Monday, December 15, 2008

Libraries and Archives Depicted on Most Evil

Most Evil's Dr. Michael Stone

One of my favorite shows is Most Evil on the Investigation Discovery Channel. Forensic psychiatrist Michael Stone from Columbia University researches and rates murderers, serial killers, and sociopaths on a scale of evil.

I have been interested in true crime since I was a child, which I am often teased about because you wouldn't expect me to have such dark interests. For instance, the first grown-up book I read was Wasted: The Preppie Murder when I was 9! I also wrote my Master's thesis on the media representation of serial killer Aileen Wuornos. I rattle off details about killers the way others talk about athletes.

Of course, I am also drawn to the show because Dr. Stone attempts to code and classify disordered, abhorrent human behavior on a hierarchical scale of depravity. On opposite sides of the spectrum are those who kill in self-defense, the least evil, and psychopaths who torture and kill, the most evil. But who is to say that "Criminals who kill in self-defense, but are extremely provocative toward the victim" (Level 4) are less evil than "Traumatized, desperate persons who kill" (Level 5)?

Between crime reenactments, the show depicts Stone using library and archival materials, such as microfiche, card catalogs, and files. In reality, most of the research is probably conducted by Stone and his assistants through digital means. For instance, newspaper articles are more easily retrieved through the Internet, rather than microfiche.

The use of these traditional resources connote Ivy-League academic research more readily than electronic files. It is more dramatic and visually stimulating to show the face of a serial killer via overhead projector than on a computer screen or Stone researching in a noble, wood-paneled library. Perhaps I am the only one to notice because I have always loved the physical space of archives and libraries? I am interested in how we will visually represent research in the future as we become more used to the Internet as a primary research tool.

Explore Dr. Stone's Evil Scale

Friday, December 5, 2008

Wineville Chicken Coop Murders Historical Photos

Farm Near Wineville

The "murder farm" of Gordon Stewart Northcott near Wineville in Riverside County. The panorama shows in detail the exact places where dark deeds transpired, according to Deputy District Attorney Earl Redwine and Sanford Clark, Northcott's 15-year-old nephew, whose story brought about Northcott's arrest at age 24 in Canada. Clark accused Northcott of mistreating, murdering and burying boys in quicklime. Two boys were murdered and three buried in the chicken houses in the background. Arrow at right shows a coop where Clark asserted Northcott imprisoned Walter Collins, kidnapped Los Angeles boy, and finally killed him with an axe. Collins was held captive in the coop, slept there on a rude cot, and could only look into the pens at right. Slaying and burial sites of the Winslow brothers are noted.

As regular readers know, I love true crime. Ads for the film The Changeling noted that the movie was based on true events: the 1928-1930 Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, a case so notorious that the town changed its name to Mira Loma in 1930.

From Wikipedia:

"In September 1928, the Los Angeles Police Department, acting on a tip as to the whereabouts of a missing Canadian boy in the area, went to the Northcott Ranch, a small chicken farm located in present day Mira Loma, California. There they discovered the missing boy, Sanford Clark. Under questioning, Clark claimed that he had been kidnapped by his cousin, Gordon Stewart Northcott, the son of the farm's owner. Northcott had apparently kept Clark prisoner on the ranch, physically abusing him and threatening to kill the boy if he fled. Clark claimed that Northcott had abducted and murdered as many as twenty children between the ages of nine and twelve. Clark was able to lead police to the graves of some of the victims. Northcott was arrested near Vernon, British Columbia, after having fled to his native Canada...

...The Los Angeles Police Department was also involved in a scandal as a result of this case. Arthur Hutchens, Jr., a runaway from Illinois but who was originally from Iowa, claimed he was the missing Walter Collins so he could get a free trip to California. The police considered the case closed and tried to convince Walter's mother, Christine Collins, that Hutchens was her son. When she refused to believe it, she was placed in the psychiatric ward of the Los Angeles County General Hospital. Only after Hutchens admitted he was not Christine Collins' son, ten days later, was she released."

The Los Angeles Public Library has a photo collection which includes 121 photos associated with the case. Enter "Northcott" as a keyword.

Read more about the case here

Monday, December 1, 2008

Digitized Japanese Internment Camp Yearbooks

Japanese Interment Camp Yearbook Scan

Aquila was a yearbook for Japanese-American high school students interned in a camp during World War II. The University of California has scans of two editions here.

This facinates me for several reasons: the banality of evil, maintaining traditions during unusual (to say the least) circumstances, and, of course, the capability of digital archives to reach users across time and space.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Old book sheds new light on Great Lakes shipping history

Captain's log logbook-1.jpg
Debra Majer, Archivist for the Diocese of London holds a captain's log from the early 1800's.
Photograph by: Jason Kryk, The Windsor Star

An archivist who was digging through old documents in the basement of a Harrow church says she has unearthed a 19th century ledger that provides a rare glimpse into Great Lakes shipping history.

"It was as I went through the book and went closer to the back ... I realized this was something unbelievable and exceptional," Debra Majer said Wednesday.

The Catholic diocese of London archivist was holding a treasure trove: a ledger dating to the 1800s with hundreds of names of ships' captains and vessels with the dates they sailed and their fates. She held 255 pages detailing brigs, tugs and steamships that sailed the Great Lakes.

Read more

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review of Patriotic Information Systems

Patriotic Information Systems

My review of Patriotic Information Systems. Edited by Todd Loendorf and G. David Garson. (Hershey, PA: ICI Publishing, 2008). Published in Online Information Review, 32(6), 2008.

In Patriotic Information Systems, editors Todd Loendorf and G. David Garson, both from North Carolina State University, present ten papers exploring the intersection of the Patriot Act and civil liberties. Although citizens forfeit some freedom for society’s protection in times of crisis, privacy and information access rights are jeopardized in a post 9/11 world.

Divided into sections, “Freedom of Information and Access” and “Security, Technology, and Democracy,” the book questions the survival of egalitarian values in a surveillance society. Garson’s introductory chapter discusses democratic and technological issues elaborated on in later essays and calls for a comprehensive civil remedies statue, noting that “the scales have tipped so heavily in favor of surveillance and security and so much against privacy and freedom, that proposals for reform seem almost utopian” (18). Loendorf’s concluding chapter, “Out of Control? The Real ID Act of 2005,” opposes the implementation of a national ID card due to financial, security, and privacy concerns. Other papers discuss Internet surveillance, radio frequency technology, Freedom of Information Act restrictions, the Patriot Act’s impact on libraries, and information system dismantlement due to perceived security threats.

Describing the Patriot Act as “one of the greatest assaults on personal privacy ever launched upon the citizens of our nation,” the authors castigate the Bush administration’s interpretation and enforcement of privacy and freedom of information laws (vii). They write that “…information gathering [and] sophisticated information gathering tools serve as an important myth promoting greater legitimacy and confidence in the government’s ability to provide security to the citizens” (117). Conflicts between privacy rights and public interest are inevitable, but the shift from transparent policies to massive classification portends a dismal future when IT systems may be “less hospitable to the democratic visions which some theorists once anticipated would be among the most important contributions of information technology to society” (x).

Librarians balance issues of privacy and intellectual freedom with government requests for information. In a chapter discussing studies from the University of Illinois’s Library Research Center, researchers note that “whatever the immediate impact the terrorist attacks had on libraries, it has stayed roughly the same 1 year later, and perhaps demonstrates more long-term effects of September 11 and the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act” (87). Another chapter, “Watching What We Read: Implications of Law Enforcement Activity in Libraries Since 9/11” found that budget cuts impacted libraries more than legislation and librarians were hesitant to disparage the act for fear of losing patron support.

Patriotic Information Systems is suggested for information professionals concerned with the compromise of information systems through the interpretation of the Patriot Act. The editors remain hopeful that the upcoming change in administration will lead to truly patriotic information systems that fight terrorism abroad while defending freedom at home.

