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.





Archival Sources On the Street

by Jenny DeRocher

La Crosse, Wisconsin is a city of about 50,000 people. It sits between tree-covered bluffs and the winding Mississippi River. The city’s downtown area is like many other industrial Mississippi River towns with traces of train tracks, red brick buildings with ghost signs, curving one-way streets, and a large green park bordering the river with a walkway. There are coffee shops, every kind of bar you could ask for, and an old-timey ice cream and soda shop. There are oddities, too. For instance, there is an authentic riverboat sitting on the riverfront waiting to give tours up and down the river. Above it is a faded thirty-foot statue of an unidentified Native American man that, offensively, has no markings of the local Ho-Chunk Nation’s culture (though it is meant to be a tribute to their culture). Farther up the river on the north side of downtown sits the world’s largest six-pack, thanks to the city’s history with brewing beer.

When I went to college at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the charms of the historic downtown area gave me the same happiness as other students. However, the town-and-gown divide is felt fiercely in the La Crosse community. As soon as I became a Public and Policy History Major, I was immediately swept into the arms of Dr. Ariel Beaujot and her public history project Hear, Here. I was a newbie in the world of studying history and didn’t really understand what public history was—I just knew I wanted to go to school for library science after college. I didn’t know it at the time, but Hear, Here isn’t just a public history project, it’s a community archiving project that brings archival sources literally onto the street. Hear, Here is an oral history project that focuses on place-based stories that take place in the downtown area. It’s a grant-funded community project that is meant to bridge the town-and-gown divide, bringing voices of all kind to the forefront.

As students and community members working on the project in a classroom-setting, we had to network within the city to find at least two stories to contribute to the project. Once we found a story and an interviewee we wanted to pursue, we did primary and secondary research on the story. We interviewed the story-tellers as short oral histories with first-person narratives, and then edited these stories so they were 2-5 minutes long. Once they were edited, they were put into a phone system and assigned a phone number. Then, in the locations that these stories happened, we placed street signs that had the phone number for the story on them (see picture). People walking in the streets of La Crosse’s downtown area can see the sign, call the phone number, and listen to someone’s story of something that happened in the exact location they are standing. Some of the stories took place the same year we collected them. Others were from oral histories collected in the 1970s and took place as early as the 1880s. On the website, you can click on the gray icons in the interactive map, listen to stories, and read their transcripts. There are currently fifty stories in the project.

Photograph taken from an article written by the Wisconsin Humanities Council, a large funder of the project.
Photograph taken from an article* written by the Wisconsin Humanities Council, a large funder of the project.

The primary and secondary research each interviewer does for the stories is collected in an archival box at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center. This box also includes CDs with the full-length interview for each story and the edited version as well. For ongoing outreach, Ariel runs a Hear, Here Facebook page, where she keeps followers up to date with tours, story editions, and international Public History news. Every few months, she runs free walking and bike tours for the public to highlight specific stories. In early 2017, there was also a poetry contest, where community members submitted poems responding to stories. Winners received a cash prize and their poems are now also in the phone system for listeners to hear on the street. When you call the number, you can even leave a message to give feedback for the project or to connect with Ariel to record your own story; she’s always collecting new stories until the project’s end in 2020.

Hear, Here brings the history of the everyday person to light. We didn’t collect stories that support the already well-recorded narrative of the city. We collected stories about African American men getting wrongfully arrested in 2014, a woman chaining herself to a building to keep it from being demolished, a student from China excited to eat ice cream somewhere President Obama had reportedly been before, a Canadian tourist experiencing the Mississippi River for the first time, and a local Ho-Chunk man expressing his distaste for the offensive statue that’s supposed to represent him and his culture. We specifically tried to collect stories from voices that are often overlooked and have historically been underrepresented. Some stories are fun, others give voice to discrimination a community member has experienced. In either case, Hear, Here stories are concrete evidence that everyone experiences La Crosse in their own way and each one of these ways matters to the city’s larger narrative


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:

Ed Summer, Unofficial Curator of Experiments

Ed Summers, Lead Developer, Maryland Institute of Technology

by Victoria Jackson

In a world full of constant content generation, how can library and information science professionals convince their communities, their institutions, and the world at large of their importance? It is a question of growing importance within the field, given the number of technological advancements made seemingly every month. Enter Ed Summers, Lead Developer at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), who has found ways to incorporate user-driven, community-based archival projects throughout his career.

Three years ago, Ed left his position working with digital preservation at the Library of Congress. There, his job included finding ways to preserve digital content. In his current role at the MITH department, he is focused on providing content creators and users with methods of communication. Ed works with both other software developers and researchers, and while his job title is “lead developer,” he does not consider his work as solely technical. When the current director (who is relatively new in his role) came in, he asked if they wanted to change their titles to “better reflect what they do.” Naturally, Ed pondered what he would change his to. He found a title on Wikipedia from nineteenth-century scientists who called themselves “curators of experiments.” Ed is unofficially one of them.

