Thursday, January 31, 2013


This week my internship has definitely gone from normal mode to hard mode. Tuesday I began to dig into different types of semantic web languages and spent a lot of time searching the Society of American Archivist site for articles about Encoded Archival Description (EAD). Despite the articles that told me what it could do for me, I couldn't find too much on how to get it to work for me. There's a lot of information out there about it, but not many tutorials that a student can get access to. I don't have $650 to attend a seminar on it in June.

This, my friends, is where networking comes in. Several months ago I began to attend a professional meetup for digital archivists hosted by Library of Congress. For the last two months I've started talking with someone who works at LC, and while talking about using Web 2.0 tools in networking we started following each other on Twitter. At the time it occurred to me that it was nice to meet someone at LC who seemed human rather than overwhelmingly intimidating. While I cognitively know that everyone at LC is human, I still find them rather daunting. Because, you know, Library of Congress. While looking into EAD, I thought it might be a good idea to see if anyone on their sub-committee could point me in the direction of learning materials. Whose name do I see on the list but the very man from the meetup! Long story short, I now have a list of web sites, groups, documents and other resources as well as general encouragement. Networking doesn't help you hurdle difficulties, but it can give you the ability to ask for tools with which to hurdle said hurdles.

Today I spent time learning about PBCore, which is a language that uses XML to make sense of metadata. While I haven't spent any time coding in the last ten years apart from a web design class at UMA in 2007, I can still decipher the language. It's been a while, to say the least. My supervisor has provided me with some printouts to study, and as I like to deconstruct and piece things back together, I'm glad to have something I can write on and mark up (no pun intended) as I like. As I get a better grasp on PBCore I'll write some more about it, but at the moment I don't quite have the understanding to do too much explaining. If you're curious to learn more, I recommend checking out the official training materials. For those in my library program - it's like if MARC and HTML had a really detailed metababy. Essentially it's a different way of expressing the information that would normally be shown in MARC.

I didn't expect to be getting into coding during my internship, but I couldn't be happier. In my classes it's becoming more and more evident that these tech skills are important to have, and I'm thrilled to be in a place that gives me reason to learn them.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

We're blowing right through lunchtime, aren't we?

This week at my internship have had a factor of time due to the fact that our entire floor will be moving sometime soon, so we've been prepping the project materials for the move and empty out the room they're currently in as soon as possible. This means scanning and filing the papers that hadn't been processed and performing a basic inventory of the videocassettes to see if they have or have not been digitized. Once we've checked that we move them into their new room, which is rather cramped and doesn't give the material space to breathe - but it will hold them and allow us to work with them, which is the important thing.

Tuesday I spent my day scanning program listings from the late 90s. While much of the 90s had been scanned with OCR, it appeared that many of the shows listed 'Generic' (or other repeating shows that are on a constant loop) had been edited out of the files. While the reasons for this is unclear, the listings have to be rescanned to best preserve them. The program listings give a vision of what PBS was showing on TV during a given month, year, and season, and show the balance of topics - and therefore reflect the interest of viewers. So as you can see, the program listings are an insight into topics and concerns of the age. PBS shows that deal with ethnicity largely seem to be an effort to normalize family life and show what minority families' experience in contrast to a middle-class white household. There are also several educational, crafting, exercise, home improvement, and cooking shows. These are familiar to almost everyone with attached names like Bill Nye, Julia Child, and Levar Burton. Overall these program listings are valuable even in this current day and age, let alone in the next fifty years to look back and see what issues we were struggling with as a culture.

Given to me to scan in addition the the 1990s were the years of 1980-1982, which hadn't been digitized in any sort of form, so they were of special importance to be done. These years are essentially some of the first in PBS history, involving a shift in name and focus. Today I took a step back even further to 1973-1978, where I did not scan but simply organized and separated the programs alphabetically. We don't have program listings from this era, so we're simply dealing with the program descriptions and agreements themselves. Much of this is sorting and making sure that nothing was mixed in, so I turned to podcasts to keep my mind occupied.

Ultimately I turned to Stuff You Missed in History from (a subsidiary of, one of my favorite educational podcasts. Sarah and Deblina choose different topics (Brontes, Brownings, the real Indiana Jones, and so on) and delve into them in a way that is accessible, enjoyable, and straight-forward. Highly recommended. They managed to engage my interest without distracting me from my task at hand. Most of them are PG-rated, so they're workplace and family friendly.

Next week I'm getting into the actual metadata and programs rather than the paperwork. Should be a change!

Monday, January 21, 2013

"Archives support "pure" research, of course, and this usefulness cannot be overlooked. Those who search the past for understanding the present find in archives the raw materials with which to construct their narratives and analyses."
-Anastasia Weigle

This is from my first week's lecture in my class on archives & preservation, and it perfectly sums up why I love archives. No matter what corporation the papers belong to, the profession is not dedicated to writing history but recording it. It makes me want to hug every single person at my archives Meetup and bake them a pie.