The Semantic Web, A Case Study at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Recently, I attending the Museum Computer Network Conference in Washington D.C. I was impressed by the presentation The Semantic Web, A Case Study at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, presented by Koven Smith, Associate Manager of Interpretive Technology and Don Undeen, Senior Information Architect.

Here's the workshop description:

"What is the Semantic Web and why should you care? This session will answer these questions and more by presenting a case study of several prototype Semantic Web applications currently in development at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The presentation will focus on the practical issues associated with deploying semantic technologies in a museum environment including creating triple stores and finding new data relationships using natural language processing and clustering techniques. The panelists will introduce the languages and tools of the Semantic Web including RDF, OWL, and SPARQL and will present several real-world demonstrations using museum data."

Read the PowerPoint here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Artifact thief to serve prison time

Daniel D. Lorello, ex-archivist

All too often, it seems like archivists only make the news when they steal the holdings of the institutions they work for. I've been following the case of Daniel D. Lorello, an archivist at the New York State Library and Archives, who stole more than 1,600 artifacts over eleven years.

From a recent article:

ALBANY — A former state archivist and Civil War expert who stole hundreds of historical documents and artifacts belonging to the New York State Library and sold some of them over the Internet for personal profit was sentenced on Thursday to two to six years in prison.

Daniel D. Lorello, 54, of Van Leuven Drive, Rensselaer, apologized to his family and co-workers at his sentencing appearance before Albany County Court Judge Thomas Breslin.

In addition to prison time, he must pay $125,500 in restitution, to be divided among people who unknowingly bought stolen property from him and later returned it to the state.

He must also forfeit his personal collection of historic artifacts and documents, valued at approximately $80,000, to the New York State Library and Archives.

Lorello was arrested in January and pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny on Aug. 8 for stealing more than 1,600 artifacts from New York state between Jan. 1, 1997, and Jan. 24, 2008.

The Attorney General’s Office said on Thursday that more than 1,600 stolen items have been recovered.

“In serving as a guardian of New York’s historical treasures, Mr. Lorello abused his position to steal priceless artifacts instead of protecting them for future generations,” Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

Lorello, in a hand-written statement submitted to the court earlier this year, said he stole the items in part to pay $10,000 in credit card bills run up by his daughter. He admitted he took things when he needed to pay family bills for house renovations, car bills, tuition and his daughter’s credit card problem. He took between 300 to 400 items in 2007.

The thefts were discovered after the state Library was contacted by Joseph Romito, a history buff from Virginia, who alerted state authorities to a pending sale of an item Lorello posted on eBay, and which he believed belonged to the library.

The item was a four-page letter to a New York general by John C. Calhoun from 1823. Calhoun was the seventh vice president of the United States, serving under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, and was an avid secessionist.

Lorello also admitted stealing two copies of the Davey Crockett Almanac, a Poor Richard’s Almanack, published by Benjamin Franklin, which he sold for $1,001, and a visiting card portrait of Civil War Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock.

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills in a statement said: “Access to the historical collections of the nation is a fundamental right in our democracy. When someone steals from those collections, we are all harmed. Fortunately, most of the items stolen by Mr. Lorello have now been recovered.”

Lorello, who resigned from his position at the Department of Education, had worked at the state archives since 1979 and oversaw the movement of records during renovation. He worked on the 11th floor of the Cultural Education Center, the same building where the State Museum is located.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Review of Archival Internships: A Guide for Faculty, Supervisors, and Students

Archival Internships: A Guide for Faculty, Supervisors, and Students

My review of Archival Internships: A Guide for Faculty, Supervisors, and Students by Jeannette A. Bastian and Donna Webber (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2008).
Published in Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals, 4(4) Fall 2008.

While the importance of internships has been recognized since the archival profession’s establishment in the 1930s, a lack of research and standards has hindered their development. Jeannette A. Bastian and Donna Webber’s Archival Internships: A Guide for Faculty, Supervisors, and Students addresses this problem by imparting a holistic view of internships from the perspectives of faculty advisors, site supervisors, and students. Bastian, Associate Professor and Archives Program Director at Simmons College, and Webber, Simmons College Archivist, have years of experience placing and supervising interns. The manual developed from their need for overarching internship criterion when they discovered that sites had different business rules that produced inconsistent practica for students.

The authors conducted two years of research via focus groups, questionnaires, e-mail interviews, and web surveys; they also cite past research. The book provides site supervisors and faculty advisors with best practices, as well as assisting students with realistic expectations for internships. Although the book’s focus is on academic internships, a chapter focuses on the merit of independent paid opportunities—often the only option due to geography or finances. The guide also includes case studies that illustrate problems and solutions, appendices of sample forms and procedures, and a selected bibliography.

Through practical experience, students demonstrate their comprehension of archival principles and receive structured feedback on their newly acquired skills. Theory and practice meet during experiential learning, a microcosm of professional work where faculty, students, and site supervisors build consensus around processes, goals, and achievable outcomes. The authors state, “Cooperatively planned, [internships] can be ideal blends of giving and getting, a way for the profession to continually renew itself” (83). As archives become more technologically based, students will apply their knowledge of current and future trends, assisting working archivists in maintaining cutting edge procedures.

The tension between theory and practice runs throughout the text. The authors write, “Too great an emphasis on internships may reduce archival education to mere training, but with no practical learning at all, students are ill-equipped to enter a workplace that places a high value on experience” (15). Before the development of graduate-level archival education, historians with master’s or doctorate degrees became archivists through on-the-job training. Internships were a core component of early graduate programs, but became elective in some programs since the 1970s. Today, graduate education, work experience, and continued professional development is the ideal blend for attaining archival knowledge throughout one’s career.

The place and design of internships in programs is debatable, but as graduate archival education becomes a professional requisite, it will inevitably produce more interns. Educational offerings, especially multi-course curricula, have expanded in recent years, and some institutions offer master’s degrees in archival studies. These opportunities allow students to explore their interests beyond an educational core. The increase in eager neophytes could transform internships from individualized transactions to institutionalized programs that are “rigorous and designed with care” (13). Although the book does not resolve the debate between the two recognized career paths (education with experience or experience alone), continued demand for internships may lead to studies on their responsibility in educating beginner archivists.

The authors recommend measures, based on SAA’s 2002 Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies, which established minimum educational standards for curriculum, faculty, and structure. Internships should augment, not replace, training and be structured, monitored, and evaluated by faculty advisors, and supervised by mentoring archivists. Academic programs should also be responsible for student placement, communication with site supervisors, and record maintenance. Ideally, each program should have at least one internship of 120 to 180 hours in the middle of the course of study with specific project deliverables.

Many guidelines omit site supervisors, the most critical part of internships, as multiple surveys have demonstrated. “The challenge [is to] fulfill both academic requirements and practical needs,” state the authors (15). Ideally, institutions and students enjoy a mutually beneficial internship. Given the realities of archives, intern-appropriate work may be more important to the institution than engaging for the student. Best practices call for a project that can be completed fully, giving the intern a sense of accomplishment. The book is especially useful to institutions considering hosting internships as it provides guidelines and standardized forms to minimize administration time.

Although some of the advice in Archival Internships may be common sense, this all-purpose volume for faculty, supervisors, and students should produce fieldwork that is more consistent and benefit new archivists. Internships are one way that archivists can encourage the continued development of comprehensive educational programs with a wider variety of master’s degree programs. These much-needed guidelines both define the academic preparation needed to meet these new challenges, and the obligation of the professional community to create rigorous and challenging internships for the archivists of the future.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Inspirational thought

Old books

For some of us, books and libraries symbolize some of the very qualities and modes o being that are threatened in our fast-paced instrumental lives. Books speak of time and depth and attention. They speak of a slower rhythm of life. And in their weighty physicality, they draw us back to our own materiality, and to the materiality of the world. Libraries are places not just where books can be found, but where people can temporarily remove themselves from the speed and busyness of life, where they can read and write and reflect. They are (or can be) shared sacred places in a secular, common world.

