Library of Congress’s Cultural Heritage Archives Symposium

This past week, the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center hosted a two-day conference titled Cultural Heritage Archives: Networks, Innovation & Collaboration. With attendees from all across the country and the world, this symposium was a fertile arena for insight and discourse on many pertinent issues related to the design, management, and administration of cultural heritage archives. A wide variety of speakers from all sectors of the archival community presented inspiring papers on numerous topics. Really, there is too much to say about this symposium; so much so that justice cannot really be done in a blog post format. This is a polite way of saying you really should have been there.

To provide a brief summary of the symposium, here are the major bullet points:

  • Danna Bell-Russel, Educational Resource Specialist at LOC and SAA President, presented the first keynote address on the first day, focusing on ways that archivists can bridge connections between institutions and disciplines.
  • The first session saw many papers on use and users of cultural heritage archives from U. Oregon, Oxford, U. Colorado Boulder, Universite Paris Diderot, U. Alberta, and U. North Texas.
    • FULL DISCLOSURE: I wasn’t able to make the first part of the day’s festivities, so I’m basing this off of the symposium program.
  • The second session of the day raised some great questions about the approach to archival description, such as:
    • How should the EAC-CPF standard be applied to link archival metadata?
    • How should social media be used to expose archival collections, especially regarding collections that have significant cultural importance?
    • What’s the best way to catalog music archives with regards to quick access and use in educational settings?
  • A poster session featured many great studies on archival programming, but the most interesting was a poster on Traditional Knowledge Licensing and Labeling presented by Jane Anderson. Learn more about TK Licenses here.
  • The second day kicked off with an absolutely fabulous key note address by Sita Reddy about the decolonization efforts of indigenous peoples regarding their cultural wisdom as captured in the Hortus Malabaricus. The abstract of her presentation can be seen here.
  • On a silly note, apparently there’s no LCSH heading for bourbon.

Be sure, I could go on and on and on about the wonderful talks presented at the symposium, but that could take ages.

HOWEVER, I will say that what was most stirring about this symposium was the continued recognition of the importance of collaboration in the cultural heritage community. Be it with ethnic or cultural groups, be it with archival users or audiences, artists, collectors, IT staff, archive administrators, or what have you, the repeated anthem of the two-day symposium was that archivists must constantly seek out new and innovative ways to collaborate with internal and external parties to ensure that the collections survive in perpetuity and gain new life through continued access and use.

One point was brought up that I thought also bears mentioning. During a Q&A session, Timothy Powell of the American Philosophical Society declared that he felt that a group was missing from the day’s proceedings and that the group was digital humanists. This struck me as odd as the statement appeared to come from an “us-them” perspective that set up digital humanists as external to archivists. I feel however that the digital humanities is a broad, reflexively-inclusive term that has within its scope all who work with the humanities, be they scholars, archivists, librarians, &c. Considering the increased prevalence of digital formats of preservation and access that occur in the archival community, one is hardpressed to find a humanist that doesn’t, in one form or another, operate in the digital world. In this regard, I disagree that the digital humanities were unrepresented; rather, many — if not all — of the attendees at the symposium are a part of the digital humanities, they just might not know it yet.

To wrap up, the symposium was a great forum of ideas on a wide array of topics in the cultural heritage archival field. Great perspectives were shared and I hope to see many excellent collaborations emerge from the proceedings.


Be sure to keep your ear to the ground as the LOC will likely make videos of the symposium sessions available online through the webcasts site.

For even MORE cultural heritage archives fun, be sure to check out the symposium’s twitter feed at #chas13.

Cupcakes are out. Archives are in.

Written by Justine Rothbart


The best two days of the year have arrived. What is it, you ask? No, it’s not my birthday. It’s not even Christmas. Need a hint? Fine I’ll tell you. It’s the Library of Congress National Book Festival! Ok, before you stop reading, let me explain why I always get so excited during this time of year. Yesterday and today the Library of Congress hosted their 13th annual National Book Festival on the National Mall. This is where passionate authors congregate to discuss the process of writing their new book and their devotion to the topic. This year some of the topics included: families coping with disabled children, Mexican home cooking, homosexuality and religion, and learning how to motivate others by selling. The best part of the National Book Festival is listening to an author, unknown to you, and becoming completely engrossed in their life and their story. It is invigorating leaving the National Book Festival interested in topics you would have never even thought twice about.

Ok, now that you know the background of the National Book Festival (and are counting down the days ’till next year’s event), I’m writing today to talk about the new trends I learned while attending the National Book Festival. No, I did not learn new fashion trends (although, I did see a family sporting some fashionable, yet very practical ponchos). Anyways, I’m getting off topic. This is the place where I realized that cupcakes are out (we knew that for awhile) and archives are in.

