New England Archivists (Fall 2016)

Trees and fall foliage in the garden at the Yiddish Book Center

The New England Archivists fall meeting took place Friday, Oct. 14 in Amherst, MA. It was a great excuse to get out to western Massachusetts and enjoy some leaf peeping. Route 202 was absolutely gorgeous, and there were at least two times that I had to slow down for someone talking photos from their car. Leaf peepers!

The symposium was about as nice as the drive out. It was held at the Yiddish Book Center on Hampshire College campus. I would recommend everyone go out and visit, they have plenty of parking, some very interesting exhibitions, a lovely garden, and many old Yiddish books to buy as well as a gift store.

The theme of the conference was “Bridging the Gaps” and focused on addressing “ways in which we as a profession can reach across the divides between archives and our stakeholders through augmenting outreach and expanding access to our materials.”

One of the big themes that emerged was the expectations of younger patrons. They are expecting transparency and digital access. Another theme was the importance of human interaction. We heard about this in relation to collecting materials from donors who weren’t sure who would ever want to read an old Yiddish book, to creating outreach events connecting middle-schoolers in Lawrence, MA with local history materials and a Harvard professor, and the importance of going to where your potential users and donors are as in the case of taking archival materials to alumni events at Norwich University.

There were two speakers from the Perkins School for the Blind that focused on access issues when it comes to visual impairments. These had a lot of good practical advice about describing images – describe them – and about how to make a website easier to navigate for a screen reader.

Below are my notes and some pics from the meeting.

Yiddish Book Center – One of the world’s largest and most vibrant Yiddish book centers. Website looks nice, easy to use. Lots of digitized original materials and lots of access to digital files through Internet Archive.

Plenary talk by Aaron Lansky

They have about 2% of collection on display – all for sale – all duplicates

Keep electronic masters of scanned books in offices / storage in Bare mountain – which Amherst now owns – used to be gov’t site

Focus now from rescue (was scouring Coney Island – putting up signs saying we’ll take your books) to explaining what these treasures are all about

10k-12k visitors per year – Visitors reaction is often “who knew?” when they see the books

Outwitting History – book Lansky wrote, with news article about the collecting in Coney Island – Doug (fish in Yiddish) McGill

2 quotes at entrance of YBC:

  • “Yiddish has magic, it will outlast history”
  • “And who will leaf through these yellow pages?”

4 projects going on:

  1. Universal Yiddish Library (used to be cultural dilution was the way to acceptability, when Lansky growing up they focused on prayer books, not personal experiences – now that’s what younger generation clamor for). Younger Jews want to know all about the culture, it’s ok to be different now. When Lansky started collecting there was shock that anyone would want to save the books, who would read them? “we are trying to forget that past.” Today there are “scores” of young people reading and studying. Most books digitized and online through Internet Archive. They have been online 8 years, and have been downloaded 2 million times. A staggering number. Who is actually reading? Orthodox world is downloading the most, average 9 family size, growing, they all have computers in their homes and they are reading Yiddish books at home. Another large group of readers is younger people studying a range of subjects. Their sources are being read all over the world.

National Library in Jerusalem – they sent hard Drives of Yiddish books, NYPL, wants to create Universal Yiddish Library – all in one place via technology, put everything in same pot – DPLA is example. Partners are thrilled to cooperate. Yiddish not constrained much by copyright. Developing OCR technology which would be revolutionary.

  1. Providing access to more than just books. In Montreal – Yiddish was spoken much more openly, they would record readings of books. The recordings were offered – cassette and reel to reel. 1949 Jewish public library in Montreal free public lectures until 1995 – and they were recorded.
  2. Translating – for a while it was going a book a year. They need to translate from the bottom up instead of top down. They have about 50 people trained – 1 year training program – most of the titles were unknown to scholars.
  3. Education – translation makes it accessible, but also need more communications people helping out and educators. Bilingualism, acculturation, things many immigrant groups deal with – through field trips they get to see what’s going on at Yiddish Book Center. Running programs all over US – 1 week program. YBC still needs funding.

Reason for success – secret weapon is content. To be guardians of culture you have power. There is a lot of power in seeing the books they have for sale / on display, that awes people. Sharing with the world is important and what we should all be doing. Lansky ends with “The calling of activist/archivist has never mattered more.”

