Where to Find Me At NCPH

NCH program cover

NCPH 2017 Program Cover

Next week I’ll be heading to Indianapolis for this year’s National Council on Public History conference. The agenda is filled with great sounding panels, roundtables, and workshops.  I’m really looking forward to connecting with other public history professionals and digging into some public history.

I haven’t selected which panels I’ll be attending during the conference but there are a number of events that I’m helping facilitate as part of my role on the membership committee. There are also a number of broader conference events that I definitely plan on participating in. If you’re interested in connecting during the conference I will be at the following events:

  • Membership Committee Twitter Chat (Wednesday April 19, 11:30am-12:30pm) *Virtual – join the conversation using the #ncph2017 hashtag.
  • First Time Attendee and Mentoring Connection Meetup (Wednesday April 19, 5:30-6:00pm)
  • Opening Reception (Wednesday April 19, 6:00-8:00pm)
  • New Member Welcome (Thursday April 20, 7:30-8:30am)
  • NCPH Business Meeting (Thursday April 20, 1:00-1:30pm)
  • Indy Behind the Scenes: Eiteljog Museum of American Indians and Western Art Walking Tour (Friday April 21, 8:45-10:00am)
  • Public Plenary: Making LGBTQ History American History (Friday April 21, 6:00-7:30pm)
  •  2nd Annual Great NCPH Canuck Gathering (Friday April 21st)
  • Awards Breakfast (Saturday April 22, 8:00-10:00am)

You will also likely find me at individual sessions focused on archives, Wikipedia, podcasting, and Indigenous history.

Reflection: 2016 Accomplishments

1469923511-mc-hp-1For the past few years I’ve reflected on my professional practice and accomplishments at the end of the year.  I’m going to continue that tradition with this blog post albeit in a slightly more list based format than the reflective posts I’ve done in the past.

In 2016 I did a lot of things including:

Talks and Presentations

  • In March I spoke as part of aFinding the Embedded Archivist” panel at the National Council for Public History annual meeting in Baltimore, MD.
  • This year I provided instructional programming to over 1,250 people.  The bulk of these instruction sessions related to residential schools, the history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School, and reconciliation.  However a handful were also related to teaching about archives and archival literacy.
    • As part of this work I’ve taken a serious look at how I present residential school history and revamped my instruction practices to make sure I’m giving priority to Indigenous voices.

Committee Work

  • I was appointed as the co-chair of the membership committee for the National Council on Public History
  • In August I was appointed to the Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives (SCCA) – Response to the Report on the Truth and Reconciliation Task Force.   I am really honoured to be part of this committee and engaged in this important work relating to Indigenous communities and archives.

Outreach

  • I started seriously editing Wikipedia.  This was a bit of a rabbit hole for me – it initially started as a way to expand some of the archival outreach I do and evolved into a hobbie and something I really enjoy. I also organized a small edit-a-thon at Algoma University geared toward increasing content relating to Indigenous women on Wikipedia.
  • I spearheaded the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre’s contributions to the Archives of Ontario Family Ties: Ontario Turns 150 exhibition.
  • I curated and co-curated a number of smaller scale exhibitions on campus including one about local author Brian Vallée, and one focusing on Indigenous Women Activists and the Water Walk movement.
  • I setup and have been maintaining social media accounts for the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. I also learned a bit more about different tools to help schedule and manage this outreach work.

Self-Care and Other Priorities

  • I kept with my commitment to make my physical health a priority.  I’ve been consistent in going to the gym on a regular basis and have been trying to eat better.
  • After much years of debate my partner and I made a decision to move.  We’ve bought and house and will be moving in 2017.  This move will mean I’m much closer to my work, it will cut down my commute significantly, and result in me getting to spend more time with my daughter.
  • I’ve been meeting regularly as part of two writing groups – an academic one (online) and a non-fiction group.  Both of these have been key in keeping me motivated on some ongoing projects.
  • In November I was honured to stand beside my sister as during her wedding.
  • I’m raising a funny, energy filled 2 year old who can identify Doctor Who on my t-shirts and who loves playing tea time.