Archives? Seriously? Yes, archives. At the National Book Festival yesterday, it seemed as if almost every speaker used the word “archives” during their presentation. It was used not only at the “History & Biography” tent, but at the “Contemporary Life” tent too. Is it just becoming the new buzzword? Or is the general public finally realizing the importance and becoming interested in archives? I think it is a combination of both.

The first time I noticed it was at the beginning of the first session. Linda Ronstadt was about to come on stage to discuss her new book which highlights her forty-five year singing career. Before the session began, the moderator stated the standard announcement from the Library of Congress, “This session is being filmed for the Library of Congress’ website and archives.” Most people would have not been as excited as me to hear this, but as a graduate student studying Cultural Heritage Information Management, this really got me excited. I was not only excited about the Library of Congress saving this for posterity, but I was excited that it was announced for everyone to hear. Announcing little things like this is just the beginning to archives advocacy. I hope every time people heard that statement, they thought, “Wow, that’s great that the Library of Congress is saving this in their archives.” Maybe I’m being too optimistic. They probably only thought, “Ok, when is the main act coming on stage?”

After listening to Linda Ronstadt talk about her musical career, I headed over to the “History & Biography” tent. Film historian, Christel Schmidt, discussed not only the subject of  her new book, Mary Pickford: Queen of Movies, she also discussed researching in film archives to write this book on the famous silent movie actress. Listening to Christel Schmidt talk about archives just reinforces this trend of the general public wanting to know more about the behind the scenes process.

I jumped from the silent movie era back into 2013 when I went to the “Contemporary Life” tent again. This time I was there to listen to Bonnie Benwick discuss The Washington Post Cookbook: Readers’ Favorite Recipes. Ok, you might think, how can cooking be related to archives? Let me tell you. Bonnie Benwick discussed that in order to find the content for this new book, the Washington Post staff not only looked back in the newspaper’s archives, but they contacted readers to look back in their own personal archives. This is just another example of how archival items can be used today for “Contemporary Life” purposes.

The votes are in. The people have spoken. Archives has been named the new trend of 2013. I only hope, that this is not a trend which will quickly disappear as fast as slap bracelets. In fact, I hope this is not a trend at all, but an awakening.

Digital Cultural Heritage DC Meetup!

For those of you who aren’t in the know, the Digital Cultural Heritage DC meetup group is a fantastic chance to socialize with fellow devotees and professionals of the cultural heritage field. Sponsored by Butch Lazorchak, the digital archivist in the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the LOC, the meetup group features a mix of representatives from several regional institutions such as the LOC, the Smithsonian, NARA, the NGA, and more.

For example, last night’s meetup at the Bier Baron Hotel featured presentations from Andrew Cassidy-Amstutz, the DC Caucus Representative for the Mid-Atlantic Region Archives Conference (MARAC), and Danna Bell-Russel, the newly appointed president of SAA. There were many opportunities to network and lots of great food and beer.

If you’re at all interested in joining the Digital Cultural Heritage DC Meetup group, check out the group’s site. Be sure to sign up for next month’s event!


A product of last night’s meetup, be sure to check out the Calendar of Upcoming Events for two great events happening in October: the NEH ODH Director’s Meeting and a one-day Archive Fair.



Archives: Bringing objects to life

Written by Justine Rothbart


The lights are out. It is several hours before the museum opens. As I walk across the elevated walkway through the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, I see the silhouette of airplanes in the distance. I see the replica of the Wright Flyer. I see the Concorde. I see the Enola Gay. I look around and hear silence. I am not hearing the engines roar or the echo against the airplane hangar. I hear silence. Silence is not usually a word associated with aviation. The eerie sensation of knowing the historical importance paired with the earth shattering silence was very unsettling, yet profound. These objects seem as if they are lifeless, but their incredible stories are what bring them to life today. Those stories are found in the archives.

Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum - Stephen F. Udvar Hazy Center

Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum – Stephen F. Udvar Hazy Center

This summer I worked with the audiovisual collection in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum (NASM) Archives at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. The NASM Archives is located in the back of the museum and I walked across that elevated walkway every morning to work. Passing the empty airplanes just reinforced to me the necessity of the archives. Working with the audiovisual collection, I would hear oral histories and see motion pictures. I watched interviews with the Enola Gay’s pilot which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I listened to Amelia Earhart’s voice describing her difficulties during her transatlantic flight. Now when I walk across the walkway, I see them. I no longer see just the cockpit, the fuselage, and the wings. I see the people. I hear their voices.

