#RBMS17 Session Notes

Here are my session notes from RBMS 2017. Read my conference recap here. Apologies for the lack of links; I simply do not have time time–but I encourage you to pull any of the threads of interest herein for yourself!

[Please note that I am unable to remove the linked list to previous blog posts from the middle of the text; it is not showing up in the HTML. As a WordPress user for ten years, I am perplexed–any tips appreciated!]

Wednesday, June 21

Scholarship award winners’ breakfast, 7:30-8:30am

RBMS sessions, 8:45am-5:30pm

Plenary I: Narrative

Valerie Hotchkiss, University Librarian at Vanderbilt University

Micaela Blei, doctoral candidate in Educational Theatre at NYU; Senior Manager of Education for The Moth

Moderator: Petrina Jackson, Head of Special Collections and University Archives, Iowa State University

Hotchkiss began with storytelling advice, noting that she would not be talking about DH or integrated library systems, but about anecdotal evidence of “tidbits,” using the term “anecdote” to mean “fun fact,” not hearsay. Hotchkiss argued that “tidbits transform an encounter with fact to an encounter with cultural history” and cited institutional blogs as a way to achieve this, as well as to collect tidbits from other collections’ copies of the items in your own holdings for comparative purposes—leading to the discovery of “copy-specific tidbits.” She noted Stanley Marcus’s encounter with a Gutenberg Bible in George Parker Winship’s course The History of the Printed Book at Harvard, and the lifelong impression it made on the retail mogul, who later became a rare books collector. She encouraged the audience to “take our roles as storytellers and showmen seriously” and to show our enthusiasm. Hotchkiss also contrasted “the prepared visitor,” who arrives with a research interest and known collection requests and thus “creates their own anecdotes” with “the visitor who is not even here”—the virtual visitor. She also discussed crowd-sourced projects, notable the Tate Britain’s notebook transcription project using Zooniverse, and closed with a quote from Kipling: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

Blei began her portion with an approximately ten minute long, first-person story, in the style of The Moth, about how she bought her high school teacher, “Mr. L,” a complete set of the Yale Shakespeare. She then used this story as an example of the points she wanted to make about storytelling, including conceptualizing a story as an extended metaphor, helping people find and make meaning in their own stories, and listing the common themes of a good story: 1) stakes – understanding what the teller has to win or lose, getting the audience invested; 2) change – the story should change the narrator or protagonist in some way, shift, and/or start in one world and end in another; 3) theme – tell a story that matters to you, and see what themes come up; 4) show, don’t tell – “Mean Mom” and the flower pots story—it is one thing to say “She was a mean mom,” and it is another to tell a story of how she gave her daughter busted pots for Christmas. Why do stories work so well? We love protagonists (and journeys)—Narnia isn’t just “plopped into,” you have to (want to) journey there from England; we love promise and release, so there must be a set-up and a question or something at stake, so that the end produces a unity feeling; we love stakes; we love making meaning, so very rarely over explain or provide a moral or leave the scene; “put it all in.” “Stories are finding the thread of meaning through a collection of memories. Let listeners (or users) pull the thread.”

Seminar B: Future of bibliographic data

Karen Limper-Herz, Incunabula Short Title Catalog (ISTC), British Library

Christina Dondi, University of Oxford

Oliver Duntze, State Library of Berlin
Moderator: Greg Prickman, University of Iowa

Duntze showed us the State Library of Berlin’s online catalog record page for Wynkyn de Worde, The Charter of the Abbey of the Holy Ghost. Abbey of the Holy Ghost, Westminster, ~1496. The page includes some interesting live links, including to an online type database (which elicited oohs and aahs from the audience). His presentation discussed the challenges in writing bibliographies—transcription vs. content description, especially regarding incunabula in multiple languages.

Limper-Herz demonstrated the British Library’s Incunabula Short Title Catalog (ISTC), touching on issues in creating faceted searches (which related to some issues we have discussed at TSLAC regarding Preservica’s searchability). She reported on updates to the ISTC, including the forthcoming ability to download, with various options, as well as an eventual merge with the 15th Century Booktrade database, leading to long term “metasearch” of all incunabula collections.

Dondi introduced the CERL Material Evidence in Incunabula project (which I had previously learned about at a public talk at the British Library on my vacation in the UK in November!). She explained how recording and making available copy-specific descriptions has been increasingly extensive but scattered, and, thus, it has been difficult for scholars to use the data systematically. The new vision and approach is more “bottom up.” MEI is using “informed outreach,” to create actual and virtual partnerships across institutions based on shared collection items. She also demonstrated the VGG Image Annotator, which allows users to find recurrences of individual printing blocks across multiple editions (!); so, you can search for horses, or horses printed in Venice between 1500 and 1550, etc.

Panel: Defining the Archive

Athena Jackson, Penn State University

Arthur Fournier, Arthur Fournier Fine and Rare

William Stingone, New York Public Library

Stingone discussed the tendency of information professionals to bristle at the corruption of the terms “archives” and “archiving,” advising, on the whole, that we should realize these words now point to two different concept, one colloquial (and, hey, at least people are thinking about preservation!), one professional. He also pushed for the idea that, in order to avoid relegating most of our collections to “backlog limbo,” we should ask, “How archival is it?” and view appraisal decisions as a spectrum rather than a yes/no.

Fournier, a book and manuscript dealer, played around with the idea of a collection vs. archives, defining the latter as “a form of evidence that has provenance, is complete, is singular,” whereas otherwise what you are dealing with is a dealer-assembled collection. “Sometimes I think the more prosaic word is less fraught.” He tries to think about how he is applying the terms set, group, and collection to the manuscripts he acquires. He discussed at length how archives might leverage social media’s ability to, in a roundabout way, spotlight archival holdings, noting especially the viral success of Atlas Obscura, which, while written by and for non-professionals, is nevertheless comparatively serious and thorough in its approach. He also made a plea for paying for archives, noting that there are major issues of representation, diversity, and legitimization at play, such as the fact that many minority artists have little means of receiving remuneration for their life’s work, other than the value inherent in their papers, etc. “Old white men’s interests dictate market valuations.” And Fournier is looking for ways to change that.

Jackson gave a rousing presentation so jam-packed with gems I was unable to properly record any of them (!). She focused especially on the difference between having your history recorded for you vis a vis Native Americans’ and Mexican-Americans’ archives and history being recorded by you.

During the Q&A, there was much discussion between the panelists and audience members of finding aids as narratives themselves, and how we might, in light of this, de-contextualize and reconstitute the finding aid in concept and practice.

Panel: Materialia lumina: The Contemporary Book in its Historical Context: Philosophical Musings of three Master Printers

Book artists:

Gaylord Schanilec

Russell Maret

Peter Rutledge Koch

Moderator: Danelle Moon, University of California, Santa Barbara

Photograph of a panel discussion taking place inside a formal room

Koch opened with inspo shout-outs to Ruskin’s The Seven Lamps of Architecture and Wagner’s concept of the total work of art in opera before showing slides of his recent work, The Lost Journals of Sacajawea, a collaborative project with Missoula Native writer Debra Magpie Earling in which they explore the history of contact between Native and European cultures and the conquest of the West by Europeans. He described his work as “postcards from the future to the past,” and was especially interested in the symbolism of “the last buffalo” in 19th century America and contemporary representation. Koch describes his Diogenes project as a “text transmission object,” and a book as a multi-voiced object, “the creator speaking to readers, the book speaking to other books, text/context speaking infinitely.”

Maret showed a slideshow of many of his works, focusing on more recent ones, such as Æthelwold Etc, The Book of Jonah, and Linear A to Linear Z, discussing the influence of varied sources including the Kelmscott Chaucer, Dover Press, Ashendene Press, and Euclid. He also reminisced about a callback to collaborating with his own history, after he founds his first print—from 1989—in his parents’ basement. His description of the moment he decided to be a typographer was breathtaking: “It was November 30, 1996, and I was at an exhibit. I saw a Rudolph Koch typeface and knew I was a typographer. I couldn’t sleep; I was awake planning a typeface all night. I woke up the next morning convinced I was a typeface designer despite having no training whatsoever.” I didn’t take many notes, because I was so gobsmacked by the images. Maret’s archive is at the Library of Congress.

