Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Coming home to a disaster

I have a post in the works about 2011 Society of American Archivists annual meeting session 705, Theft Transparency in the Digital Age: Stakeholder Perspectives, but circumstances have forced me to shelve it for a few days.

I was away from Albany for a little more than a week, and in that time the area experienced two earthquakes -- the big one with the Virginia epicenter and a little one with an Altamont, NY epicenter -- and the after-effects of Irene. The first earthquake jolted people but didn't do any damage (at least around here) and the second one seems to have slipped by without much notice, but Irene has done horrific damage and may do still more: at the time of this writing, water levels in several New Jersey and Connecticut waterways are still rising and new evacuations have been ordered.

Eight New Yorkers -- including the wife of a former colleague -- are dead, and more than thirty people in eleven other states have lost their lives. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are still without power, and an estimated 500 homes have been destroyed. Prattsville, Maplecrest, Windham, Margaretville, and several other Catskills communities have suffered grievous damage, as have Keene and several other Adirondack communities. Flood waters entered Schenectady's Stockade District, which features homes built by Dutch settlers and their immediate descendants, and several historic neighborhoods in Troy. Roads and bridges throughout central and eastern New York are washed out or under water. The historic Blenheim Bridge in Schoharie County, which was until Sunday the longest covered bridge in the world, is among the casualties.

At present, several communities in New York and Vermont have lost all roads linking them to the outside world; the National Guard is airlifting essential supplies to several of the affected Vermont localities. Pervasive road and bridge closures make travel difficult if not impossible, and it may be weeks before anyone can truly assess the extent of the damage.

New York cultural heritage institutions affected by this disaster should be aware of the following resources:
  • The New York State Archives and New York State Library have created a special Web page that outlines the services that they can provide to libraries, state agencies, local governments, and other entities affected by Irene. The State Archives and State Library are also responsible for gathering information about disasters affecting cultural heritage institutions and can point to additional resources. Both institutions can be reached by phone or via e-mail.
  • The Library of Congress has published an online guide to recovering from floods and other water disasters; of particular note are videos showing how to clean CD's and audio and video cassettes that have been immersed in flood water.
  • Heritage Preservation has posted a 10-minute video outlining how to recover materials affected by water-based disasters and other helpful resources.
If you're an individual attempting to salvage damaged family treasures, the following resources may be helpful:
  • The Library of Congress has published a guide to salvaging and preserving family history materials affected by various types of disasters.
  • The Heritage Preservation video about recovering from floods and other water disasters contains a lot of good advice for anyone seeking to save water-damaged materials. Heritage Preservation has also compiled a handy list of links for people seeking to save family treasures damaged by disaster.
If you would like to help those affected by Irene, consider donating your money or your time to one of these reputable charitable organizations.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Practical Approaches to Born-Digital Records: Archivematica

Archivists mingle around a full-sized skeleton cast of Sue, the largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossil ever discovered, during a Society of American Archivists reception at the Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois, 26 August 2011. Sue is 42 feet (12.8 m) long and 12 feet (3.66 m) high at the hip.

I’ve always feared getting sick at the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists, and yesterday it happened. I stayed in bed and missed all of yesterday’s sessions and a section meeting. I somehow dragged myself to the last few minutes of evening reception at the Field Museum, but I felt quite like Sue, the magnificent T. rex who presided over the festivities: an empty-headed and mildly scary-looking dead thing.

I was still a bit shaky today, and I managed to miss all of this morning’s first session and part of Session 610, Practical Approaches to Born-Digital Records: What’s Coming Next, which focused on Archivematica. Archivematica is a digital preservation platform that brings together a wide array of open source anti-virus, metadata extraction, file conversion, and other tools and supports automated processing of archival electronic records. We’ve just started experimenting with Archivematica, and I really wanted to hear about other archivists’ experiences with it.

I didn’t get to hear Peter Van Garderen of Artefactual Systems discuss Archivematica’s development or plans for future enhancements and came in as Glenn Dingwall (City of Vancouver Archives) was wrapping up his presentation.

