Going Solo at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

MikeOct2016

Michael Aday
Librarian-Archivist
National Park Service Collections Preservation Center Great Smoky Mountains National Park Townsend, Tennessee
michael_aday@partner.nps.gov

 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.

CPCArchivesSpace2Resized
Archives stacks at National Park Service Collections Preservation Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service Collections Preservation Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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.

CPCResearchRoom
Research room at National Park Service Collections Preservation Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service Collections Preservation Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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.

GRSM15683JohnSevierSummons
Summons to the Sheriff of Washington County, NC from Clerk of the Court John Sevier, from 1782. Photo courtesy National Park Service Collections Preservation Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
CCCScripGRSM99046
Civilian Conservation Corps scrip, from 1932. Photo courtesy National Park Service Collections Preservation Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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?

 

Advertisements

Welcoming the Stranger: Refugee Resettlement in the Diocese of Olympia

Diane Wells

Diane Wells, CA
Archivist & Records Manager Diocese of Olympia, Seattle, WA
DWells@ecww.org
https://ecww.org/about-the-diocese-of-olympia/departments/archives/

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.

Nguyen Family
The Nguyen Family from Vietnam Olympia Churchman Photo. Photo courtesy the Archives of The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.

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.

Refugee Resettlement Office files
Refugee Resettlement Office files. Photo courtesy the Archives of The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.

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.

RRO Records in Storage
Storage room at the Refugee Resettlement Office with boxes and cabinets containing stacke from floor to ceiling. Photo courtesy the Archives of The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.

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?

  1. Files provide documentation of the Diocese of Olympia’s Refugee Resettlement program
  2. Files are important to our national security
  3. Files provide detailed information on the individuals involved
  4. 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.

Staples, etc.
Staples, clips and other fasteners removed from Refugee Resettlement Office files during processing. Photo courtesy the Archives of The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.

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.

Refugee Files - Disk with Paper Files
Processed Refugee Resettlement Office files. Photo courtesy the Archives of The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.

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.

 

Becker Archives Digital Content Organization Plan

Stephen Logsdon
Archivist
Washington University School of Medicine
logsdons@wustl.edu

The Becker Archives Digital Content Organization Plan (BADCOP) outlines the file-naming convention used for all digital content maintained by the Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives at the Washington University School of Medicine. To explain how it works, I want to first draw your attention to the ornate document labeled Number 1 which is the US Army commission given to Dr. William Beaumont during the War of 1812. This document can be found in the William Beaumont Papers at the Becker Library. President James Madison signed this commission appointing Dr. Beaumont as a surgeon in the Sixth Regiment of Infantry in the US Army on December 2, 1812.

Imagine that a patron wanted a scanned copy of this document in PDF format. Once you scan it for them, you’ll need to provide a filename for the PDF on a screen that looks similar to the image labeled Number 2. What filename do you give it? Should the filename begin with “William Beaumont” or “Beaumont-William”? Should you only say it’s a commission, or should you be more specific and indicate it’s a surgeon’s commission in the US Army? Should James Madison’s name be in the filename anywhere? Should you include the date of the document in the filename? All of these questions are important to consider when choosing a filename.

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-12-40-21-pm

The Becker Archives Digital Content Organization Plan, with the unfortunate acronym BADCOP, takes the guessing game out of assigning filenames because this plan centers on a methodical file-naming system. The basic premise of BADCOP is that the organization of digital content should follow the principle of archival arrangement (the organization and sequence of items within a collection). All filenames assigned using this method will use a series of symbolic letters and numbers that represent the scanned file’s arrangement within a collection. The BADCOP-compliant filename that I would assign to this document is labeled image Number 3: PC012-S05-B20-F03.pdf.

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-12-40-21-pm

Briefly looking at this filename, you’ll see that it does not say it’s a surgeon’s commission, it does not include William Beaumont’s name or James Madison’s, and it does not even contain the date of the document.  However, if you look closer at the filename, all of that information is included.  The filename PC012-S05-B20-F03.pdf is a code, and you can see how that code breaks down into identifiable pieces in the much abbreviated view of the finding aid to the William Beaumont Papers represented in image Number 4.