At the end of 2016 I am very grateful for great colleagues, a community of public historians who energize and inspire, and challenging conversations.   Onward.

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.

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.

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.

New Professionals and Hiring Committees

HiringWhen I started my first job after grad school I was in a position that including hiring as one of its many tasks.  Prior to this point I had only sat on the opposite side of the hiring table and I remember feeling a bit overwhelming at being responsible for deciding who received a job.  In this particular case I was working with small libraries and heritage organizations to hire individuals to undertake digitization on a contract basis.  We did the hiring using committee that included representatives from the various institutions.  This was great in terms of making me feel like I wasn’t solely responsible for the decisions and that there some more experienced voices in the room.  However I was responsible for creating the interview questions, making a short list of candidates, and was considered the ‘subject expert’ on the committee.  Initially it seemed like a monumental leap for someone who had limited professional experience interviewing as a candidate and who had never served as an interviewer before.

That was seven years ago.  Since that point I’ve been involved in the hiring of around twenty positions.  These positions have often been contract, first time in the field, or student oriented positions.  Acting as an interviewer has become a lot less scary in the intervening years and I’ve learned a lot around asking good questions, checking references, and trusting my gut.  This experience has also made me think about the importance of including interns and young professionals on hiring committees.  There’s a good chance that one day these new professionals are going to be responsible for hiring and having insight into the selection process can be a huge help.  Even if they aren’t ever responsible for hiring seeing how the interview process works can be a huge help when interviewing for future jobs.

What was your first experience acting as interviewer like?  How did you prepare for that first interview where you were the one asking the questions?

Attire and Professional Identity

Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services, NARA.

Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services, NARA.

Earlier this week I participated in the SAA Student and New Archives Professionals Roundtable twitter chat on workplace attire.  The chat was co-hosted by Librarian Wardrobe and like most #snaprt chats invited students, new professionals, and seasoned archives staff to engage in meaningful discussion. I don’t really fit in the new professional category but I always find these discussions interesting and filled with thought provoking discussions.  This particular chat posed a lot of questions around the challenges of attire and professional culture, accepted norms in the archival field  and how appearance can impact professional identity, job prospects, and career choices.

For me it made me think a lot about the way in which I present myself and how that has changed over time based on experience, changing roles, and age.  In the first job I worked in after grad school most of the people I was supervising were either very close to my age or much older.  I remember feeling the need to dress up slightly to set myself apart and at times make myself appear older. When I started working at a post-secondary institution my clothing choices often reflected a desire to not be mistaken as a student.  Having worked at the same place for over five years now, I no longer feel that need — it’s a small enough institution that staff know who I am and on the off chance a visitor thinks I’m a student I’m going to take that as a compliment.  Granted, my change in perspective might also be influenced by becoming a mother and the fact that I’m approaching a milestone birthday.

Many years ago I worked with a colleague who was very close in age to me.  For the sake of discussion lets call that colleague Billy.  I vividly remember conversations with others where comments were made about Billy’s age and identifying a need for more experience and professional growth.  In most cases people didn’t seem to realize how close we were in age. We had taken different career paths and I had a bit more job experience at that point, but I was definitely still a new professional.  Looking back I often wonder if those conversations were influenced by attire, personality, work experience, or how Billy and I presented ourselves.  But I don’t remember Billy dressing unprofessionally or in clothing that wasn’t suitable to our workplace – so did that really play a factor? Or maybe I just look older? And people assumed a difference in age because of that.

I share this experience because for me it highlights the importance of realizing that attire is just one of many factors which make up a professional identity. People are always going to make assumptions particularly in hiring and new workplace situations.  Attire can impact those assumptions and often shapes first impressions (even if it shouldn’t) but there are often a lot of other variables at play as well.

Supporting An Active Writing Practice

As you may have already guessed I like writing.  I’ve been blogging about public history for years, I maintain a personal/off-topic blog with my partner, I’ve written for other history outlets, and I also write occasionally as part of my job. I also write some fiction occasionally.  Like many people who maintain creative or academic writing practices I struggle with finding time and coming up with ideas for the creation of new content.

