Appraisal Case Studies (Spring 2016)

Case Study – Not Mardi Gras

You are conducting an initial review of 1TB images created by your university photographer. You don’t have time to review every image, but you examine a few folders to get a feel for the image collection. During your random review you discover two things. Some images show young women and men in odd poses in gym like attire. Some poses involve arm flexing, various position highlighting areas of the body, etc. There are many of these images. Occasionally in the series of photos, you’ll see a well known professor in the shot touching the image subject obviously adjusting their poses. This professor is well known because they authored a widely acclaimed book on anatomy. 

Also during your cursory review of the images, you find a few images of a music festival. There are several years worth of these images. Many of the images are of the bands that played, wide crowd shots, etc. During the examination of one year selected at random to help determine the types of images/shots, you discover an image of a young women exposing herself to the camera.

  • Do the two unusual series of images mean a deeper appraisal of these records is need?
  • Are some records in these two series university records? Are some not?
  • If a deeper appraisal of records is needed, given the amount of records what do you do?
  • Does the subject matter effect how you approach appraisal?

(original version of this case study)

Case Study – Round and Round

Approximately five minutes before you are heading out for lunch. You receive a phone call. On the line is a well know local amateur historian, who has the “Find of the Century”. This find happens, as emailed photos would show, to be a rather rough and worn looking spinning wheel. According to the historian, this spinning wheel features prominently in one of the towns legends that involve the town mother, a cannon, a sailor, and the spinning wheel in question. He has no recorded provenance, beyond oral history and geographic circumstances, meaning the location it was house fits roughly with the legends narrative, for this spinning wheel. You are not the first institution that has been offered this spinning wheel. After offering first offer the item to the town’s history museum, he was pointed toward the historic house museum as the best spot for this treasure. The historic house museum suggested that your archive would be the best place for this artifact. Keep in mind that this historian has been a friend to you institution over the years, and has alerted your organization to record collections in crisis and help on at least three occasions acquire small family collections. This historian is also on the board of a powerful grant organization in your region.

  • Do you take the spinning wheel?
  • If you don’t take the spinning wheel, how do you console the historian and maintain your professional relationship with them.
  • If you take the Spinning Wheel, how will you utilize in relation to your other collections? How do you justify taking this item?

To Know the World – Thinking about Archival Appraisal

To know the world, one has to penetrate it as deeply as possible.

I recently came across this quote by Ryszard Kapuscinski in a Vice article. I was completely unfamiliar with Kapuscinski either the journalist or the author before stumbling into this bit of text in a, but this quote really got me thinking about the course on appraisal I started teaching on Monday. In some respects, this quote gets at the heart of the issues surrounding a appraisal.

Appraisal of records for some is a task so daunting that it cause that is cause physical anxiety, and can lead some to not wish to appraise at all. To these thinkers, it’s impossible to know what to select. This mind set also could lead to an over reliance on schedules and systems that seem to completely remove the archivist from the decision making process. In this scenario the archivist becomes passive, and seemingly unbiased, but even schedules have to be applied by someone.

To others decisions can be made on feelings and gut reactions. A sense of knowing what’s right for collections just comes quite naturally. To this person whether through actual research and study or a perceived understanding of a subject, they are guided by their knowledge/feelings to make their decisions for inclusion. This mindset can often become stale or over reliant on outdated or incorrect knowledge of a subject. Bias is often most prevalent for this type of archivist. They often doesn’t understand new trends in research and may even diminish voices that are not as prominent in the records they regularly see.

Each extreme perspective is flawed deeply. One rejects the archivist agency in the appraisal process, and suggest that they’re role be eliminated. The other relies to much on the archivist. Of course there’s a middle ground and this is where I come back to the Kapuscinski quote. I  feel that when we examine materials for inclusion in archives we need to find a way “to penetrate it as deeply as possible”. To me this idea of “penetrating” a subject deeply could be used to frame a discussion about how we accomplish a systematic appraisal of records and involves an examination that can include functional analysis and other traditional and historical focused appraisal techniques. Kapuscinski suggest that we go into a subject as far as we can so that we can fully understand it. This is what archivist need to do, and not settle for just one approach when it comes to appraisal.

2016 Year of Anachronism

I’m calling in now just a few days into 2016 that this year will Anachronism, mainly technological anachronisms, and lets just say I couldn’t be happy.  While many of the trends I’m feeling gearing up have been around for a couple of years now, things are just about to get really anachronistic and that’s great for archives and preservation professionals.

