Meet Sarah Burke Cahalan, Director of the Marian Library at the University of Dayton

by Emilia D’Agostino Pisani

The Marian Library is celebrating its 75th anniversary with events and exhibits throughout 2018. Events inspired by the Library’s rich musical holdings, feature a concert of medieval music interpreted for women’s voices and an early-music ensemble performance. An exhibit will document the history of the Marian Library honoring the founders’ vision and all of those who have served the Library. Another exhibit will feature materials from the Middle Ages to the present that will draw students and faculty from many disciplines throughout the University as well as theologians and scholars from around the world.

In 2016, Cahalan became the Director of the Marian Library that was established in 1943. The Marian Library and International Marian Research Institute (IMRI)  is a key component of the consortium of libraries at the University of Dayton; a Catholic university in Ohio that was founded in 1850 by the Society of Mary.

Cahalan realized she wanted to be a librarian while working in Harvard’s Weissman Preservation Center. She studied Folklore and Mythology as an undergraduate student.  After receiving her MSLIS from Simmons and a MA from the Courtauld Institute, she worked as a librarian at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington D C for about five years. She enjoyed public librarianship outreach opportunities and community engagement. She wasn’t actively looking for a new job when she saw the Marian Library posting. It looked intriguing, so she investigated further and decided to apply for the position.

Being Catholic informed Cahalan’s interest in the Marian Library but, she doesn’t feel that one has to be Catholic to work with Catholic collections. Rather, what matters is an interest in engaging with the tradition. She sees so much of the human experience in the collection, such as holy cards that are worn with use and garden plans devoted to the Virgin Mary. The Library also acquires materials from traditions beyond the Catholic experience, for example, documenting the frequent appearance of the Virgin Mary in the Quran.

Cahalan is a tenured faculty member who reports jointly to the Dean of University Libraries. She is responsible for strategic planning, budgeting, marketing and administration of the Marian Library resources and services. She partners with other faculty and staff in the University Libraries managing the special collection library that supports research on, and devotion to, the Virgin Mary. The Library’s multi-language collection includes over 95,000 books and pamphlets, a stamp collection, crèche collections, medals, postcards and works of art.

Cahalan looks for opportunities to integrate the special collections with academic programs.  She understands that people find the library even if you don’t do the work, but that doesn’t mean that you should rest on your laurels saying “See? We have patrons.” She believes that the work is in building new and creative connections.

The Library IT specialist regularly updates information about services, acquisitions, special events and exhibits on the University website. The information often stimulates discussions about how specific materials might be of use for a class. Presently there are three special collections collaborating in a one-credit semester-long class. Cahalan hopes that this initiative can continue or become a module that could be connected to classes in other departments. The Library has a good relationship with the Campus Ministry, which has been a collaborator for chapel exhibits and has used rare materials in prayer sessions.

There is nothing as valuable as personal relationships. A number of instruction sessions and longer-term projects have been scheduled because Cahalan had coffee with someone or served on a committee. She sees it as part of her job to speak up about how important the collection is to the life of the University; she knows that “sometimes you have to be a bit obnoxious”.

A challenge for a religious collection is connecting with patrons who may not be interested in the devotional elements of the collection. An ongoing task is to ensure that patrons can use the special collection for classes in graphic design, music, art history and other fields of study. There are even connections to health sciences, for those who might be interested in exploring the relationship between faith and the healing effects of praying for a patient before a medical procedure.

The success of Cahalan’s librarianship begins with her interest in the Catholic tradition. She meets the collection’s advocacy and outreach challenges with an unabated determination to promote the relevance of the collections by integrating them into the University’s academic programs.

Meet Bethany Fair, Archivist at the Vermont State Archives

by Julia Greider

Bethany Fair gets to do a little bit of everything in her job as Archivist II at the Vermont State Archives in Middlesex, Vermont. The state archives exists to serve the people of Vermont, and because it’s a government institution, all the records it holds belong to the public and legally must be accessible. Bethany most enjoys interacting with the myriad of patrons—ranging from legislators, to academics, to attorneys, to the general public—who come to the archives for information.

Bethany has found that the reference room is the locus of outreach and advocacy, because people with research needs are always grateful for prompt and thorough assistance. Attorneys form one of the archives’ main user groups, and the archivists spend a lot of time helping them trace the origins and development of laws. As a result, satisfied attorneys often refer their colleagues to the archives with similar requests. The archives also has strong relationships with other government agencies, which it serves not only by holding their records, but also by fulfilling their information requests.

However, Bethany says that the public often has a misconception of the state archives as a place that holds nothing more than old, boring government records that have little research value for today. Furthermore, people think that the government is trying to hide its records from the public—particularly the records of shameful pasts, such as the Eugenics Survey of Vermont, a program that many believe sterilized Abenaki Indians in the 1930s. Outreach can be a great way to dispel these false visions of the archives. For example, Bethany recently helped organize a lecture by a visiting undergraduate who was studying the eugenics program. She’s found that dark topics like eugenics tend to draw people in, and the program is an important part of Vermont’s history. Not only did Vermont Public Radio and NPR do interviews with the student who gave the talk, but there was also an impressive turnout for the talk itself, which then spurred attendees to come into the archives and find their ancestors in these records of the eugenics program. Bethany believes this experience showed people that the government isn’t trying to hide its actions of almost a century ago—in fact, all the evidence is sitting right in the state archives for anyone to see.

