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Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University
Updated: 18 min 21 sec ago

Accidental Collections part 2

Thu, 2015-08-27 19:06
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Previously I have written about what I termed an “accidental collection” that occurred with collections of print ads cut from magazines, whereby frequently interesting and equally historical ads appear on the back side of the ad that was intentionally collected. Accidental collections remain hidden unless there is some way to document their presence. Unfortunately, there are not many mechanisms in current archival description “best practices” to document them.

Recently I’ve encountered another and quite different kind of accidental collection. I’m currently working with the Cause Marketing Forum’s Halo Awards collection recently acquired by the Hartman Center.  This award is given to projects that utilize marketing and media to promote social causes via partnerships between businesses and nonprofit organizations such as Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the USO among many others. While “cause marketing” as a term may not be a familiar one, the campaigns form a significant part of businesses’ and nonprofits’ marketing efforts and many are probably well known to you: Race for the Cure; VH1 Save the Music; Cartoon Network’s Rescue Recess; Lee National Denim Day; and at holiday time your favorite department store has likely teamed up with the likes of Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army or a local food bank or rescue shelter. That’s cause marketing.

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The Halo Awards collection contains over a decade’s worth of the award’s entry forms and accompanying documentation, the latter which arrives in a wide variety of formats. One really interesting format here is an amazing variety of promotional thumb drives. Many simply feature a corporate logo or slogan, perhaps a website URL, but others feature artwork or have designs that can range from the emblematic to the whimsical. Time Warner’s “Connect a Million Minds” drive forms a bracelet, while the National Association of Realtors’ Houselogic.com drive looks like a block of wood. A drive for New Balance imitates a running shoe where the heel pulls off to reveal the drive connection.  EMTec’s drive resembles a cartoon character whose head comes off, and a drive for Chevron is a toy car where the connection slides out from the rear.

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Together these promotional drives form a collection of their own, as artifacts and ephemera representing a form of media belonging to a very particular time (in this case, the past 6 or 7 years). One day the design and promotional nature of these drives may take on an historical importance of its own apart from the significance of the contents of the drives for the collection to which they originally belong. This kind of thing frequently poses a dilemma for archivists and conservators: the relative significance and archival value of the contents of a document or medium versus the form of the media itself. How does one evaluate and/or value the vessel? Is it possible to describe collections within collections, or do the conditions of possibility of one mode of description preclude others?

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Post contributed by Rick Collier; photographs by Katrina Martin

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Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush on the quality he values “more than all things”

Mon, 2015-08-24 18:34
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While processing the Benjamin Rush papers, which will soon be digitized and available online, Alice Poffinberger, Archivist/Original Cataloger, came across a letter from Thomas Jefferson to fellow Founding Father Dr. Benjamin Rush. The letter, dated January 3, 1808, requests that Rush grant Jefferson’s teenage grandson his “friendly attentions” when he moves to Philadelphia the coming autumn.  Though unnamed in the letter, the grandson in question is Thomas Jefferson Randolph, who attended the University of Pennsylvania from  1808 to 1809.

Stating that he is “without that bright fancy that captivates,” Jefferson hopes the fifteen-year-old “possesses sound judgment and much observation” in addition to the quality he values “more than all things, good humor.”  Jefferson goes on to list the qualities of the mind he appreciates as good humor, integrity, industry, and science. Following this list, he claims “The preference of the 1st to the 2nd quality may not at first be acquiesced in, but certainly we had all rather associate with a good humored light-principled man, than an ill-tempered rigorist in morality.”

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Randolph would go on to serve six terms in the Virginia House of Delegates and manage his grandfather’s sizable debts as the sole executor of his estate.

Post contributed by Katrina Martin, Technical Services Assistant. 

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Onè! Respè! (Honor! Respect!)

Wed, 2015-07-29 19:39
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The Radio Haiti archive project is underway! We’ve spent the first couple weeks creating a behemoth database…

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…assigning each and every tape a unique ID number, and putting the tapes in nice new comfortable bar-coded boxes. This means that an archive which arrived looking like this…

Rh bins.pngRadio Haiti boxes arrive in North Carolina after a long voyage

… now, happily, looks like this.

rh craig.pngAV archivist Craig Breaden with some newly-boxed Radio Haiti tapes

 

We are incredibly fortunate that the former Radio Haiti staff and friends and family in Port-au-Prince (you know who you are!) sent the tapes with a detailed inventory — it makes our job so much easier.

