2017-2018 Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect of SAA Lone Arrangers
Volunteer members of the SAA Lone Arrangers; Reference, Access and Outreach; and Issues and Advocacy Sections are working on a pilot project, Archivists to the Rescue! This initiative aims to bring low- and no-cost basic archival training workshops to non-professional archivists and cultural heritage professionals who cannot afford typical professional development courses and/or the transportation costs required to travel outside of their areas for similar workshops. This effort will strive to help small organizations and local communities preserve and make accessible their archival records that are hidden due to a lack of access to information on preservation and archival practices, as well as increase the awareness of the profession and the Society of American Archivists, and promote a more inclusive profession.
The pilot program will comprise a series of workshops covering the essentials of preservation, archival processing, arrangement, description, digital archives (handling born-digital materials and digitizing materials), and identifying and caring for photographs. Archivists to the Rescue! Will partner with affiliated cultural heritage organizations and other sister SAA Sections to roll out the pilot to religious archives and small historical organizations in New Jersey.
The Lone Arrangers will update members about the pilot progress in the coming months, and are thrilled to develop a practical means of reaching more and more communities.
National Park Service Collections Preservation Center Great Smoky Mountains National Park Townsend, Tennessee
I have been the librarian-archivist at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in East Tennessee since October 2013. Though I am the archivist at a national park, I am not a federal employee. My salary is paid by the Great Smoky Mountains Association, one of the many partner organizations that support our national park system, however I report directly to the parks museum curator and am bound by the same guidelines that all federal employees must adhere to. I have a BA in historical studies from the University of Texas at Dallas and an MA in history with a concentration in archival administration from the University of Texas at Arlington. Before coming to the Smokies I was an archives technician at Yosemite National Park, a contract archivist at the Dallas Museum of Art, as well as a project archivist at Texas A&M University, Commerce.
In 2016 I was responsible for moving the parks archival collections, more than one million documents, into a newly constructed 4.5 million dollar purpose built storage facility, the National Park Service Collections Preservation Center located in Townsend, Tennessee. The facility came about as the result of a partnership between the federal government, the Great Smoky Mountains Association, The Friends of the Smokies, and the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. The facility will eventually house the cultural collections for 5 regional national park units, including GSMNP, but the collections that I manage will be the only archival records to be stored in the new facility.
My work here primarily involves connecting with researchers, both from the park service and the general public. On average I process in excess of 275 research requests each year. Due to the nature of the parks creation in the 1930’s we have a large collection of records that are a treasure trove of information for genealogists, many of whom travel to the park for vacation and combine their visits with an opportunity to study their family history. In addition to the genealogy requests, I work with a large number of authors and academics. Park service employees researching various aspects of the parks history make up a smaller but no less important number of research requests.
The GSMNP archival collections span an extensive period of time. Our oldest record dates from the American Revolution and the most current records were accessioned in 2016. We have nearly 1700 LF of records including more than 20,000 historic photographs, in excess of 500 hours of oral history recordings and transcripts, a complete collection of the land transaction records that document the purchase of family holdings and commercial timber lands that formed the basis for the national park, as well as dozens of manuscript collections from many of the families that settled in this region of southern Appalachia after the American Revolution. As you might expect, the bulk of our collection consists of the records generated by Great Smoky Mountains National Park itself. From early press releases announcing the establishment of the park in 1926, to Historic American Building Survey records, superintendent reports, various division and branch records, as well as records detailing the recent celebration of the NPS centennial are all part of our collection of permanent records.
In 2010 the park worked with Clemson University on a digitization project that resulted in more than 14,000 of our historic photographs being made available on the Open Parks Network website. In 2015 we contracted with a company in Atlanta, Georgia to digitize our oral history recordings as well as hundreds of hours of park service training films and other visual media. Though not available online, these recordings are now accessible to researchers anywhere.
As a steward of public records I take my responsibility very seriously. I believe it is my responsibility to ensure that as few impediments as possible are placed between the American people and their access to this information. But records can’t be accessed if people don’t know they exist. To further that access I work diligently to educate the public about our holdings through presentations to local history and genealogy groups. In 2017 the museum curator and I gave tours of the new facility to more than 300 members of the public. Public outreach has the additional benefit of increased donations, both material and financial. As a result of increased public education about this new facility, we have received more than a dozen donations of materials that fall within our scope of collections and are poised to receive our first significant financial bequest. Increased public education and access can often be seen as a two-edged sword by some lone arrangers, but we have to overcome our fears of being inundated with traffic in order to raise the public profiles of our repositories. If people don’t access our holdings, how can we justify our existence?