Bethany and her colleagues know their outreach has been successful when they get an increased number of researchers coming to them with questions. She’s fielded a wider variety of questions as a result of outreach efforts, because people have begun to realize that the state archives doesn’t only hold birth and marriage records (the usefulness of which should not be discounted, of course), but also the records of both wacky and weighty events of the past.

Because the state archives is funded directly by the Vermont legislature, any changes to the archives budget have to be approved as bills in the legislature. This means there isn’t much wiggle room in the budget, so there isn’t much money set aside for outreach. As a result, Bethany and her colleagues have to create ways to do outreach without a budget, which often means working on their own time and finding people who are willing to give lectures on a volunteer basis. Furthermore, the archives staff has to advocate to the state legislature to ensure that they get the resources they need. Beyond an awareness of public records laws, lawmakers generally have little sense of what the archives does. The archivists, then, must explain their role in the government and why their skill set fits them out best to deal with certain legal issues. However, Bethany says that she and her colleagues must not only advocate for their own institution, but also for what will be best for their patrons—what will provide the people of Vermont with the easiest access to government records.

When the legislature debates bills pertaining to the archives, anyone can testify before the assembly, and theoretically, this is when outreach and advocacy can really pay off. The archives constantly builds up strong relationships both within the government and with the public, meaning that if it were ever necessary, Bethany and her colleagues would have many allies in vocalizing the value of the archives to the state of Vermont. For now, they’re finessing their preservation of born-digital records and working on expanding their digitized holdings in the hopes of creating online exhibits that can reach an even broader public and expand opportunities for outreach and advocacy.

Meet Lauren Goodley, Archivist at The Wittliff Collections

by Michelle Slater

Lauren Goodley is a professional archivist with The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University. She has been in her current position for five years, and has taken on various projects, responsibilities, and collaborations; as her role continues to change and grow. In her position as archivist, she processes analog/paper archival materials, and has spearheaded a burgeoning digitization and preservation program for the archive and its parent library.

The Collection that Lauren works with, the Southwestern Writers Collection, was founded in 1986 by Bill and Sally Wittliff, which birthed the broader special collections known as ‘The Wittliff Collections’ or ‘The Wittliff,’ that resides within the Albert B. Alkek Library at Texas State University. Their mission is to collect, preserve, and share the creative legacy of the Southwest’s literary, photographic, and musical arts, while fostering the region’s ‘Spirit of Place’ in the world. The Wittliff Collection has three ‘pillars’ in its collecting scope: Southwestern Writers, Southwestern and Mexican Photography, and Texas Music. The Wittliff is open to the public with free admission, and welcomes visitors, tours and classes. The collection is available to statewide, national, and international researchers, and is also frequented by the student body and local community. Lauren shares the responsibility of teaching and hosting class trips at varying levels of education to the archives, as well as making visits to classrooms on campus and appearing at community events.

Lauren has always been in conversation with local histories, having grown up in Texas and completed several intern positions at local history sites. Lauren’s background in advocacy and outreach has a large bearing on her current work within The Wittliff, tying into their mission of lifting up Texas’s creative profile and identity. She achieves this by creating access to materials in the archive, as well maintaining relationships with local communities and users. She has collaborated on several exhibits using archival material as a form of outreach, and provides materials to other departments of the library/archives for their outreach programs as well. Through her role as archivist with The Wittliff Collections, Lauren contributes to the proliferation and preservation of Texas’s rich creative culture, in perfect harmony with her interests in local community building and advocacy. She conducts reference work for researchers, students, and journalists, and recently provided reference services for journalists and production companies covering the 25th anniversary of an important local event. Lauren’s reference work directly effects advocacy for the archives, lifting The Wittliff’s public profile as a ‘remembering’ institution in the local community.

One of The Wittliff’s developing outreach projects is with the Austin Film Festival, to preserve their conference recordings digitally in the archives. This partnership has provided the archives with valuable community material, and in exchange, Lauren advised the group in establishing records keeping standards for their materials. The goal of this project is to digitally preserve these community materials, and create equitable access online- which Lauren works to improve, in junction with the Library Programmer.

With the Southwestern Writers Collection, Lauren developed workflows and archival standards for efficiently and effectively digitizing materials in-house. She first addressed inconsistencies in the archive’s digitization practices, and with a student worker, created an inventory identifying at-risk items in their holdings to be digitized. The inventory is updated with all new acquisitions, includes previously processed digital materials as well. The standardized protocol makes the task of digitization easier to delegate to student workers. Lauren supervises these student workers and interns, as she oversees quality control, workflow efficiency, and that archival standards are up to date. This stewardship in caring for digital archival records contributes to The Wittliff’s longterm goal of preservation, and creates equitable access to its materials.

Within the broader scope of the library, Lauren created the Digital Preservation Working Group (DPWG), which meets bi-weekly and consists of herself, the archivist from University Archives, and members of the Digital and Web Services department. This group works to assess use and access of the digital materials of the archive and library, and manages a plan for the Library’s digital asset management and preservation, adhering to the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) model. In forming this group, Lauren hopes to increase access as a means of outreach and advocacy, as materials are easier to find and use; and preservation, which ensures that access in ongoing. So far, the group has completed their digital preservation policy, which applies to all digital holdings of The Wittliff, as well as digital assets of the Library.