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-12-40-25-pm

PC012 is the collection code for Personal Collection #12, the William Beaumont Papers. S05 stands for Series #5, which is the series in which the commissions are located. B20 is Box #20. F03 is folder #3, which contains the 1812 surgeon’s commission signed by President Madison.

There are numerous justifications for using BADCOP, but the most important reason to implement this file-naming convention is to answer this question: Once you have scanned this document, and you have assigned it the filename PC012-S05-B20-F03.pdf, how are you ever going find that PDF again? The answer to that question is the beauty of BADCOP. Let’s say several years from now, a different patron asks you for a PDF of that exact same surgeon’s commission. How would you find it amongst the 1000s of digitized images on your computer, server, or wherever you store your digital content?

You would find the PDF of the surgeon’s commission in exactly the same way as you would if you were looking for the original physical copy of it. You should use the finding aid for the William Beaumont Papers. Don’t start this search with your digital files. Instead, go to the finding aid first and search for the description of the item you are looking for, which in this case is the 1812 surgeon’s commission. Once you find it, then you have also identified the BADCOP filename because you know its organizational location in the collection. It’s the third file of Box 20 in Series 5 of the Beaumont Papers. You can then create that corresponding filename on the fly while you’re looking at the finding aid: PC012-S05-B20-F03.pdf.

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-12-40-30-pm

Now that you know the filename you need, you are sufficiently prepared to find it amongst all your digital content. The ease of finding the correct digitized file is illustrated by the filenames listed in image Number 5. In this case, you have scanned only six documents in that collection. Picking out the filename you need is rather easy in this case.

Imagine that instead of six scanned documents, you had scanned 600 documents from this collection. If you have assigned BADCOP-compliant filenames to each file, all 600 scans will line up in your file directory in exactly the same order as your finding aid lists them. So all of your scanned documents from Series 3, are going to follow all of those from Series 1 and Series 2. All of the scans from Box 13 are going to be found after all the scans from Box 1 through Box 12. This means there is no need to open up random files on your computer from this collection to check if it’s the specific document you want. Because you have the filename in hand, you know the exact file you are looking for. So whether there are six, 600, or 6000 PDFs from this collection, finding the exact file you need takes only seconds, and that’s what makes BADCOP such an effective tool to use.

For more information about the BADCOP file-naming convention, visit:

https://becker.wustl.edu/resources/arb/policies/becker-archives-digital-content-organization-plan

becker-archives-digital-content-organization-plan-saa-presentation-2016
Commission signed by President James Madison appointing Dr. William Beaumont as a surgeon in the Sixth Regiment of Infantry in the US Army on December 2, 1812. Personal Collection #12, William Beaumont Papers, Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives, Washington University School of Medicine.

Digitization Project for DAR’s 125th Anniversary

 

Amanda Fulcher Vasquez
Archivist
Daughters of the American Revolution

In 2015 the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) celebrated the 125th anniversary of their founding. NSDAR is a women’s volunteer service organization that focuses on education, patriotism, and history. During their anniversary year, many projects were completed that involved telling the story of NSDAR throughout the years from multiple perspectives. For the NSDAR Archives, this meant an increased use of our resources, specifically our photograph collection.

As one of two archivists at the NSDAR Archives, I must confess that I am not a lone arranger. However, I am familiar with the struggles of lone arrangers. I know that working in a small repository means that you need to be a “jack of all trades” archivist. We juggle multiple priorities, and use our limited resources to find creative solutions for the many issues that we encounter. In the years prior to NSDAR’s 125th Anniversary, our small team was able to keep up with the manageable interest in photographs from our collection that needed to be digitized in order to improve access and aid in preservation. As a result, we took a “digitize on demand” approach, digitizing items as they were requested and storing the images in shared electronic reference files that were organizing by subject matter.

