In Which Our Hero Begins to Gather Steam…

You’ll never believe it but I got another job interview today. Seriously. It is a part-time, no benefits and slightly insulting pay rate job that just happens to be in my field and which sounds like more fun than I can handle. It is as a researcher for a local museum. I’ll find out more about it at the interview on the 4th which is the same week that I’ll find out about Virginia Union University. Uggggghhhh! I can’t wait! I’m starving!

In archival news, the Library of Virginia now has another cohab register to add to its growing list. What is that, you say? What is a cohab register? Well…the cohab registers are a set of awesome nineteenth century documents that we’re working on digitizing. The actual title of each one is Register of Colored Persons of _________ County Cohabiting Together as Husband and Wife as of February 27, 1866 These documents were created by the Freedmen’s Bureau when it set up shop in Virginia after the Civil War. These documents were often the first time that a slave’s name appeared in an official record and the registers were used to legitimize marriages and children. Previous to this, slave families were considered….well, they weren’t considered at all! The supposition that black families were incidental led to later assumptions, enshrined in the well-meaning but misleading Moynihan Report that the perceived problems in black family life such as fatherlessness, desertion, etc. were the result of the hardships that slavery inflicted upon family life. Moynihan’s theory was that blacks in America would not be capable of attaining equality for a long time yet because of the enormous damage slavery had caused, in particular, damage to black families. Fairplay. I can understand that slavery put strains on family life that were not experienced by white families and that this would have repercussions for a significant amount of time as that race works for equality througout history, however Moynihan’s basic assumption was that slave families were transitory units. My reading of the evidence is different. My own admittedly rather elementary research during the time that I transcribed these registers has led me to a far different conclusion about the emotional lives of slave families. Maybe I should call it a hypothesis since, as I said, my research has been pretty basic so far. Anyway, these registers show that there was a remarkable resilience among slave families, some who were living very geographically separate lives. The registers show that many wives took the last name of their husbands, even when there was often no legitimizing ceremony which indicates that slave couples recognized the binding nature of marriage. Further, the registers are full of elderly couples who had been married for more than forty years! Some of these descriptions also contained the exact date of the marriage, even when it had occurred many, many years before. As a woman, I can formally testify that this likely shows that the couple felt an emotional bond. Would you remember the exact date that you just randomly decided to shack up with someone? No, I think desertion and casual babymaking was any more widespread as it was in white society as some scholars seem to have supposed. Furthermore, many of these babies were named after fathers or mothers, indicating yet another familial bond. Speaking of babies, another interesting piece of evidence is a set of companion registers that are often lumped together with the cohab registers. These are the “Register of Children of Colored Persons Whose Parents Have Ceased to Cohabit Which the Father Recognizes to be His”. This is pretty self-explanatory. It is a register of children from families broken by desertion, death, geographic separation, etc. It makes for sad reading but it makes a convincing case for the surprising number of intact families living in slavery. Some of the families mentioned in the records are in fact broken by desertion but it is a gratifyingly small number. The majority of parents in the record are no longer cohabiting because one of them is six feet under. Well, I do admit to being amused by one case in which the record mentions that the family in question is separated due to the “temper of wife” but most of the families no longer together were separated either by distance or earthly dimensions.

I had a fabulous time transcribing these bad boys and I really hope that someone will do a more thorough study using them. Especially since many of these registers have NOT been studied before. During the time that I was doing the transcription, I was reading one of the definitive studies of black family life during slavery, aptly titled The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 and in the notes, the author acknowledges the existence of four cohab registers. The LVA has, in fact, twenty-one; the newest being that for Smyth County which I just finished transcribing yesterday. This huge discrepancy is not an error on the author’s part but rather the result of having so many great historical documents hidden away in the various 95 county courthouses across the state. Many of these documents have just been unearthed, at least intellectually, and are now available to everyone online. What a country.


One Step Closer to the Prey…

As everyone knows, I had a job interview this last week at Virginia Union University. It was an adventure for so many reasons…

To begin with, I had to buy grown-up clothes. As I may have mentioned before, I had not gone clothes shopping in almost three years (!) because I’d basically been a poor student or worked from home for peanuts or otherwise couldn’t afford new things. So, I hit what had become for me during this fashion dry spell the height of haute couture – Target. Well, it’s not like I was going to meet the queen, right? Anyway, I grabbed a new dress, a jacket and some shoes and was all set. Well, it actually wasn’t really that easy since the only decent dress I could find was black and I spent more than an hour (which included two panicked phone calls to my sister) trying to find something to lighten up the funereal ensemble. Again, not easy. Apparently, no one wears decent clothes to work anymore. If various clothing stores are anything to judge by, most people wear hot pink halter tops and stripper heels to work. If not that, then they wear maternity clothes or black dresses, black jackets and black shoes.

