Monday, August 1, 2011

Midwest Archives Conference Annual Meeting in St. Paul, MN on April 28 - 30, 2011

This semester I am taking LIS 7750 Archives Administration & Services.  Our professor had pointed out that MAC would be taking place near the end of the semester and asked the class about attending.  I thought this was just a perfect confluence of events - being able to hear professionals talk about the topics we were studying.  Plus it had an inexpensive registration fee ($45 for all three days at the early bird student price) and is in downtown St. Paul so don’t have to travel far or stay overnight anywhere.

Thursday I arrived and walked though the vendor booths, picking up some souvenirs for the family and then went to listen to the plenary address by Mark Neuzil, who is a professor at St. Thomas.  He had written a book, Views on the Mississippi: The Photography of Henry Peter Bosse, and so his talk focused on Bosse’s life and why his photographs are a bit different than others of the time, and also a bit about what the Mississippi was like in the 1800s and what the Army Corps of Engineers was doing with it.  I have now put this book on my Amazon list, also thinking it would be possible to track him down to have him sign it.

Then it was snack time - squares of cake, a popcorn mix and cans of pop!

My afternoon session was “Reaching Virtually Everyone—Virtually”.  In the end, I would have done better to choose something else as they really spent the whole time talking about Twitter and Facebook and a blog.  I learned that ⅓ of Facebook users use a mobile app and that the guy who did the Facial Hair Friday page on Facebook went into foreign service which is why it is no longer updated.  I did also learn that #2011mac was the official hashtag for the conference and a few other Twitter pages to check out.

Friday morning, SJ Stambaugh and I met and headed back to the Crowne Plaza.  I attended “I Didn’t Know We Had an Archives! Outreach Successes and Challenges in Corporate Archives”.  This was presented by Jamie Martin of Target Corporation, Jennifer Johnson of Cargill, Inc.,and Susan Wakefield of General Mills, Inc.  I had seen Jamie and Jennifer speak at St. Kate’s last fall and some of my classmates had recently met with Susan for archivist shadowing.  It was interesting to hear what sort of environment they are each in and really to learn about these local companies.  They really all mentioned that they are in ever-changing companies and so their displays need to change quarterly to retain interest but that other employees really enjoy seeing them.  And also that the archivists need to keep trying new media to try and get awareness of their department out to other employees.  At Target they are working on oral histories and we got to see a video of Audrey Russell talking about how Target used to be.  She was hired as a cashier at the first Target just a few months after it opened and just retired in 2010.  There was a montage of photographs to show what she was describing and it was really interesting to see how it was both similar and so different than Targets are now.  

Then it was snack time - muffins and juice!

My next session was “ABCs of Appraisal and Acquisition.”  Two of the presenters were related to the Air Force, one was for a research lab and the other with the Air Force National Museum.  The woman with the research lab was actually the first archivist for that area.  The third presenter was with the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music.  What I knew about Sousa was that he wrote band music that my girls enjoy marching to, though apparently he was a self-made millionaire.   The best part of this session was when the Air Force ladies did three vignettes about a potential donor of materials.  Their “donors” were just over-the-top and the audience was cracking up.  However, as outrageous as they were acted, they were still within the realm of possibility - material that was not within the scope of the collection, in possibly very poor condition, or wanting to retain control.  So it could also be that watching the performances also reminded the archival audience of donor experiences they have had.

At the lunch break I went on the tour of the Saint Paul City Hall and Ramsey County Court House.  I had been inside once to witness a wedding on a weekend where we, the bride and groom, and the judge were seemingly the only people in the building.  This time was much busier.  I had no idea that the largest art deco building in the United States was located here.  And apparently because of the timing of the construction, just after the stock market crash, they were really able to use materials and decorate in a more expensive way than would have been possible at other times.  I am also quite impressed that there is a lot of furniture original to the building being used each day so casually.  One wonders how many people coming in to do business realize that.  We did get to go into the mayor’s office and also sit in the council’s chairs and also in the witness box.  We also got a demonstration by a county drug-sniffing dog.  One does have to wonder what a deputy is doing walking around with a bag of drugs in his pocket...

After a trip to Subway, we settled in for “EAD FACTORy: Simplifying the Production of EAD.”  This was just not that exciting.  Maybe being afternoon nap-time coupled with having had introductions to EAD previously in class and also presenters with un-exciting presentations....  I did think it was a bit funny that after intuitions were using EAD and hiring student workers to populating the finding aids, the student workers got bored doing this task and would ask to do something else.  It did appear that they had a bright green background on the screen and I wonder if the colors on the screen caused some eyestrain that also might have caused the students to say they don’t want to do the task.

Then it was snack time - soft pretzels and root beer floats!

Saturday morning, I made it though the drizzle for “Redesigning Archives Websites with User Perspectives.”  All the speakers were excellent.  I had taken Internet Fundamentals so it was nice to see that things our class had talked about came up in these real world situations.  I also thought it funny when one presenter mentioned Kulthau’s relation between emotion and the search process as that had been brought up in History of the Printed Book just a couple weeks ago.  Also, they all mentioned that their users had trouble with archival terms, such as not knowing “finding aid”, and the difference between University Archives and collections at the University, and also Records Management.  They also learned that users don’t look at text, don’t utilize side navigation, don’t look for definitions of terms and really just head for the search bar only to become frustrated when it searches the whole institution site and not just the archives/special collections section of the website.  However the history professors who were part of one study knew what finding aids were and wanted more of them!  All of the presenters said they were working on reducing text and adding graphics to convey information.  They were also working on the advanced search type settings which might possibly include specifying a date range or format of items.  

Then it was snack time - cookies, bars and pop!  Oh I do like a good lemon bar...

My last session was “Bringing History to Life: Teaching with Primary Sources.”  The first speaker really ran professional development days for K-12 teachers where they would practice a skill such as replicating original order, interpreting photography, evaluation sources for truth, etc.  The teachers really enjoyed this.  The other two speakers worked with undergrads.  The first speaker would do a day or two on a topic requested by a professor.  The second speaker decided to teach an introduction course to the incoming freshmen on the topic of student life but would have them use resources from the archives.  Her class had very interesting projects, such as making a Facebook page for a pre-1922 student, however it sounded like a large work-load for a 1 credit class.  She has now done this class for 3 years, and I’m a bit surprised that it hasn’t seemed to result in more student interest in history or archives as a field.  But perhaps it is still too early to tell.  It does seem that there has been more use by the faculty of the archives since she began teaching so that is a positive result.

I think if my schedule was such that I could have gone on more of the tours or the receptions this would have been even more enjoyable.  However I liked going and being able to tie the discussions to things from class.  And even hearing about all the different types of archives that are out there and the problems they can each have makes me think I should keep my mind open about where I would want to work.  Next year MAC is in Grand Rapids, who knows I may need a trip to Michigan next spring!

Sonja Isaacson

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