Levy, D. M. (2001) Scrolling Forward – Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age, Arcade Publishing, 197.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Online Collections

No ID No Skate Collection

The rise and rapidity of the Internet has made unique, personal collections of material culture instantaneously accessible. One that I've visited recently is No ID No Skate, a collection of skatepark ID cards from the 1970s and 80s. There are almost 400 IDs from 75 parks in 18 states.

Visit No ID No Skate

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What do employers want?

A view of the stacks

Recently, I attended a discussion panel of local library employers. (Although I am committed to being an archivist, I find some library-related career advice helpful). Representatives from academic, public, and special libraries answered questions about what they are looking for in new hires and what skills are in demand in today’s library job market.

Most of the advice was obvious, but some statements stood out for me:

Trust the process: take direction from the job description and be patient.

The best time to apply for jobs is in the middle of the academic semester, especially for public libraries. New library science graduates apply at the end of the semester which creates a glut of talent. It's easier to stand out when the hiring pipeline has been cleared.

Treat the receptionist well. (Conversely, how the receptionist treats you as an interviewee says a lot about an employer too).

Icebreakers are important because it shows how you interact with others. Are you someone that they want to have morning coffee with?

Even more recently, on the advice of my faculty adviser, I met with an archivist who's been working in the field for more than thirty years. We discussed the profession in general, and he gave me two critiques on my resume. I should include professional associations because it says that I am willing to invest in my career. I should also highlight the finding aids I created. I am always amazed and grateful that the archivists I have reached out to have always been willing to take time from their busy schedules to advise someone new to the field!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Review of Subject Access to a Multilingual Museum Database: A Step-by-Step Approach to the Digitization Process

Subject Access to a Multilingual Museum Database: A Step-by-Step Approach to the Digitization Process

My review of Subject Access to a Multilingual Museum Database: A Step-by-Step Approach to the Digitization Process by Allison Siffre Guedalia Kupietzky (Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2007).
Published in Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34(5), September 2008.

Cataloging items for museums and other cultural institutions may be problematic due to their visual nature and uniqueness. Libraries have benefited from cooperative cataloging and data standardization because books are text-based, often in one language, and have objective attributes repeatable among copies. Objets d’art, however, are distinctive and subjective; they lack language but must be cataloged to exceed cultural and linguistic boundaries. Allison Siffre Guedalia Kupietzky, Collections Database Manager for the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, addresses these challenges by creating a valuable guide that simplifies and regulates cataloging procedures for multilingual digital assets. To “fulfill its pedagogic and preservation missions,” a museum must integrate art history, museology, computer science, and project management to create a holdings management system (ix). Museum professionals may lack the necessary skills to accomplish this, but this didactic volume trains readers to become collections database managers.

Kupietzky reviews related literature and theoretical issues and addresses the problems of digital documentation of museum objects. She presents a comprehensive survey of curatorial systems from the mid-1960s to the present, noting their strengths and weaknesses and presents a case study of the computerization process of Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. No common platforms for data standards or schema exist, although the Getty’s art history lexicon is widely used and some metadata can be crosswalked between schemas. She stresses that a cultural heritage institution’s individuality requires custom methods, but that cross-institutional sharing can save time, money, and energy.

The highlight of the book is a set of systematic procedures and guidelines for implementing a holdings database—the Six-step Activation Guideline for E-Kulture (SAGE-K) method. The steps include museum characteristics definition, database selection, digitalization preparation, needs analysis, data standardization, and pilot project testing. Two critical elements must exist: a multilingual lexicon and a collections manager knowledgeable in museology and computer science. The guidelines for digitizing text and images used by the Israel Museum can be adapted to suit other museum’s needs.

Appendices include museum and cultural heritage standards and organizations, online monolingual lexicons, museum code of ethics, a list of museum database programs, methodological notes, a digitized collection example, digitization guidelines, and a glossary.

This book’s limited focus is on medium to large museums. Smaller institutions may lack the labor and funding to embark on a digital, let alone multilinguistic, endeavor. However, with a little creativity, the SAGE-K method can be adapted to smaller museums, as well as libraries and archives.

This book compliments another Libraries Unlimited title: Howard F. Greisdorf and Brian C. O’Connor’s Structures of Image Collections: From Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc to Flickr (2008). While Structures presents an intellectual and theoretical framework of image collections issues, Subject Access provides practical advice on the execution of a digital collection.

Dick Cheney ordered to preserve records

Dick Cheney
Vice President Dick Cheney stands with hand over heart for the playing of the national anthem, Wednesday, May 21, 2008, during the U.S. Coast Guard Academy commencement ceremony in New London, Conn. White House photo by David Bohrer from

A federal judge has ordered Vice President Dick Cheney to preserve all records that relate to his office and official duties pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C., the Society of American Archivists, and other historical and academic organizations. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly noted in her decision the possibility of “irreparable injury” to the historical record if the vice president’s office destroyed or failed to preserve records while the case proceeded.

Read Cheney Ordered to Preserve Records in Case Closely Watched by Academic Groups

Read Cheney Ordered to Preserve Records

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Banned Books Week Banner

Look what the Dayton Metro Library East Branch created:
Banned Books Week Banner from Dayton Metro Library East Branch

During Banned Books Week, we show our support of the intellectual freedom and the freedom to read. One of the reccuring images we have used each year is this banner we created with 99 of the 100 most banned books for the years 1990-2000. There are a surprising number of literary classics, children's books and books we've all grown up reading at home, in the library and at school. Authors like Roald Dahl, Stephen King, Judy Blume and Chris Crutcher even have several titles on this list!

Visit the Banned Books Week Banner and click on the covers to reveal their titles.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Banned Books

I've spent entirely too much time trying to find what books Sarah Palin wanted banned from the Wasilla library. Although lists have circulated, there's no evidence that she wanted those specific books removed. Rather, I would guess that whatever books she wanted banned were ones that were frequently challenged by others.

For instance, the American Library Association's 10 Most Challenged Books of 2007 were:

1. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3. “Olive’s Ocean,” by Kevin Henkes
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language

4. “The Golden Compass,” by Philip Pullman
Reason: Religious Viewpoint

5. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain
Reason: Racism

6. “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language

7. “TTYL,” by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou
Reason: Sexually Explicit

9. “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris
Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10. “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Banned Books Week runs from September 27 to October 4.

Check out Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century. How many have you read?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Browsing spines

Book Spines

Lisa Chellman, a writer and children's librarian, wrote an excellent post about the spines of books being even more important than their covers for browsing, especially for young, reluctant, readers.

I often weave my way around the shelves of my local library, slowing near the true crime section and the biography shelves. An interesting title, artistically presented on the spine, will make me investigate further.

"When readers are faced with rows upon rows of spine-out books, what draws them to a particular volume, causes them to pull it off the shelf so they can then be enticed by the cover design and the jacket copy?

I believe it's two interrelated variables: the title and the spine design. The title is the spine's most important content. First and foremost, the title should be easy to read. Readers should be able to identify the book without squinting or pulling it off the shelf. That's something the old-style, no-nonsense, K.I.S.S. spines had going for them: pure functionality. Artistry is important, but it should come in a rather distant second."

Read the rest of her post, Spinal Exam

Monday, September 1, 2008

Library Deaths

Pattee Library stacks at Penn State
Pattee Library stacks at Penn State

Murders in libraries are a common theme in detective and mystery novels. But what about in real life?

Recently, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote an article about Betsy Aardsma, a graduate student who was stabbed to death at Penn State's Pattee Library in 1969. Her murderer was never found.

Cheri Jo Bates was beaten and stabbed to death by the Zodiac Killer outside the library of Riverside City College in 1966. A morbid poem about the murder was etched into a desk in the library soon after.

Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer who murdered 10 people in Wichita between 1974 and 1991, sent taunting letters to the police and the media. His first communication, sent in 1974, was left in an engineering book in the Wichita Public Library. In 2004, he dropped another letter in the book return box of a downtown branch.

In 1999, the Columbine massacre concluded in the school library, where 10 people were killed and the shooters committed suicide.

