Posted by: stackedfivehigh | September 20, 2011

Conference sessions – a month late

I’m finally going to blog about the Society of American Archivists Conference I attended in August. First up – Creative and Low-Cost Preservation Strategies in Practice. This session was really interesting. The speakers were all approaching different areas of preservation, and mentioned some useful tactics and ideas.

For physical preservation, one of the points that was reiterated was providing an appropriate environment. I know it seems obvious, but I’m glad they kept mentioning it. If your temperature and humidity are appropriate and consistent, half your work is done. For the other half – that’s when we try to find the cheapest options possible that will still get the job done. A few of the new ideas I heard included using unbleached muslin to wrap fragile books, the heaviest Mylar you can find instead of oversize folders, and shrink-wrap for books.

The use of Mylar in place of specialty folders was a brilliant idea, because not only is it cheaper, but it also protects the item. Instead of needing to pull it out of a folder, the transparent “folder” protects the structure and the record itself. The speaker said she found it to be most useful for maps, as the structure can often be unstable because of the size.

Using shrink-wrap to protect books seemed odd – and it does result in environmental waste – but it’s an interesting option. The cost to shrink-wrap a book was estimated to be between 15 and 18 cents. When the book is needed, the wrap is cut away. This method does use some heat, which needs to be considered for preservation.

Another part of the session discussed assessing the collection for preservation purposes. CALIPR software had been used but proved to be not quite suited for the archival collections. It did provide a foundation for a home-made random sampling system, which was put into use to assess the needs of the collection. The goal of “good enough” was emphasized here, as was the need to avoid item-level preservation.

Next time – “What ARMA can teach us beyond Records Management”

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | August 28, 2011

SAA 2011

I just got home from the Society of American Archivists’ Annual Conference (or SAA 2011). I missed some interesting sessions on Saturday because I raced home to beat Hurricane Irene, but I still had a great time and met some fantastic people. I’ll post more about the sessions I attended and the most interesting things I learned a bit later – I just wanted to check in for now.


Posted by: stackedfivehigh | August 4, 2011

Sometimes you have to do nothing

Conservators find best treatment for wedding veil from “Gone With The Wind” is no treatment

“Gone With The Wind is full of lessons about love, life, and loss. Almost 75 years later, Scarlett’s silk wedding veil has one more lesson….Varnell explains that the conservation team could conceivably decide to support the veil with replacement tulle netting. The problem is that they wouldn’t be able to stitch the tulle to the cap because the cap is friable, meaning it will turn to dust if handled too much. “It becomes this trade-off,” Varnell said. “If we try to conserve it, what will happen? I wouldn’t achieve anything by way of support, and it would require so much handling I might end up with nothing. If we leave it alone, what will happen? We’ll pack it properly, it shouldn’t be shown, and it will be an object to be studied, not one to be displayed.” Since conservation will probably deteriorate the veil even further, Varnell and the conservation team have decided to keep an eye on the veil and regularly monitor its condition…”

One important, and difficult lesson – just because something *can* be done, doesn’t mean it should. It must be hard to make that call in conservation work, especially when you’re dealing with something that has such value to so many.

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | July 30, 2011

A little bit backwards

The message I just posted about the interior wall crumbling should have been posted a week or so ago. I managed to save it to draft instead. So the last two posts are out of order.

Now I’m going back to reading about UV protection for archives collections…

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | July 30, 2011

That’s the way the cookie crumbles

And by “cookie” I mean “interior wall in the stacks.”

Two weeks ago, we walked in to our two-room office suite (office to the right, stacks to the left – doorway but no door in between) to discover the a/c in the office wasn’t working. It was on, and making delightful grinding noises, but no cooling air was coming out. I logged the temperature and humidity, and put in the call for a tech. Not a great environment for the collection, but unit air conditioners aren’t designed to be on 24/7, and sure enough, it had frozen and was thawed and working the next day.

Then we walked through the stacks to make sure everything was doing well out there, and discovered a delightful pile of plaster on the floor.  The building we’re in was built in the early 1920s – combine that with an intermittent leak in the ceiling that no one can find, and we’re faced with replacing ceiling tiles with some regularity, and watching discoloration and decomposition happen in the walls and ceiling. In this case, one of the ceiling tiles broke under the weight of broken plaster and moisture, depositing large chunks, small chunks, dust, and yuck on the floor. Sadly, there wasn’t much to do for it but to call out a tech who confirmed there’s nothing they can do about it except to pull the broken plaster off the other ceiling tiles and replace water-stained tiles with new ones.

