Monday, December 29, 2008

A state archivist retires

I've never met Guy Rocha, the Nevada State Archivist, but colleagues who have say that he is everything a state archivist should be: accessible, generous, dedicated, a fine friend and mentor, and an outspoken champion of archives and history.

Rocha, who is 57, is retiring in a few weeks. We've known for some time that the Boomers are starting to reach retirement age and that their departure from the workforce will have a profound impact upon our work lives and our society at large. As Vicki Walch et al pointed out in the A*CENSUS analysis that appeared in the Fall-Winter 2006 American Archivist, the cohort of Generation X archivists is much smaller than that of their Baby Boom predecessors and their Millennial successors.

Although Walch et all, who note that many Millennials will likely assume unprecedented amounts of responsibility during the early years of their careers, they really didn't identify any specific responsibilities that the Generation X cohort will have to take up. However, reading their report led me to start thinking about Generation X's role in the profession, and news of Rocha's retirement led me to return to the subject.

I fall squarely within the Generation X cohort, and it seems to me that we Gen X'ers have a big role to play in meeting one of the challenges articulated by Walch and Co.: ensuring the transfer of knowledge from the departing Baby Boomers to the incoming Millennials (and, of course, making our own contributions to said knowledge). We're in our thirties and forties now, and we're moving into supervisory/managerial positions while there are still plenty of Boomer mentors around. Some of our older Millennial colleagues will likely share our good fortune, but many of the younger ones won't. Archivists who are part of the Generation X are going to be doing some pretty heavy lifting in the coming years.

However, the current climate may present us with some particular challenges. The reason that Rocha, who clearly loves his job, gives for deciding to retire at this time is more than a little frightening:

. . . Rocha plans to retire before the state's budget crunch forces him to preside over cuts that might gut the agency he has been dedicated to for 28 years.

As Rocha prepares to depart, he warns that the state's financial crisis and proposed budget cuts of as much as 34 percent over the two-year fiscal period starting July 1 would devastate his agency and other state departments and leave the public without many vital programs and facilities.

"I know I could stay longer, but is it worth it?" he asked. "I don't want to see 28 years of work essentially undone in the next biennium. We could barely keep the doors open under the worst-case scenario."

. . . . "I care for this state deeply," he said. "I find it disturbing this state that has essentially been my life is, in my opinion, on the brink of disaster. You can't cut 34 percent or more without devastating state government."

Nevada isn't the only state that's facing extreme budget shortfalls, and I really hope that the current bad times are short-lived. However, if we're in for a decade of economic hardship or stagnation, a lot of accumulated professional knowledge is likely to be lost. Older archivists will retire, younger ones will not be hired to take their place, and the Gen X'ers and older Millennials will be left to keep going as best they can. Fiscal crises can at times give rise to creativity and innovation, but once an organization starts losing substantial amounts of bone and muscle, people start feeling overwhelmed and demoralized.

The current economic crisis also threatens to impede our progress toward solving another challenge that will weigh heavily upon the Generation X and Millennial cohorts: the management and preservation of electronic records. Again, Rocha's comments are sobering:

Rocha fears legislators in the coming session will cut state spending so severely that it might take decades for his and other agencies to recover.

The state archives, he said, sorely need funds and a method to manage digital and electronic records -- information found in computer databases.

"Where are Nevada's digital archives?" he asks. "We don't have one, and we don't have plans for one. The future of information is digital, and people are just erasing the stuff. We keep 19th-century books, but what happens to the databases of the 21st century?"

I really hope that my fears are boundless and that we see a V-shaped recovery very, very soon. However, perhaps we should start girding ourselves for an L-shaped recovery. Thoughts, anyone?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Futuristic computer system"?

According to the New York Times, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has "has put into effect an emergency plan to handle electronic records from the Bush White House." NARA had originally planned to transfer large quantities of digital images and e-mail messages into the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) on January 20.
Archives officials who disclosed the emergency plan said it would mean that the agency would initially take over parts of the White House storage system, freezing the contents on Jan. 20. Only later, after further study, will archivists try to move the records into the futuristic computer system they have devised as a repository for digital data.
Surely the article's authors could have come up with something better than "futuristic computer system," which leads one to suspect that they didn't do their homework.

Their subsequent use of quotation marks gives added weight to this suspicion:
The archives invoked its emergency plan to deal with problems in transferring two types of electronic files: a huge collection of digital photographs and the “records management system,” which provides an index to most of the textual records generated by Mr. Bush and his staff members in the last eight years.
I don't expect that reporters will acquire detailed knowledge of archival theory or the principles of records management, and blogging has made me increasingly appreciative of the time pressures and other limitations that they face. However, a little background information about the ERA project would have improved this article immeasurably and done a real service to the Times' readership.

The article is far better at highlighting the concerns of various government watchdog groups and explaining the challenges associated with assuming custody of an unprecedentedly large body of electronic records (NARA estimates it will receive 100 TB of data) and working with an administration that has not always managed its records properly and is not being particularly cooperative.

I'm hoping that as this saga continues, journalists start picking up on some of the basics of electronic records management and digital preservation. However, I'm not holding my breath . . . .

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bush e-mails

According to the Washington Post, the transfer of Bush administration e-mail messages to the National Archives might, for a variety of reasons, go less smoothly than desired:
Federal law requires outgoing White House officials to provide the Archives copies of their records, a cache estimated at more than 300 million messages and 25,000 boxes of documents depicting some of the most sensitive policymaking of the past eight years.

But archivists are uncertain whether the transfer will include all the electronic messages sent and received by the officials, because the administration began trying only in recent months to recover from White House backup tapes hundreds of thousands of e-mails that were reported missing from readily accessible files in 2005.

The risks that the transfer may be incomplete are also pointed up by a continuing legal battle between a coalition of historians and nonprofit groups over access to Vice President Cheney's records. The coalition is contesting the administration's assertion in federal court this month that he "alone may determine what constitutes vice presidential records or personal records" and "how his records will be created, maintained, managed, and disposed," without outside challenge or judicial review.
As the Post points out, previous administrations have also experienced technical difficulties or simply didn't want to transfer some electronic records to the National Archives. However, as Robert Blanton of the National Security Archive is quoted as saying, the quantity of electronic records created by the Bush Administration is much larger than that created by past administrations; as a result, both the cost of and the amount of time needed to recover improperly stored electronic records are going to be higher than they were in the past.