Vinyl Rising

The vinyl hasn’t just reemerged it has been given space reserved for CD’s and other sundries in stores from every end of the consumer spectrum. Barnes and Nobles and Urban Outfitters. According to Noisey, one British retailer sold one turntable per minute during this past christmas season. That’s a lot of vinyl spinning capabilities. What’s driving this resurgence is hard to say, but it’s doubtful that its entirely driven

The penutultment sign is Dogfish Head’s Beer to Drink Music To, which becomes available just in time for the now annual Record Store Day which occurs on the third Saturday of April. Though is revival isn’t without controversy. There are few facilities that are still outfitted to press records, and with the boom in demand, these factories have been overwhelmed causing delays. This has massively hampered the ability independent artist to find ways to get their music published in this now in vogue format, causing some to even call for an end to Record Store Day. Again Vice’s Noisey blog has that story.

I’m a Super 8


Super 8 film, and film in general, is making a come back. Just this week Kodak announced the revival of the presumed dead format with a bit of a digital twist. Made this week at the annual Consumer Electronic Expo, this new device will combine 8 mm film that must be developed by Kodak, but buyers will get a digital copy in addition to the developed analog film. This new product won’t be available until late 2016, and doesn’t necessarily signal a revival of film. The first commercially available “new” super 8 camera will start around 400 dollars, and film cartridges will cost around 50 dollars to process. That’s a steep price for a nostalgia trip, but Kodak promises to release less expensive version in the future for the average film enthusiast on a budget.

This new development alone won’t bring analog film back, but the interest from the film industry may help encourage it. An excellent example of this is Quentin Tarantino’s Road Show for the movie The Hateful Eight. Tarantino, a known lover of analogy cinematography, filmed his most recent movie in film, but not just any film. He used an ultra wide-screen 70mm film that was rarely used in its heyday due to the limited number of theaters that could project it in its original size. Films such as Hello Dolly, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Lawrence of Arabia are examples of films shot and shown in this format. Often smaller prints on traditional 35 mm film would be distributed or the films would have special “road shows” that were more of an experience than a trip to the movies. Tarantino decide to revive this experience, with his own flair and graphic violent presentation. Through special showings around the US, Tarantino’s provide movie goers the chance to see the full film projected on antique 70mm projectors. Hopefully other directors will follow in Tarantino’s bloody footprints, perhaps with a bit less blood.


Polaroid, the company, and the instant film that it’s most known for could be blamed for the current nostalgia bomb we are experience. They’re revival began years ago, fueled in part by the rise of instagram and the hipster culture. The revival began as early as 2008, when a group of insta-film fanatics sought to buy a Netherlands Polaroid factory and continue produce the film after the main company discontinued it’s production. Dubbed the Impossible project, this group began produce film for the icon Polaroid 600. This lead to camera sales, and eventually new products. Polaroid would eventually get back into the insta-film game, as well as Fuji film. Now any where trendy, you’ll find a supplier of insta-film or some analog/digital hybrid insta-photographic technology.

Archives Should Care?

So why should anyone care, let alone archivist? Many may think that these are all passing fads. Record players will gather dust. Super 8 won’t come across as so super. Even the revived Polaroids won’t get shaken any more. This may mean, there’s no reason to engage with new users of these old techs because ultimately they’ll get bored and move on to some thing new and shiny. I’d say seize the day. Find a way to leverage archival collections, preservation expertise, and other skills to encourage and participate in these various revivals of antiquated technology systems. Create workshops about proper film preservation. Upload you tube videos of Super 8 film that’s been preserved and captured in a digital format. Find some way to engage with new diverse publics who are becoming curious to many of the things we deal with. 2016 could be the year of anachronism, and that’s great for archives.

Archives and Current Events: Social Movements, Archival Access and Collecting

Recently in a class I provided my students with a rough case study involving a higher educational institution that asked the students to from an ethical stand point what to do with unsolicited materials that had records related to an alumni group that were both embarrassing to the institution and racially charged. I asked several follow up questions after discussing the pro’s and con’s restricting access to this question, but during class I suggested they deal with this case study in light of current student protest at the University of Missouri and Yale and does that relate to records a university collects and chooses to restrict. Many of the students found the idea that these records should be made avaliable compelling especially if the group that directly created these records had some responsiblity for raising funds for the institution. I prodded a bit about issues that could be related to systemic racism that would be relevant.

This in class exercise got me thinking, ethically speaking how should we deal with issues of access versus restriction when responding to current events, namely events embroiled in controversy. Archivist are no strangers to dealing with the ideas of social justice and documenting under-represented and marginalized groups. Randall Jimmerson’s Archives Power makes a fairly strong call for archivist to become activist social-cultural issues that are relevant and current. We should also keep in mind Mark Green’s rebuttal of this in American ArchivistRoughly stated, Green worries that archival objectivity will be impact in how collections are acquired and promoted.

