Can You Fit An Archivist In A Backpack?

by Emily Murphy

CDAT Project Director Chaitra Powell shares our Archivist in a Backpack kits with UNC visiting artists with the flutist group Flutronix.
CDAT Project Director Chaitra Powell shares our Archivist in a Backpack kits with UNC visiting artists with the flutist group Flutronix.

Can you fit an archivist in a backpack? With this provocative question, the team at the Community-Driven Archives Project seeks to break down barriers preventing entry into the field of archives. At the root of the question is a simple truth: a budding community archivist doesn’t need all that much to get started — just the right tools.

Community-Driven Archives (CDA) is an ongoing project that began in April 2017, and is currently in its last year of grant funding through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Working under the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library, CDA seeks to support historically marginalized communities in sharing and preserving their stories. The program acknowledges the many gaps in the historical record, and strives to empower communities to collect and preserve their own histories rather than imposing the curation of a professional archivist. This model builds sorely-needed trust between communities and the archives. It’s not about creating perfectly processed collections to be locked away in UNC’s vault; it’s about returning that decision-making power to the people. This flexibility allows communities to make the best decisions for themselves and their materials. “It’s a “figure-out-as-you-go”, one foot in front of the other kind of process, collaborating between institutions, communities, and newly-found colleagues,” writes Claire Du Laney, the former Outreach Coordinator for CDA on the project’s blog.

Archivist in a Backpack kits on site at a history project in Mexico.
Archivist in a Backpack kits on site at a history project in Mexico.

The “Archivist in a Backpack” initiative is one strategy that the project has undertaken: team members put together dozens of backpacks, each containing an archives starter kit, and send them to community archives and grassroots historical organizations all over the country. The kits are specialized for different kinds of archival work, some containing recorders and tripods for collecting oral histories, and some containing scanners for digital preservation. By putting the equipment in backpacks, the archives becomes both accessible and portable — no longer an intimidating, gatekeeping facade. The team at CDA also provides supplementary workshops, webinars, and other assistance to the backpack recipients, but the main tools for success are in the communities’ hands.

Reaching beyond the immediate community of Chapel Hill, CDA has partnered with organizations across the South. This bold, sweeping effort expands the outreach program’s impact and supports the preservation of underrepresented histories all over the region. Community partners include organizations like the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP) and The Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA), which seek to preserve historical Black voices and stories. The community partners use the “Archivist in a Backpack” project as a resource in their own activism and preservation activities. The backpacks create new connections between past and present, allowing these organizations to carry on important work such as combating systemic racism and gentrification, preserving the history of the civil rights movement, and returning control of the historical narrative to the community. Many of these community partners are only just getting started, and CDA’s goal is to support them through these formative stages, ultimately creating a network of self-sustaining community archives.

In its “About” page, CDA emphasizes mutually supportive partnerships between professional archivists and communities, with the ultimate goal of “provid[ing] communities with the tools and resources to safeguard and represent their own histories.” By empowering communities to take control of their own historical narratives, CDA and the “Archivist in a Backpack” program turn traditional archiving on its head.

Further reading:

Meet Dr. Learotha Williams, Associate Professor of African American and Public History at Tennessee State University, Founder of the North Nashville Heritage Project

by Alex Howard

“The North Nashville Heritage Project taught me that the old lady who fried chicken at the church was just as important as the lawyers who bailed the students who got arrested out of jail,” said Dr. Learotha Williams, referencing the Nashville sit-ins of 1960.

Dr. Williams started the North Nashville Heritage Project in 2010, along with students in his Introduction to Public History course at Tennessee State University. The project seeks to preserve the heritage of North Nashville, a community that has been an epicenter for Black business, culture, and education since the end of the Civil War. The North Nashville Heritage Project started when students asked Dr. Williams questions that he “quite honestly didn’t have an answer to.” His students were interested in the people that lived in the peripheries of North Nashville, beyond its historic Jefferson Street. Dr. Williams realized that “these people had stories that were important” and had not been documented. So Dr. Williams had his students engage in oral histories, encouraging them to “look where people haven’t been looking, ask the questions that haven’t been asked.”