Schanilec discussed New York Revisited, an art book he created for the Grolier Club’s anniversary, as well as his series of fish portraits, and steel engravings based on paintings by Seth Eastman; there were echoes of Jackson’s earlier panel talk regarding Dakota place names and variations and the artist’s frustration that “the only way to get a Native perspective is through European eyes.” He is currently working on a children’s book about the history of Minneapolis, focusing on the St. Anthony Falls, which have moved 10 miles over 12,000 years and are now in central Minneapolis. The book is being produced using local materials, including pieces of driftwood purposed as printing blocks to create the wavy water patterns representing the falls. He also touched on his time working in Wales on several separate occasions, including a slide of Gregynog Hall, home of Gwasg Gregynog (Gregynog Press, in Llanymynech) and remarking, “Having grown up in northeast North Dakota, I thought I knew cold… until I moved to Wales.”

Thursday, June 22

RBMS sessions, 8:45am-5:30pm

Panel: The Narrative of Exhibits and Exhibition Practices: Approaches to Design and Execution

Greg Seppi, Brigham Young University

Kris M. Markman, Harvard Library

Beth M. Whittaker, University of Kansas

Francesca Marini, Texas A&M University

Marini summarized the findings from her study of space usage in special collections exhibit spaces, which included nine institutions—a mix of public and private. She was interested in looking at how archives and special collections differ from museums, and questions mostly focused on physical space, which is often comparatively unalterable in libraries’ and archives’ gallery spaces.

Whitaker discussed the University of Kansas’ Spencer Library and Archives, which was established 50 years ago as a one-off memorial donation. Her presentation highlighted architectural issues, including water damage to collections and how the physical space affected visitors’ experience, particularly with the library’s rotating exhibits. Tensions identified were experts vs. casual visitors, selectiveness vs. comprehensiveness, past vs. future, legacy donations vs. new money, the “library way” vs. the “museum way,” and micro-stories (exhibitions) vs. macro stories (importance of primary sources, role as campus partner, openness to everyone).

Markman presented a slideshow summary of the results of her groundbreaking “variable eye tracking” technology study of exhibit visitors at Harvard’s special collections. She compared the UX of two Harvard exhibits using a specially designed set of glasses fitted with a tiny camera that follows the user’s eye movements and records a video. Questions she was trying to answer included, “How do users explore items in individual cases?” and “How much time do visitors spend reading labels?” Each of the 24 study participants wore the glasses for six minutes and completed a short questionnaire; Markman ended up with 23 sets of valid tracking data. The results were surprising: most visitors viewed items in a random order with no discernible pattern, either from case-to-case or visitor-to-visitor; most did read the item labels, many in some considerable depth, based on the amount of time spent and eye movement tracking; and each visitor’s viewing style was unique. Predictably, most were drawn toward illustrations and human faces, but not to the exclusion of textual or other content.

RBMS 2017 InstaMeetUI

At the InstaMeet, I got to view about 30 “greatest hits” items from the University of Iowa Special Collections, along with a group of other social media users. The Special Collections social media manager, Outreach and Engagement Librarian Colleen Theisen (who I did “know” from Instagram and Twitter!) gave a short, casual presentation as we browsed about how items are selected for the institutional Instagram, how captions are written and edited, and how their audience has been built and evolved.

Panel: Documents Abroad: Latin American Materials and Special Collections in the United States;

Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, University of Minnesota

Mary Jo Zeter, Michigan State University

Seonaid Valiant, Newberry Library

Lisa Gardinier, University of Iowa

Gardinier talked about connecting materials across intellectual and physical collection/subject/space separations to get them to users, for example, handmade Argentinean and Uruguayan art books designed for distributing short classics to the working masses during a time of economic depression. She passed examples around among the audience while discussion her decision to make half of Iowa’s collection circulating—“because that’s what they were made to do. Why preserve them, too? Because each one is a unique object.” The largest collection of these books is at the University of Wisconsin; there are 120 at Iowa, of which 70 are deposited in special collections and the remaining 50 circulate. Decisions on circulation are made by looking at holdings at other libraries. She calls the Iowa collection, “medium rare,” with a wink to steaks.

Valiant discussed in detail the fascinating Edward A. Ayer collection at the Newberry. Ayer, a self-taught working class collector, purchased his first items, a full set of multi-volumes in Chicago in 1864 for $17.50—on credit. The Newberry now has his entire library collection, complete with his end notes, and papers, now entirely digitized and online. Many of the items relate to the history of the colonization of Mexico, including the famous Popol Vuh book, for which Valiant participated in an indigenous blessing ceremony in 2011; this provided interesting and useful insights into multicultural preservation strategies, as the tribe’s religious leaders return every four years to “re-bless” the book. Valiant has since published protocols online regarding the handling and use of sacred objects and the role of the library as steward, in partnership with the descendants of the book’s creators.

Zeter presented a case study of her recent exhibit and thus told the story of Latin American comic books as seen through Michigan State’s extensive comics holdings. Most of her presentation was based on showing the physical layout of the exhibit cases, discussing how she chose to organize the titles (almost entirely by country of origin), and looking at the amazing images. She also noted that popular Spanish language comic character Cool Kid first appeared in 1907, in a comic book based on an O. Henry story (which, as an Austinite, caught my attention).

Plenary II: Representation

Janet Weaver, Assistant Curator of the Iowa Women’s Archives, University of Iowa

Angela J. Aguayo, Associate Professor of Cinema and Digital Culture, Southern Illinois University

Moderator: Agnieszka Czeblakow, Rare Books Librarian, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries

Photograph of Janet Weaver in front of her slide showing the Iowa Women's Archives benefactors Noun and Smith

Weaver’s talk focused on the history (and lack thereof) of women’s archives and in particular on her work at the Iowa Women’s Archives (IWA), founded by Mary Louise Smith and Louise Noun. Noun auctioned Frida Kahlo’s “Self Portrait with Loose Hair” to endow the IWA. We got a whirlwind introduction to the surprisingly (to me) substantial history of Latin American—and Latin American women’s, in particular—political activism in Iowa, including ILHOP, LULAC, Dolores Garcia, and the Mujeres Latina Project, which has an online component, the “Migration is Beautiful” web site, a DH project hosted by the University of Iowa Libraries’ digital studio in partnership with IWA. She also discussed how her work with LULAC had to be done “off the clock,” in her “free time” because of potential conflicts as a state employee [this got me thinking about how we blur the lines between official professional work and women’s largely invisible and always unpaid social and emotional labor—I HAVE THOUGHTS.] Weaver nonetheless considers that work part of her professional work. Key takeaway quotes: “We

are not storytellers by nature.” “These voices proclaim loudly how much we do not yet know about our history.” “Now women’s voices are no longer hidden whispers in archival repositories.” “Librarians and archivists are stealthy individuals.”

Aguayo, a filmmaker, began with this statement: “We are living in a time that is unsure about what facts are, and archives institutionalize what the facts are.” She proceeded to interrogate choices of selection vis a vis representation within a narrative framework and called on us as information professionals—archivists, especially—to “resist where you exist.” Aguayo provided examples in discussing her work with the Rural Civil Rights Project, which produced its first documentary (which she directed), 778 Bullets and let to the formation of the Racial Justice Coalition. She has worked to document the previously undocumented history of the Carbondale (IL) Black Panther Party, including a shoot-out and trial that had been all but forgotten in the community. Aguayo’s work serves to document the presence of radical politics in rural areas. Finally, she ended with a call to “choose reflexivity.” Aguayo’s talk was full of actionable ideas.

The University of Iowa Libraries and Iowa State University Library Reception, 6:30-8:00pm

Friday, June 23

RBMS sessions, 8:45am-12:15pm

Panel: The Stories Institutions Tell

Jillian Cuellar, University of California, Los Angeles

Erika Gorder, Rutgers University Libraries

Lisa Conathan, Williams College

Moderator: Greg Schmidt, Auburn University

Conathan spoke on the symbolic disappearance of indigenous people from Williams College and Williamstown, Massachusetts, with an emphasis on a recent campus building restoration that included a famous 1940s mural depicting white English settlers and Mohawks planning together their strategy for the French and Indian War—a foundational myth of the Williamstown area. Questions Conathan asked included: why Mohawks, when it was Mohicans (a separate tribe) who lived in the area? Why were the indigenous people wearing so few clothes despite the meeting happening in late September, when it would’ve been chilly in Western Massachusetts (see the sculpture featuring Lincoln and enslaved people for a comparison)? What links are there between the founding of institutions, native histories and representation, and foundational collections (the first book purchased/gifted by the founder of Williams College was the Elliott Bible, written in Massachusett)? Do students interact with at all with the native historical narrative and how has that relationship changed over time (for instance, early students staged reenactments wearing “Indian” garb, now seen as offensive and verboten)? Conthan recommended and referred numerous times to Marisa Fuentes’ Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive, particularly the introduction. Student work written in response to the restoration and reconsideration of this institutional narrative, written for a public audience, is now available (on Islandora).

