Archivist Toolkit

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“Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.” Douglas Adams

Just when I was considering retiring this blog and sticking to my reflective writing practice, along came #GLAMblogclub. Timing was key, the shitstorm of global politics and recent conversations about archivists and our professional responsibilities. Then Cassie Findlay, who has a knack for getting in with the words I want to say, but better (thanks Cassie) tweeted this;

It really feels like we are living in an important time doesn’t it? I’ve been casting around for something in my living memory to pin this feeling to and I keep returning to 1989/90. In the six months after I left high school several historic events happened. The Berlin Wall came down, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, in Czechoslovakia the Velvet Revolution happened. With breathtaking naivety I was drunk on the possibilities these things represented. Obviously, things are unfolding somewhat differently this time. The difference is this time I feel equipped to be more than a passive observer. 

Twenty eight years later I have more perspective, experience, and a new archivist toolkit. So, 2017 will be about using this toolkit to get better at embedding political activism into my professional practice. It has taken some doing but I’m finally in a place professionally where I have the opportunity to influence decision making, practice change and lead projects. I’m not saying its great power (yet), but I do feel the responsibility.

So just to get started, here are a few things I’ve been thinking about;

The planet

Melbourne University Archives have just installed solar panels! This is brilliant, and the kind of leading the way you expect from that corner of the world. Now it is up to the rest of us to step up.

Given all the other ways I try to reduce my footprint on the planet I’ve been conveniently hiding the amount of flying I do in a part of my conscience marked ‘but travel’, and ‘but conferences’. I fear the time may be rapidly approaching when this is no longer a plausible defense. Social media provides a great platform for networking, amplifying messages and sharing links to materials but there are a lot of people who only use it at conference time. We need to start finding new ways to build and work with our global network of activist archivists (and allies) that fills in the gaps between conferences or even dare I say it, replace them.

Smashing the patriarchy

I will continue chipping away at the patriarchy in my workplace. We built patriarchivedotcom as an online place of deposit for materials and stories (and for those if I don’t laugh I’ll cry moments). More time needs to be spent redefining the scope and promoting it to the world. Please if you aren’t already, follow  the twitter handle @patriarchivists or add some content.

As the manager of a mostly male team I have been thinking a lot about emotional labour and and how this creeps into our workplace culture. Things like birthdays or  morning teas when it is almost always the women bringing the cake and tidying up afterwards. Or doing the collection to buy the flowers. Don’t get me started on the apologising. Unless these things get called out they become part of an unacknowledged and accepted culture.

Actively engaging

Locally, I’m excited to be on the organising committee for the 2017 Australian Society of Archivists Conference. With the theme of Diverse Worlds we are looking to dust off (sorry) some uncomfortable but important topics. How we address the archival silences, how we make collections and our profession more representative? Running in parallel with the Information Technologies Indigenous Communities Symposium (ITIC) it will be a week full of stimulating content, new ideas and connections and by popular demand *drum roll*, a craft corner. I can feel a separate post about craftivism forming already.

Finally, I was going to add that I’d like to learn how to stop procrastinating but given I’ve left this until the 30th to write it that probably doesn’t need saying. There still more to say so I’m sure I’ll find a way to chisel the theme for February into an activist kind of shape.

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My Rainbow Collection

To the archives!

The marriage equality debate in Australia seems stuck on one question at the moment. To plebiscite or not to plebiscite? The 1999 republic referendum, and more recently Brexit are just two examples of how things (in my opinion) can go horribly wrong . Those of us who lived through the gay law reform days in Tasmania also remember how things can go horribly hateful. I don’t want to see what happens when narrow and homophobic views are fuelled by a mainstream media more interested in drama and sensation that rational debate. I’m desperately hoping this plebiscite doesn’t happen.

baby dyke

Couldn’t look mean if I tried.

Being a good little archivist, I’ve been asking friends who were living in Tasmania in the day to dig around in their (or their parent’s) attics* for anything relating to gay law reform. The first response to this call has came from Jen Crothers, who on a recent trip home from Vancouver had a dig. And struck gold. I’ve been slowly sorting through it and as I read through some of the letters to the editor, and pamphlets distributed by anti-gay groups I’m suprised by the memories. It was a successful campaign, but a tremendous amount of hate speech was printed in the name of ‘honest debate’ before it was over. Is it over?

Jen must have felt shocked too. The post pack full of documents she sent came with a trigger warning.

warning

Content warning

article 3

The Hobart Mercury 23rd May 1994

article 1

The Examiner 19th May 1994

article 2

The Examiner 19th May 1994

Tas- Alert

Flyer distributed by Tas-Alert

flyer 4

The Examiner 21st May, 1994

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*archival euphemism

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Forgotten or forgone?

Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present, and future.

Susan Sontag

Last July I was standing in an op shop in Greytown, which is sort of up from Wellington. Wendy and I had headed out for the day, driven over the pass (bit scary), had an excellent lunch of pumpkin soup with a cousin and uncle. With said cousin in tow we  hit up the local op shops.

There was no dawdling, cousin needed to be dropped back for school pick up and we needed to head back over the pass before it got too late. The three of us are seasoned op shoppers. We can swoop in, disperse to our areas of interest (me = vintage linen, kitchen stuff, vinyl, books) and with eagle eye know if there is anything for us. The last shop of the day, dusty counter of a shop crammed full I spotted two boxes of lantern slides.

Lantern slide box

People

plane

I didn’t actually care what was on them, there was never any question that they weren’t coming home with me. The only time I have come across lantern slides in my professional life, they had been carefully wrapped in tissue, neatly stored in acid free boxes. Appraised and important. These two boxes were discarded, definitely neglected and forgotten. There was a light dusting of green mould on one.

A few months ago I got them out and decided to try and give them life. I’ve been studying them at my kitchen table in the mornings and posting my favourites on instagram. I’m fascinated by what I have been able to identify by just the images, the age/ model of the plane & cars, what people are wearing (or in a few, not wearing – more on that later) but frustrated by lack of anything approximating provenance.

Lantern Slide #4 - Anonymous Child with FlowerLantern Slide #2 - Anonymous Woman Latern Slide #6 - Anonymous Woman

Most recently I’ve started examining my discomfort about having taken them out of New Zealand (if anyone wants to help me unpack that one let me know) and having posted them on social media without attribution. I own the slides, but do I have the moral right to post those images? Without knowing how these images stopped being part of a family collection, how do I know they weren’t disposed of as a conscious un-remembering?

There are some parallel lines forming about the right to be forgotten, and a new story emerging. The boxes and their contents have been transformed by their participation in my story, my friendship with Wendy and our shared meaning. They have been altered, digitised, discussed. The meaning of that is still revealing.

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Cardi Party

galilioes finger

Galileo’s Finger and my response to the current political situation.

 

On Friday night I presented to the New Cardigan July gathering. Regular readers won’t be hugely surprised to learn the subject of my talk included tea rings on archival records, floppy discs, and how we retain the material elements of archives when we digitise.

We also explored what archival access might look like in the future, once emerging technologies like Virtual Reality have made it easier to read text and become more user friendly for glasses wearers.

Discussion afterwards was engaging and broad, there was a lot of talk about how we curate our own archive of born digital material (and gain control of it). I had a fascinating chat about how we might unintentionally impose archival gatekeeper mentality into the design of digital experiences. This all definitely needs some more talk.

I’ve include the links to the slide pack, notes and the storify of the twitter conversation. Thanks to everyone who came, it was fun!

https://storify.com/maudeygirl/new-cardi

Materiality and the Emotions of Access – Michaela Hart – New Cardigan Talk July 2016 –

Slide Pack – New Cardi Presentation – Materiality and the Emotions of Access

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Oculus Rift

Last week  two colleagues and I headed off to the National Trust to see their latest exhibition  Virtually There. I particularly wanted to check out the Virtual Reality simulations of Old Melbourne Gaol and Rippon Lea.

We were led into a room full of all the things you would expect, antiques, creepy oil paintings of children and dolls. And in the middle of the room, two egg chairs flanked by two young lads holding VR headsets.

Brian

The first simulation I tried was Old Melbourne Gaol. I found myself standing outside a cell, looking down the heart of the jail. There a blue dots, well, dotted about the simulation and you quickly figure out that to move, you need to align your sight line with one. Woosh, you are moved forward. It takes some time to adjust, going up stairs I felt slightly dizzy and at times a bit nauseous. The sensation of moving through a wall is ethereal and very weird.

As an early adopter, I feel obliged to be excited by the possibilities of VR. It feels like the Commodore 64 of my god children’s generation. The technology they will look back on with the same nostalgia 70’s babies do games like Night Driver.

Still, using the headsets is not without frustrations. Wearing glasses is next to impossible, they fog up, the headset fogs ups. You can’t see anything anyway. I took my glasses off, which meant I could make out all the architecture but when it came time to reading signs there was no joy. I guess this answered one of my questions about using this technology for archival access. There is still some way to go.

 

 

 

 

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For whom the bell tolls.

Another Sunday morning has come without me stepping foot in my local Catholic Church. Or quietly climbing the steps in my beloved bell tower to ring the bells.

chapel steps

Its been nearly a year. Pretty soon I’m going to need to remove Bell Ringer from my twitter bio.

I managed for years to separate, however awkwardly, my queer feminist politics from the reality of being a Catholic. Actually, separate is not really the right word. It was more like a chaotic maelstrom of morally indefensible positions bashing against my spiritual heart.

But no more.  Or at least not for now. The stories of abuse and the Church’s continued failure to offer any meaningful contribution towards justice and reparation have revealed it to be an organisation that is rotten at its core. If we are eating an apple that we discover is rotten, we don’t keep nibbling at the edges. We throw it in the compost and get a new apple.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m off to find a new apple.

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Scratched glass

This afternoon I am trying to kick-start my brain. It has been quite a week. Of deadlines and meltdowns, job applications, hugging strangers and deep, hard conversations. And dinosaurs!!

On Friday night I went to Jurassic Nights at the Museum and I wanted to compare a couple of things.

I had as my companion a fellow curious spirit, someone I’m not shy being stupidly excited in front of. This is important if you want to tap into your inner 5 yr old. While we were waiting for our allotted dinosaur time we wandered into the discovery centre*. It’s a great space, with drawers to open and things to magnify and rocks. I know 43 yr old introverts aren’t necessarily the target audience, but I love it in there. 

Then we lined up for the Jurassic experience and the jostling for selfie space began. Seriously people, put your fucking phone away! I swear, about 80% of the people there weren’t actually present. They were filming their own experience, to be watched later in the comfort of their dinosaur onesie.

It’s so difficult to write about this without sounding like a middle-aged curmudgeon but I suspect I’m not the only one thinking it. It has taken me years to train my brain to find the quiet in the crowd. Amidst moments of shared joy and snippets of conversation, the memories I’m left with are where we just stopped. And stood. And stared. Moving through this exhibition, that took some effort.

Exhibitions like that are designed to capitalise on large volumes of traffic and big impact. The technology that went into the creation and staging of the dinosaurs was pretty impressive and I know the whole thing is required to turn a profit for the Museum. Maybe one day when the introverts rise up we will have special ‘no phones and inside voices only’ sessions at these things.

*It’s ok Nicola, the python wasn’t there.

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