Dr. Williams says the North Nashville Heritage Project “started off as something simple but it has grown into something that was completely unanticipated.” One of these unanticipated results is that “it connected groups that were previously working out there in the wilderness doing their own thing. Now they know about each other. In places where one group is struggling, another may have expertise to share.” One such group is a group of women church historians working to publish and preserve the histories of North Nashville’s Black churches. Dr. Williams says the knowledge and material the church historians have collected is extremely valuable because “the churches were often times the repositories of this community’s history.”

The North Nashville Heritage Project is committed to telling the history of North Nashville through the voices of people who have traditionally been ignored and marginalized. Dr. Williams especially encourages us to “pay attention to Black women in Nashville because we have not done right by them. Not by a long shot.” Intentional community outreach, like to North Nashville’s church historians, is essential to engaging and documenting marginalized voices in Dr. Williams’s work.

This photo was taken from a North Nashville Heritage Project Facebook post on September 25, 2019 highlighting a meeting of the National Association of Colored Women held in Nashville in 1897.


According to Dr. Williams, the most effective method of outreach is cultivating long term, mutually beneficial relationships in the community. This was especially important for him to do as he is not native to Nashville. To start building these relationships, Dr. Williams says it’s all about “getting to know people, figuring out their likes and dislikes, hanging out in the same places as them.” Most importantly, Dr. Williams argues that developing strong relationships requires us to listen to the communities we are engaging – “Listen to what they need and what they want to do. They might have a dream. You can help them pull that off.” If possible, Dr. Williams says it is important to make these relationships a permanent feature of our institutions.

Dr. Williams says it took five years of being in academia for him to start feeling free to do the kind of work he is really passionate about. Dr. Williams is originally from Florida and earned his PhD in African American History from Florida State University. He worked as a Historic Sites Specialist for the State of Florida and served as a professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia where he started an African American Studies program. When he started in his discipline, Dr. Williams had to advocate for academia to embrace conducting oral histories and working with heritage societies as “real history.” He argues that practicing history in this way is difficult because “you have to learn everything that the ‘traditional’ historians know but you also have to learn to speak to folks who aren’t usually in the audience and more importantly listen to people who have traditionally been ignored.” When Dr. Williams came to Tennessee State University in 2009, he was able to engage at this level of historical practice through the North Nashville Heritage Project which he says “has made me a better historian and a better teacher.”

“Can We Talk?”: The Jewish Women’s Archives Monthly Podcast

by Ashley Williams

“Can We Talk” is a podcast put on by the Jewish Women’s Archive. The JWA is an organization based in Brookline, Massachusetts that is dedicated to the celebration and documentation of Jewish women and Jewish feminism. Their various outreach programs include things like “We Celebrate,” a platform that allows patrons to pay permanent tribute to significant Jewish women in their lives, the Rising Voices Fellowship, designed to support young Jewish women interested in writing and social justice, story collecting such as the #MeToo Archive, a documentation of harassment and assault from both within and outside of the Jewish community, as well as a book club that focuses on promoting books about and authored by Jewish women.

 Hosted and produced by Nahanni Rous, the podcast, “Can We Talk” delves into both the historic and contemporary stories of Jewish women. Different episodes focus on women from various walks of life, from mothers, to political activists, to pop culture content creators, to young Jews coming of age. Formats vary from episode to episode, but most consist of a brief interview and the recording of sort of activity. The stories are both heartwarming and informative, and I feel that the best part about them is that you don’t have to be Jewish to feel connected to the stories you’re hearing (though arguably you may feel more connected if you are). While I myself am not Jewish, I cannot tell you how many times in the past several months I’ve caught myself crying or laughing out loud on public transportation while immersed in the intimate sharing that occurs during many of these talks. The podcast demonstrates beautifully the fullness and diversity of the human experience while making apparent the fact that there are struggles that all women share. I found it natural to rejoice in the stories of success and share a heavy heart with the stories of misfortune.

The pilot episode for the podcast was released January 25th, 2016, and ironically enough, was about Jewish female pilots. One pilot, Elynor Rudnick, obtained her pilot’s license in the hopes of joining the Women Airforce Service Pilots, an organization of civilian female pilots that assisted the U.S. during World War II, and the other, Zohara Levitov, flew during Israel’s War of Independence. I recall my favorite line from the episode pointing out that, “Women in the United States of America could fly airplanes before they could vote.” This quote didn’t necessarily refer to women in service, but it served as a reminder for me that women were asked to serve their country long before the country was ready to serve them. One reviewer commented about this episode specifically saying, “Your pilot [podcast] is awesome—super professional—it sounds like NPR.”

