My MARAC summary

It’s been great to see the postings from Brave Astronaut (on the Order from Chaos blog) and the Anarchivist about MARAC and also that we’ve got some photos up on Flickr from the meeting (again, search for the tag “maracs07”). Since they’ve done a great job at conveying the social side of the meeting (which was considerable), I’ll try to talk a bit about the sessions I attended.

The program committee did a great job of setting up sessions that followed their theme, “Labor, Business & Archives in the Workplace.” Because I’m trying to find guests for my new podcast series, I attended a lot of these locally-focused sessions (in contrast to what I would have done back in my old job), and I thought the overall quality was quite good.

The first session I attended was “Creating a Sense of Place: Primary Sources and Local History.” The speakers were Robert E. Carbonneau, C.P of the Passionist Historical Archives, Maureen McGuigan, a local poet and playwright, and Jim Quigel from the Pennsylvania State University’s Historical Collections and Labor Archives. Mr. Carbonneau spoke eloquently about using materials from the collections of religious groups to shed light on the day-to-day lives and work of religious persons and to show how their activities were integrated into the larger life of the community. Ms. McGuigan described how she has used primary and secondary source material about local historical figures to bring their stories to life in her works. Mr. Quigel used a collection of reports from the famous Pinkerton detective agency to show how they attempted (sometimes successfully) to infiltrate the forces behind the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.

I arrived late to the next session, “Hidden Labor Revealed: Enhancing Access to Women’s History,” so I only caught the end of speaker from the Hagley Museum & Library describing their holdings related to women and labor. Doris Malkmus of PennState’s Special Collections took an interesting approach–documenting her attempts to find materials in her own collections related to women and labor (largely unsuccessfully), and speculating about how the future application of new guidelines for processing would help or hurt similar efforts in the future. The last speaker, Sarah Keen from Cornell, described collections related to homemaking as a profession and home economics as a discipline, pointing to electronic resources such as the Home Economics Archive.

I was, I have to say, a little disappointed in the next session on “Documenting Irish Immigrant Work, Religion and Culture”–apologies to anyone involved who reads this. I found Paula Kane’s talk very interesting–probably because she took a larger view of the subject, discussing issues of Irish immigrant work within a larger cultural context. The other two speakers (from Seton Hall and NARA’s Philadelphia office) focused more on describing what materials they had in their collections that related to Irish immigration. This type of presentation may be what many of the attendees were looking for, but I was looking for a little more analysis. I should also admit that it was about at this point that spring arrived inside the hotel and so my allergies started to act up. That could have been part of it as well.

I changed my mind at the last minute on Saturday morning and went to “Mind Your Own Business Records” and I was so glad that I did. This was a great session about 19th and early 20th century business records. David Grinnell from the Heinz Regional History Center gave an interesting description of several of their collections that include records of local businesses–often “hidden” in collections of personal and family papers. You could not ask for a better advocate for the use of railroad business records than Patrick McKnight from the National Park Service’s Steamtown National Historic Site . Finally Dr. Daniel M.G. Raff from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania gave us a completely different perspective, describing how he had used some rather obscure records from the early days of the Ford Motor Company to shed new light on the roots of Ford’s success. Although the earlier two speakers were excellent, I found Dr. Raff’s talk the most compelling. Although he lost me in some of his discussions of his data analysis, I was fascinated to hear a user of archives talk about incorporating our holdings into his research in ways that most of us archivists could not have anticipated. I think we need to hear from more speakers like this at the Chautauqua meeting. I later heard that they had a lot of trouble finding a speaker for this last “slot” on the session–that of the user of records. Another piece of information to file away–maybe we need to do a better job of networking with some of our users to able to tap into them later on.

Finally, since I am currently “unaffiliated,” I went to “I Can Get Paid for This? Archival Consulting as a Business.” Again, there were three excellent speakers: Linda Edgerly from The Winthrop Group, Alan Lewis, an independent consultant in audiovisual archives, and Valerie Metzler, an independent archivist/historian consultant. The panel kept their remarks short and very much to the point, with plenty of time for many questions from the audience, as well as from the chair, Jack McCarthy, another archival consultant. I think it would be useful for either SAA or MARAC to collect information like this on career options in archives and publish it in some way–probably on the web. Or is this already being done? Can we have sessions like this at every MARAC meeting as a way to gather information on career options? Just a thought.

