Teaching and Learning in the Archives

231011361_4a4a257a60The Hack Library School (HLS) blog recently included a post titled “How to Librarians Learn to Teach?”  The post looked at the challenges of being thrown into the librarian instruction fire and the lack of formal training many librarians (and archivists) have in teaching, despite the fact that many will probably run instruction sessions at some point in their careers. Last year HLS also featured a two part post by Liz McGlynn’s on “Instruction Instruction” which looked at learning about instruction while in library school and seeking out opportunities related to teaching and educational programming.

I’ve written about archival literacy before and both of these posts had me thinking about all the instruction and education based outreach work I do and how to create better learning experiences for new professionals.  For the past number of years I’ve handled 75 to 100 educational groups a year.  Often these groups are coming to learn about the history of the Shingwauk Residential School site and about residential schools more broadly.  The style of each visit varies but generally includes a presentation, a walking tour, discussion, and maybe a hands-on activity or two depending on the length of visit and the age of the participations.  I’ve done this style of programming for a whole range of groups: day camps, K-12 classes, post-secondary classes, professional organizations, and small family groups.  This type of instruction is more public history/heritage site in style and is a bit out of the norm for most archival settings.

When I started there was no training process of learning how to conduct our standard walking tours – essentially you went along a number of them with a more experienced coworker and then were thrown into the fire to handle your own group.  I still encourage new staff or student assistants to go on a number of tours before asking them to run their own.  However I also often have them co-facilitate a couple of tours before handing over the reigns and I’ve also created a ‘tour cheat-sheet’ that has important dates and talking points that they can use while they are still learning.  We also now have a more formal walking tour companion handout that staff and visitors can use to guide them around the site.

The other type of instruction I do occasionally is more standard archival literacy based instruction and focuses on teaching about our collections, accessing archival materials, and what archives actually are. These sessions tend to be very syllabus driven and are often shaped based on faculty collaboration. This type of archival/special collections instruction can be very case specific but having some type of documentation about your process can be a huge boon for future coworkers and provide institutional consistency to programming.

I’ve also been working the past couple of years to develop a small teaching collection that can be pulled out when classes visit.  The collection is made up of duplicates and de-accessioned material and can be passed around without fear of damage.  I often pull a couple of boxes of relevant material to the class as well but I’ve found it’s nice to have a prepackaged toolkit of material that has lots of different formats and is in varying states of preservation to use as examples, without having to lug up a mountain of different boxes.

I really enjoy the instruction and educational outreach part of my job.  It can be exhausting – every time I have a group of particularly energetic school children I am very glad I didn’t go into teaching – but the rewards are well worth the effort.

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Service Excellence Award

Earlier this month I was awarded the Service Excellent Award at AlgomaU.  This award aims to celebrate employees who consistently:

  • Demonstrate extraordinary commitment by continuously providing excellent customer service.
  • Make a significant impact on students, staff, departments or the University.
  • Demonstrates open communication and quality improvement opportunities.
  • Knowledgeable about various department responsibilities and the University in general
  • Executes their job duties in a positive manner
  • Willing to go above and beyond regular work duties to assist clients (both internal and external)
  • Minimizes delays and assures timely follow up
  • Excellent interpersonal relations

I feel very fortunate to work in a place with supportive coworkers and was a bit shocked to be awarded this.  My brain had a “you mean people actually know who the person working in the archives is?!?” moment when I found out.  I’m also extremely lucky to have the flexibility in my position to pursue projects that interest me and to work on a range of outreach projects.  As September rapidly approaches I’m looking forward to another year of interaction with faculty, students, and community members and tackling new way to get archives into the hands of researchers and the public.

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All the VHS Tapes

VHS-tapesRecently I’ve been working with a lot of audio-visual media and trying to begin to get a handle on what older audio and video footage we have in the archive that is in need of being migrated. Last month it was announced that the last company still making VCRs is going to cease production of them adding VHS tapes to the list of media that will become harder to find a player for.  Videocassettes (in all their permutations) have long been an outdated medium but there are still plenty of individuals and organizations who have a slew of content saved on them that hasn’t been migrated to DVD or a digital medium.

A lot of the audio-visual content I’ve been working with is from Shingwauk reunions between 1981 to 2006.  Much of this content is irreplaceable, it includes footage of survivors speaking about their residential school experience and documents the early residential school survivor movement from the survivor perspective.  At this point it looks like a fairly high percentage of the footage has already been migrated in some form, however the migrated footage is at times labelled differently than the original tapes in any way so it’s a bit of a puzzle connecting all of the versions of the recordings.  I’m also working to connect this audio-visual material to the broader archival collections surrounding the Shingwauk reunions as the footage compliments photographic and textual records that have already been processed relating to the events.