In lieu of recapping the presentations of Paul Jordan (International Monetary Fund) and Angela Jordan (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) or summarizing the question-and-answer component of this session, I’m simply going to highlight the most interesting points that arose during its second half. I think that Archivematica holds great promise, and many of the presenters and audience members were of the same opinion, so don’t let this post deter you from investigating it yourself. However, you should keep in mind that Archivematica:
  • Is not a complete digital preservation system. It creates Archival Information Packages (AIPs) that can be preserved over the long term, but it doesn’t provide for storage of these AIPs.
  • Is designed with scalability in mind. It can be run on a desktop in a small repository or on a very large server array. From a technical point of view, the chief bottlenecks limiting large-scale implementations are processing speed and capacity and limits on the time of staff needed to obtain intellectual control over the materials.
  • Will be of particular interest to small repositories; however, not all of them will be able to meet the platform’s hardware requirements or acquire the requisite technical knowledge.
  • Requires some degree of technical know-how and quite a bit of willingness to get one’s hands dirty. Archivematica requires a real or virtual Linux environment. Most archivists aren’t familiar with Linux and must be willing to learn. Moreover, the installation process isn’t as straightforward as it could be. Fortunately, Michael Bennett has written really useful installation instructions and Angela Jordan has posted about her experience; FWIW, I’ve also posted about our own installation experience.
  • May require customization. For example, the International Monetary Fund will have to do figure out how to keep classified documents that should be included in AIPs out of the Dissemination Information Packages that Archivematica creates.
  • Requires some additional development. (Given that it has yet to reach the beta stage of development, this need isn't surprising.) Session participants articulated several desired improvements that would give archivists the ability to specify which preservation/normalization formats will be employed, enable them to reinsert or otherwise deal with files or folders that Archivematica rejects, and shed light upon why the ingest process sometimes stalls. Participants also wanted to see Archivematica support creation of Submission Information Packages, improve processing of e-mail, and integrate records management.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Leather Archives and Museum

It's been a long day. I presented this morning, and ran the Government Records Section meeting this afternoon. I'm still trying to process everything that happened, so this post focuses on a repository tour that I took yesterday.

The Leather Museum and Archives, which is located in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, is a library, museum, and archives that collects materials documenting leather, fetishism, sadomasochism, and alternative sexual practices. Its collections document people of all genders and sexual orientations, and its scope is global. (Despite the impression left by the image above--yesterday was fiercely sunny--its building has four walls.)

I decided to go on this tour because I was deeply impressed by the presentation that Leather Archives and Museum executive director, Rick Storer, gave at the 2007 meeting of the Society of American Archivists' Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable. The Leather Archives and Museum was established because mainstream archival institutions weren't interested in documenting the history of the leather community, and its ongoing ties to the community are essential to its survival. At the same time, it has a small but dedicated and inventive professional staff who have successfully secured several grants and attracted volunteers and interns. It's a really good example of how to launch and sustain a small archival program and how to fill gaps in the documentary record.

The Leather Archives and Museum library, which also serves as its archival reading room, contains books, scholarly publications, and other published materials. Its pulp fiction collection, which can be seen in the above photograph, is particularly comprehensive. It also has a sizable magazine collection, but most of the titles have ceased publication: the types of information that they once contained is now disseminated via the Internet, and, like many other smaller organizations, the Leather Archives and Museum is not in a position to capture Web content or manage large quantities of digital files.

Neither the Library of Congress nor the Dewey Decimal classification systems work particularly well with the library's holdings, and as a result staff devised an in-house cataloging schema for the materials. For example, all of the "BDSM--How to and Informational" materials are grouped together . . . right under a "Read" poster featuring a member of the Chicago leather community.

It's not possible to check out library materials, but the Leather Archives and Museum will lend materials via Inter-Library Loan; to date, almost all ILL requests have come from academic institutions.

Archival collections, which are housed in a secure, climate-controlled 1, 425 cu. ft. room, include personal papers of people involved in the leather or other communities, records of leather and other organizations (the records of the Chicago Hellfire Club are visible above), and other materials; as is often the case with records of small groups, the organizational records are sometimes maintained by multiple individuals and may be transferred to the archives somewhat haphazardly. The archives also includes a sizeable vertical file documenting leather and other alternative sexuality bars and other venues throughout the United States and the rest of the world.