Meet Lindsay Sprechman, Collections Archivist at Jewish Heritage Center at the New England Historic Genealogical Society

by Thera Webb

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Lindsay Sprechman, the Collections Archivist for the Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society. Sprechman became interested in archives during college when she was an intern at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, where she produced articles for the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities. Her research utilized town and synagogue archives to trace the history of Jews in towns in the American south.

As an MLIS student at Simmons College, she interned at the UMass Boston Archives, as well as at the American Jewish Historical Society-New England Archives. Upon graduation she became the archivist at Temple Israel in Boston, where she worked as the sole member of the archives, handling processing, outreach, and records management, until being hired as a Processing Archivist at the Jewish Heritage Center, where she has worked for four two and a half years.

The Jewish Heritage Center (JHC), is in the midst of a unique opportunity – having rebranded in 2017, there are many opportunities for outreach within the organization.  For many years, the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), the oldest ethnic historical society in the country, has had two archives—the national archive in New York City and another archive in the Boston area, known as AJHS-New England Archives (AJHS-NEA). In 2010, AJHS and the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) launched a collaboration when AJHS-NEA moved into NEHGS, first as an autonomous organization, and then as a strategic partner. In 2015, the collaboration was further strengthened when AJHS-NEA had its collections permanently deposited at NEHGS and officially became a part of the organization. In 2017, the Jewish Heritage Center was launched, with AJHS-NEA as its cornerstone, to engage historians, genealogists, youth, and the general public in programming and research to advance the study of the history, culture, and institutional legacies of Jewish families in New England and beyond by educating, inspiring, and connecting people through scholarship, collections, and expertise while serving as an archival and educational resource for other Jewish organizations and institutions. With so many changes occurring, outreach is especially important to raise awareness for the archives in order to attract patrons as well as to assist with fundraising efforts and acquiring collections.

With only four staff members, everybody on the team at the JHC plays a role in outreach and advocacy for the organization. Stephanie Call, the Manager of the Jewish Heritage Center, is responsible for overseeing the JHC’s core activities of archival preservation, family history, and educational outreach.  Kelsey Sawyer, the Reference and Photo Archivist, manages reference requests and assists researchers with navigating the archives, as well as handling a large-scale photography digitization survey. And Jessie Xu, the Digital Projects Coordinator, is the lead staff person on the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society- Boston digitization project, as well as all other digitization tasks. The team takes a three-pronged approach to outreach: exhibits, resource development, and social media.

Social media is, in many ways, the simplest but also the most challenging kind of outreach. Staying on top of regular posting can be difficult for a busy team with no specific communications administrator. To solve this issue, each member takes over social media for a month at a time, switching off throughout the year. Social media for the JHC includes not only Facebook and Instagram, but also Pinterest, Tumblr, and Historypin, as well at the main website. During her assigned month, Sprechman will go through archival items and create daily posts for the Center’s social media platforms. By taking turns, the team is able to stay on top of social media while still making headway on the day-to-day projects.

Exhibits are another tool for outreach. By hosting exhibits online, the JHC encourages web traffic to their site, which can lead to users exploring more online collections and coming in person to the archives. The JHC recently collaborated with NEHGS on the exhibit Voices of War: Americans in World War I, incorporating stories of the Jewish soldiers of WWI from the archives.

However, not all exhibits are online. Theeducation center at the NEHGS building on Newbury Street currently hosts a collection of ephemera and records from early Jewish doctors in America, focusing on the contributions made by Dr. Saul Hertz who pioneered the use of radioactive isotopes in treating disease. Programming is held in the education center, as well as in various venues around the city, as the JHC works with partners in the community to plan interesting and compelling presentations for people of all ages.

Resource Development is the third arm of their outreach program, focusing on making their collections easily accessible. While working on a huge digitization project of photos from the archives, the team at the JHC is also compiling subject guides for researchers. Currently they have two comprehensive guides online – for Labor History in the Collections, and for Music in the Collections. They are planning on creating guides for many other subjects, as well as a resource guide to Jewish Archives in other parts of the country and the world.

Being located on Newbury Street right by Copley Square permits the JHC to take part in summertime activities such as Open Newbury Street, and Free Fun Fridays, which help engage the community with hands-on activities in and around the archives.

Using a multilayered approach to outreach and advocacy, and driven by the newly rebranded JHC and it’s updated mission statement, Sprechman and her coworkers are creating multiple entry points to the collection for people from all walks of life and encouraging people from Boston and further to engage with the Jewish heritage and records they maintain.

Meet Michelle Chiles, Robinson Center Research Manager

by Bree Comeau

Having begun her professional career as a middle school teacher in Washington state, Michelle Chiles, always had a passion for outreach and supporting her community. In 2009, she moved halfway around the world when her partner was offered a job in Tasmania. It was there that her work in libraries and archives began. Michelle started working for the Australian Childhood Foundation, an organization whose focus is to help and support children who are victims of abuse, neglect and family violence. However, the part-time hours with the organization weren’t enough so Michelle looked for ways to stay busy while becoming more involved with her community. She began volunteering at the State Library & Archives of Tasmania and found her calling!  After her move back to the US, Michelle enrolled in the Library and Information Science program at Simmons College with a concentration in Archives Management.

