Today’s guest blogger is Kathie Johnson, Curator of the History Collection for Kornhauser Health Sciences Library.
People often ask me what an archivist does – that is after they ask me if I am an archeologist, an architect, or an anarchist. Even a history professor once asked, “What is it that you do, exactly?” I right then figured out that if a history professor did not understand this, then there were probably few people who did.
Archivists are dedicated to preserving the historical record, whether the format be paper, artifact, film, audio, analog, digital, or any future medium. This means one must: 1) work with donors [which includes appraising the collection]; 2) accession the collection and do all the necessary paperwork; 3) if needed, sort through the collection; 4) make sure the materials are properly stored for long-term preservation; 5) create some kind of inventory or aid for researchers to use to find things; 6) assist researchers when they come to an archives. With records that are electronic one must be aware that the technology will change and there must be a plan for transferring the information unto a new useable format on a regular basis. I am going to address 1-5 above in this blog and deal with #6 at a later time.
1) Working with donors can involve talking on the phone, visiting them in their home or workplace, meeting them in our space, or even going out for coffee or a meal. This can be very delicate if we are asking an individual donor to trust us with items which may have personal or private family information, or special meaning to him or her. Representatives of businesses or organizations often worry about files that may show the group in a non-positive light. All types of donors frequently want the Archives to save every scrap of paper, which we could do if we had unlimited funds and an unlimited number of archivists. In today’s world, individuals, families, businesses, organizations all produce much more in the way of records than is necessary to preserve for future researchers. It is the job of the archivist to figure out what should be kept and what can be disposed of. This is where we do an appraisal – not a financial one, but one that hints as to whether the collection fits in with the other collections we hold and which items are important to preserve and what items really have no historic value.
2) Accessioning a collection means completing all the paperwork to take possession of it and record its legal transfer, volume, donor information, restrictions on use, condition, and temporary or permanent location. Luckily, most repositories have developed a form or template to use for this purpose. Donors must sign a “certificate of gift” giving legal ownership to the institution. In turn, the archivist also signs this document promising to care for the items. Filling out the accession form insures that all the necessary information is gathered in one place. (Usually this form is vetted by the organization’s legal counsel.)
3) What follows is a sorting through the collection – once if the volume is small, more than once for a large amount of papers. We try to keep materials arranged the same way that the donor had done, but that is not always possible. Many collections of personal papers arrive in a complete state of chaos. Organizational and business records are usually in better order, but that order might have changed every time the person in charge of filing changed – that also must be determined. After an initial or preliminary sorting, the Archivist can then tell if the order can be left as is, or if a new order needs to be imposed on the collection. Then the fun begins, determining the categories to assign (called series in the archival world), sorting the papers into these categories, determining what items can be discarded (advertisements, greeting cards with no message, blank calendars, cancelled checks are just a few examples of items with little or no research value), and 4) foldering and boxing the materials for the best long-term preservation. Some items may require specialized treatment or care which requires even more hands-on work with the materials.
5) When all the papers are foldered and boxed (in acid-free containers), a listing is completed, along with a series description, a processing note and a short biography (of a person) or history (of a business or organization). This work – called a finding aid or inventory – helps the researcher determine if a collection contains items that he/she wants to see. It also tells the archivist exactly where those items are located, so that they can be pulled for the researcher.
As I hope is obvious from this outline, the work of preparing collections for use by researchers is time-intensive, which in turn equals costly. Even if one uses newer processing methods which do not require as much time spent with each individual piece of a collection, the time commitment for all the other steps – working with donors, accessioning paperwork, preserving and properly storing materials, and creating a finding aid – is usually still about the same. I also hope that this has helped you understand what we do, and why we do it.
As one of my colleagues often says, “How do we know what is written in the Declaration of Independence or what was said at Gettysburg by President Lincoln?” No one photocopied the Declaration and no one filmed or taped that speech (and even if they had, it would still have to have been preserved somehow.) Someone had to preserve (see #4 above) the actual paper on which our Declaration was printed and someone had to record in writing and save the physical evidence which now serves as the historical record of the “Gettysburg Address.” What archivists do is not only helpful to students, genealogists, and scholars; what we do is one of the basic necessities to preserve a democratic republic such as ours.
The Nelle Peterson Christmas Card Collection was purchased at auction in 1967 by Margaret Bridwell, then art librarian at U of L. The 550 cards in the collection were created mainly by Louisville artists, most of them in the mid-20th century. The collection has been added to regularly since its purchase. Below is a sampling of some of the cards in the collection.
John Begley, painter and printmaker, is currently Gallery Director and Critical & Curatorial Studies Professor at U of L. Begley received his BFA from the University of New Mexico and his MFA from Indiana University.
Darrell Brothers, from Covington, KY, received his MAT and MFA from Indiana University, taught art in the Cincinnati public schools and later became head of the art department at Thomas More College in Crestview, Kentucky.
Chuck Byrne, a U of L graduate, is a graphic designer who also teaches, and writes about graphic design. His work has been in many exhibits and he has curated exhibits as well.
Nancy Currier, art teacher at Foster Academy, has an art degree from U of L. She created this collaged card using images from plumbing supply catalogs.
Lucy Diecks studied at the Corcoran Fine Arts School in Washington, D.C. and received her BFA from Syracuse University. She was one of Louisville’s most influential art instructors, teaching at Atherton for 30 years.
Robert J. Doherty established U of L’s Photographic Archives while a professor of design at the Hite Art Institute. A photographer as well as designer, he left U of L to become director of the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House.
Clara Eagle, silversmith, interior designer and photographer, chaired the art department at Murray State for over twenty years and was a founding member of the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen.
Louise Galloway was head of the main library’s Circulation Department at U of L for many years. The browsing collection in Ekstrom Library is named for her.
Billy Hertz earned his BFA in pottery at Florida Atlantic University, switching to painting during his graduate studies at U of L. Hertz was instrumental in the formation of the “art zone” on Market Street.
Ainslie Hewett specialized in the decorative arts including antique lettering and ornamental wood carving. He was best known for his distinctive bookplate designs; his bookplate collection is housed in the Art Library and can also be seen online in our digital collections.
Yin Rei Hicks, a native of China and a long time resident of Indiana, studied painting and sculpture at U of L, receiving an MFA. She taught art in the New Albany-Floyd County schools.
Clay Lancaster, native of Lexington, KY, was an independent scholar who researched and wrote about nineteenth and twentieth-century American architecture and the arts and ideas of the Far East. He also wrote and illustrated half a dozen books for children. Lancaster held the Morgan Professorship at U of L in 1983.
Mary Spencer Nay received her BA and MA degrees from U of L. She also studied the Cincinnati Art Academy, the Art Students League and the International School of Art in Mexico. She taught at U of L from 1959 until 1979, and established the first curriculum in creative art. Her award-winning work is in numerous collections.
Mary Louise Speed was a landscape architect, president of the Louisville Society of Landscape Architects and garden columnist for the Courier-Journal. She died in 1971.
Kenneth V. Young graduated from U of L in 1962 with a BS in design and painting. Mary Spencer Nay, whose card is in this exhibit, was one of his teachers. He designed exhibits for the Smithsonian institution from 1964 until 1994 and then worked as a museum consultant.
Today’s guest blogger is James Procell, Assistant Director of the Music Library.
Harriett “Hattie” Bishop Speed, wife of Louisville philanthropist James Breckenridge Speed, was a widely-known and well-respected pianist, teacher, humanitarian, and philanthropist. Born February 12, 1858 in Louisville, Hattie’s father, William Bishop, was the proprietor of the Louisville Hotel, as well as the co-proprietor of the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville. Her early music studies took place both in Louisville and Boston, and she made her debut when she was only thirteen, performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 with the Musical Fund Society Orchestra. She continued her studies in Berlin and Italy before returning home to Louisville in 1892.
Upon her return, she began her duties as a local piano teacher while still continuing to perform regularly. In July 1906, at age 48, Hattie married prominent local businessman James B. Speed. Six years later, Mr. Speed passed away, and Hattie inherited his immense fortune, including their home at 505 W. Ormsby Ave. This residence would soon become an epicenter of musical activity in Louisville for the next four decades. This sprawling Victorian mansion, containing more than 48 rooms and 20 fireplaces, was built in 1885 by well-known Louisville contractor Dexter Belknap. Upon her husband’s passing in 1912, Mrs. Speed expanded the home by adding a music room/concert hall. The room, completed in 1916, was 50 feet long and 30 feet wide. It contained a large stage, beautifully appointed furniture and decor, and four Baldwin concert grand pianos. As seen in the photo, the interior walls of the stage were constructed so that there were no right angles, thus allowing for the best possible acoustics. Mrs. Speed hosted countless concerts and recitals in her home throughout the remainder of her life.
In addition to her countless contributions to music in Louisville, Mrs. Speed also contributed her time and money to other areas. In 1925, she founded the Speed Art Museum at 2035 S. 3rd St., and served as its first president and director. This institution remains the oldest and largest art museum in Kentucky. She immensely supported African American institutions, including the Red Cross Hospital at 1436 S. Shelby St., and the Plymouth Settlement House at 1626 W. Chestnut St. In addition, she served seven terms as president of the Kentucky Humane Society.
Mrs. Speed died from a heart attack at age 84 on August 8, 1942, but her legacy remains present in Louisville today. Many of her personal items, including postcards, sheet music, photographs, and concert programs, form the Hattie Bishop Speed Collection at the UofL Dwight Anderson Music Library.
