New England Archivists (Fall 2016)

By gkur

Trees and fall foliage in the garden at the Yiddish Book Center

The New England Archivists fall meeting took place Friday, Oct. 14 in Amherst, MA. It was a great excuse to get out to western Massachusetts and enjoy some leaf peeping. Route 202 was absolutely gorgeous, and there were at least two times that I had to slow down for someone talking photos from their car. Leaf peepers!

The symposium was about as nice as the drive out. It was held at the Yiddish Book Center on Hampshire College campus. I would recommend everyone go out and visit, they have plenty of parking, some very interesting exhibitions, a lovely garden, and many old Yiddish books to buy as well as a gift store.

The theme of the conference was “Bridging the Gaps” and focused on addressing “ways in which we as a profession can reach across the divides between archives and our stakeholders through augmenting outreach and expanding access to our materials.”

NEA Fall 2016 program 2

One of the big themes that emerged was the expectations of younger patrons. They are expecting transparency and digital access. Another theme was the importance of human interaction. We heard about this in relation to collecting materials from donors who weren’t sure who would ever want to read an old Yiddish book, to creating outreach events connecting middle-schoolers in Lawrence, MA with local history materials and a Harvard professor, and the importance of going to where your potential users and donors are as in the case of taking archival materials to alumni events at Norwich University.

There were two speakers from the Perkins School for the Blind that focused on access issues when it comes to visual impairments. These had a lot
Source: Greta Suiter  

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Maps, Walls, and Digital Public History

By Mills

This coming fall I’m teaching a new course: History of the Appalachian Trail. As envisioned, the class is going to be many things at once (which is likely a structural problem). It is a conventional history of one of America’s longest national parks, it is a chance to introduce students to the basics of digital public history, and it is a chance for me to connect my avocation (long distance backpacking) with my vocation (educator, historian).

Today I want to focus on just one part of the course — the part that in some ways I’m the most excited about. Across the hallway from my office is a long, blank, pale blue wall. When I say long, I mean 82 feet long with not one thing on it except a thermostat sort of a small plastic box. This blank wall has bugged me for years, because we’re a university for goodness sake, and such a wall should be covered with student art, or history student research posters, or SOMEthing besides pale blue paint. Now I’m glad no one ever thought to do any of that stuff with what I now think of as “my wall,” because it is going to become the canvas for my students.

For their final projects, students in the class are going to create an Omeka exhibit for the website I’m developing (no formatting yet, so don’t judge) on the history of the Appalachian Trail. But they are also going to paint the Trail onto my wall. And yes, before you ask, I have permission from the powers that be in facilities to do that. Given that the wall is 82 feet long and the Trail is 2,190 miles long (this year), that works out to a scale of around 27 miles: 1 foot. That
Source: Edwired  

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4cs Houston 2016

By gkur


Overall the 4Cs was a great experience. I learned a lot, and there were way too many sessions that I wanted to go to than I possibly could.

Click image below to go to Storify account of 4Cs.

Source: Greta Suiter  

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Eat Your Brussels Sprouts!

By Mills

When I was a child, I knew that if a Brussels sprout passed my lips, one of two things would happen — I’d vomit, or I’d die. Unfortunately for me, my mother loved Brussels sprouts and so they showed up on my dinner plate far, far too often. Because she had a “sit at your place until you clean your plate” rule, and our cats wouldn’t eat vegetables I  dropped on the floor, I spent many nights sitting at that damned dinner table until it was time to go to bed.

Spinach? I hated it, but could force it down. Collards? They were worse, but I could force them down too. Limas? Peas? Loved them! But Brussels sprouts was where I drew the line.

Ultimately my mother gave up and just made me peas on the nights she cooked Brussels sprouts for herself and my father (who secretly loathed peas). Sometime in my twenties I had to eat a Brussels sprout and lo and behold, it was delicious. Who knew? We eat them often at my house, but never once have I forced one of my children to eat them. They’ll find there way to Brussels sprouts on their own. Or not. Either way, it will be up to them.

I’m sorry to report that our approach to general education in American higher education is just like my mother’s approach to vegetables at dinner — Eat them, kid. They’re good for you! And you can’t leave the table (graduate) until you DO eat them. Why? Because I’m the Dad and I said so, that’s why.