The museum collection contains a wide array of original erotic art and artifacts, some of which are on display in a small auditorium or in one of several exhibit halls. They document many different communities of alternative sexuality. The list of rules above was originally posed in the Mineshaft, the legendary Greenwich Village sex club that New York City health officials shut down in 1985.

This exhibit panel chronicles the emergence of the deaf leather community.

The newly created A Room of Her Own exhibit focuses on the women's leather community. Rick Storer noted that individual women and women's leather organizations have been far less forthcoming about donating materials than their male counterparts, and as a result the Leather Museum and Archives is proactively reaching out to them.

If you look closely at the above photograph, you'll note that I obliterated, none too skillfully, a few of the details in a couple of pieces of artwork depicted in it. I realize that some of my tens of readers visit this blog during the workday, and I try very hard to keep l'Archivista safe for just about everyone's workplace. My self-imposed obligation to do this highlights precisely why repositories such as the Leather Archives and Museum are so important. As one of the other tour participants noted, mainstream repositories -- particularly those that receive public funds -- are often reluctant to accept archival collections that contain any sort of erotic or sexual content. Sexuality is nonetheless an important aspect of the human experience, and if we are serious about ensuring that the documentary record is comprehensive, we need to preserve and provide access to materials that document individual sexual identity and behavior and the emergence and evolution of sexual communities. Community-based archives such as the Leather Archives and Museum are showing the rest of us how to do so.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chicago History Museum and Old Town

A few days ago, I drew up an ambitious plan for today . . . and decided this morning to put it aside in favor of exploring the city's north side.

First stop: the Chicago History Museum. I started out in its permanent Chicago: Crossroads of America exhibit, which interprets the history of Chicago and northern Illinois from the time of its settlement by Native Americans to its rise as a meat processing, industrial, and transportation center. As might be expected, the exhibit is vast and sweeping, and I really can't do it justice.

Not surprisingly, a significant portion of it focuses on the October 1871 fire that destroyed about four square miles of the city, killed more than two hundred people, and left roughly a third of the city's residents homeless. 19th century Chicago was ripe for disaster: the rapidly growing city consisted of densely packed wood-frame buildings, and many homeowners kept hay and livestock in adjacent wood-frame barns. (Contrary to popular legend, Catherine O'Leary -- whose status as an immigrant and a Catholic made her a handy scapegoat -- and her cow are not to blame for the the fire.)

The diorama above is actually located in another section of the museum, but I'm including it here because it conveys the scale of the devastation. (This diorama is one of a series that was built in the 1930s. Generations of Chicagoans have known and loved them.)

The Chicago: America at the Crossroads exhibit many artifacts from the fire, including this fused-together cluster of marbles.

Paradoxically, the fire paved the way for rapid expansion. Donations of money and supplies poured into the city, its building codes were revised, and business owners and land speculators rushed to rebuild. The city's architects pioneered the use of structural steel frames, which made it possible to build unprecedentedly tall buildings with unprecedentedly large windows -- thus helping to give modern Chicago its distinctive character.

Many of the new steel-framed buildings featured decorative terra cotta tiles that were produced in the city. Visitors are encouraged to touch this tile, which was produced by the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company.

The exhibit also highlights the labor struggles that accompanied the city's rise to industrial power. One section focuses on the Haymarket Riots, which remains one of the most serious miscarriages of justice in American history. During an anarchist-led 4 May 1886 rally protesting police violence against striking McCormick Harvesting Machine workers, someone hurled a bomb at the police line. Eight police officers and four workers died as a result, and authorities responded by arresting and trying eight people who had either helped to organize the rally or were otherwise involved in the city's anarchist organizations. Despite the absence of credible evidence tying the eight anarchists to the bomb-thrower (whose identity is still unknown), all eight were convicted and four of them were hanged.

The exhibit features fascimiles of the first and second versions of the flyers publicizing the rally; the museum's Research Center holds the originals. The original, which contains the sentence "Workingmen Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force!" was pulled at the urging of anarchist labor activist August Spies, who asserted that he would not take part in the rally if this statement appeared on the flier; the revised flier appears on the left. His insistence that the flier be revised was of little interest to prosecutors, who introduced both versions into evidence. Spies and three other Haymarket defendants were hanged on 11 November 1887 -- and became labor movement martyrs.