All in all I think most people left Scranton pleasantly surprised–both by the city and the quality of the program. In a small organization like MARAC I think it can be hard to bring in new speakers and easy to rely on the same old faces. The program committee should be applauded for making an effort to create a diverse and interesting line up. The Williamsburg program committee faces the challenge of keeping people in the sessions when there are so many other options. But think of the great pictures we’ll get of archivists in the stocks!

Blogging from MARAC in Scranton

I just read the posts written by Brave Astronaut and the Anarchivist (also known as Geof) about their MARAC experiences yesterday. I am sorry to say that I am not on the Steering Committee and did not enjoy the lavish spread they described. And I had other obligations and so did not visit the hospitality suite–although I will be there tonight. Yesterday I attended a workshop on doing oral histories. I have no plans to conduct any oral histories, but I thought some of the content might be useful to me in one of my other ventures–a podcast series on archives. I thought the workshop was very good, and I heard in the Maryland-DC caucus meeting this morning that MARAC is going to start holding workshops outside of the spring and fall meetings, which will be a very good thing. I then went to the Program Committee meeting for next spring’s meeting at the Chatauqua Institution. The committee is dedicated to making that meeting “different” and we’re exploring ideas for different kinds of sessions and ways to structure the meeting. Anyone with any suggestions, please feel free to comment.

Unlike the Brave Astronaut, I am having no trouble finding sessions that are relevant to my job–my job at the moment being writing this blog and setting up the podcast series. As the other bloggers noted, for most of us one of the main reasons we come to meetings like this one is to socialize and network with our friends, and I’ve been doing a lot of that too. One friend is deciding whether to start gathering signatures for a petition he wants discussed at the SAA Business Meeting in Chicago, and I, as you can imagine, have been encouraging him to do so. I’ve been catching up with news from friends who are still at the National Archives and getting feedback from some of the readers of this blog.

I need to run now to make it to my next session, but I also wanted to point people to photos from the conference being posted on Flickr–look for the tag maracs07 (s for spring).  I am sure after tonight there will be some from the reception at the Trolley Museum too.

Conference I should have gone to: Computers in Libararies

I’m black and blue from kicking myself that I didn’t go to this: the 22nd annual (!) Computers in Libraries conference in Crystal City, Va–this is their wiki site. I’m going to write this post about the web presence/social aspects of this conference and a post (or two) will follow about content. I suggest people interested in creating a wiki for SAA check this one out to get ideas, but I think we might all want to look at it to judge how effectively a tool like this (along with the official conference site, and the pictures and blogs I’ll talk about later) can deliver value for people who don’t actually attend the conference.

According to the wiki, there are 38 bloggers attending the conference. (And they get those impressive ribbons they can attach to their nametags that say “blogger” just like the “speaker” ribbons.) I took a quick look at most of the their blogs, and yup, they’re all writing about the conference. I’ll talk about the content later–which looks to be quite good–but the point (for those of you who aren’t fully caffeinated) is that with that many people writing, you really get a sense of the content being delivered. (The wiki page is called “Conference Bloggers” if you want to check it out.)

As of this posting, there were 504 photos available in Flickr tagged “cil2007” – this is one of them:

Blogga, Blogga, Blogga by Travelin’ LibrarianBlogga, Blogga, Blogga by Travelin’ Librarian


(I would have linked directly to the Flickr image but I spent a lot of yesterday trying to figure out why Flickr doesn’t want to link to my blog. Still haven’t sorted that out yet.)

Go to Flickr and take a look at the pictures–a lot of them are of food, and drinks, and the Metro, and tourist sights, but there are also pictures of the speakers’ slides, the speakers, and people at the exhibit hall. I think that they really give you a sense of what being at the meeting would be like. I think if going to conferences were really all about the presentations, most of us might not go to as many conferences, or at least we wouldn’t enjoy them as much. I look forward to seeing how many pictures we can post of SAA in Chicago to share with people who can’t go what being there was like.

If you go to and look for things with the “cil2007” tag right now, you will find 52. It’s a mixed bag, but again, an interesting one. Info about public transportation, weather, restaurants, along with content related to the presentations and the blogs.

I’ll post more about this soon, but I am actually leaving today for another conference–the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference spring meeting in Scranton. So in addition to writing about the conferences I didn’t go to, I’ll also be writing about the one I did go to. And, who knows, you might be able to see some pictures of that conference on Flickr soon too.