The Importance of Story

April 11, 2010

I have been reading some Chris Brogan material lately and stumbled onto a thread about the importance of story, http://www.chrisbrogan.com/importance-of-story. Brogan cites author Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.” I haven’t read it yet although I’m half way through Miller’s “Looking For God Knows What.”

Archivists seem susceptible to missing the importance of story. We get wrapped up in preservation, organization and access (which are important). But we miss the story. The whole reason we work so hard to maintain and provide access to historic records is so we can help people tell THEIR story. That’s a big deal. Maybe not to a group of academic peers or government bureaucrats or technocrats but to the user, it matters (or at least it should).

Telling your story shapes communities, creates civic-minded people, and gives our lives depth (I’m certain Donald Miller has more thoughts on this). I’m excited to look forward at my archival work as story teller as well as assisting others in telling their stories.  What do you think?  What’s your story?

In Defense of Silos

February 8, 2010

Jones Dairy Farm Silo

Words

I’m not one for management jargon.  I’ve been skimming my share of management books lately.  Most recently, Good to Great (especially the booklet for social sectors).  Good to Great was published in 2o01 so I’m behind in the lastest chic management style, but then again, so it seems is our terminology.  Take the term “silo” for instance.  It has been used for some time now as a term of derision or organizational roadblock.  “Information silos” within organizations, keep groups from working together effectively because they are not sharing information stored up in respective areas.  They cause redundancy, missed opportunities.

Silo’s for silo’s sake

I actually love silos.  My mother’s side of the family have farmed in Kalkaska County Michigan since the early 1900′s.  I always knew we were near the end of our three-plus hour drive to visit when I saw the alternating green and white slats of  Uncle Cor’s silos.  They were a sign of progress, destination, relief!  Silos store up grain for later use.  They are a safeguard against paucity. Solitary silos now remind me how few family farms are left in this country.  I am relieved when I still see a few solitary silos at a farm.  It may mean a family hasn’t given up yet.

No More Jargon

I don’t want to add to the lexicon of jargon, nor think myself influential enough to do so if I tried.  But I can’t get an image out of my head. Every time I hear the term silo used in the management sense, I really see windmills.  You see, windmills, like sections of an organization, do something.  They take wind and and turn it into power to (traditionally) grind something (usually grain).  Their effectiveness and efficiency as stand-alone entities is limited, but together in groups, they can create energy to power or feed large populations (think windmills of La Mancha).

With the rise of alternative energy as a paradigm of efficiency, I can’t help but think that soon we’ll see management books exhorting organizations to create organizational “wind farms” and to replace the old rickety  windmills with efficient turbines.  Thankfully, in addition to selling books, such jargon allows the rank-and-file something to laugh about over coffee.

We are continually trying to tweak and improve the SeekingMichigan web site.  To date, we’ve put out over a million records and images online.  We hope to launch an e-commerce module in the next month, and then look at comments, ratings etc.  We have also begun to build out resources like our Michigan County Clerks map.  More of this type of material will be available soon.

Reaching People

In the end though, our goal is VERY simple: to reach people with stories and resources about Michigan.  So we are especially tickled when the people from the stories reach back.  A recent example is Archivist Bob Garrett’s article on the 1961 Miss Michigan, Karen Southway  (here’s the article).

Karen Southway Dewert, Miss Michigan 1960

Upon publishing the blog article on seekingmichigan.org, we quickly had a comment posted stating “I’m flattered please write”  Turns out, the comment was from Karen Southway Dewert, Miss Michigan 1961 herself.  Here is a little snippet of Karen’s message:

WHAT A CRAZY WORLD WE LIVE IN.. MY BROTHER, WHO LIVES IN AZ. FORWARDED THIS TO ME IN CHICAGO…AND YES, I FOUND TIME TO MARRY ROGER DEWERT IN JULY OF ’64.(HE PASSED JAN ’06)  WE HAD 3 FABULOUS CHILDREN, NOW IN THEIR 40′S. I BECAME A PROFESSIONAL MAKE-UP ARTIST AND PAGEANT COACH..AND MOST RECENTLY, PHOTOGRAPHER AND PHOTO EDITOR.  LAST AUGUST I CELEBRATED 47 YEARS IN THE BUSINESS. HAVE HAD MANY WINNERS; BUT THE ONES I MOST LIKE MENTIONING ARE THE THREE MISS AMERICAS I ASSISTED TO THE CROWN..MARJORIE VINCENT 1990, KATE SHINDLE 1997 AND ERICA HAROLD 2003.  JUST TO THINK THAT IN ABOUT A YEAR AND A HALF, IT WILL BE 50 YEARS AGO THAT I WAS CROWNED MICHIGAN…..SEEMS LIKE ONLY YESTERDAY….WHERE DID THOSE DAYS GO?  -KAREN
We keep plugging away at seekingmichigan.org.  Adding new content, thinking of new ways to serve the public.  I’m personally looking forward to a story in January about winter golfing–on a lake.  Join us and let us know what you think.  If you have comments or suggestions please share them with us.

I need to catch up with what has occurred at the Archives of Michigan in the last few months.  Nothing has been more time consuming than the launch of seekingmichigan.org. We went live yesterday and the site teetered for 3-4 hours before succumbing to high traffic.  It illustrated a typical problem with a new website launch.  Namely, you don’t know what you are going to get for traffic.

This site is already a Frankenstein mash-up of OCLC’s CONTENTdm and WordPress. The php nature of CONTENTdm, caching issues, high site traffic, high link traffic and our server situation all played into the temporary demise.  We started the site on a virtual host thinking there would be demand, but not huge demand and we failed to consider load testing the site (not that it would have helped in the end).  As I write this, we have seen site traffic increase 2600% since the beginning of the month.  We are in the process of moving to dedicated servers on both ends (CONTENTdm and WordPress).  It may be overkill but will help us as we launch huge record sets.

We do DO other work besides Seekingmichigan.  Archivists are working on the private collections of the Campbell Construction Company, Detroit, MI.  They pioneered the construction of prefabricated steel buildings.  Final steps are being made to open the North Country Trail collection and a large collection of Mackinac County Clerk records.

New acquisitions and collections on the horizon include the Wexford County naturalization records and the Washtenaw County Probate Records.

I will be presenting at the National Archives Preservation Conference on March 26 in Washington D.C.  The topic will be an overview of our NHPRC grant project, “Thank God for Michigan.”

Drop us a line on Twitter @seekingmichigan or visit us on youtube.com/lookaboutyou or vimeo.com/seekingmichigan.

Archives on YouTube

December 15, 2008

There are now some movies up on YouTube from the Archives Collection.  We have linked to the site on the right navigation bar or you can access them at: http://www.youtube.com/lookaboutyou

seekingmichigan

We have been steadily moving forward with our launch of Seeking Michigan.  If you have not heard me talk about this, it is a new joint effort with the Library of Michigan.  It appears that we are slated to launch on February 1, 2009.  We will hit you with a news blast nearer that date.  

One component of the site is “Look.”  This will feature fun and interesting stories about Michigan’s past and present.  A team of twenty-seven history professionals will be adding content.  We hope to open it up to the public so you too can share your stories and photographs.

Our November projects include:

1. Trout Unlimited 50th Anniversary celebration.  Art Nuemann is one of the founding fathers of Trout Unlimited.   Art is a Michigan treasure.  I had the privilege of interviewing Art on three separate visits to Saginaw.   We are working on a book detailing TU’s early history.  It will come out next year to coincide with the anniversary.

2. Legislative Advisory Committee: Archives staff has created a committee to seek the advice of current legislative leadership.  The bi-partisan committee makes recommendations on significant legislators and important issues.  From these recommendations, the Archives works to preserve the records of certain outgoing legislators.