The exhibit also focuses on another widely known aspect of Chicago history: its reputation as a hotbed of organized crime. Throughout the 20th century, Chicago was not only home to gangsters such as Al Capone but also to a large publishing industry that sought to capitalize upon the public's appetite for lurid gangland tales -- as evidenced by this pulpy 1931 Lake Michigan Publishing Company item.

Chicago: Crossroads of America also highlights the fairs and expositions that made the city the subject of global interest. Above, a scale model of the stunning Art Deco Chrysler Motors pavillion erected for the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition.

An adjacent temporary exhibit focusing upon the city's Lincoln Park neighborhood is downright lighthearted at times -- as evidenced by the hat that Mrs. Walter Krutz created by crocheting together segments of cans of Meister Brau. The brewery that produced Meister Brau ceased operations in 1978.

Another permanent exhibit focuses on Chicago as it existed during Abraham Lincoln's lifetime. It consists chiefly of portraits of notable Chicagoans, but two haunting artifacts -- a plaster death mask of Lincoln's face and the bed upon which Lincoln died -- stand at its entrance.

I spent quite a bit of time in Out in Chicago, which focuses on the history of the city's large and varied lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. It traces the economic and social changes that made it possible for sexual orientation and gender identity to become organizing principles of people's lives, highlights LGBT individuals as varied as those created by educated and affluent settlement house women and rough-and-tumble slaughterhouse and factory workers, traces changes in conceptions of sexuality, gender, and family, and documents the emergence of LGBT social, political, and economic institutions. Photography isn't permitted in the Out in Chicago exhibit, so I can't share any of its riches with you. All I can do is encourage you to see it if you can.

After a leisurely lunch, I explored the adjacent neighborhood of Old Town on foot. Old Town was initially settled by Germans and was rebuilt after the 1871 fire gutted much of the neighborhood. For much of the twentieth century, it was home to substantial numbers of artists, hippies, and lesbians and gay men -- many of whom were gradually priced out of the neighborhood. It remains a tranquil and pleasant place.

West Eugenie Street is home to many Queen Anne townhomes -- which reminded me instantly of Albany, New York's Center Square neighborhood.

More ornate row homes at the corner of West Eugenie and Crilly Court . . .

. . . just a short distance away from modest homes that housed working-class people. These houses must have been built after the 1871 fire but before passage of the 1874 city law barring construction of wooden structures.

This little house at 350 Menomenee Street may not look like much, but it really is: it is one of the few surviving fire-relief shanties built by the Chicago Relief and Aid Society in the wake of the 1871 fire. These two-room shanties were, at a cost to the city of approximately $100 each, transported by wagon to fire-devastated lots and provided shelter for displaced homeowners. The legacy of the 1871 fire is ever-present, and sometimes it manifests itself in the most unexpected ways.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Berwyn, North Riverside, Oak Park, and Forest Park, Illinois

Yesterday, I left Albany, New York, for Chicago, Illinois, where the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) is just about to get underway. The meeting starts, at least for me, late Wednesday afternoon, and I'll be posting updates throughout the week.

We reached Chicago early this morning, and I spent my first night in the area with my friends Maggi (who traveled with me) and Heidi, who own a home in the adjacent city of Berwyn. Berwyn is filled with small but solidly constructed bungalows that originally housed the Czechs, Bohemians, Greeks, Lithuanians, Serbs, Croats, Poles, and Ukranians who worked in the slaughterhouses that were once located in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood. The city's blue-collar heritage remains strong, and established families now live alongside newer Latino, African American, and Asian American residents; lesbians and gay men of many different ethnicities have also found it a hospitable place.

It's quite evident that Maggi and Heidi's house was once owned by a slaughterhouse employee: it still has the open-air basement shower that allowed him to clean up immediately after he got home from work.

Maggi, Heidi, and I spent the day visiting several establishments in the nearby communities of North Riverside, Oak Park, and Forest Park. All of them are well off the beaten tourist path, but all of them are worth seeking out. My friends are great tour guides!