We are also inspecting the tapes for mold (and we have found mold aplenty).

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We are also keeping track of which tapes are going to require a little extra TLC.

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We’re creating rather sweeping controlled vocabulary — describing subjects, names, and places that appear in the archive. Once we’ve put in all this metadata, we can send the more than 3500 tapes off to be cleaned and digitized.

These tasks (organizing, typing in data, cross-referencing, labeling, bar-coding, describing, mold-noting), while arguably unglamorous, are necessary groundwork for eventually making the recordings publicly accessible, ensuring that these tapes can speak again, and that Radyo Ayiti pap peri (Radio Haiti will never perish).

We’ve only listened to a small sampling of the recordings so far, but the tapes themselves, as physical objects, tell a story. Even the mold is part of the story. That white mold on the tapes and the dusty dark mildew on the tape boxes tell of the  Radio Haiti journalists’ multiple exiles during which the tapes remained in the tropics and the future of the station was uncertain.

To glance over the titles of the recordings — the labels on their spines, lined up in order, row upon row — is to chart the outline of late 20th century Haitian political history — a chronology of presidencies, coups, interventions, massacres, disappearances, and impunity. The eighty-nine tapes chronicling the Raboteau trial of 2000, in which former junta leaders were tried for the 1994 torture and massacre of civilians, take up an entire shelf.

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And then there is the long, long sequence of recordings after the April 3, 2000 assassination of Jean Dominique, when the center of the station’s orbit violently and irrevocably shifted.

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It is uncanny to look at the tapes with hindsight and see the patterns emerge. Here is the political landscape of Haiti, from the 1970s to the 2000s, from dictatorship to the democratic era: The same impunity, the same lies, the same corruption, the same suffering, the same mentalities, the same machinations. Chameleons change their color, oppressors repaint their faces, state-sanctioned killings become extrajudicial killings, and the poor generally come off the worst.

The journalists who did these reports and conducted these interviews experienced these events in real time. They could not yet know the whole story because, in each of these moments, they were in the middle of it. For them, the enthusiasm of 1986 (after Duvalier fell, and Radio Haiti’s staff returned from their first exile) and of 1994 (when Aristide was reinstated, and Radio Haiti’s staff returned from their second exile) was unfettered. Likewise, for them, the struggle against impunity and injustice was urgent.

There is a recording labeled “Justice Dossier Jando Blocage 4.9.01” — “Justice Jean Dominique case blocked investigation.” Those short words contain a saga: by September 2001, a year and a half after Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint were murdered, Radio Haiti was already reporting on how the investigation had stalled. In 2001, perhaps, justice appeared attainable, just out of reach. Now, fourteen years later, the case remains unsolved.

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Back in 2011, I attended a talk by Haitian human rights activist Jean-Claude Bajeux in Port-au-Prince, where he said, “gen anpil fantòm kap sikile nan peyi a ki pa gen stati.” (“there are many ghosts wandering through this country that have no statue”). He was speaking of those who were disappeared under the Duvalier regime. But he could have been speaking, too, of innumerable others who have died and been erased – those who were killed by the earthquake, under the military regime, through direct political violence and through the structural violence of everyday oppression.

This archive is not a statue or a monument, but it is one place where the dead speak. Sometimes the controlled vocabulary feels like an inventory of ghosts.

Sometimes I think I am working on an archive that was never meant to be archived, something that was supposed to remain an active, living struggle. I think of how far these clean cardboard storage boxes and quiet temperature-controlled spaces are from the sting of tear gas, the stickiness of blood, the smell of burning tires, the crack of gunfire, the heat and noise, the laughter and fury of Haiti.

But salvaging and preserving is part of the struggle; remembering is, itself, a political act.

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Radio Haiti Project Archivist.

