Friday, April 22, 2011

Final Posting

This will be the final posting for this journal/blog. It has been a wonderful semester. I learned much about the creation of archives and the day-to-day operation of an art library. I have enjoyed my time at the Hanson Library and will remember this experience fondly.

Through my coursework I had read about archival organization and description, but it is one thing to read about it, and quite another to experience it first hand. When I first arrived and started to go through the boxes, it was fascinating to discover what I would find next. The documents, correspondence, ephemeral items, and exhibition catalogs all told a different story but added up to reveal the complete history of the Birmingham Museum of Art. Prior to this experience I have never lived in Birmingham, or indeed Alabama. But reflection on working with this archive has given me an understanding of this organization and how it fits within the greater community  of the city of Birmingham. From the struggles of the Birmingham Art Association  in the early 20th Century to create an art museum, through the current stresses of updating the museum Web Site in the 21st, this institution would not thrive without the people providing an energy and a life source. People are at the core of libraries, museums and archives, and it is this human factor which has the greatest significance in communicating history and intellectual development.            

Brandi and I did not get the full archive into the finding aid. We processed a total of about 13 boxes. However, Ms. Preston has assured me that this is OK, as she has a continuous body of library student interns each semester. I hope that they continue what we have started, and have as positive an experience as I did.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Week 13

This image shows Brandi as she enters the archived items in the finding aid. As stated in previous blog posts, this is ongoing and will probably take us through the remaining weeks of the semester. Each folder of the archive contains a variety of items. Some folders hold only a single brochure, bookmark or other item. But most contain a variety of material. The photo below illustrates a typical folder, with a reception invitation, exhibition brochure, press release, and exhibition catalog. 

In addition to development of the finding aid, discussion with Ms. Preston this week centered around the research of Edward Tufte. Dr. Tufte is a noted professor from Yale University and has completed research in numerous areas, including that of information design. In this area he is known for the improvement of information graphics such as charts or graphs. His research has focused on  visual literacy, and he has been a noted figure in opposition to programs like Microsoft PowerPoint. More on Dr. Tufte can be read on his Web Site, which is linked here.

The development of the finding aid, and the visual literacy theories of Dr. Tufte combine to form a more concrete example of the abstract terminology frequently found in archival work. These experiences and ideas will be with me, as I move forward in field of Library and Information science.   

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Week 12

There was not much work on the archive completed this week because I attended the 2011 Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi. The image below is the event logo. More about the festival can be read here.

Brandi and I did continue adding to the finding aid. Next week I will include some example photographs of the items in each folder.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Week 11

      Brandi and I have continued to enter items in the finding aid for the museum archive. So far we have entered over 200 files, with each file containing at least one item and most with several brochures, exhibition catalogs, press releases etc. This week we also examined the 3-D objects to be included, and discussed options for including them in the finding aid. A screen shot of the finding aid is shown below.

In addition to this there have again been several visitors from area colleges collecting information on artists and artworks for comparative essays. This week I assisted patrons in the collection of information on George Inness, Albert Bierstadt, George Bellows, and John Singer Sargent among others. 

Work on the revised Web Site also continues and a related theme to this ongoing project is the measurement of success among art museums. I was provided an essay published by Maxwell L. Anderson through the Getty Leadership Institute which suggested a new and more relevant method for the  examination of museum metrics. In this paper Anderson explained that the traditional method for measuring museum success was counted on the basis of exhibitions, attendance, and membership. While these factors are important, the author described how these can be false indicators. He wrote that exhibitions create a media sensation and develop notoriety for art museums, but they often also result in a distraction from the permanent collection and stray from the core mission of the museum. Anderson stated that attendance is flawed because these numbers do not correlate to admission fees, leading museums with large attendance numbers to falsely believe they also have larger incomes. The third factor, of membership, does not provide an accurate picture of museum success because membership prices are often set low in order to attract a greater number of members (Anderson 2004). The author explained that this resulted in a deficit, and financial strain for the institution.

Anderson offered an 11 point metric based on output and outcomes that more effectively measure art museum success. Among the 11 points are quality of experience, standards of governance, and contributions to art conservation (Anderson 2004). For quality of experience Anderson developed a survey that examined the visitor's perceptions through his/her response to the collection, retention of information, and possible future visits. With these responses museum personnel could more effectively gauge the art museum with that of other resources in the community, and provide better results to their patrons (Anderson 2004). For standards of governance the author suggested annually evaluating the museum trustees understanding of the museum's mission, and how this purpose has been advanced over the past year. This would thus illustrate success towards the established goal in creating the museum. For the assessment of contributions to art conservation, Anderson suggested an evaluation of the conservators within the museum based on number of hours worked, number of publications, and number of works cared for. These are just a few of the authors assessment marks, a partial adoption of his methods, or a modification of his ideas could be considered in the development of a broader understanding of art museum successes.