A couple of thoughts about working with VHS tapes and outdated audio-visual media more broadly.  How you label your content is important.  Labeling videos tape 1, tape, 2 etc with no other contextual information is not a good way to approach things.  Including approximate dates, individuals in the video, and event details can be hugely helpful to archivists and others going back through this content decades later.  One of my recent favourite finds is a tape labelled “Jerry Maguire.”  To my surprise this was not a VHS copy of the 1990s movie by the same name, rather it was an interview with an individual who happened to be named Jerry Maguire from the 1980s.  Good thing we checked the content before tossing that tape.

Having a player that plays the media you’re working with is hugely important.  This is partially due to the labeling point I just mentioned.  It can at times be impossible to tell if something is worth saving just be reading a hastily scrawled notes on the case – especially if there’s a chance the case doesn’t match the actual recording.  Having a player is also essential for any migration you might want to do.  I would also suggest looking into best practices for labeling/naming subsequent versions of the video footage.  Documenting how and when the material was transferred can be extremely valuable for others who come across the transferred footage years later.

Prioritize migration and digitization.  Regardless of if you are going the migration in house or externally there are substantial time and fiscal costs associated with the process.  It may not be possible (or desirable) to digitize everything initially.  Priorities will vary from organization to organization but should take into consideration the fragility and stability of the original medium, the historical value of the content, and the feasibility of digitization based on resources.  At the moment migrating VHS and cassette content is manageable by many organizations but finding players and expertise to migrate reel film, beta tapes, mini-discs, and other obsolete media might be more challenging.

What are you experiences dealing with older audio-visual media?  Do you have examples of challenging or successful migration projects?

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Organization Social Media Accounts

MediaFor the past number of years I’ve been managing the Activehistory.ca social media accounts, namely Twitter and Facebook.  Since the fall I’ve also been managing Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts for my work.

The accounts are somewhat different in nature.  The Active History accounts are primarily used to promote new website content, so I don’t have to be overly creative in my posts other than writing captions, pulling quotes, or selecting accompanying images.  On the other hand the archives social media accounts are pretty wide open – they can cover ongoing projects, events, draw attention to digitized content, and basically anything else I can think of.

In both cases I’ve found a few different ways to make the process more manageable:

  • Schedule content.  In the case of Facebook and Tumblr you can pick the time and date of posts and schedule them in advance.  I find this a huge help, it lets me put together posts when I have the time and have them appear later on at appropriate intervals. For twitter I tend to use TweetDeck to manage content, and that platform also has a scheduling feature.
  • Hashtags are your friends.  Hashtags connect new audiences to your content. Andrea Eidinger recently wrote a great summary of hashtags for Canadian historians if you’re interested in learning more.
  • Theme days are also your friends. #MinitureMonday, #TinyTuesday, #WordlessWednesday, #InternationalBookDay, #Caturday etc are all easy ways to promote existing content on a regular basis while attaching your organization to a larger social media movement.
  • Take photographs of what you’re doing and share them.  Photographs of events, new donations, processing, and photographs of all that day-today work GLAM professionals do can be a way to provide a behind the scenes look at your organization and also explain to people what work actually goes on in an archive.
  • Start collecting content for future posts.  Most GLAM organizations have a lot of existing digitized content that is great for sharing on social media.  If you come across interesting photographs, letters, books etc make a reference of them or save a copy for future use on social media.  This is an easy way to build up a backlog of ideas that you can pull from for future posts.
  • Don’t be afraid to try different things.  Experiment with what days and times you post different types of content.  Try new hashtags or new approaches to presenting content.
  • Use some type of analytics.  Many social media platforms come with basic stats built in.  But it’s sometimes helpful to add Google Analytics or something similar to the content you’re creating so you can measure how your content is being accessed and used.
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Shingwauk Gathering – the 2016 Edition

Poster2016FinalThis past weekend the Shingwauk Gathering and Conference was held at Algoma University.  This event grew out of the 1981 Shingwauk Reunion and invites survivors, inter-generational survivors, those engaged in reconciliation and healing work, and community members to gather, share, and learn.  This year the theme of the Gathering was “Fulfilling the Vision” and focused on present day responses to carrying out Chief Shingwauk’s Vision of teaching wigwams.

