Recording History

The majority of my job is taking recorded history and preserving it and making it available for all to use. But more and more I feel a responsibility to get more involved in the recording of history via audiovisual means to ensure accessibility, and frankly to make less work for the archivists of the future (trust me, there will still be plenty of things to do). UBalt and Langsdale Library have been doing this together for quite some time in their creation and collection of oral histories. An oral history is "a method of gathering, preserving, and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events" as it is defined by the Oral History Association

Eleven oral history collections are housed in the Langsdale Library Special Collections Department--six of which were organized and recorded by UBalt students and faculty. In addition to recorded interviews, the oral history collections sometimes include typewritten transcriptions, biographical summaries of interviewees, interview time tables, and photographs donated by interviewees. All of these document Baltimore City communities and organizations and many can be accessed online.

You have an amazing capacity for recording history literally in your pocket: your mobile smart phone. Much recent attention has been brought to utilizing your smart phone as a tool for citizen journalism with the documentation of events following the shooting and death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. To take that one step further: not only can a citizen with a smart phone become a journalist, but they can also be a historical documentarian and archivist at the same time. As is described by the group Activist Archivists, "Media is used to inform and inspire people to action, record the history of social movements and positive change, document abuses of power, and enables the eyes of the world to help protect activists on the ground." This group worked in collaboration with Witness, an international organization that trains and supports people using video in their fight for human rights, to create seven tips for making your videos discoverable and usable in the long term.

Check out those tips and contact me if you would like more information on this topic at shagan@ubalt.edu. And one tip from an Audiovisual Archivist: try to remember to flip your phone to the "widescreen", horizontal position--you will capture more visual information that way and it will look a lot better on the Internet. Take for example this recent cell phone video of new University of Baltimore President Kurt Schmoke and students Michelle Richardson, Nyshe Green and Jasmine Gibson's #IceBucketChallenge.

Happy documenting!

<<Siobhan Hagan, Audiovisual Archivist


Save the Date - Home Movie Day!

Please join Langsdale Library as it hosts Baltimore Home Movie Day 2014!

     What: Baltimore Home Movie Day
     When: Saturday, October 18, 2014 (time TBA)
     Where: University of Baltimore, Learning Commons Town Hall

Begun by the Center for Home Movies, "Home Movie Day is a celebration of amateur films and filmmaking held annually at many local venues worldwide. Home Movie Day events provide the opportunity for individuals and families to see and share their own home movies with an audience of their community, and to see their neighbors’ in turn. It’s a chance to discover why to care about these films and to learn how best to care for them."

Look for more details in the upcoming edition of the library's newsletter, the Langsdale Link, and our social media updates!


The Mysticism of Record Collection

Last week I wrote a searching (maybe aimlessly wandering) article in which I tried to figure out what exactly a library is. I didn't come up with a good answer. But it started me thinking about all the odd collections of things that people acquire, not called libraries, but originating with the same impetus I assume the first and all subsequent libraries began: a place of longing for the things we have, the things we find important, to be remembered. Which is why a recent article in the City Paper caught my eye. Baynard Woods gives a personal and celebratory review of music writer Amanda Petrusich's new book, Do Not Sell at Any Price. Her book, while circling her own compulsion toward collecting rare blues and jazz records, forgos the personal for the journalistic and historic culture of cult LP collectors. She, at one point in the book, focuses on the legendary collector and anthologist Harry Smith, known for compiling one of the most important and influential folk compilations of all time, Anthology of American Folk Music--he, though, is as well regarded for his films, artwork, and bohemian mysticism; just an all-around strange, interesting anomaly of a dude. Petrusich describes him in a succinct and illuminating section of her book:
Smith, who died in 1991 in room 328 of the Chelsea Hotel in New York, a building already infamous for its output of body bags, was the kind of guy who designed his own tarot cards. He was a dedicated mystic, a consecrated bishop in the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica ... and, supposedly, an initiated Lummi shaman. He palled around with folks like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso, and was eventually appointed “Shaman in Residence” at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado.... Along with records and rare books, which he arranged on his shelves by height, Smith collected Seminole textiles, hand-decorated Ukrainian Easter eggs, and anything shaped like a hamburger. He lived with a goldfish in a series of tiny apartments crammed with ephemera (quilts, weavings, clay models, mounted string figures, women’s dresses). In 1984 he donated “the largest known paper airplane collection in the world”—sourced exclusively from the streets of New York City—to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Smith was also an obsessive chronicler of found sound, be it the peyote songs of the Kiowa Indians or the wheezing vagrants of the Lower East Side; one Fourth of July he recorded every single noise he encountered.

Much of the work Smith collected cataloged and anthologized was very nearly lost and forgotten. He changed the perception of traditional American music, what it was, who produced it and when. The category of "folk music" was immeasurably changed and expanded after a lone collector brought his idiosyncratic collection into the light of day. Maybe Harry Smith, and all the other Harry Smiths out there, will bring us closer to an understanding of what a library actually is. 


Library Unlimited

Earlier this week, Amazon broke news about it's Kindle Unlimited subscription for $9.99/month. This lets Kindle users borrow from 600,000 available books and audiobooks. While some people are suggesting getting rid of libraries and buying everyone Kindles, many others pointed out, like Barbara Fister at Inside Higher Ed and Donna Tam at CNET, Kindle Unlimited isn't so "unlimited."

I'm a Kindle owner, but also a librarian. When I read books, I tend to default to libraries first. Because I like free things, even if they take a little more effort.


Space, Size, and Videotapes

The Langsdale Library Special Collections Department has finished our move from the library's previous building to our current location in the University of Baltimore’s Learning Commons. We were scheduled after the rest of the library and took over twice as long. This was due to the vastness of our collections: we have thousands of boxes of unique, historical primary sources that we care for and provide access to.

After the move we have about 40% less physical space. While we have been able to weed a few items and boxes here and there, the collections are extremely cramped. The majority of the collections that I manage consist of videocassette tapes: the WJZ collection itself has over 20,000 videos! Now that I have a video reformatting station set up (not fully operational yet), I can begin transferring the content from these tapes to digital files. This needs to begin as soon as possible as videotape does not have a long life expectancy. In fact, it may already be too late to digitize some of the older and more problematic tapes. 


The Problem with What a Library is?

The National Archives building (via Wikipedia)
Throughout my life, I’ve had a bizarre relationship with libraries. Bizarre because, as a child, I didn’t particularly like to read, though, for some reason, I still liked going to the library. I’m sure I didn’t intellectualize it back then, or even examine my reasons for enjoying a space designed and functioning as the dispensary of a product (books) that I didn’t much care for. Then it also dawned on me that the pleasant feeling I got from being in proximity to books, with the disdain I felt toward reading them, isn’t all that unusual. Libraries are not just a place where one might go to indulge in a particular recreation. There is, at once, both a simplistic and really complicated and convoluted metaphysics to Libraries, the idea of a library: what a library is. And it's bigger than the books they carry.


A Librarian's First Impression of Langsdale

My first encounter with Langsdale Library happened in 2006, when I was a graduate student at a university about 45 minutes down the road. Sure, I'd already lived in midtown Baltimore and worked at an art school up the hill for five years, walking to work every day through UB's campus. But my eyes opened wide when I learned that an influential community history initiative known as the Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project, written about so honestly by the public historian Linda Shopes, was held in Langsdale's Special Collections.

Thanks to the efforts of UB librarians to put information about archival collections online, I was able to browse related material on Baltimore City history. Wow, was I impressed! All these years, I'd walked right by the library, completely unaware of the unique resources it held! Eight years ago, the question struck me: "Why is all this stuff at UB?"