Archival Haiku


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I’m more than a little behind, but in honor of Preservation Awareness Week a few weeks ago, a bit of haiku fever struck the National Archives. I was lucky enough to stumble across these lovely haiku today. They made this pseudo- Monday quite enjoyable. My favorites come from the Riverside branch and can be found on their Tumblr.

Some examples:

Stacks cold as new snow
Negatives belong here but
I need three sweaters

Other great ones that made me sincerely laugh out loud can be found on the Preservation at the National Archives Tumblr.

Mold flies through the air.
Holy cow, it’s in my hair.
I need a shower.

Gretchen Shoemaker (St. Louis)

And, lastly, my favorite:

Purgatory is
Surely an eternity
Of pulling staples

Ain’t that the truth. The Forest Service circa 1970 stapled things like staples were going out of style…


Photo: Microsoft Clip Art, slightly edited by me.

I am trying to come up with my own. Leave any ideas in the comments, even if they aren’t about archives! Maybe it will inspire you to write haiku about your own profession!

Stay tuned for the anniversary of the United States Constitution





Until the Sun Supernovas


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What do we mean when we say something is “permanent”? Merriam-Webster online defines Permanent as “continuing or enduring without fundamental or marked change.” Interestingly, no definition of time there. The synonyms they list, however, include words like ceaseless, endless, and everlasting, all of which have obvious meanings in our minds.

Yesterday, one of the archivists was having a conversation with a client who was inquiring about whether we held certain records from their organization. She replied that yes, we held those records as they are considered permanent. The client then asked, how long do you keep permanent records?

Of course, we kind of chuckle because of what we assume the word permanent implies and because of the theory which backs archival practice; however, it actually can be a legitimate question. Logically, everything must come to an end. In trying to define what the “until when” factor would be for the records in the archives, ideas like “the building burns down,” “the end of the republic,” and “when the sun supernovas” were all thrown around in a joking manner.


Photo credit: NASA, Supernova 1987

When I thought about it for a bit, though, it can sometimes be a lot sooner than that. During my most recent project, dealing with Forest Service Records, my knowledge of theory and use of two giant binders of Records Retention Schedules was put to the test in what I have found to be one of the most stressful parts of my job so far: appraisal. (If you have no idea what I just said, read below, otherwise you can skip the next paragraph as I attempt to explain the actual process records pass through to get into a government archive).

Side-note: I’ll try to be pretty basic with my explanation here.

  1. Records are created by an agency, like the Forest Service, and kept in the office for frequent use.
  2. When the agency does not need to use the records anymore, but may need to keep them for legal or other reasons, they send them to their local Federal Records Center, or on occasion straight to the local National Archives branch.  (Records Retention schedules are basically sets of rules which help define how long records need to be kept and where.)
  3. The Records Center is a huge warehouse which holds mostly non-permanent records (here we go again…) or records which will often be destroyed after a defined period. Agencies can make requests to have their records sent back to them for reference and use if need be, then they send them back to the Records Center. The Records Center uses the Records Retention Schedules to destroy records at a certain time or to decide if and when the records will be transferred to the archives.
  4. If the records are transferred to the archives, they are processed by an archivist (or intern) and appraised. Appraisal is where we apply our theoretical knowledge (and the retention schedule) to decide if these “permanent” records actually qualify. If not, they are discarded.

Following the whole practice of appraisal means that I am deciding that records the organization thought should be permanent, may not actually merit a permanent place in the stacks. It definitely was a weird feeling the first time I followed the schedule and discarded something. The questions that flooded my mind felt a little overwhelming. “Someone may want to look at this someday” is the main one, but if we followed that pattern, we would have to keep everything.

I typed Permanent into the Society of American Archivists journal search and here are a few of the articles I found:

“On the Idea of Permanence,” James M. O’Toole, in American Archivist, Vol. 52, no. 1, Winter 1989.

“Accessioning Public Records: Anglo-American Practices and Possible Improvements,” Harold T. Pinkett, in American Archivist, Vol. 41, no. 4, October 1978.