“Can We Talk” is currently on its 29th episode, and I would be entirely incapable of choosing a favorite, but I can assure you they have something for everyone. During the final episode of the first season, Rous shared information from a survey revealing that the audience of “Can We Talk” actually transcends several age, gender, and religious groups even though the episodes are designed with Jewish women in mind. There are episodes about a girl who reads the Torah in Braille, Thanksgiving Seders, The #MeToo movement, Infertility, great Jewish literature, great Jewish cuisine, and even topics as concentrated as Jewish hair.

The podcast can be found on almost every platform that offers podcasts and has a five star rating out of sixty reviews on Apple Podcasts. But wait, there’s more! The podcast isn’t the JWA’s only social media presence. They also host a blog called Jewish Women, Amplified, and can be found on Facebook and Twitter. If that still isn’t enough, you can subscribe to their weekly e-newsletters !

Apple Podcasts. (2019). Can We Talk? by Jewish Women’s Archive on Apple Podcasts. [online] Available at:

Jewish Women’s Archive. “Episode 1: The Pilot’s Pilot (Transcript).”<>.

Jewish Women’s Archive. “Impact.” <>.

* Image is the cover art for the podcast taken from the JWA Website

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:



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:

Meet Lorna Condon, Senior Curator for Historic New England

by Anna Faherty

Lorna Condon, the Senior Curator of Library and Archives at Historic New England, was kind enough to meet with me this week and tell me about the collections and programs her institution offers. In her position of senior curator Lorna deals with archival acquisitions, and works on publications, exhibits, and grant writing, among other aspects of archival work. She says she finds it extremely rewarding to help connect people with historical and archival objects that inspire them.

Historic New England is a regional organization encompassing 37 historic properties in five New England States: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. The organization was started by William Sumner Appleton in 1910. Appleton hoped to preserve architecture and artifacts that would tell the stories of the daily life of New Englanders, and not only of famous historical figures. Collections that Appleton began are integral parts of the collection today, for example, the ephemera collection and the documentary photograph collection. The library and archives at Historic New England include photos, architectural drawings, postcards, books, periodicals, and manuscripts. Many collections of photographs have been digitized and are available on the Historic New England website. Explore the collections of Historic New England:

Historic New England is focused on preserving, maintaining, and making accessible objects associated with the region’s history. Though the organization began in Massachusetts, it maintains buildings in all New England states except for Vermont. Historic New England has developed collaborative partnerships in Vermont through public programs, lectures on New England history, workshops for homeowners, loans of material to exhibitions, and a field school for preservation students and professionals.

An important group of stakeholders in Historic New England are those living in historic homes they would like to preserve. Through the easement program, Historic New England partners with these homeowners to help legally deed preservation maintenance into their ownership documents to protect their houses in perpetuity. By helping to manage the care of private historic homes, the organization can assist in the preservation of New England heritage outside of the traditional realms of public institutions like museums. Other users of the archive at Historic New England include historians, architects, students of all ages, filmmakers, and community members from various localities throughout the region.

Within the organization, the library and archives provide resources for staff members from various departments: marketing, exhibition, preservation, and publication, to name a few. The archive provides information and artifacts which are featured in exhibits at various locations, including online, in magazines, promotional materials, and books. There are also external groups and individuals which Historic New England reaches with various programs, workshops, partnerships, and exhibitions. Every year, the organization gives awards to authors of books of new research about the material culture of New England, and to collections of works on paper which make significant contributions to history. These awards serve to forge bonds between researchers, collectors, and Historic New England, in order to promote and recognize the value of historical scholarship.

Historic New England partners with various organizations in order to broaden their user base and expand their collections. Some of their partners in exhibit creation, programming, digitization, and grant collaboration include: The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), The Boston Athenaeum, state initiatives such as the Maine Photo Project, schools like Berwick Academy, and professional associations such as the American Alliance of Museums. The program Everyone’s History grew out of community involvement in events relating to the 100th anniversary of the organization. Everyone’s History partners Historic New England with community groups all over the region to tell the stories they are passionate about. Some of the outcomes of these projects are oral histories, books, exhibits, documentaries and ongoing programs. Partners include museums and historical societies, public school systems, religious organizations, LGBT groups, workers associations, preservation trusts, and even a yacht club! Learn more about Everyone’s History:

Everyone’s History has helped Historic New England reach potential users from diverse communities, and provides an ongoing connection to groups that represent New England daily life in the modern world and historically. A great example is the Haymarket Project, a collaboration between Historic New England, the Haymarket Pushcart Association, and photographer Justin H. Goodstein. The project documents the lives and traditions of vendors at Haymarket and the history, changes, and challenges of the market. The relationship between Haymarket and Historic New England has continued, and on October 20th, a program hosted by Historic New England and the Haymarket Pushcart Association called “Taste of Haymarket” explores its history and culture for interested members of the public. More information about the “Taste of Haymarket” event can be found here:








KJ Rawson, Founder of the Digital Transgender Archive

KJ Rawson, Founder of the Digital Transgender Archive (DTA)

by Erica J Hill

K.J. Rawson is the director of the Digital Transgender Archive, an online platform providing digital versions of transgender historical records, born-digital records, and holdings of other repositories around the world. Despite not having professional training in archival studies, he took several Library and Information Science classes in his graduate program. K.J. Rawson is a professor of Rhetoric, English, and Gender Studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He has a Master’s Degree from University of Colorado-Boulder in English Literature focusing on Queer Theory and Critical Race Studies. He received his PhD from Syracuse University in Composition and Cultural Rhetoric.

The inspiration for the archives began when K.J. met historian Nick Matte, at a conference and discussed the challenges they faced when researching transgender history in archives. These challenges include the repositories knowledge of their materials and the environment of the reading room. The archives addresses the barriers in terms of accessibility. Archives may have documents that pertain to transgender history, however, it may be difficult for one to travel to a physical location and find materials.

The DTA functions as a union catalog, virtually bringing together materials that are relevant to the understanding and study of transgender histories. As the collecting policy states, the term ‘transgender’ is used to refer to a “broad and inclusive range of non-normative gender practices.” As such, the DTA considers transgender as a practice rather than an identity, allowing the archives to include a broad range of trans-historical and trans-cultural materials. The focus is on materials created before the year 2000.

What is special about the DTA is that, although there are no physical archives, K.J. has created a lab where student volunteers work to digitize and describe materials. Students also participate in the archives’ social media presence. The posts highlight materials in the archives, including newly added collections. K.J. uses his network of archivists, professors, and researchers, whom he has met at conferences and speaking engagements, to acquire materials for the archives. He uses skype and email the most when working with collaborators.

With a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, he has hired a fulltime project coordinator to oversee the day-to-day activities of the archives. The College of the Holy Cross where KJ teaches, also supports the mission of the archives. By incorporating the materials from the DTA in his classes, he demonstrates its importance as an educational tool. Involving students in using the archives has led to more college support and feedback on the usability of the online platform and has helped streamline the functionality of the site.

The archives has a 10-member advisory board including individuals in the trans community who are located within and outside of Massachusetts. Part of the success of the archives is K.J.’s willingness to ask dedicated archivists and collaborators for their advice and insight. He believes that now is a good opportunity to make the resource available to educate people and organizations about the issues that transgender communities face.

The challenges of the archives include, meeting the expectations of stakeholders and completing projects with grant funding. While people from all over the world can access the materials online (provided they have a device), most information and description of holdings are in English. Efforts have been made to acquire collections in German, Spanish, Portuguese and several other languages. Another challenge involves acquiring materials without knowledge of who holds copyright. This prompted K.J. and his team to create a policy where materials that violate someone’s copyright will be taken down immediately. Direct materials from creators are preferred because of these copyright regulations.

The archives is an advocacy tool in itself to aid trans communities that are committed to education as a tool for social change. It exists to transform people’s perspectives of trans communities in history and present-day. It also has the capacity to inspire other archives to represent trans people in their own holdings. The possibility of physical exhibits based on the materials found online creates a push for users to advocate for the acquisition of materials related to trans history and culture. This push enables trans related museum projects to begin in non-exclusively trans institutions.

One project K.J. is looking forward to the digitization of a collection out of Berlin and establishing connections and relationships with archivists and trans community members in Venezuela.

To browse the Digital Transgender Archive, click here. To read K.J.’s research, including journal articles and a scrollable timeline of the history the term “transgender,” visit his website, here.

[edited from original posting, 11-11-17]

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.