Since when is an archivist a public speaker?

I’m not sure how this happened, but in the past year, or so, I’ve spoken to two local historical societies, a senior center gathering, at one of our regular campus series, and given a talk at another local college. The topics have included, “What the Heck Does an Archivist Do, Anyway?”, our Digital History and Archives class foray into GIS and Google Maps, a local philanthropist, and our collection of the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry regiment’s papers. Other than presentations I’ve done for our local archivists, that list may exceed my total public speaking for the previous decade.

Perhaps this means that I’ve actually learned how to do my job enough that people are interested to hear what I have to say about it. More likely, there are a lot of local event planners desperate for content. The perhaps not so surprising aspect of it all is how my anxiety seems to dissipate once I get near a microphone or podium. I suspect that has something to do with teaching freshman classes in Library Research Methods for 10 years and calling bingo at a local fire hall for the subsequent 18 years. Tough audiences in both cases!

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It helps that I actually feel conversant with the topics. When my notes blew away as I approached the venue for my last presentation, I felt that I could “wing it” without them, though I was pleased that the wind died down enough to get them back in hand. As I look at those notes now, I can see that my talk only very loosely followed the plan. Kind of typical practice, even when I have a much more complete script.

There is a payback for these forays out into the public sphere. As a result, we’ve added content to our archival collections as people become aware of what we do and the importance to the institutional memory of their donations. We’ve also added to our special collections for the same reasons and I’m anticipating further support for our Civil War collections as a result of my most recent talk.

Public speaking will never be one of my favorite parts of the job, but it is becoming a bigger part of it and a rewarding one, too.

Game Design in the Archives

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Alicia’s take on Sherman’s March

The Public History class this past fall used game design as a tool to learn about project management in an historical context. They read several books on the American Civil War, one on information architecture and another on Eurogaming. Their primary resource for creation of their final projects was the library’s Mark H. Dunkelman & Michael J. Winey Collection of the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the best single regiment collections available.. This regiment was raised in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.

 

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Eddie was inspired by an existing game and came up with something quite new

Most of the students had little gaming experience, particularly with boardgames.
The project was far outside the comfort zone of their previous academic work but they all rose to the occasion. They produced playable games which reflected the experience of the regiment in the war. Their games varied in complexity and mechanics but all met the criteria we’d set at the beginning of the semester. One of the things we emphasized was that the games didn’t have to look “pretty”. We were concerned with their function as educational tools, how well they used our collection and whether the mechanics worked. We didn’t insist on success with the last of those, but did require that they keep a designer’s diary to show their process.

 

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Dan’s co-op game brought the war home

I played all of the games and was thrilled by the students’ creativity in both design and content areas. Their games weren’t polished but they all were well on the way to being very usable tools for teaching about the Civil War from a regimental perspective. The ranged from a straight wargame to a cooperative game based on the home front. We treated the class as a design project, too, and the students’ input along the way was gratifying and useful for future iterations of the class.

It turns out that there are many ways to integrate one’s hobbies with one’s work!

Getting ready, again!

After a semester so busy I added a total of one entry here (well, this makes two), we’ve reached the end of the year and are busily getting ready for the coming of New Year’s Day.

We’re in the midst of the 75th anniversary of Friedsam Memorial Library, the home of these archives, and our newest task is to help prepare for the celebrations to come. You can watch our progress, and participate in it, by checking our Anniversary website and blog.

We’re encouraging alumni, students, along with past and present staff and faculty to share their stories with us. Please take a moment to recount your favorite memories of Friedsam Library. You may leave a written message at the blog site, send an e-mail (archives@sbu.edu), or leave a voice message at our SpeakPipe site.

Getting Ready

The Western New York Archivists are meeting at SBU this Thursday for our annual fall gathering.  We share our experiences of the summer and I’ll be giving a quick workshop on setting up a WordPress blog.  This, of course, necessitates making sure that I remember how to do it, so I’m preparing a “help sheet” as I remind myself of the process.

Our earlier work with WordPress involved setting up pages that serve more as web sites than as blogs.  With the WNYA, the blogging capability is probably going to be the most useful aspect, so the emphasis is different that what we’ve focused on.

We’re always learning new processes down here.  WordPress turned out to be one of the most straightforward experiences we’ve had with new technologies and we’re happy to share it with the archives’ community.

Just testing!

My work with the History 492 class this semester is the immediate cause of this blogging experiment.  A site for the archives gives me a place to try out various WordPress components and to explore those options.  This week it’s embedding video.

This is one of my favorite pieces of film from our collection.  It appeared out-of-the-blue a couple of summers ago.  It was taken during the fire that burned the original building on our campus in 1930.

It must be February!

What is it about February?  While it is hard to tell that winter is here this year, the usual hubbub of activity is definitely present.

Of course, midterm time has come for our students and work schedules adjust accordingly as desperate study sessions come into play.  But it’s also a time for research with capstone projects coming up sooner that folks had realized and a slew of outside requests for information.  Genealogists and sports historians are popping up and we even had a scholar here for four days last week investigating the history of religious education and educators.

All this reminds us of why we’re actually here.  It isn’t just to process the continuing stream of new material (and that backlog!) but to make it available for exactly the purposes all these people are using it for.  An ancillary benefit of this burst of use of the collection is that it has brought to the surface a number of those backlogged items which are now being processed.  It also pointed out some material in those collections that we weren’t aware of at all.  It means that next time we go digging for an answer our finding aids will be even more effective at giving us a complete view of what we actually have.

Coming up–Spring Break!

Upgrades

Last week we upgraded our web site’s home page.  Our list of web pages was getting out of hand so we took the opportunity to spread them out topically and add a little more visual interest to the index pages.  It also freed up room to add photos of all of my assistants and interns.  There’s a (small) boat load of them this semester!  We added a brand new student assistant and brought back another who’d been away for a while, too.  Jenna and Krista jumped right into the piles of backlogged newpapers and press releases.  We’re making a lot of progress this term.