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Category: SAA2007

SAA2007: Archives and E-Commerce, Three Case Studies (Session 404)

George Washington US DollarDiane Kaplan, of Yale University Library’s Manuscripts and Archives unit, started off Session 404 (officially titled Exploring the Headwaters of the Revenue Stream) by thanking everyone for showing up for the last session of the day. This was a one hour session that examined ways to generate new funds through e-commerce . Three different e-commerce case studies were presented, followed by a short question and answer period.

University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center

Mark Shelstad‘s presentation, “Show Me the Money: Or: How Do We Pay for This?”, detailed the approach taken by the University of Wyoming‘s American Heritage Center (AHC) to find alternate revenue streams. After completing a digitization project in the fall of 2004, the AHC had to figure out how to continue their project after their original grant money ran out.

Since they didn’t have a lot of in-house resources, they chose for their effort to profit from their existing high resolution images. They can earn up to 17% from the sales through a combination of affiliate sales and profits from the sale of products featuring American Heritage Center images.

They had a lot of good reasons for choosing already had an existing ‘special collections’ area, meaning that their images would have a better chance of being found by those interested in their offerings (for example – take a look at the Library of Congress Vintage Photos store). also did not require an exclusive license to the images. The American Heritage Center Zazzle on-line store opened in 2005.

Currently they are making about $30 a month in royalties from 200 images. Mark pointed out that everyone needs to keep in mind that the major photo provider, Corbis, has yet to turn a profit in online photo sales. He also mentioned a website called that lets you click on any image and use those images on t-shirts, mugs.. etc.

Near the end of his talk, Mark shared an amazing idea to create a non-profit that would be a joint organization for featuring and selling products using archival images. I love it! It is easy to see that many archives are small and don’t have the infrastructure to create and run their own e-commerce websites. At the same time, general sites that let anyone set up a store to sell items with custom images on them threaten to loose the special nature of historical images in the shuffle. Even the special collections section of Zazzle lumps the American Heritage Center and the Library of Congress collections with Disney and Star Wars. I would love to see this idea grow!

Minnesota Historical Society

Kathryn Otto of the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) spoke next. She first gave an overview of traditional services provided by MHS for a fee, such as photocopies, reader-printer copies, microfilm sales, media sales, inter-library loan fees, classes and photograph sales. MHS also earned income via standard use fees and research services.

The first e-commerce initiative at MHS was the sale of Minnesota State Death Certificates from 1904 – 2001. Made available via the Minnesota Death Certificate Index they provide the same data as, but the MHS index provides a better search interface. They have had users tell them that they couldn’t find something on – but that they were able to find what they needed on the MHS site.

To their existing Visual Resources Database, MHS also added a buy button for most images. Extra steps were added into the standard buy process to deal with the addition of a use fee depending on how the purchaser claims the image will ultimately be used. One approach that did not work for them was to offer expensively printed pre-selected images. The historical society sells classes online and can handle member vs non-member rates. TheVeterans Graves Registration Index is a tiny database that was created by reusing the interface used for the death certificates.

The Birth Certificate Index provides “single, non-certified copies of individual birth certificates reproduced from the originals” via the website.. while “[o]fficial, certified copies of these birth certificates are available through the Minnesota Department of Health.” The MHS site provides much faster and easier service than the Department of Health as can be seen from this page detailing how to order a non-certified copy of a birth record from the DOH – which requires printing, filling out and either faxing or snail mailing a form.

Features to keep in mind as you branch into in e-commerce:

  • Statistics – Consider the types of statistics you want. Their system just gave them info about orders – not how much they made.
  • Sales tax – Figure out how is it handled
  • Postage/Handling fees – Look at the details! The MHS Library-Archives was stuck with the Museum Store’s postage rates because the e-commerce system could not handle different fees for different types of objects.
  • Can’t afford credit card fees? Consider PayPal.
  • Advertise what you are selling on your own website.

Godfrey Memorial Library, Middletown, CT

The final panelist was Richard Black, Director of the Godfrey Memorial Library in Middletown, Connecticut. The Godfrey is a small, non-profit, genealogical research library with approximately 120,000 genealogical items. They currently have 5 full time staff and 60 volunteers.

