Sunday, April 20, 2008


So I'm back from MAC - the Midwest Archives Conference - in Louisville. Had a good time (did the earth move for you, too?) and learned a few things, met a few people, and ate some terrific brownies.

If there's a common thread, it's to make me appreciate going through the SI program at Michigan when I did. Much of the emphasis on emerging technologies seemed to me ... well, very familiar and rather obvious. SI puts a lot of emphasis on information technology and its effects on storage and retrieval, so it was slightly surprising to realize that some of the folks with less recent training might find some things like Web 2.0 unfamiliar.

I also have to appreciate SI's emphasis on presentations - in most classes, I've had to give a 10-30 minute presentation with Powerpoint slides and get critiqued by my instructor and my peers. And I've sat through innumerable classmates' presentations and done the same for/to them. There were some great presentations in Louisville, but I also saw and heard a few that resembled what I was doing two years ago.

Some highlights:

Matt Blessing from Marquette, Helmut Knies from the Wisconsin Historical Society, and Roland Baumann from Oberlin, spoke about turning your collecting policy into actuality. Much of this session focused on the diplomatic art of cultivating donor relations. I'd heard much of this before in SI's archives practicum lectures, but it's always a good idea to hear it more than once - especially when you're a new archivist who happened to badly lose his last game of Diplomacy.

Cynthia Miller of the Henry Ford Museum led us through several exercises in selecting "The Useful Ten Words of the Ten Thousand" that might describe a photograph. I've heard Cynthia speak before (at the aforementioned practicum), but I picked up a useful rule here. Instead of asking whether a term might describe a photograph, she asks, Would a user who was searching on that term be glad that this photograph turned up? That sounds like a rule that's likely to narrow the list of good terms you might choose for your description of a photo and I'm going to employ that when cataloging my own photos (which is itself a rather exhausting project that I may never finish). Also, you need to consider the terms that are useful to your particular repository as well as those useful to a researcher. Standard references for controlled vocabulary terms are the Thesaurus for Graphic Materials (TGM) and The Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus Online. When describing objects, Cynthia prefers the Getty to TGM.

Leah Broaddus of SIU-Carbondale gave an assessment of the University of Illinois's open source Archon software, which provides archival organization and generates a searchable public web site. Sounds like a cool product that any small repository might be grateful to learn about. In the same session, Chris Prom of UI at Champaign-Urbana described his experience using Google Analytics, also free ("I am at least as cheap as Leah," said Chris), to better understand how internet searchers are using one's website. One key insight: people who are searching on a topic through Google will reach the topic page directly. That beautiful home page that you spent so much loving attention on? Most people never see it. It's important that your deeper pages not be dead ends, that they fully identify your institution, and that they indicate where in the overall website structure that this page is located.

Finally, we closed out on a discussion of Web 2.0, beginning with Kevin Leonard's YouTube video, Beth Yakel's discussion of what UM has learned through the Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections, and Kevin Schlesier's talk on community collaboration with physical exhibitions - again, this is all about diplomacy.

Again, I had a great time at MAC. Everything went smoothly and there was a lot to learn, not least the fact that I really have learned a lot at SI. I don't know whether I'll be staying in the Midwest, as I'm open to moving almost anywhere, but MAC is well worth attending, wherever I might be.

1 comment:

Heather said...

Blog-worthy brownies? Sorry, that just made me giggle. Evidently they weren't the kind that would make you forget the rest of the conference.