Another complicating factor: some White House aides improperly used Republican National Committee e-mail accounts to conduct official business. All such e-mail messages are subject to federal records laws, even if they were created and sent using non-governmental e-mail accounts. Administration officials are apparently negotiating with the RNC to secure copies of messages that meet the legal definition of a presidential record, but at present it doesn't seem that there is any definite timeframe for doing so.

The article notes that transfers of paper records from the White House to Dallas, where the George W. Bush Presidential Library will be located, and to NARA's Electronic Records Archives (identified in the story as "a remote Navy research center in the mountains of West Virginia") have already begun
At the Navy base, all the electronic data are supposed to be "ingested" by a new electronic system meant to allow such efficient cataloguing, indexing and searching that millions of documents can eventually be provided to researchers and citizens online.
"Ingested": I wasn't expecting to find Open Archival Information System terminology in a newspaper article. Maybe all of the attention being devoted to the Electronic Records Archives and the controversies surrounding presidential electronic records will gradually popularize the term.

The article goes on to explain some of the development and budget problems that the Electronic Records Archives project has experienced, and it includes a snippet of information about its e-mail searching capability:
The system, which has been under development for a decade by Lockheed Martin and other contractors at a cost of $67.5 million, will rely on software created after the collapse of Enron, when that company's creditors demanded new tools for quickly sorting its e-mail trove to find damaging information.
I wish the National Archives folks all the best as they take in truly mammoth quantities of electronic records, and I'll be interested in seeing what happens in the coming weeks, months, and years.

Friday, December 19, 2008

SAA and its roundtables

Earlier this week, Russell over at Records Junkie put up a couple of posts concerning SAA roundtables and archival identity. I've been meaning to respond to these posts, but until now haven't really had the time needed to allow my own thoughts to take shape. I'm still trying to get everything to meld, so what follows might be a bit rough in spots . . . .

Russell's first post concerns, in part, the ways in which specific types of "identity" -- race/ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation -- act as an organizing principle for some roundtables. (FWIW, I happen to think all roundtables, sections, and SAA itself are all "identity" organizations -- joining SAA is a declaration of one's professional identity, and joining a section or roundtable is a way of declaring one's specific professional concerns and allegiances as well) It also highlights the lack of roundtables addressing other aspects of identity, most notably religion.

I understand Russell's point and will return to it in a bit, but I feel compelled to point out that the main goal of the "identity" roundtables is not to enable people who identify as X, Y, or Z to socialize/network for a couple of hours but to carry out some sort of professional activity. For example, the Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable (LAGAR), which I currently co-chair, works to promote the preservation and use of archival records documenting the lives and work of LGBT people and organizations. It also serves as a liaison between the archival profession and the many small, often volunteer-run LGBT archives established before the big research repositories began collecting LGBT materials. We've produced -- and periodically update -- a guide to LGBT records in North American repositories, and we're also in the final stages of creating a manual for small LGBT archives outlining the basics of identifying, preserving, describing, and providing access to LGBT records of enduring value. If LAGAR weren't doing this sort of documentary and outreach/educational work, I don't think that I would be nearly as committed to it.

I realize that the balance between socializing/networking and the sort of professional activity outlined above varies from roundtable to roundtable, and I'm inclined to allow newer roundtables a little time to find their footing; LAGAR celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, so we've had time to gel as a group and to get some work done. I also think that roundtables can contribute to SAA and the profession in any number of ways ways. For example, the Women Archivists Roundtable doesn't produce any guides to collections, but it does, among other things, coordinate the Navigator Program -- which is a substantial service to SAA.

Getting back to Russell's point about the lack of roundtables focusing upon religion, I suspect that the chief cause of this state of affairs is the existence of the Archivists of Religious Collections Section (ARCS). A lot of SAA members who work with such collections or who are otherwise interested in identifying, preserving, describing, or providing access to records documenting the role of religion in the lives of individuals or the history of religious institutions are most likely ARCS members. However, if other SAA members want to establish roundtables focusing on specific faiths or denominations and can articulate the distinctive contributions such roundtables would make to the organization or the profession, I would be more than happy to welcome them into the ranks.

Russell's second post concerns Council's recent decision to establish a 50-member minimum for roundtable membership and to abolish roundtables that fail to meet this minimum. Russell supports Council's decision, and rightly notes that it costs money to furnish meeting space for the roundtables. He also questions how effective a very small roundtable can be, and he has a point. However, I think there should be a place within SAA for roundtables that have less than 50 members provided that they actively meet the responsibilities outlined in the Council Handbook. Moreover, the 50-member limit threatens to obliterate the Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Heritage Archives Roundtable, which is less than a year old and serves a community traditionally underrepresented in SAA. How would dissolving this roundtable square with SAA's commitment to increasing diversity within the profession? It also looms over the Security Roundtable, which typically attracts archivists who are suddenly confronted by security issues. Do we want to abolish an organization that helps colleagues dealing with unexpected and often profoundly stressful professional challenges?

As far as the feasibility of allocating meeting space to very small groups is concerned, people can and often do attend meetings of roundtables to which they don't belong because they're curious about the group or interested in the meeting program. I check out various roundtables on occasion, and I know plenty of other SAA members who do the same. I also don't think that size is necessarily related to quality. Some of the best meetings -- and sessions -- I've ever attended have attracted a relatively small number of people, and I've sat through large meetings that just weren't worth my time. If SAA is concerned about the cost of meeting space, perhaps it should encourage roundtables to find alternate meeting space if feasible. For example, LAGAR met at the Gerber/Hart Library in 2007 and at the GLBT Historical Society in 2008, thus freeing up meeting space for other roundtables; however, we might need to meet at the conference hotel in 2009.

I suppose that what I find most troubling about the new roundtable membership requirement is that it suggests that SAA's recent membership increase -- a good thing -- might not be managed in ways that facilitate integration of new members into the organization or cultivate future leaders. Roundtables and sections are both charged with enabling new members actively to participate in SAA, but many section meetings are so big and thus so regimented that they can't do so effectively. I've been around for a while and am involved in a couple of multi-state grant projects, so I see lots of familiar faces when I walk into Electronic Records Section or Government Records Section meetings. However, if I were new to SAA, I would have little opportunity to get to know other members of these sections. Just about all of the time allotted for the ERS and GRS meetings is, by necessity, devoted to formal business meetings and programs, and the meetings attract so many people that we don't even have time to go around the room and introduce ourselves at the start of the meeting.