Services they provide:

About 3 years ago they had exhausted all of their endowment money and faced the strong possibility of closing the doors. They were down to one full time librarian and a few volunteers and were dependent mostly on donations and some minor income from other sources/services.

They had only a few options open to them:

  • find more money from other sources
  • merge with another library
  • close the doors
  • sell some of the content
  • others??

The first approach to raise funds was to create a subscription website. The Godfrey acquired Heritage Quest census records and added other databases as resources allowed. Subscriptions were sold for $35 a year. The board thought they might be lucky to get 100 subscriptions.. but they actually got approximately 14,000!

Now the portal provides access to sites for which a premium has been paid (so that subscribers don’t have to pay), sites that are available free on the Internet (but made easier to find) and sites unique to Godfrey, including digitized material in the library and other material that has been made available to them. They just added 95,000 Jewish grave-sites – brought to them by a local rabbi. Another recent addition was a set of transcriptions of a grave-site made as an Eagle Scout project. They also negotiated to have their books digitized for them for free. The company performing the digitization will pay a royalty to Godfrey as the books are used.

The costs to acquire data for the portal includes $60,000 a year for access to premium sites, the cost to digitize and transcribe unique content (there are opportunities to partner and reduce costs) and the cost to acquire patrons. The efforts of the Godfrey staff and volunteers is ‘free’ – but costs time.

The Godfrey subsequently lost access to the Heritage Quest material. This was like taking the anchor store out of the corner of a mall. It forced them to diversify their revenue streams and watch for new opportunities.

Current revenue source distribution:

  • online portal 45%
  • annual appeal 10%
  • patron requests 5%
  • contract services 35% (OCLC analytical cataloging that they do)
  • misc 5%

The endowment funds have been restored and the Godfrey’s staff is now growing again.


Question: Did you meet resistance in your institutions?
Answer: No.. Minnesota said they had such success that the 2 questions they here now are A) What do we put online next? B) How long can they protect their income from the rest of the institution?

Question: (From someone from a NJ archives) Is there a way to do e-commerce with government records and not have the money ‘stolen’ from them?
Answer: Minnesota – The department of health was happy for death and birth certificates business to go away? They do worry about the future when they might try to make a marriage index – because that territory is already ‘owned’ by a group that wants to keep that income.

Question: When you charge for use fees – are there people who don’t pay them?
Answer: Minnesota: Probably – no way to really know.
Mark (American Heritage Center): Our images are public domain – they can do what they like with them.

Question: Do you brand your images?
Answer: Mark: Yes.. a logo and URL goes with the images.

My Thoughts

I was particularly impressed by how much information was conveyed in the course of the 1 hour session. My personal highlights were:

  • As I mentioned above, I want Mark’s idea for a non-profit to sell co-located products based on archival images to gain support and momentum.
  • I was pleased by the point that the MHS makes money from their Minnesota Death Certificate Index partly due to their improved and powerful search interface. The data is available elsewhere – but they made it easier to find information, so they will become the destination of choice for that information.
  • The Godfrey’s story is inspirational. In an age when we hear more and more often about archives and libraries being forced to cut back services due to funding shortfalls, it is great to hear about a small archives that pulled themselves back from the brink of disaster by brave experimentation.

These three case studies gave a great glimpse of some of the ways that archives can get on the e-commerce bandwagon. There is no magic here – just the willingness to dig in, figure out what can be done and try it. That said – there is definitely lots of room to learn from others successes and mistakes. The more real world success and failure stories archives share with the archival community about how to ‘do’ e-commerce, the easier it will be for each subsequent project to be a success.

As is the case with all my session summaries from SAA2007, please accept my apologies in advance for any cases in which I misquote, overly simplify or miss points altogether in the post above. These sessions move fast and my main goal is to capture the core of the ideas presented and exchanged. Feel free to contact me about corrections to my summary either via comments on this post or via my contact form.

Reflections on SAA2007 and Ten Tips for an Optimal Conference Experience

I want to start off by saying that I really enjoyed SAA 2007. I met amazing people. I went to sessions that made me think. I gave my first SAA conference presentation. I handed out dozens of cards for the unofficial SAA 2007 wiki and for this blog. I brainstormed ideas for sessions, workshops, books and articles. I have seeds for more projects than a single person could start (let alone finish) in a year.

