Monthly Archives: February 2011

discovering vivian maier

Photography by Vivian Maier


Articles have been circulating about street photographer Vivian Maier, whose work (pictured above) was only discovered after her death in 2009.  I’m interested in Maier not only because I like her photography, but because I find the story of her discovery captivating.  If you haven’t already heard the story, the basic gist is that back in 2007 John Maloof bought about 30,000 of Maier’s negatives in an auction, hoping to find photographs of Portage Park for a Chicago history book he was co-writing.  Maloof didn’t uncover Maier’s name until more than a year later, and when he googled her found that she had passed away just days earlier.

Since then Maloof has acquired a collection of 100,000 Maier negatives, in addition to other personal belongings, and posts some of these photographs on his blog.  Not too much is known about Maier’s background, as she was rather private about her personal history, but we know that she worked as a nanny while photographing on the side.  For more details, read this Chicago Magazine article.  This website by another collector also features her photography.

The story of Maier’s discovery demonstrates how the new — technology — helps us explore the old, which is a theme running through one of my classes this semester (History of Books and Libraries).  One of my goals while working in archives is to discover previously untold stories and share them.  While I often enjoy learning the details of a person’s life, I have to ask questions about privacy (especially when one has passed away recently) — would Maier, who preferred her life to remain private, appreciate people trying to uncover her past?  Should we just enjoy her work without digging into her history?

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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in photographs, privacy


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hyping links

Open Thread Thursday: Library School
Check out the library school discussion over at Agnostic, Maybe.

The State of Publishing
I’m a huge fan of McSweeney’s, and this is a great series exploring different parts of the book industry.

Saying No to $1 Billion
This article from the Atlantic‘s March 2011 issue examines why the Sioux Nation isn’t accepting federal money won over 30 years ago.
Can you manage a monthly budget of low wages as a restaurant server, office temp, or warehouse worker?  The website’s premise:

Your savings are gone. You’ve lost your house. Accept the challenge to see if you can make it through the month on your last $1,000, learning quickly how changes in employment, housing, medical costs and other expenses can create an unexpected shortfall.
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Posted by on February 11, 2011 in library school, links


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the power of archives

I just finished reading Randall C. Jimerson’s 2007 article “Archives for All: Professional Responsibility and Social Justice” — and I loved it!  I can’t wait to read his book Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice.  Here’s the article abstract:

Archivists should use their power—in determining what records will be preserved for future generations and in interpreting this documentation for researchers—for the benefit of all members of society.  By adopting a social conscience for the profession, they can commit themselves to active engagement in the public arena.  Archivists can use the power of archives to promote accountability, open government, diversity, and social justice.  In doing so, it is essential to distinguish objectivity from neutrality.  Advocacy and activism can address social issues without abandoning professional standards of fairness, honesty, detachment, and transparency.

Some personal background will tell you why I liked it so much.  Politically, I sit on the very far left of the spectrum.  Academically, I am of the critical theory and postmodern persuasion.  In college, I was a social justice activist.  So this article was meant for me.  This post is an initial reaction from reading the article, so forgive me if these thoughts are not completely cohesive.

As “record keepers,” archivists have power.  A lot of it.  The archives profession is associated with the history discipline for a reason.  We influence the context of how documents are perceived through our description, finding aids, etc.  The (not so) simple act of choosing which records are preserved or accessioned is a huge exercise of power — it can determine if a narrative or event is ever remembered or known.  Jimerson’s article includes many examples of how documents have held governments accountable.  Because archives shape our historical memory, it’s important that we not only keep records of institutions and their leadership, but the “ordinary” everyday people as well.

Today, if someone isn’t online, if they don’t have a findable web presence, or if their online presence isn’t archived — will they cease to be remembered in the future?  It’s a scary thought.  We aren’t living in a completely digital world yet and can’t forget about those who only exist in the analog.  I feel like so many archival institutions are busy either working on a backlog of unprocessed collections, digitizing already processed ones, or trying to figure out how to preserve electronic records.  With the romanticism of technology and shifting focus towards digital preservation, I hope we don’t forget about our responsibility to preserve the paper records that are still being created.  Not to say archives aren’t currently fulfilling that responsibility — it just seems like no one is talking about it.  This hybrid world we live in seems to only create more questions about the future, and while we should anticipate and plan for it, we can’t forget about our responsibilities to the present.


Posted by on February 8, 2011 in archives


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hyping links

Beyond books: what it takes to be a 21st century librarian
I’m sure this article has already made it through the online library grapevine, but I thought it was worth linking to anyway.  The title sums it up well.

Where Are All the Wiki-Women?
The Atlantic Wire compiles a list of reactions (and explanations) to the statistic that only 13% of Wikipedia articles are written by women.

Donnie Darko: Explaining the Madness
I’ve loved Donnie Darko for the past ten years, which means I’ve read many interpretations and explanations of the film. This one is the best I’ve found so far.

Were The Beatles Bad for Us?
The Beatles were so good that all music since just doesn’t compare.

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Posted by on February 4, 2011 in links


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say yes to less

This week I finally got around to reading the January 2011 issue of Library Journal.  I really enjoyed Aaron Schmidt’s article “The Benefits of Less,” which discusses how library websites try to do too much.  The basic premise is that more content requires more decision-making and time, while also complicating the website experience for users.  Libraries should instead skim down their websites to only the most important and frequently used pages.

I couldn’t agree more.  Although I’m the type of person who will scour a website or search engine to find the answer to my question (only if the answer doesn’t exist online will I contact a human being), I don’t think that’s the route most people take.  My experience staffing IM reference and the circulation desk has shown me that the most frequently asked questions have answers available on our library website — but the homepage is so packed, no one wants to click through all the links to find where the answer is hiding.  I feel the same way about most websites in general.  There’s just too much.

Additionally, managing less content will probably lead to better quality.  This quote in particular resonated with me:

It sounds simple, but the more things a library tries to do, the less attention it can devote to any one thing. Without the attention they deserve, web content and services can’t be as effective as they should be.

I guess it ultimately boils down to — do you want to do a lot of things that are only average, or do only a few things that are really awesome?  I prefer awesome.

I should really apply this advice to my life.

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Posted by on February 2, 2011 in access