The Importance of Story

mailbox on a road

I have been reading some Chris Brogan material lately and stumbled onto a thread about the 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

barn with silos


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 2001 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.

Isn’t This How is Should Work?

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).

Upon publishing the blog article on, 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:

We keep plugging away at  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.

Springtime in the Archives

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 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 or

Archives of Michigan Monthly Round Up


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.


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.


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:

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

The Archives of Michigan is excited to announce that is will be redesigning it’s existing content management site,  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:

We hope to launch in late Summer or Fall 2008.

Leavenworth Photograph Collection Lansing, Michigan

Jack Carlos and His Arabian Knights, May 11, 1927

Click Jack Carlos and Band – Large image to view an enlarged version of the image.

In the 1920s, Lansing residents danced to jazz bands from Michigan and across the US. These included James C. Dimmick’s Million Dollar Sunny Brook Orchestra, Nate Fry and the Gold Diggers, Wilson’s Serenaders, the Waltz Wizards, the Masqueraders, the 10 Musical Senators, and Alma Morrison and the Original Society Syncopators. Many of these bands played at the Armory, Lansing’s most popular dance venue. It was located on Michigan Avenue at Marshall Street.

This month’s images feature Jack Carlos and His Arabian Knights Orchestra, a band native to Lansing. The band’s venues included the Armory, Hotel Olds, and the Country Club. Their name typifies the orientalism that was the rage in the United States throughout the 1920s, following the enormous popularity of The Sheik (1921) with Rudolph Valentino. Lansing theatres replayed The Sheik throughout the decade along with its sequel Son of the Sheik (1926) and other exotic “desert romance” films such as Lady of the Harem (1926).

These images are part of the Leavenworth collection, a landmark acquisition for the Archives of Michigan. Taken by Leavenworth Photography in Lansing, this collection is the largest and most comprehensive historical photograph collection of Lansing in existence. An estimated 200,000 negatives trace Lansing’s history from the dirt roads of its pre-capital days through its boom into a major industrial city and automotive capital, and throughout the twentieth century. The collection is particularly strong in industrial photographs, but its true hallmark is its wide scope.

Negatives in the Leavenworth collection have been deteriorating, and work has begun to digitize the images. An exhibit of the collection will open at the Michigan Historical Center in May 2008. The Archives looks forward to sharing this exciting collection with the public and raising funds for its preservation.

Another view of Jack Carlos and His Arabian Knights (January 3, 1928)

Click Archives of Michigan to visit the Archives of Michigan home page.

Click Image of the Month Archives to access former Image of the Month pages.

Archives of Michigan
Michigan Library and Historical Center
702 W. Kalamazoo Street
Lansing, MI 48913
Phone: (517) 373-1408

Written by: Lisa Sparks.

Sports Archives on the Web

Here is an interesting article from the NYT on March 17.

Dusting Off the Archive for the Web

Visitors to the Sports Illustrated Web site will be able to check out the George Steinbrenner cover story from 1993, along with Magic Johnson in 1991 and Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra in 1964.

Published: March 17, 2008

As magazines and newspapers hunt for the new thing they need to be to thrive in the Internet era, some find that part of the answer lies in the old thing they used to be.

Sports Illustrated back issues are to go online, with covers like the 1971 Ali-Frazier fight.

Publications are rediscovering their archives, like a person learning that a hand-me-down coffee table is a valuable antique. For magazines and newspapers with long histories, especially, old material can be reborn on the Web as an inexpensive way to attract readers, advertisers and money.

Sports Illustrated, which faces fierce daily, even hourly, competition with ESPN, Yahoo Sports and others, has something its main rivals do not: a 53-year trove of articles and photos, most of it from an era when the magazine dominated the field of long-form sports writing and color sports photography.

On Thursday, the magazine will introduce the Vault, a free site within that contains all the words Sports Illustrated has ever published and many of the images, along with video and other material, in a searchable database. already draws more than six million unique visitors each month, according to Nielsen Online (publications insist that the true numbers are much higher than Nielsen’s ratings), and executives of the magazine predict the Vault could add five million monthly readers.

“The real hidden value of this is what it does for search,” said John Squires, executive vice president of Time Inc., the Time Warner subsidiary that publishes Sports Illustrated. The move quadruples the site’s volume, he said. “We’ll have to work our way up the search algorithms over time, but eventually, someone searches Johnny Unitas, and is going to pop up.”