We started with a delicious (and massive) lunch at Yia-Yia's (pronounced "Yah-Yah's") Pancake House and Restaurant, which is owned by one of the Greek families that settled in the city and now gives diners the option of having tortillas instead of toast. You'll find Yia-Yia's at 2250 Harlem Avenue in the village of North Riverside, which adjoins Berwyn.

We then headed to nearby Oak Park. Frank Lloyd Wright lived here for more than a decade, and one can trace the emergence of his distinctive style in the dozens of Oak Park homes and other buildings that he designed. Wright's contributions to the community are honored by this very minimalist memorial at one entrance to Austen Gardens Park . . .

. . . which is literally a stone's throw away from the Wright-designed Frank W. Thomas House at 210 Forest Avenue. Many architectural historians regard the Thomas House as Wright's first full-fledged Prairie Style home in Oak Park.

Just around the corner from the Wright memorial and the Thomas House is the Book Table, a new and used bookstore at 1045 Lake Street. The Book Table is no Powell's, but it's just the sort of bookstore that every community should have: friendly, thoughtfully stocked, and filled with little surprises. Its visual arts, (Wright-heavy) architecture, local history, and mystery sections are particularly strong, and it's worthy of a place on anyone's Oak Park itinerary. (FYI, the Book Table's owners have penned a thoughtful response to the impending closure of the Borders bookstore chain.)

After leaving the Book Table, we headed to nearby Forest Park and visited the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor at 7347 West Madison Street. The Brown Cow makes all of its own ice cream, sherbets, sorbets, and root beer -- and offers lots of sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, and fat-free options. I can personally vouch for its coffee ice cream, which was the perfect treat on a surprisingly hot afternoon. If you're ever in Forest Park, you owe it to yourself to take a break at the Brown Cow.

The building that houses the Brown Cow was built in 1913 as a movie theater. You can still see the projectionist's booth.

If you're in Forest Park on any day other than a Monday, be sure to check out Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore at 7419 West Madison Street. Centuries and Sleuths, which just won the Mystery Writers of America's Raven Award, specializes in history, biography, and mystery books, sponsors numerous discussion groups, and is the venue of choice for mystery writers on tour. It's closed on Mondays, so we confined ourselves to checking out its comprehensive and thoughtful window display.

After leaving Centuries and Sleuths, we returned to Maggi and Heidi's house and spent a couple of hours talking and playing with two very sweet cats. I then took the "L" train to my hotel in downtown Chicago. Owing to an ongoing labor dispute in which the conference hotel is embroiled, I found alternate accommodations at the nearby Hotel 71, which has successfully settled with its employee union. (Yes, I'm aware that my not staying at the conference hotel may have financial consequences for SAA, and, yes, I'm prepared to do my part to help make SAA whole.)

So far, so good. I'm currently perched high above the Chicago River, gazing out upon the twin corncobs of Marina City; if I walk over to the window--which runs the length of my room -- and turn to the right, I have a fantastic view of the Wrigley Building.

I don't quite know what I'm going to to tomorrow -- severe storms may hit Chicago tomorrow -- but I will tell you all about it. If you're coming to Chicago, I hope you get the chance to explore the city, even if for just a few hours. If not, I hope you get to see the city some time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Landau-Savedoff: it gets worse

I omitted a disturbing fact from yesterday's post concerning the release on bond of Barry Landau and Jason Savedoff, who have been indicted on charges of stealing records from the Maryland Historical Society, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library, and the New-York Historical Society: Savedoff told prosecutors that he and Landau went to a Manhattan gym and stole the wallets of several patrons because they were looking for identification they could use when visiting repositories.

Some additional details, all of them unsettling, about Landau's bond hearing appeared in a recent Baltimore Sun article that I somehow missed last week.

First, the number of repositories that Landau preyed upon, possibly with Savedoff in tow, continues to grow: documents found in his Manhattan apartment have been traced to Swarthmore College, Columbia University, Yale University, the University of Vermont, the Smithsonian Institution, and the New York Public Library.