In 2003, two students fell to their deaths off the balcony in NYU's Bobst Library. One was a suicide; the other was a drug-induced accident.

Looking through ALA's American Libraries' archive, I found these stories:

Murder-Suicide at Atlanta Public Library

Library Clerk Murdered Leaving Job at Night

Are there other well known deaths that occurred in libraries?

Read more about the death of Betsy Aardsma.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pay your library fines or go to jail

Heidi Dalibor
Heidi Dalibor's booking photo from The Smoking Gun

The Smoking Gun reported on the arrest of Heidi Dalibor, a 20-year-old Wisconsin woman who failed to respond to letters and phone calls about two overdue books. While I understand that libraries have the right to retrieve their materials or be compensated for their replacement, stories like this fuel stereotypes that libraries are old-fashioned, overzealous, and punitive. It doesn't help that the fines were $30, but the cost of bailing her out of jail was around $170.

It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode with Mr. Bookman, the Library Detective:

Read more about the arrest at The Smoking Gun

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

At Wal-Mart, copyright lasts forever

In a followup to my post about a digital slider for copyright, a post on BoingBoing linked to a Flickr discussion about Wal-Mart not letting a customer scan family photos, some a hundred years old, because the employees believe that studio photography is under copyright forever.

tstamps says:

"Has anyone else run into this?

Several times I have heard of people attempting to get (family) photos copied at Wal-Mart and refused because they were "copyrighted" - because they were made by a photograph studio. Even if the person who OWNS the copyright were to ask a Wal-Mart photo manager to copy it, they would refuse. They misinterpret the word "copyright" to mean "copywrong," That is to say: Copy?..... wrong!...

A cousin just informed me that a one-of-a-kind rare photo of my grandfather and grandparents was in his collection, and is over 100 years old. Unfortunately he only had time to stop at Wal-Mart and will be on vacation for the next two or three weeks.

He was informed by the Wal-Mart "genius" that since the photo was taken by a studio, it was "copyrighted" which "meant it was not allowed to be copied" by anyone, at any time, period."

Read more, followed by lively commenting.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Review of Film Preservation: Competing Definitions of Value, Use, and Practice

Film Preservation: Competing Definitions of Value, Use, and Practice

My review of Film Preservation: Competing Definitions of Value, Use, and Practice by Karen F. Gracy. (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2007).
Published in Metropolitan Archivist, Summer 2008.

In Film Preservation: Competing Definitions of Value, Use, and Practice, film historian and academic Karen F. Gracy presents a robust ethnographic survey of American individuals and organizations that conserve moving images. In response to the paucity of research in the field, Gracy analyzes “film preservation in action,” which she delineates as the historic, economic, and theoretical frameworks within the film archiving and preservation community, examining it as a sociocultural phenomenon, a “separate social universe, with its own structure, dynamics, and conventions.”

Over the last thirty years, film has increasingly been recognized as a valuable cultural heritage object. Films are “signifiers with multiple referents whose multiplicity of value [can be] historical, cultural, social, aesthetic, educational, economic, or entertainment…” However, moving images face inimitable preservation challenges. Decomposition, due to film’s delicate nature, is the foremost problem. Studios and production companies own copyright to the material and must be consulted before use—even preservation; historically, owners have been reluctant to release their rights. Limited funding also challenges archives: one film can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. The definition of preservation itself has become “multi-layered and supersaturated” with meaning, transitioning from simple activities like copying a film to a more stable format to theoretical issues of values and policies debated among archivists.

Film Preservation is influenced by social theorist Pierre Bourdieu’s work on “the field of cultural production,” whereas institutions “consecrate a certain type of work” by the authority to define and control what is worth protecting. Film archives work inversely, often ceding their authority over selection, preservation, and access to studios that hold intellectual property rights. Film archives also differ from other cultural heritage institutions because of their interest with mostly popular, rather than high, arts.

These issues contribute to the instability of film archives within the hierarchy of cultural institutions. The text’s crux is, “Without the exclusive authority to control the work of film preservation and restoration, what are the ultimate consequences for the cultural imperatives of preservation and access to moving images?” This concern pertains to other archival areas because cultural institutions may relinquish their authority due to copyright law issues and technological advances in the future.

Film Preservation is especially valuable because of the author’s ethnographic fieldwork conducted within the archival environment. Gracy documents the decision-making process of film preservation in a series of flowcharts, illustrating selection, fund raising, inspection and inventory, laboratory preparation, duplication, storage, cataloging, and access. Although the text emphasizes social activities over techniques, the charts provide a meaningful assessment of information about the film preservation process, which is often not as extensively documented as it should be.

Archivists, of both film and other mediums, will be interested in this text, as it balances theory with practical advice. Film Preservation teases out the challenges of archiving and preserving moving images with a sense of optimism for the future, providing a solid foundation of subsequent ethnographic work in this field.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Nonprofits and Cultural Heritage

Arts, Inc.

While reading Bill Ivey's Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights for ARLIS/NA Reviews, I was particularly stuck by this passage (pp. 45-47):

“Most of America’s twentieth-century culture was produced by for-profit arts industries, and much of our cultural heritage has been no better treated than assets such as buildings and furniture. But what about the network of orchestras, dance companies, theaters, and opera companies—organizations that grew up on the nonprofit side of America’s cultural playing field? And what about libraries, archives, and personal collections—have they managed to serve the public interest by preserving intangible heritage and making it available to citizens? When it comes to preserving work they create, nonprofits haven’t done very well, and our underfunded public and private archives have struggled to keep up with expanding collections, expensive technologies, and an increasingly burdensome intellectual property environment.

As record executive Dan Sheehy notes, tapes and films are “much more ephemeral than most other broad categories of human achievement,” and, although operating under public service charters, most nonprofit cultural organizations have simply never had the resources required to adequately manage historical materials generated by their own work. Often boxed in by restrictive union regulations, orchestras, opera companies, and nonprofit theatrical production companies have often found it difficult or impossible to legally memorialize their own work. Even when recordings of productions are generated, it’s far too costly for the typical nonprofit to maintain archives of those film or tape recordings that can be authorized. Consider that the New York Philharmonic generates fifteen hours of new recordings each week; multiply that total by the two hundred or so orchestras that archive their own work, and add the fields of dance and theater, and the scope of the ongoing preservation challenge emerges.

Even museums and historical societies, nonprofits with stated preservation and public access mandates, have done a far from optimal job of preserving creativity from the past. This is intangible heritage we’re talking about, sounds and images captured on discs, tapes, films, or hard drives that have value only because of their content. Museums and historical societies have had their hands full simply dealing with buildings, artifacts, and monuments—tangible things you can walk up and touch. In 2005 Heritage Preservation (a Washington-based heritage advocacy organization) surveyed 30,000 collections in museums, libraries, and archives and discovered that more than half had suffered damage from water or light and that ‘many institutions lack basic environmental controls that prevent photographs from losing color [and] keep rare books from crumbling to dust.’

Financial pressures have not only prevented museums from protecting collections; they have encouraged museums to continually look to their holdings as potential sources of income. Tight preservation budges mean that sometimes holdings are simply sold, usually after a committee has quietly declared them ‘surplus,’ arguing that the artworks don’t line up with core collection policies of the museum. New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman pummeled the New York Public Library following the deaccessioning (sale) of the Asher B. Durand painting Kindred Spirits. Noting that little public debate had preceded Sotheby’s auction of the piece (which was purchased by the Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation, of Wall-Mart fame), Kimmelman concluded that today, “in America, celebrity and money are the measuring sticks of cultural value.” Historical assets attached to nonprofits that aren’t in the culture business have fared even worse: witness the dismal handling of speeches, letters, and other documents by the Martin Luther King Jr. estate. After decades of attempting to earn royalties by licensing the civil rights leaders’ words, the King collection was on the verge of being liquidated by, you guessed it, Sotheby’s. (A consortium of Atlanta-based universities stepped in to acquire the King material at the last moment.) Although nonprofit status exists to serve the public interest, financial constraints, union policies, and contractual commitments have made it difficult for tax-exempt institutions to set a standard of preservation and access significantly better than what has evolved in for-profit arts industries."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More Product, Less Process


I recently attended the Metro workshop, Archival Processing: Implementing New and Efficient Strategies, presented by Dan Santamaria, Assistant University Archivist at Princeton’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library.