Gorder’s talk focused on defining the role of the university librarian and archivist as historian, “historian vs. information professional; historian or custodian? servant or scholar? technocrat or walking encyclopedia? objective observer or social justice warrior?” Her conclusion: we are all of these. The bulk of her talk was describing Rutgers’ 250th anniversary coffee table book, to which she was a contributing author, Rutgers: A 250th Anniversary Portrait. Controversies abounded, she said, especially regarding disagreements about whether to foreground issues of complexity vs a celebratory, representative take, and whether to include more or less short stories vs. long essays. She described the book as, essentially, “a 250-page archivists’ narrative,” but the editors were forced by university administration to use “treasures.” Gorder’s article was on the history of concerts at Rutgers, from DEVO to Bo Diddley, and she is “still chagrined” at how few of her fellow authors actually visited the university archives. There were also issues with choosing which photos of female students to include, with many alumnae of the opinion that so many of the photos were of “women looking silly,” whereas they should be represented as serious and scholarly. However, Gorder maintains that people are more drawn into relatable materials; so student life is historically interesting and important—“dare I say, fun”—student life blow-ups were installed around the library to lead people into the exhibition. The final section of Gorder’s talk focused on the Scarlet and Black Project—an exploration of “the uncovered narrative” of enslaved African-Americans and African American students, staff, and faculty at Rutgers, sprung from the 2015 Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations, chaired by Dr. Deborah Grey White, who enlisted Marisa Fuentes and 17 graduate students to delve into the university archives and find the “hidden” history of black Rutgers. Students began to interrogate the “Revolutionary” part of the Rutgers 250 slogan and ended up publishing a book of essays with a corresponding online exhibit, Scarlet and Black, Volume 1: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History.

Cuellar’s talk began much more personally, with a title card that said simply, “On Assimilation.” She shared her family’s story: Mexican-American immigrants to San Antonio around the turn of the 20th century, her grandparents built a house themselves on the edge of town (now in San Antonio proper). Not reflected in official histories, leaving no collection of papers, her family is largely absent from the historical record. “The longer I live outside Texas, the more I think about that house… I look it up on Google Street View and stare at it…” Her talk was very powerful and relatable. She confronted the fact that here is “an inevitable dissonance in representing marginalized communities in ‘our’ institutions” and argued for the idea of a continuum—from family papers to citizenship papers to the U.S. Constitution. Referring to Bethany Nowvitzkie’s idea of “speculative collections,” she argued (as had Beth Whitaker) for “micro-narratives” and even “micro-archives.” This includes not only papers, but ephemera, artifacts, and oral histories. Cuellar further argued for the historian as catalyst, not authority; catalyst, not curator (again, also echoing Weaver and Aguayo’s plenary talks). Again, I was unable to take extensive notes because this presentation was just so engaging and resonated with me so much.

During the Q&A a conversation of course ensued about Confederate monuments and memorializations, particularly on university campuses; because of my personal and academic interest in Texas’ (and The University of Texas’) Confederate monuments, I continued this conversation with other attendees. This was by far my favorite session of the conference; I could’ve lived forever inside this session.

Plenary III: Memory

Frank Salomon, University of Wisconsin-Madison; University of Iowa

Safiya Umoja Noble, University of California, Los Angeles

Salomon’s plenary focused mainly on cultivating an ethic of social justice in a new world of digital information, calling on information professions to “respect and reinforce local archives so that the small, clear voice can be heard above the din of the master narratives.” He also claimed archives as “monuments of diaspora,” highlighting the role of archivists in preserving small histories; “when people migrate, even the best genealogists can lose track of things”—calling for “bottom-up history.” He also argued that ethnographers need unique “but ordinary” historical documents. These paper archives can spark oral social history, where keepsakes are memory—of and for those absent, whether dead or part of a diaspora.

Noble’s talk was a follow-up to her closing plenary at ACRL 2015, which I was lucky enough to attend. Her research lays bare the decidedly non-organic nature of Google, internet search results, and SEO, focusing on how women and girls are represented in search engine results. She continues to argue that Google’s search interface acculturates us (and especially younger people, students, and new users) to expect that answers exist, and now. But knowledge is not “the answer”—it is contestable, complex, changing. Because of Google’s corporate privacy rights, no one actually knows how Google works, and yet, as Noble’s research proves, it has an outsize influence on what we now view as facts and knowledge. All interfaces—even something as nonthreatening and simple as Google’s—are political. Noble argues persuasively for information professionals—librarians, in particular—to think deeply about our roles in curating the open web, reframing away from the “the public should know better” argument, which evades responsibility and is complicit in problematic, corporatized, sexist knowledge systems. She pointed to the UN campaign about sexist Google searches as an example. “Racism and sexism in search results aren’t glitches—they’re inherent in our information systems.” “Bias is not a glitch.” One of the audience members commented, “This is a powerful reminder to those of us who are responsible for content description that metadata can be inherently colonizing.”

Rare Books and Manuscripts #RBMS17 Recap

Photograph of Old Iowa State Capitol with university seal on sidewalk in foreground

I am cross-posting my post-conference scholarship essay along with my session notes from RBMS 2017 (find them here); I figured since I was writing both, anyway, I might as well share my RBMS insights!

This was my first time attending RBMS, and I remain deeply grateful to the scholarship committee and all donors for the opportunity. I found out about RBMS while a student at the Texas iSchool, and promptly joined as a student member. As someone studying to be an archivist but with sidelines in history of the book, book arts, manuscripts, and museum studies, RBMS provided a deliriously rich and nourishing community of librarians, archivists, curators, scholars, and others, among whom I was able to see opportunities for not just future career paths, but for cross-field, inter-institution, and even international collaboration. I was especially fortunate to be paired with Melanie Myers, Senior Manager for Reference and Outreach at the Center for Jewish History in New York, as my RBMS mentor. Even more fortunate was my luck at being awarded a scholarship to ACRL in Portland in 2015 (my recap of that conference is here), where I got to meet Melanie in person–and she in turn encouraged me to try to attend RBMS in the future! Thanks, Melanie!

After driving (a blissfully uneventful) 999 miles from my home in Austin to Iowa City, I took an extra day to explore the town. I had never been to the Midwest before, and I was pleasantly surprised by how wonderful Iowa City is; what a fantastic, walkable, literary spot for RBMS! I toured the Old Capitol Museum (as a former Texas Capitol tour guide, I never miss a capitol building), browsed Prairie Lights Books, had the first of three (!) great breakfasts at the adorable Bluebird Diner, and enjoyed the painted park benches of Iowa City while walking about 8 miles.

Photograph of a giant sculpture of a book in a streetscenePhotograph of librarians and archivists looking at rare books on display on a long table, some taking photographsPhotograph of the Old Iowa State Capitol Museum, with USA and Iowa state flagsPhotograph of a chandelier taken from directly below so that it appears as a sunburstPhotograph of a spiral staircasePhotograph of a woman printing a card on a small letterpressPhotograph of the Iowa River in the evening light

I met more inspirational colleagues and mentors than I can count, received an overflowing brain-dump of professional insights, and came away determined–as an archivist–to remain involved in RBMS.

Because I am a state government records archivist, I privileged the sessions with significant archival content in planning my conference schedule. Overall, I felt the conference struck a great balance between “rare books” and “manuscripts” content; the cross-field and cross-institution collaboration happening–on panel stages, in audience Q&As, during experience sessions, over meals and beers and coffees–was encouraging. I’m interested in hybrid institutions–one reason I feel so lucky to work at TSLAC–and how libraries, special collections, and archives present exhibits, do outreach, and engage with the larger public history community. The main themes that emerged to me from my session notes are connected to conference’s main focus, “The Stories We Tell,” including how we as archivists (and allied professionals) can interrogate the ways in which we can acknowledge and responsibly fill our roles as narrators, including sometimes acting as less of an authority and more of a catalyst for the communities, records, and histories we seek to preserve; how increasing diversification within libraries and archives can revolutionize this work, and how, as a white woman, I can prioritize and foreground these conversations in my career; and how we can remain focused on the materiality of our collections while grappling with the urgent tensions brought about by the born-digital, the power of databases, and funding structures that are in flux.

