Collaborative Digital Workspaces

collaborationRecently a couple of projects I’m part of have been trying out collaborative digital workspaces for communicating with large groups, sharing documents, and scheduling.  In both cases the desire is to streamline communication, avoid excessively long email chains, and facilitate collaborative digital projects.  The two platforms I’ve been using are Slack and Basecamp.

Slack

Branded as a communication tool for teams, Slack allows groups to organize conversations using ‘channels.’  Channels are ways to categorize discussion based on project, team, topic etc and can be created to suit your group’s needs.  You can also use Slack as a file sharing tool and it integrates with Google Drive and Dropbox.  Similarly you can sync an existing Google Calendar into the slack interface.

Slack is available as a desktop program or as an app.  I’m still new to this product and the slack ‘team’ I’m part of is still working on how Slack might fit into our workflow.  I do like the mobile app and the way you can customize notifications based on your preferences.  We’re only using the free version, so there is a limit to the number of messages that are searchable (10K) and file storage is limited to 5GB.  But as a communication cool even the free version seems to be fairly agile and good at aggregating conversations.  It also has hashtag functionality to help facilitate after the fact searching and navigation.

Basecamp

Basecamp is a more robust digital tool than Slack.  It is a project management and collaborative workspace than simply a communication tool.  Similar to Slack it’s available as a desktop and as a mobile app.  The pricing model for Basecamp is slightly more aggressive than Slack, the first Basecamp you setup with an account is free but beyond that is $29/month. Basecamp is simple to use and has a fairly clean interface that facilitates the creation of to-do lists, message boards, group chat spaces, the uploading and sharing of files, and scheduling. It has some basic reporting functionality an some search functions.

There have been some criticisms of Basecamp’s functionality as a project management tool – it doesn’t allow the assigning of tasks to multiple people and it doesn’t allow time tracking.  Outside of those flaws I think Basecamp works well as a collaborative space.  It’s been incredibly easy to share documents on and to facilitate conversations among a dozen people. I could see larger groups having difficulty keeping up with content on Basecamp – in my mind huge message chains on a message board are only marginally better to keep on top of then a lengthy email chain. Similar to Slack I like the app functionality of this particular platform which is easy to update and review while not physically at a computer.

What digital collaboration tools have you found useful in streamlining group workflows?

Indigenous Women Rebuilding A Nation

For the next couple of months my work will be hosting the Archives of Ontario travelling exhibit A Lifetime – Day by Day, Five Women and Their DiariesI booked that particular exhibit with the knowledge that we have lots of material relating to women in the archives that would be excellent to showcase along side the travelling exhibit.  But other than that general idea I hadn’t really started to think about specific content until last month.

When I started speaking with a few people on campus our ideas around a companion exhibit quickly evolved into featuring the lives and work of Indigenous women.  This idea evolved partially out of the fact that the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre preserves a lot of content relating to Indigenous communities and women.  It was also partially inspired by the knowledge that the AO travelling exhibit panels all feature content focused on white pioneer women.  We hope our companion exhibit would help provide a more balanced glimpse at women’s history in Canada.

This week we setup the first display case (below) of our Indigenous Women Rebuilding A Nation companion exhibit.  I feel incredibly lucky to work with such strong and inspiring Indigenous women on a daily basis and to have their help in putting together this initiative.  In addition to this single display case next week we plan on installing a larger exhibit highlighting the Mother Earth Water Walk and the women involved in running the water walks.

Indigenous Women Rebuilding A Nation Display Case
Indigenous Women Rebuilding A Nation Display Case

Archives Meet Public History

Earlier this week the Students and New Archives Professional (SNAP) Roundtable of the Society of American Archivists hosted a joint twitter chat with the New Professional and Graduate Student Committee of the National Council on Public History.  The chat focused on the intersection of public history and archives and generated a lot of interesting ideas for collaboration.

The first portion of the chat focused on introducing participants, discussing what interested them in archives and public history, and what they learned about archives in their public history program (or vice versa). The vast majority of responses seemed to indicate that many archival programs didn’t talk about public history and that most public history programs might include a class or two focused on archives.  A number of participants also mentioned gaining exposure to other fields through internships and work study opportunities.