A 2005 American Archivist article, “More Product, Less Process: Pragmatically Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal with Late 20th-Century Collections,” by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner, took the archival world by storm the moment it was published.

The authors found that the rate of processing 20th century collections cannot keep up with the growth of collections, resulting in inaccessible backlogs. Processing practices, developed primarily for 19th century collections, are not sufficient to deal with the size and scope of modern collections. Archivists tend to process at an ideal level, rather than focusing on a “golden minimal” of processing necessary to make collections available. The least amount of work should be done to adequately meet user needs. Arrangement, description, and preservation work should all be done at the same level, which is usually the series level. In other words, accessibility triumphs all.

Some choice quotes from the article:

"Truly, much of what passes for arrangement in processing work is really just overzealous housekeeping, writ large. Our professional fastidiousness, our reluctance to be perceived as sloppy or uncaring by users and others has encouraged a widespread fixation on tasks that do not need to be performed."

"A competent processing archivist ought to be able to arrange and describe large twentieth-century archival materials at an average rate of 4 hours per cubic foot."

"Unprocessed collections should be presumed open to researchers. Period."

"We must get beyond our absurd over-cautiousness that unprocessed collections might harbor embarrassing material not accounted for in deeds of gift, and we must stop fretting over what users might think about us if given a dirty, disorganized collection."

The second half of the workshop was devoted to Princeton case studies where Greene-Meissner was applied.

In my own personal experience, discovering Greene-Meissner early in my archival career was a blessing. I knew that I couldn't be the only one who thought some archival rituals were too time-consuming and took away from easy access. I was able to decrease of a three-year backlog of 50 feet of documents and 10,000 digital photos, prints, and slides in one year applying Greene-Meissner!

Read "More Product, Less Process: Pragmatically Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal with Late 20th-Century Collections"

Friday, August 1, 2008

Tomes and Talismans Episode 1

How do you teach children to use the library? A post-apocalyptic library education show from the 1980s called Tomes and Talismans, of course!

From Wikipedia:

"In 2123 humanity is evacuating Earth for the White Crystal Solar System, due to an attack carried out by the nefarious Wiper race, a group of aliens that appear to be little more than run-of-the-mill trailer trash. A special group is preparing a complete library of all Human knowledge which is hidden underground. Here, all fiction and non-fiction books are sorted by an alphabetical and numerical ordering system but an important volume is missing. A desperate search for it begins in the library in the outskirts of the city. The library team leader Ms. Bookhart, played by Niki Wood, is stranded in her bookmobile and is suddenly metabolically suspended for 100 years by a being known only as 'The Universal Being.' She awakens in a world under the control of beings known as 'The Wipers' and is discovered by another group of extraterrestrials in the form of four children known as 'The Users.' The children, along with Ms. Bookhart, rediscover the hidden library and in the course of the series she teaches them how to use it. In turn, they discover how to defeat 'The Wipers' and create a communicator to call the Human refugees back to Earth."

Episode 1, Part 1

Episode 1, Part 2

Episode 1, Part 3

On a related note, does anyone remember the school filmstrip about taking care of books with happy and sad books? The scene where the frowning book is left in the rain made me feel awful!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Digital Slider for Copyright

Digital Slider

One of my listservs alerted me to a handy new gadget: a digital slider to look up copyright terms for works created at different times and under different conditions.

Recently, the American Library Association urged Congress to change the law that states that sound recordings made before Febrauary 15, 1972 won't enter public domain until 2067. To quote their press release:

"This places historical recordings at significant risk of loss by thwarting preservation programs because of the uncertainty over whether creating preservation copies would violate copyright law.

Unlike books, paintings, photographs and other creative works, sound recordings are technology dependent, so that if a pre-1972 sound recording is not reissued in a contemporary format (digital file or compact disc), the content is generally not accessible to the public or scholarly community."

This is just one example of the complexity of copyright law that affects information professionals and those involved in preserving our cultural heritage.

View the Digital Slider

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Web Trigrams

Chris Harrison's Web Trigrams

I love envisioning information, and the Internet has made this infinately easier. My brother passed on a link to Chris Harrison's experiments in visualizing Google's n-gram data. From Harrison's site:

"Back in late 2006, Google released a massive set of web n-gram data (basically pieces of sentences). A trigram (n=3), for example, might be "I like food" or "frog is tasty." Each n-gram is also labeled with the number of times it appeared in Google's corpus. The entire archive, which is almost 100GB uncompressed, has unigrams (n=1) through fivegrams (n=5). The data set is offered through the LDC for those who are interested (link).

As soon as I got my hands on the data, I quickly got to work on some straight forward visualizations. The first type compares two sets of trigrams, each starting with a different word. One visualization compares 'He' with 'She', while the other uses 'I' and 'You'. In the case of the 'He' vs. 'She', the top 120 trigrams for each were identified. The frequencies of the second word in the trigrams were combined and sorted, and rendered in decreasing frequency-of-use order. A similar process was used to create a ranking for the third (and final) word in the trigrams. Words are sized according to the square root of their use frequencies. The color-coded lines act like paths (a tree structure), enumerating all of the trigrams. The process was identical for the 'I' and 'You' version, except that only the top 75 trigrams were used.

These visual comparisons allow us to see differences in how the two subjects are used - both where they are similar and diverge. For example, among the top 120 trigrams, 'He' and 'She' have many common second words. However, they differ on some interesting ones, for example, only 'he' connects to 'argues', while only 'she' connects to 'love' (within the top 120)."

Visit Chris Harrison's Web Triagrams.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Found in Books

old books asked some of its booksellers, "What's the strangest thing you found in a book?"

Aside from all the letters, torn out newspaper articles, shopping lists, business cards, and postcards (send and unsent), other objects discovered by booksellers include a World War II US ration book (with stamps remaining), World War II discharge papers, a pair of scissors, a valid driver’s license, a marriage certificate from 1879, a holographic image of a lady who sheds her clothing, theater playbills, a condom (unused), a cockroach (dead), and a strip of bacon.

Read more about odd items found in books:

Intralibris: things found within books
Things found in used books
Things found in books

Saturday, July 5, 2008

"For Posterity": The Personal Audio Recordings of Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong Collage

The Spring/Summer issue of The American Archivist has a fascinating article about Louis Armstrong's personal audio recordings and collages. The collages intrigue me because they are "visual jazz" and use enormous amounts of scotch tape, the bane of archivists! How are they being preserved?

From the abstract:

"Louis Armstrong exerted a defining influence on one of the most influential products of the American imagination: jazz. As noted by one of Armstrong's biographers, however, Armstrong's character was 'buffeted by the forces of racism and commercialism.' From the perspective of the archives, Armstrong's reaction to these influences was a form of psychological withdrawal that often coalesced around this interaction with recording technologies. Armstrong developed an intimate relationship with audio recording and relied upon its particular form of capture to shape a posthumous identity that was beyond the distortive influences that shaped his public and commodified image, and that was appreciably honest in its relationship with, to use Armstrong's word, 'posterity.'"

The PDF of "For Posterity": The Personal Audio Recordings of Louis Armstrong is available from The American Archivist online.

Visit, the official site of the Louis Armstrong House and Archives.

The Paris Review offers some pictures of the collages.

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Surprise Bequest

Librarian's life story has rich twist at the end from the Columbus Dispatch:

Before her death at age 57, Carol Sue Snowden lived in a condominium on the East Side and drove a used Chevrolet.

She worked for 30 years in the Whitehall branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, rarely indulging in anything except her passion for books.

The daughter of parents who survived the Depression, Snowden -- who never married or had children -- was the picture of frugalness.