The plenaries were all engaging, thought-provoking, challenging. Every panel I went to was compelling, with astute selections of speakers and moderators. The social events were an invaluable opportunity to connect with my own “early career” peers, meet professional role models and potential mentors, learn more about collections (around the United States and internationally!), and strategize with fellow information professionals about a broad array of issues facing our institutions in a time of exhilarating technological innovation, inspiring diversification, and serious institutional and cultural pressures.

Iowa City was lovely; I feel like I didn’t even scratch the surface of what is on offer there. I want to go back to further explore the University’s Special Collections, especially the Iowa Women’s Archives, learned about in  Janet Weaver’s plenary, and the International Dada Archive, learned about over delicious tapas from Timothy Shipe. I didn’t even have time to visit the Iowa Center of the Book (really disappointing, since I am involved with the Austin Book Arts Center–where we also have a Vandercook press!). Iowa City was a near-perfect conference venue: a very walkable small city filled with book arts! My accommodations at the University of Iowa were a fantastic bargain, and much appreciated by this scholarship attendee. I even made a new friend in the form of a dorm roommate, who turned out to be the same age as myself (let’s just say we’re both big Pearl Jam fans). I met fellow Dada enthusiasts; state capitol-obsessed tourists; UT-Austin iSchool alumni; Texans in exile; and TURN: Washington’s Spies fans. The InstaMeet was especially fun for me, as a prolific social media user; meeting people in the flesh whom you’ve long followed online is always a real treat! And the rare book dealers’ showcase–with tea and cookies–was an oasis of pure eye candy. I even met some booksellers whose brick and mortar shops I hope to visit on an upcoming personal trip to Massachusetts. And my friend Jason W. Dean from Southwestern University lugged several Texana books all the way to Iowa only to give them to me (thanks, Jason!). So, in short: RBMS was a jackpot. I continue to feel very fortunate to have found this career path and very grateful for the opportunities made possible by the investment of others.

Photograph of a Midwestern scene, a field of wildflowers with a yellow flower in the foreground and an old wooden building on a ridge in the distance

Continue to read my session notes here.

Family History Friday: N.P. Landrum, Confederate pensioner

I’m inaugurating a new blog series! I’m finding out so much ridiculously fascinating family history that I want to share it, not just with my family members on Facebook, but with everyone, because I bet everyone has some equally or even more interesting family stories that are as yet uncovered!

Let’s call it #FamilyHistoryFriday!

I’m going to start by posting a photograph or document, giving it some family and historical context, and telling you how I found it, so that maybe you can replicate my method to find out some family history of your own. There’s a lot out there now, thanks to the internet; trips to Virginia courthouse basements (shout-out Heather Bollinger!) are still a fantastic way to follow the documentation trail, but more and more information is available through archival repositories like the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and genealogical networking web sites like Ancestry.

The hive mind composed of thousands of cousins is necessarily going to find a lot more information than you would ever have been able to get before on your own, just visiting your local records center, paging through family Bibles (if you’re lucky enough to have any!), and talking to your auntiethough, please, do all of those things! Your elderly relatives are repositories of so many clues that would otherwise be lost. And they’re just plain interesting to talk to; their lived experience cannot be replicated by any document or photograph.

So, here’s my first post:


N. P. Landrum,  Confederate pension application #02458

Nicholas Powers Landrum was my great-great-great-grandfather. He applied to Lamar County Judge William Hodges for a Confederate Pension from the State of Texas on August 4, 1899, application number 02458.

I know this because I searched the Index to Confederate Pension Applications online through the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (full disclosure: I work there!). As stated on TSLAC’s web site:

The Index provides the names, counties of residence, and pension numbers of 54,634 approved, rejected, and home pensions issued by the Texas government between 1899 and 1975.

Confederate veterans and their widows were dependent upon the generosity of the already impoverished former Confederate states for any postwar pension benefits. In awarding pensions for Confederate service, Texas, like most other southern states, confined its relief payments to veterans or their widows resident in Texas since 1880 who were disabled or indigent. Therefore, the index of applicants for Confederate pensions in no way represents a complete roster of Texas residents who fought for the Confederacy.

I have been an Ancestry user for ten years. My genealogical research was put on hold while I was in graduate school, but now that I have a little more free time, I have been working on it again. I have always been especially interested in learning the name of the furthest back, findable and provable, direct maternal line ancestor. Previously, I had reached a dead-end at one Dorcus Boutwell Landrum, who was born in Mississippi circa 1822, parentage unknown. But a recent review of the evidence led me to realize that Dorcus was not, in fact, my great-grandmother’s grandmother. Based on Ancestry “hints” and a subsequent search of relevant federal census records, I determined that my great-great-great-great grandmother was, in fact, one Eglantine King. We’ll get to her and her family in a subsequent post. The point here is that this information then led me to identifying her husband, Nicholas Powers (“N.P.” or sometimes “Nick”) Landrum, based on census records.

Born in 1834 in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, N.P. is listed on the 1850 U.S. Census as a 16-year-old living at home, occupation “student.” N.P.’s grandfather, Thomas Landrum, was a veteran of the American Revolution, having served in the Virginia Line of the Continental Army. He was granted a Revolutionary War pension in Oglethorpe, Georgia, in 1832, aged 72 years. He died the following year. More on him later, too.

N.P.’s mother was Sarah Harvey Taliaferro, a descendant of the famous Taliaferros of Virginia (pronounced, and often Anglicized, as “Tolliver”). The name is Italian and is believed to trace back to Bartholomew Taliaferro, a native of Venice who settled in London and was made a denizen in 1562. He was a musician in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. This marks the second Italian Tudor court musician ancestor I’ve discovered, the other being Jeronimo Bassano, on my father’s side. No doubt these two families knew each other in London in the 16th century. Crazy stuff. More on them later, as well (sensing a pattern?).

Here’s where my search began: now knowing my ancestor’s name and that his age (26 in 1861) made him a likely recruit during the Civil War, I searched the Confederate pension applications index on the TSLAC web site. And there he was!


Using this information, specifically the application number, I then searched TSLAC’s scanned Confederate pension applications, available through Ancestry.com. Note: these are viewable on site at TSLAC in Austin, through their institutional subscription to Ancestry.com. To learn more about on- and off-site resources available through TSLAC, see their Genealogy Resources web page.

Now we’re beginning to pull together the threads of N.P.’s story. Let’s channel Sophia Petrillo and picture it: Lamar County, 1899. At that time, the Old Lamar County Courthouse, built in 1897, was newthe devastating 1916 fire wouldn’t happen for another 17 years. Here is what the 1897 courthouse looked like:


This photo of the 1897 Lamar County courthouse hangs in a display case on the fourth floor of the current courthouse. Photo: Terry Jeanson, 2007.

N.P. was 66 at the time of his pension application. In it, he says he served the Confederacy from April 1861 through April 1865. This implies he was a volunteer immediately at the outbreak of the war (Ft. Sumter was April 12-14, 1861). He lists his assets in 1899 as two horses, value: $40. He says he has no other assets nor means of income, declaring himself indigent. To apply for this pension, he also had to present an affidavit from a physician, Dr. J. S. Marshall, confirming his disability: blindness. His witness was his brother, William Henry (called “Boas,” here listed as W. H.) Landrum, who was four years older than him and a fellow Confederate veteran.

N.P. Landrum Confederate pension cover page

N.P. Landrum Confederate pension page 2

N.P. Landrum Confederate pension page 3

N.P. Landrum Confederate pension page 4#02458, N.P. Landrum, Confederate pension applications, Texas Comptroller’s Office claims records. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Further searching, this time on the National Park Service Civil War Soldier and Sailor Database, revealed that N.P. served as the chief bugler of the 10th Mississippi Infantry, Companies D and E, aka the “Lowndes Southrons” and the “Southern Avengers.” On the pension application, however, he reports that he served in Company B. The military records list both N.P. and W.H. Landrum as having enlisted in Lowndes County, along with other Landrums, likely all cousins. The 1860 federal census proves that they were resident in Lowndes County at that time. And there are no Landrums listed as having served in Company B. So I suspect old N.P. made an error in completing his pension application.

As a member of this regiment for the duration of the war, N.P. was involved in: the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, Shiloh, the Siege of Corinth, the Kentucky Campaign, Stones River, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, the Atlanta Campaign, the Franklin-Nashville Campaign, and the Carolinas Campaign. I visited the Carnton Plantation portion of the Franklin battlefield a few years ago and had no idea.