For the last two years, Ed’s main experiment has been Documenting the Now, a “tool and a community based around supporting the ethical collection, use, and preservation of social media content.” Ed serves as the Technical Lead for the project, alongside a host of other archivists from the University of Maryland, the University of California at Riverside, and Washington University in St. Louis. Designed to “explore building tools and community of practice around social media archiving—specifically oriented around the ethics of social media archiving,” DocNow was inspired by the reaction to the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. At the time, Ed was attending a Society of American Archivists meeting during the height of the Ferguson protests. He and fellow archivist Bergis Jules wondered what people would remember about this event in the future. They collected 13 million tweets in the weeks surrounding Brown’s death, started writing about the data collection and analyzation; archival and public interest ensued. For Ed, it was important the project have a home that was physically close to its origin. The project came to reside at St. Louis University.

DocNow is a tool and a community developed around supporting the ethical collection, use, and preservation of social media content.

DocNow aims to provide practitioners who wanted to preserve these moments with an opportunity to do so. The project had two initial deliverables: a white paper about the ethics issues and a digital tool that would allow people to collect twitter posts. However, while working on the project, questions regarding data sharing and consent arose. The project shifted gears: the new objective became to build a tool that “connected curators and archivists with content creators” and “bring the two into a more meaningful communication.” DocNow puts the focus on content creators and the relationship they have with each other.

As you can imagine, receiving a grant from the Mellon Foundation went a long way to advocate for the importance of the work Ed and his colleagues do. In between such prestigious projects, MITH participates in nontraditional advocacy programs, such as a series of digital dialogues in which the school invites researchers from outside its own community to discuss their work. This interdisciplinary relationship is what drives Ed’s work. Ed believes his most important constituents are the university’s students, faculty, and community—in that order. Working in a university can sometimes involve what he refers to as the “town-gown” divide; ordinary community members and members of the university’s community. His goal—which should be the goal of all archivists—is to bridge the gap between the two. Ed sets an excellent precedent for how to accomplish this goal.

Meet Bergis Jules!

Bergis Jules, University and Political Papers Archivist at the University of California, Riverside

by Jessica Purkis

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with Bergis Jules, the University and Political Papers Archivist at the University of California, Riverside. Bergis manages UC Riverside’s institutional records, political papers collections, and African American collections. While supporting the university’s administration and community outreach efforts, Bergis documents campus history and builds collections around local, regional, and state political organizations in California. As part of his work, he is constantly reaching out and educating to build better donor relations and more diverse collections.

Bergis views his work in archives as a way to build ties between communities and ties between community members. He believes that archives and cultural heritage materials can bring people together, especially when those materials are “put into the hands of those who teach.” Without enhanced accessibility, some users might never encounter these materials (or communities) at all. To build ties, outreach and advocacy are essential. By creating a space for conversation, an archivist can build trust and discover a community’s particular needs. The most important aspect of any outreach or advocacy project, Bergis reminds me, is “putting people and communities first.” No matter the medium, digital or old-fashioned face-to-face, conversation comes first. Bergis believes that collaborating and conversing with smaller communities holding diverse materials is the best form of advocacy that an archivist can perform at a large repository. The best way to do this, he adds, is to learn to listen to the communities that keep the materials.

Because listening facilitates collaboration, Bergis suggests that listening itself is a great way to find new strategies for outreach and advocacy. An archivist can learn a lot from other projects by asking about what has worked and what hasn’t, and then seeing what spaces may be left behind that provide new project ideas. Bergis has had a lot of success learning about new projects through networks of archivists on Twitter. According to Bergis, following the networks on Twitter is a really effective way to find out about and collaborate on all kinds of projects, including grassroots archiving. Bergis himself is very active on Twitter, and can be found at @BergisJules.

In the past, Bergis has helped build collaborative communities around collections from underrepresented groups. He has worked at the Black Metropolis Research Consortium at the University of Chicago and also at the District of Columbia Africana Archives Project at George Washington University. At the BMRC, he was Project Director, and helped create a digital repository of collections documenting Chicago-area African American and African diasporic materials. Bergis wrote a grant to jumpstart the DC Africana Archives Project, increasing access to collections documenting the history of the African diaspora in the DC area. Both projects have been incredibly successful in enhancing accessibility to materials. More recently, Bergis has helped develop Documenting the Now, a tool for archiving tweets, to help document diverse perspectives on social justice issues.

DocNow is a tool and a community developed around supporting the ethical collection, use, and preservation of social media content.

Bergis therefore brings a long-standing commitment to community-building and diversity to his work at UC Riverside’s Archives, located in the UC Riverside Library. The library holds more than 275 manuscript collections, including personal, family, and organizational records. The university collects materials that document a wide variety of experiences in the US, particularly in the Inland Empire Region, an area in inland southern California east of Los Angeles. Some of the strengths of Riverside’s special collections lie in the history and culture of the Inland Empire region, Latin American history and culture, and ethnic studies, which document African American, Native American, Asian American, and Chicano/Latino experience.

