Currently viewing the tag: "finding aids"

Naturalist John Burroughs and Industrialist, Henry Ford in first Ford Car, 1913

Naturalist John Burroughs and industrialist, Henry Ford in first Ford Car, 1913

 The AMNH Library has been very, very…very! busy lately. This year started with the web migration in January that resulted in our magnificent new web site (kudos to Mai Reitmeyer, Gregory Raml, Jen Cwiok and Susan Lynch and Tom Baione, our fearless Library Director).

Some web links were lost in transition but have been repaired and the new site is a welcome improvement. Look for our new image database to be launched in the fall!

The new CLIR grant began in February and Iris Lee and Becca Morgan and I spent the spring planning and developing the project. Our summer interns are here and working away as you can see from Cara and Alison’s insightful postings below. We will be interviewing interns for the fall term at the end of next week. Nick Krabbenhoeft joined our team on July 15th for a six month practicum for his degree at the University of Michigan and has been consulting with Tom Trombone from AMNH Ornithology, Lawrence Gall from Yale’s Peabody Museum and Brian Wilson from The Henry Ford about the intricacies and vagaries of KE EMu software used by many of the AMNH science departments for their collections. We are investigating how the program might be used for AMNH archival records and whether it can be used to keep the EAC-CPF records that we’ve begun to produce. EMu does accommodate archival collection records in EAD in its cataloging module. Next on the list to investigate is ArchiveSpace. Iris has begun drafting the functional requirements for a system that can be used for our project to develop a cyberinfrastructure to hold our growing stores of data and based on that document, we will begin to make structured comparisons based on need, functionality and costs.

Creating and harnessing the data (sometimes this does feel like the Manhattan project!) has begun and we are struggling with issues like documenting workflows and managing permissions for the data sets in the spread sheets. Right now, Iris is the data master. This is one of the main reasons we need a content management system for the collection records (in EAD) that we created during the last CLIR project along with the creator records for names of persons and of expeditions (in EAC-CPF), and finally, for the biographical and historical notes that will relate and link many of the records, whether for collections or their creators. It’s a very interesting technological puzzle and we’re also in contact with a group working on a NYC Linked Open Data initiative.
Meanwhile, Becca, with her interns, is grappling with the conceptual issues regarding the creation of the narrative contextual notes that will be shared, in time, not only within the Museum but with other institutions. We’re closely following the development of a National Archival Authorities Infrastructure and the NAAC project. Our work shows the need for a redefinition of the contextual notes that were traditionally associated with collection descriptions but are now also associated with entity descriptions and that will be shared among institutions. For example, how long should these notes be? The answer will depend upon a number of factors, including available time, of course, and the relevance of the entity to the institution. Expect more to come on this. It gets surprisingly complex. This is not your mother’s finding aid.

Finally, anticipating our next major project to digitize some 10,000 photographs in the AMNH collection depicting North American Anthropology, we’ve been identifying images directly associated with specific expeditions and developing the biographical and historical notes to associate with those archival collections. We want to get copies of these images back to their source communities working with library school students in programs that emphasize Native American and First Nation curricula. It all comes around and we will implement a collection level approach in our image database where we can use the contextual notes generated for this project for finding aids for the photographs, many of which were taken on Museum expeditions.

Yup, a little busy. I’ll be at the Society of American Archivists meeting on a panel chaired by Sarah Demb from the Museum of London, on Thursday August 15th, called “Pushing the Envelope: Using Object Collections Management Systems to Catalog Archives” along with Carol O. Bartels from the Historic New Orleans Collection, the aforementioned Brian Wilson from The Henry Ford, and Mary E. Hope from the U.S. Army Medical Department Center of History and Heritage. Hope to see you in New Orleans!

While interning in the Anthropology Division under the supervision of Ms. Kristen Mable, Registrar for Archives & Loans, I had the opportunity to work with some very interesting collections, the first being the Papers of Junius Bouton Bird, 1907-1982, regarding his research in North America. Bird, a careful excavator and pioneer in the use of radiocarbon dating and textile studies was best known for his South American research. He became the Curator of South American archaeology at the American Museum in 1957. Bird sailed to the Arctic several times, becoming an expert sailor while doing archaeological research work in areas such as: Eastern Greenland, Hopedale, Labrador, Cape York and Southampton Island, to name a few. Artifacts from Bird’s excavations in Labrador and Southampton Island can be found in the AMNH Anthropology Division’s collections.

Junius Bouton Bird sailing, possibly on the schooner "Morrissey".

As I explored the field reports, correspondence and photographs in this collection, I came across an interesting photograph of an artifact known as the “spindle whorl”, found at the L’Anse aux Meadows Norse Vikings settlement ruins on the Northern coast of Newfoundland. This site was first discovered by Helge Ingstad, a Norwegian adventurer and writer, in 1960 by following a hunch and an ancient map. This site, found to be almost a millennium old, was believed to be the place where Vikings landed in North America about 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The “spindle whorl” artifact was in fact, a yarn spinner, about 1000 years old, which proved that the Viking settlers included women, who performed household tasks. Bird did conservation work at the site from 1961 to 1964 and also gave a lecture on the Norse. His notes and slides from the lecture can be found in this collection as well.

The Spindle Whorl artifact found at the Norse Vikings "L'Anse aux Meadows" site on the Northern coast of Newfoundland.