On Thursday, my supervisor Glenn handed me several folders old papers regarding individual shows that had been on air in the 1980s. One of them was entitled 'World Without Walls', a documentary about the life of Beryl Markham. My mother had read her memoir aloud to my sisters and me as children, and certain characters from the book became household names. Bombafu made appearances on white boards throughout the house as my sister Anna would artistically render the foolhardy parrot in erasable marker. The papers contained in the folder consisted of memos and letters back and forth about the time slot, the topic, and one note in which someone remarked about the joyful surprise of seeing the exceptional overnight ratings. Further notes suggesting airing more showings were followed by a newspaper clipping advertising the showtimes and West With the Night.

The rest of the folders contained information on other documentaries from the same time period, but this one captured my interest. The notes showed individual's responses to the material and gave insight to the relationships between the producers and the network at the time. Maybe someday a historian will want to see how Markham continued to be perceived after her death, or see how her documentary was received by the public. These papers will provide that, and my internship will be to that end.

YAY for meaningful productivity!

Friday, January 18, 2013


I am home to a slightly colder house without my cat. He was my study buddy and the best companion a college student could ask for - lapwarmer, purrmonster, and all-round best cat ever.

That aside, I am glad to be back to my coffee machine, desk chair, and slightly crazy basement. Today I have begun to select certain items to take with me to my internship. The first day of the internship was yesterday, and it defied and lambasted all of my expectations. Despite parking difficulty, I found myself with coffee and a pass to PBS that proudly displays my name in Comic Sans. My workspace is generous, with my own desk, scanner, and a CPU with somewhat ambivalent USB ports. My desk is located in the self-proclaimed 'nerd floor'. Sure enough, everyone seems to have a few Adipose or Sesame Street characters in their cubicle, and I've decided to bring in my own companions to occupy my workspace. Companions to be announced.

The work given to me is a good start for me, and my supervisor has truly chosen a good starting point for me. I'm performing a survey of a pile of papers to see what we have digitized and what we don't. It's a good introduction to the terminology and types of materials I will be working with for the next three months, and I'm taking the opportunity to create a few lists and databases of my own on my iPad. Each show has a four-letter code, so later on when I am working on the project in earnest I'll have a reference table for the codes and can make some notes for my reports. This first stage of the project is interesting to me as I'm beginning to familiarize myself with the area and subject matter, but it isn't so overwhelming that I feel intimidated. Rather it's measurable and I've already made some progress on my first day. The task is also something I can work into a routine so I can listen to a podcast or music (yesterday was Ramones, Operation Ivy, and Thrilling Adventure Hour, with TechStuff working its way in at the end). I enjoy learning about something without feeling stupid first - in the past, most of my first tasks have made me feel inadequate rather than posing a challenge that I am excited to meet.

In short, I really enjoy PBS so far. It feels engaging without overwhelming. Knowing that I have to take a left at Big Bird to get to my desk (and if I see Clifford the Big Red Dog I've gone to far) amuse me to no end, and to some extent the familiarity is comforting.

Monday, January 7, 2013


One of my most persistent questions is how to create an organization and classification system for these slides once they have been scanned and are on the computer. Many of the slides were not imported in chronological order, and many of the slides were mixed up over the last 60 years. My grandfather has written on some of the slides, giving the year and/or event it portrays, but many of them are unmarked.

With the trip to the Philippines, there are four different types of materials:

  1. Postcards (front & back)
  2. Pictures
  3. Newspaper clippings
  4. Spiral notebooks, used for grandpa's daily journals
Given these four formats, having a naming system is also problematic. As I don't know the specific dates for most of the pictures but rather I do know the general month, I have a few different options. The postcards are all dated and many of them have visible postmarks. In the case of a postcard, the naming system is relatively easy.


In short, it's a postcard (PC) dated Sept 14th, 1989 and sent from Kalibo.

If I'm unsure about the date of a slide it would look like this:


Similarly, it's a slide (SL) dated 1957 with no further dates and it is in Arkansas. Here's where the trouble begins. For the Philippines project, the regions and cities are more important than simply stating 'Western Visayas'. These slides should be classified with Kalibo, General Santos City, Koronadal, and so on. For the family pictures taken stateside, I will be adding the states to the filename and both city and state in the notes. It's helpful that the Philippines and the stateside pictures don't overlap, otherwise I'd be in a pickle. However this still troubles me. I feel that if I'm going to create a system for their filenames it should be universal, which means finding codes for each geographical area.

I'm unfamiliar with any classification system that isn't MARC/AACR3, so I'm hesitant to dedicate a significant amount of time to cataloging every slide when there may be a better one out there for this project. In the meantime I am adding the years and notes on the physical slide to the iPhoto info area and beginning a database of people mentioned and locations in which they appeared.

Essentially I'm troubled by my inexperience. I'm reminded of the advice given to me by some of the archivists at the Meetup I attend: "Just do it. You'll learn more from doing it than anything else. Just do it." Therefore I am here in Kansas, Nikeing it up.
Back: Craig, Jeanine, Bruce
Front: Bill, Sherryl, Marjorie

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The house is silent...

The cousins left yesterday, which means that the house is now quiet and I can concentrate on the project. Friday I visited the library here in Iola, and I have a few things to say about it.

