International Archives Day

International Archives Day

Posted on June 8, 2018 from AOTUS

On Saturday, June 9, the National Archives joins with archives around the world to celebrate International Archives Day, a commemoration of the day the International Council on Archives (ICA) was created in 1948. This day is dedicated to promoting the great work of archives and archivists in preserving and providing public access to our communities’ historical records and promoting access to government records for transparency and accountability.

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End of Week Four (4) at the Archives

Never a dull moment at the archives.

Last week I began circulating the draft collection policy I’ve been working on. I think is it pretty good, pretty comprehensive, but we’ll see what comments come back. I may have mentioned in an earlier post my realization that we are simultaneously an archives and a records center, as are many town and city repositories like us, so that requires a broader view of our collections. The records center is not up to date on a lot of records, and I suspect this results from (1) not having an archivist for a number of months, (2) decisions by records creators to just keep stuff on their computers or in the cloud without any formal structure, and (3) not having a formal and agreed upon retention schedule in place. So my next big project is going to be to tackle getting the retention schedule drafted, approved and instituted.

Since my last post, I visited the Montgomery County Historical Association and the Kensington Historical Association and had detailed chats with the archivist/librarian in both. Picked up some good ideas and shared some of my own thoughts. Always good to know your neighbors. It was good to see the web-based PastPerfect software in operation as well as the creative use of historical card catalog cabinets to catalog and make collections available to the public. Also impressed with the use of volunteers and the emphasis on genealogical research resources for folks coming in. Got some good ideas on processing and cataloging obits and other life events of the local citizenry. And don’t we all have too many superfluous photographs in our collections? Weeding them based on duplication and photos whose subjects can no longer be identified is required. But weeding then becomes such an exercise in sentimentality.

Figured out last week that PastPerfect can download to an Excel file and already knew that Excel files can be uploaded to ArchivesSpace. Not that it’s as easy as I stated, and not that there won’t be glitches since it’s likely not a 1:1 conversion. But PastPerfect, your days may be numbered, baby. The conversion, or even the potential conversion will be the subject of its own extensive study and blog post.

Another idea from the visits. Are we (Garrett Park, that is) evolving towards a historical association and not just an archives? We have several boxes of 3-D artifacts taking up valuable shelf space and not enough shelf space for document boxes which are our actual stock in trade. Does the whole idea of GLAM convergence mean that for small operations we become all things to all people? And we converge as we all become more digital and less non-digital in our holdings? So much of the research on this phenomenon is being done by the Canadians and the Australians. Americans are behind but we need to catch up.  I was thinking the other day about how records collections not maintained current become artifacts, museum pieces, time capsules that are useful in their own right, but that fall short when it comes to legal and historical reasons for keeping records in the first place. Also thinking we need to physically segregate town records we are obliged to keep from other archival collections. We might need more space one day soon. OK. That’s that for now.

Because the position was gapped for so long, we decided to use the money in the budget to spruce up the place a bit. New workstations, better lighting, new tables for volunteers and for processing of collections, new chairs (OMG, the folding chairs we have are so uncomfortable!), archival and office supplies for the next year, oral history equipment (headphones, recorders, etc.). Nothing is as fun as shopping! We’ll take photos when it all arrives, is assembled and in place.

Finally, next week I’m driving to Leesburg for the annual meeting VA/MD Caucus of MARAC (Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference). Will be fun and enlightening hanging out with archivists throughout the immediate region.

our collections

I did this short blurb for a draft collections policy I am working on. The whole thing is still in draft but if you are interested, I will share it with you. Here is the short version:

Garrett Park Archives doubles as a records center for the Town of Garrett Park and as the town’s archival repository. Official town records include records of town ordinances and charter revisions, zoning decisions, voter registration records, actual election records, town council meeting minutes (from 1898), residential property records (of every residence) including lot and block records, limited records of Garrett Park Elementary School, town events calendars, town historical events, town office records, crime and police records, etc.

The archives repository contains the following documents and artifacts: oral history tapes and transcripts (over 150, about half awaiting transcription); archived print and digital copies of The Bugle, the town bulletin (back to 1953); a small collection of reminiscences by prominent citizens; a collection of documents on civic institutions such as the Town Arboretum, designation as a Nuclear-Free Zone, the Citizens Association, the Women’s Committee, and to a lesser extent, park gardening, hiking and walking trails, and the local swimming pool; records of the historical preservation committee, the archives committee, and the Garrett Park Players; a large number of digitized and print photos, several individual collections of prominent citizens, and a number of boxes of museum-quality artifacts.

Postscript. The advisory committee chair asked me in a meeting about a deaccessioning policy. My first inclination was to respond that we deaccession on the front end, through the collection policy and appraisal. But then I thought about it. Because we are part record center and part archives, a deaccessioning policy on the back end might be appropriate. Now deaccessioning can be a sensitive thing – people become attached to “stuff” in sentimental and personal ways. So, in the draft policy, deaccessioning requires (1) recommendation by the archivist and (2) approval by simple majority of the advisory board with (3) the town manager casting the tie-breaking vote in the event of a tie on the advisory committee.

a new blog, a new job

Two weeks in (four working days) and I am ready to make a blog post about my new, part-time gig as town archivist at Garrett Park, Maryland Archives.

Garrett Park is a lovely community in the Washington, DC suburbs. The first day I visited for my interview I remember thinking it reminded me of a cross between the prep school I attended in central Virginia and a couple of embassies I worked at in West Africa – peaceful, placid, well-manicured. I said to myself after the interview, ‘If they offer me this job, I’m gonna take it, the long commute notwithstanding.” Well, they offered, and I accepted!

About Garrett Park. The passing of the Civil Service Act of 1883 resulted in the springing up of several local communities in Washington, DC and on its periphery. Employees could depend on a steady career path, not subject to the vagaries of political favors and election spoils. Garrett Park, incorporated in 1898, was one of these communities. A Maryland.gov website says it was named for John W. Garrett, a B&O Railroad president.  Land was originally purchased by Henry W. Copp who formed the Metropolitan Investment and Building Company in 1886 to acquire 500 acres of land on which to develop a commuter summer home suburb for artists and professionals along the Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad.  In 1975, Garrett Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It passed local legislation to declare itself an arboretum in 1977. It declared itself a nuclear free zone in 1982.

The archives itself is a repository of historically significant collections covering the history and governance of the town. Collections include detailed records of all its residences, historical records of the town council and other civic activities, and oral histories of many of its residents. The archives shares the basement of Town Hall with the post office, frequently visited by the public as Garrett Park does not have residential mail delivery.

The work of former town clerks Betsy White and Sibyl Griffin and librarian Norah Payne laid an excellent foundation for the archives by preserving and organizing town records and many of the collections we now have. The town’s first archivist was Elizabeth Shidler, who can be credited with tremendous work and keen insight in pulling the archives together. Since 2009, an active and very capable archives advisory committee has worked with the town manager and a series of part-time archivists and volunteers to build on the valuable work of White, Griffin, Payne and Shidler. Here are some photos:

 

 

In the first week I updated the Montgomery County Volunteer Center website and already we have received a respectable response from interested potential volunteers, whom I’ll be able to orientate as soon as I have finished my own orientation! This week coming I hope to make courtesy calls on other archivists in Montgomery County.

It is a tight space, but I lived on submarines for four years back during the Cold War and I believe I can make this space work for volunteers, for researchers, and for collection processing and preservation.

My aim is to make this a biweekly post, at least, maybe a weekly one if there is stuff to post. In the next post we will look at individual collections and software applications used to organize and preserve the collections and make them accessible to researchers and the public at large.