Panel discussion: Building Bridges: Theory and Practice for Collections and User Access Across Boundaries

Jennifer Arnott – Perkins School for the Blind speaking about accessibility. Users = 49/51 Perkins staff / outside researchers

Things to think about with design of websites

  • Major thing – allowing people to enlarge the text.
  • Don’t make people download things
  • Vocabulary – don’t be so jargon
  • Multiple spellings – hyphen or no? spellings that change, preferred terms change over time – handicapped / disability; language issues (English as second language)
  • Screen reader complications, image-based pdfs are almost completely inaccessible, text-based a little better
  • Don’t autoplay audio/videos
  • Give people more control over their environment
  • Tiny links are difficult to see
  • Congnitive overloads – lots of flashing
  • Color blindness – purple in use in this presentation
  • Don’t use “click here”, and url is not helpful either, put the link in the words
  • Reduce clicks
  • Avoid routes – like “red”, “below”, rather say “go to more help section” (and make those words a link!)
  • PDF accessibility is very complicated because there are multiple layers to the file – STOP IT
  • Denise Paolucci: web accessibility for the 21st century
Children’s books section at Yiddish Book Center

Amita Kiley – Lawrence History Center

Lawrence History Center – German immigrant female founder

Lawrence – immigrant city with lots of segregated neighborhoods. Immigrants have changed – how do the new ones connect to the history of the city? How do you get people to care about the archives – they don’t have time. There is no pride in the city – people want out. Language, cultural, economic barriers – also narrative barrier. Place based learning – use what is around, walking through the spaces of history – you can find history in anything – where you live

They are scanning / taking digital copies of unique materials – and giving originals back to donors

To reach out –

  • bilingual promotional material
  • range in speakers – middle schoolers and scholar presented together
  • Making collections relevant: Collecting current stuff, working with students to do oral histories –
  • Camp for kids – summer writing workshop
  • Make collections accessible online – partnering with other orgs – BPL and Digital Commonwealth – led to exhibit w/ DPLA, also working with higher ed institutions

Alana Kumbier – Hampshire College

Queer zines and archival pedagogy

People creating zines – documenting their experience – but not donating to archives

Foster archivalization

Offer guidance with “Archivist Packet”

Queer zine archive project – establish the relevance of collections – what is context of creation – how are researchers using it

Barnard has big zine collection – Beyond the Riot: Zines in Archives class that brings students to archival spaces – uses local and digital archives – girl zines @ Sophia Smith collection; People of Color Zine Project; Flywheel Zine library @ Flywheel arts space – different archival spaces with different rules – getting students to think critically around that. Not digitizing, but using the zines as primary sources. Students are excited about it. Involving archivists = talking a lot about labor and interventions. Students are concerned about the whiteness of the collections, and the whiteness of the archivists. Asking pronouns on intake forms would be wanted.

Citation – Rawson 2009

Zine core – metadata standard for zines? wanting to record the language that people are using

Shannon O’Neill – Barnard

Accessibility and accountability – analysis of police records of police violence – she looked at police website of 50 police departments – she was looking at what data was available and how transparent were they. Wants more transparency.

Baltimore BPD – leader in accessibility – trying to be more transparent – advertising on front page

Officer involved use of force data on website

Access is being carefully curated

El Paso comes closest to clearly identifying their violence, “out for blood” campaign (could get blood sample if not breath)

Opposite – citizen generated documentation – community narratives, speaking truth to power, collective witnessing, working with communities to expand collection of race violence

Jarrett Drake “Inserted Citizens”

Proverbial pursuit game at the Yiddish Book Center


How does space effect accessibility – elevators, physical spaces, digital has issues as well

Interpersonal accessibility – with email following their clues – who are they, what assumptions do we make about who is turning up, and do they make about us and the collections

Space online – websites – they are tenuous existence –

Retention schedules – some things just won’t be accessible to us ever

Don’t want to ignore the historical words used, but want to recognize and give info to researchers – that was formally acceptable term, not now

Listen more, communities we serve have a lot of knowledge to bring to us, working with people where they are – not expert telling people what they need to do, but listening and truly figuring out what people need from us.

Stone patio at Yiddish Book Center, under which is housed their print collection

Short Presentations

The Case for Accessible Images – Jen Hale at Perkins School for the Blind. Good description is needed for images. It can be ongoing and organic.

Digital Collections and Emphathetic Outreach: Engaging the Remote User – Molly Brown MLIS student at Simmons. This was a very interesting short presentation about the emotional stakes surrounding archives and how archivists can acknowledge the deep, internal ties to records and then present that info to remote users over the web. How can archivists provide emotional acknowledgement that we are all linked? And how can we represent the emotions of all involved – archivists making appraisal / processing decisions as well as the creators, donors, and researchers.

Uncomfortable Connections: Taking Archives on the Road to Win Friends and Influence Donors – Mary Margaret Groberg at Norwich University. Don’t be afraid to leave the archives and bring collections to potential patrons / donors such as alumni groups.

Introducing the Commonwealth Historical Collaborative – Veronica Martzahl at Massachusetts Archives. This presentation was a quick overview of the Commonwealth Historical Collaborative – a website providing info and small catalogs to mostly local history organizations – such as historical societies around Massachusetts.

Screen capture of Commonwealth Historical Collaborative map view

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