Menu Close

Category: outreach

Geek Archivist and Other T-Shirts

I have a new favorite procrastination technique – putting together graphics and opening CafePress shops! These are ideas I have had for ages (and more are in the works). I suspect they will be great tools for starting interesting conversations with both colleagues, friends and the general public. Please take a look the ones below and see what you think. I should be wearing my GEEK ARCHIVIST t-shirt at SAA if you want to see one in person. I have also created an Archivist Fun T-shirts page for you to use to find all the current designs as I add them.

geek archivist logo

Born Digital Logo

Born Analog Logo

Forgive the poor graphic quality on the thumbnails above – the resizing image magic of WordPress is not all it could be. The images used in the the actual products were created using the specifications set out by the CafePress folks and therefore should be totally clear on the t-shirts, bags, mouse pads and other fun stuff I found to slap them on. Let me know if there is a product you wish I was offering that I haven’t included yet (mugs? aprons? their list of offerings is amazing).

Hope they make you smile as much as they are making me smile.

Flickr Terms of Service, Unwritten Guidelines and Safety Levels

Flickr: Free Click by fikra (Sami Ben Gharbia)As more cultural heritage institutions add photos to Flickr, such as these sets added by the Smithsonian, an AP article discussing freedom of expression in online public spaces identifies some some issues that deserve attention. In ‘Public’ online spaces don’t carry speech, rights, Anick Jesdanun highlights a number of scenarios in which service providers (such as the Yahoo! owned Flickr) clash with their users, including this one (italics my own):

Dutch photographer Maarten Dors met the limits of free speech at Yahoo Inc.’s photo-sharing service, Flickr, when he posted an image of an early-adolescent boy with disheveled hair and a ragged T-shirt, staring blankly with a lit cigarette in his mouth.

Without prior notice, Yahoo deleted the photo on grounds it violated an unwritten ban on depicting children smoking. Dors eventually convinced a Yahoo manager that – far from promoting smoking – the photo had value as a statement on poverty and street life in Romania. Yet another employee deleted it again a few months later.

This image on Flickr gives more details about the photo being removed – and this is the reinstated photo in question. The article points out “Service providers write their own rules for users worldwide and set foreign policy when they cooperate with regimes like China. They serve as prosecutor, judge and jury in handling disputes behind closed doors.” It makes me wonder if the ‘unwritten guidelines’ are applied evenly across Flickr. With the creation of The Commons area, it would be easy to create two standards – one for the general public and another for ‘blessed’ institutions. Images that are acceptable from the Brooklyn Museum (consider this set of Behind The Scenes photos of the Ron Mueck exhibition) might not be accepted from the average person. In my research I discovered a set of Public Domain photos from the National Archives. Some of the photos included in this set are historically valuable images that I would not necessarily want a child to see. Does this mean they shouldn’t be on Flickr? I don’t think so, but that certainly isn’t up to me.

Here are the relevant passages of the Yahoo! Terms of Service:

You agree to not use the Service to:

  1. upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any Content that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable;
  2. harm minors in any way;

You acknowledge that Yahoo! may or may not pre-screen Content, but that Yahoo! and its designees shall have the right (but not the obligation) in their sole discretion to pre-screen, refuse, or remove any Content that is available via the Service. Without limiting the foregoing, Yahoo! and its designees shall have the right to remove any Content that violates the TOS or is otherwise objectionable.

That bit about ‘otherwise objectionable’ could be used to cover removal of anything. Being subject to the terms of service of Internet service providers is nothing new, but as archives, libraries and other cultural heritage institutions look for ways to increase their revenue streams and explore innovative ways to bring more eyes to their materials it will become more import to understand these guidelines.

I understand (as the author of the article that inspired this post also points out) that Yahoo! is a business. Their priorities are not always going to be the same as those of the National Archives or the Brooklyn Museum. There are definitely images from history and the world of art that are only appropriate for adults, but isn’t that what Flickr’s content filter feature, named SafeSearch, is all about? These are the three ‘safety levels’ available on Flickr:

  • Safe – Content suitable for a global, public audience
  • Moderate – If you’re not sure whether your content is suitable for a global, public audience but you think that it doesn’t need to be restricted per se, this category is for you
  • Restricted – This is content you probably wouldn’t show to your mum, and definitely shouldn’t be seen by kids

It is interesting that Flickr has it’s own separate list of Community Guidelines, independent of Yahoo!’s terms of service. This is the passage from these guidelines about filtering content:

Take the opportunity to filter your content responsibly. If you would hesitate to show your photos or videos to a child, your mum, or Uncle Bob, that means it needs to be filtered. So, ask yourself that question as you upload your content and moderate accordingly. If you don’t, it’s likely that one of two things will happen. Your account will be reviewed then either moderated or terminated by Flickr staff.

