Wednesday, November 09, 2011

“From Theory to Practice: Accessing and Preserving Electronic Records and Digital Materials”
Conference sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, held at the McKimmon Center, North Carolina State University, Nov 3 & 4, 2011
(For conference agenda, see
Notes by Thomas Cole, Librarian, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

November 3
Plenary Session
Amy Rudersdorf (State Library) and Erin O’Meara (UNC Chapel Hill) made similar points about digital repositories: that they are not passive sites where stuff just sits. In O’Meara’s words, they “never go into maintenance mode.” The collection can always be edited by the addition or deletion of primary source material or of commentary. The hardware where the files actually reside may change, the service provider who hosts the site may change, and the marketing and promotion of the site may have to be redone to reach new audiences.
Rudersdorf spoke of a “life-cycle” approach to digital repositories. Planning a project involves understanding the needs it addresses at its origin, the time and material needed to develop it, the work necessary to update and improve it, and the conditions under which it will be retired.
Rudersdorf defined a digital repository as a set of processes that, among other goals, builds trust. It establishes itself as reliable, available, and authentic in users’ minds. She made reference to “TRAC compliance,” which are standards, I later learned, developed for “Trustworthy Repositories Audit and Certification.”
O’Meara’s presentation was more technical, but it did include this little gem: open-source software is free, but “it’s not a free lunch, it’s more like a free puppy.”

Session 1, “Planning a Digital Project: Standards”
Lisa Gregory (State Library), “File Format Standards for Digitization”Lisa made the distinction between Preservation formats and Access formats. The former are for indefinite storage. File formats for this purpose should be non-proprietary, common, and lossless. (Examples are tiff’s for images, mpeg’s for videos, .wav’s for audo.)
Access formats should be acceptable by common sites for uploading, such as flickr, YouTube, and Internet Archive.
For preservation of / access to files that were “born digital” one faces the problem of the original format becoming obsolete and the document unreadable. Set a policy on how these will be rewritten, if at all.

Nicholas Graham (UNC Chapel Hill), “Metadata Standards for Digitization”
Metadata standards preserve consistency across institutions
Metadata rely on a controlled vocabulary - Library of Congress has authority files for names, description of graphic materials , subject headings
Metadata can be Descriptive, Administrative, or Structural
Descriptive Metadata
can be more or less detailed, depending on the expected needs of the user.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use Dublin Core descriptive tags or some other pre-defined set for specific disciplines.
Administrative Metadata
give information about how the item was preserved and copied.
Unrelated to the content of the item itself – who scanned the image and when, what is the internal ID # for it, for example
Structural Metadata
Give contextual information about the item itself.
What collection does it belong to, is it item x of y, for example.

Session 2, “Planning a Digital Project: Legal Considerations”
Peggy Hoon, J.D., UNC Charlotte
Assume that things are copyrighted. Works that are unpublished, unregistered, or even without © symbol are still protected by copyright.
Works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. That boundary year will start to move forward in 2019.
Intellectual property rights do not necessarily go together with ownership.
“Parody, criticism, higher education” – purposes under which the “Fair Use” doctrine permits limited reproduction of copyrighted material.

Katie McCormick, UNC Charlotte
Rights of ownership as well must be established as part of grants applications
Keep records to document rights to physical ownership as well as intellectual property rights
Oral histories, for example – library must have permission for all the voices on the recording.

Session 3, Planning a Digital Project: Preservation and Storage”

Earl Cahill,
FamilySearch has used volunteers to do some of the work of digital preservation: transcription, indexing. The 1940 Census, for example, has been indexed by volunteers.
Volunteers’ work is checked by character-level comparisons of different transcriptions of the same document.

November 4
Session 1, “Economics: The True Cost of Managing a Digital Project”

Susan Sharpless Smith, Wake Forest University
Include as part of the project a “pilot program”. Scan and process a small portion of the total number of images to test whether one’s cost estimates are accurate.
Wake Forest partnered with WSSU and FCPL on a project called “Digital Forsyth.” Budget administration was centralized at WFU. Partners just provided services.
90 days before the end of the year, send a reconciliation statement based on actual and projected expenses to all partners.
Once the site goes live, funds will still be needed for preservation of digital materials.

