National Conference of African American Librarians (NCAAL)

Below is my presentation for the 10th Annual Conference of African American Librarians which was held in Atlanta this year. I became involved when I saw a call for presenters who had worked with Wikipedia with a focus on diversity. Tiffany Atwater Lee at the Archives Research Center at the Atlanta University Center Robert Woodruff Library put the panel and proposal together and Curtis Small Jr. at the University of Delaware was the third panelist. It was such a pleasure to meet them both and learn about their Wikipedia related projects! All of our slides can be found on Google Drive here.

Intro: I’m Greta Suiter, Collections Archivist at the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections. I seriously started getting involved with editing Wikipedia after I volunteered to lead an edit-a-thon highlighting collections from the Archives. It ended up being a great way to jump into the world of Wikipedia and has lead to much collaborative work and conference presentations.

Hosting edit-a-thons is a great way for librarians and archivists to share their collections and subject expertise, expand the content on Wikipedia, and teach others about digital literacy, writing, and how to edit. It can be an impactful learning experience that empowers participants to edit one of the most influential websites ever. As we all know if it doesn’t exist on Wikipedia many people are less likely to think it is real or important.

Wikipedia is conscious of its gaps and how it is not actually “the sum of all human knowledge.” Overall it does suffer from systemic bias – the editors, and when you look at the numbers you can see that it isn’t that many editors – around 3500 that are responsible for most of the edits on Wikipedia. And the content that we find represented on Wikipedia will be biased toward their interests. If 80% of editors are white college educated men the content of Wikipedia will reflect their interests. This is one of the big reasons that librarians and archivists should be editing and encouraging others to edit – especially content concerning women and minorities – and especially encouraging women and minorities to start editing.

Wikipedia is aware of this situation and has made some efforts to be a more welcoming and friendly place. The behavioral guideline “Don’t Bit the Newbies” states, “We must treat newcomers with kindness and patience – nothing scares potentially valuable contributers away faster than hostility.” But many new editors still find Wikipedia to be a place difficult to navigate or contribute to.

And it’s been found especially difficult for those working on issues related to underrepresented groups. Encountering accusations of activism, bias, or an agenda can happen and it is especially frustrating when you see the work you are doing as fitting within the Wikipedia mission and ethos, only to be told it is not.

So what are some of the strategies to making meaningful edits that stick in Wikipedia?

One mode of thought is to follow the golden rule – “Articles require significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the topic.” In other words you need to prove that a topic is notable enough to be included in Wikipedia. And “notable” can be highly contentious. Arming yourself with sources that support your notability claim is one of your best chances to prove meaningful edits.

This should be easy for librarians and archivists – we are surrounded by reliable sources! And this is where I’ve found most of my work goes into prepping for edit-a-thons. In locating sources that will assist editors in proving notability. Luckily for archivists finding aids do count as a published source.

Here is an example of a stub article that was created using a collection we had titled Black Women in the Academy – it is a small collection that documents a national conference held at MIT in 1994. It was notable because it was cited as the first national conference with Black women in academia as the main theme. The collection consists of newspaper articles, many of which can now be found online, as well as planning documents and program related material. On Wikipedia newspaper articles are considered reliable sources. The collection had enough different sources to start the article and hopefully more will be added to it in the future.

I wanted to share a little about my process of preparing for edit-a-thons. I like to use Google Docs because of their collaborative capabilities. We’ll use a Google doc for brainstorming themes – here’s an example of brainstorming around a Black History Month edit-a-thon. Finding the sources you want to highlight and the entries that need editing or that don’t exist yet in Wikipedia is important to planning the event.

I also find it helpful to keep running lists of edit-a-thon ideas as I come across them – either content that is missing from Wikipedia or resources that would work well to highlight. A recent thrift store find was the African-American National Biography set of reference books. Resources like these are incredibly helpful to editing Wikipedia. Here’s an example of a recent listserv post mentioning the death of a Mexican art historian. I looked her up in Wikipedia and found Spanish and German language entries but nothing in English. This would make a good project because it wouldn’t focus on finding sources as much as being a translation project.

This leads to an important point: There are many ways to edit. You could focus primarily on grammar and language in articles, or on the look of articles – in Wikipedia appearances matter – articles with multiple headings, infoboxes, and properly cited resources are more likely to not be deleted because they look right. Editors can also focus on adding images to the Commons or adding structured data to Wikidata.

Over the course of 8 edit-a-thons that we’ve hosted at MIT over 2 and half years we’ve found when it comes to encouraging new and diverse editors that themes and aligning with larger initiatives is most successful. For us the Art+Feminism edit-a-thons garnered the most interest and we had almost all women editors with many first time editors showing up. This chart shows when we started using the Wikipedia Dashboard for keeping track of edits. So now we can continue to see the impact of the edits over time.