In the past I’ve found writing in public as a helpful tactic to keeping on track.  Talking publicly about my writing goals and sharing works in progress helps keep my accountable to readers and to myself.  I’ve also participated in “A Meeting With Your Writing” as a way to carve out dedicated time for academic writing and that has worked wonders for seeing projects move off my writing plate.

As an attempt to try something new with my writing practice and revive personal goals that have been languishing I’ve decided to create a writing schedule.  This isn’t meant to be something that is set in stone but rather a map that I can use to sort out what projects I can or should be working on.  Broken down by week I’ve used the schedule as a place to create a list of future blog topics, keep track of paid writing gigs, and note due dates for academic writing projects.  I’m hoping that this schedule will be a useful tool for managing my writing time.  I can use it both as an idea bank and an organizing tool.  It’s currently just a Google Sheet, so nothing fancy, but I think it has potential and I’m looking forward to seeing if it helps with some of the organization and creative roadblocks I’ve been bumping up against.

What tools do you use to support your writing practice?

NCPH Recap: Day One, March 16

LGBTAnother year, another NCPH conference down.  This is by far my favourite conference.  It brings together so many diverse perspectives, there is a welcoming sense of community, and the sessions are always dynamic and engaging.  I had a fantastic time in Baltimore at NCPH 2016 and over the next week or so I will be recapping my experience at the conference and exploring Baltimore.

This was the first year I was able to participate in any of the pre-conference workshops.  The “Daring to Speak Its Name: Interpreting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pasts at Historic Sites” workshop facilitated by Susan Ferentinos, Frank Futral, and Megan Springate was a wonderful way to kick off the week in Baltimore.

The workshop included a broad discussion of challenges interpreting and integrating LGBTQ history into mainstream historical sites and common historical narratives.  The session allowed for substantial discussion of participant ideas and projects.  The workshop opened with Sue Ferentinos highlighting some of the different ways that LGBTQ history has been interpreted – monuments, memorials, special events/exhibits, and reshaping of existing programming.

We also spent considerable time talking about the challenges or ‘issues’ around interpreting LGBTQ history.  Some of the issues that resonated most with me was the idea of archival silences or silences in the historical record.  How do you tell a history that isn’t well documented?  And without imposing present day identification and terms on the past?  And who has the right to tell these stories? And how do you tell it without ‘whitewashing’ or generalizing the very diverse range of experiences of LGBTQ communities.  As an archivist much of this conversation made me consider the need to more actively engage in documenting present day queer communities, so that future generations have more information and the ability to tell this history more fully.

The session also pointed participants to a number of resources including:

And the morning concluded with participants workshopping ideas around LGBTQ history interpretation at the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site and specifically Val-Kill the home of Eleanor.  Overall this was a great workshop with great ideas around engaging with LGBTQ past and the need to be more proactive in documenting this history. There was also a lot of enthusiasm for more LGBTQ history at future NCPH meetings in terms of working groups and presentations.

Following this workshop I concluded Day 1 of NCPH by helping the Resume Building Workshop and attending the Opening Reception.  I had a mentee for the conference so the opening reception was a chance to meet her and orient her to the conference.  I also had dinner with a number of the Canadian attendees at NCPH – and it’s always great to connect with those great public historians.

Interviewing and the Power of Perspective

In December 2015 I interviewed for University Archivist position at a Canadian university. I’ve attempted to write about this experience a couple of times but have repeatedly deleted what I wrote.  I initially considered writing broadly about the university archives/faculty hiring experience. The interview process for this position was completely different than any of the other position I’ve interviewed for — which for me highlighted the difference between staff and faculty hiring processes at universities.

But these drafts while personally significant but didn’t really add a lot of value to the already extensive conversation around academic hiring.  Suffice it to say that the on-campus interview was a busy and exhausting day filled with lots of talking.  And that you need to remember that you are there to learn about them as much as they are trying to learn about you.  Fit is important.  If something doesn’t feel right ask yourself why and don’t ignore those gut feelings.