I will be posting session summaries for a number of the sessions I attended over the course of the next week. I have also added a link to my presentation slides on the new Presentations page (note the optimistic use of plural in the page’s name).

My brain is still buzzing from the whirlwind that was SAA 2007 for me, but I have created a list of the top 10 basic conference attending tips that I (re)discovered during the conference and hope to remember for SAA 2008 (and any other conference I attend):

10: Eat more often. Eat real food. Hors d’oeuvres don’t count.

9: Going full throttle without any breaks for more than one day is impossible. At some point my brain won’t take in new information and all I want to do is sit and think about a session I went to yesterday.

8: You never know which sessions will be your favorites. It always happens that at least one session I wasn’t so sure about knocks my socks off — while another that I was so excited about drives me back out the door after 10 minutes.

7: Always bring an extra jacket.

6: Make new friends. Cultivate your inner extrovert. Be bold and introduce yourself. Never assume that everyone around you knows each other – do the kind thing and initiate introductions. This gets easier the more you practice. And don’t worry – everyone forgets names, that is part of the reason they give us those snazzy name tags and insist we wear them.

5: Bring twice as many business cards as you think you need.

4: Don’t have cards? Make them! I have used both VistaPrint and GotPrint. VistaPrint has a set of designs that they will print for free (with their logo on the back). Gotprint makes super lush, shiny cards on nice heavy stock. Both include online tools to create your card – but will also let you upload a PDF if you want to use Photoshop to do something more graphically inspired. If you ended up with either my Spellbound Blog card or the 2007 Wiki card in your stack of cards, you have a sample of what GotPrint can create.

3: Bring the big book they send you in the mail that describes all the sessions. The on site booklet only has the session titles – and often that isn’t enough information to make your choices.

2: Do the fun stuff! It is a good way to force your brain to take a break. It also gives you a chance to meet new people (see tip #6 above).

1: Be flexible. Plans change, opportunities for networking, brainstorming and being exposed to new ideas are around every corner. The choice to NOT attend a session you meant to go to almost always means it will be replace by something else – likely better than what you had planned to do anyway.

Now.. if I can just remember to look at this before I head out to SAA 2008!

Thank you again to everyone who made this conference open and welcoming. I enjoyed meeting so many fabulous new people and I hope to stay in touch with you all (and remember all your names).

SAA2007: Opening Plenary Session Ponders Diversity

In his introduction, Bruce Bruemmer began with a disarming “Thank you disembodied voice” – and merrily rolled along through a short, cheery and heartfelt introduction for SAA president Elizabeth W. Adkins. He saved time (and likely vocal stress) by prerecording a YouTube video enumerating Adkins’s accomplishments . He led rounds of applause for Adkins’s father, aunt, uncle and husband. Bruemmer claims her only fault is that she is too serious. That she did not perceive the inherent humor of Velveeta and Miracle Whip concerned him.

He finally found the chink in her armor when he broke down laughing at the apparently often repeated J. L. Kraft quote “What we do, we do do” – and at this she finally admitted that it was ‘a little funny’.

Elizabeth Adkins’s Plenary Speech

Adkins began her talk by leading the hall in applauding the program committee, the host committee, the sponsors, past presidents, international visitors, and council members – each in turn.

She then made an exciting announcement – American Archivist is being made available online! If you are onsite at the conference, there will be a peek at the beta version on display on Friday in the Embassy Room. Issues from 2000 forward will be available online and they are still working on the digitization of all back issues. SAA will still print the journal. Access to the digital version will be available via a link off the SAA homepage. All but the 6 most recent issues will be available freely to anyone. More work will need to be done to improve visibility through indexing services and complete the digitization of back issues.

After this, she launched into her main speech “Our Journey Toward Diversity – And a Call to (More) Action”. I will do my best to include as many points as I managed to fully  captured in my notes. If this topic interests you – I encourage you to watch for publication of the full original. Please forgive me any misquotes, omissions and oversights. I have also included a few additional details on points that were in the presentation.

Our Journey Toward Diversity – And a Call to (More) Action

Adkins first contemplated diversity of the presidents of SAA by considering how long had it had been since a corporate archivist had been SAA president. The answer was William Overman in 1957 – and Overman is the only other corporate archivist to ever be selected as president. Adkins is also one of only 16 women to have been SAA President.

What does SAA Mean by Diversity? Why do we care? Adkins reviewed the 2004 census of the profession known as A*CENSUS . With its 5,620 responses it was much more extensive than the surveys done in 1956 and 1982.

Gender Imbalance

From A First Look at A*CENSUS Results (published in August of 2004):

The archival profession has experienced a significant shift in gender in the last half century. The A*CENSUS survey indicates that the ratio of women to men is now approximately 2:1. This is almost a mirror image of the gender distribution reported in Ernst Posner’s 1956 survey of SAA members, in which 67% were men and 33% were women.

Adkins stated that the current gender imbalance is an issue for two reasons:

  • we need men’s perspective and input
  • since women are still generally paid less than men – having a gender imbalance is likely driving down salaries

Library and Museums are seeing this same gender imbalance while the gender imbalance is flipped in the IT industry.

Race and Ethnic Diversity

According to A*CENSUS 2004 only 7% of the SAA membership is non-white while the general US populate is 25% non-white (with an even greater number of non-whites in kindergarten classes today).

Why should we care?
* “It’s the right thing to do”
* Completeness of the documentary record
* It’s good business business
* Competition with other professions and career paths

Dr. Harold T. Pinkett (1914-2001) was the first African American at NARA – named an SAA fellow in 1962, editor of American Archivist 1968-1971 and council member from 1971-1972.

SAA first diversity efforts launched in 1970s

From 1936-1972, women in SAA made up only 28-33% of SAA members. The 1970s brought lots of progress for women’s representation and activity in SAA.

Work on Racial and Ethnic diversity started in 1978…more work supported 1981-1987, some efforts supported – other efforts (such as desire for a fellowship to support study) were not.

The Archivists and Archives of Color Roundtable (AACR) founded in 1987, took on this name in 1994 (?). The Harold T. Pinkett Award was established in 1993 “to encourage minority students to consider careers in the archival profession and promote minority participation in SAA”.

In 1997 SAA created a Diversity Task Force and a final report was submitted in 1999. SAA Council accepted final report and moved forward in an ad hoc matter. In 2002 members of the task force were frustrated by lack of progress and passed a resolution asking for info on progress. The crux of the answer was “not a lot”.

In May 2003 the SAA council created a ‘diversity committee’… council is now actually talking about diversity and actually putting things in motion.

Focus on Students

There has a been a huge growth of Student Chapters. The concept was approved by the SAA council in 1993. There has been a growth from 3 chapters to nearly 30. Currently 20% of all members, more than 10% of attendees at this meeting, are students. Adkins hopes the students will help bringing more diversity into SAA and asked for a round of applause for the students attending the meeting.

Where are we now?

In 2005, SAA launched a new strategic planning effort and Diversity was identified one of the three highest priorities (with Technology and Public Awareness being the other 2).

What is the state of diversity today? Lots of talk – but how much actual action?

What is done?

  • position statement
  • census completed
  • monitoring progress
  • education for non-archivists who serve under represented groups
  • experimentation with the idea ofDiversity Fair

Next actions?

  • outreach on college and university campuses
  • provide other “entry points” into the archival profession
  • Archival education

The Task Force recommendations included improvement of the SAA website, providing financial aid for minorities and under represented communities, and working on SAA’s new member development.

Adkins presented an interesting idea of reaching out to kids age 10-15 such that we might influence their future career choices. She also suggested that SAA emulate the ALA model of the Spectrum Scholarship. Established in 1997, the Spectrum Scholarship program granted over 60 $5,000 scholarships this year alone. While SAA does not have the money to support a scholarship at this level – Adkins announced that a new SAA Minority Scholarship has been approved by the SAA council (this leading to the first spontaneous applause of the speech). She also made a big point of pointing to the Midwest Archives Conference’s Archie Motely Memorial Scholarship for Minority Students and saying that they should get credit as leaders in the area of minority scholarships.

“Diversity starts with a commitment to inclusion”

Addressing diversity concerns is hard work, but diversity will improve SAA in ways we can’t grasp now. She compared future progress to past efforts that now seem obvious (provision of childcare, the membership committee..etc).