Well, anyway, I got the clothing situation figured out and happily headed home through the rain to knit, drink wine and watch bad television.

The following day began with my husband letting me sleep in an hour, which was nice. My interview wasn’t until 11 AM so I leisurely got ready, played with the cat, checked out the status of my current Facebook debate and finally got dressed, put on my makeup and did my hair. I was out the door at 10:15AM, as I wanted to make sure I found parking and had time to scope the place out. When I got there, I slipped unobtrusively into the museum to check out one prospective “work area”. Let me tell you, people, it was AWESOME! I had no idea that the university had such a great collection of African art! I was eyeing the giant Mancala board when I realized that I’d best check in at five minutes to 11.

I was told to head upstairs and at the top of the staircase was introduced to Dr. Dolores Pretlow who is an easy-going, friendly person and who is also the director of the library. I was taken into the interview room where I was introduced to four more people (the archivist, the library administrative assistant, the theological librarian and the museum curator and head). It turns out that I had met the archivist at a previous conference and I’m hoping that’s a good thing…!

Mostly I think the interview went well. I was given the questions about five minutes in advance (nice!) and jotted down a few notes for myself. I felt like I answered very clearly and with confidence but it is always difficult to tell since some of the questions were vague enough as to be almost difficult to understand…kinda like most interview questions! The only area in which I’m kicking myself is in the wrap-up department. Now, here’s my rule. I usually like to make up questions to ask during the, “Do you have any questions?” section but, honestly, the interview and even the job posting were so specific and detailed that I HONESTLY couldn’t think of anything to say so I just let that go…sigh. Ugh. I hope I didn’t look like a moron. Of course afterwards I am thinking…why didn’t I just give an overview of the duties that would be expected of me and ask to make sure I was correct? BLAH! Oh well, hopefully they loved me so much that they don’t care. I will know during the first week of June, anyway.

I ended the day by having tea in all my new work finery with Dave at Lamplighter in Carytown.

The next day

Starving No More?

The Starving Archivist has a job interview! I applied for the Public Services Librarian position at Virginia Union University and just today received an email asking for me to interview tomorrow morning. Very short notice but I’ll take that over having to wait forever…

This Week in the Stacks…

Hello, readers, and welcome to the first edition of This Week in the Stacks, the moment when I tell you in detail all the junk that’s going on in my archival life. Or, at least the last week of it.

Well, I actually spent very little time at work at all this week, really. I got some nasty sickness this past weekend and spent Monday and Tuesday curled up in bed, finishing Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers and drinking copious amounts of O.J. I really should have used the time to study for the certification exam since that’s coming up but hey…Speaking of which, I received my official “You’re Signed Up” letter from the Academy of Certified Archivists and am all ready to go on August 11. This is a bigger deal than seems at first blush because I wasn’t sure how my unpaid experience fit in to the guidelines. The rules are unclear about what sort of experience qualifies and the last thing I wanted in my quest for employment was to be shut down for certification because I didn’t have a pay stub. Anyway, they’ve accepted my credentials and I’m ready to go. The next hurdle to get over is having Richmond, VA be declared a remote test site. You need five test-takers to do this and I won’t know until later this month if we’ve been selected. The state library where I work was selected as the test site last year which would be damned convenient. If Richmond isn’t chosen then I’ll have to mosey on up to Washington which will blow, mainly because the test begins at 8:30AM making it almost a foregone conclusion that I’d be looking for a hotel during the conference, during the height of summer vacation and in the nation’s capitol. BLAH!

Anyhow, we’ve established that I haven’t studied. This does not really present a problem because I took the little practice test and it was EASY! I think my fabulous graduate education must’ve been worth every penny because not only did I get every single question correct but I also read just about every article and book listed in the study guide during my time in school. Okay, so I am studying just a little bit but I’m not pushing myself too hard. I also keep telling myself that I’ll check out the online study forums on the academy website but….