“Identification of Business Records for Permanent Preservation,” Arthur M. Johnson, in American Archivist, Vol. 24, no. 3, July 1961.

I also looked up texts on appraisal in the SAA bookstore. The results cover everything from film and media, to science and technology, to the basic fundamentals of theory.

Permanence is something we, as archivists, continue to ponder. As people, we constantly reevaluate what is important in our own lives. What is worth saving and what is worth getting rid of? And more importantly, what is the reasoning behind these thoughts? After all, we don’t have a records retention schedule to guide us.

What Ever Happened to Smokey the Bear?


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The other day, I made a discovery that prompted a question I really had not thought about probably ever. What happened to Smokey the Bear? He was every where when i was growing up. “Only YOU can prevent forest fires” was ingrained in my brain at a young age.

The focus of my internship right now, is processing and appraising the records of the United States Forest Service Region 6. It has been pretty unremarkable work so far, just refoldering, reboxing, making finding aids, etc. The usual stuff. Experience is what counts, right? Until the other day I discovered an entire folder pertaining to Smokey the Bear and his campaign in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Most of the documents were correspondence with the D.C. office asking how many Smokey ash trays (seems a little ironic), posters, or other materials the local office wished to order for that year. Then, I stumbled on something really cool.


Item can be found in The Records of the Ochoco National Forest, Record Group 95, The Records of the U.S. Forest Service, The National Archives Seattle Branch.

This, as you can probably see, is a 33 1/3 recording of Smokey the Bear radio spots featuring some rather famous voices. The down side is, we don’t have a record player at work, but perhaps someday we will be able to transfer it into digital media. I did a little research and found that Smokey is still alive and well. He has his own website which includes information on wildfire prevention strategies and other resources. I guess Smokey didn’t leave, like many other icons from my childhood he just moved from television to the internet. It would be interesting to know if kids still know who he is.

Let’s keep in mind all the people who are facing wildfires currently and continue to promote Smokey’s valuable message.

What stories do you have about interesting/entertaining items found in archives, special collections, family memorabilia?

Debunking Historical Myths


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Most people are aware that not everything we read is true. In fact, a lot of things are completely falsified. And while we are often led to believe that they are infallible, History books and historical writing can also fall victim to over-exaggeration, embellishment, in the least.
I like to imagine people gasping in horror as I write this. It makes it more fun.
This is a problem (depending what side you are on) that historians deal with all the time and that archivists like to use to demonstrate their own value in providing evidence through documentation.
Now, disappointing as it may be, I am not going to get into the whole philosophical discussion about the Truth of History and all that. I did that at the dinner table with my Dad last night. Instead, I have a real-life, in my family, “historical” writing, that I know to contain untruths. And that, I would like to share today.

Some background, Dr. Henry S. Cunningham was a prominent physician in Indianapolis at the turn of the 20th Century. He was beloved and worshiped and the stories passed down through family history about how fantastic he was. The stories stemmed from this passage from Pictorial and Biographical Memoirs of Indianapolis and Marion County Indiana: together with biographies of many prominent men of other portions of the state, both living and dead published in 1893. Here is his biography from page 88.