Mrs. Speed’s former home on Ormsby Street currently serves as a law office. Though much of the home has been renovated over the years, many of the original exterior and interior features remain. (It has been reported by some that the building is haunted with the presence of Hattie!)
Kleber, John E. The Encyclopedia of Louisville. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001.
Today’s guest blogger is Kathie Johnson, an archivist who has worked with many rare and interesting collections.
I have the greatest job in the world! I may not get paid as much as some in the academic world – but I think I have as much, if not more, fun than anyone. Here at the University of Louisville, my position has many components and each one is educational, entertaining, and often awe-inspiring. My position currently entails working with donors, organizing collections, caring for rare books, assisting researchers, and creating exhibits.
As a manuscripts archivist I work with donors (individuals who donate their personal papers or representatives of businesses or organizations that donate their records) and I have met some fascinating people just from those experiences, including a retired congressman, several local social activists, museum administrators, and other interesting personalities. As a processing archivist I get to handle primary source material (the original stuff) that is an absolute necessity for the research and writing of history. Processing means working with the collection: clearing out the trash like old rubber bands and blank envelopes, segregating papers with personal information that is protected by law, arranging them in some order if there is none, and listing the contents so researchers can easily find out what we have. World War I diaries, 19th century correspondence, an 1860 presidential election ballot, and a display case of items removed from various orifices by an ENT are just a few of the wonders that I get to see on a daily basis.
As the curator of a rare book collection I get to (very carefully) handle books that date back to the fifteenth century, determine how to best protect the books that are in poor condition, check over book donations for items to add to the collection, and assess estimated values of some of the rare books. As a reference archivist I get to meet with researchers and assist them as they search for the sources they need for their paper, project, genealogical inquiry, or just plain curiosity. I can pull reference files if they just need some basic information, I can show them how to find the collection listings on our webpage, and I can suggest other sources that they may not know about. I have been asked to check the provenance of a Colt pistol; if we have any specimens of encephalitic brains preserved; and the name of the player on the Louisville Slugger baseball bat used by Jack Nicholson in the movie The Shining (by the way, it was Carl Yastrzemski). The only negative to this is when the answer to an inquiry is not what the patron wanted to hear.
Besides all of those fun activities, I get to create exhibits using items (or facsimiles of) in our collections. I have done over thirty displays on UofL history, women’s history, medical and nursing history, as well as on individuals and their collections. I also get to speak to community groups on topics pertinent to local history and archives, as well as on my own research interests. Occasionally I get to work with school age kids and show them the wonders of the archives and primary source materials. I get to do research and writing of my own. And to top it all off, I get paid to do this.
Like I said, I have the greatest job in the world and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kathie Johnson, Associate Professor
Archivist for Manuscript Collections, University Archives & Records Center
Archivist/Curator of History Collections, Kornhauser Health Sciences Library
University of Louisville
October is Archives Month, and this October 12 is the Day of Digital Archives.
Kentucky has chosen a sports theme this year, and since it’s also baseball playoff season, so our Leonard Brecher Tobacco & Chewing Gum Card Collection is an apt digital collection to highlight.
These baseball cards housed in the Margaret M. Bridwell Art Library at the University of Louisville date back about 100 years, when advertising tobacco to young people was not yet considered objectionable, and the Chicago Cubs won games.
Shortstop Joe Tinker (at left) was one-third of the Chicago Cubs double-play lineup memorialized in the 1910 poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” by Franklin Pierce Adams. Images of his teammates Johnny Evers and Frank Chance are also available in the digital collection.
Today’s guest blogger is Pam Yeager from the University of Louisville Libraries Photographic Archives.
Unidentified images in the Photographic Archives provide me with lots of opportunities to indulge my love of getting the story under the surface. But one well-identified photo from a recent acquisition provided some fun and surprises, as well. The Speed Art Museum recently de-accessioned a small group of Louisville photographs. One of these is a photo of a Louisville mansion at 214 W. Broadway that was identified on the back as belonging to William H. Dillingham. Three people sitting on the front steps are almost invisible in the picture, which includes the entire massive façade of the building. Caron’s City Directory for 1885 tells us that Mr. Dillingham owned a woolen mill supplies company at 421 W. Main St. There’s another figure off to the side of the house and farther back – so I assume she is not part of the family – perhaps an employee?By 1905, the residence is listed as owned by J.C. Lewis, and the company on Main St. is not listed. In 1914, Caron tells us that at 214 W. Broadway, Ms. Mattie B. Russell had furnished rooms to let, one of which was occupied by Pauline Bredelli, a music teacher. Perhaps Ms. Bredelli was the connection that led to 214’s next occupant: In the 1916 Directory,the Louisville Conservatory of Music is listed at the address.
