Archivists to the Rescue! Project Update

Deb Schiff
Archivist
2017-2018 Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect of SAA Lone Arrangers
debra.schiff@gmail.com

Since Brenda Gunn, our council liaison, and Nancy Beaumont, SAA Executive Director presented our pilot project, Archivists To The Rescue!, to Council earlier this year, the project team has been moving forward at a reasonable pace. We – SAA members and Section leaders Deb Schiff, Alison Stankrauff, Michelle Ganz, Ashley Levine, and Russ Gasero, as well as Dyani Feige of CCAHA – have reviewed the materials submitted from archivists across the country for consideration in the project.

Deb used Google Sheets to organize all of the project contributors in one place, with their contributions and contact information. For the workshop materials (handouts, bibliographies, and presentations) reviews, Deb used a Google Form so that the reviewers would have a standard method of reviewing each set of materials. The responses from the form were recorded on a page within a Google Sheet listing all of the workshop materials, to centralize all of this crucial information.

We obtained permissions to alter, use, and distribute all of the materials submitted. We reached a consensus on which materials to use for the workshops by the end of April, and are in the process of making the workshops ready for instructors to use.

Ashley has developed interview questions for video interviews and participant surveys (part of the measures of success for the project). Michelle has developed forms for the instructors and participants. All will be reviewed by the entire project team during May.

Also, sites have been selected across the state of New Jersey and workshop presenters will be trained in a “train the trainer” workshop Deb will hold later in the year. By the end of May, it is hoped that the workshops will be scheduled with the sites, so we can begin promoting the workshops and selecting the cohort of participants. It is hoped that each participant will be able to attend all of the workshops at their site.

Annie Tummino, of the SAA Lone Arrangers Steering Committee, organized a Lone Arrangers/Archivists to the Rescue Project Meet Up at the April MARAC meeting. There, Deb gave a short report on the project and sold the Archivist pin designed by the Los Angeles Archivists Collective as a fundraiser for the pilot (30 pins were sold!). It is expected that a portion of the proceeds will go toward producing more pins to sell at the annual SAA meeting (Nancy Beaumont said we would have a table at registration for the purposes). The remainder would go to expenses associated with the workshops

Advertisements

Processing the Ginsberg Family Collection

Jill A. Hershorin, MLIS
Archivist
Jewish Historical Society of NJ
jhershorin@jhs-nj.org

The Ginsberg Family Collection (1956-2013) has been processed and is now available for research at the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey (JHS of NJ). It is our hope to reach a wider audience by detailing the contents and procedure of how the collection was evaluated.

For decades, Pat Sebold, a local politician in Essex County, NJ, has been the keeper of some of her family’s memorabilia. This trove includes hardback and paperback copies of the family’s published writings, letters to and from family members, and newspaper clippings of the Ginsberg family. Finally, after a few years of convincing, Sebold donated the materials to our archive in 2016. We have known of Sebold’s accomplishments in the public and personally, we know that Pat is the first cousin of author, poet and philosopher, Allen Ginsberg.

While the official repository of the Allen Ginsberg papers is housed at Stanford University, the Ginsberg Family Collection resides in our small archive in Whippany, NJ. Our archive’s holdings contain materials that represent Jewish life in the nearby counties of Essex, Morris, Sussex, and Union. Because the Ginsberg family has its roots in Newark, NJ we thought it fitting that the collection should be with us. Convincing Pat Sebold was uncomplicated. Sitting with New Jersey Jewish News reporter Robert Weiner, Sebold says: “It is better it should go someplace where it will be treasured.” She added, “What are they going to do? Sit in a bookcase for the rest of my life?”

Processing the Collection

When the materials arrived, there were six large boxes with no discernable arrangement or order. Three of the boxes held hardbound and paperback books, and the other three contained assorted documents. The boxes of books were set aside and I began to sort through the documents. It was clear that there were items related to Allen Ginsberg, but I soon discovered other family members’ documents as well. There were correspondence and writings penned by Allen’s father, poet Louis Ginsberg; postcards from Allen’s Aunt and Uncle Hanna, and Leo Litzky; letters from Edith Ginsberg; a handwritten family tree, and other treasures.