Since beginning to work at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) in 2010 I’ve been fortunate to be part of five Gatherings.  My role in the organization of the Gatherings has varied greatly from year to year.  Sometimes I acted solely as an archives staff person supporting the work through helping with research requests, other years I helped planned special exhibits for the weekend or helped coordinate the schedule, and other year’s I’ve been responsible for most of the logistical planning of the event.

Most of this work falls under ‘other duties as assigned’ type work and is something I do outside my normal archival related duties.  There were a number of comments during this year’s Gathering that resonated with me about the nature of this work:

  • “I had no idea that working in an archive could be so physical.” -Setup volunteer.
  • “What do you do the rest of the year when you aren’t organizing this event?” -Participant who was treated to an explanation of archival work.
  • “You need a fit-bit.” -Participant, after seeing me walk back and forth the length of the school multiple times.

Holding this type of conference is a huge amount of work.  But every year I’m left with a feeling that I’ve contributed to something meaningful.  The healing work that takes place during the conference is important.  The event also continuously highlights the importance of the archival collections at the SRSC in documenting the residential school experience and the healing movement.  Every year there are survivors or intergenerational survivors who are returning to the Shingwauk IRS site for the first time.  Being able to share with them the history of the site, photographs of the school and possibly photographs of themselves at Shingwauk is an amazingly powerful experience.

For the past couple of years the Gathering has also included youth programming.  In this case youth is very broadly defined and tends to include anyone ~35 and younger.  This programming is some of my favourite to sit in on, hear about, and help plan.  It’s inspiring to see young people engaged in community work, reconciliation, and learning about the history of residential schools.  It’s all important work and the involvement of the youth gives me hope that the legacy of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and other survivor based groups will continue for generations.

Regardless of how I’ve been involved at every Gathering I’ve learned something new about residential schools, the survivor experience, and the realities of Indigenous life in Canada.  I’m grateful to be welcomed in this space and the lessons I’m continuously learning are important for anyone engaged in archival work that documents residential schools or Indigenous communities.  We need to work together as engaged scholars and engaged archivists and learning is the first step toward that.

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Facing the Past

The August/September issue of Canada’s History magazine contains a short piece I wrote about the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre‘s Remember the Children Photo Identification Project.  This project aims to help connect survivors, families, and communities with residential school photographs.  It also strives to identify the unnamed students pictured in so many residential school photographs.  This is one of the most popular projects undertaken by the Centre and I am constantly grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of it.

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Service, Professional Development and Privilege

coffee-break-1177540_960_720I’ve been thinking a lot about service expectations, professional development opportunities and privilege.  A lot has been written on the connection of conference attendance and privilege, conferences are expensive to attend and in the academic world that you often essentially pay to present your research.  If you’re lucky enough to have a job that includes a professional development fund your travel and attendance might be covered but for many individuals these expenses come out of pocket.  I’m very lucky (and privileged) to work in a place that has consistently supported my participation in conferences. I also have the time and financial stability to be able to attend professional development events and serve on professional committees without putting myself at financial risk.

I still think conferences can be valuable and have the potential to offer opportunities for connections with colleagues and skill building.  I really look forward to the NCPH annual conference for this very reason and I have been on the organizing committee of a handful of conferences. However there definitely needs to be a more open dialogue about the financial challenges associated with attendance that is faced by students, early career professionals, and those in positions of precarious employment. In the academic world there is a huge sense of urgency that you need to build your CV by presenting at conferences but the very people who most need to build their CV through conference presentations are the ones who can least afford it.  This sense of urgency is perhaps not a potent in the Canadian archives and library field but it is definitely still there – especially if you want to open career possibilities.

It’s important for conference organizers to think about what financial barriers their registration fees, hotel choices, and funding options place on attendance.  Room sharing, attending smaller regional conferences, and other creative cost saving approaches can help on an individual level.  As someone who lives in a region that rarely holds conferences related to my profession I understand the very real expenses associated with traveling for professional development.  But this is a discussion we need to be having on a larger scale and is something we need to consider when running events.  Creating opportunities for digital professional development, informal networking meetups, or running shorter less expensive single day events is one way to help with this.  Similarly, joining planning committees and organizational committees where you can bring concerns and alternative suggestions can help.

Conferences are expensive to run, I get that. But there also needs to be a way that we can acknowledge the implicit privilege of conference attendance and work to create more inclusive spaces.  This is particularly important for public historians and heritage professionals who work with communities and want to cultivate more community involvement.  If we want to build meaningful collaboration and diversify our profession we need to create spaces for that to happen.