It’s definitely a good lesson on how to deal with environmental concerns in the archives, though.

That became one project to work on, and now that I’ve finally gotten around to formally breaking down all of the internship goals for the summer, my advisor is (im)patiently waiting for me to complete a billion things so he can review them, particularly the exhibit that I want to create. The exhibit is what I spent most of my time on last week. I checked the size available in the case, and reviewed my options. For this doctor, we have his CV and brief work/education bio; a few dozen books; a dozen or so certificates, diplomas and class pictures; and a drawing he did.

I’ve pulled 3 books that I think highlight what made him interesting: a book on venom, a side specialty he developed over the years that eventually made him one of the top specialists in the area; a book on venology, another specialty; and a book on drawing with pen and ink. The latter was one of his hobbies, and something he supported as a tool for doctors to be able to keep more accurate patient records. This is a bit outdated now, but the idea of incorporating photographs into patient files is pretty interesting, I think.

For certificates and pictures, I’ve kept most of the group pictures, because it makes it more personal and is also interesting to see what the house staff of the hospital was wearing 60 years ago, or to see the demographic make-up, and so on. The fancier certificates are also being included. Of course, the one example of his drawing will be included as well.

After I picked out the items to include, I wrote up a brief description to go with them. Tomorrow I’ll be tweaking descriptions, printing them out, and hopefully putting the exhibit in place.

The only thing I really haven’t touched on that’s included in my internship goals is reference work. We haven’t had any reference requests since I’ve gotten there, which is pretty unusual. Hopefully something will come in for me to work on in that venue as well.

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | July 27, 2011

And there’s the reference work I asked for

Last week I mentioned the lack of reference work – which I need to have for one of my internship “goals” – and Monday morning we had a research request. That’s handy. I spent this Monday trying to find pictures of a particular doctor – not hard, as he had been with the hospital for at least 20 years, and we had a number of pictures of him from the hospital, from newspapers and magazines that wrote on him, etc.

The request was specifically for a picture of the doctor in the midst of scrubbing with other surgeons. Teeny bit harder to find, but I found one of him at the main scrub station with three other surgeons. It was already a black and white print in another book, but it fit the request. I also included some of him performing surgery with other surgeons – it might be useful.

Our collection area is pretty small, and I honestly didn’t get how much time it could take to look for a picture. I spent a solid 4 hours going through about 6 different collections that could have held what I needed. It was only one  research request, but it definitely gave me a real feel for brainstorming possible areas for review, the balance of speed and thoroughness, and the overall experience of reference work. I look forward to the next.

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | June 29, 2011

For a little archives humor

First, I wanted to steer everyone to Derangement and Description because it is awesome. There’s nothing like a little archives humor to get you through your day.

Now, let’s talk about my fantastic internship. It’s sort of amazing how much I’m doing and learning on my Mondays (and sometimes my Wednesdays, like today). On the 20th, we went to get a new collection. Last year the archives was given a donation by the same donor, so we went to pick up a collection of framed documents from her again. It was decided that the collection is mine, and we’re doing things according to the ideal – which involves a LOT of forms. I’ve already filled out a survey, a preliminary inventory, two processing checklists; wrote and sent a thank you letter, list of items in the donation with a preliminary description, and the deed of gift. My boss is definitely being thorough. I’ll be seeing this through to a small exhibit (my idea) as part of outreach, encouraging other people in the hospital to give up their goods to the archives.

Of course, all of this – and the readings I’m handed to do between forms – doesn’t even touch on the disaster plan, which has sort of paused while waiting to see if we can get funding for an awesome opportunity for professionals to come in and do a risk assessment, and while waiting for “administration” to decide how much of the existing disaster plan I can see. I completely understand not wanting to hand me all of the contingency plans for the entire (huge) hospital – but I also don’t need that. It would be useful to see what is in place for the rest of the wing that we’re in. If they already know where the plumbing lines are, it saves me having to ask people.