For the last Art+Feminism event we had 18 participants, 1 new article created, 32 articles edited, 199 distinct edits with over 7k words added to Wikipedia, and an impact of 124k article views. This just goes to prove that the goal of editing does not have to be completely tied to creating new articles, but also editing existing ones.

These are images from the Art + Feminism edit-a-thons. We found holding the events in our instruction space which has plenty of computers, and a large conference table worked pretty well. It is not the most beautiful space and there are no collections housed in the space – meaning we need to bring print collections to the space and it is not a typical awe inspiring, Pinterest worthy depiction of a library space, but it is functional much like Wikipedia itself. As we’ve done more edit-a-thons we have increased the number of organizers which has included getting more librarians involved. I would not recommend taking on planning and hosting an edit-a-thon alone. We’ve always had at least two people help with planning and in case of our last edit-a-thon there were 7 of us planning. Through edit-a-thons I’ve been a part of very fruitful collaborations with library and MIT colleagues as well as becoming involved in the New England network of Wikimedians. All of our events have been open to the public. Keeping track of who is attending and following up with them about other events has been the most challenging aspect of organizing for us and something we are hoping to improve in the future.

In the future we are hoping to host an edit-a-thon during Open Access Week that could focus on the importance of Open Access resources.

Thank you


NECode4Lib 2016

This was my second time at the Hampshire College campus this fall. The first was for the New England Archivists fall meeting at the Yiddish Book Center. The NECode4Lib regional meeting was held at a different venue – the red barn on campus. It was a wintry day with snow falling most of the morning, making the drive just as scenic as it was in October when I got to see the fall foliage.

This blog post will give some key points and takeaways from a selection of presentations, as well as some Twitter highlights, and some images from the library tour I took during lunch.

Two themes that struck me as important / reaffirmed my own biases –

1. Users want access to the stuff – not info about the stuff

2. Visuals help engage users – both digitally (click on image / browse by image) and physically (add images / visual interest to library space)

Here is a breakdown of the schedule:


Keynote – Smith (Rob O’Connell and Barbara Polowy) – Bento Box

  • Will launch new website Jan 2017
  • EBSCO discover system (EDS) – multi-format materials in one dump – confusing for patrons
  • Using EBSCO’s framework, not open source
  • Linking in other content w/ API’s – DPLA
  • Patrons don’t want to dig down, they just want the resource / content [This was reiterated later in the death to finding aids talk – good to know it exists for libraries as much as for archives.]
New ways of searching at Smith using Bento Box; arranges results by type – Books, Articles, Video; includes DPLA, scholarly blogs
  • StackMap built in – giving location of where item is in the library [yes! It is always confusing trying to find your way around a library!]
  • There is a feedback button so people can leave feedback [yes! I want to see more ways for people to give feedback!]
  • Let’s patrons know up front if PDF available
  • EBSCO research on millennials – use mobile devices (laptops more than phones) for research; skim, scan, seek efficiency; find one good citation and use it to find more. Interactions w/ interfaces: discouraged by large result sets; “chunking” content by format easier to digest; 71% basic searches; Library-ese (jargon) problem; “progressive disclosure” of metadata is helpful in avoiding overloading patrons w/ data
  • Usability testing – 4 rounds, 20 tests (16 undergrads, 2 faculty); staff sandbox; beta release w/ feedback. Asked them to speak out loud their thought process, answer questions, asked them about citations – how much they need, what they need.
  • Testing findings – discovery AND ACCESS w/in Bento important; limit citations to essentials; limit to “available at Smith” important
  • Continuing to test and refine

5 Uses for old iPads, Smith, Brendan O’Connell


Goal: infuse physical space w/ digital info (little kiosks near physical things – $70-$100, includes charging)

  • Instructional videos at point of need (microfilm reader?) video using iVideo (or whatever)
  • Show what isn’t on the shelf (Safari, Visual Browse)
  • Manage use of open/reservable space (app: Google Calendar) – want’s to use LibCal in future (Duke does this, SpringShare blog has implementation tips)
  • Digital exhibits of student work, DH stuff, other stuff (App: Scalar, Twine, Timeline JS etc)
  • No screen burn out yet

Open Data to Open Knowledge Project, Simmons student, Kayla Hammond Larkin

  • Knight Foundation project, Dept. of innovation + tech and BPL
  • Open data becomes open knowledge when it is usable, useful, and used


  • Want to bring open data to libraries around Boston
  • Open data catalog
  • Open data platform (website)
  • Open data curriculum (for librarians)

A Look into the Aggregator Food Chain, BPL, Steven Carl Anderson

  • Digital Commonwealth vs. DPLA service hub
  • Tracking views and click throughs – BPL and DPLA
  • Some get viewed on DPLA and some on BPL – why? Title is one thing; power of thumbnail; geographic effect; subject effect
  • DPLA def. Getting more use, but BPL had more click throughs

Yiddish Book Center Website, Amber Clooney & Tristan Chambers

I was impressed by the YBC’s website when I first saw it in October. The fact that they are using a lot of visual images, big font, plenty of white space, and are really pushing their content is inspiring.