“Dr Henry S Cunningham. The value to any community of a professional man is not marked merely by his learning and skill, his proficiency in medical and surgical practice, but also by his character, both private and professional, his honorable adherence to medical ethics and his personal integrity and benevolence of purpose. When a physician combines these characteristics it is with great pleasure that we record his life work, and such a man do we find in Dr Henry S Cunningham. This physician of Indianapolis had his birth in Armstrong County, Penn., September 1, 1839, and remained in his native county until eighteen years of age. Being left an orphan at a tender age he educated himself and is a self- made man in every particular. He has known the demands of poverty, but his honesty, goodness, energy and stick-to-it-iveness have brought their rewards, which he and his family are now enjoying. He attended the public school and when thirteen years of age entered tjhe academy at Worthington, Penn., to study higher branches. There he remained until eighteen years of age, working his way, after which he entered grammar school at New Haven, Conn for a year. After this for a number of years he taught school and worked at mechanics. In 1862 he began the study of medicine with Starling Loving at Columbus, Ohio and graduated from Starling College there June 30, 1865. He then came to Indiana, Hancock County, and located at Warrington, but owing to ill health did not enter upon his practice until April, 1866. He remained at Warrington until the spring of 1869 when he located at Winchester, Randolph County, where he continued until the spring of 1871. From there he went to Montreal, Canada, and entered the medical department of Bishop College where he graduated April 4, 1872, with the Canadian C.M., M.D. degree. In April of the following year he came to Indianapolis and from the first had a successful practice. For two years he was on the staff of Bobb’s Free Dispensary in the early seventies, Professor William B Fletcher, superintendent. He is a member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Province of Quebec. He was one of the charter members of Marion County Medical Society, but is not an active member now. He was a member of the original Academy of Medicine during its existence. Dr Cunningham is the author of “Lectures on Physiological Laws of Life and Hygiene,” published in 1882, which was kindly received by the profession and has had an extensive sale. He was physician to the German Protestant Orphan Home at Indianapolis, from October, 1887, up to October, 1891, when he resigned and was regularly appointed as consulting physician, a position he yet occupies. The Doctor is a member of the Western Association of Writers and at the annual meeting in June, 1893, at Spring Park, Warsaw, Ind. he read a paper before that body on “Man’s Individuality and Responsibility.” He is a man of education, a ready writer, and is well known in the city as one of the leading practitioners. He is also a member of the present executive board of Western Association of Writers. Socially he is a member of the Masonic Order the IOOF AO of D and Chosen Friends. He has served as president of the board of health of Indianapolis. In the year 1864, he was married to Miss Emma Mills, a native of Pennsylvania, and three children have been born to their union. Mrs Cunningham died of consumption, but the children are living. The Doctor’s second marriage occurred in 1876 to Miss Carrie Fairfield, a native of Syracuse NY and a daughter of John D and Charlotte Knapp Fairfield. She died on December 18, 1887. The Doctor adheres to the platform of the Democratic party. ”

Makes sense that he was so well thought of for so many years. Until, that is, someone did the math and figured out that his first wife, my ancestor, was actually still alive when he married his second and those living children were actually living with her. To be fair, she claimed she was a widow as well. We have since discovered that he had at least three wives, was a wagon-maker for awhile, and deserted his unit during the Civil War. An interesting character in the least. I am looking forward to matching documentation to the events listed in this biography.

Do you have any fun ancestors with colorful pasts? Any myths you would like debunked?

Box Burns and Cut-up Fingers: The Archivist’s Badge of Honor


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Welcome to my first post since moving to my new internship! It has been… about a month now, but with all the commuting… and, let’s face it, the sunshine, I have put off writing. Plus, I honestly had not thought of anything to write about until today. 
I was reminded today of an entertaining incident that happened to a friend about two months ago. She works at the Records Center for the university, which involves A LOT of lifting and moving boxes. One day, she somehow ended up with two big box burns on the inside of her wrists.
Aside: for those of you who have never had the privilege of a box burn, it happens when cardboard, (the exposed corrugated edges if you’re really lucky) scrape against your skin. Yeow. 
Anyway, my friend’s boss saw the burns. His response? “You’ll have to wear a teeshirt all week to show those off.”
And so, today Megan, I thought of you as a box of folders slipped and stung my upper arm. It is nowhere near as impressive, but it sure woke me up. 

I was also reminded today of how my boss at my previous internship would make jokes about how people think there are no occupational hazards involved with working in an archive. Which is true if you don’t think about the cuts from cardboard (I think I get paper cuts of some kind almost every day), the possibility of becoming allergic to mold and dust or egascerbating existing allergies, and my favorite: the endless possibility of falling from a tipsy ladder (which happens to be 15 feet tall and you were reaching for the top shelf) holding a 40 pound box. We sure know how to live dangerously, don’t we?