Roundtables, on the other hand, are generally small enough and informal enough to bring new members into the fold. For example, LAGAR meetings typically attract 30-40 people, and we always enable people to chat informally for 10-15 minutes before the meeting starts. The co-chairs and steering committee members consciously seek out first-time attendees and make them feel welcome, and I always make it a point to stop and ask how things are going when I see these new faces in the exhibit hall or session rooms in the days that follow. I want new SAA members to feel that their presence has been noted and appreciated, not simply lost in the crowd.

Roundtables also enable newer members to take on their first official leadership roles within SAA. Serving as a roundtable chair, co-chair, or steering commitee member is good practice for taking on similar roles within a section, and I know several former roundtable chairs who ultimately did so; others have become members of task forces or other SAA bodies. If SAA starts making it more difficult for roundtables to exist, it might ultimately decimate future leadership cohorts -- which isn't good for the organization or the profession at large.

Noting that SAA has publicized the meetings of unofficial groups such as the Progressive Archivists in its meeting programs, Russell advocates that, in addition to sections and roundtables, SAA establish official interest groups (e.g., Conservative Archivists, Catholic Archivists) that would receive a small amount of Web space but no official meeting space. I think that this is a good idea -- but I would personally prefer that the groups have at least some relationship to professional issues. One of the more tongue-in-cheek examples that Russell gives is Archivists Who Are Parents. If the main goal of Archivists Who Are Parents is to enable members to discuss the challenges of and brainstorm strategies for balancing work, involvement in professional associations, and parenting, great. If its chief aim is to allow archivists to exchange information about the best diapers, dealing with the terrible twos/teens, etc., it should, in my view, remain unofficial.

Official interest groups would certainly help to draw new members into the life of SAA and allow archivists who share common interests but do not wish to undertake formal projects to discuss issues of common concern. Moreover, such groups might help to reduce some of the fiscal burden associated with finding meeting space: Russell notes that some of the smaller roundtables might prefer to reconstitute themselves as interest groups, and I suspect that he might be right (of course, some interest groups may ultimately decide to become roundtables, so resource demands might remain unchanged).

I would strongly oppose any effort to convert all roundtables, which have formal reporting requirements and other responsibilities, to interest groups. Again, it's a matter of developing leadership: the experience of completing and filing convener statements and annual reports, complying with SAA's records management policy and transferring records to the SAA Archives as appropriate, putting together annual meeting programs and running roundtable business meetings, and carrying out roundtable-specific projects is good preparation for other leadership roles. Interest groups, even officially sanctioned ones, won't be as closely attuned to SAA's inner workings, and their conveners won't have the same level of experience as roundtable chairs/co-chairs. It's in SAA's long-term interest to cultivate as many potential leaders as possible, and eliminating or starving roundtables will almost certainly reduce the candidate pool or make the learning curve for new section and task force leaders even steeper than it is at present.

I've gone on long enough, upstate New York is enjoying a brief lull between snowstorms, and I have some errands to run. However, before I sign off, a couple of disclaimers:
  • Russell, we've never actually met, and I apologize if you find my use of your given name overly familiar; this "brave new world of digital intimacy" is a bit much at times.
  • My statements are mine alone and do not necessarily represent those of LAGAR's other co-chair, the LAGAR Steering Committee, or the LAGAR membership.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mariners' Museum archivist sentenced to four years in prison

Yesterday, the former archivist at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, was sentenced to four years in prison for stealing records and selling them online:
Lester F. Weber, of Newport News, sold at least 3,500 documents — from collections he was supposed to oversee — on eBay under his wife's name. The items included everything from brochures and boarding passes for old ships to a lawsuit against the company that owned the Titanic.

Weber made $172,357 on the fraudulent sales between 2002 and 2006, according to court filings. But the museum estimates the worth of the stolen items at more than $500,000.
Noting that Weber had violated the public trust and that his crimes had taken place over a long period of time, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith gave him a 48-month sentence instead of the 33-41 month sentence recommended in the federal sentencing guidelines.

Weber's wife, Lori E. Childs, was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment for filing a false tax return.

I'm glad that the Judge Smith is among the growing number of jurists who recognize that the theft of records is not a trivial offense, and I hope that Weber's former colleagues are actively supporting one another as they come to grips with the personal and professional ramifications of his deeds. My colleagues and I know exactly how they feel.


Wednesday evening, I finally got to see Milk, the new biographical motion picture about Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay Americans to hold elected office. The film has all of the usual flaws of biopics. The compression of a human life into 90-120 minutes leaves little time to explore nuances of character or depict how the film's subject negotiated the humdrum routine that makes up so much of life, and Milk is no exception. The film also removes, reorders, and blends together events and even people in service of its overarching narrative. Moreover, viewers come to biopics knowing how the story will end -- and for Harvey Milk, the story ended tragically and far too soon.

However, Milk's strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. Director Gus Van Sant and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black treat Harvey Milk not as a two-dimensional hero but as a kind, savvy, funny, exuberant, and flawed human being, and Sean Penn's probably going to get a well-deserved Academy Award nomination. The supporting cast amply complements his nuanced performance, even if their characters feel a bit flattened at times.

The film also highlights Milk's gift for the theater and give-and-take of politics. The many Americans who have no living memory of Harvey Milk -- the younger members of Generation X and all of the Millennials -- and who think of him only as a gay martyr if they think of him at all might be surprised to learn that he was such a shrewd and inventive politician.

Contemporary audiences will find the political struggles depicted in the film continue to resonate today. Harvey Milk was instrumental in defeating the Briggs Initiative, a 1978 ballot measure that would have prohibited gay men and lesbians and straight people supportive of gay rights from teaching or otherwise working in California's public schools, and viewers of this film cannot help but think of the recent passage of Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in California. One can't help but wonder what might have happened had Milk not been assassinated in 1978; one also wonders whether an early autumn release of Milk, which is doing well at the box office, might have been a rallying point for the anti-Proposition 8 forces.

Archivists should note that the film makes extensive use of archival footage, some of which is striking. The clips used at the opening of the film document raids on gay bars in the 1950s and 1960s. Well-dressed men are herded into paddywagons, trying as best they can to shield their faces from the camera, or handcuffed and escorted out of the premises. At one point, the camera lingers on one bespectacled man sitting on a barstool, hands over his face, trembling or perhaps weeping as the police and other patrons mill about the bar. Suddenly, he looks up, grabs his drink, and tosses the contents of the glass at the camera. Cut.

