Theft of Centuries-Old Texts from the Girolamini Library

Reading like something from a Borges text, the New York Times has reported on a the theft of thousands of volumes from the Girolamini Library in Naples by the former director, Marino Massimo De Caro. In fact, De Caro quoted Borges’s Ficciones during his trial in what history may prove to be the very first defense by way of deconstruction, but that’s for another blog post.

The larger issue is the loss of cultural (and global) heritage that we see in this theft. The stolen texts include copies of Galileo, Machiavelli, Descartes, and much, much more. And, as the article observes, many of the volumes have been sold off to dealers from around the world, likely to never be returned to their institutional home. One need only read about the thefts that occurred at the hands of Daniel Spiegelman and Forbes Smiley to understand the far reaching impact of such events. As Jean Ashton says of Susan Gilligan’s input into the Spiegelman case, “seven-hundred-year-old manuscripts and early maps [are] not the same as fur coats or cash; they [are] cultural materials representing our shared heritage.” In these thefts, we see not just material theft, the loss of some high-value object. We see the loss and, sadly, destruction of history, of heritage, of the very material instantiation of our shared culture.

As librarians, archivists, and historians, we have a responsibility to our collections, our institutions, and our patrons to ensure that these events do not happen. We must protect our cultural heritage in order to ensure the preservation of our shared history and the continued accessibility of materials objects by researchers, students, and the public. While these are great ideals for which we can strive, how are we to go about taking action on these matters? The Library of Congress text To Preserve and Protect: The Strategic Stewardship of Cultural Resources provides many useful guidelines on how to protect collections from theft, environmental disaster, and institutional disarray. However, this book is not a cure-all for collection damage and theft. We must actively engage all parts of our organizations — from directors and executives to volunteers and janitorial workers — in order to promote the shared mission of active preservation and stewardship of our collections.

Why Professional Organizations?

A post from my (Alyse Minter) blog, An Emerging Archivist:

I had the opportunity to attend an event hosted by my graduate student organization in Library Science, AGLISS, in which professionals from the library field shared their reflections on professional organizations and how those organizations can have a positive effect on building a career. unfortunately, we didn’t have a very large audience turn out. But nevertheless, I wanted to share a few of the highlights, in case it could be of help to someone.

1. Professional organizations allow you to network. Yes, yes, we’ve all heard so much about networking that perhaps we start to tune out when we hear the n-word. But seriously, professional organizations allow beginning professionals the chance to link up with others who shared their interests and career goals. It can also provide a chance to “shadow” a more experienced professional and learn tips of the trade.

2. Professional organizations allow you the opportunity to build skills in areas that may not be available through your job or practicum/internship. Practicums and internships are wonderful, but they are temporary. You’re usually in a race against the clock to absorb as much as you can before the clock strikes twelve and you return to normal life. Or at least, that’s how it felt at times this summer. Lovely experience, I learned a ton, but it was over so soon. Through professional organizations, for example, you may be able to boost management skills through heading a committee. Speaking of committees, many organizations are eager to have young, fresh individuals as participants. So figure out your interests, and drop an email.

3. Not all professional organizations cost an arm and a leg. Many of us are still perilously close to that “poor, struggling grad student” phase…or we’re just flat-out still in it. Before you despair, check out the local counterparts of national organizations. For example, MARAC may provide a cheaper alternative to SAA and DCLA may be more cost effective than ALA. Also, most professional organizations offer reduced student rates.

4. Local chapters or local organizations provide a more intimate involvement with local professionals, so you will be better able to connect and (get this) network! Also, local chapters will likely host conferences, workshops and events close in vicinity to your state of residence, so it will be easier to attend. That’s not to say you shouldn’t join national organizations. I’m an SAA member and have gotten some great benefits from that membership. Just keep the local organizations in mind, as well. The people you interact with on a local basis, however, will be your colleagues or bosses in a few years, so make yourself known now. 

5. Make yourself known now. By being involved in professional organizations, you allow your name and face to be recognized. Because of this, if you commit to something, make sure you’re able to carry it out. It would not be a good thing to gain a reputation as a quitter or a person whose word means nothing. Remember, these are your colleagues and bosses of the near future. Leave a good impression.

6.  Of course, you can always put it on your resume. But why stop at just having words on a piece of paper? Try to shape your time now to reflect your future goals. What do you want to do with your career? What steps can you take now to ensure you receive the experience and professional skills necessary to get to your next step? The work force is competitive, so you have to be proactive.

I hope this was helpful to you. I greatly enjoyed hearing from our professionals and count it as well worth my time. Oh, that was my last point: listen to the people who are in the field now. They have good advice. I guess that counts as networking, but you get the point.