The post Onè! Respè! (Honor! Respect!) appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Come for the ad, stay for the history lesson

Mon, 2015-06-29 14:00
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The Hartman Center houses a Vertical Files collection from Brouillard Communications, a division of the J. Walter Thompson Company advertising agency, with files on an extensive set of industry groups and individual companies. While processing this collection I came across this 1948 ad for Avondale Mills of Alabama. The ad celebrates graduates from an Avondale Negro School with a quote from Booker T. Washington (“Cast down your bucket where you are”) and encouragement to take advantage of the opportunities that education provides, whether in one of Avondale’s mills—the ad points out that 1 in 12 Avondale employees were African American, about 600 out of the 7,000 total workforce—or in any of a number of other professions. As a corporate public relations piece, it is effusively inspirational.

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We tend to think of Birmingham as the epicenter of the civil rights movement, a place Dr. King once called the most segregated city in America, where racial oppression was at its harshest. Bull Connor, the bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church, King’s letter from jail there.  History, however, is more complicated and more vexing.  In 1897 Braxton Bragg Comer (who would serve as Governor of Alabama from 1907-1911) established a mill in the Avondale neighborhood of Birmingham, not far from the city center.  Comer’s vision, carried out and expanded by his sons and other family members, was to create an ideal Progressive-era mill village, complete with schools, hospitals and dairy farms to serve the employees. Avondale employed men and women (and also some children, which brought sharp criticism from child labor reformers), white and black, and offered profit sharing and retirement plans, medical care, living wages, affordable housing, even access to vacation properties in Florida. By the time this ad ran in the Saturday Evening Post, the company had expanded to several mills and 7,000 employees who, as the ad proclaims “participate in Avondale’s ‘Partnership-with-People’.”

This all sounds very much like contemporary progressive economic and social rhetoric, and the list of Avondale’s employee benefits would be appealing today. The following decades, of course, would see the collapse of the textile industry in the U.S. South as production moved overseas (the Avondale Mills would themselves close for good in 2006), but here in this ad is a remarkable testimony to a social experiment that combined progressive social welfare ambitions with company town paternalism.

Post contributed by Richard J. Collier, Technical Services Archivist, John. W. Hartman Center.

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Transitions: From student to staff, from old stacks to new

Wed, 2015-06-03 14:04
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One of my most vivid memories of the Rubenstein Library is one of my first.  Shortly after starting to work as a student assistant in the fall of 2011, I entered the dark, dusty labyrinth of the library’s old stacks and grabbed an item to reshelve.  With great trepidation, I drew back both metal gates on the 1926 elevator, pushed the button for the fifth floor, and hoped that the creaky old machine would actually make it to our destination.  Once I got out of the elevator and my pulse had returned to normal, I found the item’s home on the bottom of a row of shelves, set it back in its proper place, stood up, and found myself eye-to-label with the Stonewall Jackson Papers.

As a lifelong history nerd, I had known that I would enjoy working in the Rubenstein, but it was not until that moment that I realized exactly how cool the Rubenstein was, and what a great resource it is for the Duke community.  That point was driven home even further when, as an undergraduate majoring in History and German, I used the Rubenstein frequently as a researcher.  Knowing how important the Rubenstein is to researchers in a wide variety of fields made it all the more exciting to sign on as a Senior Move Assistant during the transition from our old space to the new.

In the two weeks since I started working full-time, I have been busy measuring volumes to help figure out where items are going to be stored in our new space, and “linking” bound-withs to help ensure that items which are physically bound together actually show up that way in the catalog.  The move process is not simply moving items from point A to point B, and back to a refurbished point A.  It is also an opportunity to improve and simplify many aspects of the library, and it is very exciting to be part of that process.  Having worked and done research in both the old space and the temporary space, I can say that I am thrilled for the opening of the new Rubenstein Library.  The move process is making a great campus resource even better, and I can’t wait to see the final result of the next few months of work!

Post contributed by Michael Kaelin (T ’15), Senior Move Assistant at the Rubenstein Library. Michael worked as a Student Assistant for four years.  Originally from Wilton, CT, his interests include history and literature.

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Meet the Staff: Craig Breaden

Mon, 2015-06-01 15:14
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The Meet Our Staff series features Q&A interviews with Rubenstein staff members about their work and lives.