The second section of the chat invited participants to share how they have interacted with public historians or archivists as part of their work.  A number of people (@Sam_Winn, @PubHistPhD, and @jessmknapp) mentioned that reference, outreach, and engagement work often allows them to interact with people from a variety of fields.

This was followed by a discussion of why archives, public historians, and museums don’t work together more frequently on advocacy issues. Holly Croft suggested that this disconnect might be rooted in the fact that archives only recently began to advocate for themselves.  Croft’s comment garnered a lot of discussion and highlighted the issue of similar fields committing for the same funding sources and lack of engagement between professional groups. 

The chat closed with practical suggestions of how these two related fields can work together.  A number of participants suggested holding more tweet chats or similar discussions which invite people from different backgrounds to engage.  Using digital and local history projects as points of collaboration was also suggested, as was the idea of holding joint professional meetings.

As someone who holds an MA in Public History and works in an archive I found the chat very interesting.  While I’ve worked in an archives focused role for the past four years many of the outreach and engagement practices I’ve undertaken are rooted in public history and the idea of a living archive.  There is tremendous potential for collaboration between fields to bring history to the forefront.

Contested Public History and Public Engagement

The Spring 2014 issue of The Public Historian focused on contested histories, addressing controversy through public history, and the relationship of controversy and commemoration.  Christine Reiser Robbins and Mark W. Robbins’ piece “Engaging the contested Memory of the Public Square, Community Collaboration, Archaeology, and Oral History at Corpus Christi’s Artesian Park” is an excellent example of the challenges and potential benefits of tackling contested histories, issues of identity, and public input.

The article uses the case study of Corpus Christi’s Artesian Park to highlight the potential of using community engaged methods and collaborative designs that integrate oral history, archaeology, and archival research to build historical narratives.

The history of the Artesian Park and its commemoration has been filled with controversy.  In 1975 and 2002 attempts to commemorate the the park were filled with community disputes, disagreements of interpretation, and debated history.

In 2012 a public archeology and oral history project was launched in the community to focus on expanding historical narratives relating to the Park.  The project highlighted the possibility of creating a new narrative that combines personal histories, civic history/myth, and national narratives.  And the results showed the diversity in experiences and histories relating to the park. 

Christine Reiser Robbins and Mark W. Robbins’ argue that “engaged public history frameworks that are community driven and incorporate multiple methodologies can be a ‘source of empowerment’ in the pursuit of more open and contested cultural heritage.”  This project was open to all segments of the community which allowed for a range of participation and an increased understanding of the community itself and the history of the park.  The project also allowed for “new relationships to the place and to the community to be formed.”

This case study is a great example of the importance of community participation, collaboration, and the integration of multiple narratives into historical interpretation.  The long held nostalgic civic histories of the Park represent only a portion of the complete heritage of the Artesian Park.  Community collaboration and community input is crucial when addressing heritage the is contested and deeply community rooted.  Public history projects have the potential to bring together communities and start conversations relating to heritage and broader community issues.

Commemorative Art: Walking With Our Sisters

Yesterday artist and author Christi Belcourt, hosted by Shingwauk Kinomage Gaimig, gave a talk at Algoma University. Her talk focused on her art practice, traditional art, and the Walking With Our Sisters project. 

Walking With Our Sisters is a commemorative art installation in memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women  in Canada and the United States. The work is a floor installation make up of beaded moccasin vamps arranged in a pathway on red fabric.  Each pair of vamps represents one missing or murdered Indigenous woman.  Vamps were chosen as the focal point of this project as they are part of an unfinished pair of moccasins and represent the unfinished lives of women.

One of the most inspiring parts of Walking With Our Sisters is the community involvement and support.  The project has been entirely crowd-sourced.  In June 2012 a call was put out via social media asking people to create moccasin tops for the exhibit.  By June 2013 over 1600 vamps had been received.  Vamps were donated from people across Canada and the United States and from as far away as Scotland.  A map of participants can be seen here. Photographs and descriptions of some of the donated vamps can be seen here.

The collective and is deeply rooted in community and volunteerism, with the organization of the touring being done by a collective. Christi Belcourt described Walking With Our Sisters as a memorial and rooted in ceremony.  Her description of the far reaching impacts of the project and the community support was moving and inspirational.  Walking With Our Sisters is scheduled to visit over 30 communities in the next five years. The full tour schedule can be seen here

Oral History and Documentation Sharing

Earlier this week, Canada’s History Society hosted an oral history webinar with Alexander Freund.  The webinar focused on the basics behind oral history, planning and implementation of oral history, and general best practices for oral history projects.  The webinar was recorded and can be viewed online. 