That's why 50 friends and library colleagues who gathered late last month for her memorial were so stunned to learn that she was a millionaire.

And Snowden, who died of ovarian cancer in January, left her money to the libraries she loved.

She willed $530,000 to the Whitehall branch and $70,000 each to the libraries of seven Columbus-area schools -- for a combined gift exceeding $1 million.

"You should have heard the gasp in the room," recalled Kim Snell, spokeswoman for the Columbus Metropolitan Library. "And then to follow it up with seven announcements of $70,000 for seven schools in the community -- it was just unbelievable."

The donation is the largest in recent memory for the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Snell said, and by far the largest given to the Whitehall branch.

"It's not like we're paid huge amounts of money, so it was quite a shock," said Deborah Replogle, the branch manager. "It was an incredibly generous gift."

Snowden amassed her fortune through thriftiness and wise investments, one of her three sisters said. Still, even her parents and siblings were shocked at the money she'd amassed.

"It's just a testimony to how you can save if you just do it every day," said Susan Snowden, 52, of Chicago.

Before her death, the reserved Carol Sue Snowden had asked for her family's blessing in leaving her money to the libraries.

"We think it's wonderful -- it's a legacy," Susan Snowden said. "Just imagine the children and parents ... how many people it will benefit for years to come."

Her sister earmarked the Whitehall branch money for a teen and children's activity center whenever a new library is eventually constructed. (Library officials are researching what to do about future facilities for all branches, Snell said, so a new building could be possible but is not yet planned.)

The seven schools that received money are places where Snowden had read: Etna Road Elementary, Kae Avenue Elementary and Beechwood Elementary in the Whitehall district; Broadleigh Elementary and Fairmoor Elementary in the Columbus district; and Holy Spirit and St. Catharine in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus.

She asked that 90 percent of the money be used to enhance print collections and 10 percent to buy computer-related material.

Snowden also left money to the libraries she used growing up in Peoria, Ill., including $10,000 to her grade-school library, $10,000 to her high-school library and $10,000 to her local library.

In addition, she left $10,000 to a colleague to pursue a master's degree in library sciences.

Her family presented giant checks to each library during the memorial, relishing the excitement that Snowden knew she wouldn't get to see. Susan Snowden wonders whether her humble sister would have liked such an event, but she wanted to celebrate what her sister had done, she said.

Replogle -- and her young readers -- will inevitably celebrate for years to come.

"It's a very low-income community," the Whitehall branch manager said. "She had worked here for so many years. She knew the teachers. She knew the people who walked in here every day. ... She just felt there was something she could do to help."

And she did, in true librarian fashion: quietly.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Correctional Photo Archives

While surfing for interesting photo archives online, I discovered the Correctional Photo Archives. From the site:

The American Prison Society Photographic Archive records collection was acquired by the Eastern Kentucky University Archives in 1984 through the auspices of Dr. Bruce Wolford of Eastern's College of Law Enforcement. Dr. Wolford received the photographs in 1979 from William Bain, instructor at the Kentucky Bureau of Training. In the 1960s Mr. Bain, a former staff member of the American Correctional Association, conceived the idea of a pictorial history of the American prison. With the aid of David A. Kimberling, a prison inmate and photographer, Bain had photographs copied from the American Correctional Association archives plus ones he received from various federal and state correctional facilities throughout the United States. In addition to the copies, which comprise the negative part of the collection, he acquired many original black and white photographic prints. Finally in 1978 through the work of Anthony P. Travisono, executive director of the American Correctional Association, Bain's dream, The American Prison: from the Beginning. A Pictorial History, was published.

The photographic collection is rich in its depiction of early twentieth century prison life and conditions. The collection covers numerous subjects such as prison living conditions, recreational activities, industries, hospital care, corporal punishment, work gangs on the farm and quarries, vocational activities, weapons confiscated, prison architecture, and the death house. A few of the images are of prison officials, primarily in the federal penitentiary system.

A source of contemporary prison photographs is Richard Ross's Architecture of Authority and its online gallery.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Review of Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights

Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights

My review of Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights by Bill Ivey (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008).
Published in ARLIS/NA Reviews, June 2008.

In Arts, Inc., Bill Ivey, former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, has written an engaging memoir that merges his personal and professional experiences to evaluate the state of art and culture in America. He argues that copyright extension, the desertion of art and culture as a diplomatic tool, and corporate avarice and negligence have undermined our uniquely American cultural heritage. He devotes a chapter to each aspect of his proposed Cultural Bill of Rights, which encompasses heritage, artists in public life, creative private lives, American artistry abroad, art of lasting value, and robust, reliable institutions.

Ivey explores the rise of corporate art ownership and the fall of cultural institutions designed to enrich public life. He writes, “Most of America’s twentieth-century culture was produced by for-profit arts industries, and much of our cultural heritage has been no better treated than assets such as buildings and furniture” (45). Corporations are wary of preservation because, “by revealing how much has been lost, how much has never been released, and, following decades of mergers and relocations, just how little record, film, and television companies know about what they do or do not own, the truth would produce public outrage” (48). Even worse, “nonprofits are too often careless with historical assets, risk averse, and…drawn to projects that have no real importance beyond an impact on the bottom line” (217).

He calls for the reformation of intellectual property rights in the United States, so that works are properly preserved and do not remain commercial assets in perpetuity. Ivey archly illustrates his view of this issue by including usage fees in his photo captions.

He heralds “citizen artists” and a more creative life for Americans. “Participation is the hallmark of a vibrant cultural scene, not just participation for the trained and well-heeled but participation that’s available to just about everybody” (262). With this populist viewpoint, for example, he asserts that orchestras should mimic NASCAR promotions, making classical music accessible to average Americans.

Ivey envisions a harmonized vision for art and culture, “the birthright of citizens in our enlightened democracy” (xix). A revival of the Arts and Crafts movement, which reacted to the Industrial Revolution with authentic and meaningful styles, may be one solution. Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights is an important read for information professionals involved in preserving heritage and those interested in the “cultural rights” of all Americans to an expressive life in a post-consumerist age.

Virginia Tech April 16, 2007 Prevail Archives

VT ribbon

My post on the Jonestown and Peoples Temple archives made me think about how we archive tragedies. Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple captures a slow build-up to violence that happened thirty years ago. What happens when tragedy happens suddenly, now?

The Virginia Tech April 16, 2007 Prevail Archives can offer some answers on how archiving an event can be a community-building effort, as well as a way to preserve the context of the tragedy for others in the future. From their website:

The Prevail Archives is the official site for the university's historical materials related to the tragic events of April 16, 2007. It is guided by the principles of the archival profession to impartially organize, preserve, and make accessible the analog and digital resources documenting the events of that day and subsequently. It also provides access to other relevant university and government resources.

Visit the Virginia Tech April 16, 2007 Prevail Archives

View the Artifact Processing Gallery

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death is a book about 18 crime scene dioramas, created in the 1940s, which are still used in forensic training today. The dollhouse death scenes are an unusual, but successful, way to display information, used for professional skill development and, now, morbid entertainment.

Frances Glessner Lee founded Harvard's Department of Legal Medicine in 1936 and was later appointed captain of the New Hampshire police. To assist detectives in developing skills to gather evidence, Lee created the Nutshell Studies. Based on real cases, the scenes could be accidents, suicides, or murders, depending on how the investigators interpreted the clues.

The scenes are fascinating and macabre, with many movable parts and a commendable attention to detail. Lee knit the stockings for one doll corpse with needles the size of straight pins. The dioramas are blandly domestic, until you discover the tiny blood spatters and corpse.

In "Kitchen," photographed on the cover, a housewife is killed in the middle of her domestic duties. Half-peeled potatoes, a baked cake, and other tasks are in various stages of completion. Was it suicide, as evidenced by the open gas jets and newspaper stuffed around the door? Or murder--who was drinking the glass on the kitchen table?

Read more about the Nutshell Studies here.

Read Harvard Magazine's biography on Frances Glessner Lee.