As my time as an archivist at NSDAR progressed, the demand for access to digitized photographs increased exponentially. In a brief period, I went from regular correspondence with members who did not have email addresses to members needing large quantities of images emailed to them. Many technological changes have occurred in the 13 years I have worked for NSDAR, and I began feeling challenged at work as many new projects involved mastering these technological advances. The archives profession has been impacted by many of these changes as well. All of this led me to enroll in Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) courses in 2012.

This brings us to NSDAR’s 125th anniversary in 2015 which resulted in an intense need for digital images by NSDAR’s Public Relations Department. Specifically, this department needed digitized images from our photograph collection to create content for promotional videos, website, and other outreach ventures that would tell the story of the NSDAR.

With limited resources and time, we needed a solution. A veteran NSDAR Public Relations employee went through a photograph collection that consisted of 70 boxes to select photographs for digitization. This employee was an ideal candidate to select photographs for two reasons. First, she was familiar with the history of NSDAR as well as the popular and frequently used images. Additionally she was the driving force behind the content created for NSDAR’s 125th. This made her an ideal person to select photographs to be digitized.

The results were a win-win for everyone. Sharing resources helped create shared success. Using institutional knowledge and expertise, the Public Relations Department employee who selected photographs for digitization did a great job. Together we determined that it was not necessary to digitize this collection 100%. This was because of limited resources and the subject matter of the photographs. As a small repository, it was great to team up with another department to achieve the goal of making key images more accessible by combining man power and resources. The Public Relations Department even helped with some of the scanning.

The DAS education made us more adept at facing this digitizing challenge. We were able to implement a better system for organizing the images produced from this digitization project. This was accomplished by making simple changes, such as having both a high resolution master copy and a low resolution access copy of digitized images. Each file was named for its location within the archives, rather than by their subject matter. Shortcuts to the access copy images were created in our shared electronic reference files, as to not overload the system with too many copies of the same image and avoid confusion.

Not only did this project allow us to properly organize our digitized images, we were also able to improve searchability. We placed low resolution copies of the images in our collections management database. This aided in our search functions and access; as well as preservation as we will not need to retrieve these photographs to view them. Our software was recently upgraded to include a public search function, and in-house researchers can now search and view these images.

The Public Relations Department’s needs were met; the outreach content they created for the 125th anniversary was wildly successful. However in helping them reach their goals, many of our own outreach goals were met. The promotional content they created for NSDAR’s 125th anniversary showcased events recorded in the NSDAR Archives, thus increasing our exposure and bringing awareness to our department. In 2015 digitized items were frequently posted on NSDAR social media. The NSDAR Facebook page began featuring a #ThrowBackThursday post. I wrote a guest blog post on the NSDAR President General’s blog explaining what it meant to be an archivist at NSDAR and detailing exciting projects that were in the works. The archives’ outreach partnership with the Public Relations Department has continued past the 125th project year and has now become a routine cooperation. A recent example of this is a Facebook Live post we promoted on October 5, 2016 for #Askanarchivist Day.

As a result of this positive partnership, the Public Relations Department has become an advocate for the archives program within our institution. Our 2016 goals include revitalizing some of our foundational policies and among them our records management policy. The Public Relations Department has volunteered to be the first department to go through this process and serve as an example for other departments.

My takeaway from this small scale digitization project is to look inside your institution for resources and collaborators. If you share goals with other departments, why not share resources and accomplish more together?

vasquez-lart-slide
Slide for: Preserving in Digital Formats: Challenges and Solutions in Small Archives, SAA Annual Meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, August 3, 2016

 

Launching a Digital Preservation Program as a Solo Archivist

Mike Satalof
Archivist and Digital Collections Librarian
Bard Graduate Center
mike.satalof@bgc.bard.edu

Bard Graduate Center (BGC) is a graduate research institute in New York City. Founded in 1993, it examines the decorative arts, design history, and material culture through academic programs, research forums, and exhibitions. As part of a small Library staff, and as its first archivist, I have found rewarding opportunities and challenges in planning, advocating for, and—finally!—beginning to acquire and preserve the institution’s born-digital collections.