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Neys Provincial Park

Following a great trip to Pukaskwa National Park I kept up the natural history and camping adventure by spending a few nights at Neys Provincial Park.  I was struck by the difference in landscape between the two parks despite them being less than an hour away from each other.  Pukaskwa had very hilly, cliff views of Lake Superior and the shoreline was a rugged .  In comparison Ney’s had long open beach shorelines, sand dunes, and forested areas.

Prisoner of War Camp

Star embedded on lawn from POW era.  It is believed that the star was around the flag pole.

Star embedded on lawn from POW era. It is believed that the star was around the flag pole.

Prior to becoming a provincial park the land now encompassed by Neys was used as a Prisoner of War Camp known as Neys 100 during the second world war.  The camp housed high ranking German officers and others and was primarily staffed by veterans from the First World War.  There are bits of this history scattered throughout the present day park — building foundations, bits of embed stone, and other physical remnants are all interpretation points in the Park today.  Additionally the physical landscape was fundamentally changed by the POW camp, they flattened sand dunes and used many of the trees for lumber.  Trees were later replanted by the Boy Scouts but in standard plantation rows, leaving evidence of how the land has changed.

Point Trail

Boats on Prisoners' Point

Boats on Prisoners’ Point

We didn’t do nearly as much hiking at Neys as at Pukaskwa, but I did manage to explore a couple of the trails.  The Point Trail is a short 1 km trail that follows the shore of Lake Superior and ends at a rocky outcrop known as Prisoners’ Point.  The trail then connects to the Under the Volcano Trail that explores the shoreline stretching from the Point.  I explored a bit of this trail as well.  The trail was a relatively easy walk, albeit a bit wet when I walked it and it was well worth the puddle jumping to reach the views of the lake at the end.  There was a few interpretive signs but they were relatively sparse.  I did enjoy the one that talked about the remains of old boats located on the point– the boats were left over from the Prisoner of War camp era and the logging days of the region.

Dune Trail

This easy loop hike included an interpretive handout that visitors could take with them on the walk.  The handout included numbers which matched specific points on the trail and provided interpretive details about that area.  The handout included a bit of information about the role of the POW camp on the landscape but primarily focused on flowers, the dunes, trees, and the impact of local animal life on the landscape.  Unsurprisingly, I liked the fact that there was a physical thing to hold during the walk and that the interpretation was a bit more developed on this trail.

Visitors’ Centre

Beach at Neys Provincial Park

Beach at Neys Provincial Park

The Visitors’ Centre was only open during the last day I was at the park.  Despite this we managed to make a short visit to the Centre and check out some their primary interpretive space.  The displays were fairly standard for a provincial park, a lot of focus on the natural landscape with most material geared at families and including a number of touch and feel stations focused on children.  There was also a substantial section dedicated to the history of Neys 100 which included a model which demonstrated what the POW camp would have looked like.  The staff at the Centre were very friendly and seemed to know a lot about the history of the Park and were happy to answer questions about the way the landscape had changed.

 

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Pukaskwa National Park

20160626_155631Recently I visited Pukaskwa National Park, the only wilderness national Park in Ontario.  The Park features a small campground and 1878 square km of wonderful Northern Ontario natural heritage.

I had a wonderful time camping, exploring, and learning about the landscape at Pukaskwa.  We were there prior to the official start of their interpretation season (July and August) but still managed to take in some activities and many of their trails have great interpretive signage that can be used without a guide.

Anishinaabe Camp Construction

The first morning at Pukaskwa we joined in a walk to the Anishinaabe Camp that was currently under construction.  We were the only ones to participate in the walk that morning but it was worth the half hour to talk with the people building an interpretive space based on traditional knowledge. Our guide was from Pic River First Nation and works as at the park as a cultural interpreter and programmer and the builders were a combination of local and visiting people with knowledge of traditional structures.  As an added bonus our guide took us into the Visitor Centre despite it not being officially open for the season so we could take a look at some of their other programming spaces and some of the other birch bark items that were made at the Park.  I loved that the park integrates traditional knowledge keepers into interpretive programming.