  • Website brings content to forefront
  • Uses Internet Archive BookReader to embed content into the website
  • Future – a way for users to edit and comment
  • Built on Drupal
Yiddish Book Center screen capture of Leonard Nimoy oral history
  • Design focused on usability and access
  • Through studies found that users were previously searching for the same thing over and over and not finding it – because Internet Archive API required a 1 to 1 match in searches, diacritic marks also led to non-matches – ended up using Apache Solar for searches

Count Dem Heads: a Fail4Lib story, Ian Walls, UMass Amherst

The best part of this presentation were the hand drawn slides. And that it was told in fantasy story mode. And that it was about a project that didn’t quite work.

Ian Walls presenting with slide of drawn UMass DuBois library

He created a digital tool for head counting (not something that comes up much in archives), but it wasn’t very efficient.

WikiData, Yale, Kat Thornton

  • Another pathway to collection
  • Linked open data free to reuse
  • Crosswalk between authorities
  • Public SPARQL endpoint for queries
    • Can display results in multiple ways
  • Can leverage it “to answer complex questions about our collections”
  • Talk to her about becoming editor of wikidata
  • Quickstatements – allows batch upload

No More Finding Aids, Albany, Gregory Wiedeman

  • Archives are esoteric – not intuitive – we aren’t helping ourselves
  • FA are the problem – since they are front end to content
  • FA itself is jargon – broad and general w/ multiple interpretations
  • FA pre-digital information system
  • Replace FA w/ web discovery and delivery systems – NYPL system example
  • FA shouldn’t be end project – we need a new way of talking about it
  • Make limitations readily apparent – some material is online, some isn’t
  • Move to on demand digitization
  • University of Albany new site out in Jan – Drupal – whole site is access to collections – “digital selections”
  • Serendipity when you refresh the screen new image appears, and 3 random collections at bottom of screen (if they scroll there)
  • Browse through collections – static html pages – wants to implement ASpace soon
  • Request stuff on page of collection – even unprocessed collections
  • “People have hard time discerning part from the whole.”
  • LUNA for images
  • Not quite at killing the finding aid yet
  • Description more important than the finding aid

Folio: Open Source Platform, Andrew Nagy, EBSCO

  • I’m supposed to know who Marshall Breeding is – he is tracking the less and less choices for libraries
  • Platform – something people build on top on, an open source development platform
  • Open source project – collaborative effort
  • 1st library up and running summer 2018 – probably not enough for ARL right away

Habitica, Brendan McCarthy, Troy Public Library

Brendan spoke about using Habitica at work and he has found it to be motivating and engaging. SO I’ve been trying it out at work, but am probably using it wrong. I think you need to check a lot off your list in order to accomplish much, but I’ve got some kind of dragon, and a sword and stuff. The most useful thing about it is that it’s easy to add a to-do and it’s nice to look at when I’m trying to decide what to do next or what needs to be done soon. I guess I’m just using it like a digital to-do list, which is nice.

Habitica screenshot

Library Code Club, Bethany Seeger & Sarah Walden, Amherst College

I liked this idea a lot – a bi-monthly meeting of librarians interested in learning about code.

  • Topics covered – Python, HTML, XML, xPATH
  • Met every other week and planned on the off week
  • Tips: survey participants to see what people want to do; create few simple goals; create/find project that builds up skill level; need 2 or more people planning and working on this; ‘mini-series’ instead of long term club (give people map of what you’ll cover ahead of time, not everyone may need/want to go to every session)
  • Counted as form of professional development
  • Future ideas: take apart a computer; WordPress; Github; look at command line interface
  • Here is link to Google Docs with files about the meetings.

A Lightning Talk on Lightning Talks as Staff Information Sharing, Helen Bailey & Jeremy Prevost, MIT

Lightning talk title slide

I always like the opportunity to find out what my co-workers in different departments in the library are up to. This one was about lighting talks done within a specific department. Seemed like a good way to share ideas, increase confidence in presenting, and build morale.

Using Twine for Library Instruction, Manda Wise Pizzollo, Amherst College

There was a Twine project at Smith College at last years NECode4Lib and this use of Twine was inspired by that. I have looked at Twine and like the idea of it a lot, but I haven’t actually used it, so hearing about more ideas for use was great.

  • plagiarism guide
  • tour of facility
  • anytime you want to tell a story
  • workflow decision tree

Implementation of Unicode in the Yale Catalog, Charles Riley, Yale University Library

This presentation was about some interesting cataloging work going on at Yale in reference to African scripts. It was a bit above my head, as archives have much more basic cataloging needs, but understanding Unicode and how it works is something I should have a better handle on, so this reminded me of issues we’ve been having transferring to ASpace and seeing how certain texts are rendering. This also made me think about work we do with materials in languages other than English and how we can improve our documentation around that.