Other archival footage in the film depicts, among other things:
  • A stricken Dianne Feinstein, then president of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, announcing to the public on the evening of 27 November 1978 that both Milk and Mayor George Moscone had been murdered within City Hall earlier that day; Feinstein discovered Milk's body in his office.
  • Anita Bryant outlining her staunch opposition to gay rights.
  • Street scenes of San Francisco's Castro neighborhood circa 1975.
  • Aerial views of San Francisco circa 1975.
This archival film and television footage is skillfully blended with new footage shot by Van Sant and company. This blending serves to reinforce the film's claims to veracity, and archivists -- and film scholars -- may want to think more systematically and critically about the use of archival records to give fictional or fictionalized worlds the aura of authenticity.

Milk's end credits don't supply detailed information about the source of these clips (apart from acknowledging an immense debt to makers of the superb 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk), but it's apparent that the filmmakers looked high and low for footage that they could use. I was also pleased to note that the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Transgender Historical Society and the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives were thanked in the credits.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

SAA Government Affairs Working Group

In August of this year, SAA Council created a new Government Affairs Working Group and outlined its official charge:
"Government affairs" issues encompass areas of legislation and rule-making by federal and state government that have direct impact on archives and manuscript repositories, from the taxation of authors' works to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, from protection and preservation of Executive Office of the President email messages to declassification, from treatment of state and local executive office records as public to libel in oral histories. Government affairs issues are complex, and understanding, analyzing, and reacting appropriately to them requires a special expertise. They often demand a quick response, as, for example, when SAA is asked to join in litigation or respond to draft legislation.

The Working Group's purpose is to provide timely expertise and advice to the SAA Council. The Working Group responds to requests for assistance from the President (acting on behalf of the Council) or the Executive Director, tracks government affairs issues of concern (or potential concern) to archivists, and drafts for the Council approval responses or position statements as needed. Although the Working Group's purview is broad, its overarching priority is issues relating to the preservation of and access to government records. This priority takes precedence when there are competing issues demanding attention, and it should be pursued persistently when other issues do not demand immediate attention.
Specifically, the Government Affairs Working Group will:
  • Develop an advocacy agenda for Council approval.
  • Respond in a timely fashion to requests from the President (acting on behalf of Council) or the Executive Director for background information and recommendations on matters relating to government affairs.
  • Track legislative and regulatory issues that could be of concern to archivists in order that the Society may respond in a knowledgeable manner.
  • Prepare drafts, for Executive Committee or the Council's approval, of position papers, statements, and other documents relating to government affairs issues that may benefit archives and archivists.
  • Contribute to the education of SAA members and staff in relation to government affairs issues.
  • Bring to the Council's attention areas in which collaboration with other organizations may advance the Society's government affairs interests and, under Council direction or with its approval, cooperate with such organizations in furthering SAA's interests.
Earlier today, SAA included the group's member roster in its e-mail news update to members:
Council is absolutely correct in that politics and the law can profoundly affect our work and that we as a profession sometimes have to respond to emerging situations quickly and authoritatively. I'm looking forward to seeing this group in action.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ho-Ho House

Every year, my colleague Prudence decorates her entire house for Christmas and invites everyone who works at the New York State Archives over for an evening. The Ho-Ho House, as it is known, has become a State Archives tradition. Everyone gets to talk about things other than work (although the subject of electronic records did come up at one point in the conversation tonight), enjoy the wonderful food that Prudence and her husband John prepare, meet spouses and partners, and just generally have a good time. We also get to see the guinea pigs that Prudence and John breed and show -- they're always a big hit, as are the cats and the dog.

Each room in the Ho-Ho House has a theme, and each year Prudence and John prepare a map for their guests. The map itself has become a seasonal tradition for State Archives folks. The image above, which I produced with my digital camera, really doesn't do it justice; I've put off buying a scanner because my study is too full of stuff as is, but maybe Santa will have one for me this year . . . .


Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Van der Zanden Memorial Pirate Research Center

"Do you care about pirates? You should!" The Cornelius and Anneke Van der Zanden Memorial Pirate Research Center seeks to "collect, organize, preserve, and make available both published and unpublished sources pertaining to the history of maritime piracy in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and to serve the needs of the community interested in this phenomenon."

This promo film for a fictional archives was put together by some real-world archivists (the reference to "EAD-encoded finding aids" is a dead giveaway). It's smart, funny, and just generally awesome, and it made my day. I hope you like it, too.

Ice storm

The Northeast is recovering from a major ice storm that has left over a million people without power. The urban core of Albany, New York actually weathered the storm quite well: the Thursday afternoon commute was treacherous and some trees and limbs came down, but by Friday morning the roads were relatively clear. I had to go into the office early on Friday in order to attend a meeting that made me start thinking about the future of "documents" -- I'll blog about these thoughts once my head clears -- and was surprised to discover that all of the ice on my car had melted away well before I needed to leave for work.

By this afternoon, the ice had melted off of most of the trees and shrubs. However, most of the small crabapple trees that line my street were still ice-covered as of this afternoon because the buildings on the street blocked the sun's rays.

The communities that surround Albany weren't so lucky. Many co-workers who live outside of Albany lacked power as of yesterday afternoon, and at least one of them has suffered property damage because of a fallen tree limb.

I drove up to Saratoga Springs this afternoon, and saw lots of downed tree limbs along the Adirondack Northway and on roads throughout the city, which got a couple of inches of snow atop the ice.

After I left Saratoga Springs, I ran some errands in Latham, which also got snow as well as ice. Some of the homes and businesses in Latham had power, and some didn't, and there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the outages. Clusters of open businesses and houses with Christmas lights ablaze alternated with short stretches of darkened buildings and dead streetlights, giving the place a sort of crazy-quilt feel.

Some of the ice-covered trees (such as this specimen in the parking lot of the Latham Circle Mall) are really quite lovely. However, I also saw trees bent to the ground by the weight of the ice upon them, and I don't think all of them will survive.

