote from one of my most favorite authors, Milan Kundera: “…the struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”  I think, though, there is another quote from Mr. Kundera for all of us to think about in terms of archives and public history– “The future is only an indifferent void no one cares about, but the past is filled with life, and its countenance is irritating, repellent, wounding, to the point that we want to destroy or repaint it. We want to be masters of the future only for the power to change the past.” 

Cheers!  I am so excited to spend the semester considering what and how we choose to remember.