Interviews often bring with them a whole host of feelings and introspection.  This experience was no exception.  When I applied I figured it was a long shot and that I wouldn’t get an interview.  My education background is a bit of an anomaly for most archives job postings.  I have an MA in public history, not a MLS or MAS.  I fall into the category of “equivalent combination of education and experience.” This lack of traditional fit can be a blessing and a bit of a personal worry point.  To add to that introspection I also really love where I currently work and there are a lot of potential life implications that come with moving for any job.  Suffice it to say I was a swirling vortex of doubt.  Doubt about my abilities, my education, and my personal life.  Doubt in my strength to continue to work so closely with the legacy of residential schools.

Go high or Go deep.

Yesterday, I read Erin R White’s “What It Means to Stay” piece and had a “By George, I think she’s got it” moment.  What resonated with me was the idea of going high or going deep.  Staying means going deeper into your specialization, deeper into your organization, and growing in your job.  The alternative being going high and focusing on moving upwards in a organization chart, possibly outside of your institution.

When I moved to Northern Ontario in the spring 2009 I was supposed to be in this area for 6 months on a short contract.  Very near to end of my anticipated stay in the area I applied to an archives technician job that seemed like a perfect and I’ve been here ever since.  My position has changed a lot since 2010 – I went from working exclusively with the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) archives to being responsible for large and small scale art installations and a myriad of admin type work to working with the University Archives, the Diocese of Algoma Archives, and the SRSC archives.  I’ve learned a lot.

Familiarity Is A Good Thing

The nature of archival work means the more you work with an archives the more familiar you become with its holdings, its organization, and its nuances.  I’ve worked with almost every fonds and collection in the SRSC in some way.  I’ve either accessioned, processed, described, digitized, or pulled material from each collection.  This familiarity gives me a kind of reference request super power.  If someone is looking for a particular kind of image, information on a particular residential school, or a very specific research topic I can usually come up with where they need to look, a list of resources and research suggestions.  I’m also familiar with the ins-and-outs of my institution by that which internal department to turn to for help with outreach, which form to fill out, or other day to day tasks.  Those skills and that familiarity is important too. Institutional knowledge is important and takes time and effort to learn.

Building Relationships

Perhaps more significantly I’ve also become familiar with the local survivor community and the members of Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association.  Building personal relationships with the individuals and communities that the SRSC is dedicated to surviving has been a invaluable experience and one that I am continually humbled by. I also have a great set of supportive colleagues here.  We work well together and the internal community is friendly and welcoming.  Having a supportive workplace makes life a lot more enjoyable.  I’ve also gained colleagues in the local community and within the broader public history/archival community in Canada — people know me for my work at the SRSC and this work is something I feel grateful to be a part of.

I also routinely get opportunities to build new relationships with students.  Be that through students placed in the archive on work study, volunteers, or students working on projects.  They ask challenging questions, training them requires me to routinely refresh my own skills, and many of them go on to be engaged in interesting graduate studies or careers.

Long Term Projects and Flexibility

One of the nice things about staying at an organization – about going deeper – is the ability to tackle longer spanning projects.  Earlier this week I hit a milestone in a project I started in 2013.  The project has shifted on and off my priorities list for years.  But I can see an end and have this overwhelming feeling of satisfaction of nearing the finish line of a project that has taken so much time, effort, and dedication.  My role here also has the great ability to allow me to pursue the projects I’m interested in.  Yes, there is some items that are always on the to do list – reference requests, handling and processing new donations, and lots of day to day work to keep the archive functioning.  But I’ve also been able to develop outreach practices, education initiatives, and specific archival projects I’m interested in.  That flexibility is a blessing.  I know I’m fortunate to have it.

Growth Can Still Happen

You don’t need to move institutions for professional growth to happen.  Looking back at my work since 2010 I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.  I’ve learned a huge range of new skills, I’ve organized and participated in conferences, I’ve joined committees of professional organizations, I’ve written papers, and pursued professional development training.  I am still challenged by my work and I have a range of opportunities internally and externally if I want to explore different possibilities for professional growth.  Staying with an organization doesn’t mean becoming complacent or ceasing to learn.  Staying doesn’t mean settling.