After her graduation in 2013, Michelle worked at various institutions in and around the Boston area until landing her current position at the Robinson Research Center in 2016. Michelle is the Manager of the Research Center, a role that includes the responsibilities of head reference librarian, outreach program planner, and plenty more. The Research Center is part of the Rhode Island Historical Society (RIHS), and there are times when outreach initiatives require support and collaboration with other departments, which can be tricky.

A popular outreach program in collaboration with the Providence Public Library is a series of genealogy workshops called “Diggin’ Your Roots” which are offered during the Fall and Spring months. This year a new twist is being introduced to the outreach program with hopes it will garner new attendees. They are taking to the road! Each year the RIHS incorporates a theme into all the programs, and the 2018 theme is “Rest and Relaxation in Rhode Island.” According to Michelle, “the genealogy workshop series either piggy backs off that theme or we come up with another thread to tie the classes together. Since we were really struggling to find out how genealogy fit into that, we decided to make it a road trip since those are part of most people’s vacation memories! Even though Rhode Island is small, we still have many researchers comment on how tricky it is to get into the city to come to our Research Center, or our collaborator on these workshops, the Providence Public Library. So, we decided to take the workshops to them!” By taking the genealogy workshops on the road, people interested in the lessons but deterred by traveling into the city will now be able to participate closer to home.

Currently, many of the traditional users of the Research Center are genealogists, authors, faculty, college students and fellow co-workers. In addition to the new audiences reached by taking the program on the road, Michelle would love to expand the K-12 audience. Multiple offerings are geared towards schools and educators, including a digital textbook and “Field Trip Free for All” program. The “EnCompass Rhode Island History Digital Textbook” is a collaboration between the RIHS and Providence College and is geared towards educators across the state. The “Field Trip Free for All” program offers teacher-supervised visits to the Robinson Research Center, the John Brown House Museum, or the Museum of Work & Culture, at no cost. What a great way to encourage schools, educators and students to visit! The challenge is communicating these opportunities to the school communities.

Another challenge Michelle was quick to discuss involves the newest initiative “Netop Nights.” Not surprisingly, working out the kinks that come along with any new endeavor is always a big challenge. This once-a-month event allows the community to get up close to collections normally not available to them. Originally the plan was to have people preregister so that the staff could anticipate the number of guests. Unfortunately, people registered but didn’t come, while others just showed up. Since preregistration deters some people, an accurate head count in advance wasn’t possible. So, this year “Netop Nights” will not require preregistration. Michelle hopes the events will run smoothly; it’s all about trial-and-error after all.

Based on her experiences, Michelle’s best advice to aspiring archivists and librarians – get as much practice and experience with outreach and advocacy as possible! From teaching to program planning, it all helps build the skills needed to plan and manage outreach programs at your future place of work.

For more information visit:

In Their Own Words: Librarians in Wartime

by Victoria Johnson

A member browses the stacks of the fifth floor reading room at the Boston Athenaeum. The Boston Athenaeum’s Conservation Lab works to preserve the books in this room and others. (JR 365 Photo/Madeline Bilis)

The Boston Athenaeum (BA) is one of the oldest subscription libraries in the United States. Founded in 1807 by prominent society gentleman, today the Athenaeum functions as a library and museum complete with its own archive. Each year, the library hosts numerous events each month, ranging from book talks to lively soirees. While these events, along with the library and art collections, are very popular with patrons, the archives of the institution are usually overlooked. This past September, however, the BA hosted a remarkable live performance event which would have been impossible without using the archive.

On the evening of Tuesday, September 19, 2017, the Athenaeum hosted “A Tale of Two Libraries,” a live event in which a cast of four actors read carefully curated correspondence between the Boston Athenaeum and the London Library. The correspondence was arranged to provide a chronological glimpse into the workings of these two institutions during two defining times, World War I and World War II. This temporal context added depth to an already outside-the-box event. A live reading of a bunch of old letters doesn’t sound all that exciting—and yet, imagine what it would be like to hear the words of four librarians working around bombings and the Blitz. What could have been extremely boring instantly became emotional, real—a good thing it did, too, because that was exactly what its creators intended. To understand how and why this event was so memorable, I sat down with Carolle Morini, the Caroline D. Bain Archivist at the Boston Athenaeum.

As it turns out, an event like this one takes approximately two years to plan. It all started in 2015, when the director of the BA received an inquiry from the London Library, who wanted to know if there was any history of a relationship between the two institutions. The London Library was pleased to learn that there was, indeed, a relationship, confirmed by thirty years’ worth of correspondence held in the BA’s archives. The existence of physical evidence led to a visit from both employees of the London Library, with employees of one of their supporting organizations, International Friends, in tow. In preparation for their visit, Carolle was asked to conduct further research so that she may answer any questions the group may have. She took it one step further by organizing a display case, which included some of the aforementioned letters. As you can imagine, these letters—dated between 1913 and 1945 and detailing the experiences of librarians during wartime—were not only rich in institutional memory, but fostered a personal affection for their authors.