Jane Blackburn, Braswell Memorial Library, Rocky Mount, NC
In 2001 Library acquired (for $20,000) a collection of negatives and prints from a local photographer .
The Charles S. Killebrew Collection turned out to half a million images, not the five thousand they had believed at first. Lesson #1 – Know what you’re getting into.
It took two years of volunteer work to re-sleeve the negatives and get them in to cool storage in Raleigh. Lesson #2 – Preservation before access
A local foundation funded further work, and an advisory committee of volunteers was formed. Lesson #3 – Seek partners in the community (but retain control over project).
Sampling of the Collection now online ( Lesson #4 – Handling this project piecemeal over a long period of time has led to a high cost per image so far.

Session 2, “Planning a Digital Project: Partnerships and Collaboration”
Victoria P. Scott, NC Genealogy Society
Discussed the NCGS Loose Estates Project , which aims to digitize the microfilmed loose estate papers currently in the State Archives.
Loose Estate papers contain information about people who did not leave wills. (Mitchell’s NC Will Index, for instance, lists only 78,000 names.)
In first phase of project, 31 volunteers worked 16 months to enter material from 223 reels.
FamilySearch became interested in the project, made “Waypointing” software available to capture and tag documents from microfilm. Productivity greatly increased.

Session 3, “Planning a Digital Project: Successes”
Druscie Simpson, NCDCR-State Archives
North Carolina Family Records Online shows family Bibles from North Carolina. (
Collection includes 500 Bibles from ten counties in NC.
Thoroughly indexed.

Michelle Czaikowski, NCDCR-State Library
Spoke about the “Commemorating the Civil War” Digital Collection on state site.
Planned the collection with the user’s needs in mind:
Users better served by bringing these materials together.
Do users want to browse or search?
Make different access points for different types of users
Beautiful collection, lots of added features – maps, timelines – to make material easier to understand.

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011 Convention of the American Historical Association, Boston MA

Day 1 - Friday, January 7

On this day I attended two sessions. The AM session was #52, "Local Markets/Marketing the Local: American Retailing, 1920 to the Present" and the second was #95, "The Freedom Rides in History and Film: a 50-Year Retrospective"

I chose the first one because I hoped it would shed light on the history of Charlotte in the days of Efird's, Ivey's, and Belk's uptown. It used a lot of evidence of other locally important department stores to make arguments about the national economic and cultural trends that these stores and their lifespans illustrated.

First up was Vicki Howard of Hartwick College, who, it came out later, had organized the panel. Her paper was entitled "Remembering Main Street: Consumers, Nostalgia and Independent American Department Stores, 1930 to the Present." Localism was part of a marketing strategy, especially as stores founded around 1900 turned fifty years old. They reminded the public that they had been there since horse-and-buggy days and used images of the old country store to make people think of a merchant who sold a little bit of everything yet knew them personally. The advantages of scale, however, had dictated that bigger was better. Stores grew as big as the technology of the time would permit - technological breakthroughs in storage, transportation, or communication were applied to retailing just as breakthroughs in technologies for the consumer (above all, the automobile) shaped stores' growth. Department stores grew into chains and chains became acquired by holding companies that maintained the old names of the stores, but took advantage of the pooling of resources that a conglomerate could provide. Most interesting, when the downtown department stores started to close in the 1970s and 80s, former customers made them the object of nostalgic "Save our stores" campaigns or afterwards as the centers of memory palaces. The store stood for their recollection of a walkable, secure, thriving city. Fans of the old places can find each other online. News stories from the time and people's comments online use metaphors of death and grieving to describe the closing of the store, which language makes it seem inevitable rather than the consequence of choices we and the retailers have made. The department stores were the urban version of the old country store. They replaced the specialty stores that used to line the main streets. As I walked through the Copley Place mall in between sessions this weekend, I saw how the shopping mall recreates the feel of the turn-of-the-century urban retail environment. There are specialty stores and department stores, all within a fwe steps of each other. The interesting thing would be to compare what they sell. Were shoppers from the early 1900s as obsessed with clothing as today's seem to be?

The second paper did not address my interests so directly. It was about government efforts - particularly one piece of 1930's legislation - to save local stores from being swallowed up by chains. The law's framers were so conflicted about interfering with the free market that they left big loopholes in it that made it ineffective in achieving its stated goals.