Other than my daily death-defying stunts, my new internship is enjoyable. Very different, but it is nice to get a new perspective. I will try to make my next post an analysis of the pros and cons of working for the federal government vs. a smaller institution. If anyone has any input, I would love to hear it! It doesn’t have to be related directly to archives either. I have a feeling many situations reach across disciplines. 

I am currently processing records pertaining to Region 6 of the US Forest Service (Oregon, around Mt. Hood). More to come as I continue that adventure. 

A Collection of My Collections Pt. 2


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The second collection I have to show off has plenty of pretty mountain pictures to keep your attention.

Like this one:

Look at that beautiful citation… And of course the beautiful view!

This image comes from the Grant Senour Photograph Collection. For this project, I digitized loose photographs as well as photograph albums, used Photoshop to add the citations and watermarks, and then uploaded them and their related metadata to the library website using Contentdm. You can check out the full collection here: Senour (Grant) Photographs. The majority of the images focus on the Cascade and Olympic Mountain Ranges and specific mountains in the Washington area between 1937 and 1954. They are pretty spectacular.

This project was also my first adventure into Contentdm… and what an adventure it was! Though it was a little frustrating to figure out all of the peculiarities with the program (some of which created the frustration voiced in this post), the way it compiles information and is able to use Excel/ tab-delimited files makes for a lot less mindless inputting by me.

So check out the gorgeous photos! I can look at mountains any day of the week!

A Collection of My Collections Pt. 1


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This is my last week at my internship. I am actually quite sad to see it end. I have had a wonderful time with the people I have met, the encouragement I have received, and the many skills I have learned. I figured that I have been fairly vague about what I have actually been doing, so it is time to reveal the projects I have completed.

Dun da duh!

The first project I worked on, (and the one I formed quite the emotional connection to as it was my very first archival collection which I processed all by myself!) was the Howard Droker and Keith A. Murray Collection on Native American Fishing Rights. I did write a short post about it here when I first completed it. Though it seems fairly simple and straightforward now that I have completed much more complicated tasks, it was completely nerve-wracking at the time. Because of this collection, I learned about the Boldt case, and about the importance and history of fishing in the Pacific Northwest. The collection itself is fascinating and full of secondary sources as well as court documents.

You can check out the finding aids I created on the Western Washington University library page here. Or on the consortium website Northwest Digital Archives. (The NWDA one is prettier)

I also am quite grateful to the Seattle Public library for their assistance in locating more information about Howard Droker.

I will write about my other accomplishments and adventures as the week goes on!

Why You Shouldn’t Become An Archivist


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Today, my boss showed me this video entitled “Why You Shouldn’t Become an Archivist.” It was actually created by a librarian and an archivist. The video is quite humorous, especially since it exposes some of the painful truths behind entering the archival profession. I guess it is one of those things where the situations can seem so bad that they become ridiculous and laughable. The video obviously purposely exaggerates (I know of no archival graduates who are living in their cars and there certainly are windows in the building I work in) but the basis for the video is quite factual. I think the most fascinating thing about the video is that it takes all of the comments which people use to respond to “I’m an archivist” and forces the archivists who watch to make sure they are not making a naive decision about their future. Choosing to be an archivist, like all other professions, is something that needs to be taken seriously. The position comes with a lot of weight and responsibility and some people really are better off watching the History Channel. I love what I do and I really do not mind the dust and dirt and occasional bugs I might encounter when I am working out of a donor’s home or business, but it understandably would bother other people. The other archivists I have worked with and encountered so far have all been passionate and invested in what they do and conscious of the value of their work. I think this attitude is vital to continuing our work. We definitely don’t get a degree in archival science for the money. Overall, the video seems slightly depressing, but if you think of your own chosen career, plan of study, or even hobbies, I think you will realize that there will always be someone out there who will not understand and possibly will criticize your choices. Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if everyone was able to do what they were passionate about.

Anyway, enough philosophical talk. Watch and enjoy!