There was a very nice and informative tour of the library during lunch. Here are some pics I took. Highlights included a seed library (!), a game collection, a special collection in the middle of the stacks with lots of custom cabinets, shelves, and seating (that was the best!), a media lab section in the basement, and an art gallery for student work (also the best!).




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

Caleb Neelon’s spring NEA keynote

I attended the spring New England Archivists conference on Friday 4/1. Here is a summary of thoughts from the keynote address by Caleb Neelon.

I was looking forward to hearing Caleb Neelon speak to a room of archivists. First off because I’m familiar with and excited about his mural work in Fitchburg, MA (my hometown!) and second because I was curious what an outsider to the archives field would bring to an archival conference.

Caleb Neelon, Fitchburg mural, 2014 (image from Neelon’s website)

How did a graffiti/street artist become a keynote speaker at an archivists conference? I assume it has to do with the younger generation leading the spring conference programming committee.

How would he relate to archivists? Well, he focused on the sharing of information among graffiti artists in the 1990s. And he talked about gathering primary sources from graffiti artists for the purpose of writing the book The History of American Graffiti. Both of these activities are of interest to archivists because it explains how a group networked and how the primary sources from that group were created, shared, saved, and eventually published.

Like many networks of artists, hobbyists, collectors, musicians, and even professional groups, the graffiti artists Neelon talked about were connected through a shared activity and then a sharing of information about that activity. Neelon explained that every group of young graffiti artist wannabes in the 1990s read the same 3 books – some of the only sources with published images of graffiti – and they all shared information with other graffiti artists in other locales through zines, that got traded and mailed around the world. It was a network of like-minded, creative, and young individuals writing about, and taking pictures of, their work and the work of others that they knew. It was an informal pen pal connection that would perhaps eventually lead to meeting in person and crashing on each others couches. It existed before the internet started changing the speed at which people shared information and it relied on nodes of “graffiti bums and bong shops”. Neelon encouraged any young people in the crowd to forget about a career at the moment and take the opportunity of youth to travel the world couch surfing and networking with like-minded people. I like the sentiment, but feel that for many in the audience they are either past that age, or just find the idea untenable.

Neelon also explained how he came to have a book deal – basically he was in the right line of work at the right time. By the mid 2000s, Banksy and Shepard Fairey were both gaining notice among the general public and the art market, making graffiti an attractive subject for publishing houses. Neelon got a book deal and started gathering source material for a book about the history of American graffiti. Neelon and co-author Roger Gastman were looking explicitly for photos that had never seen a scanner – those that did not yet exist online. This is a challenge when the average age of the graffiti artists were in their teens, and a generation of artists would be about 4 years before a new group of teenagers would take over. The photos they were looking for were taken with cheap cameras and kept not in the best storage conditions. In the end they found related photographs from 250 photographers, and the book is about 400 pages long.

Neelon pointed out that “Not everybody had a real happy ending to their stories,” and that the years of graffiti writing and working with other graffiti writers may have been the high point of their lives. I think this is an interesting point when considering what is saved in archives and how we create context for collections. Archivists document people’s lives by collecting, preserving, and providing access to the material collected. This keynote made me think of the times in people’s lives when they were a part of something bigger than themselves and how that becomes the part of their life that is remembered and saved. It also made me think of social network analysis software and applications in the digital humanities for visualizing social networks.

When questioned if the work of gathering material could have been done by an outsider, Neelon answered, absolutely not. The trust created by the bond of graffiti was what enabled the book to be written and what allowed Neelon access to the source materials. He pointed out that the material may end up in an institution at some point, but for now it still resides with the community.

Archivists are collectors for institutions, and as such, we enjoy learning about new collections – everything from how the items were created, to how they were collected and organized, to how they are shared or used for new research. In that sense Caleb Neelon’s keynote was an interesting look at a specific collection – but the piece that was missing is the long term preservation of the collection.

For me the big take away from Neelon’s keynote is that if archivists want to engage with collectors and creators that distrust, or are unaware of, archives they must find an ally in that group that can then advocate on behalf of the archives. Collecting without building a strong relationship could result in being shut out from a desired collection.

Learning by Editing

Every edit-a-thon needs snacks.

I took part in my fourth MIT Libraries hosted Wikipedia edit-a-thon yesterday! It was a node event for the Art+Feminism themed events happening all over the world. I loved being a part of a larger community of editors; there is something comforting in knowing that you are not alone in your editing pursuits. And of course it is great to be in a room with a group of editors who are willing to help and learn from each other. I always learn something new about editing Wikipedia and about history at these events. At edit-a-thons there is always a tug between getting to know the people there, and focusing on the editing.

During the session I worked on two articles – a draft for Alisa Wells, a photographer who lived and worked in Rochester, New York and experimented with multiple exposures and found glass-plate negatives, and also Ghisha Koenig – a political left-wing artist who created sculptures of people at work in industrial settings.