So this debate has precedence in the archival field, but I want to at least begin thinking about the issue of activism in archives from a different perspective. So these are questions that arise for me at least.

  • When a collection previously restricted collection shows examples of systematic persecution of a group, do you release portions of it when current events dictate it necessary or maintain restrictions?
  • When a collection that documents persecution has relevance to a modern  social movement, how active should an archive be in promoting use of these materials?
    • In this scenario, what would constitute activism and what would constitute objective archival actives
  • When a modern social movement needs to be documented, but the participants have become overwhelmed by the attention their movement has acquired, how should archive approach documenting these movement. Also how should archives approach documenting reaction and opposition to these movement.

Just some thoughts for a Friday.

Case Studies about Law and Ethics

Case Study 1: I Just want to set the World On Fire with Records

You’re a reference archivist at an institution that collects political paper collections. A journalist from a gossip website has asked to see portions of a collection of a recently retired Senator. This part of the collection has been sealed for ten years according to the deed of gift. Keep in mind these are not the official records of the senate, but the personal papers/office records of the senator. This doesn’t mean that there are not materials that could be deemed federal records or state secrets. The collection was minimally processed due to it restrictions, and this former Senator is embroiled in a civil suit with a former staffer about sexual misconduct.

  • What issues are at play here?
  • How would you go about dealing with the issue of access?
    • What if the journalist threaten to make a FIOA or Open Records request?
    • Does the journalist employer factor into your decisions?
    • How would you handle a discovery request related to the civil suit?

Case Study 2: Grey Haired Area

You work at an institution of Higher Education. One morning you receive a box on your desk that has been mailed to the archives. The box contains records of an affiliated alumni organization that has had some issues with the university in recent years because of the sale of a few pieces or art work that had been purchased by various alumni over the years, but no longer fit the university  mission. This group resides in a grey area of whether or not it is connected to the official institution alumni group, which you are required to collect materials from as a part of retention schedules. The records found in this box contain meeting minutes and correspondence, in the form of printed emails, from members and officers of the group. The  correspondence is rather scandalous calling out the current president and director of alumni relations in particular. Some of the messages even contain what is best  described as coded racist remarks against the current president who is a non-white female. There is a note from the former secretary transmitting the materials that comes across as frustrated with the group’s behavior.

  • What issues are at play in this scenarios?
  • Do you restrict this materials?
    • For how long?
    • What if the parties affected by the scandalous emails no longer work for the institution?

Case Studies about Managing Archives

Case Study 1 – The Big Bad Boss

You are a lone arrange at a moderate sized academic library that has a small university archives, rare book, and local history collections. Your budget is small but covers the student workers and preservation materials that you need. The university advancement staff was approached by an alumni about the donating considerable sums of money and their personal archive. Normally a donor archival collection would contain mostly university related materials, but this alumni was a famous LA socialite/movie producer during the late 70’s through today. Her collection contains correspondence, photographs, media, office files, and other items that documents her career and experiences in Hollywood. The donor is also a supporter of independent films through providing production support. Part of the donation would lead to the establishment of Media Studies center named for the donor and would greatly expand the current Mass Comm/Film Studies program at the institution. You haven’t seen the collection, but you are informed that it’s substantive. There is no rejecting this collection due to the nature of the financial donation and the appraised value of the collection. Understanding that this donation changes the entire focus of your archive, think about the following.

  • How would you approach dealing with administration, namely your library directory, in conversations about the following?
  • Mission Changes
  • Staffing Needs
  • Increased Budgets
  • Given that possible changes would take time. How would you in the short term approach handling this collection?

Case Study 2 – How do you Solve a Problem like Maria?

You’re a Director of an archive with a staff of three, plus a rotating cadre of student workers. Maria is not an archivist, nor does she have a graduate degree of any kind. Maria has been the library director’s secretary. She’s worked in circulation for a few years, and now she’s a non archivist employee who you directly supervise. Maria’s position line was moved to your archive because you needed extra staff. This occurred before you became the director. Maria is deathly afraid of technology. Even typing an email is an issue for Maria. Maria also has a history of making students uncomfortable, due to her diligence to the “rules”. She once made a student cry during a reference interview. You’re other staff member Tonya can’t stand Maria. Tonya is responsible for processing and outreach. Maria also terrorizes your student workers. You have a major electronic records project about to begin during the next semester.

  • What do you do with Maria?
  • If you chose to fire Maria, how would you reclassify her position to aid with your electronics record program?
  • If you chose not to fire Maria, how would you integrate her better into your operations?