So, as I’ve said, I didn’t get to spend as much time at work as I’d like to have done. At this moment I am processing a collection of deeds from Charlottesville, VA. They span 1888-1917. The funny thing about deeds (for those of you who aren’t aware) is that the designation “deed” is totally worthless. Anything can be entered as a “deed”. I’m processing everything from wills, contracts, indentures and dental licenses (!) to property sales, maps, affidavits and every frickin’ sales receipt J. Perley and Sons ever wrote for one of their customers. The sheer variety of documents makes the whole thing interesting, as does the endless stream of podcasts entering my ears as I work. Also, there are a number of deeds in the collection relating to Jefferson Levy, a United States representative from New York and the man whose uncle bought Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Jefferson Levy was the last private owner of Monticello, selling it to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1923 after heavy financial loses and rank anti-Semitism forced him to sell what he once claimed he would never part with “for all the money in the U.S. treasury”.

Levy was an interesting man. A jew, a statesman, a rabid Thomas Jefferson fan (as was his entire family, as evidenced by Levy’s first name), a wealthy, lifelong bachelor who maintained an agent in Europe solely for the purpose of sniffing out nifty furnishings and decor for his beloved Monticello. In fact, the Levy family is the entire reason we have Monticello in the condition it is in today. When Uriah Levy (Jefferson’s uncle) first took possession of Monticello back in 1836, the place was a bit of a ruin. Hard times had come to Monticello and it was a shadow of the stunning Italianate home it had once been. Uriah set about restoring everything from the wood carvings inside to the extensive grounds and gardens outdoors. When you go to visit Monticello today, much of the beauty and grandeur you see there is thanks to Uriah and Jefferson Levy who were some of the first Americans concerned with the preservation of historical American landmarks. Today, Monticello is a World Heritage site.

So, you can see why these deeds have become a little more interesting to me, despite the fact that they have consumed so much more of my attention than I had anticipated, due to many tears and other conservation issues. I finished processing the collection last week and am this week arranging and describing the collection. I will finish this next week with a nifty MARC record for our LVA catalog as well as a nice little EAD finding aid on the Virginia Heritage Project website.

The Great Twitter Debate

I have been having an interesting conversation with a friend on Facebook about this article and wanted to post it here to hopefully provoke some more debate…

Starving Archivist : Yes, Starving Archivist did indeed read this article. I had a few conflicting thoughts. Tweets are obviously not private messages but all the same, are they of evidentiary value? One of the mistakes people make is assuming that archivists collect “old stuff”. Wrong. The “stuff” in question has to have evidentiary or historical value. Someone’s tweet about waiting in line at a coffee shop is completely worthless. However, I’m not opposed to collecting a large sample of tweets as a demonstration of how an emerging technology was used.

Anonymous Friend: I had conflicting thoughts, myself, too. The “waiting in line” or “I broke up” do not have any value (unless it is to talk about the use of Tweeter itself). . . But what about those tweets that do give opinions/statements out about current events? Would those have historical value as evidence of public/popular discourse or opinion?

Starving Archivist: Possibly, but not always. For instance, look at Civil War letters. They might seem to have a lot of evidentiary and historical value and they do, in a sense. However, we have so many of them that if you find a bunch in your basement, chances are that they won’t catch an appraisal archvist’s eye. We already have a ton of them with the same information. The catch is, of course, if you find one that clears up a big mystery or has information not previously known. As for tweets, even the “I broke up with him” type tweets can be determined to be of historical or evidentiary value depending on how many, the situation and who they are about. We don’t just collect famous stuff!

Anonymous Friend: Hmm. Sounds like the challenge here is, then, the “curating” process. . . determining what is relevant or not from such an excessive amount of info. Thanks, Heaven, for archivists!!!

Starving Archivist: Except that that is also difficult because one of the “laws” of archival theory is that we must retain the original order because the order in which papers, files, etc. were kept also sheds light and provides context to their use. So, how do we maintain this with born-digital materials? Hmmmm….!

Anonymous Friend: The Internet is definitely today’s ‘wild west’ or a very dense jungle. We gotta be ‘cowboys’ or ‘guerrillas’ to survive in this cyber-world!!!! — Tough but incredibly exciting era for all those who are related to the field of info management.

Starving Archivist: Yes, I just finished a very interesting book called True Enough (by Farhad Manjoo) that has a section on how we navigate truth on the internet. Fascinating!

What do you think?

Starving Archivist Takes a Trip

Chandra McPherson (Appomattox Regional Library System) and Daza Craig (Augusta County Library) talk about how they just can't wait to see the next post from Starving Archivist.

Catching a minute to ourselves at VALLA in Charlottesville, VA.

Ahhhhhhh! It’s good to be home, eating king-sized KitKat bars in my sweats while I update you all on what’s crackalackin’ in ArchivesLand.