The editors, busy editing

There were about 20 people who came in during the edit-a-thon, that includes library colleagues, New England Wikimedians, and MIT and other college students. Some stayed for almost the entire time, others dropped in to ask a question and then left. I think art is so important, that is it hard for me to believe there is so much art history missing from Wikipedia. It is great because it is an opportunity to get people that wouldn’t think they would be good editors to start engaging, because if they don’t get it online, no one else will.


A related thing I wanted to briefly write about was an HR training session I went to a little over a week ago on preparing and delivering presentations. It was almost a full day workshop and included a lot of general advice on making presentations. There was also a lot of interactive parts and it was a stressful session for me because of this. We had to actually present twice during the day, the first an extended introduction, the second a presentation we came up with during the workshop. By the end, I had a nice little 3 minute presentation on the intersection of archives and Wikipedia. Here is a draft of that presentation.

With over nine billion page views per month the English Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites in the world. It has over four million articles and over 900 new articles are created every day.

Because it is often one of the first places researchers go for information, archivists and other information professionals should be looking for ways to use Wikipedia both for outreach and community engagement. This article will address ways that archivists can interact with Wikipedia to promote collections, engage researchers, and making meaningful contributions to the largest encyclopedia in the world.

Archivists can promote collections by adding links to archival collections and online resources such as finding aids. Adding links that connect Wikipedia to our collection material will ensure a broader audience knows about our resources. This enriches the content of Wikipedia and is a great form of outreach for the archives.

We can engage users through archives sponsored edit-a-thons. These events bring in a variety of patrons – those who are active Wikipedians and may not know much about the archives, and also those that may know about the archives, but are new to Wikipedia. It is an opportunity to connect with the attendees and learn about their interests, and they in turn can learn about the archives and the important work that archivists do. Unlocking a  connection between a person, a collection, and Wikipedia is the ultimate goal. The three work together for a common goal – sharing information about a historic person, place, or event with a broad audience.

One key to making successful edits on Wikipedia is understanding the rules that Wikipedia editors follow and expect others to follow. To create meaningful edits it is important to understand the rules of Wikipedia. This is an active community and we want to adhere to their rules when making edits. Some of the rules to know are what makes a subject notable, no original research, neutral point of view, and conflict of interest.

ALA midwinter 2016

I attended my first ALA midwinter conference over the weekend. Since it was held in Boston, MIT Libraries generously sponsored one day passes for those interested in going. I chose to go on Saturday. One thing I knew about midwinter going in is that it is much more meeting focused than session focused, but I tried to do a little bit of everything including a corporate demo, an Ignite session, a featured speaker, a roundtable meeting, and of course the exhibit hall.

First thing Saturday morning was a demo of HARI discovery, a conceptual discovery approach, or a very visual way to browse resources by concepts. I love any idea that makes browsing collections easier and more visual. It sort of looks like this…


It is still being developed, but beta testing is starting this spring and then roll out later in the year. One of the things that is neat about it is that when possible it works with full text, not just the metadata. It also scalable to millions and millions of items. The hope is that it will make wading through too much information manageable. It was also said that any text could be incorporated including archival description, special collections, and image/video metadata.

2016-01-09 15.31.17
Exhibits hall

After the demo I went over to the exhibits hall and starting picking up posters, bookmarks, flyers, catalogs, advanced copies of books, tote bags, pens, coasters, pins, and any other kind of swag that looked intriguing. The free stuff at ALA is legendary and it’s def. a fun time in the exhibits hall. There were also a number of pop up kind of speaker events and book signings happening all over the place.

The Ignite session was a lot of fun. It was a half hour to hear about five different projects at various public and academic libraries. A lot of it had to do with culture (adapting burning man principles to the library) and programming/services (a nap space, a gaming program, using small grants to fund lectures, art exhibits, and film series).

townieAfter lunch I went to the Nancy Pearl and Andre Dubus III speaker session. Unfortunately Nancy Pearl wasn’t able to attend and Bill Kelly from Cuyahoga County Public Library did the interview instead. I was mainly there to see Nancy Pearl, but I learned a lot about Dubus and I will probably pick up Townie or some of his father’s short stories in the future. Dubus’s insights on the writing process were interesting and he emphasized how writing everyday word by word is the most important thing aspiring writers can do, and then edit and revise like crazy.

After a couple more hours in the exhibit hall I attended the Genealogy and Local History Discussion Group (RUSA HS). This began with a discussion on the merits of the work title “Local History Librarian.” Some were for and some were against. I had no strong opinion either way, though I feel like “Reference Librarian” or “Research Specialist” or something like that, that doesn’t specify a subject makes more sense, but every place is different and should have librarians with titles that fit the needs of that specific place.

sharedAuthorityA more interesting discussion was one that revolved around how to engage with people who feel that their history doesn’t belong/isn’t welcome in local history collections. The need to be more proactive about collecting documents from groups traditionally excluded from local history collections was mentioned. It was also pointed out that having “donate days” was not enough, that library employees would have to make connections with the communities they were trying to document and if the library was looking for digital collections, should bring scanning equipment to the communities. I think it was around this conversation that the book “A Shared Authority” by Micheal Frisch came up. I added it to my to-read list.