Throughout the sorting process, I thought about the connections that this family shared – the activism, the appreciation for the written word, and their deep love for one another. After two weeks of sorting the materials, the direction of the collection began to take shape. The collection would be divided into four series: Allen Ginsberg; Ginsberg Family; Press; and Publications. Clearly there was an abundance of materials that belonged within the Allen Ginsberg series, but other materials belonged within series that had not been penned by Allen.

It became clear that the Allen Ginsberg Series had to be further broken down to subseries levels. The correspondence subseries range covers the period from 1956 to 1987, and contains outgoing letters and postcards sent by Allen Ginsberg and his aunt and uncles. The postcards are humorous and tell of Allen’s travels in his unique poetic voice: “Dear Clara and Murray. Happy New Year from Amsterdam – cheese, canals, windmills, bridges, dogshit, Indonesian restaurants, red light district, youth clubs with rock +roll + herb dopes… Love, I think of you fondly. Allen.” Each item was photocopied for researchers’ use, and the originals were placed in mylar enclosures. Other subseries are “Events”; “Photographs”; “Funeral Services”; and “Writings.” It is fascinating to see the silver gelatin photographs of the family members shot and captioned by Allen.

Ginsberg in Amsterdam New Year 1982077
Allen Ginsberg writes to his Aunt Clara from Amsterdam. 12/31/82. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey

The Ginsberg Family Series contain letters and postcards, photographs, flyers, and family trees. The items are from various family members and include some works by Louis Ginsberg. The correspondence is mainly between family members, and there are a few letters from outsiders. A letter penned by Louis titled, “A letter to my son, Allen Ginsberg,” reads more like an editorial than a personal letter. He writes of his displeasure with Allen’s stance on Israeli militarism to which Allen was deeply opposed. Allen felt that the Israelis victimized Palestinians and his suggestion would be to “let back in all the Palestinian Arabs and make it a non-Jewish state, secular state.” Louis responds by writing to Allen: “I read with commingled disappointment and distress, your article on the Arab-Israeli conflict…Allen, you (and your New Left cronies) are ready to help liberate all oppressed groups except your own.” We get a glimpse into the ideals and differences between the two men as they famously held opposing viewpoints on many social and cultural issues, but ultimately they remained close until Louis’ death in 1976.

Ginsberg photo taken in 1967061
(L-R) Edith Ginsberg, Allen Ginsberg who holds his cousin’s baby, Sam Gaidemak, Sam’s mother, Elaine (Baiser) Gaidemak and Louis Ginsberg, ca. 1967. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey.

Because of the numerous events, articles, and interviews with the Ginsberg family, The Press Series contains flyers, newspaper clippings, and press releases, and have been arranged into subseries based on theme or topic. All clippings have been photocopied for researchers to use.

The Publications Series contain books (many of which are first editions) and have been inscribed by the author(s). They are housed in three full-sized record storage boxes. Allen would personalize his books to his family and friends by drawing and inscribing on many editions using a wide range of motifs, symbols, messages, and settings. Allen’s drawings include a cross-legged Buddha, willowy flowers, Stars of David, the often inscribed “AH” and “OHM”, snakes, skeletons, and dreamlike cityscapes. For long term conservation, it was decided that these books would be stored, and the inscriptions were to be scanned and saved in our digital library. In addition, the book covers and inscriptions have been photocopied, and access to the originals is restricted.

Ginsberg, Allen - Verbatim, 1974 - inscription
Allen’s inscription to his cousin Pat Sebold. 12/10/74. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey
Ginsberg, Allen - White Shroud, Poems 1980-1985, 1986 - inscription 1
Allen’s inscription to Aunt Clara. 1/24/87. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey

After making entries into Past Perfect, the series description and finding aid were written, and the information was sent to the NUCMC cataloguer in Washington D.C, who created the OCLC record for the collection. We then contacted The Allen Ginsberg Estate and Stanford University to let them know about our collection.

