I am a recent graduate of the public history graduate program at Rutgers University. I currently serve as the digital media coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities, where I wrangle bloggers and tackle our social media platforms.
In the last two years I've created an oral history database using StoriesMatter for the Salem County Historical Society, collected data on school group attendance for the education department at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I've digitized the Balch Institute Ethnic Images in Advertising Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I volunteer at the Alice Paul Institute in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey and the Digital Center at HSP.
In my spare time I am often silly and irreverent.
At some point, I really must stop working for free. After six whirlwind weeks in Cleveland at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I’ve started another internship at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. There isn’t much to say at this point except that I’m hard at work in the Digital Center, scanning images and taking names. Or more properly, scanning images and making digital records. I’ve only spent a few hours behind the wheel (so to speak), and quite a bit of that was spent in training mode. I also have to wait for the back-end information to update on the front-end. After one full day at HSP exactly ONE of my scans showed up on the digital site.
I am overjoyed. It is there. I did that.
In other not entirely unrelated news, THATCamp Philly looms on the horizon. Last year I had to bail early and I still learned a lot, so this year, I expect to be woozy from the learning.
Never been to a THATCamp? Why not? You do not have to be a digital humanities whiz, you just have to be passionate about the humanities and interested in working with digital whizzes (that’s unfortunate terminology right there) to get the meat of public humanities out into the public. It is about collaboration and the exchange of ideas. Also, there are snacks.
It just hit me today that I’m starting my internship at the Rock Hall in THREE weeks. I just have to get through this last course (Historical Archaeology) and then I can hightail it to Cleveland for six weeks of Music and History and Museum craziness.
I’m not sure I’ll make it.
This is me, pondering not making it. Yes, silly faces are necessary.
Adventures in Interning: Week 4
Saturday was the official end date for my internship at SCHS. My last week was sort of hit or miss. I added a introduction and table of contents to the manual, and a brief spiel on the top of the record keeping page. Initially, I wasn’t going to worry about it, but realized that without some kind of introduction, the manual didn’t do everything I wanted it to. It laid out a process but it didn’t engage on any level with the volunteer. I’m still not one hundred percent sure that I fulfilled my goal, but it’s better.
The problem I had in writing the introduction was that I had no basis of comparison. I asked about other volunteer documents/training materials and was told “that would be a good idea.” It meant creating something new for SCHS. Conversely, this isn’t anything new. Volunteer guides and training materials exist. I will forever compare the fruits of my labor with other, better written, better prepared documents.
While this could be a bad thing, forever regretting what I didn’t include, and wincing at awkward sentences, it is ultimately a good thing. I’m experienced enough to know that we often learn best by doing. The things we omit or get wrong can be amended in our future endeavors. Were I charged with writing documents for volunteers again, I think I’d try to create a wider base of supporting material.
Of course, that way can be dangerous too. Everything that I read prior to penning the manual warned against too many words, too many documents, and being too serious. Still, I think it behooves organizations to have a clear idea of what they need/want from volunteers. It can’t hurt for volunteers to really know what the organization needs/wants and why.
The flip side to this is that institutions have to be prepared for volunteers who have their own needs. They have skill sets. They have likes and dislikes. Ellen Cochran Hirzy’s book Transforming Museum Volunteering: A Practical Guide for Engaging 21st Century Volunteers makes this point repeatedly. According to her statistics more people than ever are interested in volunteering, but are more likely to maintain a volunteer relationship with institutions only if THEIR desires are met. This means making intelligent pairings between institutional need and volunteer. It also means valuing what a volunteer brings to the table.
I would also direct anyone to the Australian Guide for Training Volunteers (part A & B). Lewis Hughes presents questions at each turn that challenges readers to look frankly at their institutions and figure out what they really want. The second part is a toolkit, full of charts and questionnaires. They were interesting and I could see their usefulness, but I found that using them in tandem with my manual was next to impossible. They are meant to be actively used. I was not in that position.
You can find part A here:
You can find part B here:
I’m sure I’ll post my over-the-top, graduate school required blog at some point, but at this moment, I’m simply glad I’m done. It was interesting and I’m grateful for the experience, but if I would have sat at the folding table, in front of that misbehaving laptop one more day, I might just have screamed.
All of my paperwork is submitted. Project? Done (and expanded, because that’s just how I roll). Site evaluation? Done (and emailed in a timely fashion, also how I roll). Promises to go BACK to SCHS? Made (and not regretted, although I’m hoping I get a week off).
See, they sucked me in. There is this nifty rodeo in Salem County, New Jersey called Cowtown. I must write about Cowtown. How can I not write about a place named Cowtown? Every single time I think about writing a Cowtown paper, I hear, “I’m going down to Cowtown, the cows are friends to me…” Thanks to you TMBG, I’m going down to Cowtown, to do research for free… There is no escape.