Craig Breaden joined the Rubenstein as our Audiovisual Archivist  three years ago. Prior to his time at Duke, he spent seven years at the Russell Library at the University of Georgia. He has a BA and MA in history from Texas Christian University and Utah State University, respectively, and an MLS from UNC .  He works on everything from small single-film collections to grant-funded preservation projects involving thousands of audiovisual items.  He facilitates preservation work, provides access to obsolete formats, processes (inventory and catalog) collections, and functions as the go-to oral history guy.

Tell us about your academic background and interests.

I started out interested in frontier history particularly, and how popular images of the American West inform the way Americans think about themselves, their creation myths, the rest of the world.  I’ve also had a lifelong love of music and a fascination with recorded audio and video.  Our audiovisual heritage provides a different, animated view of the past, and can carry a unique emotional weight.

What led you to working in libraries?

I’d had some experience working in a special collections library while in college, but it took a long while for me to come to the profession.  Some folks are late bloomers, I guess.  After years of working in corporate atmospheres unrelated to my academic background, I’d come to the point where I wanted to start making a difference and make a living.  It was the idea that work should mean something, make some kind of contribution to the society as a whole.  There are of course all kinds of ways to do this, but I thought I should play to my strengths.  I had a challenging and satisfying year of teaching 8th grade social studies, but knew that I could give more outside the classroom by focusing on what we might consider the raw materials of educators, those cultural heritage resources that give voice to the past.  It so happened that one of the best library schools in the country (UNC-Chapel Hill) was just down the road, and I applied and fortunately got in.  I decided to focus on my background and my interest in A/V, and while in school pursued audiovisual archiving as an emphasis of my library education.  I owe a big debt to the Southern Folklife Collection and its director, Steve Weiss, in helping me on my way, and to the great librarians at the University of Georgia for giving me a shot.

How do you describe what you do to people you meet at a party? To fellow librarians and library staff?

I usually tell people I’m an archivist in Duke Special Collections.  Sometimes that leads to further conversation, other times not.  I think in general there’s a real disconnect, a misunderstanding about what history really is.  It’s hard to say to most people that what we think of as history is what it is because of what we do in libraries and archives like the one here at Duke.  Colleagues get it, but I think usually the best introduction for them is when they get a CD or tape or film as part of a collection and wonder, at the very basic level, what to do with it.

What does an average day look like for you?

One of the great things about my job is that there aren’t many average days, but most days hold some combination of digital preservation, inventorying collections, answering reference questions via email, figuring out how to run a film or a video or audio tape so that we know what’s on it, and advising colleagues on portions of their collections that hold AV.  Then there are often questions related to policy creation and the changing landscape of digital preservation.  And let’s not forget the meetings….

What do you like best about your job?

I like figuring out problems that fall into my domain of expertise.  I do a ton of troubleshooting and tinkering to get AV to simply play back in a way that it can be accessed, and these nuts-and-bolts successes are always satisfying and really essential to what I do.  I also enjoy meeting donors and getting to know the personalities behind the stuff, just as it’s always great to help a researcher plug into something they might not have been aware of.  And of course my colleagues – every one of them brilliant in completely different ways.

CB devil's tale 013Craig with the Rubenstein’s newest flatbed film editing suite, the Steenbeck

What might people find surprising about your job?

The amount of time spent with spreadsheets and on email.  The first is part and parcel of what we do, that is, knowing what we have, the second is all about attempting to efficiently communicate (jury’s out on that, though).  Pleasantly surprising is that amazingly smart colleagues have something interesting to show or talk about every day.  Archives can be mind-blowing.

Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?

The H. Lee Waters Films for their big heart, the Frank Clyde Brown field recordings for all the secrets they hold in their wax cylinder and lacquer disc grooves (and that will soon be secret no longer), the home movie collections we have that tell a story beyond what’s happening onscreen, and all the fragile and forgotten bits of film and video that share our shelves equally and continue to have a voice.

Where can you be found when you’re not working? 

With my kids, cooking, strumming a guitar (sometimes all three at once).

What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Innkeeper’s Song by Peter S. Beagle; Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Wagner; and Haiti: The Aftershocks of History by Laurent Dubois.

Interview conducted and edited by Katrina Martin.

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