In 2014, soon after the BGC’s 20th anniversary, the Library began undertaking an initiative to roll out a modest institutional archive. Though at the start of this initiative our familiarity with digital preservation concepts was low-to-moderate, we knew it would be important to build in sound policies and infrastructure to preserve born-digital materials. To solo archivists taking on such a project for the first time, my advice would be to take an approach that fosters a shared sense of purpose with your stakeholders; think broadly in gathering information about how your institution’s digital assets are created and managed; and aim for a scale within the limitations of your resources.

We made communication an essential part of this project from the beginning, focusing on outreach and advocacy while preparing for an institution-wide inventory. To make our case and propose a game plan, a Digital Preservation Committee was called, including stakeholders, departmental representatives, and IT. During the inventory process, I held more than 20 meetings with staff from 13 different departments to compile technical data about their digital materials, recording information such as file formats, size, and storage locations. I found that along with gathering data, these “bring out your dead” meetings were also useful for gathering the stories behind those digital files directly from the staff members most familiar them: Which were of especially high value? Which were lost when a long-time employee left? What kind of anxieties did staff feel about managing, storing, and preserving their department’s electronic records? Combining institutional memory with an in-depth inventory provided a detailed map of the landscape of our digital assets and informed the next phase: prioritizing for preservation of materials most at risk.

With the inventories completed, I reported back to the departments with findings and recommended next steps, including a series of proposed pilot preservation projects. We aimed to identify “low hanging fruit”—high value digital materials already in danger of becoming lost or unreadable, including exhibition records, publications, public programming materials, and thesis projects. While planning several discrete pilots, I also began drafting policies to formalize our archive and its mission.

To plan for a digital repository, we were able to secure funding to hire a great part-time digital archives consultant to provide recommendations for a repository that could be managed at our scale (a solo archivist and small institutional IT staff). The consultant and I worked with IT to identify a solution under $5,000 that could be administered by a lone archivist and monitored by IT with little maintenance. We selected a three-copy solution with a server that would be used both to store collections and serve as the “drop-off” point for other departments to transfer digital materials to the archives. The consultant and I produced workflow documentation for the accessioning, transfer, processing and description of materials (in ArchivesSpace), and he provided a script that leverages the LoC’s BagIt tool to monitor file fixity. With IT’s assistance in setting up the server, I have been able to begin processing and preserving pilot collections this fall, with hopes to complete processing and revise documentation in the coming months.

One interesting thing that emerged as I completed the inventory was the number of staff members raising questions about records management and especially feeling unsure about how to take on some of these seemingly-overwhelming tasks (like cleaning up a large file backlog of project files or creating procedures for disposition). While a large-scale records management program is beyond our scope, it became clear that for many departments, these issues represent a more tangible priority than getting materials into an archive. I have tried to provide some records cleanup recommendations in response to specific questions, and it is clear that records management training will be a key activity that the archives is in the best position to offer as a service. In the future, I would like to explore outreach to staff and faculty through best practices workshops and an online documentation portal (via Google Docs), and by providing individualized consultation on request.

I’m grateful that this project has been well received and to have the support of administrators, library colleagues, and allies in other departments who have given thoughtful direction to our still-nascent archives. In a role that allows me to work with the institution’s many different constituencies, I am eager to make sure the archives is inclusive, transparent, and trusted as a repository for the record of their most important achievements and efforts—digital or nondigital.

Thanks to the LART for providing a wonderful platform for solo archivists to share our experiences and resources.

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-4-22-46-pm
Slide for: Preserving in Digital Formats: Challenges and Solutions in Small Archives, SAA Annual Meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, August 3, 2016.