Beach Trail

20160625_085744Pukaskwa has a number of short hikes that can all be completed in a hour or two from the campground.  This was perfect for us given that we were traveling with a small child.  The first hike we did was the “Beach Trail” which visits driftwood filled beaches in three different areas of shoreline – Horseshoe Bay, middle beach, and north beach.  The views of Lake Superior and the huge amounts of driftwood were amazing to look at.  This trail was a fairly easy hike though there were a few spots that could have used better signage and required some hunting to pick up the trail again. In addition to the natural beauty Horseshoe Bay also featured an easel which explored the Group of Seven’s paintings inspired by the landscape contained in Pukaskwa.  I loved this integration of history, culture, and natural heritage.

Bimose Kinoomagewnan

Bimose Kinoomagewnan signage at start of trail.

Bimose Kinoomagewnan signage at start of trail.

The second trail we explored was the Bimose Kinoomagewnan trail or the “Walk of Teachings”.  This trail may have been my favourite of the many hikes we did at Pukaskwa.  It didn’t have Lake Superior views but the views around Halfway Lake and the interpretive signage focusing on the Seven Grandfather Teachings was extremely well done.

20160626_133709

Wisdom teaching signage.

Each teaching had a sign placed at scenic points on the trail and the signage contained stories of Elders’ experiences in the park, their thoughts on the teachings, and their memories of the land.  Each of these written experiences was paired with artwork by local youth.  The signage was in three languages (English, French, Ojibway) and extremely well done and added to the trail significantly.  On the natural heritage side of things I loved the variety of this trail which includes forested land, huge rock faces, hills, a beaver lodge, and fantastic views.

Southern Headland Trail

Red Chairs as part of the "Share the Chair" Parks Canada program.

Red Chairs as part of the “Share the Chair” Parks Canada program.

This was probably the most popular trail we explored – at least judging by the number of people we saw exploring the views.  On many of the other hikes we didn’t see anyone else.  The Southern Headland trail has breath taking Lake Superior views and overlooks Hattie Cove, Pulpwood Harbour, and Horseshoe Bay.

This walk provides visitors with glimpses of the power of Superior and there is some signage talking about the impact the lake has on the landscape and flora/fauna in the region.  This trail also featured the “red chair experience” a Parks Canada national initiative which places red Muskoka style chairs at places with breathtaking views and spots which highlight some of the best spots in national parks.  I love the idea of making destination points within parks that are points of connection, shared experience, and social media opportunities.

Manito Miikana

Outlook over Lake Superior on Manito Miikana

Outlooking Lake Superior on Manito Miikana

Also known as “the Spirit Trail”, Manito Miikana is a predominately forested trail leading to two viewing platforms with panoramic views of Lake Superior.  This was by far the most difficult trail we hiked, it has a lot of changing elevations, a ton of tree roots, uneven ground, and it was very wet the day we walked it.  The views were similar to that of the Southern Headland Trail but overlooked different portions of the lake and also allowed for a look at the Pic River Dunes in the distance.  It wasn’t a bad hike and we probably would have enjoyed it more if it hadn’t rained so much prior to our walk.

Overall

I really enjoyed Pukaskwa National Park, exploring the natural history and learning a bit more about the landscape of the North Shore.  I was also pleasantly surprised by a lot of the interpretation programming and signage in the park.  The interpretation I engaged with was really well done and the Park has made an effort to engage local Indigenous communities in programming and include traditional knowledge in their signage.

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Rewriting Wikipedia and Skill Building

220px-We_Can_EditYesterday the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre held it’s first “Rewriting Wikipedia” event aimed at increasing content relating to Indigenous Women on Wikipedia.  I’m really happy with how this event turned out.  We had about ten participants of varying skill levels and the afternoon was filled with good conversation, ideas, and skill building.  Many of the people at the event hadn’t edited Wikipedia before so this was an opportunity to talk about why editing is important and what can be gained by contributing.  It was also simply a good outreach event highlighting the range of work that happens in an archive.

I also learned some new things during the session. I tend to primarily use the source editor on Wikipedia but many of the event participants were more comfortable using the visual editor.  Working with them and the visual editor gave me a better understanding of the intricacies of using the visual editor for article templates and citations.  In between helping people I also spent some time working on a Wikipedia page for Chris Derksen who is an amazing two-spirited Indigenous artist.

We have plans to hold another Rewriting Wikipedia event in the fall, possibly focused on a different topic.  We might also run a how-to workshop beforehand open to those who want to learn more before participating in the edit-a-thon.  That way there can be a more focused emphasis on skill building in addition to generating content. I’m excited by the range of possibilities that exist with this type of event and the possibilities for grassroots community based history on Wikipedia.

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