From Robert Bruce French’s article about the Louisville Conservatory of Music in The Encyclopedia of Louisville, I learned that the Conservatory opened on September 7, 1915, “in the former Dillingham mansion at 214 W. Broadway.” The Conservatory was a great success, so much so that another larger school was built on Brook St. in 1926-7. But after the Depression hit, student enrollment dropped and the school ultimately declared bankruptcy and closed in 1932. It then merged with the University of Louisville’s part-time (no degrees granted) Department of Music. Faculty and students from the Louisville Conservatory became U of L teachers and students, and in only four years the School was accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. French’s article also tells us the Brook St. site is now covered by I 65. And instead of the soaring arches of the Dillingham mansion at 214 W. Broadway, you’ll find a Subway restaurant, across from the more modest golden arches of a McDonalds.
Through October 25, 2012 the photo of the Dillingham mansion is part of Special Collections’ exhibit: “Samuel W. Thomas, Louisville Historian”, in the Photographic Archives gallery. Dr. Thomas used the photograph (when it belonged to the Speed Museum) in his book The Architectural History of Louisville, 1778-1900.
“Libraries exist to preserve society’s cultural artifacts and to provide access to them. If libraries are to continue to foster education and scholarship in this era of digital technology, it’s essential for them to extend those functions into the digital world.” – The Internet Archive
Earlier this year, the University of Louisville Libraries began digitizing and adding texts to our very own corner of The Internet Archive, a nonprofit internet library which provides free, permanent access to digital collections from all over the world. Several of the items we’ve added so far are souvenir booklets containing some wonderful photographs of the city of Louisville from the early 20th century.
Other items include biographies and histories of industries in Kentucky, including one of our most downloaded items to date, Fine Whisky Facts compiled by George C. Buchanan.
The books UofL Libraries have uploaded to The Internet Archive can be viewed in several formats including online, on a Kindle e-reader device, downloaded as a PDF file, etc. UofL’s contributions were scanned and assigned metadata by Sarah Frankel and MARC cataloging records were created by Tyler Goldberg.
Last month, the University of Louisville Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD) collection reached and surpassed 1,000 titles!
The 1,000th ETD was authored by Daniel Baumann, a recent graduate of the Speed School of Engineering, Department of Bioengineering for his thesis, “Effect of Flow on Human Endothelial Cell and Dermal Cell Growth Rates Supplemented with Drug Infused Media.”
The UofL Libraries are thrilled that what started as a small project in 2002 has grown to a collection of over 1,000 titles. The Libraries have seen an amazing growth in recent years due to an increase in participation from UofL’s graduate students. For the May 2011 graduates, the ETD program’s participation rate was around 87%. For future graduates, the UofL Libraries hope to increase participation to 100%.
We also have appreciated a boost in participation thanks to a mention in the University of Louisville magazine (Summer 2012 edition, p. 39) which put a call out to U of L alumni to give their permission for us to digitize and add these titles to our ETD collection. As the distributed statement noted, electronic documents are more easily accessed by other scholars than print versions.
If you are reading this blog post and this is the first time you have heard of ETDs or you are a UofL Master’s or Ph. D. graduate interested in submitting your work to this digital collection, please visit our about page where you can find out more information about the collection and UofL’s “Nonexclusive License” which can be mailed or submitted electronically.
At the time of Ray Bradbury’s death last week, I had just read something by him for the first time in decades: his short reflection called “Take Me Home” in the Sci Fi-themed special double issue of The New Yorker (88(16): 66, June 4-11, 2012).
Reading his nostalgic piece invoked my own fond memories of the enthusiastic Junior High English teacher who first introduced me to Bradbury’s work. It also, along with the spate of obituaries and tributes that followed that last published work, highlighted some connections between Bradbury’s influences and my current profession.
Ray Bradbury championed libraries, to which he attributes his education as a writer. His “How Instead of Being Educated in College, I Was Graduated from Libraries or, Thoughts from a Chap Who Landed on the Moon in 1932″ (Wilson Library Bulletin 45(9): 842-851, May 1971) is stored in UofL Libraries’ Robotic Retrieval System.
In addition to the role libraries played in his formation as a writer, Bradbury was influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs. So was my colleague George McWhorter, who established the Nell Dismukes McWhorter Memorial Collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the largest institutional collection of Burroughs materials in the world, in the Special Collections department at UofL’s Ekstrom Library. McWhorter confirms that the collection includes letters from Bradbury.
Bradbury is not the only writer to acknowledge his debt to Burroughs. The Library of America has published two Burroughs titles, with introductions by Junot Díaz and Thomas Mallon; Michael Chabon contributed to the screenplay for the recent film John Carter, based on a story by Burroughs. The U.S. Postal Service is celebrating the centennial of Burroughs’ publications by issuing a Forever stamp of him later this summer.