Visit a Nutshell Studies photo gallery.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Review of Structures of Image Collections: From Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc to Flickr

Structures of Image Collections: From Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc to Flickr

My review of Structures of Image Collections: From Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc to Flickr by
Howard F. Greisdorf and Brian C. O’Connor (Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2008).
Published in American Archivist, 71(2), Fall/Winter 2008.

“What’s the use?” concludes Structures of Image Collections: From Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc to Flickr. Rather than an idiom of anguish, the phrase indicates that the purpose of an image in a structured collection should provide maximum usefulness to the viewer. Concepts for image collection structuring are a rich source of theoretical discourse and debate, state authors Howard F. Greisdorf, Director of Training at UniFocus in Carollton, Texas, and Brian C. O’Connor, a Library and Information Science professor at the University of North Texas. Using interdisciplinary theories and years of experience in image production, consulting, and academic research, Greisdorf and O’Connor outline image characteristics, describe applications, and explore image collection structures, based on cultural methods and historical examples. They argue that language-based image management should be reconceived with other practices to make collections more accessible to diverse users.

The oldest known cave paintings in Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc, France, and the photo-sharing website Flickr serve as the past and present of structured image collections. Both collections are digital, either by fingers across clay or by computer manipulation. The authors assert, “We are at once linked from twenty-first-century digital images to the digital images of our ancestors, reminded that the computer-based use of the term is anchored in our very physical nature and reminded that construction of images is a purposeful act.” Capturing an image is “photocutionary behavior,” a phrase coined by the authors, based on linguistic philosopher J. L. Austin’s illocutionary speech acts. Austin’s work can be summarized by stating, “to say something is to do something.” When our ancestors depicted stallions on cave walls or when we snap pictures with camera phones, each image executes a function. Subsequent photocutionary behaviors by collectors or viewers also purposefully utilize images.

Images are as much perception (how we see) as conception (how we think). Images “induce humans to emit pheromones of meaning,” derived from both the semiotic elements in the image and the personal, etymological, locative, experiential, and emotional perspectives of viewers. Depending on their roles, image creators, collectors, and viewers create a “mental triumvirate” of meaningful words. The creator has a purpose for generating images; the collector seeks images to complete a function; and the viewer has a use for browsing images. These expressions of visual engagement, formed by the duality of perception and conception, structure an image collection. Collectors can gain insight from embracing the perspectives of image creators and viewers, because collection structure will affect the appearances derived from individual viewers.

The authors argue that, “current frameworks … tend to promote a measure of forced conformity that is not necessarily a stable characteristic of visual experience.” Language application can introduce shifting semantic patterns among images. Cognitive psychologist Eleanor Rosch states that when people name an object in an image, they rely on cues from the image to place the object in a basic, subordinate, or superordinate level. This knowledge hierarchy is similar to art historian Erwin Panofsky’s preiconographic, iconographic, and iconology levels and traditional subject-headings like broad term, near term, and related term. When language applications change, image structures and relationships transform. As a result, the use of titles, descriptions, and keywords in image retrieval requires reinterpretation, since language cannot fully encapsulate an image’s meaning. As Greisdorf and O’Connor state, “The efficacy of [evocative] words for achieving efficient and effective image collection structure…resides with the nature of language, not the nature of vision.”

Image collection structure has conventionally been based on the organizing authority of the collector and the cognitive authority of the viewer, which can be incongruent. Most collections are structured around the experience of looking at something, rather than looking for something, which entails greater cognitive effort. Another way to describe this perspective on visual engagement would be the “ofness” and “aboutness” of an image. “Ofness” is what an image objectively represents, as in Rosch’s basic level and Panofsky’s iconographic level, whereas “aboutness” is what it subjectively represents. For example, museums often use “ofness” groupings to organize their collections into categories of art movement, style, or artist rather than ascribed viewer “aboutness” meanings such as landscapes, heroic acts, or the color blue. The authors question whether the visual experience of looking at something is always enhanced by knowing about the image. Given that the purpose of a structured collection is to satisfy user needs, categorizing by “aboutness” can be just as helpful as “ofness:” the inexperienced viewer has as much right to define what they see as the professional viewer.

The authors note the limits of current practices for structuring image collections by lists, indexes, directories, catalogs, thesauri, taxonomies, ontologies, typologies, metadata, templates, or topic maps. Retrieval systems and digital asset management (DAM) software are based on language, particularly keywords, because words are extractable from documents. For images, there is no language to extract, only language to apply. Keywords provide content-based access points to images because they label the objects being photographed. To a lesser extent, they can also be concept-based, detailing an image’s features, attributes, and characteristics. Rather than designing more effective language-based algorithms, retrieval system designers should reinterpret keyword searches based on information-seeking behavior, cognition, and memory. Newer approaches like tagging and algorithmic or heuristic browsing provide more search versatility. Browsing based on both content and concept and on images alone remains on the edge of discovery.

Online collections offer structuring inventiveness because digital images can belong to multiple categories simultaneously, whereas physical images cannot. Collections have evolved from mutually exclusive categories, often arranged in hierarchies, to digital images with any number of labels, allowing collectors to focus on inter-relationships and cognition. Greisdorf and O’Connor should have more fully explored the possibilities of this emerging structure, using Flickr and similar sites as examples. With online collections, folksonomy, or social tagging, allows viewers to apply semantic keywords to images, which could cultivate deeper semantic associations between “ofness” and “aboutness” categories.

The back cover states, “Image collections can no longer be the result of ad hoc processes rooted in antiquated methodologies.” Language-based approaches and analog collections are time-tested if limiting, but not antediluvian. Digital collections offer better access to users with the potential of broadening their visual experiences. However, it is too soon to know digital preservation challenges—what may be an excellent digital collection today can become inaccessible or corrupted tomorrow.

The book covers theories discussed in Jacques Burzun’s The Use and Abuse of Art, James Elkins’ The Object Stares Back, E. H. Gombrich’s The Uses of Images, and John Gilmour’s Picturing the World. However, Greisdorf and O’Connor concentrate on digital-age photographic images, in part because billions are created daily with digital cameras. In 1859, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote of the daguerreotype: “It has become such an everyday matter with us, that we forget its miraculous nature, as we forget that of the sun itself, to which we owe the creations of our new art.” Today, the ability to create and share photos instantaneously has made it a routine, but under-analyzed process. This ease of construction is demonstrated in the book itself with the authors’ own black and white photos and illustrations that express their concepts elegantly.

Structures of Image Collections: From Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc to Flickr is recommended for information professionals who regularly engage with image collections, as well as those who are creating or restructuring a collection and need a foundation of image management principles. Although many of the concepts are familiar to those with art history backgrounds, naïve readers may have intuitively experienced the theories without their explicit expression. Some archivists may be disappointed in how the text expounds on the theoretical problems of language-based structures without offering alternative best practices, only the hope that the future portends for better image management and access.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wisconsin Death Trip

Wisconsin Death Trip

My first job out of college was in a medium-sized academic library at an arty college. I had picked it not only because it was an entry level job in a profession I wanted to pursue, but the quality and breadth of books now available to me was irresistible. One of the first books I took out was Wisconsin Death Trip, which I had always heard about, but never read.

In the late 1960s, historian Michael Lesy began his work compiling a collection of photographs (from glass plate negatives—truly beautiful historical specimens, enough to make this archivist swoon) and documents from Jackson County, Wisconsin at the end of the 19th century. First published in 1973, the book mostly contains photographs by Charles Van Schaik, taken between 1890 and 1910, around Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Death Trip overwhelms you by the amount of suicide, mental illness, murder, and mischief conducted by grim-faced God-fearing country people. Its strength is that it takes archival material and, by arrangement alone, produces something entertaining, morbid, and engaging. One woman, for instance, is obsessed with breaking shop windows and the reader follows her throughout the book as she is arrested repeatedly.

In 2000, Wisconsin Death Trip was turned into a docudrama. What I saw of it was well done, but I stopped watching after the endless amount of dead babies. The film captured a sense of doom and mortality more than even the book.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has an online collection of images used in the book and a Flickr set.