My first thought at sitting down to write this journal is: The computer at Salem County is driving me crazy. I guess this is just something that happens. Sometimes it won’t connect to the network, meaning I can’t access Stories Matter. Sometimes it won’t connect to the internet, which is only bothersome when I’m trying to research a place name or spelling. Sometimes it pretends that it doesn’t have Adobe Premier Elements, and at one point, it had convinced itself that it couldn’t open Microsoft Word. We’ve run the anti-virus program, and it says everything is great, but I have my doubts.
Maybe the society is haunted after all. In reality, the society is strapped for cash, at least in some areas. Technology changes, programs update and pretty soon, the computer doesn’t run as fast as it used to. I made a note in the manual I’m writing that computers are not perfect. I wrote this so that the people using Premier Elements and Stories Matter wouldn’t panic if files didn’t convert correctly, or if suddenly all the work they did disappeared. I just remind myself of this every time I have to do something over. Every time I have to restart the computer. Every time I have to reinstall a program that disappeared.
1. Finished a rough draft of the processes manual.
2. Clipped and tagged four interviews.
3. Tried out my processes manual on the Librarian at SCHS
4. Finalized the design/style of the finding aid.
5. Some PastPerfect Musings
Rough Draft: The rough draft of the manual is decent. I am pairing the instructions with screen caps of some of the more confusing steps. It makes the document a little long (fourteen pages), but I hope the images will be helpful and not distracting. At first, I was just putting things in, writing down the process, taking a screenshot and putting it together. I did this so I wouldn’t forget a step. That’s all well and good, but of course, it was messy. So I spent a little time fixing it up, centering the images, making sure that the images I used were even necessary. I tend to get overexcited (some may say crazy) when I make these kinds of processes. Sure enough, I had way too many images. It made the manual completely unmanageable, or at least unwieldy.
Clipping and Tagging: I know I’ve talked about this process a lot, so I’m not going into too much depth here. The reason I was able to get through so many interviews is that these were quite short. The full video that I upload to Stories Matter is usually edited by the director before I even see it. She shaves off the “uhs” and “ums” and the chunks of dead air. Sometimes the videos cut mid-word. I don’t quite know what to make of that. When I talked to the librarian, I told her that this could lead to researchers asking for the “real” video. Sarah still has those. Well, she has most of them. One of the videos was lost after she edited it. As a result, SCHS has but two minutes and forty seconds of this woman’s interview. This is one of those “computers are not perfect” moments. For some reason, the interview disappeared, never making it on to a disc. I have no idea what happened.
Training the librarian: I printed out the manual for Beverly, and sat her down at the computer. I gave her a brief rundown of the process and the different programs she would be using. Then we started. I was trying to get her to pick up the mouse and DO the actions, because she’d said she learned better by doing. She was hesitant however, so some things I had to do first as she followed on the document. She tricked me you see. This wasn’t helping me to figure out if my manual worked at all! So eventually I just left the mouse where it was, staring pointedly at it until she jumped in. She was fine. Of course she was fine. I had to reassure her a few times that nothing disastrous would happen, and nothing disastrous happened. I found a few trouble spots in the manual, and made notes on my copy. We talked at some length about organization and she gave me some great direction.
Finding Aid: Initially the director wanted a two-part finding aid; one by interviewee and one by topic. The first portion went well, I made a list of the interviewees (first, last), cut and pasted their tags into the document, alphabetized them, put in a running time and title for each clip and called it good. The second one was difficult. There are a lot of topics in these videos, how do you even begin to get them all? I was going to pick 15-20 topics for each interviewee, but really, how different was that going to be from the first section? The tag cloud in Stories Matter really does function this way, and I couldn’t figure out how to transfer that to paper without losing my mind. I kept putting it off because it wasn’t logical, and I didn’t see a solution. Luckily, Beverly gave me a solution. Don’t do it. She realized almost instantly how foolish it was to make a topics based finding aid when Stories Matter is right there. I could have hugged her. She did request that we shift from the first name/last name format. I had no problem with that, and spent about ten minutes changing the names in Stories Matter, the finding aid and even in the document files. If it makes it easier for her to use, that’s what matters. I also added in the rest of the names and full video running times for the unfinished videos. So long as the document is updated regularly, it will show what interviews exist, which have been clipped and tagged and which have not.
PastPerfect: When I began this project, it was assumed I would be accessioning the videos into PastPerfect. After working with the program, it became painfully obvious that I didn’t have the time to do this. Yes, I can research but I’d be starting from scratch. Beverly is local, the society librarian, and an independent researcher. She knows this information in ways that I do not. She will be putting that information in.
I’m conflicted. I don’t like admitting that I don’t know something. I don’t like admitting that I am not in a position to learn something. This is actually my only complaint about this entire process. I’ve done one thing. I feel I’ve done it well. I also know I can do more. I have to remind myself that this is not my job and that the expectations for an internship, while substantial, are not the same expectations for a paying job.