Based on this information, I assume that N.P. enlisted in the Confederate army in Lowndes County, Mississippi, where he had moved by 1860 from Georgia. N.P. married the previously-mentioned Eglantine King in Lamar County, Texas, on March 21, 1869. Her family was from Artesia, Mississippi, a small railroad community in Lowndes County, so it seems likely that he met her after the war but before moving to Texasthey probably came together. From the 1870 census on, they both remained in Lamar County.

N.P. and Eglantine’s daughter, Ida, my great-great-grandmother, would go on to marry Robert Clinton Russell in Lamar County in 1894. Robert’s grandfather was Lieutenant Benjamin Hudson Russell , who died at the Battle of Stones River (aka Second Murfreesboro) on December 31, 1862, aged 35. I have a lot more information about him to share in a future post, as well. Once again, two of my ancestors on various branches of the tree were in the same, fated place at the same time, generations before their descendants would marry. Fascinating to think about.

N.P.’s pension application was approved on August 19, 1899, and he was thus entitled to receive $22.32 per annum from the State of Texas for the remainder of his life. His date of death is unknown; the last census he and Eglantine (as “Tiny”) appear on is 1910. I haven’t been able to find the location of either of their graves yet, which is kind of surprising.

Learning that my great-great-great-grandfather was not only a Confederate veteran (unsurprising) but the chief bugler (very surprising!) is just the type of fascinating historical detail that keeps me plugging away at my family history. For me as for many people, it’s often difficult to really feel the presence, the materiality of history. Certainly in the absence of photographs, “meeting” one’s ancestors is often a dry, sparse pursuit; most of them will only make themselves known to us through a line in the federal census, and, if we’re lucky, a mention of their occupation. It’s also really amazing to me that, after a lifetime of eagerly absorbing any and all facts about my family’s history, and 20 years of research, little breakthroughs like this are still possible. The discovery of my descent from N.P. Landrum opened up a whole new, historically attested branch on my family tree, which I will explore in all its historical and moral contrast in future posts.

But the main thing I came away thinking about was this: my father, also a history buff, used to make a point of visiting historical sites as we made our way along the old and new highways criss-crossing East Texas, northern Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. So when we drove to see relatives, we often stopped at this or that historical marker or small museum or battlefield. None left their mark on me more than Vicksburgto my mind, the most evocative, haunted historical site in America. We would always park the car and walk around the battlefield, considering not just the huge monuments to the fallen (10,142 Union and 9,091 Confederate killed and wounded) but also the small, metal signs and markers commemorating the locations and movements of the various units. My dad would always say, “Shh… Listen. Imagine what it’s like here at dusk, or very early in the morning. Do you think you would be able to see the soldiers? Can’t you feel them here? Do you think you would be able to hear the bugle? Can you hear it?”

Well, can you?

#ArchivesLife: Six Months In

I recently joined the University of York Alumni Association’s new mentoring scheme (yay!), and the questions I was asked to answer as a new mentor doubled as a great opportunity to reflect on my “new” job, six months in.

So I decided share my answers here on my blog, too. If you’re an information science student or considering a job in archives, feel free to comment or contact me!

I have changed the language to American English throughout.

What I do

I am an archivist at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), where the main focus of my work is processing state records, along with some historical manuscript collections. As of February, I am also the accessions archivist, responsible for working with state agency and private donors to accession records for the state archives. Additionally, my work involves weekly reference shifts in our archives reading room, as well as some outreach, including special events at our repository and participation in local, state, and regional archives-related public events and our archival professional associations. For 2016, I am serving on committees for two local organizations, the Austin Archives Bazaar and the Austin Book Arts Center. I also attend a few conferences per year, and have a medium-term goal of writing an article for publication in an archival journal in 2016-17.

Skills I use and how I developed them

Knowledge of Texas history and state government, developed since working as a tour guide in our state capitol as a college student, and continually built upon.

Archives-specific skills, including a knowledge of the development of our professional standards, particularly with respect to processing and access: DACS, EAD, etc. I learned these skills through a two-year MSIS program which also included multiple work experiences and practica.

Event planning and outreach skills, learned through many years of related work, going back to the year I spent as an events planner for Ottakar’s book store in Chelmsford, Essex, and including a year spent as a development professional at The University of Texas at Austin.

Strong grammar and spelling skills, developed through the completion of two English degrees and 15 years of work experience.

What I like most

I love that I get to continually read and learn about history, particularly Texas history–and that I get to share my passion for this subject with our patrons. I very much feel that the work I am doing every day to preserve and make available the history of our state and its government is vital. I wish there were more hours in the day!

I also like that the job isn’t completely desk-bound. Though I spend a lot of time at my desk, processing papers, reading articles, and writing code, I also spend a good deal of time helping patrons in our reading room, working in the stacks, and even palletizing hundreds of boxes on our loading dock for disposal. This job is not sedentary!

What I like least

The comparatively low salary, considering the amount of education and skills necessary for the work, combined with ever-rising costs of living. This is especially the case if you work for a state repository or state university, and, while Austin may be the latest relocation mecca, state salaries here generally do not (any longer) support a high standard of living. Private university and, especially, corporate salaries are generally better, as is to be expected. But compensation is a perennial concern of archivists and librarians, nationally.

I think most people think that we just guard old documents all day; there is also a lot of general confusion regarding the difference between archivists and librarians. The modern archives field is involved in cutting-edge theoretical and practical considerations involving the long-term (in theory, perpetual) management of electronic resources, as well as ancient parchment manuscripts! We have a broad knowledge of history, and specific areas of historical expertise; we work with national and international standards (including ISO standards); we must master continually evolving, ever-more-complex professional frameworks; we code and write XML and databases and open-source software; and much more. It’s not a musty old room filled with dusty old boxes, where we sit all day, waiting for Indiana Jones to show up (unfortunately!).

What surprised me most

The amount of autonomy I was given from the outset. It is assumed that I am a trained professional and can be mostly left to my own devices to get my work done. There is more latitude for self-directed prioritizing than I expected, especially as a processing archivist (the usual entry-level position in this field).

Finding and applying for the job

How I looked for work

I used my MSIS program’s careers services web site as well as the Society of American Archivists job board, both online. My program also maintains a listserv where new job announcements are posted. My job was advertised on all of these, but also on the agency’s website, from which I applied. I had previously completed a course-related practicum at the repository, so I was very much on the lookout for full time job openings here.

How studying in the UK affected my job seeking

Having a second master’s is not required to work as an archivist, but it helps, especially when the topic is relevant to a repository’s collections. It may give you an edge over other candidates in these cases. Almost all archivists working in academic settings (university libraries, special collections, humanities research centers) have a second, subject-area MA; some have PhDs.

In my case, the subject of my MA–the Culture of Modernism–dovetails nicely with the era of a lot of the manuscript collections I have been assigned so far, such as the papers of a 1930s Texas state senator and manuscript drafts created by the WPA-funded Texas Writers’ Project.

The recruitment process

I applied by submitting a fairly long state application by email. The interview process was quick and efficient, consisting of a telephone interview followed by an in-person interview.

My career

My career goals when I graduated

My goal was to get a job as an archivist in Austin, which most professors and mentors advised me was unlikely due to Austin’s popularity and the difficulty of the entry-level job market. However, my pre-existing knowledge of Texas history and government, plus the fact that I had completed a practicum at the repository and thus knew its procedures, probably helped. I already had more than 12 years of experience in state employment, so I was highly motivated to land a job at a state repository or public university. My dream was to work in a hybrid institution combining library, archives, and museum work–and TSLAC is just that!

My career history

I graduated from The University of Texas with a BA in English, minor History, in 2001. I went directly to the University of York, where I completed the Culture of Modernism MA coursework in one year, taking an additional year to complete my dissertation. I graduated in 2003.

I remained in the UK (on a domestic partnership visa) through 2005, and worked as a bookseller, a literary events planner, and finally, as a residential construction planning and process manager for Countryside PLC in Essex.

After returning to Texas in 2005, I worked as a reference assistant at our state Legislative Research Library for a year before taking a job as an administrative assistant in an academic department at The University of Texas. I stayed there for four years before moving into a development position in another department, where I worked for a year.

In 2013, I was accepted into the University of Texas School of Information’s archives program, and I was fortunate to also receive a fellowship from the Harry Ransom Center, where I worked as a graduate intern throughout my two-year MSIS.

What has helped my career to progress

A passion for the field; my willingness to take on service roles in student and professional organizations wherever the opportunity presented itself; doing multiple internships and practica during my MSIS program; my additional 10+ years of work experience prior to becoming an archivist, which gave me a lot of generally transferable office skills and more confidence; and, most of all, excitement about continued learning and professional development.