Working with the audiovisual collection in the NASM Archives, I processed reel to reel tape, cassette tapes, CDs, VHS tapes, and 16mm film. Even though I was not able to listen or watch every item I processed, I knew their importance. Everyone has a story to tell. The archives is just one aspect of the museum’s operations, but in my opinion, it is the one aspect that brings the entire story together. Visitors see museum objects without realizing how important the archival collection is to creating the exhibits. Archival institutions need to advocate for their collections. Since archival material is usually locked away in storage vaults, it was difficult, in the past, to raise awareness about items in the archival collection. Now with the technological advances and the digitization boom, it is easier to promote the archives as a segment just as important as the museum objects themselves.

The next time you see a museum object, I hope you think, “What is the story behind the object? What are the archival items associated with the object?” Whose voice do you hear?

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Tech-Enabled Spaces and New Approachs to Library Environments

The role of libraries in the academic community is changing. While certain services and goals remain unchanged, such as maintaining a collection — physical or otherwise — of up-to-date information resources and providing reference/research services to patrons, the changing nature of information access and use that is spurred on by the lightning-pace of computer and technological development has inspired libraries to reconsider the  ways in which they facilitate and promote tech-based innovation. The physical environment of the library, amid all the changing dimensions of service and access, has emerged as a prime environment for facilitating tech-based innovation.

The Gelman Library at George Washington University here in DC has made some amazing changes to their library environment and serves as a prime example of how libraries can adapt to meet the tech-oriented needs of their users. One of the first things that you notice upon entering the Gelman is the space-agey furniture that fills the common areas. Bench seats that join up at odd angles, broken up by wooden armrests complete wpicture012ith USB and 110-volt jacks? Angular bar-high counters? While they may off-put the viewer initially, Debbie Bezanson, the Associate University Librarian for Research and Library Services, informed me that the benches were selected because they allowed for public seating that did not create an intimidating environment in which you must encounter strangers (think ‘by yourself together’). And the counters allow for spontaneous collaboration with a low threshold of use. And, of course, the centrality of computers to information usage is enabled by the access to electricity at every turn.

Collaboration is a key feature of much of the institutional developments at the Gelman. Their new “dog-bone” picture018computer desks allow for both individual use (half walls, computers that don’t entirely face each other) and group use (shared work surfaces, extra chairs that can be brought to the desks). Additionally, private meeting rooms picture019can be reserved that feature meeting tables and large, wall-mounted monitors that can be easily hooked up to user computers. From these developments, we can see how libraries are changing to meet new user demands. Libraries are no longer repositories of books that can be accessed for quiet consideration; they are learning environments in which collaborative group work is allowed to flourish through discussion and shared access to technology.

The new age of tech-enabled libraries is not just about collaboration; it is also about picture015access to a variety of software. By promoting access and usage of new software, libraries enable users to access and analyze data in novel ways that were previously prohibited due to cost or accessibility. The new software lab features a collection of Mac Pros with such software as Adobe Creative Suite, Camtasia, Audacity, MatLab, MS Office Suite, SAS, SPSS, and more. Additionally, the lab provides training and help for all of these applications via the tutorial and training site.


It’s 3D. I promise.

Lastly, by embracing brand new technologies, the library can become a hot bed of cutting-edge academic research. The Gelman’s data visualization center provides an audio visual center — complete with surround sound — that features a fascinating twist: a three-dimensional projector and document scanner. While 3D may be regarded as gimmicky (hooray $20 tickets for ‘Avatar 3D’!), it presents new ground for visualization of digital surrogates. Think of what can be done with schematics and molecular models that can be viewed in true 3D. What about digitized manuscripts? An entirely new haptic dimension opens up so that images are no longer static, flat representations.

While the core goals of a library — in their most abstract sense — remain unchanged by new waves of technology, the ways in which the library as a space is used must adapt to the evolving world of information use and user need. The Gelman Library is a great case study of ways that the library environment can change to meet growing needs.

Interesting articles on 3D visualization of manuscripts:

More than Meets the Eye: Going 3D with an Early Medieval Manuscript; Bill Endres, University of Kentucky

The Center for Hellenic Studies; Digital Images of Iliad Manuscripts from the Marciana Library

Bridging the Spectrum Symposium — Proposals Due Next Friday!

Just wanted to post a reminder that proposals for presentations at the 2014 Bridging the Spectrum Symposium are due by September 13 (next Friday).  Think about the poster presentations for Dr. Zhang’s class; plenty of great ideas shown during that class!

Here’s the breakdown of deadlines for the symposium:

  • Proposal Submissions Open: July 29, 2013
  • Proposals Due: September 13, 2013
  • Notification of Acceptances: November 8, 2013
  • Final Program Abstracts Due: December 6, 2013
  • Symposium: January 31, 2014

More information on the symposium can be found here.