Monday, January 28, 2008

Cultural Heritage and the Status Quo

Karen Gracy's Film Preservation

I'm currently reviewing Karen F. Gracy's Film Preservation: Competing Definitions of Value, Use, and Practice for The Metropolitan Archivist.

I was struck by this passage, emphasis mine:

My analysis of film preservation and film archiving is heavily influenced by the work of social theorist Pierre Bourdieu, particularly his work on cultural institutions. In his discussion of “the field of cultural production,” Bourdieu pointed out that an institution defines itself through its authority to “consecrate a certain type of work.” By consecration, he means having the authority to define and control the activities that take place within the field. Thus, in the field of cultural production, institutions such as libraries and archives in part perform this consecrating function and serve as legitimizing agents, deciding, for example, which institutions qualify as archives, what qualifies someone to be an archivist, and how preservation should be practiced. These cultural institutions tend to be particularly occupied with the maintenance of the status quo (also known as the “hierarchy of relations”) among participants in the field, as the power to control cultural heritage stewardship is embedded in this hierarchical structure.

In my quest to become a better, more informed archivist, I've been working my way through the Archival Fundamentals Series II as well as going on archival site visits throughout Manhattan. The purpose of these efforts is to build my personal knowledge about archival theory and archival practice.

Often, I get a vague sense from my colleagues in the field that I don't have enough pedigree or cultural cache. To some, my MLIS should have been advanced work in archival management. Gracy's passage reverberated with me because the consecration of the field of cultural production is subjective and undefined. If you want to advance in the field, there are few standards to follow.

I have taken my frustration and have used it to my advantage. I take every opportunity I find to attending meetings, participate in workshops, write reviews, and read publications.

Information Professionals need to hustle! We should be constantly be learning new skills, while knowing our important history. We need to get excited about the valuable work we do!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Kindhearted Lady with Wi-Fi Lives Here

The term "hobo" has an unknown origin, perhaps related to "ho, boy," a workers' call on late 19th century American railroads or the early 19th century English "hawbuck," a country bumpkin. The iconic image of a hobo is that of a downtrodden, often drunk male, carrying a bindle or a sign asking for money.

At the end of the Civil War, soldiers returning home hopped trains. Later, others looking for work on the American frontier followed railroads westward. The Great Depression increased the population of hobos as many traveled by trains to look for work.

Life as a hobo was risky. In addition to the problems of being itinerant, poor, far from home and support, and the hostility of train crews, the railroads employed their own security staff, who were rough with trespassers. A hobo could have easily fallen under the wheels of a train, gotten trapped between cars, or froze to death.

Hobo Signs

In this lifestyle, information, conveyed in symbols only hobos understood, was the key to survival. From a historian's point of view, the symbols expressed a hobo's daily concerns. Many symbols that expressed danger: dogs, judges, police officers, and unfriendly people. Places good for handouts--money, food, or both--were denoted, as well as strategies to employ. For example, a cross meant religious talk should be used, and a "T" or a series of horizontal lines meant food in exchange for work. Opportunities for medical care were also expressed, as well as clean or dirty water, safe camps, and the best and safest ways to travel. I particularly like the smiling cat symbol for a kindhearted lady!

Hobo Signs

More Hobo Signs

Nowadays, traveling, homeless people are less likely to call themselves hobos and usually communicate through cell phones and internet access. However, the hobo signs of yesteryear have been reconfigured to express Wi-Fi connections through "warchalking," developed by Matt Jones, a London-based information architect and designer.

Warchalking

From Wikipedia:

The word is formed by analogy to wardriving, the practice of driving around an area in a car to detect open Wi-Fi nodes. That term in turn is based on wardialing, the practice of dialing many phone numbers hoping to find a modem.

Having found a Wi-Fi node, the warchalker draws a special symbol on a nearby object, such as a wall, the pavement, or a lamp post. Those offering Wi-Fi service might also draw such a symbol to advertise the availability of their Wi-Fi location, whether commercial or personal. The marks are designed to be recognized by those in the know. A well-known[attribution needed] photograph of such a warchalk symbol was created by Jones's colleague Ben Hammersley, and has been widely reproduced.[citation needed]

Warchalking never seemed to catch on as an activity, despite its widespread coverage. Instead, the symbols were almost immediately adopted by commercial enterprises interested in or offering Wi-Fi, such as JiWire (a Wi-Fi hotspot directory and how-to site). The symbol is now widely used as a shorthand in logos and advertising.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Your Life Work: The Librarian

Here is an episode of the US Government film series on careers, filmed at the Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) library in 1946.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Unique archival finds: Auschwitz's SS officer scrapbook

Auschwitz Officer's Scrapbook
Nazi officers and female auxiliaries pose on a wooden bridge in Solahütte.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has an online photo scrapbook depicting the everyday life of Auschwitz's SS officers.

From the International Herald Tribune article:

The comparisons between the albums are both poignant and obvious, as they juxtapose the comfortable daily lives of the guards with the horrific reality within the camp, where thousands were starving and 1.1 million died.

For example, one of the Höcker pictures, shot on July 22, 1944, shows a group of cheerful young women who worked as SS communications specialists eating bowls of fresh blueberries. One turns her bowl upside down and makes a mock frown because she has finished her portion.

On that day, said Judith Cohen, a historian at the Holocaust museum in Washington, 150 new prisoners arrived at the Birkenau site. Of that group, 21 men and 12 women were selected for work, the rest transported immediately to the gas chambers.


Rebecca Erbelding, an archivist at the the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, offers audio commentary on the scrapbook in an interactive New York Times feature.

She states, "We know that for every artifact like this album that we receive, so many more still exist, hidden in in closets, in attics, and in the homes of survivors, liberators, witnesses and their families, across not only Europe and Israel but in the United states as well."