Courses taken since graduation

I am currently working toward the Society of American Archivists’ Digital Archives Specialist certificate, which requires quite a few courses, webinars, exams, etc.

How my studies have helped my career

A master’s degree in library or information science is the necessary professional qualification to work as an archivist. I earned mine at the University of Texas School of Information. My prior coursework at York, in The Culture of Modernism MA, as also informed my readiness and ongoing work, as the era is one in which a lot of the documents I now work with were created.

Note that librarianship and archival science are not the same thing. If you know, as I did, that you want to work as an archivist, make sure you do a master’s program that includes substantial archives-specific coursework and provides opportunities for hands-on work experience.

What surprised me about my career so far

I am surprised every day by how much I love my job.

Where I hope to be in 5 years

In five years, I will have a solid understanding of archival processing. I want to be involved in more outreach and education activities through professional activity (conferences, professional articles, internal and external committees, personal side interests).

My advice to students

My advice to students considering work

Take advantage of the opportunities given to you as a student! Do as many internships and volunteer gigs as you can–they are as important as your coursework. Make connections, both with your fellow students (who will be your future colleagues) and with your professors, supervisors, and mentors. Write thank you notes. Join a mentorship program through an appropriate professional organization. Use your status as a student to land informational interviews with working professionals whom you admire, or whose jobs you think you might like. Apply for scholarships to conferences! Many of these go unclaimed due to lack of applicants! I applied for almost every one I was eligible for, and went to three conferences for free as a student, where I made important contacts, learned about various subsets of my field, and had a great time–I went to Portland, Dallas, and Washington, DC–for free! Continually update your CV, and include all of your volunteer work and professional development activities. Have a mentor or careers counselor advise you on your CV and cover letter. Get involved in social media–especially Twitter, a great place to meet and talk with your fellow archivists, scattered around the world. Resolve to make the most of this opportunity you have as a student to soak up all of this knowledge and all of these experiences.

My advice about working in my industry

Archivists are a learnèd, history-minded, always-curious, contagiously enthusiastic, mostly extremely friendly bunch. Though many are introverts, they will really get going if you prod them about their areas of interest! Reach out to people. Email people asking to set up coffee dates. Use your existing connections. Volunteer. Tweet–especially at conferences.

Learn the basic skills through an information science/library science master’s program, but learn the culture and most of the job through conferences and internships. Know that there are many, many roles within the field. Most of us start as processing archivists, since that’s the most fundamental part of our work; but there are many directions a career in archives can take you. You might become a “lone arranger” working at a small history museum, where you are responsible not only for archives, but also for artifacts and exhibitions and events and tours and fundraising. You might move into grant writing. You might work in a special collections library, at the crossroads of archives and librarianship. You might love people and decide to work as a reference archivist. You might want to do outreach and education. You might want to move into management. You might be a freelance disaster management consultant. You might be a conservator. You might work at a museum. You might work at Coca-Cola. Though all of these paths are united by the skills and approaches you’ll learn in an archival science program, the options are really endless. And you might end up doing all of the above over the course of your career.

Other advice

Try to be more succinct in your writing than I am. I’m working on it. 🙂

Contacting me

Feel free to contact me about any of the above, or indeed any questions you have about working in archives, working in the U.S., and/or life as a York alum!

New Exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center: “Gems from the Little Alphabet Collection”

Jullianne Ballou

Although the main galleries at the Harry Ransom Center are currently closed for the installation of the next exhibit, Jullianne Ballou and I have curated a selection of collection items for display outside the second floor Reading and Viewing Room: “Gems from the Little Alphabet.”

The Little Alphabet collection is a gathering of manuscripts by creators for whom the Harry Ransom Center possesses less than one box of material. The papers contain some of the Center’s most interesting gems, often with very little context included. If you’re on campus at UT this summer, these materials will be on view through August. Visiting the second floor exhibit space is free and open to the public 9:00am-5:00pm, Monday through Saturday.

Susan Floyd and Jullianne Ballou

“West Campus: Evolution of an Austin neighborhood, 1815-2015” exhibition opening at the Neill-Cochran House Museum

I’m thrilled to announce that the exhibition I’ve been working on for the past several months, West Campus: Evolution of an Austin Neighborhood, 1815-2015, is set to officially open with a talk and reception at the Neill-Cochran House Museum on Tuesday, April 21, at 6:00pm.

So come on out and join me to celebrate San Jacinto Day at the official opening. Details below.

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West Campus: Evolution of an Austin Neighborhood, 1815 – 2015

Exhibit Opening Reception

Tuesday, April 21st, 6:00 pm


West Campus changes: old house in the shadow of a high-riseWhat West Campus do you remember?

Do you recognize what you see when you walk, drive, bike, or take a bus down 24th street? Were you once a student at UT Austin? Are you now? Do you remember what this part of our changing city was like before the University Neighborhood Overlay Plan? Ever heard of Wheatville and the Austin Gold Dollar? Through this exhibit, we interpret 200 years of the history of our iconic and dynamic Austin neighborhood. Join Lead Exhibit Organizer Susan Floyd and Executive Director Rowena Dasch for an evening of conversation about the exhibit over complimentary cocktails (21 & over, please!) and refreshments courtesy of Freedmen’s Bar.

About the evening: Dates, times, and details

Date & Time
Tuesday, April 21st, 2015. Doors open at 6:00pm.
Susan Floyd will give a presentation based on her research at 6:30pm with informal discussion and viewing of the museum until 7:30pm.
After the presentation, join us to continue the conversation at Freedmen’s, just one block north of the Museum at 2402 San Gabriel Street, in the historic 1869 Franklin-Franzetti building.

$10 for the community / $5  for students with valid ID / free to members of the Friends of the Neill-Cochran House Museum.
All tickets include complimentary cocktails and refreshments and $10 off dinner at Freedmen’s Bar after the event (walking distance from the museum).

Tickets are available online and at the door on the night of the event.
Event parking is available free of charge in the museum lot located off of 23rd street.

Questions about the event? Trouble with online registration? Feel free to contact museum staff at info@nchmuseum.org or 512-478-2335.

About the exhibit: More than just our house

When you join us for a tour of the museum, our focus is on the collection, personal histories, and architecture of the 1856 house. In this exhibit, we expand our view to the people, politics, and places that have defined and re-defined this neighborhood over time. While the area has undergone a significant transformation in the last decade as a result of the UNO Plan, it is not the first time that life for people living around present-day 24th & San Gabriel has changed dramatically.

See the Neill-Cochran House Museum’s official announcement in full here.

My First ACRL: #acrl2015 in Portland

ACRL 2015 Chair Lori Goetsch welcoming us to the conference on Wednesday afternoon.
ACRL 2015 Chair Lori Goetsch welcoming us to the conference on Wednesday afternoon.

I’m back from the annual conference of the Association of College & Research Libraries division of the American Library Association in Portland, Oregon!

As expected, the conference was huge, inspiring, and jam-packed with informative panels, talks, and workshops. I attended fantastic sessions on collaborative instruction in archives and special collections, the Digital Public Library of America, search engine bias and its impact on women and girls, embodied care theory in librarianship, the legal and social implications of open source scholarship, the evolving academic library job market, the ethics of environmentally unsustainable electronic devices produced in sweatshops, and more!

I am so grateful to the ACRL 2015 and ACRL 75th Anniversary donors who funded my attendance as a student scholarship recipient. This was my first ACRL, and it was an invaluable experience both professionally and personally. I left with a better understanding of current trends and initiatives in the field, new friends and professional connections, and a deepened enthusiasm for librarianship, as well as an increased dependence on caffeine.

As always, I took many photographs. Here are some highlightssee more on my  Texarchivist Instagram feed. I also took some food snaps for my food blog (which is on hiatus), Stella Cooks.