Parts of the Northeast will likely be without power for several days, and the crews are working overtime in an effort to repair all of the damage.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Scandal in the records

One of the things that I love about working with records is the possibility of finding unexpected treasure -- an odd or interesting document hidden among routine correspondence or subject files. As a grad student, I found autograph letters from Eleanor Roosevelt and T.S. Eliot nestled among the correspondence of a refugee economist from Germany, and I've subsequently stumbled across other fascinating and unanticipated things.

A legal document uncovered by a British archivist at the Rotherham Archives and Local Studies Service and highlighted in an article in the Daily Mail is also quite a find:
It was a scandalous affair which would have ruined the reputations of two well-to-do families.

The married son of a wealthy industrialist fathered a child with the 18-year-old daughter of a factory manager while his wife was also pregnant.

These days, such behaviour would hardly cause the raising of an eyebrow.

But in Victorian times it was something to be kept secret at all costs.

Threatened with being named and shamed, the cheating husband bought his lover's silence with a formal legal agreement.

The document, signed by the two parties on October 20, 1874, meant no one ever discovered the truth about little Herbert Higginbottom . . . until now.

More than 130 years later, the document has been put on display at the central library in Rotherham.

It was discovered in papers from a prominent South Yorkshire law firm by an archivist sorting historical documents donated to the library service . . . .
William Haywood was 27 at the time the agreement was drawn up. His father had been a partner in a prosperous iron foundry, and Heywood assumed his father's position at the firm at the time of his father's retirement. Shortly after he married his wife Martha, the daughter of an area architect, he began a clandestine affair with Elizabeth Higginbottom, the 18 year-old daughter of a glass factory manager.
The secret affair was short and passionate and resulted in the boy Herbert, born only a few weeks after Haywood's legitimate son.

We do not know how or precisely when the relationship ended, but Elizabeth's father was clearly determined that the wealthy heir should be forced to take responsibility for his son.

Higginbottom is believed to have threatened legal action when Haywood tried to avoid responsibility for Herbert and the legal agreement was drawn up.

In return for a pay-off of £500 (£50,000 in today's money) the Higginbottoms agreed to ensure the facts did not become public.
The rest of the story is fascinating, and the Daily Mail supplements it with some good photos of this extraordinary document.

I used to think that the digital age would put an end to these kinds of serendipitous discoveries, and in some ways it surely has -- when confronted with ancient storage media housing data of unknown format, content, and quantity, we generally stymied. However, I do think that there is still room for serendipity in the electronic era. I'm in the final stages of processing a series of electronic records created during an investigation into a political scandal, and I found some mighty entertaining documents while familiarizing myself with the records' intellectual content. I'm by no means the first person to look over these records -- just about every news organization in New York State has done so at this point -- but the experience has underscored the fact that electronic records can be just as fun and as full of surprises as their paper counterparts.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ilinois politics

Just one more thing before I hie myself to bed: I think New York State has just lost the Most Spectacular Gubernatorial Implosion of 2008 competition. Eliot Spitzer -- the crusading former prosecutor with a call-girl habit -- seems to have been roundly beaten by Rod Blagejovich of Illinois.

Shaking down the CEO of a children's hospital. Pressuring a newspaper to fire unfriendly editors. Trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. Wow. If only a handful of the allegations -- all of which are apparently supported by damning evidence -- are true, Rod Blagejovich deserves to spend a long, long time in federal prison.

Illinois may well experience an unplanned gubernatorial transition before the year's end. Having been through such a transition earlier this year, I feel for my colleagues at the Illinois State Archives. Their work lives are about become even more interesting than usual.

One sick archivist

There's a nasty cold making the rounds at work, and I'm among the latest victims. Ugh. I went home sick because I felt wretched and wasn't getting anything done, and this flurry of posting is taking place only because the cold meds that I took about 40 minutes ago have temporarily made me feel semi-alive; in addition, I'm sort of trapped at my desk because the cat on my lap really doesn't want me to move. However, the semi-alive feeling is coming to an end, the other cat has begun letting me know that he wants his dinner, and the cat on my lap will very soon want hers.

If my colleagues' experiences are any guide, I might not be in any shape to post for a couple of days. However, I started working on a long post last night and almost finished it. If I'm up to it, I'll try to put the finishing touches on it and post it tomorrow. If not, it will make its debut ASAP.

In the meantime, consider following these common cold prevention tips. I wish I had been more conscientious about doing so.

New PeDALS Web site

The Persistent Digital Archives and Library System (PeDALS) project has a new -- and sleekly minimalist -- Web site:

PeDALS is a multi-state digital preservation project funded by National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and it aims:
First, to develop a curatorial rationale to support an automated, integrated workflow to process collections of digital publications and records. Second, to implement "digital stacks" using an inexpensive, storage network that can preserve the authenticity and integrity of the collections.

In addition to those technical goals, PeDALS seeks to build a community of shared practice so that the system meets the needs of a wide range of repositories that could then support the ongoing development of the system and promote best practices. To further that end, PeDALS hopes to remove barriers to adopting the technology by keeping costs as low as possible.
PeDALS is led by the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, and the other partners are:
At present, the new site has information about the project's metadata schema, upon which we're putting the finishing touches, project-based papers and presentations, and lots of background information. Once all of the partners get their hardware and software up and running, I'm sure that lots of technical information about the project will be available as well.

Archivist of the United States resigns

This afternoon, a couple of my colleagues received e-mails stating that Dr. Allen Weinstein had resigned, and now it's official:
Washington, DC…On December 7, historian Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, submitted his resignation to the President, effective December 19, 2008. Professor Weinstein, who has Parkinson’s disease, cited health reasons for his decision.

Deputy Archivist of the United States, Adrienne Thomas, will serve as Acting Archivist until a new Archivist is appointed, in accordance with the National Archives governing statute, 44 USC 2103(c).
The circumstances surrounding Dr. Weinstein's nomination engendered quite a bit of controversy, but he seemed to take his responsibilities very seriously and made a real effort to reach out to the archival community. Shortly before his confirmation (if memory serves me correctly), he visited the New York State Archives and met informally with staff for about an hour. He seemed genuinely interested in learning about what we were doing, and he was shocked to learn that none of his predecessors had ever paid us a visit.

It's sad to learn that Dr. Weinstein is leaving because of ill health, not the desire to return to academic research or simply ease into a quieter life, and I wish him all the best.

