The Society of California Archivists Annual General Meeting (#SCA16) was held in Santa Rosa, California from April 7 to 9, 2016. I attended on Friday, April 8th.
Dr. Michelle Jolly, a history professor from Sonoma State University, gave the plenary address on Friday morning. Dr. Jolly discussed her own recent experiences with primary sources and her struggle getting her students to use and understand them. Part of the problem is standardized testing- teachers are teaching to ensure that students are prepared to pass these exams, but at the cost of cutting out other kinds of learning and the development of creative and critical thinking skills. Faced with an ambiguous assignment and resources, and no one right answer, today’s undergraduate and even masters students feel overwhelmed and anxious, sometimes flat out refusing to participate.
Therefore it is important that teachers, professors, and archivists collaborate to share skills and experience in order to teach students the skills they need to use primary sources. Dr. Jolly discussed workshops she participated in with K-12 teachers and ideas for activities and assignments that introduce students to primary sources effectively. Members of the audience shared similar programs other universities are implementing to overcome this challenge, and Dr. Jolly asked that the lines of communication are improved between the different professions and universities so that we may build on each others’ successes.
I presented in session 4: Looking Inward and Outward: Innovative Approaches in Providing Access and Increasing Use of Special Collections.
Michaela Ullman, Exile Studies Librarian at the University of Southern California, discussed her team’s approach to engaging students with primary sources. At USC, she helped to integrate Special Collections into the university freshman orientation. She collaborated with other library units on campus to hold a successful petting zoo of rare materials for freshman and their parents. Although this proved to be very popular, Michaela decided to expand the interaction beyond a novel experience into a casual way to teach students the ways in which they can gain valuable information from these materials. To this end, she developed a treasure hunt for students, creating simple questions for students to answer using the special collections materials she set out. Following the morning’s plenary, Michaela’s presentation was a great example of a successful and effective model to introduce college freshman to Special Collections.
Li Wei Yang, Curator of Pacific Rim Collections at the Huntington Library, shared his journey of discovery of the Huntington’s previously unknown Asian and Asian-American materials. Because these materials were outside of the library’s traditional collecting scope, previous staff did not have the language skills to effectively describe and make them available. A mistaken description of a Chinese book led Li Wei to dive into the institution’s ephemera files to see what other Chinese language materials were hidden within and inaccessible to researchers. His research revealed that the Huntington held a rare volume of the Yongle Encyclopedia, a Ming dynasty era encyclopedia commissioned by an emperor. This led to collaboration with the national library of China to digitize and create facsimiles of the volume, as well as additional opportunities, such as exchanging preservation techniques for western and Chinese books. Given their existing assets and the cultural makeup of the area, the Huntington expanded their collecting efforts and created Li Wei’s current role, Curator of Pacific Rim collections. In addition to collecting and increasing access to materials that Huntington already has, Li Wei hopes that this will open the Huntington to a new audience of users.
I presented about the development of scan-and-return collecting at UNLV Libraries’ Special Collections. Spurred by recent community documentation projects including the African American Experience in Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project, this practice actually dates back to at least the 1980s at UNLV (before there were scanners there were photocopiers). By scan-and-return I am referring to a transaction in which physical primary sources are temporarily loaned to Special Collections for digitization then returned to the owners. The digital copies, or digital surrogates, are then added to our collections to be preserved alongside other born-digital materials and made available online using CONTENTdm. In my presentation I outlined why and how we engage in this practice, pointing out concerns, positive outcomes, and how it fits in with the overall archival mission. For more information, look out for an article I co-authored with my colleague Cyndi Shein, “Say Yes to Digital Surrogates: Strengthening the Archival Record in the Postcustodial Era,” which will be published in the Journal of Western Archives.
I also attended Session 6, Strategies for Access: Repurposing Archival Metadata for Online Collections. Annette Doss from the UCLA Film & Television Archive talked about providing online access to the In The Life LGBT television newsmagazine collection. Videos were already available on In The Life’s YouTube channel, and archives staff also uploaded episodes of the show to the repository’s website, but faced challenges when they had to edit out copyrighted segments. Items were also described in the online catalog, creating multiple access points to the collection. Special attention was paid to subject tags and a custom controlled vocabulary was created to ensure that the terms used are user-friendly and not clinical or outdated.
Steve Kutay of California State University Northridge discussed visualizing archival context digitally. Although online access to archival materials provides advantages, there is also a loss of context that is easily understood when accessing a physical collection. Kutay suggested that context from finding aids, archival records, aggregate digital collection metadata, publications, related collections, and EAC-CPF be represented visually for the benefit of the user. He talked about user experience design for multiple narratives and digitally visualizing temporal coverage, geographic coverage, contextual frequency, arrangement, relationships, provenance, etc. He gave some examples of apps one can use, including Viewshare (Library of Congress), Fusion Tables (Google), Google charts, Timeline JS (mobile friendly), Leaflet, D3.js Data-Driven Documents (d3js.org).