ACRL 2015 First-Time Orientation / ACRL 101 sign

ACRL 2015 name badge with flair
So much flair.
Combining Librarian Superpowers for the Greater Good: Building a Collaborative Model of Instruction with Archives & Special Collections panel with Missy Roser, Mike Kelly, Dunstan McNutt, and Sara Smith.
Combining Librarian Superpowers for the Greater Good: Building a Collaborative Model of Instruction with Archives & Special Collections panel with Missy Roser, Mike Kelly, Dunstan McNutt, and Sara Smith.
ACRL 2015 poster sessions
ACRL 2015 featured many great posters!
ACRL 2015 Zine Pavilion
The ACRL 2015 Zine Pavilion was a great place to empty your wallet. SO many great zines!
A few of the many scanners on display in the giant exhibit hall.
A few of the many scanners on display in the giant exhibit hall.
ACRL Bigfoot
I finally found the ACRL Bigfoot on Friday!
Lawrence Lessig keynote talk featuring a slide showing a photograph of Dr. Lawrence Nixon.
As expected, Lawrence Lessig’s closing keynote was excellent. I was thrilled when he started his discussion of voter equality and meaningful representative democracy with a reference to Dr. Lawrence Nixon, an El Pasoan whose rights were rescinded by the Texas Legislature in 1923 with the passage of a law preventing African Americans from voting in Democratic primary elections. Dr. Nixon continued to attempt to vote and fought the law in court for the next twenty years. He was finally able to vote in 1944, after the United States Supreme Court’s Smith v. Allwright decision, which ended the all-white primary sysyem.
Powel''s carpe librum column
Non-conference sightseeing: of course I went to Powell’s.


Portland hiking trail, Washington Park.
I also went on a hike up the west hills, through Washington Park. It was gorgeous.
Portland Japanese Garden; pond with stone lantern.
I cannot recommend the Japanese Garden strongly enough. It was probably my favorite part of the trip, even though I didn’t get to see Mt. Hood due to clouds.
Metal sculpture, broken book. Oregon Holocaust Memorial.
This piece of the Oregon Holocaust Memorial was particularly powerful for me, as I was there for a library conference.
Downtown Portland
Downtown Portland was absolutely beautiful.
Portland Timbers billboard at Sizzle Pizza. Pizza food pyramid mural.
Loved the ad campaign for the Portland Timbers MLS team. Also loved the pizza food pyramid. Oh, Portland!
Providence Park, home of the Portland Timbers MLS team
I also stopped by the home of the Timbers, Providence Park, to pick up some souvenirs.
Portland skyline view from atop Departure Restaurant and Lounge in downtown Portland
My final night in Portland, I went to Departure Restaurant and Lounge (thanks for the tip, Kristin!) and enjoyed some great food and cocktails, and this killer view.
Sunset on Mt. Hood, view from the Columbia River.
Then, I finally saw Mt. Hood, when my amazing host, Miranda, took me on a lovely sunset drive down Marine Road. Amazing.
ACRL 2017 banner
Who else is already excited about ACRL 2017 in Baltimore? (Confession: I love Baltimore.)
The famous Portland International Airport carpet
I’ll miss you, PDX!

My last semester (!)

Google calendar and a beer

It’s been a while since I posted. Last semester was, in fact, my busiest. This semester also got off to a busy start, as I am taking two classes, doing my Capstone project, finishing up the panel design for the small exhibition I’m guest curating at the Neill-Cochran House Museum, assisting with the SAA-UT board transition, continuing my side gig as a research assistant for a scholar in Boston, working in two different capacities for my internship at the Harry Ransom Center, applying for scholarships, and applying for jobs! Yikes.

Luckily, Spring “Break” means I have time to update my blog.

So far I’ve applied for five jobs and had one interview, in February. That was a bit too early, but it was a great experience, nonetheless, especially since it was for a position as information manager/librarian at a state agency, and the interview process forced me to think about pitching my skill set to a hiring committee outside of the library or archives field (in this case, human resources professionals and attorneys!).

This semester, I’m taking Professor Diane Bailey’s Presenting Information, which I chose on the recommendation of several fellow iSchoolers. I really like the class, and I’ve already learned a lot. And I’m finally taking Archives Enterprise II with Professor Ciaran Trace. This class is amazing. The class sequence I originally planned proved impossible due to course scheduling, so I am two semesters “behind” where I wanted to be, but this class is allowing us to think really deeply about so many aspects of archival theory and practice while also providing a fertile space for writing ahopefully publishablepaper.

Archives Enterprise II class, Post-Its mapping social justice theory in archives
Thinking about current issues involving archives and social justice in Professor Trace’s Archives Enterprise II class.

For my Capstone, I’m working with the indefatigable Jennifer Hecker at UT Libraries on her brainchild, the Austin Music Documentation Initiative, where I will be developing the framework for a project to aggregate Austin’s music collections, not dissimilar to the DC Africana Project and the Louisville Underground Music Archive. My colleagues Grace Atkins, Hannah Rainey, and Jeremy Selvidge are concurrently developing a proof of concept portal for Professor Unmil Karadkar’s Digital Libraries course. The final stage of my Capstone will be writing a grant application for this project, which I’m really excited about. It would be cool beyond words to see this great archival idea become a reality soon.

Spring in Austin
Spring in Austin

Meanwhile, I’ll be missing class and work next week to attend my first Association of College & Research Libraries conference in Portland, Oregon! ACRL 2015 is going to be great! Not just because of the fantastic lineup of speakers and panels, but because I’m meeting my Rare Books and Manuscripts Section mentor, Melanie Meyers, for the first time.  And I’ve never been to Portland, either! I’ve built in an extra day and a half so that I can be a tourist a bit, too. I am very grateful to have a received an ACRL Student Scholarship, making this trip possible.

I’ll be doing a quick, 24 x 7 presentation at the Texas Conference on Digital Libraries next month, about my work at the Harry Ransom Center on The Browning Letters project. I wasn’t able to attend most of TCDL last year due to class conflicts, so I am especially looking forward to this!

I also received the John Michael Caldwell Student Scholarship to the Society of Southwest Archivists annual meeting in Arlington, Texas, in May. I’ll be participating in a panel titled “Represent!: Challenges and Rewards of Documenting Under-Documented Communities,” talking about my Capstone, alongside Ms. Hecker (Austin Fanzine Project), Samantha Bruner (LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana), and Rachel Panella (Austin Graffiti Project)all UT iSchoolers! In fact, Rachel and I will be leaving immediately after our panel Friday afternoon to drive back to Austin, where we will graduate on Saturday!

I applied for a lot of scholarships last year, and got a couple; but this year, I got even more. The lesson is this: keep applying! Graduate students are busy, and you may not get many or any scholarships, but you have to apply. The funds are there, and the archives community is invested in your professional development. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by! Going to class and doing internships is one thing; attending regional and national conferences is a totally different window into the profession, and one that will inform and inspire your experience as an archives student. It’s a great way to learn about some of the thrilling projects going on around the country while connecting with your program’s alumniand potential employers! Apply, apply, apply!

Last week, the SAA SNAP (Students and New Archives Professionals Roundtable) blog published my guest post on increasing involvement in SAA student chapters, based upon our experiences with SAA-UT events, fundraising, and outreach in 2014. You can check it out on the blog, here. SNAP would love to hear about your experiences with SAA student chapters, so please leave a comment!

I also joined Instagram as Texarchivist. Come on over and follow me!

Somehow, it’s already the last day of Spring Break. I managed to take yesterday afternoon off to head out to Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, Texas (highly recommended!). And, since my local pub of 20 years was bulldozed to make room for more condominiums, I spent St. Patrick’s Day at Fadó. But, as usual, I haven’t done any SXSW activities, and now it’s time to get back to work, as I try to get ahead of the readings and assignments and internship hours I’ll miss due to next week’s trip to Oregon. I can’t believe I only have six more weeks of the program.

Harry Ransom clockface
Counting down the days with Harry Ransom

As everyone predicted, the past two years have flown by. It’s been difficult at times, always busy, and I have learned a lot not just about archives and preservation but also about time management, (continually) overcoming anxiety, collegiality, scholarly conventions in the field of information science, how to make the most of professional conferences, and how much coffee I can consume. Mostly, I am just grateful for this opportunity, and I hope I can find a job that really builds upon the new skills I’ve acquired while allowing me to share my passion for history and the archival enterprise.

My Busiest Semester?

It’s been quite a while since I posted to this blog, which makes it appear that I haven’t done much since SAA in August. That’s definitely not the case, thoughin fact, this is my busiest semester!

I’m still taking three classes and working 20 hours per week at the Ransom Center. In addition to my continuing public services duties, I am now working on several exciting digitization projects, including acting as the Center’s digital processor for the Browning Letters Project, a collaboration headed by the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University involving four other university repositories with major Browning collections. This project is especially interesting because I am doing every aspect of the digitization, from identification and scanning to metadata and ingestion into ContentDM. In the process, I’m building upon my undergraduate coursework in Victorian literature to learn a great deal about the Brownings and their circle. It’s really fun!