Have a great day! :)

Keeping the Kennedys Alive

Written by Justine Rothbart


I was not alive in 1963. I don’t remember JFK’s inauguration day. I don’t remember his years in the White House. And I don’t remember that tragic day in November of 1963. And why do I feel as if I do? Why am I so fascinated with the Kennedys fifty years later?  Why do I feel as if I know them?

One word: Archives.

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Photography by Jaques Lowe from the exhibit “Creating Camelot” at the Newseum.

John F. Kennedy was the first president to essentially use the television as a way to talk to the United States (JFK Presidential Library). He was the first president to have an official White House photographer on staff. The TV and photographs captured those White House years in an unprecedented way. They captured Caroline and Jack Jr. playing in the Oval Office. They captured those tense days during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And they captured JFK’s forever-lasting funeral procession through the streets of DC.

Those photographs and the films are now archival materials. They are stored in archival institutions, such as the JFK Presidential Library and the National Archives. These materials are what keep the Kennedys alive today. As I watch JFK’s inauguration speech I feel a sense of hope and optimism. As I watch Jackie Kennedy’s White House tour, I feel her sense of pride. As I see photographs of Jackie on the day of her husband’s funeral, I feel her sense of utter grief and pain.

Those feelings rushed back for many people yesterday on November 22, 2013 – fifty years after JFK’s assassination. I spent the entire day at the Newseum for “JFK Remembrance Day.” I looked at never-before-seen images of the Kennedy family during happier times. I listened to stories from people who personally knew the president. I watched Walter Cronkite deliver the news during the real time viewing of the 1963 CBS news footage.

 CBS News live coverage of November 22, 1963 in the Great Hall of the  Newseum on "JFK Rememberance Day": November 22, 2013

CBS News live coverage of November 22, 1963 in the Great Hall of the Newseum on “JFK Rememberance Day”: November 22, 2013

This day was all possible because of the archival materials and museum objects that still exist. As archivists, we are the memory keepers. We re-tell the story. We make it seem as if you were there. We keep the Kennedys alive.

Don’t miss the JFK exhibits at the Newseum on display through January 5, 2014.

Also, check out Jackie Kennedy’s recently released oral histories from 1964.

“We’ve had news of an accident”

Written by Justine Rothbart


AAUW member Judge Sarah Hughes (left) swears in Lyndon B. Johnson as Jackie Kennedy and others watch. November 22, 1963. (Image by Cecil Stoughton, White House Photo Office. Courtesy of LBJ Presidential Library, Austin)

AAUW member Judge Sarah Hughes (left) swears in Lyndon B. Johnson as Jackie Kennedy and others watch. November 22, 1963. (Image by Cecil Stoughton, White House Photo Office. Courtesy of LBJ Presidential Library, Austin)

Fifty years later, we remember the tragic day of November 22, 1963. As the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Archives Intern, I looked back through oral histories to find the story of one person who was not only a witness, but a key figure in history on November 22, 1963: Judge Sarah T. Hughes.

Click here to read the full story of Judge Sarah T. Hughes.


Art in the Archives for the 21st Century

Last weekend, I got the opportunity to attend my first MARAC (Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference) event in Philadelphia. The theme was “Art and Advocacy along the Delaware,” and as such, many of the conference sessions dealt with preserving and advocating for art in the archives. Two of the most interesting sessions I attended dealt with the unique situation of artists’ records and complex digital artworks.

The first session, “Artists’ Records in the Archives,” dealt with the types of art- and artist-related material in archives that are not designated as artwork. The panelists included Janine St. Germaine, and independent archivist from New York City, Chritiana Dobrzynski Grippe, an archivist with MoMA, Beth Levitt from the National Archives in Philadelphia, and Susan K. Anderson, from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The list of what is considered artists’ archival material, it turns out, is quite large. It includes (but is not limited to):

  • Artists’ correspondences
  • Photographs
  • Documentation of artists’ careers
  • Artists’ and collectors’ business records
  • Supplies, tools, and other realia
  • Items used by artists for inspiration
  • Documentation for performance art (this one especially brings up an interesting debate about what is really archival material and what is really the artwork…)

The list is quite large, and growing, now that we can include digital files into the archive of today’s artists. However, one of the most thought-provoking questions raised during this session was, “How do you decide what is considered archival and what is considered a work of art?” This question really boiled down to the essence of the object, and where it would serve its function best: will it be used more for research or criticism? Does it need the special care that would be given to it if it were classified as a piece of art? This also points to increased collaboration between archivists and curators at institutions.


< boundry music > : Instructions for a performance art piece by Mieko Shiomi. Does this belong in the archives or with the curatorial staff?
© 2013 Mieko Shiomi, 1963. From the Museum of Modern Art. Statement of Use: This material is included under the fair use exemption and are restricted from further use.