Ginsberg gift of typewriter 1987056
Edith Ginsberg’s letter to Clara (written as Claire). 2/28/87. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey

Family History

It is 1985 and another postcard arrives at what would be Abe Ginsberg’s final residence – an assisted living facility in West Orange, NJ. He is well into his 80s, and his body may be slowed and his eyesight weakened, but what he can count on is the constant communication from members of his tight-knit family, seeking advice and sharing memories of their lives together. This postcard reads: 11-25-85: Dear Abe – Here we are in Minsk, Belarus where it all started! Big wide avenues, blank faces, ordinary eyes, circus tigers + lions + acrobats…” This postcard is another from his nephew, poet Allen Ginsberg.

Allen

When Allen Ginsberg sent his elderly uncle Abe Ginsberg the postcard from Minsk, Allen was already a well-established cultural icon. Allen was born in Newark, NJ in 1926 to poet and educator Louis Ginsberg and wife Naomi, a dedicated Marxist. His brother, Eugene was a lawyer and poet as well and penned under the name Eugene Brooks. Allen began keeping a journal when he was a pre-teen and discovered the poetry of Walt Whitman who remained a major influence throughout Allen’s life. Allen graduated from Paterson’s Eastside High School in 1943, and then Montclair State College. He received a scholarship from the Young Men’s Hebrew Association to attend Columbia University, where he wrote for the Columbia Review and the humor magazine Jester. As a freshman at Columbia University, Allen “met undergraduate Lucien Carr, who introduced him to William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, part of a diverse (and now legendary) circle of friends that grew to include Herbert Huncke, the young novelist John Clellon Holmes, and Neal Cassady… These friends became the nucleus of a group that named themselves the “Beat Generation” writers.”[1]

Allen soon dedicated his life to poetry, and Allen and Eugene watched as their mother Naomi suffered from paranoia, often being admitted to mental hospitals. Louis divorced Naomi while she was institutionalized and married Edith Cohen in 1950. In 1956 Naomi died after undergoing a lobotomy. Three years after her death, Allen penned what some consider his finest poem, the infamous elegy for his mother titled, Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956).

Allen was the perfect representative of the counterculture movement of the 1960s as he was vocal in anti- war efforts and was a key figure at the protests at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968. In the 1970s, he and poet Anne Waldman created a poetry school, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Ginsberg continued voicing his social/political stances throughout his life, until his death in 1997. He is buried in Newark’s Gomel Chesed Cemetery.

Louis     

Louis Ginsberg was born in Newark, NJ in 1895. He married his classmate, Naomi, who later became a grammar school instructor while Louis taught English and literature (a career he would keep for the next 40 years). He continued writing poetry and ran a weekly column of puns in Newark’s Star Ledger. His writings appeared in the New York Times and the New York Herald as well as many anthologies. He was the author of three books: The Attic of the Past, The Everlasting Minute and Morning in Spring.

Eugene

Eugene became an attorney specializing in international law and remained a poet. He wrote throughout his service in World War II, and these poems were published as Rites of Passage. He often collaborated with his brother and father as all three men (Louis, Eugene and Allen) presented many public readings together.

Honey

Louis’ sister, Hannah “Honey” Litzky was an educator. She was outspoken about the rights of the working class and connected political issues with educational concerns. She was very involved in forming the Newark Teachers Union with Bob Lowenstein and was involved with other local unions and organizations that helped the city’s needy population of the 1930s and 40s. She taught at Newark’s famed Weequahic High School. She was married to South Side High School Principal, Leo Litzky.

Louis Ginsberg died in 1976, Allen in 1997, Hannah in 1999, Edith in 2000, and Eugene in 2001

To date, we have not had any requests from researchers to examine The Ginsberg Family Collection. The Society promotes its archival holdings through our website (jhs-nj.org), bi-annual newsletters, stories and highlights in our local newspaper, press releases, Facebook posts, and catalogue entries to OCLC (Online Computer Library Center.) Within this small but dense and diverse collection of writings lies a deeper insight into the connection that this family had with each other.

 

[1] Source: http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-03394.html American National Biography Online June 2000 Update. Access Date: October 29, 2015 Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press.