Why You Shouldn’t Become an Archivist, from Derangement and Description by Rebecca  Goldman

No Question About it, I Have Chosen the Right Profession


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During the course of my internship, I have found myself thinking, more often than not, how much I love my job. I didn’t really think until think until this morning, however, about how good of a sign that is. I mean, a lot of my feelings are certainly influenced by the people I work worth. It would be very difficult to not be happy with the friendly, joking, crossword puzzle-loving staff I work with. (The crossword puzzle thing is a little intense. We were almost late unlocking the doors yesterday because we were so engrossed in the Thursday NYT puzzle!)

Even if I separate my feelings for the staff from the job, I realized I find my job to be extremely fulfilling. I get to touch the stuff of history, investigate the context behind collections and learn about things I never would have imagined. So far, just in the few months I have been working, I have gained knowledge about Native American salmon fishing rights, dam construction, and mining! And the most amazing part has been that I get to experience it through the eyes of those who lived it and cared about these things. I have felt a great sense of accomplishment when I finished a collection and I know it will be out in the world for others to use and experience. I almost jumped for joy when, after telling a friend about the fishing rights collection I worked on, he proceeded to email the information to one of his friends who was writing a thesis on a related topic.

Everything about being an archivist is active. We are constantly preserving and spreading history. I do not just process collections to hide them in the stacks, I want people to use them. Some of my biggest projects have been with digitization. Just this past week, I worked with almost 1500 photographs documenting the building of a local dam, attaching citations and watermarks and uploading them to our website. I feel great about being finished, partly because it was a lot of work, but mostly because now people will have greater access to the images and it may peak their interest in other resources we have to offer.

I feel wonderful about my job every day, even when I am exhausted and cannot stand to look at Photoshop or Contentdm or blueprints of mining equipment any longer. I know that I am, in a small way, impacting someone in their love of history and their search for that elusive historical truth and I hope I will always feel this way. If I surround myself with people like the staff I currently work with, I know I will.

Feeling Professional


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Wow. That was one busy week. After doing tons of work for my internship and loads of grading (my TA position may be tedious sometimes, but it pays the bills) I can finally write about the FABULOUS weekend I had at the Northwest Archivists Annual Conference. The conference was held in Salem, Oregon last weekend in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Oregon Heritage Commission. It was great to reunite with a few of my fellow archivists-in-training as we’ve been scattered doing our internships. Besides the after hours highjinks to be expected of three women in their early twenties who haven’t seen each other in awhile, the conference was very exciting. We got to Salem on Thursday afternoon, in time to check into our hotel and catch a walking tour of some of the historical buildings of Salem. The community of Oregon’s capital city has done an incredible job recognizing the history of their downtown buildings, putting them on the historical map, and revitalizing the inside of the buildings to allow for modern businesses and living while keeping the facades. It was quite beautiful. Thursday night was a reception at the Oregon State Archives. We were able to tour their facility and see how their repository stores and handles records.

Friday was a much more organized day. Breakfast, workshops, and the celebration dinner. The workshop I enjoyed most on Friday was about getting young people to recognize the importance of history and archives. There were three different speakers who discussed a 4H program, National History Day, and teaching history in a 2nd grade class at a charter school. All three had different perspectives and ideas on this important issue. Students are the future of history and archives and it is vital that they are taught young that history can be fun and is not just things that happened in the past that have nothing to do with the present.

In the afternoon, we went antique shopping and saw maybe a quarter of the people from the conference out too. The weather was wonderful. That evening was the formal dinner. The food was fabulous, ending with a huge table of cupcakes.   This photo is for you, Sarah.

Saturday was closing day. We went to a seminar aimed at students and new professionals. There was a panel and open discussion about the needs and expectations of students and those just graduating, as well as what employers are expecting. It was quite enlightening, if a bit daunting.

After the seminar, we went on a few historical home tours and then headed out. It was a great weekend overall. It was my first professional conference and I was able to meet a lot of people I had only heard about, including a few who I will be working with during my summer internship. I am excited to go back next year as it will most likely be in Vancouver B.C.!