This collection also includes archaeological sites in the United States, such as mastodon sites in Hackensack, New Jersey and the Kunatah rock shelter in upstate New York, among others. Also included here are Bird’s papers on his research work in Honduras and Okinawa, Japan. Junius Bird died in New York in 1982, leaving behind plentiful evidence of his illustrious archaeological research work for future generations of people, researchers, students and interns, such as myself, to re-discover. I feel privileged to have worked on this exciting collection and grateful for this unique opportunity.


Hello everyone!

Today is my last day in the AMNH Library and Archives. I’ve worked on a number of projects under the CLIR and IMLS grants since February and am truly amazed at the new skills I’ve developed in the process. Together with Claire, Becca and Iris, I’ve risk assessed the contents of a department (including everything from administrative files and library books to accession records and field notebooks), created an original finding aid, learned a good deal about a major donor to the museum, and mastered the difficult process of converting container lists into XML code to be imported into Archivists’ Toolkit.

Each of these tasks certainly had their challenges. My most recent work with AT has at times seemed like what Iris called “a slow and tedious process” in one of her latest blog posts. Thankfully, though, no problem was ever too large to overcome and help was always available when I needed it. I’m proud to say I was part of a museum-wide risk assessment effort, personally sorted through amazing primary source materials and imported four (!!) finding aids into AT (Iris and Oxygen XML Editor were especially invaluable to this last task).

It’s been an incredibly exciting and educational experience interning for these two grant-funded projects. It’s even more gratifying to know that the small piece I contributed over seven months is part of a greater whole that will aid the AMNH and all of its present and future researchers. I wish everyone still working on the project the best of luck. I look forward to celebrating its conclusion and to assisting with new projects in the future!
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Allow me to be blunt – there is no efficient way to import finding aids created and saved as Microsoft Word documents into Archivists’ Toolkit without the painstaking exercise of copying and pasting lines of data into individual database cells.  For the past eighteen months, we have been writing finding aids for the archival collections in the Library thanks to the CLIR grant.  Twenty one finding aids have been completed and reviewed.  The final Word documents, once approved, are entered into the Toolkit, as mentioned, by copying and pasting data.  It can be a slow and tedious process, especially when dealing with numerous subject headings and name entities.  Entering lengthy container lists is even more dreary – dates must be input into multiple cells, a simple box and folder enumeration containing only two numbers is seven clicks from completion.  Not the best use of anyone’s time.  Not to mention the probability for error!  When your eyes are glazed over from transferring data piece-meal for hours, a “7” could easily look like a “1”.

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In December 2011, the AMNH Research Library hosted the first of three site visits being conducted by the CLIR postdoctoral fellowship team continuing their research into scholarly engagement in cataloging hidden collections.  With a focus on natural history collections, we are in the company of the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, also 2010 CLIR recipients for the Cataloging Hidden Collections grant.  The multi-year study investigates the roles scholars play when interacting with librarians and archivists.  You can see some of their findings here.

Our guests for the day were postdocs Lori Jahnke, Timothy Stinson, Elizabeth Waraksa, joined by two members from CLIR, Alice Bishop and Amy Lucko.  The study team gave a presentation of their research methodology and findings so far. Tom, Barbara, Becca, and I shared our project objectives, gave a tour of the Research Library and were fortunate enough to visit Ruth O’Leary in the Vertebrate Paleontology Archives (as well as sneak a peek into the Anthropology and Ornithology archives!).

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Today is our last day in the Paleontology archives. We started the morning with another tour with Bob Evander, checking out hidden collections among the specimens. We also came across this awesome giant sloth!

We’ve finished wrapping up all the loose ends for Phase 1 and 2 and have labeled all the collections. At some point, the hidden collections will have to be included but we took pictures of all the locations so that can be finished at a later point. Also the new collections that we created will need to be added to the finding aid. VPA collection numbers also need to be integrated into the existing finding aid. During our risk assessment, we did a basic overview of the map collection, but it’s clear that additional work on this collection would be helpful to the department, there are about 3,000 maps. The intention is for it the maps to be an ongoing project. We also have one collection of totally unprocessed material which we did a basic catalog record for, eventually it will hopefully be processed.

We really enjoyed our summer here at the museum and feel that we have learned a lot about how an archives works, creating new collections, and conducting risk assessment.

Today we got off to a bit of a late start here in Departmental Records as we attended a wonderful lecture given by Stephen C. Quinn for the AMNH staff this morning. Mr. Quinn recently retraced Carl Akeley’s 1926 expedition to the eastern Congo basin in Africa with the hope of locating the exact site depicted in the museum’s mountain gorilla diorama. This expedition served to raise awareness of the continued plight of the endangered mountain gorillas and show how the environment has changed over time. Mr. Quinn shared videos and photographs from his expedition, his field sketches and the final painting of the diorama scene as it appears today were quite amazing to see. This was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the museum’s history and be reminded about the important work that continues to be done here at AMNH. Here is a link to an article providing more information about Mr. Quinn and the expedition:

Our day in the archive was quite efficient and we were able to get through many collections. The materials that we are working with are becoming increasingly familiar which allows us to sort through the collections more quickly. It helped that we encountered a few sizable collections that had already been well processed an organized, some with finding aids included. A majority of the materials we saw were correspondence from various departments, most of which had been arranged chronologically and within each year, the items were alphabetical.

The biggest question mark from today’s work involved a few boxes that were lacking good labels. DR074 was said to have 7 boxes, but we found only 3 that were labeled “074.” Nearby were a few stray boxes, without proper labels. In this and a similar case, we flagged the record in the spreadsheet while also flagging the boxes themselves with post-it notes to be reviewed later. We also came across two boxes, again without proper labels, one of which seemed to contain much more recent materials (up to 2010) than we have encountered previously.