The webinar provided a good starting point for those with little or no exposure to oral history. Freund’s presentation was broken down into preparation, interviewing, processing and dissemination.  He provided high level overviews of each oral history component using general examples and suggestions.  

I was particularly pleased to hear Freund’s emphasis on the need for oral history projects to work with archives from the very early stages of the project.  Freund suggested that projects should be conducted with a long term goal of archival preservation and that archives should be consulted regarding preservation, donor details and other pertinent documentation.  As someone who works in an archive and who has used archived oral history recordings, Freund’s emphasis on a proactive collaborative approach makes me very happy.

Though the content of the webinar was fairly introductory, the resources and samples provided as part of the webinar have the potential to be invaluable.  These resources included items such as an interview guide, audacity audio software guide, sample forms, and interview checklists. Having examples of other policies, guides, and best practices greatly assists in the creation of program specific procedures.

Anyone who has ever written a best practices manual, training guide, or policy knows the value of not reinventing the wheel.  I find looking at the established best practices of other organizations is one of the best ways to gain perspective on your purposed best practices.  Granted, these established practices can (or should) very rarely be copied wholesale — rather they are considered, incorporated, elaborated on to fit your organization.

Currently, only a limited number of heritage organizations post their documentation online.  It seems redundant for every heritage organization to start each policy from nothing, when so many other organizations have essentially the same basic policies. In particular, smaller organizations with limited resources can gain a lot from looking at studies, working groups, and policies that have been crafted by larger resource rich institutions.  This can apply to everything from effective collection policies, heritage specific software guides, to donor forms. This webinar highlighted the value of sharing resources and community collaboration.  I sincerely hope that as online collaboration increases that so does the use of shared resources in the heritage sector, as most organizations have much to gain from joint efforts.

Appreciating collaboration

Today’s #reverb10 prompt:

December 14 – Appreciate What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?

I have come to appreciate the value of collaboration and interdisciplinary work. Collaboration can take far more effort, coordination, and time than a non-collaborative project. This year proved to me the benefits of collaboration outweigh the occasional headache.

I also learned to appreciate the importance of structure in a collaborative partnership. Even if all partners involved have an equal stake in the project it is essential that someone take on a leadership role and have the power to make decisions when needed. I have also learned to appreciate the importance of communication during collaboration, without open and reliable communication even the most promising collabrative project can stall or go awry.

Contrary to popular belief librarians do know how to party

Today’s #reverb10 prompt: Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.

OLA Super Conference 2010 was the best work related gathering in 2010. This conference was the first library focused conference I attended. The level of enthusiasm, the roar of the vendor floor, the sessions I attended, and copious amounts of good food and good company made this the work related gathering of 2010.

Highlights of the conference included:
-Presenting with OurOntario on collaboration and community building withing the Community Digitization Project.
-Reuniting with OurOntario staff for the first time in six months.
-Seeing the Knowledge Ontario staff in action on the vendors’ floor
-The Extraordinary Canadians authors session.
-Learning more about the different branches of the library field.

I also had the opportunity to see the Rain Tribute to the Beatles while in Toronto for the OLA conference. That combined with the OLA conference made for a great week.

Beautifully different heritage


Prompt: Beautifully different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.

The heritage field is filled with differences all of which have the potential to compliment and learn from each other. Academic historians, archivists, curators and those involved with museums, archeologists, digital historians, built heritage professionals, genealogists, and public historians are some of the many people involves with history and heritage.

Each heritage or history field is unique, and each group of professionals has a unique set of skills and strengths. Within each heritage field there are specializations and further compartmentalization which adds to the different qualities of each field. The variety which exists in the heritage world is ideal for collaboration.

There is also a number of people involved with the heritage field who have embodied a number of different roles throughout their careers. In the past five years I have worked and volunteered with a number of museums, a historical litigation company, a research department of a not for profit group, with a number of public libraries, and at an archive. One of my favorite things about heritage and public history is that there is always multiple options for a project, opportunities for collaboration and chances to learn from other professionals.