For years I’ve been railing about the state of general education in American higher education. [See for instance, two of my personal favorites from 2008: Why the Apparatchiks Would Have Loved General Education, and Milo Minderbinder University.]
Source: Edwired  

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My Students’ Take on PowerPoint

By Mills

As I do every semester in my course The Digital Past, yesterday I asked my students what drives them crazy about how their faculty members use PowerPoint and other slideware in class. Herewith, their litany of complaint:

  • The inclusion of random slides that don’t seem to pertain to what the professor is discussing
  • Slides with links that then don’t get followed
  • Shared slides with links that are broken
  • Professors standing in front of the screen and reading the text on their slides
  • Graphics that aren’t, or are not sufficiently, explained
  • Graphics that are so small you can’t make sense of the data on them
  • Slides that are out of order and the professor jumps up and down the sequence trying to find the one he/she wants to show
  • Too many slides (One student said she had a one hour lecture with 65 slides. Really?)
  • Too much text on the slides, or alternatively, a slide with just one bullet
  • Bizarre color choices (One student had a class that was all red text on a black background. Yikes!)
  • Bizarre font choices, or fonts that don’t fit with the topic at hand
  • Uncorrected slides — “Oops, I made an error there, let me take a few minutes to fix it while you watch.”
  • Slides that mimic or simply copy what is in the textbook
  • Professors who move way to quickly through their slides, especially at the end of class
  • Slides that are not used to generate discussion or thinking — are seemingly there for informational purposes only
  • Slides that are not posted or shared with students
  • Seemingly random photographs
  • Slides with seemingly random information
  • Slides with typos in the text

So, dear colleague, be warned that if you do any of these things when using slideware in your classes, you are probably annoying the hell out of your students.

Source: Edwired  

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Caleb Neelon’s spring NEA keynote

By gkur


I attended the spring New England Archivists conference on Friday 4/1. Here is a summary of thoughts from the keynote address by Caleb Neelon.

I was looking forward to hearing Caleb Neelon speak to a room of archivists. First off because I’m familiar with and excited about his mural work in Fitchburg, MA (my hometown!) and second because I was curious what an outsider to the archives field would bring to an archival conference.

Caleb Neelon, Fitchburg mural, 2014 (image from Neelon’s website)

How did a graffiti/street artist become a keynote speaker at an archivists conference? I assume it has to do with the younger generation leading the spring conference programming committee.

How would he relate to archivists? Well, he focused on the sharing of information among graffiti artists in the 1990s. And he talked about gathering primary sources from graffiti artists for the purpose of writing the book The History of American Graffiti. Both of these activities are of interest to archivists because it explains how a group networked and how the primary sources from that group were created, shared, saved, and eventually published.

Like many networks of artists, hobbyists, collectors, musicians, and even professional groups, the graffiti artists Neelon talked about were connected through a shared activity and then a sharing of information about that activity. Neelon explained that every group of young graffiti artist wannabes in the 1990s read the same 3 books – some of the only sources with published images of graffiti – and they all shared information with other graffiti artists in other locales through zines, that got traded and mailed around the world. It was a network of like-minded, creative, and young individuals writing about, and taking pictures of, their work and the
Source: Greta Suiter  

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The Reality of College Admissions

By Mills

Tomorrow is April 1.

How fitting that newspapers across the United States will run stories about Melissa, or Johnny, or Tong, or Razan, getting into some ultra-selective college or other. We’ll hear all about how the “America’s Top Colleges” just keep getting more selective as application numbers soar higher and higher and admit rates fall farther and farther. Relief will be palpable in the homes where a child got that coveted email saying “You’re in!”, and sadness will permeate the homes where all the emails from America’s “best colleges” say something like, “I’m sorry to inform you…”

And these stories will have about as much relevance to college admissions in America as a story about Warren Buffett’s tax bill has to me.

Here’s a fact for you. In 2015 “America’s Top Colleges,” as defined by the top 10 schools in the US News and World Report rankings of universities and of liberals arts colleges, enrolled exactly 0.8% of all undergraduate students in America.

That’s less than 1%. As in such a small number as to have no meaning.

The reality of college admissions in America is that (according to the U.S. Department of Education) there are around 20,000,000  students enrolled attending some college or other and the vast, vast majority of them attend non-selective or barely selective institutions.

Most work more than 20 hours per week to help pay those tuition bills. A substantial fraction have no time for partying on Thursday (or Friday or Saturday) nights, because they have to get home to feed the kids or help them with their homework. An embarrassingly large number skip meals because they have to save money for tuition or are homeless. Far too many take six, seven, or even ten years to graduate because they can only take one or two classes at a time.
Source: Edwired  

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Learning by Editing

By gkur

Every edit-a-thon needs snacks.