Many publications, including most major magazines, still offer little or no archive access online. And of those that do allow readers to look deep into their histories, many charge for it, like The Washington Post or The Atlantic Monthly, whose online archives both go back to the 19th century.

But a growing number of publications are opening their own vaults — if only partially — or dropping pay requirements, and they say it makes a big difference in attracting readers.

Industry executives say that although old articles attract less interest from advertisers than current ones, any increase matters at a time when many newspapers and magazines are struggling to hold onto print ad revenue. They say that while building an archive for readers is time-consuming, it is not prohibitively expensive — people at some major magazines gave estimates in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The material is already available, and the databases cost very little to operate.

Mark Ford, president of the Sports Illustrated Group at Time, said the Vault was expected to account for 5 percent of the magazine’s online revenue in its first year, and more in the future.

Popular Mechanics, a Hearst magazine, says about 35 percent of its online readers enter the site through a free archive that contains printed content back to the mid-1990s, and 15 percent enter through Web-only material.

The company does not share specific financial information, but James B. Meigs, editor in chief of Popular Mechanics, said, “we get good ad revenue from this traffic,” in part because it invites the reader to linger, digging more deeply into a particular topic.

Until recently, opened its archives only to people who subscribed to the print magazine or who paid an online fee, and content reached back to only 2000. “All it did was limit people’s interest in even looking at our archives,” said Deidre Depke, editor of

Last fall, the magazine — part of the Washington Post Company — made its online collection of past articles free and easier to navigate, and expanded it to go back to 1990; Web traffic to the archive quadrupled. Next month, it will add articles from 1975 through 1989, and then work will begin on everything back to the magazine’s founding in 1933.

“It’s an incredibly difficult project because we have to open up old computer files of every story, correct errors, change the coding, add computer tags,” Ms. Depke said. And issues from before the digital era have to be scanned, page by page.

For two years, The New York Times allowed only print subscribers and people who paid an online fee to read its editorials and columnists or to delve into the archive. Last September, it ended the pay requirement and made most articles accessible back to the mid-19th century.

Since then, search traffic to archive pages has more than doubled, and the archives now represent 10 percent of the page views on, said Diane McNulty, a spokeswoman.

Time Inc. has been ahead of this curve; two of its publications, People and Entertainment Weekly, give access to articles going back about a decade.

A few years ago, Time magazine put every issue cover and every article it had published, back to its founding in 1923, online free, though that feature is not prominent on the Web site.

Like most publications’ online archives, Time’s has few pictures, which can be more difficult to scan and store than articles, and often have thorny copyright issues. When news with a historical angle breaks, the magazine can put together a page on the subject using old and new articles, which the company says makes the archive more attractive to advertisers.

But the Sports Illustrated project, three years in the making, goes several steps further. It includes many of the magazine’s photos, along with links to related video on other sites.

The Vault’s search engine lets a reader search by athlete, coach, team, sport, decade and year. Want to see every Sports Illustrated cover with Magic Johnson, or all the articles that mentioned him in 1986? Easy.

The site also allows a reader to see high-resolution images of old issues of the magazine as it appeared in physical form, including ads, using a mouse to “turn” pages. Jeff Price, president of SI Digital, said, “We’re confident that there’s nothing else like this.”

Encoded Archival Description (EAD) at the Archives of Michigan

Quietly last month we turned the Archives of Michigan EAD site on to a live server.  The initial guide for the Michigan Military Establishment is the result of a National Historical Records and Publications (NHPRC) grant titled “Thank God for Michigan” awarded in 2007.  The grant seeks to uncover time and cost effective methods of digitizing historical records and making them accessible online.

Central to the project are uploads of large amounts of digitized, original records with minimal meta data attached.  The EAD finding aid serves as the guide to the collection linking to images of individual documents (search the Second Michigan Infantry to find examples of actual documents online).  The Archives is in the process of loading all 75,000 Civil War related images from the state collection.  Follow the EAD ink in the right column to the site.

In addition to the State of Michigan Civil War materials, other EAD guides are being loaded as they are completed.  Browse the collections to see a full listing of available guides.

Special thanks to the University of Michigan for providing DLPS servers and the XPAT search engine for the project.  I will post more information as the project nears completion in 2008.