Adkins concluded that that we need to build on a foundation of inclusion. A ‘welcoming respectful attitude’ will help us move forward. But we need to move forward with not just words – but with also with actions.

The hall gave her a standing ovation. Confronted with this, Adkins remarked that she had made it through so far but now she was getting all verklempt .

Final Count Down to SAA2007

The final count down to the annual conference of the Society of American Archivists, this year convening in Chicago, is well under way. Many of you might already be confirming your flights and packing your bags. I won’t be on site until Wednesday night – but thought I would try and catch as many of you as I could before you head away from your regular blog reading rhythms.

Are you attending?

Over 115 registered users (37 of them have introduced themselves) have been adding tons of content to the UnOffical Conference Wiki. If you haven’t visited recently (or at all) take a quick browse through all the great info that has been added.

If you are interested in trying your hand at posting session summaries – I say go for it! You don’t need to have a blog to do this. The wiki is open for anyone’s contributions. If you have any questions about how to post about a session on the wiki, feel free to contact me and I will do whatever I can to help.

Are you a presenter?

Take a look at the page for your session on the wiki and consider what you might add to tell attendees more about what you will talk about. Upload your handouts (and let me know if you have problems with this). Add links to related information or supporting websites, before or after your talk.

Are you in charge of a group meeting?

Consider adding detailed agendas (and thanks to all of you who already have!) to your page linked off the Group Meetings page. If you welcome those who are not members of your round table or section, add a friendly ‘everyone welcome’ note.

Watching from afar?

If you are not attending, please consider participating from wherever you are. If there is a session you would kill to have attended – then go to the Session Coverage page (or the session specific page for the session in question) and put a note next asking for someone to post a summary. This might also encourage presenters to add more of their materials to the wiki after the fact.

At the Conference

I hope to meet as many of you on-site as I can. I will be presenting as part of Session 804 Preserving Context and Original Order in a Digital World, Saturday at 1pm. I also plan to attend the Blogger Get-Together if I possibly can (once they decide when and where it will be). I will do my best to update both the Session Coverage page and my user page on the wiki with the sessions I plan to attend. If last year is any indication of how I will blog – I will take notes while offline and then post session summaries (with additional thoughts) after the fact. I discovered that I do not enjoy posting stream of consciousness style, on-the-spot posts. All my posts for the conference will be classified as SAA2007. I will also link to them from the session pages on the wiki. Finally, my posts (and everyone else’s if they are tagged SAA2007) should be available if you go to the Technorati page for SAA2007. Want to reach me? Use my contact form or post a comment here.

Unofficial SAA2007 Chicago Conference Wiki Now Online

wiki_green2_logo.gifIt is alive! Take a look at the fabulous new SAA2007 Unofficial Conference Wiki. The wiki exists due to the vision and dedicated effort of Cal Lee, Lori Eakin, Kate Theimer and others. You can read more about who contributed energy and resources to bring the wiki to life on the Acknowledgments page.

Are you willing to write about presentations? Direct your attention please to the Session Coverage page. As you plan your schedule for the conference, consider letting others know which panels and round tables you plan to cover. The ultimate goal would be to make sure that at least person has committed to coverage of every session. You don’t need to have a blog to cover a session – you can add your session recap as a page in the wiki. We will make sure it is easy to do when we get that far.

Are you presenting or running a roundtable? Then please consider adding to the basic information in the wiki about your session. You can add links, references, supporting documentation and background information — anything you think might be useful to those considering your session (or unable to attend because of conflicts).

Do you know Chicago? Help us add to the pages listed under the Logistics heading.

Need something to improve your conference experience? There are pages for ride sharing, looking for roommates, and special info for first time conference attendees.

Never contributed to a wiki before? There is a special page for you with tips and another waiting for you to post questions (and remember – the only stupid question is one you never ask).

So what are you waiting for? Cruise on over and take a tour, add what you can and spread the word.

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).

SAA 2007 Session Proposal Submitted

Abby submitted the completed panel proposal for our “Preserving Context and Original Order in a Digital World” panel for SAA 2007. We recruited both a 3rd person to join our panel (Jean-François Blanchette) and a panel chair (L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin). We also earned an endorsement from the EAD Roundtable. Now all we can do is try not to think about it.

Thanks to everyone for your encouragement and support.