The visitors from the London Library and Carolle discussed options to share these letters with both institutions’ member. It was decided that a live performance would be the best way to share these letters with the public. Jesse Marquese, a writer who had done similar work in New York, came on board as the scriptwriter. With the writing underway, the next step was to figure out the mechanics: who would fund this event? Where would it take place? In the end, it was agreed that the Athenaeum would provide an honorarium and travel expenses for the actors, all of whom were New York based and chosen by Marquese, and that the event would be hosted twice—once in Boston, once in New York City. Marquese shared his script with Carolle, who provided edits in order to provide some local Boston context.

And now we arrive to the night of the event itself. The live production was witnessed by 60 audience members, some of whom were trustees’ emeriti and current trustees and BA staff. Two days later, the production travelled to New York City’s Knickerbocker Club, this time sponsored by International Friends. It has since been suggested that the production travel to the London Library itself in 2018, although this is still in development. Hosting the production at different locations will not only allow more users to experience the performance, but it will also continue to advocate for the value of the Boston Athenaeum’s archives—an element of her job that Carolle admits is difficult to do on a daily basis. As an audience member, I can attest to the power of hearing my own institution’s history through the words of those who came before me.

In her ten years as the sole archivist at the Athenaeum, Carolle can only recall one other event that utilized the archives. This is not to say that the events coordinators are uninterested in using the archives, but there is often little correlation between book talks and the institutional archives. That is exactly why projects like the live performance are crucial in advocating for the important of Carolle’s work as the archivist and of the archives themselves. Carolle anticipated an increase in archival inquiries after the event, which has not (thus far) transpired. However, perhaps even more valuable is that all who attended—the Athenaeum director, patrons, and staff—were able to recognize the importance of the BA’s archives and of all archives. In the end, Carolle considers this project a success: “it made people see that the work that I do is important.” Recognition and respect should, after all, be the goal of any advocacy project.





The Life and Serendipitous Afterlife of a Picture Postcard Exhibit

by Alden Ludlow


Alden Ludlow Greets Visitors at the Wellesley Historical Society

About a year ago I was tasked with putting together an exhibit for the small reading room at the Wellesley Historical Society. Having just reorganized and processed our Picture Postcard Collection, I decided it was ripe for use, featuring many images of a long-past Wellesley. The original exhibit morphed in unexpected directions. I have been able to adapt it for uses in different contexts, and it is becoming a versatile, expandable advocacy and outreach tool.

Our reading room is really a reading room in name only. It is a small, approximately 300-square-foot, multi-use space. Researchers do their work here; collection accession and processing occurs here. It serves as a lunchroom and as a space where the board of directors and various committees meet. As such, most of the people who spend time in the space are board members, volunteers, and staff. It is more of an “in-reach” space than an “out-reach” space.

My first task was to select postcards for the exhibit; my plan was to put enlargements of postcards on the limited wall space, and fill the display cabinet with items reflecting the related elements of postcard production and postal history. I developed selections based on three criteria, and ended up with about 25 enlarged postcards and a number of items for our small display cabinet.

First, the most interesting postcards were those manufactured during what has been called the “Golden Age of Postcards,” 1907 to 1915. Changes in postal regulations regarding the content and presentation of postcards led to an explosion of inexpensive, artistic cards featuring local landmarks all over the country. Many of the cards were manufactured in Germany, and World War I led to the decline in their quality and popularity.

Second, I wanted to highlight postcard use during that time. Often called the “postcard craze,” this time period found people using the cards much as we use social media today. At the time, most of the writers of the cards were educated, upper-middle class women. Wellesley, a wealthy town, with the added prestige of Wellesley College, was exactly the demographic postcards appealed to. My criteria were that the cards had to have correspondence written on them, which I could use to highlight the social situation of the time. The correspondence provided a window into the context of a limited span of time and space. Also, by 1903, Kodak had developed a camera which could take pictures that could be directly printed onto a postcard back; we had a number of these unique cards, portraying people from the town (including the 1913 Wellesley High School football team). These cards were exchanged or mailed to friends, usually within the town, and their uniqueness added a personal element to what was generally a mass-produced industry even then. I also obtained one of the cameras at a sale, to further enhance the display cabinet.

Third, I felt a number postcards chosen for the exhibit should challenge viewers in some way. Initially, I thought it would be difficult to “problematize” a postcard exhibit, but as I looked at the cards, it became clear that many of the buildings depicted had been torn down, some of them in recent years. Adding a subtle twist to the choices, I was able to highlight much of Wellesley’s lost architectural heritage. Later, I found out that the Wellesley Historical Commission found this highlighting less than subtle. Success! I managed to make a postcard exhibit controversial!

Once the exhibit was up, I immediately started planning a way to “capture” and archive it; I figured it would be up for a year or two. I put together a simple PowerPoint presentation in a way that reflected the flow of the exhibit, and captured all of its textual and artistic elements. Since we had the cards enlarged for use, we had high-quality scans of the images and related correspondence elements. I took photographs of the artifacts in the display case. This record of the exhibit was intended to be archival; it would come alive later on.