The last paper returned to consumer behavior. Augustine Sedgwick, a graduate student at Harvard University, did a skillful job of starting with a particular anecdote and using it to illustrate a wide variety of historical forces. "'The World is Your Pantry': the Global and Home Economics of the Supermarket Revolution, 1929-1941" During this time the number of supermarkets as distinct from grocery stores and specialty food shops, increased from 100 to 10,000. The supermarkets offered the quality of the specialty shops and the prices of the grocery stores. They were big, modern places, often located out of town for consumers with cars. They were destinations in themselves that attracted the whole family. Their prices were low, but part of the hidden cost was getting there by car. That is, the last part of transportation costs were transferred to the consumer. Sedgwick had a quote from a retailer's publication in which a store owner said that he located his stores near the "homeowning class" and avoided neighborhoods of "clannish" foreigners. In other words, the supermarkets were lessons in upward mobility and Americanization. The author went into particular detail about coffee and its production and marketing. During the Depression, per capita consumption increased. High-quality Latin American coffee was available for cheaper prices to US buyers (long story) in the 1930s, enabling eye-popping bargains tnat brought people in to the stores. The owners of the new supermarkets were often grocery store chains (like A&P) transforming themselves to suit the new, demanding, mobile consumer.


Sunday, November 07, 2010

I attended the weekend sessions of the Southern Historical Association in Charlotte this weekend.

At the Saturday AM session - "Mobilizing for Freedom: Agency and Constraint in the Post-Emancipation Carolinas" - there were three papers of local history on race relations in the Reconstruction era. The panelists represented a generation of scholars who reached professional maturity after the civil-rights-era generation. Those earlier scholars had had to combat the myth of the passive Negro and to bring out examples of black agency as a matter of pride as well as national self-understanding. The next generation did not have to "look over its shoulder at the Dunning school," as Brian Kelly (Queen's University, Belfast), one of the panelists, put it. The commentator, Julie Saville of the University of Chicago, questioned the way in which all three papers were framed. She was of an age, she reminded us, to remember the dismantling of Jim Crow. She did not take kindly to histories that seemed to emphasize black disability instead of resistance and subversion and organization. Generational sparks seemed ready to fly. "I don't recognize my paper" in the commenter's description, said one of the presenters.

In that first session, I liked a paper by Bruce Baker (University of London, Royal Holloway) that discussed the history of Greenville, South Carolina in the late nineteenth century. Parallel with the political disenfranchisement of blacks was their exclusion from economic opportunity. In the immediate post emancipation period, the author documented how blacks, though a minority in Greenville, dominated professions such as draymen and carpenters and sidewalk hucksters. Once the railroad connected Greenville to Atlanta and Charlotte, the city grew in size and wealth. Regulation of public space crowded out the small-scale sellers who were largely freedmen, a local rail line obviated the work of hauling cargo from the train station into town, and falling cotton prices (this pointed out from the audience) brought more whites into town to compete with blacks for positions such as carpenter. The overall result was the "casualization" of black labor - rolling back whatever steps they had taken towards independence and making them dependent on white employers, who now owed them only for the labor they did and not for year-round care and feeding as they had under slavery. A lot of these same trade-offs can be found in Charlotte's history - efficiency came at the expense of displacing black laborers and destroying their economic toeholds. This pattern continued right through the era of urban renewal (dubbed "Negro removal" by inner-city residents). No wonder the proposal to merge two mostly black high schools in Charlotte last month evoked such heartfelt protest - there's a legacy of blacks absorbing the costs of plans imposed by local leaders. No mention of convict labor in this study, though that's not an example of making the workforce more casual, but of controlling it.

In the afternoon I attended a session on North Carolina in the civil war, specifically the respect (or lack of it) for civil liberties. Governor Vance, as a paper by Jaime Amanda Martnez (UNC Pembroke) on the impressment of slave labor explained, tried to maintain the state's right to regulate the use of labor, so that the state's own needs would be met before anything would be spared for the Confederacy. He had little enforcement power, however. In another paper, Steven Nash of ETSU went over the struggle to define loyalty in Western North Carolina after the war. Unionists who had gone over to the secession side after Sumter now wanted recognition from the Federal authorities of their patriotism. The Feds saw them as Rebs, but the dyed-in-the-wool Rebels saw them as enemies. There was a riot in August, 1865, in Hendersonville at the time of an election. Another paper - and the most interesting of a good bunch - talked about the Act of Sequestration. It was passed by the Confederate government in Richmond in retaliation for a similar act in Washington. It allowed for the seizure of land and assets owned by enemy aliens for the good of the Confederate cause. Each state appointed "receivers", who administered the sale of such contraband that their team of investigators had found. North Carolina was more active in implementing this law than other states, and the receiver for the district including Mecklenburg county was the most active of all. The researcher (Rodney J. Steward, University of South Carolina - Salkehatchie) did some great detective work to conclude that people were turning in their neighbors to seize their property and that the receiver was keeping for himself or sharing with his cronies (all members of the Southern Rights Party) much of the proceeds that by rights belonged to the Richmond government.