Anderson, M. L. (2004) Metrics of Success in Art Museums. Getty Leadership Institute, J. Paul Getty Trust. 1200 Getty Center Drive Los Angeles, CA 90049.                      

Friday, March 25, 2011

Week 10

Brandi, and I have finished placing the archive material in archive standard files and boxes. We have begun entering items in the finding aid. There are many artifacts, and the entry of these items will most likely take the rest of the semester to finish. Brandi had worked on another finding aid, so her insights in constructing the finding aid for this archive were helpful.

In thinking about the organization and construction of the finding aid for this archive, I viewed an on-line presentation developed by Eloquent Systems Inc. An more detailed explanation of their services can be found here. The company representatives explained their product, and provided examples form the Toronto Archives (one of their current clients). A screen shot from the presentation is pictured below.

The program by Eloquent Systems provides a finding aid, as well as an interactive on-line presence for your archive. With this system, patrons can search and view items within the archive from any computer located worldwide. There are many features for entry, including the development of tags, and authority files for individual items within the archive. The archivist can also choose which information is public, and which is private, and the database can either self generate accession numbers, or they can be entered manually. It was a very impressive program. 

In addition, this week a number of students from area colleges came to the library to conduct research on comparative art papers. When Ms. Preston was assisting a patron, and another would arrive, I would assist the newcomer. They had many questions, and I attempted to answer as many as I could. It is good to get feedback, and one patron e-mailed Ms. Preston, saying I was very helpful.   

Finally, the new Web Site has been launched. There are still a few minor problems to be ironed out, but the new Site is an improvement. A link to the Web Page is here.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Week 9

      Ms. Preston was out for the week, and Brandi was off for spring break. I therefore learned much about the running of a library/archive/information center first hand. It was an active and enriching experience.
      I assisted patrons as they came into the library, I fielded reference questions, and also managed to begin work on the creation of a finding aid for the archive. There were two patrons that came into the library looking for information on Wedgwood Jasperware. I helped them access the library online catalog, and assisted them in locating the material they were looking for. They were very impressed with the collection, and explained that they had no idea this library existed. I was happy to help them, and invited them to return in the future.
      For the finding aid, I began to compose the scope and content. When this archive is finished, it will have approximately 20-25 boxes, and contain a number of items related to the founding, history and development of the Birmingham Museum of Art. Most of the items will be arranged alphabetically. However, a few items ( correspondence for example) will be arranged chronologically. It is my hope that this archive is easy to access, and easy to follow for many years to come.   

Friday, March 11, 2011

Week 8

The additions to the Web Site are proceeding. I attended the meeting that unveiled the new Web Site to the various department heads within the museum. The image below illustrates the current museum home page.

At this time the Web Site is very basic. The new Site will feature more content in the collection, exhibitions, and calendar sections, as well as in other blocks. The new site is cleaner and easier to navigate. All of the department heads were very impressed, and offered very positive feedback. The site is expected to launch on March 21. Ms. Preston, and several others have been working very hard to update this Site, and the improvements that will be made available will benefit everyone.

In addition, work on the institutional archive continues. Another graduate student from the University of Alabama (Brandi), has come onto the project. She completed work on one of the Wedgwood archives, and will now help with the creation of the finding aid, and final preservation of the institutional archive.    

The image on top shows the files as they were sorted form their original boxes. The lower image illustrates how they are being stored alphabetically in archival standard files and boxes. With the help of Brandi, this project will begin to move much faster.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Week 7

The Birmingham Public Library houses some unique archives, including a set of museum archives from the BMA. This week I was sent to the archives to examine what they had, and see how their finding aid was set up. The archives are located in the basement of the original structure of the Birmingham Public Library. The library itself is fascinating, and the map/reading room features a very unique mural painted along the entire upper walls. It might be interesting to explore the history of this building, and the meaning behind the the murals at a more appropriate time. This visit however was focused on the archives.

After checking in with the archives staff, and signing a form promising not to damage or remove items form the archive I was shown the finding aid, and provided a form to request specific folders. The archive of the BMA included a variety of documents, correspondence, and information. Their materials extended from the 1950's through the 1980's and had many items not present in the archive I have been working on. For example; I examined a handbook from the 1950's for air raid safety that specifically addressed what to do in a nuclear attack. This handbook was distributed to all Jefferson County municipal buildings and was likely present in the museum when it was first opened to the public.