I had put together the “catalog” of the exhibit on my own time, and once I was finished with it I sent it to our executive director, and curator, so they would have it as a record of the exhibit. Board members were pleased with the exhibit, and at some point, the “catalog” circulated among them.

I began to ruminate. We didn’t have the funding to produce a real exhibit catalog, but I began to think about reworking the catalog into a more colorful presentation which I could then present to the board and volunteers. Sort of a slide show of the exhibit, but with added elements and without the limiting constraints of four walls. I could literally “spread out” and add elements, and better organize the flow of sectional elements I had incorporated into the exhibit (People/Vanished Buildings/The Great Outdoors/Postcard History and Use).

As I was thinking about these things, I was not aware that my archival “record” presentation was making the rounds with board members. I suspect some confluence of shared board members between institutions led David Ball, the executive director at the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History, and Henry Lukas, their education director, to contact me about doing a presentation based on the “catalog” I had created.

Philatelists know the Spellman, but the museum, sitting on the bucolic campus of St. Regis College in Weston, has an international reach and a successful local all-ages education program. Stamp collecting may appeal to a small segment of the population, but the topics postage stamps cover is vast; it is this subject-based approach which is at the core of their programs. They were interested in the postcard exhibit on many levels, particularly from a postal history perspective.

I set out to revamp the postcard PowerPoint into a full-fledged presentation, separating text from images, pulling quotes from correspondence for the individual slides, and adding images of the reverse of many of the cards. Having been a stamp collector as a youngster, it was easy for me to add a section to the presentation on how stamp and postcard history overlapped.

By September 2017, I was ready to go, with a 45-minute presentation which covered Wellesley history, stamp collecting, postcards and postcard history, the social context of postcard use, and actual correspondence from the cards. The early decision I had made to use only postcards which had been used as correspondence paid off. The small reading room exhibit had morphed into a compact yet comprehensive presentation, its scope and content widely expanded.

The evening of the presentation at the Spellman I realized that this collaboration was a perfect fit: the audience of about 45 included philatelists, amateur historians, and postcard collectors. The time I had spent processing the collection, putting up the exhibit, and assembling the presentation was crucial in being able to make the presentation an interactive experience; I was open to questions, had the answers, and lively discussion was incorporated into the process. The presentation ended up being over an hour. Many of the people who had attended brought postcards and stamps with them, and this led to an informal show-and-tell reception.

Sometimes collaboration is planned, sometimes it is serendipitous, as it was in this case. I kept pushing the boundaries of our small exhibit, and new opportunities presented themselves. While the exhibit and the eventual presentation were steps removed from encountering the postcards as primary sources, the process was in keeping with the education mission and vision of the Wellesley Historical Society. The collaboration with the Spellman allowed for expansion of the presentation for broader outreach, sparking interest from people of different, yet overlapping, interests. In discussions following the presentation, it was clear that what I had done could be replicated for surrounding towns.

While the outreach impacts of the presentation are easily measured, what is less easy to quantify is how the success of the presentation has looped back around and has made staff advocacy within the Society’s board of directors easier. Often boards have a difficult time determining what archivists do, but when they pick up the newspaper and read about the impact a presentation had within a segment of the population, the educational mission seems clearer. Additionally, they have become more open to new ways of doing things with the collections to broaden the audience.

In a final note, my “poking” of the Wellesley Historical Commission has taken a turn. Initially unhappy that I subtly suggested they were not capable of their role in historic preservation, they have now expressed an interest in having the presentation at one of their meetings. We may soon see if I am up to the task of doing outreach in the Lion’s Den.


Wellesley Historical Society:

Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History:

Wellesley Historical Commission:

Smithsonian postcard history:



Nixon Now: Divisions on Display

by Jessica Chapel

The entrance to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
The Entrance to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

You can’t cut an American president out of history. How, then, do you represent a president driven from office in disgrace and his complicated legacy? During a recent California trip, I took a detour on my way from Los Angeles to San Diego to ask those questions.

The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum opened in Yorba Linda — a one-time farm town in Orange County — in 1990, 16 years after the 37th president became the first president to resign from office. Unlike every other president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nixon did not plan to donate his library to the National Archives. It was a privately run institution supported by the Nixon Foundation, holding the president’s diaries and his pre-presidential papers.

Congress controlled his administration’s records, more than 44 million pages of documents, plus photographs, film — and the infamous tapes. The 1974 Presidential Recordings and Materials Act gave custody of the presidential files to the Archivist of the United States, a move intended to thwart any destruction of records from Nixon’s scandal-blighted presidency.

Feelings about Watergate and Nixon’s record were still running high when the library opened and museum director John Taylor postponed making two Watergate tapes available. Historians complained about the withholding of materials as much as they did the slant of the exhibits and the presentation of the one Watergate tape incorporated into a display, a decision that Taylor defended as a matter of serving visitors.

“The fact that we are the Nixon library does not deprive us of the ability and indeed the responsibility of placing the information we present in some historical context,” he told the New York Times. “Some people use the word ‘cover-up,’ and what they’re saying is that in fact they do not wish for the Nixon library to put forth its interpretation of this document.”

In 2007, after decades-long legal wrangling, the National Archives assumed administration of the Nixon library and museum, and the presidential records were moved to Yorba Linda. The transfer culminated in a wholesale renovation of the exhibits that closed the museum for a year, a joint project with the Nixon Foundation. The museum reopened to the public in October 2016.