UC Riverside currently spearheads the Inland Empire Memories consortium, a group of cultural heritage institutions located in the Inland Empire. Bergis is the Project Coordinator there. He writes grants and manages the program day-to-day in conjunction with the other member institutions. Because the consortium was established recently, right now Bergis spends much of his time listening to the consortium’s members, gathering data along the way about their projects and interests, their resources, and their ideas for later programs. Bergis is currently helping to facilitate the Sherman Indian High School Museum’s project to digitize some of its collections and provide its users with new levels of access.

In future, the Inland Empire Memories institutions intend to collaborate to share funding, develop access tools and programs for digital collections, and build relationships with other community institutions. The Inland Empire Memories mission is “to identify, preserve, interpret, and share the rich cultural legacies of the Inland Empire’s diverse communities” by enhancing access to cultural heritage materials. It emphasizes materials documenting “peoples and groups underrepresented in the historical record.” Increasing diversity in the archival record, I have come to find, is something of a theme in Bergis’ work.

It’s through listening that Bergis has had such success collaborating with others to promote access to a more diversified historical record. I expect that the Inland Empire Memories Consortium will become as active as the Black Metropolis Research Consortium and the DC Africana Archives Project in enhancing access to new materials. I hope to hear about many more projects from its members in the future!

Jade Pichette, Volunteer & Community Outreach Coordinator

Jade Pichette, Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinator, CLGA

by S.S.

Meet Jade Pichette, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator for the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA). Although Pichette’s background in social work might make them an outlier in the archival field, they see this atypical professional experience as an asset. Pichette’s work in nonprofits, and especially their work in anti-oppression advocacy and education, strongly informs their approach to archival work. In pursuit of an organizational mission to serve as a resource and catalyst for progress for LGBTQ+ people, the CLGA works to collect, preserve, and make available materials created by or about the LGBT community. Through their outreach work, Pitchette works to ensure that CLGA’s mandate: to preserve the history of marginalized people – is fulfilled in a way that is equitable and inclusive.

When asked what their ‘average’ day at CLGA looks like, Pitchette’s response resonates with those familiar with community organizing: “I don’t have one.” CLGA’s outreach efforts and volunteer activities bring the community into the archives through diverse and dynamic programming, from leading neighborhood walking tours to curating themed exhibitions.

Pitchette’s work has allowed the CLGA to develop strong partnerships with community organizations, including with the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, which has recently worked with the archives to create timeline of LGBTQ history in education. This material reached the Federation’s 7,000 members across Canada. Going forward, the archives and the Federation plan to collaboratively design workshops to help teachers integrate more LGBTQ history into the elementary level curriculum are underway. This partnership harnesses the strengths of both sides – the Federation has curriculum design expertise; CLGA brings their LGBTQ history expertise – and is focused through Pitchette’s anti-oppression framework, emphasizing an equitable lens that traces history beyond dominant, mainstream narratives.

Without outreach that is “explicitly centered in anti-oppression and anti-racism,” says Pitchette, community archives can be vulnerable to “reproducing only the perspectives of those who work or volunteer,” and in turn representing only those perspectives in collections. By reaching out to non-white and non-cis-gendered communities in acquisition, and by helping update collections policies to demonstrate an explicit interest in records from intersectionally marginalized communities, Pitchette has worked to ensure collections represent a diversity of viewpoints. Aside from collection development work, Pitchette also focuses on the reference interactions patrons’ have with CLGA’s board members, staff, and volunteers on a daily basis. By instituting mandatory diversity and inclusion sessions and a strong volunteer policy, Pitchette aims to foster a welcoming environment at CLGA, and create an organizational culture that values inclusion.

CLGA currently seeks proposals for a consultant to aid in their selection of a new name. Their current name – the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives – can be seen as at best unwelcoming, and at worst exclusionary, of people who don’t identify as specifically “lesbian” or “gay.” CLGA’s stated goal of the upcoming name selection indicates a desire to “better reflect [their] mandate to support the archives of LGBTQ2+ people.” This name change can itself be seen as a form of outreach, aiming to identify the organization to those whose history it seeks to preserve.

Ultimately, Pitchette sees inclusive outreach as imperative to the survival of community archives, as well as one of the major challenges in the archival field. They feel that the profession as a whole needs to come to think of outreach as integral to the work of archives – and as something that is directly connected to funding. New professionals coming through MLIS programs can help push the conversation to the fore of the profession, pushing for recognition of outreach as a necessary component of a functioning archives. Outreach is essential to help people – especially marginalized people – see that their histories are valuable, an essential step towards preserving those stories for the future.