3. Internal Strategic Plan:  With the assistance of Archivist Bob Garrett, we have completed a draft of the Archives policies and procedures.  We hope to post this online in the near future.

4. Donations: The Archives will soon officially announce some major donations of archival materials.  Keep in mind,  these have not been processed and are not quite ready for public access.  

Military records continue to be a strong topic area.  We took in the Freeman McClintock papers this month.  Mr. McClintock worked in the motor pool for senior dignitaries in World War I.  He cared for the vehicles of Woodrow Wilson and General Pershing, among others.  After the war, he came back to Lansing and opened McClintock Cadillac (now Capitol Cadillac).  There are more donations that we will highlight in months to come.  

We must make special mention of donors Wallace and Jane Ewing.  The Ewings recently donated the Mac and Nan Ewing Civil War letters.  The collection includes a 291-letter conversation between Mac and Nan during the Civil War.  We are actively scanning all the original letters.  We will then present these scans online with transcriptions that Wally Ewing has already prepared.

Jane and Wally Ewing donating the Mac and Nan Ewing Civil War letters.

Jane and Wally Ewing donating the Mac and Nan Ewing Civil War letters.

5. Workshops: On November 20th, I made a trip to the Algonac Public Library and delivered three consecutive workshops on naturalization, military and other genealogical records.

Here are some more highlights:

Collections completed:

Clark, Beverly. MS. 92-21. Civil Rights Commission Material. (Clark a Commissioner from 1983-1991) 1983-1991. 8.5 cubic feet.

Balcolm Family Collection, 1827, 1847-1863, 1887, 1907. 10 items. Family letters. 3 during the Civil War, documenting William and Justus Balcom, who were in the 21st Michigan Infantry, Company G. Justus died of disease during the War. 

Barnett, Leroy. MS 2004-1. Maps of Michigan Lower and Upper Peninsulas, compiled using land grant documentation from 1820 to 1900. (Compilation date: 1980) 2 items (45 inches x 74 inches) 

Michigan Archival Association,1964-2001
Accession number: MS 2004-6
Cubic Feet: 6.2
Series: 1. Michigan Archival Association Records. 2.Open Entry 3.Photographs 4. Video, VHS—WLUC TV, Marquette Workshop at NMU, 1988.

Tours:

Archivist Julie Meyerle gave three tours for Crossroads, an alternative education program for disadvantaged youth.  Julie also provided a tour for the Advent House program, a local homeless shelter that provides education programs to assist with personal productivity.

Processing:

Archivist Bob Garrett is processing the North Country Trail Collection (MS 2008-28).  This collection documents the life of Peter Wolfe, advocate for the NCT and one of the first to walk the entire length of the trail.

Web Updates:

December image of the month: Ozz Warbach (Bob Garrett collaborated with Helen Taylor on the article.) go to: http://www.mi.gov/archivesofmi

For January, we’ll have an article on Governor John Swainson and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Oral Histories:

Archivist Bob Garrett attended the 2008 Michigan Oral History Association Conference in Rogers City, Michigan on November 7-8. Bob spoke at the oral history workshop (It was a basic overview on “How to do oral history”).  He also reported on veterans’ oral histories in the Archives of Michigan.

Bob completed an oral history with local resident Ernest Floeter, a German POW and professional photographer.

Next MAA Board Meeting is scheduled for February 27, 2009.

Seeking Michigan

April 23, 2008

The Archives of Michigan is excited to announce that is will be redesigning it’s existing content management site, www.archivesofmichigan.org.  This is a joint project with the Library of Michigan.  Plans include expanding content including over 1,000,000 death records, 70,000 land patent records, photographs and maps.

We have contracted with Greg Storey and Airbag Industries, Inc.  The new site will be rebranded to “Seeking Michigan” or a similar concept.  The idea is to convey a broad approach to the “heritage collections” available at the Library and Archives.  You can see samples of Airbag’s work at: www.airbagindustries.com

We hope to launch in late Summer or Fall 2008.

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