I am still not sure what safety level I would use for a photo showing rows of dead in a concentration camp. I guess given the choices, ‘restricted’ is the best option – but that still doesn’t sit right with me somehow. I did an advanced Flickr search for ‘concentration camp’ with SafeSearch on – and those photos are not currently being marked as restricted. Who is it that we expect to be protecting using SafeSearch? From Flickr’s definition above it is supposed to at least be kids (and maybe your mom and Uncle Bob).

I think the question of the moment is how to know which images are appropriate to upload if some of the guidelines are unwritten. Flickr is a community and understanding the community is essential to success within that community. Once you believe your images are appropriate to include, then you must decide the right ‘safety level’. It is not clear to me how to tell the difference between an image that is not appropriate to be uploaded to Flickr and an image that is okay but needs to be marked with a safety level of ‘restricted’. I am very interested to see how this category of ‘appropriate but restricted’ evolves. For now, I am going to keep a watch on how the Flickr Commons grows and what range of content is included. The final answer for some of these images may be to only provide them via the institutions’ web sites rather than via service providers such as Flickr.

Image credit: Free Click by fikra (Sami Ben Gharbia) via Flickr

LOC + Flickr equals Crowdsourced Tagging

Flickr/LOC: Lily Smith between 1910 and 1915 (LC-B2- 2350-8)It is no surprise that the Library of Congress announcing the publication of images on Flickr is news both in mainstream news outlets and in the blogosphere. From‘s short and cheery LoC goes 2.0! post to ArchivesNext‘s pondering Is Flickr “legitimate” for archives now that LOC is there?, I have seen a lot of discussion of LoC and Flickr in my RSS feeds.

What is it all about?

In case you have missed the details, the Library of Congress has published two photo collections on Flickr in a new subsection of the website called The Commons. The two collections are:

  • 1930s-40s in Color: 1615 photos taken by photographers working for the US government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the Office of War Information (OWI) and covering “rural areas and farm labor, as well as aspects of World War II mobilization, including factories, railroads, aviation training, and women working between 1939 and 1944.”
  • News in the 1910s: 1500 photos taken by photographers who worked for the Bain News Service. Topics include “sports events, theater, celebrities, crime, strikes, disasters, and political activities, with a special emphasis on life in New York City.”

I enjoyed reading Flickr’s own blog post on the subject, Many hands make light work. It gave me a glimpse of their vision. For them, these two collections from the Library of Congress make up a pilot project – this is just the first step.

On their page for The Commons they first talk about their goals for the project:

Back in June of 2007, we began our first collaboration with a civic institution to facilitate giving people a voice in describing the content of a publicly-held photography collection.

The key goals of this pilot project are to firstly give you a taste of the hidden treasures in the huge Library of Congress collection, and secondly to show how your input of a tag or two can make the collection even richer.

On the homepage for the Library of Congress Flickr pilot I found this introduction:

The Library of Congress invites you to explore history visually by looking at interesting photos from our collections. Please add tags and comments, too! More words are needed to help more people find and use these pictures.

So, here we have a project between two large and well known organizations, with their goals carefully aligned. Let’s get more people looking at the amazing photos from the Library of Congress. Let’s also harness the curiosity and enthusiasm of those who want to be more involved and want to tag content. I love it!

Considering the Tags

So then I started looking at photos and the tags they have. I wish (being my database geek self) that I could see the groupings in which tags were added (ie, that one person added tags 3 through 10). They don’t seem to be displayed alphabetically – but rather in the order in which they were added to the photo.

I considered this photo from the 1930s-40s in Color collection:

LOC Woman Airplane Photo

The list below shows all the tags that were assigned to it, in the order in which the tags are displayed beside the photo above on Flickr (listed separated by commas to preserve space). The ‘Library of Congress’ tag has already been assigned to every photo in the collections upon upload, and therefore always appears first:

Library of Congress, Long Beach, california, 1942, october, WW2, USA, aircraft, douglas, Palmer, WWII, women, manufacturing, yellow, stripes, overalls, engine, Douglas Aircraft, engine installation, military aviation, World War II, women at work, historical photographs, slide film, 4×5, large format, LF, transparency, transparencies, world war 2, technology

In a world with no controlled vocabulary, there seems to be a theory at work of covering all your bases. Rather than noticing that someone had tagged this photo ‘WW2’, it was also later tagged with ‘WWII’, ‘World War II’ and ‘world war 2’. On another photo in the collection I know I saw the tag ‘wwii’. As long as there is no ‘offical’ version for this tag, I see the wisdom in tagging it with all of them – just to be sure.

The official description of the photo is: “Women are trained to do precise and vital engine installation detail in Douglas Aircraft Company plants, Long Beach, Calif. (1942 Oct)”. The metadata provided by the Library of Congress also includes information about the format of the film itself.

These are the subject headings assigned by the Library of Congress catalogers:

  • Douglas Aircraft Company

  • Airplane industry

  • Women–Employment

  • World War, 1939-1945

  • Assembly-line methods

  • United States–California–Long Beach

It is interesting to note that the main things that the independent taggers have captured that the professional catalogers haven’t are either non-topical aspects of the image (‘yellow’ and ‘overalls’) as well as broader more general ideas (‘military aviation’ and ‘technology’).

Does the tag ‘women at work’ tell you more than the LOC subject heading ‘Women–Employment’? Maybe, maybe not – but if you view all the images tagged ‘women at work’ across Flickr, now you can see these women from the 1940s at work beside photos such as three vendors and Bozo village life. Now this is something different. This is knitting threads from the ivory tower of libraries and archives into the communal tapestry that is Flickr. Not only might the addition of the ‘women at work’ tag make these images more accessible to the average person looking for Library of Congress photos – but it also puts these photos in the everyday path of many more people. It brings us firmly back to Flickr’s goal stated above of giving more people a “taste of the hidden treasures in the huge Library of Congress collection”.


Flickr has this to say on The Commons’ home page about copyright:

These beautiful, historic pictures from the Library represent materials for which the Library is not the intellectual property owner. Flickr is working with the Library of Congress to provide an appropriate statement for these materials. It’s called “no known copyright restrictions.”

Hopefully, this pilot can be used as a model that other cultural institutions would pick up, to share and redistribute the myriad collections held by cultural heritage institutions all over the world.

I am with ArchivesNext in hoping that this move by the Library of Congress will give archivists and librarians on the ground in other institutions a bit more ammunition with which to fight for posting their images on Flickr. Copyright is one of the issues that seems to give so many organizations pause – so it is interesting to see this new category having been created specifically for cultural institutions. I like that they link back to the Library of Congress’s official answer about what it means if the catalog record notes ‘No known restrictions on publication’. Flickr also explicitly mentions that “If the pilot works – or, when it works! – we’ll look to allow other interested cultural institutions the opportunity to extend the application of “no known restrictions” to their catalogues.” So clearly “no known copyright restrictions” has been created with cultural institutions in mind.

Final Thoughts

I am intrigued to see how this progresses. If nothing else is accomplished, more people will certainly see images from the Library of Congress collections than they would have had none of these photos been published on Flickr. Some will even surf back to the Library of Congress website to learn more about their photo collecitons. For the example photo I selected above, there were already subject headings assigned – but for most of the Bain News Service photos all that is available are bits of “unverified data provided by the Bain News Service on the negatives or caption cards”. Every tag that is added improves the chances that an interested party may find the photo they need.

I have posted before about the potential of crowdsourcing. I am in favor of it. Yes, all the tags won’t be perfect. Yes, there will be seven different ways of tagging for World War II. But when all is said and done, more people will find more photos. More eyes will see the treasures that once were only available to those who could get inside temperature and humidity controlled vaults. And more people will have the opportunity to learn a tiny bit more about why cultural institutions like the Library of Congress are great!

October is American Archives Month

SAA American Archives MonthWith barely more than a week to go, I am finally getting my act together to mention American Archives Month. To check if there are activities somewhere near you, go to the very thorough Council of State Archivists listing of activities for American Archives Month 2007. If you love looking at posters take a look at their awsome Archives Week/Month Poster Gallery.

The Society of American Archivists came out with a great array of resources in support of the celebration this year. I especially like the How To Know If Something Is Newsworthy and Tips for Media Interviews fliers – but if you download only one document to look through – make it the American Archives Month Public Relations Kit. They get to the heart of one of my favorite sentiments – keep archival records in front of the eyes of the everyday person. I don’t mean that in a sensational way… I don’t want archives in the news for screwing up (even if they do say that any publicity is good publicity). I want every news story that could have the support of archival records to use them and acknowledge them. I want every middle school kid who lives in a town with an archives to know that it exists and to have some idea why they should care. I want every teacher who has an archives with an enthusiastic archivist in it near them to KNOW about that enthusiastic archivist and use the available resources to make their lessons richer.

American Archives Month is a great vehicle for reaching out and pulling people in the doors. It could also be used as an opportunity for archives to try new programs and judge their popularity before rolling out sessions to be held throughout the year.

Finally – another way to get a sense of what is happening locally is to keep an eye on at what other blogs are posting about American Archives Month 2007.

RSS and Mainstream News Outlets

Recently posted on the FP Passport blog, The truth about RSS gives an overview of the results of a recent RSS study that looks at the RSS feeds produced by 19 major news outlets. The complete study (and its results) can be found here: International News and Problems with the News Media’s RSS Feeds.

If you are interested in my part in all this, read the Study Methodology section (which describes my role down under the heading ‘How the Research Team Operated’) and the What is RSS? page (which I authored, and describes both the basics of RSS as well as some other web based tools we used in the study – YahooPipes and Google Docs).

Why should you care about RSS? RSS feeds are becoming more common on archives websites. It should be treated as just another tool in the outreach toolbox for making sure that your archives maintains or improves its visibility online. To get an idea of how they are being used, consider the example of the UK National Archives. They currently publish three RSS feeds:

  • Latest news Get the latest news and events for The National Archives.
  • New document releases Highlights of new document releases from The National Archives.
  • Podcasts Listen to talks, lectures and other events presented by The National Archives.

The results of the RSS study I link to above shed light on the kinds of choices that are made by content providers who publish feeds – and on the expectations of those who use them. If you don’t know what RSS is – this is a great intro. If you use and love (or hate) RSS already – I would love to know your thoughts on the study’s conclusions.

Epidemiological Research and Archival Records: Source of Records Used for Research Fails to Make the News

Typist wearing mask, New York City, October 16, 1918 (NARA record 165-WW-269B-16)In early April, Reuters ran an article that was picked up by YahooNews titled Closing Schools reduced flu deaths in 1918. I was immediately convinced that archival records must have supported this research – even though no mention of that was included in the article. The article did tell me that it was Dr. Richard Hatchett of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) who led the research.

I sent him an email asking about where the data for his research came from. Did the NIH have a set of data from long ago? Here is an excerpt from his kind reply:

Unfortunately, nobody kept track of data like this and you can see the great lengths we went to to track it down. Many of the people we thank in our acknowledgment at the end of the paper tracked down and provided information in local or municipal archives. For Baltimore, I came up and spent an entire day in the library going through old newspapers on microfilm. Some of the information had been gathered by previous historians in works on the epidemic in individual cities (Omaha — an unpublished Master’s thesis — and Newark are examples). Gathering the information was extremely arduous and probably one of the reasons no one had looked at this systematically before. Fortunately, several major newspapers (the NYTimes, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, etc.) now have online archives going back at least until 1918 that facilitated our search.

Please let me know if you have any other questions. We were amateurs and pulling the information together took a lot longer than we would ever have imagined.

He also sent me a document titled “Supporting Information Methods”. This turned out to be 37 pages of detailed references found to support their research. They were hunting for three types of information: first reported flu cases, amplifying events (such as Liberty Loan Parades ) and interventions (such as quarantines, school closings and bands on public gatherings).

Many of the resources cited are newspapers (see The Baltimore Sun’s 1918 flu pandemic timeline for examples of what can be found in newspapers), but I was more intrigued by the wide range of non-newspaper records used to support this research. A few examples:

  • Chicago (First reported case): Robertson JD. Report and handbook of the Department of Health of the City of Chicago for the years 1911 to 1918 inclusive. Chicago, 1919.
  • Cleveland (School closings): The City Record of the Cleveland City Council, October 21, 1918, File No. 47932, citing promulgation of health regulations by Acting Commissioner of Health H.L. Rockwood.
  • New Orleans (Ban on public gatherings): Parish of Orleans and City of New Orleans. Report of the Board of Health, 1919, p. 131.
  • Seattle (Emergency Declaration): Ordinance No. 38799 of the Seattle City Council, signed by Mayor Hanson October 9, 1918.

The journal article referenced in the Reuter’s story, Public health interventions and epidemic intensity during the 1918 influenza pandemic, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and is available online.

The good news here is that the acknowledgment that Dr. Hatchett mentions in his email includes this passage:

The analysis presented here would not have been possible without the contributions of a large number of public health and medical professionals, historians, librarians, journalists, and private citizens […followed by a long list of individuals].