As some of you may have noticed from StarvingArchivist’s fan page I have just returned from the Virginia Library Leadership Academy. While I wish I could say that it was a wild two-day hotel party, I cannot. However, it was awesome for the following reasons:

  1. The presenter was NOT a hyper LibraryLand version of Billy Mays but rather the more southern gentlemanly Dr. Robert Burgin.   He’s such a good mix of knowledge, confidence and good manners that I’m going to go so far as to call him the Dreamboat of Library Consultancy.  There you go, Dr. Burgin.  If you’re reading, you just got one hell of a blurb for your business card.
  2. The sessions made NO mention of the words “profit” or “synergy”.
  3. We got prodigious amounts of tea and those awesome cookies that mix up white chocolate, macadamia nuts and cranberries without making you sick.
  4. We got our own rooms with beds intended for families of giants to sleep together.
  5. I learned a lot of stuff.

You have to understand that I am severely allergic to all things business-related whether it be sales, doublespeak, bad suits or conferences employing all three.  I’m happy to officially report to you, my readers, that VALLA is free of all such noisome influences.  To begin with, no entertainment was really needed to keep us focused.  The group of selected participants was very small, about 23 people, so most of the entertainment consisted of discussion and friendly, but by no means complacent, debate.  I think I can safely say that nearly everyone felt comfortable both giving their opinions as well as asking questions.  The small number of librarians also meant that the sessions were much more lively and interactive than if we’d been at a national conference.

One of the most interesting discussions/debates we had was about the nature of leadership itself.  At one point, Dr. Burgin, a very smart man, said that Hitler was good at leadership but maybe wasn’t such a good leader overall because of his flawed outlook.  I had to disagree (typical that I would take Hitler’s side in a public debate…) and state that I thought leadership was a tag devoid of moral judgement.  For instance, if Hitler was able to mobilize a country to do something, whether that thing was good or bad, he was a good leader.  A bad leader, by definition, is someone who cannot lead, a label most objective people would not give to a force like Hitler.

So, “Okay,” you say, “What does this have to do with libraries?”  Good question.  It has nothing to do with libraries but was a great example of the kind of good-natured debating that went on during the conference that helped us all to think about the kinds of qualities we actually do want to bring to the library table.  Take me, for instance.  I figured out that I am a fabulous ideas person.  I make a good leader because I come up with ideas, get all excited and whip up the crowd (dare I compare myself to that aforementioned infamous person?  Hmmm….no).  However, I’m not a fabulous manager (yet!) because I forget that to achieve these lofty goals and ambitions, I need to lavish just as much attention on the smaller details.  This conference helped me to not only realize this, but it also gave me all the fun little tools I need to be a better project and person manager.  For instance, I know you’re all going to laugh but here it is – I am a person who decides what she wants and then goes out to get it.  However, I’ve never thought about taking the time to write down what my goal is and the various little paths to getting there.  I just make it up as I go along.  Okay, fine.  That works 75% of the time and only when it involves just me.  Dr. Burgin asked us, “What are your long-term goals for three or five years down the line?”  To me, it’s obvious, only in a muddled, hazy sort of way.  So, I took the implied challenge and spent that evening in the hotel room watching RENO 911 and writing down my long-range goals…

  • Have a real-life archivist job
  • Have my student loans nearly paid off
  • Publish at least three research papers
  • Publish at least five more informal articles
  • Have given two big presentations
  • Learn more Spanish

Maybe that seems like a lot to you but it’s nothing if you’re unemployed!  Ha!

The next step is to think about what I need to achieve those goals (research topics, money, etc.) and the tasks I will use to achieve what I need to achieve those goals…you get the picture.  And you’re probably still laughing that I’ve never done this but it honestly never occurs to people like me to do it!  We don’t take the time!  We want something?  We run out and grab it!  Hmmm….something tells me I’ll be a little more effective with my new plan.

The beauty of having this little system in place is that I can use it straight away.  I went to “work” this morning and immediately made a list.  Not just any list but a prioritized list.  That’s right.  I knocked items off like a trained assasin.  Done.  Dead.  On to the next.  I was a masterful force of archival ninja power.  And I’m using the list at this very moment since “blog entry” was written as one of my “home” tasks that absolutely needed to be done today. 

That and “Chill the wine”.

Next week:  More wisdom distilled from Dr. Robert Burgin and the Virginia Library Leadership Academy!

This Republic of Suffering

I picked up this poster at our front desk this morning.  Unlike certain other rather public Virginians, the Library of Virginia has, by displaying this very poster, made it known that most of us remember that once, a long time ago, we forced other people to do our yardwork.