Also discussed was the success some places have had in bringing diverse audiences into the library with events that focus on the intersection of present day concerns and history. Some examples mentioned were a panel of Civil Rights activists, a lecture on affordable housing issues, and a popular exhibit about the Beatles – but the Beatles are always crowd pleasers.

Another discussion thread focused on genealogy and how some people have noticed a “genealogy for academics” trend. The idea that academics could use some of the research methods that genealogists are expert in for other reasons is interesting.

Overall I had a great time at ALA. And I think my cat Smokie even liked some of the swag I brought home.

2016-01-09 20.51.20
Smokie with a “Keep Calm I’m a Librarian” tote bag.


I attended the Northeast meeting of Code4Lib last Friday (12/4/2015) at Dartmouth College. It was my first Code4Lib anything and I had a great time. Got to hear about some interesting projects/workflows/ideas/tools from a range of careers that all have libraries in common. There were programmers, students, librarians, and archivists all in attendance and being nice to each other.

Here are the notes I took during the sessions:

Twitter: #NEcode4lib

10:15-10:45 a.m.: Alice Prael (JFK Library) and Jeff Erickson (Umass Boston) – Where to Start Implementing Digital Preservation, NDSR

Some resources:

  • Preserving (Digital) Objects w/ restricted resources – POWRR – white paper
  • North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources
  • LC Digital Preservation Outreach and Education

10:45-11:15 a.m.: Stefanie Ramsay (state library of MA) and Julie Seifert (Harvard) – Building the Digital Preservation Community, NDSR

This was sort of a call to arms to brainstorm how we could centralize all info about digital preservation – which i think is sort of impossible and these types of ideas (having lists, centralizing info) is what librarians (and others) love to do, but I feel like it usually ends up being just another place people have to look. That being said, i’ve found email digests to be the most pleasant and direct way for me to get info. I signed up for Miriam Posner’s News and Information from the UCLA Digital Humanities Program emails and I think it gives a pretty good view of what’s happening in the world of DH. Also professional listservs sort of do this. But it all comes down to who is participating and how much people are participating. It is a nice idea and thought, but i can’t really envision the answer.


  • how to continue conversations after conferences, across distances
  • current landscape – conferences, listservs, social media (twitter), blogs, wikis
  • problem with platforms – lose track, lose steam, inclusivity
  • so how to do start something with long term in mind
  • other professions – journals, newsletters, resource sharing websites, meet-ups
  • ideal – centralized, simple format focused on user contributions, easily accessible, organized, searchable and browsable, adaptable to changes
  • Slack
  • Read more on the NDSR blog

11:15 a.m.-12 p.m.: Lightning talks

Rose Reynolds (Smith) – A Tour of the Library: Moving from analog to digital

I loved this presentation because it focused on a tool and a summary of a practical use of it. The tool is Twine and it was used to create a tour of the library at Smith for students.



  • Tour app
  • Used to be a paper handout with 6 spots on the tour
  • Twine – open source nonlinear storytelling – sort of choose yr own adventure-y
  • Cons to Twine – all one page so if you hit browser back button, you lose it
  • Allows for interactive activities
  • Archives integrated in a quiz about past alumni
  • Story Format: Harlowe
  • Other uses: could be used for instructions – if yes, allows for non-linearity, so could set up “do this then this” etc.

Jenny Mullins (digital preservation person at Dartmouth) – Script for Success: A micro-service approach to quality control for digital preservation


  • Collaboration with programmer
  • 59 drawers in the photo file that were being digitized
  • bag ingest problems, so worked with programmer to make script which allows for errors to be caught and corrected b4 ingest and fewer errors are introduced during the process, better QC when ingesting older projects, HUGE increase in efficiency, makes the process easier and makes it easier to train others.

Alice Prael – Intro to Born Digital Processing Tools and Workflows


  • start with inventory for born-digital holdings

John Bell (Dartmouth) – Name Authorities and Linked Data

There were 2 very interesting talks on linked data. This was the first and I loved the project and would love to do see something similar at MIT.


  • larger project – institutional repository – Dartmouth Academic Commons (will be, not yet)
  • “long term” – might not be permanent
  • Needs to be public, wants to provide context, include scholarly output (pubs)
  • Need lists of who works at Dartmouth – can’t use HR systems – not public
  • So needs to create a system and data (want to have very controlled data)
  • LNA (Linked Name Authority) linked data version of authority file
  • IDs, Faculty, Students, Publishers, Alumni, Departments (want to track changes in department names etc.)
  • RESTful API (Hydra head)
  • will put on GitHub
  • It is Not VIAF, but sort of – both are adding multiple things, but LNA more local
  • to track people – friend of a friend (FOAF)
  • to track pubs – BIBO, ALI
  • to track orgs – ORG, SKOS
  • to track titles – vCard
  • to track IDs – FOAF
  • the LNA can feed different systems – the Commons is one, the Digital Repository is another, but also push things out to other networks like ORCID
  • Hydra Fedora based system

1:30-2 p.m.: Lightning talks

Matt Sherman – Donne, and Done: Newbie Digital Scholarship

Eric Bivona – Multimedia in the Long Eighteenth Century (1685-1815)


This seemed like a very interesting project about hunting down old books with music in them.