For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. –Matthew, chapter 25: verse 35
Every year, millions of refugees around the world leave their homes in hope of escaping tyranny, poverty and persecution.
A small percentage find permanent residence in a new country. Some arrive in Seattle, Washington. Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) is among the organizations that give refugees a chance at a new life. The Diocese of Olympia’s Refugee Resettlement Office, a local affiliate for EMM, has assisted refugees from around the world since 1978. Their programs have welcomed more than 20,000 men, women and children from more than 30 countries and provided a variety of services including, food, shelter, community orientation, English tutoring, job training and placement.
Everyone assisted by the Refugee Resettlement Office has a case file. That translates into thousands of files – most of which are in paper.
These files not only document individual journeys – but also collectively document global strife, immigration patterns and the role of The Episcopal Church in this very real drama of life and death. In the Diocese of Olympia, the Archives has taken on the responsibility for preserving these files and has just completed a long-term digitization project to capture these important records.
For years, the files were stored in a room at the Refugee Resettlement Office where the boxes and cabinets containing them were stacked from floor to ceiling. As the number of files grew, some were stored off-site in storage lockers. Neither location was particularly secure or environmentally stable – but worst of all was the difficulty of retrieval.
These files have – quite literally – been on my mind for years. After surveying the records and studying the options, I put together a proposal for our diocesan Board of Directors, recommending that the files be digitized for permanent retention.
My proposal emphasized four points justifying the project and the funds I was requesting:
Why Do Refugee Case Files Matter?
Files provide documentation of the Diocese of Olympia’s Refugee Resettlement program
Files are important to our national security
Files provide detailed information on the individuals involved
Files have broad historical significance for the Pacific Northwest
The Board accepted my proposal and authorized funds for the project.
This was certainly all well and good – and went a long way towards moving the project along. However, there was still one major hurdle to overcome. Before the files could be digitized, they had to be ‘prepped’ – staples, clips and other fasteners removed; pages straightened; and a cover sheet created for each file – a necessary but labor intensive and time-consuming process.
The cover sheets were perhaps the key to the whole project as they provided searchable index terms for individual records. I focused on 5 discrete pieces of information from each file: Overseas Case Number; Name; Social Security Number; Date of Arrival; and Country of Origin.
As multiple family members were often included in one case file, only the name and social security number of the head of household was used for the cover sheet. This information is, of course, confidential and is accessed only according to our diocesan confidential records policy.
I started by prepping the files myself, but other duties kept getting in the way. Fortunately, volunteers came along at just the right time. During the first year, we processed and digitized six years of case files. During the second year, another seven years was completed. Then, I lost my best volunteer to a paying job (imagine that) – and the project slowed to a crawl. I realized that if I had to depend on volunteers – or my own erratic schedule – it would take forever to process the remaining twenty-five years-worth of files. The solution was to hire someone to do the job. The problem, as usual, was money.
For help, I turned to Mark Duffy, Canonical Archivist and Director of Archives for the Archives of the Episcopal Church. Mark had consulted with me on the project from the beginning – and he now assisted me in obtaining grant funds to complete it.
Consequently, I was able to hire a project archivist and the project is now complete.
Let me just say in closing that the decision to undertake the task of digitally preserving these refugee case files – though time consuming, often frustrating and certainly expensive – was well worth the effort – particularly in view of today’s uncertainty regarding all refugee programs.
Episcopal Migration Ministries is currently at risk – as are all its affiliates – at least six of which are being closed. However, as can be seen from this February 10, 2017 Episcopal News Service headline:
Olympia diocese welcomes refugees, sues to keep resettlement efforts alive
Matthew, chapter 25: verse 35 is taken seriously in the Diocese of Olympia:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. –
I’m proud of the fact that the Diocese of Olympia Archives was able to contribute to maintaining the integrity of the Refugee Resettlement program and of being able to preserve almost forty years-worth of these important and unique case files.