Salem County Historical Society- Week Two
I returned to SCHS only to find that the laptop I’d been using to upload videos caught a nasty virus and had to be reformatted. Sarah (the director) and I searched that laptop, but to no avail. The videos still existed as I had formatted them, but Stories Matter was gone. With the database gone, all the work I’d done was also gone.
Despite losing a week’s worth of work, I was surprisingly nonchalant about it. There are a couple of reasons for this. 1. What am I going to do, have a melt-down over something I cannot control? How counter productive. 2. We were planning on changing our approach to the database anyway, so all I really lost was a handy reference for the tag cloud. 3. I just came off of a four week vacation. It is really hard to get uptight after that.
Before I left the country, I posted an entry about my internship at SCHS. I expected to keep pondering my duties, expanding on ideas, and maybe even updating here. Oh foolish hopes. That’s not to say I wasn’t pondering or expanding, I just wasn’t really coming up with anything I could justifiably write down. I did manage to get through the majority of my reading list, discovering along the way that articles published by the American Archivist are not necessarily meant for the average historian.
The two articles, “Long Term Preservation of Digital Records: Trustworthy Digital Objects,” and “Modes of Seeing: Digitized Photographic Archives and the Experienced User” often left my head spinning. It wasn’t the theories that I struggled with, but the professional jargon. It made me consider professionalism in general, how the language of a profession might validate the profession, but how it can just as easily make it so untouchable, so incomprehensible that it becomes a parody of itself. The article on digitized photographs was particularly troublesome, since the author considered experienced but nonacademic users in archives, but each was college educated and nearly every one was connected in some way with a major institution. I believe the subjects were chosen because each was undertaking a major research project at the Library of Congress archives. Still, I wonder what could have been gained by expanding the study pool. How else are these photos being used? To what “nonacademic” uses are the photographs being put?
I try to cope with the fact that no article will answer all my questions and will usually just lead me to asking more. I switched to reading books on volunteerism and volunteer management.
I had emailed Sarah Hagarty (director of SCHS) before I left (see the earlier post) about some ideas I had regarding the oral history archive. She responded that, after speaking with the librarian Beverly Carr-Bradway, that uploading the full videos into Stories Matter and then clipping them out and tagging them seemed more logical. The full videos will be accessioned into PastPefect, the shorter clips referenced there. Despite the amount of work I did before this revelation that is largely contrary to this development, I am happy with the outcome. It will be less work in the long run. Many of the clips I was uploading before I left were too short to provide real context and some were doubled or even tripled in longer clips. It will make PastPerfect entries more manageable and I think, make creating a finding aid easier. The tech nerd in my questions the need for a hard copy finding aid at all, seeing as how Stories Matter has good search functions, the tag cloud and a fairly good welcome screen for each project. I do understand however that the staff at SCHS knows their researcher base and community users much better than I ever will. They remain, I believe, dedicated to some kind of hard copy finding aid. If we are careful to create full biographical sketches of each interviewee and abstracts of each clip, I think that info could be cut/pasted into a good finding aid. I still have to run that by Sarah and Beverly however. Who knows, in three weeks, that might not seem like a good idea anymore.
My other questions:
How long will each clip be? The interviewees were asked questions specific to farming, family and innovation, and there is a good amount of bleed-through between questions. Can I really clip out by question or am I just going to make an approximation? I think flexibility is key, realizing that the tag cloud will help as will an abstract or summary of each clip.
How can I make sure to use the tag cloud function for good and not evil? I think there is a real danger in tagging too much, making it too distracting or diffuse to be of real use to researchers.
And of course, how am I going to write a manual for other people to use? This one weighs heavily on me, as I realize I have experience training people face-to-face, but no experience developing my own materials. Exciting and frightening. Mostly exciting.
I start back on Tuesday, for week two of my grand adventure in interning.
Salem County Historical Society I should probably admit up front that my internship schedule is a bit different. My unemployed status means I have larger and regular periods of free time. As such, I will be spending only four weeks at Salem County Historical Society. To add to the confusion, I have finished my first week and am leaving the country for four weeks. When I return in July, I will finish my remaining 75 hours. Does this mean I will only be writing four blog entries? No. Just because I will not be at Salem County for the next month, I have a lot of thinking to do about the project I’m working on, which will become clear as you read on. For the benefit of any other student who may find their way to this blog, I offer up my internship proposal. Hopefully it will supply you with enough background information.
Salem County Historical Society
I should probably admit up front that my internship schedule is a bit different. My unemployed status means I have larger and regular periods of free time. As such, I will be spending only four weeks at Salem County Historical Society. To add to the confusion, I have finished my first week and am leaving the country for four weeks. When I return in July, I will finish my remaining 75 hours. Does this mean I will only be writing four blog entries? No. Just because I will not be at Salem County for the next month, I have a lot of thinking to do about the project I’m working on, which will become clear as you read on.
For the benefit of any other student who may find their way to this blog, I offer up my internship proposal. Hopefully it will supply you with enough background information.