I’m also given homework assignments, and I’m very happy about this one – I was instructed to spend quality time going over all of the sessions being offered at the SAA Conference in Chicago this August and try to pick which ones I want to attend. If I find some that I can argue fit the goals of the internship, I might be able to get hours for the sessions. Even if I can’t, I’ll enjoy reading through the options and trying to narrow it down.  I’ll go do that now – you go write my paper on 19th century feminism in Europe. Thanks!

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | June 19, 2011

How to write a disaster plan

That title doesn’t mean I’m going to tell you – it was really a request for you to tell me. I spent last Monday researching for my disaster plan project. There is quite a bit that I will have to talk to other departments in the hospital about, but for now I just needed to get an organized plan of how all of this works. The National Archives has some pointers, and a web search found some other great resources. I ended up with a nice outline of topics, questions, ideas, possible disasters and solutions, and so on. I’m excited to talk to my boss about it tomorrow and see where we can go from here.

I think this project is a bit more complex than many disaster plans because the archives are sort of separate from the rest of the hospital in terms of responsibility and budget. The size of the hospital and number of people who might need to be involved in the plan also make this a big project, but I think it’s going to be fun.

Has anyone else written a disaster plan for an archives or records center?

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | June 10, 2011

Welcome to summer semester

All of my classes have started – including my crazy short history class on the Pacific theater of WWII, which is from last Saturday to this Saturday. That should be a breeze, right? I’m busily making my two color-coded schedules for the semester and getting the hang of what each professor prefers for our weekly discussion posts.

Let’s see – what have I been doing at the archives. Right now a lot of what I’m doing is sort of orientation. Learning how the system and files are organized, getting a sense of what we have in the archives, why, what we would like to accumulate, and so on. I’m waiting to hear back from the higher-ups at the hospital as to whether everyone is on board with my writing a disaster plan for the archives. This will be pretty labor-intensive, and will involve quite a bit of outreach to other parts of the hospital. If that isn’t approved I will probably work on an extensive video collection project that needs to be undertaken. We have four giant boxes of VHS tapes, a dozen or so BETA, and a set of tapes of – well, we honestly don’t know what type – bigger than a VHS, but looks like it.  Anyone? It’s on the list of things to google at some point. There are a good number of audio cassettes as well. And we don’t know what’s on many of these. So this little project would involve watching, summarizing, indexing, and ideally digitzing – or at least converting to a DVD.

I need a large project that will have a real, grade-able product for the internship to get me college credit, so the disaster plan or video collection indexing should work well. I understand the essence of a disaster plan, but since I’ve never written one, I’m planning on spending most of my Monday doing some serious research into the matter. I know the National Archives has some great ideas, as does ARMA, so I’ll start there and see what ideas, and questions, I can come up with.

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | May 26, 2011

Records & Database Management

Records & Database Management is the latest of the records management classes that I’ve taken. I lucked out and found a mini “May-mester” option that was only 4 or 5 weeks long. Since it started pretty much between my main Spring and Summer classes, I focused on it and finished it out today – 2.5 weeks early. This is not usually possible, but since I just came off of an incredibly busy Spring semester, I was already used to doing quite a bit of school work every day.

It was a really useful class. We were taught basic and advanced filing rules and systems (alphabetic, geographic, numeric – pros and cons, and so on). The text touched on equipment, the records audit, disaster planning, and a whole slew of other useful topics. While I’ve actually been an office manager before, I didn’t have the rules for records management, filing rules, etc.  I’ve even created a filing system – looking back at it, it was a nice try for an amateur but I would have done much better after reading this textbook.

The surprising part of the class was that in the materials was a miniature file drawer, little guides, folders, correspondence, and so on. Each chapter had a practical, hands-on portion for using filing rules . Then we had a database portion, where we learned the similarities and differences between paper and electronic filing. Main difference – the computer doesn’t follow the same rules of alphabetizing that the industry has agreed on, such as ignoring punctuation. Your sort order will be different on the computer from what is in your physical file unless you add a field for the indexing name. I like playing with databases, so that was a good refresher and not too hard for me to complete.

In internship news – the hospital archives is closed Monday for Memorial Day, so I’ll be using that time to work on my co-op proposal. My university calls an internship in which you get college credit a “co-op” and of course requires a proposal explaining the goals of the internship. I’m hoping to do a comprehensive disaster plan, because the archives does not have one yet. I think that would be a great project for the summer, in addition to reference work and day-to-day activities.

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