After explaining that I am a library science student interested in archives, I inquired as to the possibility of a brief tour of the facility. The staff were extremely excited and were more than willing. I saw the rows of electric movable shelves ( which were explained as being far longer than most movable shelving units), and was shown the area where records were processed and preserved. Among the many items in their archive were the blueprints and plans for almost every structure in the city of Birmingham. The collection of archives at the Birmingham Public Library were impressive.

In addition to the archives visit, I attended a meeting with Ms. Preston about upcoming improvements being implemented for the museum Web Site. New improvements discussed included adding additional content like podcasts, and links to videos from lectures and educational programs. A more user-friendly interface that includes  a "bread crumb" trail as the user navigates the site is also planned. The improved version of the Web Site offered many possibilities.                   

Friday, February 25, 2011

Week 6

The first phase of updating and expanding the institutional archive is almost complete! All but two boxes have been emptied, their contents sorted, identified and briefly described. Above, is one such emptied box.The next phase will consist of creating more accurate descriptions of the objects, and placing them in secure archival standard storage. The descriptions will help expand and develop a new finding aid which will represent a more complete picture of the Birmingham Museum of Art Archive, and provide users with more complete information.

As I examined the box that contained correspondence between museum officials, I found a letter from 1980 written by the first vice chairman of the museum board. In this letter, he outlined the origins of the Birmingham Museum of Art, and explained that there had been several myths on these origins that had been published in local newspapers and museum documents. He added that he found it amazing that the official history could be so quickly forgotten, considering that the museum was initially opened in 1951 ( written in 1980, this was less than 30 years after the founding of the museum). He went on to elaborate on how the Birmingham Museum of Art emerged from the Birmingham Art Club, founded in 1908, and formed with the goal of creating an art museum in Birmingham. The former vice chairman added that when he approached one of the authors of the erroneous history and explained what was stated incorrectly, that author shrugged it off and said it didn't really matter. He concluded by quoting Napoleon in stating that history should not be "a fable agreed upon," and submitted this letter in the hopes of establishing a more accurate account of the past. The images below show the fist and last pages of this letter.


This letter serves as an illustration of the importance of libraries and archives. Without the proper preservation of recorded historical events and people, a full understanding of the present cannot be reached. When the Birmingham Museum of Art Archive has been fully updated, these records will be more freely accessible, and a more successful future could be built on what was previously accomplished.       

Friday, February 18, 2011

week 5

As I worked on the archive this week I learned more about the ongoing efforts to expand shelving in the Hanson Library. I also learned about preservation, and what to do about archival objects that have been damaged.

The image above illustrates the planned shelving expansion. Since the library is non-circulating, the circulation desk would be removed and replaced with tables and seating for patrons. This is represented by the three orange table areas in the above plan. Where tables are currently located could then be used to extend the current shelves for the collection, as depicted by the black bars above. Ms. Preston showed me a document that described the shelving process, and explained that she and other museum staff had considered the option of collapsible shelving. Ultimately it was decided that this option was not practical as the cost was prohibitive, and patron access would be more limited.    

In addition to the ongoing shelving issue, while working on the archive I identified a number of items that were water damaged and moldy. These items were separated form the collection, and prompted a discussion on archival preservation. Freezing moldy items, and what to do with film that has deteriorated due to vinegar syndrome were discussed. The items in question for this archve were exhibition catalogs.  Several copies of these items were kept, so it was decided to dispose of the moldy sets. I am pictured below placing these items in the trash receptical.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Week 4

Last week I had thought I had finished with the clippings, and would be starting on scrapbooks. However as I examined some of the scrapbooks, I quickly discovered they were actually more clippings glued chronologically into books and separated by year. According to the original finding aid (which will have to be expanded and modified in order to accommodate new items I have found) the clippings were stored in this fashion. The dates of these items ranged from the 1960's through the early 1980's. I sorted these items, and now have a record of clippings that begin in the 1960's and go through the early 2000's. These clippings will all be scanned and stored digitally.

Some of the items I examined were scrapbooks, and the range of information in them was fascinating. Examples include scrapbooks devoted to the annual Museum Ball fundraiser, scrapbooks describing the events of the Birmingham Museum of Art Women's Committee, and a set of scrapbooks detailing the world of art from articles and magazines published before the founding of the museum. The images below depict a sample of Women's Committee scrapbooks, and a page from a Museum Ball scrapbook featuring an invitation.


