Recently, as I was walking around Towson, me and my dad stumbled upon an unmarked cemetery. I took a few pictures and examined a few headstones. I wasn’t there to examine anything, but just explore. I did the same at a cemetery in Cape Cod and have gone to a bunch of cemeteries in the course of my genealogy research. But this was different. I had a suspicion it was a Black cemetery because one of the stones for a 64-year-old man named John E. Forman read as follows, who I’ll focus on later:
John E. Foreman who died on the 11th August 1909 in the 64th year of his age. He was a Trustee and Class Leader of the Zion African Methodist Church, Govanstown, of which his Father was one of the founders. He was an upright, industrious and…[cut off by grass]
After taking a couple other pictures, I went on my way, later posting them on Instagram. Once I got back home, I did some digging and found the name of the cemetery: Pleasant Rest Cemetery. As it turned out, the cemetery was a historic Black cemetery owned by Mt. Olive Baptist Church as noted in the Baltimore Sun in September 2011. Apart from learning how the Preservation Alliance of Baltimore County has set aside money to help preserve the cemetery (I’m not sure how much), the cemetery is still active with a burial there in September of last year. I also learned that the grandfather of Adelaide Bentley, President of the North East Towson Improvement Association, born in 1928, co-founded “the Mount Olive Baptist Church at the corner of York Road and Bosley Avenue” as the Baltimore Sun reported in February 2019. Not long after, the Mount Calvary African Methodist Episcopal Church was built, with the first stones laid in 1855. The church is specifically located on the corner of York Rd. and Bosley Ave. in Towson, with “a white steeple and a unique & stain glass window facing the road” as MapQuest describes it. I put together this article in hopes of submitting a description of the cemetery to Find A Grave as I suggested on Twitter. I learned a lot more than about the cemetery however.
Getting back to John E. Foreman. Who was this man, anyway? We know that the Zion African Methodist Church in Govanstown could have been a branch of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church, a historically Black Protestant denomination based in New York City, officially officially recognized in 1821 and also known as the Freedom Church. It is not the same as the AME Church as some have pointed out. If correct, this church would be part of the Mid-Atlantic Episcopal District. I did some searching and found a mention of church in Govanstown in the 1874 Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the Years 1773-1881. Other books seemed to mention the church as well. After some searching, I came across a 1898 obituary of a man which appeared to be John E. Forman’s father, named William Waters Foreman, born in Govanstown, Md., October 12, 1821. This man was the son of Isaac Foreman, a local preacher of the Church. He was twice married, first to Miss Ruth Ann Weeks, of Baltimore, Md., November 12, 1843, and second to Mrs. Annie C. Molock, September 29, 1892.
Unfortunately, this obituary doesn’t list his children and I don’t know whether it was the correct person. We know that John E. Forman was born, approximately, in 1845 going by his age listed on his tombstone. Doing some searching, I found a John Forman living in Baltimore City in 1860, although it is not the same person. There is also one John Henry Foreman born in Prince George’s Parish in 1845, but I can’t confirm it is the same person. When I tried to search for ANYTHING on the 1900 census on FamilySearch, specifically to examine an entry for John Forman, I got this message:
This is a disgusting limitation on access. I remember when you used to be able to examine the 1900 census on FamilySearch. That’s no longer allowed unless you have special access. Why? This should be condemned without question. I also can’t access it on Ancestry unless I have a subscription. You can look through the ones added to the NARA catalog, but the entries for the 1900 census for Maryland have not been added yet. In any case, I continued onward.
Frustrated with this, I searched on some library databases and didn’t find much. Only some scattered articles, including one which lists a W.W. Foreman as a person being appointed for Buckeystown, Maryland in 1894.  Recommendations to help me fulfill this story are welcome.
Since that went nowhere, I decided to search for the church and cemetery. When it came to Mt. Olive Baptist Church, I found stories talking about its activities like entertaining the Relief Association of Baltimore County in 1926 and 1927 , how the Colored Baptist Convention was held there in 1911 , and the church hosted a bazaar in 1915.  There were a lot of false drops because of the number of churches also named “Mt. Olive Baptist Church” in other parts of the country. There are likely other stories there, but I’m not in the mood to weed through a bunch of sources right now. But, the door is open for others to expand this story. Undoubtedly, Louis Diggs writes about it in his book, Since the Beginning: African-American Communities in Towson, but more stories can still be told.