The second interesting session I attended at MARAC was “Archiving, Preservation, and Access of Complex Artworks,” which included panelists from MoMA, AVPreserve, and Cornell University’s Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art. This session focused on how we as archivists can preserve very complex (usually digital) artwork for future generations, and how we can make these artworks interoperable over time. There has been a huge boom in digital artwork over the past few years, which makes archives and archivists rethink how they work with these very complex pieces. Integral to this process are the ideas of significant properties, and by default, emulation technology. The significant properties of any work can be defined as its identity: what makes a piece of art what it is. According to JISC, significant properties can entail “content, context (metadata), appearance (e.g. layout, colour), behaviour (e.g. interaction, functionality) and structure (e.g. pagination, sections).”

After these properties have been defined, the next step is emulation. An entire blog post could be written about emulation in and of itself, but here is the watered down version: emulation is when you can operate a machine’s (computer’s) operating system within a different (usually newer) machine. It’s like taking a game or program that can only operate on Windows 95, writing a program that completely emulates Windows 95, running that program on your Windows 8 platform, and playing that once thought lost computer game. It’s pretty cool when you think about it, but it’s also extremely difficult and expensive. Here are two giants in the world of emulation (both of which work in collaboration with MoMA):



It’s safe to say that I came away from MARAC 2013 with a newfound appreciation of art archives in the 21st century. Like in many other places: collaboration, technology, and cooperation will be the road map for the future of art in the archives.

A is for Archives and Advocacy

Written by Justine Rothbart


This past weekend, archivists descended upon the city of Philadelphia. With our notebook and pencil in hand, we were ready to watch, listen, and discuss art and advocacy in the wonderful world of archives. What is the reason for this gathering of archivists, you ask? Why it’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference! During our weekend in Philadelphia, we learned how to determine the date of daguerreotype photographs and improve our elevator speech all in the same conference.  Most importantly, we mixed and mingled with other Mid-Atlantic archivists and had a great time.

CUA LIS Students at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference in Philadelphia, PA.  (Left to Right) Katherine Stinson, Erica Johnson, Katie Rodda, and Justine Rothbart

CUA LIS Students at the
Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference in Philadelphia, PA.
(Left to Right) Katherine Stinson, Erica Johnson, Katie Rodda, and Justine Rothbart (Me)

Five of us from the CUA Dept. of Library and Information Science were in attendance: Katherine Stinson, Erica Johnson, Katie Rodda, Justine Rothbart (Me), and Prof. Jane Zhang. Since there were too many sessions to mention in one blog post, I am going to focus on one of the most, in my opinion, inspirational  sessions of the entire conference. The session was titled: Politics, Professionalism, and the Future of Archival Advocacy. It was chaired by Ed Galloway (University of Pittsburgh), with a panel of speakers that included: Bradley Wiles (American Public University), Laura Starratt (Emory University), Jeremy Brett (University of Iowa), and Christine George (SUNY Buffalo Law School).

This was an interactive session with strong audience participation about advocacy in the archival setting. How do you let the world know about your archival collection? How do you promote for yourself as an archivist? Here are some important statements from both the speakers and the audience:

  • When you say you’re an archivist, what do people think? “We want the word archivist be as ubiquitous as teacher, lawyer, or librarian.”
  • When you are advocating a collection or for your position, one audience member said, “[If you don’t hire an archivist], you run the risk of destroying history.”
  • Who are you talking to? What do they want? “[Depending on the audience] I tell people what they want to hear.”
  • The emotional impact is another major component to advocacy. “Photographs connect with people in a way other documents do not.” One speaker mentioned the importance of showing before and after photographs of the collection. What did it look like before you started your job? What does it look like now? Showing a tangible improvement is key to advocacy.
  • “Whenever you can show something cool, it is a way you can get something that’s not cool.” For example, display a “cool” item to show the importance of the collection. Then you can advocate the need for things that are practical, or “not cool.”
  • Christine George talked about “Archives Bins.” In SUNY Buffalo Law Library, she puts “Archives Bins” in other offices for other staff members to contribute items into the archives. Once the bins are collected from each office, then the archivist appraises the items.
  • This quote pretty much sums up the session “When you can personally connect people with the documents – that’s advocacy.”

Elevator speeches are a major part of advocacy. Here’s a couple examples of elevator speeches from the audience:

This was just one of many educational, inspiring, and entertaining sessions of the conference. Spending my weekend with  CUA LIS students and archivists was a great way to meet other archivists in the field and have a fun time! If you decide to attend the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference in the future (which I recommend you do), you’ll definitely see me there again!