1. This library is one of the most lovely libraries I've seen. It beats mine in Maryland by a long shot.
2. Their librarians are kind, approachable, and they take advantage of teaching opportunities (more on that later).
3. The area for genealogists is extremely well laid out and conducive to study.

I stepped in and wandered around a bit to get my bearings. The purpose of my visit was twofold. First, to locate said library and secondofly to inquire after back issues of the Iola Register. While grandma kept all the newspaper articles that make mention of their travels to the Philippines, there aren't any dates on them and I'd like to get proper full citations for the archive.

Having found the genealogy room, I stared balefully at the microfiche machine upon which I could read the Iola Register archive. My old ignored near-nemesis. This was the machine that in libraries growing up I was "too young" to use and when I got older I foolishly assumed that I couldn't use them for anything useful anyway. Now that I am going into a field where knowledge of... shall we say 'older technology' is useful, I recognize that I need to get along with microfiche and learn to be friends. It's important to note now that as a piece of older technology, microfiche is a little old-fashioned (though not as exclusive as the card catalog). The machine in the library was particularly old-fashioned as it is a small town midwestern machine, so I couldn't just walk up and introduce myself.

The librarian who helped me was kind and correctly assumed that I didn't know how to use the microfiche machine. She showed me how to roll the film and maneuver the screen as well as print off anything I found before she retreated into the other dimension where all librarians reside when they head back to the circulation desk. Once introduced, Mademoiselle Microfiche and I got along quite well. In fact I really enjoyed getting to know her and I think we'll be friends.

Pictures to follow.

[edit 1/7 11:33am: PICTURES ADDED YAY!]

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Day the Second

Yesterday I imported about 400 slides and began to take notes. Bill came down for a few hours to give names and places so I could begin tagging the faces and geography. There were, it appears, several unphotographed hilarious incidents that I'll be relating elsewhere, but the stories are either typed up or recorded in Garageband. Bill & Marjorie's memory of the trip ('88-89) are impressively vivid and they remember many details as well as the finer points of the areas.

So their mission was this: to travel to Panay and help the farmers set up co-ops in order to sell their goods together rather than working as individuals. This involved the farmers buying shares and using the pooled funds to purchase things like generators and ice machines (for the fish farmers), locations, and other useful items in order to get their crops out to more buyers. These co-ops were directed by an elected board of the farmers who owned the crops being sold. The program through Volunteers Overseas Cooperative Assistance (VOCA, now ACDI/VOCA) was funded by USAID.

Bill was there at two separate times, once in Iloilo and once out of Koronadal. The second time he went, he brought his wife Marjorie with him to help him take notes and accompany him. Due to the danger in Koronadal they left four days early, and the next volunteer in the area left prematurely as well. Marjorie did keep newspapers from the area with particularly standout (read: terrifying) headlines as well as relevant newspaper clippings and all of Bill's notebooks and maps. The town paper here in Iola published articles she wrote and sent back during their travels. These will also be scanned and digitized. They are helpful to get an overall perspective of the trips and the mission.

I also discovered that not only did Bill work with VOCA in the Philippines, he also went to Poland on a similar mission. There are fewer pictures from that trip, so I'll be working on those as well. It seems there are not as many materials from that trip, but there are some photographs that will be added to the project.

Now, to work!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Promising Beginning

I arrived late last night in my family's hometown of Iola, KS. While I've never personally called it 'home', it certainly feels like family here. The basement of the house has become my headquarters so I have space to stretch out and work, and the ping pong table has become my workspace. On one half is my computer apparatus (complete with headset, external HDD, Time Capsule, and other gadgets) and the other half is home to the slide scanner, notebooks, and stickies.

After arriving here around 4pm, I sat around with family members and enjoyed the usual Mentzer pastimes - football, cheese plates, and talking about the grandkids (me as well as my cousin's kids). As the Regehrs and younger Pumphreys began to make their way out it grew quieter and out came the tea. I spoke briefly with my uncle Craig and his wife Denise (who own the family farm here in Iola) as well as my aunt Sherryl and uncle Darren (the California-dwellers are here until about the 5th) about getting some stories. Many of the pictures I'll be scanning are not solely for a professional goal - some of them are my family's personal history, and I want to learn the context for the pictures just as much as I want to learn the who and where of them.

While a sizable portion of my visit is family-oriented, I am also here to develop my own skills and work on the undigitized portion of my grandfather's slide collection. For a time he was in the Philippines working for a co-op to assess and help develop their agricultural techniques. He went twice, and he's quite a picture-taker, so I will have a hefty task ahead of me. As those have yet to be scanned I'll be tackling those first and moving on to the rest of the family photos as I finish.

My Internet here is slow (3.26Mbps/.084Mbps), so I may or may not be easily reachable by video/audio chats. I am, however, reachable by Skype (zephyr42) as well as anything on the sideboard to the left.

I'm really looking forward to my next two weeks here before my last semester begins. This portion of my family is not one I've been able to spend a lot of time with, and I'm excited about both the project and being able to see them.