To find out more about the film, visit Wisconsin Death Trip.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Self Made Scholar

Self Made Scholar

Self Made Scholar is a great site I found to help me to improve my cultural awareness and my career.

From their site:

The goal of is to connect people to the resources they need to learn.

Anyone who is interested in learning (be it academic learning or technical learning) is welcome to join our community. Business professionals, students, seniors, stay-at-home-moms, homeschoolers, unschoolers, and autodidacts of all kinds are invited.

What is your philosophy?

At, we believe:

People are capable of learning outside of the rigid confines of traditional schooling.

Academic learning is neither more nor less valuable than technical learning. Being able to analyze Joyce isn’t inherently superior to being able to build a house.

Although diplomas and certificates can help you get a good job, they don’t prove much. People should be judged by their knowledge and abilities, not by a piece of paper.

Mandatory schooling is immoral because it strips human beings of free choice.

Facilitators are needed to help connect willing learners to the ever-increasing amount of learning material now available.

Visit Self Made Scholar

Thursday, May 22, 2008

New York Noir

New York Noir

As you may have noticed from my writing, I am a fan of both true crime and vintage photography. New York Noir: Crime Photos from the Daily News Archive, therefore, was a treat to read. The Daily News culled 125 images from its photography archive, taken from the 1920s to the 1950s, and it's easy to see how tabloid photography influenced noir cinema and popular culture. Known as "New York's Picture Newspaper," the Daily News published photographs that by today's standards would be too grotesque and sensational to print.

Luc Sante, author of Low Life and Evidence, wrote an introduction on the history of tabloid journalism, while editor William Hannigan write about the history of the Daily News in particular. The photographs are primary documents with original captions, and a section in the back provides context and additional information.

Arthur “Weegee” Felling, the master of tabloid photography, only has one photo listed. Many other photographers, with equally compelling work, are listed solely by their last name and are virtual unknowns. The infamous picture of Ruth Snyder, electrocuted at Sing Sing in 1928, taken by Tom Howard with a hidden camera, is also discussed.

Ruth Synder Dead! Daily News cover

The book made me want to discover where these beautiful photographs are housed and how they are being preserved. Brew me a pot of coffee and give me a pair of white gloves, and I'll pour through the collection all day!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple


Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple is a digital archive sponsored by San Diego State University’s Department of Religious Studies.

Jonestown was a site in Guyana settled by Peoples Temple. Jonestown, and its leader Jim Jones, became notorious in 1978 when over 900 people, many of whom were children, died in a mass murder-suicide. The event was triggered after cult members killed US Congressman Leo Ryan and others after they visited to investigate abuse allegations.

Unfortunately, many people are unfamiliar with the tragedy beyond the well-known image above or the phrase, “drinking the Kool-Aid,” meaning to become a firm believer in something blindly. (Some say Peoples Temple members actually drank cyanide-laced Flav-R-Aid, but either way, the expression trivializes the horror of the event.)

From Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple:

[The archive] is designed to give personal and scholarly perspectives on a major religious event in recent U.S. history. Its primary purpose is to present information about Peoples Temple as accurately and objectively as possible. Being objective means offering as many diverse views and opinions about the Temple and the events in Jonestown as possible…

What is unique about this website are three main features:

1. Memorialization of those who died and those who survived the tragedy of 18 November 1978 in order to remember their lives and humanize their deaths.
2. Documentation of the numerous government investigations into Peoples Temple and Jonestown through materials released under the Freedom of Information Act.
3. Presentation of Peoples Temple and its members in their own words: through articles, tapes, letters, photographs and other items. These materials let readers make their own judgments about the group and its end.

Visit the Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Information Professional Spotlight: Geoff Danisher

Charlie Brown

Geoff Danisher was one of the first information professionals I befriended when I started my career. He is the Access Services/Interlibrary Loan Librarian at Sarah Lawrence College, where he’s worked for ten years. At Concordia College, also in Bronxville, New York, he’s been a Reference Librarian for more than 4 years. He worked there as a student assistant when he was an undergraduate.

What I admire about Geoff is his professional well-roundedness. In a day, you will find him scheduling student workers, tracking down an obscure interlibrary loan title, rediscovering missing books in the stacks, and answering reference questions, all the while spouting 80s trivia. Geoff graciously accepted my offer to interview him. Instead of a picture of himself, he suggested a picture of Charlie Brown!

How did you decide to become a librarian?

I wish I could say that the whole thing was some big epiphany, like Parker Posey's in Party Girl, but honestly, it stemmed from the fact that I had been working for seven consecutive years in libraries, so it seemed the only logical thing to do.

What's the first or most interesting experience you had in a library?

I remember the very first time I ever set foot in a library. It was my elementary school library and I was in Kindergarten. We all sat on seat cushions on the floor while the librarian read us Where the Wild Things Are. I look back on it now and I realize that something very definitely clicked in my head that day; I guess that's called “eerie foreshadowing.”

Why did you choose to work in academic libraries? In Access, in particular?

Boring answer—it just happened that way.

What degrees do you have? Where did you get your MLIS?

B.A. in English from Concordia College, M.L.S. from Long Island University (though I took all my courses at NYU's Bobst library so I feel more like I went to NYU).

What was the most helpful/useful thing you learned during your MLIS?

I shall try to answer this question as diplomatically as I know how. When I started the program, I was adamant that I would not go into it with the mindset that they would not be able to teach me anything I did not already know. Upon completion of the program, I have to honestly say that I looked back and realized that, indeed, they did not really teach me anything I did not already know. The courses, I found, were rather generic and elementary for someone who had already worked in a library environment for several years. They were more about theory rather than practice. However...

In my Art Libraries course, I learned a great deal about acquisitions and collection development theory. In my Special Libraries course I learned a great deal about the politics that go into the management of libraries, as well as how to effectively negotiate budget proposals, advocate for additional staffing, etc. What I'm saying is that some of the more important things I learned about libraries during the school experience came from off-topic discussions that got into the areas that they don't have 3-credit courses for.

What's the biggest challenge of your jobs? The most rewarding aspect?

By far the biggest challenge that I face is having to run an entire interlibrary loan department and hire, train and supervise nearly 40 student workers entirely by myself. Doable, but when you factor in 10 1/2 hours per week at the reference desk, collection development duties, departmental meetings up the wazoo—you get the picture. Alas, it's all a money issue so there's little I can do about it—other than complain to anyone and everyone who will listen!

The most rewarding aspect? The satisfaction of knowing that someone came to me looking for help and I was able to help them. Simplistic, but absolutely true. The gratitude that people have expressed to me over the years has come in many forms—I’ve been acknowledged for my research assistance in no less than three books published in as many years (not to mention several graduate theses); I've been given candy, teddy bears, Haagen Dazs gift certificates, thank you cards (including a card from someone who borrowed one of our books through interlibrary loan from another library!) and enough thank you emails to crash a server. It always humbles me and always makes me feel wonderful! Requisite cliché: it makes the whole experience worthwhile.

What's the pros and cons of being an Interlibrary Loan Librarian?

Pros: wonderful opportunity for networking round the globe, excellent way to hone your research skills (verifying citations, etc.), discovering new and fascinating materials (and reconnecting with old ones—I really enjoy ILL-ing old textbooks I used to have and videos of old educational shows I used to watch growing up. I can't think of another way to do it save spending trillions on Ebay), and seeing people's eyes widen when I present them with a much-needed resource.

Cons: none that I can think of, or at the very least none worth mentioning. I truly enjoy my job and I hope to keep doing it for at least the foreseeable future.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the field?

Be a sponge—just because you work in the Access department does not mean that you should be ignorant of the inner workings of Reference or Technical Services. The more you know, ultimately the more valuable you'll become to your infrastructure (and, of course, the more multifaceted you are, the more job opportunities you will have as your career advances).

Oh, and if you're not a people person, stay away from Reference. If you're overly sensitive, DEFINITELY stay away from Access!