One year later, I was waiting with a dozen other early birds on a Sunday morning for the library’s doors to open. I wanted to see how the revamped galleries told the story of a president whose name has become synonymous with abuse of power, a politician who has been both pop culture joke and high culture inspiration, the subject of numerous biographies, and a man who attempted to craft his own myth from the first sentence of his 1977 memoir: “I was born in a house my father built.”

The conflict in how Nixon figures in cultural memory is matched by a seeming conflict in how the dual keepers of his library and legacy manage outreach and advocacy.

On the Nixon library social media channels managed by the Nixon Foundation — Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat — posts tend toward Nixon’s acknowledged successes, White House events, and happy family moments. Most of the comments on these channels are positive, but there are instances when followers misunderstand who is posting and why: “If you knew the month and date why didn’t you include it instead of all those unnecessary hashtags?,” one commenter asked on Instagram, seeking the original date of a photo. “We are not an archival page,” the account replied.

Earlier this year, a Nixon library tweet was interpreted as trolling president Donald Trump, prompting a public rebuke from the National Archives.

The Nixon library social channels were also used to question the work of filmmaker Ken Burns, whose Vietnam War documentary aired on PBS in September. “There is no factual support for anything in this sentence,” read one Instagram post, referring to a point on page 347 of the companion book to the film.

Both the National Archives and the Nixon Foundation maintain web pages for the library and museum. The .gov site is oriented to researchers, with information on newly released materials and upcoming events. The .org site is a slicker home for the foundation’s other programs in addition to the library and museum. It was the Nixon Foundation that used its site to respond to Nixon biographer Jon Farrell, who — citing a note written by Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman that Farrell found while doing research at the Nixon library — wrote that Nixon subverted president Lyndon Johnson’s peace efforts in Vietnam late in the 1968 presidential campaign.

Misunderstanding a monkey wrench,” answered the foundation, arguing that Farrell’s interpretation came down to a dash.

Walking through the exhibits, I catch Nixon’s 1972 reelection jingle: “Nixon now, Nixon now, more than ever, Nixon now.” The galleries are bright and interactive. In the Nixon in China room, visitors can pose for pictures with cutouts of the president and First Lady at the Great Wall. At another exhibit, visitors can lift the earpiece of a phone and hear segments of Nixon’s taped calls. Even FDR taped conversations in the oval office, the exhibit tells me. “Tough choices,” blares another, inviting me to struggle — via touchscreen — with the sort of decisions the president had to make.

I come to the Watergate gallery, and if it’s no longer a darkened room occasionally haunted by Haldeman, it is still an unwelcoming room with text-heavy exhibits. I’m not sure who it’s for — amid all the words, the impression is of a reckoning avoided.

Read more:

James Worsham, “Nixon’s Library Now a Part of NARA,” Prologue Magazine, Fall 2007.

Andrew Gumbel, “The Last Battle of Watergate,” Pacific Standard, December 8, 2011.

Christine Mai-Duc, “The ‘New’ Nixon Library’s Challenge: Fairly Depicting a ‘Failed Presidency’,” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2016.

Meet Dr. Kenvi Phillips, the first curator of Race and Ethnicity at the Schlesinger Library.

Dr. Kenvi Phillips, curator of Race and Ethnicity at the Schlesinger Library.

by Sony Prosper

I recently met with Dr. Kenvi Phillips to discuss advocacy and outreach in the context of a curator working in a research library. Kenvi comes from a rich cultural heritage and history background. She received a bachelor’s degree in History. She then earned a master’s degree in Public history and doctorate in history from Howard University in Washington D.C. She has worked in the Anheuser-Busch tour center, the National Park Service/National Archives for Black Women, the History Factory, the Moorland Spingarn Research Center, and now works as the first curator of Race and Ethnicity at the Schlesinger Library.

Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Schlesinger Library is a research library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. The library’s holdings date from the founding of the United States to the present and include more than 3200 manuscript collections, 100,000 volumes of books and periodicals, and films, photos, and audiovisual material. The material documents the lives of women of the past and present and reflect a strong collection of resources for research on the history of women in the United States.

Hired in 2016, Kenvi is leading the charge to ensure the Library’s collections are representative of a diverse group of women and reflective of the full American experience. The charge is part of an increased interest in diversity and inclusion on the Harvard campus in the past several years. A big part of her job is building relationships and trust on-campus, in the Northeast region, and across the country. She is constantly traveling to meet with potential donors, planning workshops and public programming events, and performing personal outreach.

Meeting with potential donors includes making them aware of the value of their material, offering suggestions for where to place material, and creating a relationship built on honesty, integrity, and respect. Part of making donors aware of the value of their material, Kenvi notes, is “including their voice and values in the way we classify collections in our care.” “We owe it to ourselves,” she continues, “our children, to do this work.” Touching on the memory of her grandparent’s materials being thrown away, Kenvi is also adamant on offering suggestions outside of Schlesinger Library. “Part of the job is making sure the donors place their material anywhere other than leaving them in a basement,” she remarks.