A Practical Response to The Archivist (2015)

Sarah Chilton
Senior Research Librarian
BROOKINGS Library
Brookings Institution
SChilton@Brookings.edu

Unlike Nathan Mathers in the short film, The Archivist, I do go home every evening and I don’t see myself in videos I process. I will admit to occasional dreams (or nightmares) about boxes, cloud storage, files, tape cassettes and photos. I do find myself trying to finish one more box or file, but there is so much else to do, I don’t let a collection processing take over my life. As a research librarian at the Brookings Institution and a lone arranger of the Brookings Archives, processing happens in the time around requests for library or archival reference.

The Brookings Archives was established in the early 1980s with grant funding from the National Endowment for Humanities and the Cafritz Foundation. A project archivist was hired to collect and process the records of the Institution, a public policy research organization founded in 1916. A finding aid to the collection was published in 1987. Plans called for a librarian to accession material after the archivist left. I took over that role around 1993. My training consisted of a new MLIS degree with a concentration in reference services and participation in training at the Modern Archives Institute. Since then I’ve received lots of on the job training and I’ve counted on the advice of colleagues including those on the Lone Arranger listserv. The bulk of our 750 box paper collection was moved to and offsite storage facility. With real estate prices around Washington, DC so high, the storage facility changed hands and the collection was move further away from the city four times. I was finally able to bring the collection back to Brookings. I’ve spent the past year reorganizing and rehousing the collection in the building basement. I started scanning paper archival files program 15 years ago. I didn’t have all the answers for a digitization project, but I started with two scanners, (one flatbed and the other with an automatic document feeder) scanning software, and storage on the Institution’s drive. Funding for a content management system and optical character recognition software were deferred for several years. Now, with an OCLC ContentDM management system in place, I’m busy loading digitized paper and born digital documents into our repository. Board of trustees, presidential files and photographs have been the priority so far. Our scanning project continues with help from library assistants. I’m also investigating ways to collect more digital content including email and process some paper files from a retiring president and vice president. I get about 10 questions a month for archival information. The requests range from questions from our Executive Officers about former policies and programs to graduate students from around the world studying past Brookings research projects. In the coming year, I hope to establish digital rights so customers can use our ContentDM database to do their own research. Of course, I will continue to process more content for the archives.

Jackson Place NW, Brookings Sign
Brookings building at 722 Jackson Place in 1932. Photo courtesy Brookings Institution.
BrookingsExterior_20
Brookings building at 1775 Massachusetts Avenue, 2018. Photo courtesy Brookings Institution.

A Critical Response to The Archivist (2015)

Catherine Lucy
Technical Services Manager/Archivist
Fontbonne University
clucy@prodigy.net

Depictions of archivists and archives are ever-increasing in popular culture. From popular fictional characters like Abigail Chase in the blockbuster film National Treasure to unusual examples such as the fruity wine label The Archive or the French perfume Archives 69, archival images are all around society. Unfortunately, these depictions reinforce stereotypes that surround the profession, particularly of archivists. Aldred, Burr, and Park (2008) analyzed nineteen films containing archivists as characters. They determined that film archivists “follow generally accepted stereotypes” in their physical and behavioral characteristics, as found in published literature on the subject (p. 58). The following study describes and summarizes a recent depiction of an archivist in popular culture, and then analyzes the portrayal for stereotypes and other thematic elements found in existing literature.

The Archivist is a short film produced in the United Kingdom in 2015. Peter Owen Brook is the writer, director, producer and editor of the film. Visual artist Jamie Topp served as co-producer, cinematographer, and costumes/set design. The Archivist is a color film 13 minutes in length, which gained attention in the United Kingdom for its selection in the 2015 London Short Film Festival.

Nathan Mathers, a young man likely between the ages of 25 and 30, works as a news archivist for a television station. His position is very solitary, as he works alone in the basement of the station. As he is reviewing old PAL videocassettes and indexing their contents, he begins seeing himself in some of the archival news clips. Through telephone calls and a recorded video message, his girlfriend Alice pleads with him to leave the job because it is making him miserable. A reporter from one of the news clips (identified by the filmmakers on YouTube as a “spectre”) spies on him and then confronts him over a grudge she has been holding. The entire short film takes place in the television station’s basement where the archival news tapes are stored. The audience is only shown glimpses of the outside world through some of the news clips that Nathan watches.

This film is an original story of Brook’s. Both Brook’s and Topp’s individual works prior to this film show that they have an interest in the visual element of film. This interest contributes to the mood of the film, as they likely wanted to establish an element of mystery through their use of the camera and sound. As far as genre is concerned, the film is a drama with a supernatural element. The character of Abigail, the news reporter, is supposedly a ghost or apparition. Although the filmmakers do not make this completely clear to the audience in the context of the film, it is explicitly stated on the YouTube page where the film resides for viewing.

There is not a specific audience for this film other than film enthusiasts and archivists. The general public is unlikely to see an artsy short film such as this, so it mostly appeals to adult cinephiles. The main character Nathan seems to be an archivist for the purpose of creating a sense of mystery and exploiting the isolation of his job. Due to this isolated nature, Nathan feels socially out of touch with his girlfriend, his parents, and even society. The only person he confronts face-to-face in the film is most likely a ghost (Abigail), although it is not clear why she is a ghost. She is shown in past news footage, so either she was a real living person at one time or she is a figment of Nathan’s imagination. The audience is left to draw its own conclusion about Nathan’s mental state, but his character seems to be an archivist solely to portray the elements of isolation and mystery that the filmmakers strive for.

Aldred, Burr and Park’s study defines an archivist “as a person, male or female, who works within a variety of institutions, deals with records in any format, at any point in their life cycle” (2008, p. 68). Main character Nathan Mathers is an archivist for a TV station (which is a type of a commercial or private institution). He works with old PAL videocassettes in an isolated room in the building’s basement, which is a stereotypical location for archives. His main task is cataloging the videocassettes by indexing tags of each tape’s content. When talking to Abigail, Nathan says, “I ingested one of your videos yesterday.” He says this to acknowledge that he recognizes her even though they have not met before. The film’s screenwriter appropriately uses the industry term “ingest,” which in general means to absorb the information or data from the archival record into computer software.

In addition to the stereotype of locating the archives in an isolated place like a basement, there are other stereotypes employed in this film. Nathan embodies many of the physical stereotypes of an archivist as mentioned in Aldred, Burr, and Park’s study (2008): he is male, has short hair, dresses conservatively (white shirt, dark pants, and a tie), and performs technical tasks. He only veers from the path of a stereotypical archivist because he is a main character (as opposed to a minor character) and he does not wear glasses.

He also embodies the stereotype of an employee with low status. He is “non-aggressive, mild and quiet” (Schmuland, 1999, p. 39) in his one physical altercation with Abigail (in which he tries to save a tape that she is determined to destroy). Also, the location of his work room in a basement is representative of his “lack of status” at the organization (p. 43). In fact, this work area is symbolic of “death and [a] tomb” (p. 44), which foreshadows the urgency of Nathan realizing he must leave this job because it (or its ghostly inhabitant) might literally kill him.

There are some echoes of realism in the film. In the introduction to Levy and Roble’s report for the Society of American Archivists, archivists are noted as “suffer[ing] from the belief that somehow they don’t deserve more” (1984, p. 3). This is a real problem in the archival world and in Nathan’s world. He has little self-worth and feels that he is only good enough for a lowly position at the television station. When asked by his girlfriend to quit his job or even just get away to meet with her, he makes excuses to avoid any contact outside the office. Uncomfortably settled into his job, Nathan realizes it is no longer a healthy environment for him. He tells his girlfriend Alice he is nervous about applying for other jobs because of the responsibility it might have and that he is “not used to it.” He makes an excuse that he cannot leave because his contract at the station does not end for another year.

There are other common themes in popular cultural portrayals of archivists. Buckley (2008) discusses the archivist as guardian or protector of the truth (p. 103). Nathan is the protector of the videocassettes, and he has to protect one from Abigail, who wants all copies of a particular newscast destroyed. Buckley also mentions the common occurrence of the truth being kept “from those desperately seeking it” (p. 104). Nathan is trying to discover a truth about his own self by viewing the station’s tapes, many of which he appears in (perhaps unknowingly, perhaps not—it is part of the mystery).

The search for self is another theme in Buckley’s article. Nathan is viewing these news tapes and recalling moments of his past in the outside world. He has phone conversations with his girlfriend and strange in-person conversations with the Abigail the reporter. He is desperately seeking to restore his identity before it can no longer be recovered (much like an archivist works to preserve records). A third theme of Buckley’s is closed spaces as “sites of surveillance” (p. 106). Similarly, Ketelaar states that “archives are places of surveillance” (2002, p. 237). The theme of surveillance is present in The Archivist. Abigail gives Nathan a video to watch, which ends up being footage secretly taken of him working in the archives. Even the news clips he appears in are a form of surveillance because they are capturing moments of his life he did not realize were being recorded.

The mysterious nature of these news clips adds to the film’s dream-like quality because the audience is never quite clear what is real and what is not. Other dream-like qualities include the repetition of certain sounds (which often cut out other sounds) and an abstract sense of time. Abigail tells Nathan he has been there weeks, implying he has not physically left the facility in a long time. He is shown sleeping on the job, then waking abruptly and acting surprised that he missed a date with Alice. Whenever he leaves the video room or its adjacent break room, the camera cuts away and the scene ends. Viewers never sees Nathan outside of his basement surroundings.

It is also not clear how much time is passing because he wears the same outfit throughout the film and sports a couple days’ growth of a beard on his face, which also does not change. Abigail, who appears twice on seemingly different days, wears the same clothes, as well. Another element of the dream-like nature is that telephone conversations between Nathan and Alice are often garbled or end abruptly, symbolizing their lack of effective and frequent communication. When they do speak, she mentions that he sounds “so cold on the phone.”

Nathan’s portrayal of an archivist is not a positive image since it embodies the stereotype of a socially awkward loner who works in an isolated basement with outdated equipment. However, this film is more about an isolated man entrapped by his job and intimidated by a mysterious co-worker. The filmmakers perhaps thought this was an ideal professional for Nathan’s character. They probably came to that conclusion because of existing stereotypes, but they seem driven by a sense of mystery and wanting to paint a dream-like picture.

The director chose not to show other typical aspects of an archivist’s job, such as acquiring materials or helping others. Nathan does not conduct any administrative work at all, such as these common tasks mentioned in Aldred, Burr, and Park’s study (2008, p.76): reference, research, acquisitions, or outreach. His profession could be any job that requires an individual to work in an isolated area (closed off from the outside world) that could potentially affect their mental well-being.

Unfortunately for archivists, this portrayal is just another stereotype that makes their work seem mysterious and unappealing to the larger population. While the portrayal is unique in the sense that the main character is an audio/visual archivist instead of one surrounded by dusty books and paper, it is still representative of known stereotypes. What does this mean to archivists? It means that while fictional archives and archivists might make for entertaining examples of popular culture, archivists must strongly advocate to wider audiences to teach society who they really are and what they actually do. There are many truths to reveal about the profession that can be accomplished in just as many entertaining ways as the stereotypical examples if only writers, filmmakers, and others would take the time to learn what those truths are. Accurate portrayals of archives and archivists would help bring much needed credibility to the profession.

 

References

Aldred, T., Burr, G., & Park, E. (2008 Fall). Crossing a librarian with a historian: The image of reel archivists. Archivaria, 66, 57-93.

Brook, P. O. (Producer/Director), & Topp, J. (Co-Producer). (2015). The archivist. [Motion picture]. United Kingdom: POB Productions. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7jjEpNpfrg

Buckley, K. (2008, Fall). “The truth is in the red files”: An overview of archives in popular culture. Archivaria, 66, 95-123.

Ketelaar, E. (2002). Archival temples, archival prisons: Modes of power and protection. Archival Science, 2, 221-238.

Levy, S.J. & Robes, A.G. (1984 December). The image of archivists: Resource allocators’ perceptions. Society of American Archivists. Retrieved from http://files.archivists.org/governance/reports/Image-of-Archivists-Levy1984.pdf

Schmuland, A. (1999 Spring). The archival image in fiction: An analysis and annotated bibliography. The American Archivist, 62, 24-75.