Given the timing of Dr. Weinstein's resignation, I suspect that the next Archivist of the United States will be an Obama appointee -- and that the archival profession as a whole will be avidly interested in the selection and nomination process.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Fireworks on the Empire State Plaza

The 2008 holiday tree lighting at the Empire State Plaza took place earlier tonight; the ceremony was originally slated for yesterday evening, but it was rescheduled because of last night's high winds.

I took these photos while standing on the sidewalk in front of my apartment building.

Although you can't really see it in these pictures, the Cultural Education Center, which houses the State Archives (and the State Library and State Museum) is situated at the bottom right of each of these photos.

The fireworks lasted only ten minutes or so -- just long enough for me to grab my camera and take a few pictures to document the event.

The truth is out there . . . or maybe it's in the records

I missed this story, but Peter Kurilecz didn't; he included it in his 6 December RAIN posting to the Archives & Archivists listserv.

I think it's safe to say that the current President has not been an ardent champion of openness or transparency. Many archivists and academics who make heavy use of government records are hoping that President-elect Obama takes a different approach to records issues.

So does the unidentified flying objects crowd:
UFO aficionados are urging Barack Obama to release classified documents about sightings of alien spacecraft, spurred on by support from within his own White House team.

They have written to the president-elect, pressing him to reveal the contents of America's X Files.

In a letter, the Extraterrestrial Phenomenon Political Action Committee asks Mr. Obama to "end the six-decade truth embargo regarding an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race" . . . .

The group wants military services and intelligence agencies to brief the incoming president about what they know.

They also urge Mr. Obama to open congressional hearings "to take testimony from scores of government witnesses who have already come forward with extraordinary evidence and are prepared to testify under oath."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Book review: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

In a word: no. In this witty, well-crafted, and appalling memoir, Lee Israel traces her journey from author of carefully researched biographies of Tallulah Bankhead and Dorothy Killgallen to manuscript thief and forger. Any archivist concerned about security (i.e., every archivist) should read this book.

Israel’s life and career hit the skids after the publication of her third book, a hastily produced and quickly remaindered biography of Estee Lauder. Editors and agents who once sang her praises stopped taking her calls, and her prickly personality, heavy drinking, and increasingly erratic behavior rendered her virtually unemployable. She went on and off welfare, supplementing her income by selling off bits and pieces of her book collection and freelancing whenever she could. She was “not in the flower of mental health.”

Israel’s first theft was an impulsive act. She was doing research for a magazine article at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, and staff let her examine archival materials in the unsecured general reading room because they thought the papers lacked cash value. However, the collection contained three ordinary letters from comedienne Fanny Brice. Down to her last few dollars and desperate to obtain veterinary care for a stray cat she had taken in, Israel realized that the letters might have cash value. She nervously placed them inside a small notebook that she had with her, then took the notebook to the restroom and placed the letters in her shoe.

After she cleared security, a wave of “exultation and relief” washed over her:
I felt no guilt about the letters. They were from the realm of the dead. Doris [the cat] and I were alive and well and living on the West Side.
The dealer who bought the Brice letters for $40.00 apiece off-handedly mentioned that letters with “good content” would have fetched a higher price. Israel found and stole more routine Brice letters, purchased an ancient, battered manual typewriter, and added colorful postscripts to all of them. They commanded tidy sums.

All the while, Israel continued doing legitimate research at the repository. Her discovery of a collection of typescript letters written by Louise Brooks, who relished exposing the hypocrisies and false pieties of Hollywood, led to the next stage of Israel’s criminal career: forgery. She closely studied the letters, surreptitiously traced Brooks’ signature, and stole blank sheets of aged paper she found in other archival collections, then used her own typewriter to produce forged letters that deftly emulated Brooks’ literate, lacerating prose style. Dealers eagerly snapped them up.

Additional purchases of old typewriters and thefts of old blank paper and letterhead stationery ensued, and autograph dealers were thrilled by the many Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker, and Noel Coward letters that Israel produced and proffered. Counterfeit letters from Humphrey Bogart, George S. Kaufman, Clara Blandick (Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz), Tennessee Williams, Bette Davis, and Lillian Hellman also made their way to market.

Archivists should note that all of the luminaries whose letters Israel forged had several things in common: all of them were the subjects of published works that could be mined for biographic details, had distinctive and readily recognizable signatures and styles of writing, and frequently used typewriters to conduct their correspondence. Moreover, Israel seems to have personally identified with many of the women whose letters she forged; as she herself points out, Brooks, Parker, Ferber, and Hellman were all noteworthy writers and bitter, miserable drunks.

Brooks was the only person whose forged letters were based on extensive archival research. When producing her other fakes, Israel relied chiefly on biographies and other published sources – a strategy that ultimately tripped her up. She based the tone and content or her Noel Coward letters upon Coward’s diaries, which were published posthumously. However, Coward, who was relatively open about his homosexuality in his diaries, was cautious and guarded in his correspondence. A West Coast dealer began asking questions, and a New York City dealer informed Israel that a grand jury had been convened and offered not to testify in exchange for $5,000.

Desperate to pay off her blackmailer and too afraid to fob off any more counterfeit letters, Israel began forging letters that she found in archives, swapping the copies for the originals, and stealing and selling the originals. Afraid of showing her face to the dealers, she arranged to have a friend -- an ethically challenged and terminally ill charmer -- handle the sales.

Armed with a forged book contract -- for a work focusing on writers and alcoholism -- Israel embarked upon “a crook’s tour of major research libraries.” She paid visits to Columbia, the New York Public Library's Berg Collection and Library for the Performing Arts, Yale, Penn State, Syracuse, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Georgia. Her modus operandi bears careful study:
I would call up a box of letters, choose two or three [typescripts] to my liking and copy them for word for word, comma for comma, noting spacing, indentation, type, and paper size; then, carefully -- and this was when my heart thumped like a bass fiddle in back of Barbara Cook -- I traced the signature . . . .

After I had done the initial copying I repaired to my apartment, or to my hotel if I was out of town, and replicated the letter . . . . I would return to the library the next day, request the same box, make the switch, and watch nervously as the librarian on duty counted and took -- I was always happy to note -- only a perfunctory look at the contents. I left the building after making a trip to the ladies’ room, where I put the valuable pelf in my shoe.
On one occasion, a Princeton archivist almost caught her with stolen letters on her person; however, Israel quickly devised a ruse that enabled her to return to the reading room, replace the stolen originals, and hide the copies she had created in an obscure book shelved in the furthest reaches of the room. None of the other repositories she visited ever questioned her actions or closely looked at her notes.