It was interesting to learn of the influence the Women's Committee had on the museum. It was not unlike the role women's organizations played in the development of libraries in the early 20th Century. For example, from the founding of the museum in the 1950's through the early 1970's it was the Women's Committee that developed and organized the lecture series. There are scrapbooks that detail the efforts and successes these women shared, and they provide excellent documentation.

The three sets of scrapbooks describing art and artists before the museum was created were also very interesting. The image below illustrates one example.

Some of the pages in these scrapbooks are loose, and the advertisements found on the back are equally interesting, and provide a snapshot of American culture. These items will be kept, but for the time being they have been separated from the rest of the collection.   

Friday, February 4, 2011

Week 3

      While working on the museum archive this week I learned much about both the museum and the Hanson Library. In 1993, the museum reopened after a two year closer and $20 million expansion. The expansion added two new wings to the museum, a sculpture garden, a theater, and a permanent space for the Clarence B. Hanson Library. The expanded building was designed by architect Edward Larrabee Barnes (more information on this architect can be found here). This expansion ensured that the Birmingham Museum of Art would be the largest art museum in the South East. In addition to the largest collection of Wedgwood outside of the UK, the museum is also home to a renowned collection of Asian, South American/NativeAmerican, and African art.
      More recently, the Hanson Library acquired new collections bringing the total collection of volumes to 30,000. These new collections include the Buten Library and Archives ( a Wedgwood collection that significantly adds to the current collection), the Artemis Library (from the former Artemis Library in London), and the Robert Kaufmann Library ( a 2,000 volume collection of books on art history and Victoriana). These additions greatly enhance what was already a comprehensive research art library.
     I have just about finished the first part of the Museum Archive. The image below illustrates the materials to be included in the archive and how they line the stacks of the library waiting to be scanned.
      In addition to this, several VHS tapes were examined, and those that were to be included in the archive were sent to a company that will convert them to DVD. Archival boxes for the storage of these discs were ordered. I am pictured below with one of these boxes.
 The next items to be sorted for the archive include several museum catalogs, and scrap books. More on that next week.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Week 2

After having worked in the library for about 2 weeks I have learned much. Ms. Preston is the only librarian and has many responsibilities in this position. In fact, she is co-authoring a book describing the operations of running a library solo. The museum and museum collection  have grown over the past two decades, and as a support to this institution, the collection and resources available in the library have also grown. This rapid growth has exceeded the available space within the library, and one of the projects Ms. Preston is working on is developing more shelving space. The image below illustrates this problem.
    The library houses several archives. The archive that I am working on ( museum archive) is partially complete. The image on the bottom shows the portion of the archive that has been done, and the image on the top provides a visual of the portion I am working on.

As stated in the last post I have begun by sorting material. The items I have sorted so far are from previous exhibitions. I have been dividing them alphabetically, by exhibition title. The items pictured below were all stored randomly in vertical files. I have separated these items based on each exhibition, and have labeled them with a post-it.   After I have completely sorted these resources, I will be scanning them and creating a digital record of each item.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Week 1

      This posting describes the first few days of my practicum in the Clarence B. Hanson Library in the Birmingham Museum of Art. A link to the library Web site can be found here. For those readers who do not know me or my background, I am a graduate student in the Library and Information Science program at the University of Southern Mississippi. I have a background in art, and I have worked in libraries. It is my ultimate hope to combine these passions by one day working as an art librarian in a museum or gallery. This practicum will provide me with valuable experiences that could be used as a starting point towards this goal.
     For my practicum I am working with the museum librarian, Tatum Preston, in the development of the museum archive. The archive is somewhat incomplete, as it had not been properly maintained for several years. I began my first week by familiarizing myself with both the museum collection, and the materials to be included in the archive. In addition to this, Ms. Preston secured a state funded grant to assist with the archives project, and the two of us attended a mandatory workshop at the Alabama Department of Archives and History as required for the funds. The workshop described basic archival processes, and offered information that could be used to develop an archive. The workshop also included a brief tour of the Alabama State Archives.
      As a starting point for this project, I examined all the boxes of material that are to be archived. The boxes containing written reviews and newspaper articles seemed to outnumber the other items, so I began by sorting these publications. The majority of these texts describe exhibitions the museum presented, however there are a few other pieces of literature that describe the museum in general. Other items I have yet to sort include exhibition catalogs, artist files, and several scrapbooks. These items are all out of order, and sorting them seems like a logical starting point.