Meanwhile, I’m also finishing up my research on the history of West Campus and Austin neighborhoods to include in an exhibition for the Neill-Cochran House Museum, where I’m also still interning. I’m fortunate to be working during their upcoming gala, which should be a fun night, as well as attending the Greek Revival Symposium, When Modern Meant Classical: The Greek Revival in Nineteenth Century Architecture and Decorative Arts: A Symposium Marking the 200th Anniversary of Abner Cook’s Birth, next week.

I’m also finishing up my year as president of the UT student chapter of the Society of American Archivists. We recently celebrated our 21st annual Archives Week events series in October, which included several informative and enjoyable talks and tours. This process gave us valuable experience in securing funding; we successfully applied for funds from both UT Student Government and the Graduate Student Assembly, which required submitting project plans and budgets well in advance, as well as attending a series of interviews and funding workshops. The end result was well worth it, thoughwe even got these cool pins to spread the word!

Archives Week Pin

We just registered for the spring semester; I can’t believe it! I only have a month to complete my papers and projects for this semester, and then my cohort is nearly done! I recently decided upon a capstone, the final project all MSIS students are required to complete, totaling approximately 125 hours of work on a discrete project relevant to our professional interests. My assignment will focus on various aspects of crowd-soured metadata for certain community-based special collections, including the possibility of using crowd-sourcing as a tool to increase metadata literacy among users. I think this will have some very interesting and relevant applications to my ongoing work archiving graffiti.

Not only is it time to submit proposals for spring and summer conferences, but I am also getting really close to the part of my student career when I can start applying for jobs in earnest. This is both exciting and intimidating, of course; though it’s been a real slog, I’m finding it difficult to really believe my academic schedule will ever come to an end. People keep telling me variations of, “If you think you’re busy now, just wait!” This doesn’t really help. I cannot imagine being any busier than I am currently. But perhaps that’s because I’m guilty of having over-committed during my program. So I’m looking forward to starting my career and having at least some weeknights and Sunday afternoons free of school-related work! Meanwhile, I’m gearing up for my final semester, when I will be taking two more courses, working on the capstone project, continuing my Ransom Center internship, andhopefullynothing else! Aside from applying for jobs, of course.

Right now, I’m working on a (to me!) really fascinating study of Confederate monuments, completing a research methods group project, and cramming for my upcoming Old English final exam (éalá!). Better get back to work.

#SAA14: My First SAA!


UT iSchool students and grads (l-r) Kathi Isham, Heather Bollinger, Katie O’Connell, myself, Lisa Rivoir, Samantha Bruner, Lauren Gaylord, and Lilly Carrel, at the Library of Congress.

I’m so excited to share these pictures from my recent trip to the Society of American Archivsts’ annual meeting in Washington, DC: Archives*Records: Ensuring Access. Coming at the end of a two-week family vacation, in which I traveled more than 2,000 miles by car through eight states, my first SAA was a whirlwind conclusion to a bit of a whirlwind trip. Luckily, thanks to the generous friends and family with whom I stayed along the way, I arrived reasonably refreshed and ready to absorb all I could.

First, I want to say a huge thank you to Kate Theimer at ArchivesNext and all of the contributors to the Spontaneous Scholarship, as well as the Student Association of the School of Information, which awarded me a conference grant. This assistance greatly helped me to fund my attendance at SAA as a graduate student, and I am deeply grateful.

This conference provided a broad, invigorating view of the archives profession and allowed me to make many new contacts, both professional and personal. I also learned a great deal from every session I attended, and enjoyed meeting people and talking about the Society of American Archivists – University of Texas Student Chapter during the graduate student poster sessions on Thursday and Friday. The Texas Roundup, an alumni event organized at SAA for more than 25 years by Dr. David B. Gracy II, was so inspiringseeing so many iSchool graduates doing amazing things all around the country! Wow. And, of course, my first-ever SAA culminated in my first-ever visit to the Library of Congress for the all-attendee reception. Seeing the breathtaking architecture, Thomas Jefferson’s library, and the current exhibition “A Thousand Years of the Persian Book” were wonderful enough, but getting to wander around in the Reading Room—and card catalog!—was a real treat. I can’t wait until SAA returns to DC in 2018!

Finally big thanks, too, to our SAA-UT faculty sponsor, Dr. Ciaran Trace (I have your flair!), our SAA-UT Board members Lauren Gaylord, Rachel Winston, Lilly Carrel, Kathi Isham, and Angela Swift, SAA-UT sponsor emeritus Dr. Gracy, Dean of Graduate Studies Financial Advisor Veronica Cantu, iSchool Director of Development and Alumni Relations Cassie Alvarado, travel companion and zinecore maven Jennifer Hecker, and the entire staff of the UT iSchool.


The opening remarks and plenary were held in the ballroom of the Marriott Wardman Park, the largest hotel in DC. Impressive!


Woo! I ended up with a considerable amount of flair by the end, including a cool Longhorn sticker and a snazzy pin representing Rebecca Elder’s preservation consulting firm, Elder Preservation.


Archivists everywhere!


The relaxing garden outside the hotel.


One of the most helpful and meaty sessions I attended: Lean In: Archival Management and the Gender Dynamics of Leadership. Had to take some notes because the presenters were laying down so much hard-won wisdom!


I made it all the way to DC with this poster! Two weeks on the road! Success! Thanks again to the Purple Shirts at the UT iSchool Lab, who helped me format and print this baby.


There was a great turnout at our SAA Student Chapter Leaders round table, organized by SAA-UT Vice President Lauren Gaylord! Lauren is also a 2013-2015 ARL/SAA Mosaic Program Fellow. Congrats, Lauren!


Our very own Dr. David Gracy with Ms. Hideko Kato, who was a translator and English stenographer for the Douglas Mac-Arther’s General Headquarters in Japan, and later for the Occupation headquarters. She studied at the Georgia State College of Business Administration during 1957-1958, and is a contributor to the Alice Duggan and David Caldwell Gracy Endowed Presidential Scholarship, which supports iSchool students studying archives and records administration or information access preservation. Sorry for the blurry photo. There was a lot of excitement, understandably.


And here’s a composite photo made by my fellow iSchooler Michelle Roell, of me and her with Dr. Gracy at the Texas Roundup! Hook ’em!


One of the many amazing sessions I attended: Access Under Occupation: Archival Collections in Palestine.


Our very own MSIS student Cindy L. Taylor presents her fascinating paper, “‘Some Methodical Person’: Querying Virginia Woolf’s Self-Archival Practices in Three Guineas.” There were more attendees! I just couldn’t fit them and her slide into the photograph!


Afternoon stop in the Round Robin & Scotch Bar at the Willard Hotel, recommended by Lilly Carrel.


Tulane archivist and iSchool grad Samantha Bruner, Lilly, and me. Cheers!




Me, Lilly, and Samantha hooking ’em at the White House. A gorgeous day.


Archivist takeover at the Library of Congress!


Stunning view of the Capitol from the Library of Congress.


The incredible architecture inside the Library of Congress. I felt like a Medici for a night.


This exhibition was great! I even made noteslearned of some groundbreaking Iranian novelists and a modern calligrapher whom I want to learn more about.


I mean… amazing, no? Jefferson’s Library.


Library of Congress.


Archivists enjoying the Library of Congress Reading Room.






Sunset behind the dome, captured from the second floor of the Library of Congress.


The ceiling in the Library of Congress main hall. Looks like they need a lightbulb…


After the reception, some of us iSchool students took a night stroll along the Mall… some made it farther than others.


Jennifer “La Suprema” Hecker is obviously The Best.


As a current docent and graduate research intern at the Neill-Cochran House Museum in Austin, I had to squeeze in a visit to the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America national headquarters at Dumbarton House!



Jennifer and I also went on a guided tour of another historic house museum, the Heurich House, home of DC’s 19th and early-20th century master brewer, Christian Heurich. I found out about this gem serendipitously, while tweeting during the “Lean In” session with the Heurich’s archivist, Erika Goergen!


View toward the National Mall from the roof of our Airbnb rental, on one of the highest hills in DC. Breathtaking.


A few snaps from my Sunday morning walk around Georgetown…





Celebrating the end of SAA with a Bellini at District Kitchen (excellent shrimp and grits, by the way). And, with that, my summer of travel comes to a close.

Thanks, everybody! Hope you all had a productive SAA, or, if you haven’t ever attended, have the opportunity to do so soon. It was a wonderful experience.