The noose was nonetheless tightening. On 27 July 1992, two FBI agents accosted Israel on the street. A suspicious dealer had contacted the FBI, and the friend who sold the letters for her instantly confessed. She was merely questioned on that afternoon; afterward, she went home and destroyed all the evidence she could. However, it was extremely easy to assemble a criminal case against her: at every repository she had visited, she had given her real name and address and presented legitimate photo identification.

Israel cooperated with the authorities and pled guilty to the thefts:
I drew the Get Out of Jail Free card. Judge [Robert W.] Sweet told me that he never wanted to see me again “in this context” (not a total rejection). I was sentenced to five years on probation, six months' house arrest . . . . I wasn’t to leave the state or consort with felons; I was to pay restitution within my means. I was directed to attend AA meetings, which I never did . . . .
Shortly after her house arrest ended, Israel managed to put her life back together and found freelance work copy editing children's magazines published by Scholastic, “the Spring Byington of the publishing world.” The work was dull, but she did it well and she was soon offered a staff position with benefits; starting as a freelancer allowed her to evade disclosure of her felonious past. She still works as a staff copy editor for Scholastic and still lives in the studio apartment in which she produced so many of her forgeries.

And how does she regard her past misdeeds? She seems to regret her thievery:
I had spent a good deal of my professional life hunting and gathering in annals and archives, and messing with those citadels was unequivocally and big-time wrong . . . .

I suffered and I paid by being barred from the libraries that I had plundered. An all-points bulletin was issued by Ex Libris, an archivists’ group, alerting all to my misdeeds, and it remains looming in cyberspace to this day . . . .

My guilt over the original thefts is mitigated somewhat by the gathering in of the epistolary diaspora. I cooperated with the FBI, and the real letters of the drunken American writers were so far as I know all recovered and returned safely to their archival homes.
However, she has little guilt about the letters that she herself created:
The forged letters were larky and fun and totally cool. Parodies of icons -- Coward, Ferber, Mrs. Parker, Louise, Lillian Hellman, and poor Clara Blandick. They totaled approximately 100,000 words, give or take. A quantitation falling somewhere between Madame Bovary and Madame X -- not bad for less than two years’ work. I still consider the letters to be my best work. Reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman's summing up in Tootsie, I was a better writer as a forger than I had ever been as a writer. Any remorse I experience about this phase of my life in crime has nothing to do with the money various dealers might have lost; I think most of dealers came out ahead. The remorse here is personal. I betrayed some people whom I had grown to like. With whom I’d made jokes and broke bread. And in doing so I joined, to my dismay, the great global souk, a marketplace of bad company and bad faith.
Lee Israel really is a gifted writer -- some of her Coward fakes made it into a carefully edited documentary edition of Coward’s correspondence -- and she enjoyed doing legitimate archival research. Being denied access to the source material for her books and articles must be a genuine punishment. However, given that her regret over having been caught at times seems to outweigh her regret over having tampered with the historical record, it is gratifying to learn that her one post-conviction attempt to visit a repository -- the unsecured floor that houses the circulating collections of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts -- ended when she was spotted, searched, and escorted out of the building.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? provides fascinating insight into the mindset, motivation, and methods of one archival forger and thief. Every archivist and manuscript curator should spend a few hours poring over it . . . and then remain on the lookout for its author and others of her ilk.

Friday, December 5, 2008

LBJ Library releases additional audio records

President Lyndon B. Johnson on the telephone, 22 October 1968. Image courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, photo A7035-6 by Yoichi Okamato)

On December 3, one day after the Nixon Library released additional paper records of White House staff and tape recordings made in late 1972, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library released the recordings and transcripts of President Johnson's telephone calls from May 1968 through January 1969, when President-Elect Nixon was sworn in.

Digitized highlights, which include Johnson offering words of condolence to Ted Kennedy in the wake of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination, discussion of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the Vietnam War, and the Presidential transition, among other things, are available via the Johnson Library's Web site.

DCAPE meeting: day two

Today was the second day of the inaugural meeting of the Distributed Custodial Archival Preservation Environments group. We went over over the project timeline (which needs some revision), and spent some time discussing the specifics of the archivist partners' first task: outlining, with reference to the Open Archival Information System Reference Model, the specific functional requirements of the preservation system. We then spent some time going over some practical stuff (travel reimbursements, etc.), talked about the records that each partner was thinking of contributing to the project, and wrapped up at around 11:30 AM. We continued talking informally over lunch, and then broke up headed our separate ways.

Right before lunch, Rich Szary, the director of the Wilson Library, gave me a quick tour of the Carolina Digital Library and Archives, which is housed in Wilson Library and which has an astounding array of scanning equipment -- including a high-capacity, autofeed paper scanner that UNC's conservation staff have approved for use with archival records -- and is digitizing archival materials and rare books with immense speed.

Immediately after lunch, I had to leave for RDU. I had another long layover at EWR. I'm getting really familiar with Concourse C, and got to watch the sun set over the "Airtrain" connecting it to the other concourses; unfortunately, my the window glass through which I shot this picture reflected some of the light in the concourse's interior.

Although the good people at Continental no doubt wanted a different outcome, I was really happy with the way my flight arrangements worked out: none of the planes I was on were full, and I didn't have any seatmats on any of my flights. Owing to the clear night sky, I also got a stunning view of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens on the flight from EWR to ALB.

Nonetheless, I am really, really glad to be home.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

DCAPE meeting: day one

I'm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for the kickoff meeting of the Distributed Custodial Archival Preservation Environments project, which is funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and headed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science (UNC SILS) and Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI).

DCAPE's goal is to build a trustworthy and geographically distributed system that automates many of the processes associated with taking in and managing archival electronic records and ensuring that the records are preserved appropriately. The main system will be built by RENCI and the Data Intensive Cyber Environments group within, and two other institutions -- West Virginia University and Carleton University (which is not receiving grant funding) -- will maintain identical systems.

Guidance concerning the functional requirements of the system and sample records used to test its workings will be provided by archivists from an array of repositories:

We met on the third floor of the Wilson Library, which houses the university's music library and manuscript and rare books collections, in a meeting room just off the library's exhibit space; as a result, we got to see Presenting John Keats, a display of first editions and elegantly bound volumes mounted in honor of the university libraries' acquisition of their six millionth volume, during our breaks.