With the exception of Cambridge University, all of the institutions to which Landau and Savedoff have been linked are in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. However, I don't think anyone should breathe a sigh of relief just yet. Landau has spoken at venues throughout the country -- I'm reproducing and annotating the list that appears on his Web site -- and he may have made "research visits" to nearby archives while plugging his book at:
  • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
  • President Benjamin Harrison Home in Indianapolis, Indiana, 30 September 2010
  • Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Birthplace in New York City (as noted above and in other posts, documents in Landau's Manhattan apartment have been traced to the New-York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, and Columbia University)
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York (the federal indictment against Landau and Savedoff accuses them of stealing seven signed speeches from the library in December 2010 and selling four of them for $35,000)
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas, November 2007
  • Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, December 2007. (Director Timothy Naftali has publicly stated that Landau did not visit the Nixon Library research room.)
  • Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 14 November 2007
  • George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas
  • William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas, 12 March 2008
  • Cuyahoga County Public Library, Fairview Branch in Fairview, Ohio, 3 March 2008 (Landau's site lists this engagement as the "Cleveland Public Library," which serves the City of Cleveland. The Cuyahoga County Public Library system serves the surrounding suburbs.)
  • Dallas Public Library in Dallas, Texas, 5 February 2008
  • Des Moines Public Library in Des Moines, Iowa
  • Denver Public Library in Denver, Colorado, 25 February 2008
  • State Historical Society of Iowa in Des Moines, Iowa, 23-24 October 2008
  • Iowa Historical Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa
  • Googleplex in Mountain View, California, 25 February 2009
  • Madison Historical Society in Madison, Connecticut, 17 July 2008
  • New Canaan Public Library in New Canaan, Connecticut
  • St. Louis Public Library in St. Louis, Missouri, 10 March 2008
  • Westport Public Library in Westport, Connecticut, 15 October 2008
  • Book Hampton in Southampton, New York
  • Borders Books in New York City
  • Borders Books in Washington, DC (documents in Landau's apartment have been traced to the Smithsonian Institution)
  • Borders Books, Philadelphia (Landau and Savedoff visited the Historical Society of Pennsylvania -- and aroused staff suspicions -- seventeen times in recent months)
  • R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut
  • East Village Books in Des Moines, Iowa
Second, a fake ID in the name of "Christopher McGovern" was found in Landau's apartment. Jason Savedoff apparently used the aliases "Jason James" and "Justin Ward" on various occasions, and one has to be open to the possiblity that Landau used aliases that have yet to come to light. I have the ugly feeling that many, many repositories are going to have to check their registration logs every time a new alias or set of aliases comes to light.

And on a more surreal note: Landau was one of the witnesses whose testimony supported Studio 54 co-owner Steve Rubell's claims that Hamilton Jordan, White House Chief of Staff under Jimmy Carter, did cocaine at the club in 1978. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration holds the records of Special Prosecutor Arthur Christy, who investigated Rubell's claims, and it has made the finding aid, in which Landau's name appears several times, available online.

Several years ago, Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo wrote an excellent book, Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art, that details how a charming, socially prominent, and seemingly well-to-do Englishman named John Drewe passed off forged paintings to unsuspecting collectors. In order to obscure his tracks, Drewe visited several museum archives in Great Britain, stole records that would have exposed the ersatz provenance of the forgeries, and inserted bogus records that supported his claims. Salisbury and Sujo concluded that Drewe, who was ultimately brought down by a suspicious Tate Gallery archivist, was a fascinating but profoundly empty mix of narcissist and sociopath.

I have the feeling that Barry Landau's life and career are the foundation for one heck of a book. I'm not going to write it, but I'm sure looking forward to reading it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Barry Landau and Jason Savedoff are free on bond

Presidential historian Barry Landau addresses the staff of Google -- and flubs some facts about the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and Presidential recordkeeping -- as part of the Authors@Google program, Mountain View, California, 25 February 2009. Does anything about this man -- his face, his voice, his mannerisms -- seem familiar to you? If so, start checking your registration logs and reviewing your security videos.

On 9 July,
Barry Landau, a noted collector of Presidential ephemera and author of The President's Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Diplomacy, and his research associate, Jason Savedoff, were arrested after staff at the Maryland Historical Society observed Savedoff take an historical document, conceal it in a portfolio, and remove it from the research room. The Baltimore Police discovered approximately 60 documents in a locker assigned to Savedoff.