The vendettas, the bushwhacking, the corruption, the blindness to local differences among the occupiers and the temptation of slaves to run off to the enemy all reminded me strongly of the Revolutionary era. I am convinced that there is a great work to be done there, showing those two wars as part of the same struggle.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thanks to an alert Facebook friend, I read "What's the deal JSTOR?" by Meredith Farkas on her blog, "Information Wants to be Free." I had noticed some changes in JSTOR's look and a new box to check on their search page: "Include links to external content". Ms. Farkas explained it all. Not every library subscribes to the complete range of publications offered by JSTOR. Used to be that the others just weren't shown if you only subscribed to a few. Now, those others may appear in lists of search results, but users are invited to pay for access to them. Librarians were angered at the change because the initial default was to include the $$$ results in the search and because JSTOR made no use of OpenURL standards, which would have allowed users to find the article in other databases that their libraries did subscribe to. The first of these issues has already been resolved by JSTOR in response to the uproar set off by this article.

I understand where people are coming from, resenting the crass intrusion of money into the disinterested provision of information, but really, information is not free. It only feels that way to the end-user because the library has covered the cost before it gets to you.


Monday, December 14, 2009

I have to give a talk on Charlotte in the 1930s early next year. This time I'll be on my own. I would like to tell some of the same types of stories as I brought to the radio interview, but I will also be responsible for advancing an argument. I will have to draw a big picture without simply repeating what Tom Hanchett says.

Herewith some notes towards accomplishing that goal.

The Charlotte Observer noted last Sunday that business leaders and elected officials are looking for someone to lead the city to a more economically diversified future. Growing beyond dependency on a single sector provides a sounder foundation for growth and makes the city more attractive to outsiders. Everyone interviewed agreed that strengthening the school system so that it turned out employable workers was key.

How does this compare to the 1930s? What did people then say about the remaking of the city? In the days shortly after the crash, the News and the Observer were full of hopeful headlines, as if deflation and joblessness would be bumps in the road rather than enduring conditions. They were in denial.

Acceptance came by 1931-32. There were some signs of a lifeboat mentality - cheating and mistrust.

People concerned for Charlotte's future focused first of all on binding up the community's wounds. The damage was so deep and widespread that everyone knew it had to be addressed before the city's human resources could be productively employed again. In Charlotte during the present recession, the damage has been more limited and the social safety net more in place. We have a sense of our neighbors in need, but not of our community in peril. We have been asked to dig deeper in support of existing agencies. They organized from scratch to meet the needs around them.

Monday, December 07, 2009

I have spent countless hours in the last twenty years listening to public radio. I have called in once or twice, but never, until today, appeared as a guest. A local show, "Charlotte Talks", was putting together a show on Charlotte in the 1930s. The principal guest was Tom Hanchett, staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South. Tom remembered that I was researching this topic too and suggested me as a second guest. It was an honor to play second fiddle to him. Listen to the show here.

What did I learn from this experience? For one thing, that a radio interview is a contest of agendas. The guest has to work within the host's agenda. I held back some observations or anecdotes when they belonged to the previous question, not the current one. Given that ground rule, one can still advance one's own agenda. I hesitated and lost a chance to bring up some points I really wanted to make when I thought that they didn't exactly pertain to the question posed to me. A perfectly worded question never came along, though, so I never got another opportunity. My fault, not his.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I had the pleasure last week of attending the meeting of the Society of North Carolina Archivists last week at Duke University.

I attended an all-day session led by Stephen Fletcher of UNC Chapel Hill to learn about preserving photographs in archival collections. To preserve them, one must first know what kind of photograph one has. Especially in the nineteenth century there were a variety of types, all using different chemical processes. Each one breaks down in its own way and so requires its own preservation strategy. The whole morning was given over to a quick review of photographic history with examples of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, cartes de visites, early Kodak snapshots, and early experiments in color to name a few. I found the historical part fascinating and the technical challenge of conservation daunting. Photographs and prints require cool temps and low humidity, both maintained constantly. Color photographs, I leanred, keep best at temperatures below freezing.

I and another participant in the session carried on the discussion over wine and snacks at the reception following. Stephen Fletcher did not regard digitization as a form of preservation. My interlocutor, a small businessperson who digitized images for a living, maintained that advances in scanning technology had made it possible to scan a negative without losing any information. The digital version could even be used to print a new negative if necessary. Is it preservation to lift off the information perfectly or is something lost if you can't handle the material that the original photographer handled?