The bad news is that the use of archival records is not mentioned in the news story.

We frequently hear about how little money there is at most archives. Cutbacks in funding are the norm. Every few weeks we hear of archives forced to cut their hours, staff or projects. Public understanding of the important ways that archival records are used can only help to reverse this trend.

Maybe we need a bumper sticker to hand out to new researchers. Something catchy and a little pushy – something that says “Tell the world how valuable our records are!” – only shorter.

  • If You Use Archival Records – Go On The Record
  • Put Primary Sources in the Spotlight
  • Archivists for Footnotes: Keep the paper trail alive
  • Archives Remember: Don’t Forget Them

I don’t love any of these – anyone else feeling wittier and willing to share?

(For more images of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine’s Otis Historical Archives’ Images from the 1918 Influenza Epidemic.)

Ideas for SAA2007: Web Awards, Wikis and Blogs

Online since late March of this year, the new ArchivesNext blog is wasting no time in generating great ideas. First of all – I love the idea of awards for the best archives websites. How about ‘Best Archives Blog’, ‘Best Online Exhibit’ and ‘Best Archives Website’? It seems like barely a week goes by on the Archives and Archivists’ listserv between each announcement of a new archives website or online exhibition. I think an entire blog could be created just showing off the best of archives websites. I would love to see those making the greatest online contributions to the profession honored at the annual conference.

Another great ArchivesNext idea is a wiki for SAA2007 in Chicago. I was amazed at the conference last summer to see the table where you could buy audio recordings of the presentations. I live so much in the tech/geek world that I had assumed that of course SAA would have someone recording the sessions so they could be posted online. I assumed that there would be a handy place for presenters to upload their handouts and slides. A wiki would be a great way to support this sort of knowledge sharing. People come from all over the world for just a few days together at conferences like this. Many more can’t make the trip. I think it would go a long way to build more of an online archival community to have something beyond a listserv that let groups of like minded individuals build a collection of resources surrounding the topics discussed at the conference.

What about blogging the conference? Last year suggested we all use SAA2006 to tag our conference blog posts. Technorati shows 25 posts with that tag (and yes, a lot of those posts are mine). One major stumbling block was a lack of wireless in the hotel where the convention was held. Another was a combination of lack of interest and lack of coordination. Too few people were mobilized in time to plan coverage of the panels.

We could leverage a conference wiki to coordinate more effectively than we did last year. Simple signup sheets could help us ensure coverage of the panels and roundtables. I think it would be interesting to see if those who cannot attend the conference might express preferences about which talks should definitely be covered. If there are wiki pages for each panel and roundtable, those pages could eventually include links to the blog posts of bloggers covering those talks.

Blogging last August at SAA2006 was interesting for me. I had never attempted to blog at a conference (Spellboundblog was less than 1 month old last August). I took 37 pages of notes on my laptop. Yes, there was a lot of white space – but it was still 37 pages long. I found that I couldn’t bring myself to post in the informal ‘stream of consciousness style that I have often seen in ‘live blogging’ posts. I wanted to include links. I wanted to include my thoughts about each speaker I listened to. I wanted to draw connections among all the different panels I attended. I wanted someone who hadn’t been there to be able to really understand the ideas presented from reading my posts. That took time. I ended up with 10 posts about specific panels and round tables and another 2 about general conference ideas and impressions. Then I gave up. I got to the point where I felt burdened by the pages I had not transcribed. I had gotten far enough away from the conference that I didn’t always understand my own notes. I had new things I wanted to talk about, so I set aside my notes and moved on.

I hope we get more folks interested in blogging the conference this year. Feel free to email me directly at jeanne AT if you would like to be kept in the loop for any blogging coordination (though I will certainly post whatever final plan we come up with here).

Academy Awards: Archives Highlighted during the 60 second description of the Academy

Last night on the 79th Annual Academy Awards, Ellen Degeneres claimed that she bet the Academy’s President Sid Ganis a dollar that he couldn’t explain everything that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does (beyond the Academy Awards) in under 60 seconds. Off Mr. Ganis went – super speed talking and highlighting all the fabulous things the Academy does when it isn’t on TV giving out little statues. There in the middle was a beautiful cameo for the Margaret Herrick Library and the Academy Film Archives. It was all going so fast it was hard to get more than a fleeting impression of shelves full of film canisters, movie posters and a beautiful research space.

It is nice to see archives and special collections such as these being featured realistically and enthusiastically in the middle of a show with such a wide reach to the general public.