We spent a good portion of the morning discussing iRODS, the software that will drive the system that SILS and RENCI are building. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around precisely how it works (and have the feeling that I will continue to do so for some time), but iRODS is designed to allow users to create rules that govern how records will be handled by the system; for example, it's possible to write a rule that instructs the system to perform integrity checks on each record, compare the results with those of past integrity checks, and perform a specific action in the event that a discrepancy is discovered.

We also discussed how the archivists involved in the project will go about defining the functional requirements that the system should incorporate. We'll need to continue this discussion tomorrow.

We also got to talk informally, which I consider essential to the success of any collaborative project, over lunch at the Top of the Hill and dinner at the Carolina Inn's Carolina CrossRoads, both of which are Chapel Hill institutions. Although many of us know each other from past projects or from SAA or the Best Practices Exchange, this project is pretty large and not everyone knows each other pretty well. Over meals, we got to share news about the other stuff we're working on, trade war stories, and talk about the increasingly severe budget constraints that almost all of us face.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas cactus . . . and clearing for takeoff

I have two Christmas cacti: a large one that produces pale pink blossoms, and a small one that produces fuchsia ones. The big one is just starting to bloom, and the little one has a bunch of teeny little buds.

I took a few minutes this morning to grab my camera and document the opening of the first blooms on the big plant. Every time I look at them, I can't help but smile.

I'm taking to the sky tomorrow so that I can attend the kickoff meeting of the Distributed Custodial Archival Preservation Environments (DCAPE) project in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Thursday and Friday. Owing to my flight schedule, I won't have much free time, but I will be able to see at least some of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill campus and the Louis Round Wilson Library, which is home to the university's manuscript, archival, and rare books collections. And, of course, there should be lots of cool DCAPE stuff to report . . . .

Nixon Library releases additional paper and audio records

President Richard M. Nixon meeting with Elvis Presley, 21 December 1970. Image courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library, White House Central Files: Subject Categories: Health (HE), Folder EX HE 5-1 1/1/72-1/31/72, Box 19)

Earlier today, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library jointly released roughly 198 hours of Nixon White House tape recordings and approximately 30 cubic feet of textual materials from the White House Central Files. Today's release marks the 12th release of Nixon audio recordings since 1980.

The tapes, which were recorded in November-December 1972, document almost 1,400 conversations. Copies of the recordings will be available at both the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California and at the NARA Archives II research facility in College Park, Maryland. In addition, all of the recordings will eventually be digitized and added to the Nixon Library's Web site.

Some of the recordings are already available on the Nixon Library site. I haven't had the chance to listen to any of them yet, but, in the words of one journalist who has, our 37th President comes off as "ruthless, cynical, and profane."

The paper records released today are those of:

Staff Member and Office Files of J. Fred Buzhardt, President Nixon’s attorney during the Watergate scandal, and Bryce Harlow, senior adviser and counselor to President Nixon. The opening will also include approximately 10 cubic feet of textual materials from the Jeb Stuart Magruder papers relating to his service on the Committee to Re-elect the President.

The collection pertaining to Mr. Buzhardt consists of approximately 65,600 pages reflecting his responsibilities as Special White House Counsel for Watergate Matters during the hearings of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities and as the Administration’s legal authority on the White House tapes. These documents also reflect Buzhardt’s subsequent position of White House Counsel taking on additional duties unrelated to the President’s Watergate defense. This collection will be available only at the National Archives College Park, MD facility.

The collection pertaining to Mr. Harlow consists of approximately 4,450 pages that cover the period from November 1968 to January 1969 when Mr. Harlow served as the Assistant to the President with responsibility for Congressional Relations in the transition office of President-Elect Richard Nixon. This collection will be available only at the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, CA.

The collection pertaining to Mr. Magruder consists of approximately 8,050 pages including correspondence to and from Magruder and John Mitchell, Director of the Committee to Re-Elect the President; materials relating to individual states; voting blocs; political strategies; and day to day operations of the Committee. This collection will be available only at the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, CA.

In addition, the Library is releasing approximately 3,500 pages of previously classified materials under the mandatory review provisions of Executive Order 12958, as amended, and approximately 7,000 pages of previously withdrawn materials from the files of Charles W. Colson; J. Fred Buzhardt; H.R. Haldeman; Patrick J. Buchanan; and John W. Dean. These records will be available only at the National Archives College Park, MD facility.
Wondering why some Nixon materials are in Yorba Linda and others are in College Park? It's a long story -- but one that ought to be of interest to archivists, particularly those working in government repositories.

Monday, December 1, 2008

World AIDS Day

Today marks the 20th observance of World AIDS Day. Materials documenting the impact of this devastating disease and humanity's response to it -- which ranges from the appalling to the inspiring are starting to make their way into archives throughout the world.

Below is an incomplete listing of finding aids describing American archival collections relating to HIV/AIDS and various individual and organizational responses to it; judging from the amount of time it took me to assemble the following list, developing a comprehensive list would require immense effort.

Looking over this list, I'm extremely proud of my profession: it looks as if we're rising to the challenge of documenting the impact of AIDS on American life and culture. At the same time, I'm profoundly sobered. Some of these records document human decency and the manner in which activism and scientific innovation have made HIV/AIDS a less stigmatized and much more manageable disease, at least within the First World; there are lots and lots of HIV+ people who can reasonably expect to lead long, active, and rewarding lives, and for that I am deeply grateful. However, other records listed below chronicle hysteria, prejudice, and, of course, the untimely deaths of people both prominent and obscure. In some respects, this list is a butcher's bill.

As the documentary record of the impact of HIV/AIDS grows, let's hope that an ever-increasing percentage of the records chronicle the development of improved treatments, the increasing availability of those treatments to people in less affluent nations, and the rise of effective prevention programs that reduce the need for treatment in the first place.

California State Archives
California State University, Dominguez Hills
Cornell University, Human Sexuality Collection
Foundation of New York State Nurses, Bellevue Alumnae Center
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society
Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, CA)
Kansas City (Mo.) Public Library
Minnesota Historical Society
New York Public Library
(Manuscripts and Archives Division, Humanities Library, unless otherwise noted)
New York University
Northeastern University
ONE Gay and Lesbian Archives
San Francisco Public Library
San Jose State University
University at Albany, SUNY

University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, San Francisco
University of Chicago, Special Collections
Yale University, Manuscripts and Archives