The arrest of Landau and Savedoff sparked an investigation into their activities and a sweeping search of Landau's apartment. A host of disturbing things came to light:
  • Savedoff was apprehended in a Maryland Historical Society restroom and was flushing a document down a toilet as he was taken into police custody.
  • Only some of the documents in Savedoff's locker were held by the Maryland Historical Society. Others are the property of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Connecticut Historical Society, and Vassar College.
  • Investigators found a 1780 letter from Benjamin Franklin to John Paul Jones in Landau's apartment. The letter is owned by by the New-York Historical Society.
  • Landau and Savedoff visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library, which is part of the NARA system, in December 2010 and allegedly stole signed copies of seven speeches that Roosevelt delivered. Four of the speeches were later sold to a New York dealer for $35,000.
  • While a guest at the home of Betty Currie, President Bill Clinton's former secretary, Landau may have taken a book of speeches bearing Clinton's signature.
  • Landau's claims of working for various Presidents -- including claims made in the Authors@Google speech embedded above -- are, in all likelihood, exaggerations or outright falsehoods.
On 28 July, Landau and Savedoff, who also face state charges, were indicted on charges relating to the theft of materials from the Maryland Historical Society, Roosevelt Presidential Library, and the New-York Historical Society. Savedoff, a dual Canadian-U.S. national, was released on bond in late July, but Landau remained in federal custody while investigators combed through the masses of ephemera in his Manhattan apartment.

Last Friday, a Federal court judge allowed Landau to post bond and return to his home -- provided that he submits to electronic monitoring, does not use the Internet, does not sell any assets without first securing approval to do so, and cannot have any contact with cultural heritage institutions or his co-defendant.

At the hearing, prosecutors noted that they found a vast array of other questionable items in his apartment. They have traced over 200 of them to repositories in five states and Washington, D.C., and possibly, Cambridge University. Many others are, in the words of a prosecutor, "
not the kind of things that are accessible — legally accessible — on the open market": letters written by Napoleon Bonaparte, Marie Antoinette, Sir Issac Newton, Ludwig von Beethoven, and a host of prominent scientists, artists, inventors, writers, and political leaders.

If Landau is indeed guilty -- the evidence is damning -- we may be looking at a criminal career that spans decades and continents. Dozens of repositories may ultimately find that they have been victimized. All of us should be mindful of the possibility that other smiling, cupcake-bearing career criminals may be out there . . . and that they may visit our own institutions sometime soon.

Given that providing access to our holdings is one of our core responsibilities, keeping our holdings 100 percent safe from theft is never possible. However, there are lots of things that we can do to discourage casual thievery and insure that the more determined criminals get caught, and you might want to check out the following resources:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What do you see?

At first glance, there's nothing particularly ominous or significant about the above image. It looks like a random 1980s snapshot of some guy in cheesy 1980s clothes . . . being a tourist? Making fun of tourists? Making fun of himself for being a tourist?

The man depicted in this photograph was actually employed by the East German secret police, commonly known as the Stasi. The photograph itself is one of a series of photographs in the Stasi archives, which are now open to the public, documenting an "art of disguising" course for Stasi employees who spied on their fellow citizens. These images are featured in "Pictures from the Secret Stasi Archives," a new Berlin exhibit by artist Simon Menner.

The image above may seem risible, but it's really not: among other things, the Stasi imprisoned and executed dissidents and spied on millions of ordinary people. The "art of disgusing" photographs, a sampling of which Der Spiegel has made available, are accompanied by dozens of photographs that Stasi personnel took while clandestinely searching the homes of their fellow citizens -- so that they would be able to put everything back in place before they left.

In 1992, citizens of the former East Germany were granted the right to view their own files; to date, almost 2.75 million people have done so. At present, 1,800 German government employees are responsible for caring for the archives and reconstituting records that Stasi employees shredded as their world collapsed in 1989.

Look again at the above photograph. Now that you know about the circumstances that led to its creation, what do you see? Do you enjoy looking at it? Are you glad that you can look at it?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Help support diversity in the archival profession

Remember the Spontaneous Scholarships that Kate Theimer over at ArchivesNext started? Well, 94 generous people stepped up to the plate, and 26 happy archivists will have their Society of American Archivists (SAA) Annual Meeting registration fees covered as a result.