At the time of our conversation, Kenvi is working on multiple workshops, public programming events, and on-campus and off-campus outreach efforts. The first effort is a workshop in conjunction with Spelman College, a historically Black college and a global leader in the education of women of African descent in Atlanta. The second is a major public program in conjunction with the Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists in Boston. The third is a concerted effort to talk with Harvard alumni of color to fill institutional holes. The fourth is an effort to attend other events throughout the various centers, institutions and programs – the Hutchins Center, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Boston Poet Laureate Program – in the Greater Boston area. Kenvi also performs personal outreach when attending local Juneteenth programs, public library programs, and other community programs.

When asked about the importance of outreach and advocacy, Kenvi harkens back to the 1960s and 1970s. She notes it was a period where questions like “why are we not talking about women’s history or black history” entered the mainstream. She continues “we partly did not talk about them because they were not present in the “mainstream” archive, we did not have the documents to support the existence of various groups, and so did not have the memory of these groups.” She continues, “it is important to collaborate directly with potential donors and place the evidence of their existence here at Schlesinger or elsewhere through outreach.”

When asked about a project she has recently done, Kenvi mentions the planning of “The Difficult Miracle: The Living Legacy of June Jordan,” a joint project with Columbia University. The project is a celebration and discussion with activists, poets, scholars, and the public of June Jordan’s work. The discussion will be followed by a poetry slam and reception. One of the goals for the event is to provide an opportunity for face to face contact with the community outside of academia. Hopefully, this event creates a space where “we can learn together,” Kenvi pauses, “and provide more awareness of our collections.”

Meet Snowden Becker!

Snowden Becker, Co-Founders of the Center for Home Movies

by Adam Schutzman

Snowden Becker has been actively involved in outreach and advocacy for most of her professional career. She has been working in the cultural heritage field for over 20 years and is perhaps most well known for her work with moving image archives. She first became interested in working with collections when she was an undergrad in art school, after taking a part-time job at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She worked in a number of well-known museums after graduating with a BFA in printmaking, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Japanese American National Museum and the Getty Museum. It was during her time at the Japanese American National Museum that she first realized her passion for working with moving image archives and in particular, small gauge and amateur films. Soon after starting her work there, she began pursuing her Masters in Library and Information Science at UCLA.

During her time at UCLA, she joined the Association of Moving Image Archivists and became the founding Chair of their Small Gauge and Amateur Film Interest Group after graduating with an MLIS in 2001. It was through this interest group that the idea for Home Movie Day came about, which she co-founded in 2002 with four colleagues. Since its founding, Home Movie Day has become a wildly successful, international annual event, where the general public is encouraged to bring in their family films to be inspected for condition and projected by trained film archivists for an audience to watch and enjoy together. The event serves as a highly effective outreach tool, where the public is both entertained and educated about the value of amateur films and how best to care for them from a film preservation perspective. This year, Home Movie Day celebrates its 15th anniversary all over the world. Since 2002, the event has grown from being presented in twenty-four venues in four countries, to being presented in nearly one hundred cities on every continent except for Antarctica.

Home Movie Day 2017 Trailer

In 2004, Snowden co-founded the Center for Home Movies, which is a non-profit organization that administers Home Movie Day and other related amateur film preservation advocacy and outreach projects, such as the Home Movie Registry. Through their various online and in-person programs, the center strives to fulfil their mission to “transform the way people think about home movies by providing the means to discover, celebrate, and preserve them as cultural heritage”. In addition to being a co-founder, Snowden served as a director of the board for the organization until 2010. Even though she no longer serves on the board, Snowden continues to remain closely involved in supporting the center’s work thorough helping to host Home Movie Day and other related projects locally. Her dedicated work in this field over the years has helped shift both the professional and popular perception of home movies from disposable, kitschy relics of a bygone era to important historic records worthy of archival preservation and scholarly research. Recently, the Center for Home Movies became the 2017 recipient of the Society of American Archivists’ Philip M. Hamer and Elizabeth Hamer Kegan Award for their continued work in archival advocacy.

Currently, Snowden is completing her PhD in the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin. Since 2012, she has also served as a teacher and program manager of the Moving Image Archive Studies Program at UCLA. In this role, she helps to educate students about moving image archives and outreach while advocating for smaller, community-based collections.

In a recent interview with her, I asked Snowden the question ‘what makes for a good outreach project’? She responded by saying that “the stuff that works best, is the stuff that is really driven by a demonstrated, well-understood need and that is solving a specific problem”. She goes onto elaborate that, “If you are scoping out a project and you can’t answer ‘what is the problem we are trying to solve here?’ and ‘how do we know that this problem exists?’, then you’re not going to be successful”. These insights resonated strongly for me and seem like important food for thought when one is involved in conceiving of a community-based archival outreach project.

Overall, Snowden’s work in the last 20 years is diverse yet passionately focused. Each one of the projects that she has been involved in shows a strong commitment to archival outreach and advocacy on multiple levels. As a graduate student and early professional in the LIS field with a passion for both outreach and archival moving images, I find her work deeply inspiring. Thanks to the work of people like Snowden, events like Home Movie Day will be helping raise awareness about the historical importance of amateur films and moving image archives for many years to come.

To find out more the Center for Home Movies, visit:

To find a Home Movie Day event near you, visit:

To learn more about Snowden Becker’s academic and professional work, visit: