NMSU Summer Archive Internship

In the archive, avoid to-do “which” lists that include any list of chores, errands, or projects that cannot be processed by real human beings.  In the archive, and its companion library system, any number of misfortune, pitfall, or researcher led ghost-chase jeopardizes archivists who cannot work collaboratively to solve problems.  Simply — in the university archive — too many projects risk disaster without clear staff communication.

The lonely call of the shoestring budget; ever-dreaded project pushback hype (don’t believe it); monsoon season water leakage across your beloved collections’ corners; lost processing time and unforeseen side-projects; low, absent, even nonexistent staff morale across the institution: such mechanisms limit human health and conducive productivity (forget project production) and further risks academically fabricated curmudgeons of the house repository variety.

The worst-of-all list includes poorly communicated objectives and a lack of basic operational instructions. Avoid neglectful guidance practices for work-study employees, ambiguous internship tasks and goals, and generalized absences of diversified staff character and the project engagements important to the archive.  Does your university archive TO-DO list extend well into the future? Of course, the answer continues resound, Yes!  We are archivists.

In the archive, today’s professionals debate, negotiate, and press forward to define what archival and collection management practices mean and, likewise, how the community responds.  Does your archive suffer unreasonably from a staffing, funding, or identity slump — ask yourself: how does the community support or hinder the workflow whereby the archive hopes to collect and organize itself.

Do your archive holdings generate a local or regional memory, perhaps a single geographic area, cultural perspective or favorite folklore inquiry such as Billy the Kid?  Who currently uses the archive, and why should researchers and patrons be interested in the collection of materials behind your research room walls?

These questions, and more, depend on the archivist’s message and methodologies shown through good policy, and met with staff driven information about the resources and materials available for research room display.  What holdings draw-on and share historic value for the community?

How can the archive relate to the present day, and whose story does the archive tell, and why, where, what, when, and who described these stories?  If these questions are not obvious: hire a library and archives public relations contractor immediately.

What more!  Where does the archive display itself: the front room, the first floor library display case, the swap-meet or versatile yet cumbersome pop-up storyboard-on-tour?  Francis Blouin reminds us that “historians usually come to the archive intending to tell a story or substantiate an interpretation.” Like it or not, the present day archive belongs to the user seeking information about the contents of a collection believed to be relevant.  That said, like the library, there are policies which archive users must follow in order to heighten their own respectful research experience.

Does your archive provide a clear message and accessible points of reference which help researchers to this outcome of success?  If the answer is no, your archive has problems.

        territory of the Summer archives

In the archive — of my perspective — the need for processing of accessioned material thrives when balanced between human labor, work-time, and the community’s desire to use research rooms vigorously, numerously, and responsibly.

The New Mexico State University Archives, located at Branson Library, holds the Rio Grande Historical Collection (RGHC) with public access on the 4th floor at the Caroline E. Stras Research Room, open Monday through Friday 9 AM – 4 PM during regular Fall and Spring semester.

A July 2017 article in the Las Cruces Bulletin details NMSU Archives department head Dennis Daily’s outreach and collaboration with “10 other historical repositories … to highlight the work they do to preserve local history and culture.”  NMSU Archives houses local memory through the Amador Family papers, the New Mexico Irrigation information, and New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, to name only a few.

The RGHC Information File features annotated description of these holdings while the RGHC Subject Index provides alphabetical listing of collection content.  The NMSU Library Digital Collections allow students and community patrons online access to past university activities, historical photographs and publications, in addition to helpful library guides which present sometimes distinctive, sometimes interconnected, histories of NMSU status as a Land Grant University.

The opportunity of the archives internship helped form many new projects, and further serves to codify much of my past archival experience. For example, collaboration with university staff during collection workflow and applied box and folder level processing techniques — digital management of audio recorded material especially — which, in turn, drives my fascination for collecting and describing the objects and intellectual property of the past and present.

My intention is to work with archivists within the field, and to make oral history collections, curations, and well preserved born-digital sound narratives.

This effort includes Public History and patron awareness of the archive as a place much more than a repository of papers, historical media formats, and ancestral community objects.  I believe explicitly that the function of the university archive should be to provide physical and digital open-access, well preserved records and papers, and Special Collection displays representative of NMSU students, staff, and alumni, and especially the widely diverse Las Cruces and southern New Mexico communities.

        processing + accessioning

This summer’s internship projects combined traditional categories of archival processing with slightly more modern enterprises of audio-tape to digital-conversion of oral history interviews.  The accessioned Aubrey L. Dunn Papers seek folder level description.  The Herman B. Weisner Papers comprise, in part, oral histories recorded on reel-to-reel tape, converted to audio tape, and now carefully converted a final time to WAV file format.

Dunn Papers processing will result in a finding aid in Rocky Mountain Online Archive (RMOA).  My primary task includes a short review of each box, and a ten-to-twenty word description of each folder.  This information is then entered into an old fashioned (hopefully soon retired) Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to await further review.  Data is then edited into what Archives Space calls, rather than a Finding Aid, a Resource Record.

A guidebook to my work, the Beinecke Processing Manual chaperones all levels of the archival process.  Likewise, Archives Space is soon capable of uploading a newer RMOA website, a promising development to bring collaborative, problem solving joy to librarians and archivists once NMSU Library user database migrate early in 2018.  An Archives Space webinar calls the process a “model in transition,” which quests to deliver higher patron access, and student engagement with NMSU libraries, archives, and special collections.

With a sure foot in both worlds, NMSU Library Specialist Jennifer Chavez introduced Archives Space, a web application for archives Information Management Systems (IMS) which seeks to categorize collection holdings.  As RMOA updates its online presence, Archives Space fills the gap between the physical past and digital present.  Its origins with the Archivists Toolkit, and container (box) management philosophy supported through Lyrasis, Archives Space holds the current title of preferred software for the next generation of archivists.  An obvious reason for this clear support: attention to Describing Archives Content Standard (DACS) and the claim of capable content migration from classic format standards such as EAD, EAC, MARCXML, MODS, and Dublin Core.

By offering to provide a macro appraisal of NMSU holdings, Jennifer works with Archives Space to migrate already existing collection data into Primo, the NMSU Library’s new user database.  These tools and collaborations, and more, are sure to be a part of my student employee position this fall semester in the archive.

         into the future archives

Present technologies do not remove the work (our energy-consumed human labor) necessary to provide physical access to the items available in the collection.  A noticeable difference between Dunn and Weisner collections ― because the Dunn Papers are currently accessioned without a linkable finding aid, the Weisner Papers present a good example of the future Archives Space resource record.

The purpose of a finding aid, according to the Society for American Archivists, is to create a records’ description for best practice activities and to promote “physical and intellectual control over the materials [and] assist users to gain access to and understand the materials.”  Without a finding aid or resource record, how will your patrons discover the archive collection?

Since NMSU archives seek to maintain a digitized workflow for analog cassette tapes to the digital WAV format, the opportunity exists to learn more about processes which rescue sound materials from technical obsolescence, the audio slave’s dreaded result of outdated media losing the ability to be recovered due to damage, missing status, or a lack of technological means for digitization to take place.  For instance, without a workable reel-to-reel player, audio holdings risk oblivion should they not be attended to by archives’ staff or, alternatively, outsourced to expensive private vendors.

A helpful guide to understanding this process, The Digitization of Audio Tapes – Technical Bulletin No. 30 details numerous potentials by which analog and digital incompatibilities can complicate recovery of antiquated recordings.  Here at NMSU archives, and with help from campus Instructional Media Services (IMS – a local campus acronym), Herman Weisner reel-to-reel tapes may soon be available thanks to the initiative to develop workflow conversion methods and future practice.

My 2017-2018 internship works with archive materials through the above established traditional methods i.e. box processing and audio file preservation, yet also in a closely knit schedule (Thursday recordings) of oral history throughout New Mexico.

Especially important to me, a Las Cruces community project to identify and record the people and organizations who advocate for those experiencing poverty, homelessness, and hunger in New Mexico.

Now a full year of writing, researching, and preparing to voice the project to the community, Fall & Spring presents the opportunity to begin the initial recordings of narrator Historias and Narratives of New Mexico.

As I conclude my Summer Internship, and continue my experience as a part-time employee, a few questions about NMSU archival practice remain; namely, available documentation of current processing guidelines, such as More Product, Less Processing (MPLP), and archives’ staff interest to survey itself about institutional practices and university archives policy.

In light of changing technology, another important insight to research further: archives recommendations to accession born-digital audio recordings into the collection.  For instance, should oral historians solicit NMSU archives to house digital files, what criteria need occur for a successful project to unfold?

From earlier this Summer at a NMSU archives sponsored workshop: does the archive plan to implement WESTPAS, a disaster recovery network of archivists and library professionals who seek to limit the disaster and recovery impacts of natural and manmade damage to archival materials?  Perhaps establishing a communication network of “first to call” documents, or even a helpful Lib Guide, could help to prevent future threat to the physical integrity of NMSU and Branson library collections.

These ideas, and many more in mind, Fall semester guarantees processing engagement, archival scholarship, and — in the archive — the welcomed pace of Las Cruces

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Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS)

The Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) allows historians to display recorded spoken narrative alongside accompanied transcribed material on a single webpage. Many of the steps necessary to complete this process involve a moderate degree of digital literacy; however, patience and careful study of program requirements has the potential to develop a general understanding for novice computer users.  The goal of OHMS should be clear to all users: to create greater access and insight to oral history practice currently in-use over the internet.

My enthusiasm to learn, to use, and to help others create access to synchronized recordings online, emerged from the desire to innovate necessary oral history interviewing skills combined with active post-production of a single recording from start to finish.  The field of oral history continues to advance, and gain new practitioners, thanks in part to born-digital technical capabilities.  Upgrades to technology and independent tool-kit contents does not change best practice standards by which each historian is obliged to consider as ethical framework.  On the contrary, it is my belief that technical hardware and software programs, including OHMS, should never be a distraction to narrators during or after the recording process. In a few words: an interviewer’s technical workflow need not include the narrator.

All practitioners of oral history collection should be familiar with the many steps necessary to conduct a single interview.  In projects which call for a great number of narrators to contribute, a demand for exceptional individual knowledge and applicable start to finish processes is recommended.  At the homepage, OHMS provides an abundance of tutorials, trainings, and documentations on how to use the software, making a small workshop format possible for future classroom use.

A helpful OHMS FAQ page covers basic beginning information need, the OHMS application itself, and the resulting OHMS viewer.  Through established workflow collaborations, and independent practitioner approach to post-production display, projects seeking to offer synchronized oral history transcripts online can benefit from OHMS.

For many, OHMS may appear to be a novelty of the internet’s market for shared content. This view ignores the multitude of open-access capabilities that future historians will surely incorporate into their own practice.  That said, interviewers risk a limited potential of their work’s meaning should they choose to rely on the work of post-production in terms of someone else’s responsibility.  OHMS clearly supports the revitalized interest of oral history through today’s digital humanities community and, likewise, should not sidetrack historians from a solid best practice methodology.

With this in mind, I would classify OHMS as a promising response to the needs of today’s historians, anthropologists, even journalists, who interview, record, and research using oral history narratives.  Like many disciplines which require such involved processes, as mentioned, careful study and knowledgeable practice can help to mitigate obstacles and produce results for projects big and small.

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Painting Winter

While listening to music from the room next door, Painter Enrique Harrison talks about moving to Cedro, New Mexico in 1981. A life long artist, Enrique shares a story about gathering wood and water in wintery Tijeras canyon, mud plastering the oldest house in Cedro, and painting retablos by kerosene lamp and candle light during cold winters.

Recorded at Albuquerque 25 November 2015 in the artist’s studio.

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Alabama Grove

Narrator Margaret Pool speaks about Pleasant Grove, Alabama school fairs and musicals during the Fall and Summer, family football and listening-in via transistor radio, and travel throughout the United States, including Knoxville, Tennessee seeking wild blueberry in the Great Smoky Mountains.

A visual artist, collector of postcards, and an avid reader, Margaret shares memories of the stresses of academia, reading literature late-night, and watching home movie theater outdoors with grandparents.

 

Recorded at Albuquerque 13 October 2015 ABC Special Collections Library.

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NMSU Public History

January 2017 begins anew with a Public History master’s program at New Mexico State University located in Las Cruces. My accepted for admission Statement of Purpose outlines an initiative to record, catalog, and present an narrative research on Poverty, Homelessness, and Child Hunger in New Mexico borderlands.

Founded in 1983, the Public History department at New Mexico State houses many potential avenues of research, including a revisit since my time at CF&I Archives to the Rocky Mountain Online Archive.

The Public History Library Guide links browsers to resources such as Las Vegas, Nevada based: Southwest Oral History Association.

At NMSU, a 1997 project called Preserving Community/Cuentos del Varrio (an Oral History Manual) taught oral history methods to alternative teaching and learning teens at Gadsden High’s Panther Achievement Center (PAC). The result is a collection of rural New Mexico heritage narrative recordings which helped students to learn history of the United States using methodologies to foster open dialog and collective memory of southern New Mexico and West Texas communities.

Information about my own new direction will update here at the NMSU Record Narrative blogroll, created to feature highlight clips of narrators who research, make connections, and work to alleviate New Mexico’s cycle of poverty, homelessness, and child hunger.

Potential collaborators who are available in Las Cruces and on the New Mexico State University campus are welcome to contact me.

At this time, I hope to begin seeking potential narrators March 2017.

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New Mexico Identities

Narrator David Hernandez Rivero speaks about the native and international communities of New Mexico.

Originally from Havana, Cuba, David has worked as a librarian, archivist, and museum curator, including study at University of New Mexico’s Maxwell Museum and 2015s collaborative work Afro Brasil: Art and Identities at Albuquerque’s National Hispanic Cultural Center.

 

Recorded at Albuquerque 14 August 2015 ABC Special Collections Library.

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Autumn Dreams

This summer, after too much time spent working rather than recording, a chance presented itself to schedule sound recordings along

Rio Grande in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Transferring sound equipment —i.e. checklist packing to allow for easy hauling, set-up, and tear down— challenged my physical energy level, not to mention the potential time spent processing WAV format digital materials.

My station as a novice sound collector marked, I traveled to the inner-city to record. Before stepping outdoors with a fancy digital recorder, it’s important to ask:

What sounds are most likely to be captured?

With perhaps late-to-the-game player anxiety, I read news articles and inter-web insights about 2016 sound hunters featuring specialized, other times random, sound events. The NYT article linked above highlights the work of The London Sound Survey, an early influence on my decision to sound record out-in the natural environment.

Quickly and quirkily, the disadvantages of sound hunting clearly addressed my lack of whatever – obviously technological capability. 

When this happens, I seek Advice and DIY (Do It Yourself) pages such as the helpful Quiet American website, a valuable resource which documents many good to know  in-and-outs of recording. 

Had my hard spent money outwitted me again? The latest wave of recording devices crafted and created by the microphone and music industry prove adept when called to supply more disposable and cheaper (though, don’t forget) higher quality devices.

It should be clear to all recordists of sound and noise that the right microphone will always be indispensable to post-production; however:

loud-enough sound “connected” i.e. INPUT 

at the right recording levels — wins the day! 

Post-Production will always be there to help keep your long winter warm. For more time at the cafe, instead of the DAW, develop good universal sound setting practices on location, and be ready to easily adjust for surprise sounds.

Once my prescheduled destinations were located via the generous work of the Radio Aporee mapping application:

My first lesson was awkward set-up.

The routine I’d worked on for the last five years included over twenty orchestrated steps, such as:

  • phantom-power to the digital recorder
  • comfortable yet sound absorbent microphone placement
  • narrator hospitality provided  to forget quirky technical equipment

Lesson learned: Design to create closed sound settings at the library and archives.

Recording in the natural environment calls for preplanned, opened sound settings, traveling flexibility, and easily adjustable sound levels on the trail. In the field, disconnections between the archives and open-air sound events are swift. Sound equipment cannot be left unattended for the sake of removing the observer.

Always remember that you are not alone in space, especially on Monday through Friday in the United States (a terribly antiquated workweek calendar of the current age).

In the city, workers of urban space sizes compete for the same sound event areas with the highest goal set in stone: Safety. Not everyone has the afternoon off to record traffic!



 

Unlike Colorado rivers and streams, sound in Albuquerque flows slowly, gurgles quietly rather than rushes, and meanders buttressed between high automobile traffic bridges, easily seen and heard by the contrasting sounds of Alameda and Central Avenues.

Interstate 40 at Rio Grande was not my most challenging set-up to reach; however, the capacity of sound to overhaul an environment taxed my desert subterranean anxiety. It’s a good city insight to know what your city’s traffic noise truly sounds like. Yes, an Albuquerque freeway bridge recording!

A second lesson and humble reminder: practical challenges abound! I continue to learn sound recording lessons and so should you! Sound Design methodologies and how they are conducted, lost, created, shared &ct. will always be important to public historian collections.

My poor technical expertise, as always, makes me laugh, and even led me to remove “Sound Records New Mexico” from my social media profile. After all, sound hunters with much better microphones, digital recorders, and DAWS will be quick to note the high gain setting on these first two field recordings at the river.

Audio recording listeners use headphones for good reason.

I plan to continue to listen for the sounds that make light of industrial sound ecologies under terribly loud neighborhood overpasses. Too over-abundant city noise, a danger to public health, and terribly cacophonous sound spaces point to the industrial age’s need to re-construct these sound vortexes!

Mindful consideration, a solid research purpose, and clear motivation to isolate a sound event without becoming the recorded event itself present intricate challenges that sound recordists and public history interviewers must address.

Social justice events and recorded speech created for the narrator’s benefit, or not at all, will always mark the public record according to the sound presentation recorded. A good host’s extraordinary demeanor combined with a studied and knowledgable sound recording skill-set can help your project’s ability to be shared.

The same best practices apply for sound hunters in the field. Like the theory of the great outdoors, this begins before sound hunters arrive and for many hours after the working process.

To be sure and confident about your working techniques and capabilities: Listen and recognize born-digital audio recordings for what they are: the sounds of your work. A good idea of field recording sound helps even the most advanced public historian. 

Likewise, always listen to professional sound collectors and interviewers! 

All that said: Take good care and stay aware of your surroundings out-doors when sound recording urban and natural sound. Set and Setting research practices apply to the outside of open space libraries, too. 

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David Lee

David Lee

Public History at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico: Poverty, Homelessness, and Hunger in New Mexico Borderlands. All interviews are free of charge, open to all citizens of the United States and Mexico, and held at libraries, archives, and meeting spaces throughout the region. To schedule a potential public history interview: Email record@nmsu.edu Phone: (505) 715-8779

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