Monday, October 6, 2008

Another Society of American Archivists Conference Report

I attended the Society of American Archivist Conference in San Francisco from August 26-31st, 2008. I attended sessions about developing collection development policies, working with university instructors to integrate archival materials into undergraduate courses, and digitizing and digital access issues for archival collections. I also attended the Manuscript Repositories and Oral History section meetings and toured an “alternative” repository.

You can learn more about the conference here:

One of the personal highlights was meeting Beth Carmicheal, who was my predecessor as the Curator of the Women Veterans Historical Collection! Beth Ann (that's me) is on the left and Beth Carmichael is on the right.

So that my report doesn't overlap with other reports (Like Michelle's!), I will report on only 2 of the sessions I attended as well as reporting on the section meetings and repository tour.

Brief Session Hightlights:


Pam Hackbart-Dean from the Special Collections Research Center, Southern Illinois University Carbondale discussed the necessity of having a Collection Development Policy in place.

Policies are necessary to:

· reduce personal bias in collecting;

· improve the consistency of collecting efforts;

· identify gaps in the collection,

· establish systematic collecting efforts and planning;

· help collectors prioritize what to collect;

· aid in continuity of collecting efforts;

· help with public relations (i.e. potential donors will understand what will and what will not be collected);

· streamline/focus cataloguing;

· help with planning for storage and preservation issues/decisions;

· hold collector accountable for collecting decisions; and

· focus a commitment to collecting goals.

Nanci Young from Smith College Archives discussed strategies on how to refuse materials, which is an important issue for any archives.

She elaborated on how and why telling donors “no” is difficult for archivists to do. For example, if materials in question are being donated by the creator’s children they can especially feel that the materials have great value. As archivists we cannot essentially determine “value”, but we can decide whether or not it fits /adds to our collection.

Nanci Young's Strategies to “Getting to No”:

· Have a clear mission statement;

· Make collection principles known to donors;

· Keep a printed copy of mission statement and collection policies at your desk so that you can refer to them quickly when talking to donors;

· Have a list of referrals that you can give to potential donors. This shows that we do not think their materials are worthless, but that they might just be more appropriate elsewhere;

· Stall: don’t make quick decisions. Take the time to “court” donors so that they understand not only the rationale behind your decisions but also your good will;

· Give the donor a list of guidelines.

· Redirect: Explain that out-of-scope or redundant materials could be placed elsewhere and have a list of referrals;

· Offer preservation information to the donor; and

· Give donors emotional validation- they have an emotional attachment to materials. Listen to their stories and ACKNOWLEDGE THEM WITH APPRECIATION that they thought of the archives.


Liz Losh from the University of California Irvine, Kerry Scott from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Bill Landis from Yale University presented at this session.


• Archivists need to impress upon instructors that “undergraduates need to have substantive research experiences”.

• Students want e-copies of all materials used.

• For classes, create a simple class webpage and class blog.

• Put materials on hold for students but also provide information about where materials are stored in the collections.

• Give students a standard set of questions they all will answer. Have them do a short in-class assignment.

• Insist that instructor is present during the class(es).

• Encourage faculty to “partner” by interacting with you during class.

• Try to tie the materials into current events so that they
are “relevant/interesting” to students.


This meeting was focused on discussing the use of Web 2.0 tools to publicize archives.

Stephen Fletcher, the photographic archivist at UNC-Chapel Hill discussed the award-winning “View to Hugh” wordpress blog (Hugh Morton)

The purpose of creating the blog was to foster discussion about and interest in collection, share information about this collection and show how archivists work.

His recommendations for publicizing blogs:

· send information to listservs and other blogs

· get the library staff involved (e.g. send info to alumni)

· must do self promotion

· clean and simple design

· friendly, conversational (non-jargon/non-academic tone) to encourage user participation and comments

· regular postings

· respond to user comments

· tie in to anniversaries and events to postings

· get media interested

· get other people involved ( to info on other sites) have users/grad students do postings. Ask users to i.d. photos (e.g. “What basketball game is this?”).


There were presentations about two oral history projects:

1) Joe Lampert: founder of the Center for Digital Storytelling

Check out this documentary – Native American WWII army nurse veteran Marcella LeBeau called “Never Forget”

2) Howard Levin, the Director of Digital Tools that Enhance the Learning Process at the Urban School of San Francisco, discussed the high school course “Telling their Stories: An Approach to the Use of Oral Histories”. At this school, high school students spend all year preparing for and conducting oral histories with survivors and liberators of concentration camps.

Tour of the Prelinger Library

The Prelinger Library is a private library financed by the Prelinger film archives. A couple combined their book collection and operates it as a personal project (it is not incorporated as a non-profit). The repository holds approximately 50,000 items – including books, serials, government documents and ephemera. Their material is arranged by subject and not separated by materials or chronology (e.g. no cataloguing system; government documents are shelved with monographs and bound journals). Their taxonomy encourages browsing. The collection specializes in local and regional materials (including maps and natural history), landscape and land use, industry and urban infrastructure, architectural design, graphic design, sales, telecommunications, film and television, gender and civil rights issues, among other topics. The curator told me that the collection is used by a variety of patrons, including art students who use the imagery in the materials for inspiration. They will scan and copy materials free of charge for patrons. They have digitized many of their books.

Their mission statement: “To foster discovery and serendipity in a browser-friendly, experience-based environment; to demonstrate that new and unforeseen benefits arise from the synthesis between analog and digital cultures; to experiment with new and expanded forms of access to information; and to convey community around a collection where history is made a visible and usable part of today."

There was a big all-conference reception at the San Francisco Public Library, which was very, very modern. Only trained archvists should be allowed to eat and drink in the library stacks.

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