  • English Short Title Catalog – they want to make a French one for the 18th c.
  • Want to get the music / lyrics out of books
  • Created citation / scan management with Blacklight

Matt Bernhardt (MIT) – Bringing WordPress under control with GitHub, Travis and related tools

It was great to hear about this side of library work at MIT because I rarely get to hear about it.


  • Problem – Too many people – developers and contractors all working on it
  • WordPress network ~24 sites, 7 repositories
  •, project management tool, alternate to GitHub – focuses on issues not code – is easier for non coders to look at

2-2:30 p.m.: Steven Anderson and Eben English (both BPL) – RDF and Linked Data tips, tricks, and tools

This presentation provided a great overview of linked data and some info about projects and collaborations the BPL is working on. Here is a link to the presentation –



  • Solid command of lingo important
  • linked data consists of
    • RDF (subject-predicate-object, triples)
    • Triples (expressions subject-predicate-object), can be expressed in Turtle, JSON-LD, N-Triples, RDF/XML
    • Graph – triples, storage model used in RDF
    • Property – relations between subjects and objects – predicates
    • Namespace AKA schema, vocabulary
    • Class & Type
      • Class – the kind of thing this is
      • type – an instance of rdf:Property that is used to state that a resource is an instance of a class.
    • Domain – the class of the subject in a triple
    • Range – the class or datatype of the object in a triple
    • Literal – string
  • Vocabularies
  • Predicates
  • don’t dumb down your data
  • MODS to RDF – no easy way to do it
  • Metadata Enrichment Interface – available in Jan
  • Digital Transgender Archive
  • Custom terms – Oregon Digital Vocabulary Manager – –

2:30-3 p.m.: Ben Florin – Recommending librarians using Elasticsearch and LC Call Numbers

This was about adding librarian’s photos to searches, so when someone searched about, for example, history, then the history librarian’s photo and contact info would appear on the search page. Seems very useful. They found they got a lot of feedback when the librarian’s image did not appear – because the search yielded no results.

3:15-3:45 p.m.: Rob O’Connell (5 colleges) – Browsing your collection using x and restful servers

This was another impressive project from Smith. I love that it was about browsing and making virtual browsing pleasant and image focused. Here is a link to it –


  • Why do it? improve discoverability, simple interface (Netflix/Google Play), predefined complex searches, real-time availability, highlight hidden materials
  • Visually appealing, easy to use grid layout
  • MARC parser
  • Pulls in a lot of info from IMDB, and the movie browse looks very commercial – and says if things are available or not
  • sits on top of OPAC – Aleph, very tailored to 5 colleges, just presented in new way
  • very Pinterest-y, also if log-in can make your own boards and have them public or private

3:45-4:15 p.m.: Chuck McAndrew – The Tor Relay at the Lebanon Public Libraries

This was a passionate presentation about a browser that doesn’t track any info on people while they use the internet. Apparently it is sort of a controversial browser. But the Lebanon Public Library was able to install it on their computers to protect the privacy of their patrons.


4:15-4:45 p.m.: Eric Bivona and Joe Montibello (Dartmouth) – ShelfLoc

ShelfLoc is a system created at Dartmouth to keep track of the shelf locations of materials during a massive move.


  • Storage issues, buildings to be demo’d
  • solution – storage based on size, compact shelving BUT ILS couldn’t do that – so go with vendor or build own?
  • build own

Worcester Refugee Archive

The New England Archivists Roundtable of Early Professionals and Students (REPS)held it’s second annual day of service yesterday. There were 5 projects volunteers could sign up for.

— History Project: Documenting LGBTQ (Boston, MA)
— USS Constitution Museum (Charlestown, MA)
— Worcester Refugee Archive (Worcester, MA)
— Colchester Historical Society (Colchester, CT)
— Hardwick Historical Society (Hardwick, VT)

I love volunteering and this made it very easy. I signed up for a 4 hour shift with the Worcester Refugee Archive at Clark University. Convenience and curiosity were my main reasons for choosing this site. My sister lives in Worcester, so I was able to visit with her after. The work consisted of adding item level descriptions to a WordPress site to create a catablog for the archive. I’m not sure if the catablog inspiration is from UMass’s UMarmot, or the WordPress plugin (which I just now found out about), but the idea of helping out a DIY archive was very appealing. And in general I was looking forward to working with WordPress and to learn more about the Worcester Refugee Archive.