My esteemed colleague Terry Baxter over at Beaver Archivist has come up with an equally innovative way to direct donations to SAA's Mosaic Scholarship, which provides financial and mentoring support to minority students enrolled in graduate archival education programs: if SAA receives $1000 in Mosaic Scholarship contributions by 26 August, Terry will, with the help of select donors, shave off his luxuriant beard.

As Terry explains on Beaver Archivist, the more you give, the more you get:
  • $any amount – listing on [Beaver Archivist] as a supporter of a more diverse archival profession
  • $25 – all of the above, and your choice from Terry’s Bag o’ Ephemera; come see me and I’ll hook you up. If you’re not at SAA Chicago, send me an email at terryx66 [at] tmail.com and an address and I’ll mail you my choice. Shipping and handling included!
  • $50 – all of the above and a picture of you, with the Beaver Archivist, on a special Facebook album dedicated just to diversity superstars. You can even hold the SAA chico bag if you want. If you’re not in Chicago, email me a head shot. I’ll photoshop something up.
  • $100 – all of the above and snip the beard! You get a pair off scissors and the opportunity for mayhem. Who can resist that? Must be present or willing to authorize proxy snipper.
  • $500 – all of the above and party with the Beav! An all expense paid weekend (transportation not included!) at the Beaver Den. Explore Portland’s food carts and microbrews. Take in a show. Sit on the fire escape while enjoying a tasty adult beverage and watching the lights of Portland. All on the Beaver Archivist’s dime. Tail-slapping optional.
I know times are pretty tough these days, but if you're in a position to do so, please help support this beautiful coming together of archives, diversity, and tonsorial practice. Make a donation to the Mosaic Scholarship via the SAA Web site or mail a check (be sure to note that you're donating to the Beaver Archivist's Mosaic campaign!) to SAA at 17 North State Street, Suite 1425, Chicago, IL 60602-4061.

Union label, Associated Master Barbers of America, 1938. Image courtesy of the New York State Archives. New York (State). Dept. of State. Union Label Registration Application Files, ca. 1901-1943. Series 12979-79, Box 3, Folder 9, No. 148.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Call for Proposals: Best Practices Exchange 2011

As a member of the 2011 Best Practices Exchange Program Committee, I am delighted to bring you the following announcement -- and I hope to see you in in the Bluegrass State this fall!

The sixth annual Best Practices Exchange (BPE) will be held at the Hyatt Regency in Lexington, Kentucky, from 20-22 October 2011. The BPE focuses on the management of digital information in state government, and it brings together librarians, archivists, information technology professionals, and other practitioners to discuss their real-world experiences, including best practices and lessons learned.

Following the format of past Best Practices Exchanges, the 2011 Program Committee encourages you, the attendees, to present your projects and experiences, successes, failures and lessons learned. This year's conference has four broad tracks. Each track is enumerated below,
along with a list of themes embraced by each track. We ask that potential speakers be guided, but not limited, by the themes indicated.

Each session will be 90 minutes long with two or more speakers per session. We ask that you keep presentations to 10-15 minutes to allow for discussion and engagement with the audience.

Proposals should include an abstract of 100 words or less, the proposed track (if applicable), and the name, title, email, phone number and organization of each presenter. You may submit a proposal for one speaker, which will then be paired with others by the Program Committee, or a proposal for a full session with multiple speakers (please contact and confirm the other speakers prior to submission.)

For more information about proposals, please see the Presentations page on the BPE 2011 Web site.

1) Access: Online access; should everything be accessible; FOIA/Open Records issues; legal issues with access

2) Sustainability: Budget/funding issues; technology (IT consolidation, lack of IT support); life after the grant; evaluation, statistics, and user feedback.

3) Digital Projects: Lessons learned; what worked and what didn't; solutions; new tools or services

4) Collaboration and Community: Support groups and user communities; shared services; user services; library/archives crossovers

Proposals are due by September 15, 2011. Please send all session proposals to Mark Myers, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, at mark.myers[at]ky.gov

The hotel cost will be $139/night and conference registration will be $125. Registration information will be posted to the BPE Web site soon.

Be sure to friend the new BPE Facebook page!