I took part in my fourth MIT Libraries hosted Wikipedia edit-a-thon yesterday! It was a node event for the Art+Feminism themed events happening all over the world. I loved being a part of a larger community of editors; there is something comforting in knowing that you are not alone in your editing pursuits. And of course it is great to be in a room with a group of editors who are willing to help and learn from each other. I always learn something new about editing Wikipedia and about history at these events. At edit-a-thons there is always a tug between getting to know the people there, and focusing on the editing.

During the session I worked on two articles – a draft for Alisa Wells, a photographer who lived and worked in Rochester, New York and experimented with multiple exposures and found glass-plate negatives, and also Ghisha Koenig – a political left-wing artist who created sculptures of people at work in industrial settings.

The editors, busy editing

There were about 20 people who came in during the edit-a-thon, that includes library colleagues, New England Wikimedians, and MIT and other college students. Some stayed for almost the entire time, others dropped in to ask a question and then left. I think art is so important, that is it hard for me to believe there is so much art history missing from Wikipedia. It is great because it is an opportunity to get people that wouldn’t think they would be good editors to start engaging, because if they don’t get it online, no one else will.


A related thing I
Source: Greta Suiter  

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ALA midwinter 2016

By gkur


I attended my first ALA midwinter conference over the weekend. Since it was held in Boston, MIT Libraries generously sponsored one day passes for those interested in going. I chose to go on Saturday. One thing I knew about midwinter going in is that it is much more meeting focused than session focused, but I tried to do a little bit of everything including a corporate demo, an Ignite session, a featured speaker, a roundtable meeting, and of course the exhibit hall.

First thing Saturday morning was a demo of HARI discovery, a conceptual discovery approach, or a very visual way to browse resources by concepts. I love any idea that makes browsing collections easier and more visual. It sort of looks like this…

It is still being developed, but beta testing is starting this spring and then roll out later in the year. One of the things that is neat about it is that when possible it works with full text, not just the metadata. It also scalable to millions and millions of items. The hope is that it will make wading through too much information manageable. It was also said that any text could be incorporated including archival description, special collections, and image/video metadata.

Exhibits hall

After the demo I went over to the exhibits hall and starting picking up posters, bookmarks, flyers, catalogs, advanced copies of books, tote bags, pens, coasters, pins, and any other kind of swag that looked intriguing. The free stuff at ALA is legendary and it’s def. a fun time in the exhibits hall. There were also a number of pop up kind of speaker events and book signings happening all over the place.

The Ignite session was a lot
Source: Greta Suiter  

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By gkur


I attended the Northeast meeting of Code4Lib last Friday (12/4/2015) at Dartmouth College. It was my first Code4Lib anything and I had a great time. Got to hear about some interesting projects/workflows/ideas/tools from a range of careers that all have libraries in common. There were programmers, students, librarians, and archivists all in attendance and being nice to each other.

Here are the notes I took during the sessions:

Twitter: #NEcode4lib

10:15-10:45 a.m.: Alice Prael (JFK Library) and Jeff Erickson (Umass Boston) – Where to Start Implementing Digital Preservation, NDSR

Some resources:

  • Preserving (Digital) Objects w/ restricted resources – POWRR – white paper
  • North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources
  • LC Digital Preservation Outreach and Education

10:45-11:15 a.m.: Stefanie Ramsay (state library of MA) and Julie Seifert (Harvard) – Building the Digital Preservation Community, NDSR

This was sort of a call to arms to brainstorm how we could centralize all info about digital preservation – which i think is sort of impossible and these types of ideas (having lists, centralizing info) is what librarians (and others) love to do, but I feel like it usually ends up being just another place people have to look. That being said, i’ve found email digests to be the most pleasant and direct way for me to get info. I signed up for Miriam Posner’s News and Information from the UCLA Digital Humanities Program emails and I think it gives a pretty good view of what’s happening in the world of DH. Also professional listservs sort of do this. But it all comes down to who is participating and how much people are participating. It is a nice idea and thought, but i can’t really envision the answer.


  • how to continue conversations after conferences, across distances
  • current landscape – conferences, listservs, social media (twitter), blogs, wikis
  • problem with platforms – lose track, lose
    Source: Greta Suiter  
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