According to the website the archive “is a repository for materials, knowledge, research, and resources related to Worcester’s refugee and forced migrant communities. It serves to collect published and unpublished materials on the history, resettlement, community health, livelihoods, and material culture–among other things–of individuals, groups, refugee community organizations, and agencies based in and around Worcester.”

I did learn a little more about the archive – which is in a very beginning stage at the moment. It is inspired by a class taught at Clark and the work being done by graduate students and faculty. There is a lot of secondary material in the collections – I worked on adding descriptions of background materials which consisted of articles and reports that are available online through journals or government sites. Other materials there were theses, conference handouts and swag. I think they also have work from Clark students and hope to collect material from community members.

Unfortunately WordPress was not working for us and I was never able to get a back end look at the catalog. This also meant that instead of inputting each item directly into WordPress we had to write out the information in a Word file and then email them to Chris Markman, the coordinator of the event. This was fine, but I was hoping to actually do some work on the site. And I think without being able to see others’ work that there will be a lot of inconsistencies between entries that will need to be cleaned up. But I am looking forward to seeing how the entries are adding to the WordPress site and what else the archive has to offer.

Overall, I hope me spending 4 hours describing 26 journal articles that are in jstor was helpful, because as an archivist it was a little hard to convince myself it was and it was hard to not think of other ways the work could be done. I don’t want to be critical of the project, because I think it’s a fine project and there is a lot of enthusiasm around it and I hope it succeeds but I did find myself grappling with what kind of “archive” it was. I guess as I become more entrenched in archive work I find myself becoming less flexible in ideas and meanings of such words as “collection” vs. “archive”. But I think the main thing to remember is how beneficial is the archive to the people who are creating it, and more importantly, using it. Keeping this in mind is critical when visiting or volunteering with an organization you are not familiar with. When I look at it like that I can see (and I truly do hope!) that the work I did is helpful for the Refugee Archive to fulfill its goals with item level description.

[I have written previously about why I volunteer here.]

DAS exam

I recently passed the Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) exam! And I wanted to share some thoughts about the DAS program – mainly the “housekeeping” part of the program, not the content itself.

The exam itself consists of 100 multiple choice questions. I have no idea how many I actually got correct, but it was enough to pass. I also signed a non-disclosure agreement before taking the test so I will not share any of the questions here. But I can say that the actual test taking and waiting for the results was a little like taking the SATs in the late 1990s, only no essay section. Similar to my SAT experience, DAS test takers brought in their own number 2 pencils, sat in rows, there were proctors, and you filled in tiny round circles to indicate your answers. The wait period for your results was / is 8-10 weeks.

A huge improvement to the process would be to have electronic tests and immediately receive your score, like they did at the DMV in the late 1990s, or they do with GRE and many other types of exams. The DAS exam itself is a little pricey – about $100 and you have to either travel to the SAA annual conference or be in a place with at least 5 other people ready to take the test. I’m sure there are reasons why doing the test online or electronically is impossible, but it would be much better if you could do it digitally.

Other reactions to the whole DAS program.

So i started taking the workshops when I was in graduate school (not for library science) and at my first para-professional archives job. When I took the exam it was 2.5 years later and I was out of school and at a new job in a new geographic location (read: total life change / moving with family (just a husband, but still)). I could only locate a handful of the documents that I should have had from the workshops and webinars. Of course I take full responsibility for my lack of organization, but it would have been extremely helpful to be able to revisit powerpoints, handouts, and any other workshop materials right before taking the exam. I had paid (by that i mean work had paid) for each webinar and workshop, wasn’t I entitled to the documentation that went with it? Well only for two months after the workshop or webinar, and then you are not. This was probably one of my biggest problems with the DAS program – there wasn’t a Blackboard type place that kept track of all my classes, what tiers they belonged to, what requirements I still needed, and all the handouts and powerpoints. As it was I had some things in print from workshops, and some powerpoints from webinars that I took later that I had printed out. Because there is no formal program – you just take all the classes and tests and then you qualify for the final exam – there is a lack of responsibility on SAA, and it may not be clear to students if they will actually finish all the requirements and take the final exam. I sort of didn’t know if I would make it though the whole thing when I started (once you start you have 2 years to take 9 classes).

I guess what I’m saying is if I had to do it over, I would be much, much, much more organized about it, and I would download everything possible. But it’s not always easy to be super organized about something that changes on you. Knowing what webinars will be updated soon verse when a workshop will be scheduled near you, sort of made it difficult to plan out what I would take when. At first I didn’t mind the randomness of it, but once you start needing a specific class and time is running out it gets a little nerve wracking.

Lastly I thought it was weird that an all day workshop counted as much as a 90 minute webinar. How are the two equal? Can all the classes just be done online? Could there be a purely online way of getting your DAS certificate? And could it keep track of your progress and class notes? That sounds so nice. I love being organized.