Searches for “Pleasant Rest Cemetery” were more successful. There were obituaries  and such, but most interesting was a 1921 article talking about the Timonium-Towson Trolley.  Here’s what it noted:
Shake hands with the only trolley car in Maryland that has a smokestack and coal scuttle, and travels a route that goes down hill both ways! ‘Tis the Timonium-Towson trolley. If you think you can’t shake hands with her get in and take a ride, and you will not only shake hands but head, shoulders and teeth as well, particular in the neighborhood of the Pleasant Rest Cemetery, where departed members of the Mount Olive Baptist Church (colored) lie buried not far
from the track…But she stops anywhere. You can get right at your front door and now and then she goes around and stops at back doors. Of course she only stops at her regular stations, but they are plentiful enough; you wouldn’t want to stop in the middle of the woos or at the Pleasant Rest Cemetery, and those are about the only places where there aren’t any station.
That article was funny, but also revealing. I then came across an obituary in 1932 which revealed hat 73-year-old Alexander Frazier helped found and erect the Mt. Olive Baptist Church, seemingly with a man named James Williams.  What Rev. Avery Penn of the Mount Olive Baptist Church said, being tired of the county conducting negative actions that could affect his congregation, does give a bit of the background of the struggles the church has faced over the years:
In 1985 the county told us that we needed to move the church, move the church that had been there since 1888…To comply with the county, we tore it down, turned it around and moved back in. Guess what they told us. That is was going to be a gateway and it had to be something that would be pretty…We would walk out of the church, carry the body up to the cemetery on green ground. Baltimore County came along and decided that they would cut off the cemetery. They brought Bosley Avenue down across there, cut off what was Kenilworth and cut us off from the cemetery. They took the house — the church’s parsonage — you know where it was? It was right where Bosley Avenue is, right beside the church. The put it on telephone poles and they rolled it around behind the church, and that’s where it is today, that duplex house. Baltimore County did that. They built a fire house over there. They went where we walked up to the cemetery and they built a police station. And they told me I had to tear down the church and build something nice and I did it. Twenty six years later Baltimore County wants to take all my effort with the pretty church and come to the other side of the road and put a gas station.
This really shows the importance of the church to this community and its continuing value to this day. This is likely why White people have targeted the church in the past, not only by burning crosses outside the church but the vandalism of the church with White supremacist symbols in 2016. 
As a 1990s article about the church noted, it stands as a symbol of “the vibrant black community of Sandy Bottom that founded it and disappeared under the wheels of the commercial encroachment that has re-created Towson,” with much of the property which composed Sandy Bottom was “originally bought and settled by the families of freed slaves and eventually sold to white real estate agents and developers.” I personally stand with this church as it defends itself from encroachment by various forces, whether White developers, the County government, or anyone else.
 “DONALDSON, BARBARA A.: [FINAL EDITION].” The Sun, Jun 15, 2006, pp. 1. ProQuest; “JOHNSON, MADELON B.” The Sun, Mar 05, 2008. ProQuest; “BARGER, CHARLES.” The Sun, Sep 02, 2007. ProQuest; “JENKINS, SR., JAMES T.: [FINAL EDITION].” The Sun, Apr 02, 2006, pp. 1. ProQuest; “Mrs. Shurn.” Afro-American (1893-1988), Mar 12, 1966, pp. 18. ProQuest; “MRS. PINDER.” Afro-American (1893-1988), May 26, 1928, pp. 18. ProQuest. This is only a sampling of the obituaries listed for this cemetery on ProQuest.
This post originally had thoughts on my presentation at the iSchool symposium, which has been incorporated into an upcoming e-book.
I’d like to talk about some thoughts on Maryland History Day, for which I judged this past weekend, including as a chief judge in the morning for senior individual websites. They included topics ranging from, as I noted on Twitter, the Apollo Missions to the Atomic Bomb. I also did runoffs for documentaries, with topics including “Cocoanut Grove, Stonewall Riot, Thalidomide tragedy, ACT-UP, the Osage indigenous people (and oil), and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire,” some of which I had not heard of before. As I awaited the winners, I already knew that the group documentaries I had reviewed had won, documentaries like “Last Dance at the Cocoanut Grove” (by Aidan Goldenberg-Hart, Daniel Greigg, Eli Protas, Joey Huang, and Charles Shi) which got first place, and “From Inefficient to Inspiring: How the Stonewall Riots Changed LGBT Activism” (by Pallavi Battina and Amulya Puttaraju) which got second place. However, when it came to individual websites, one of the ones I reviewed got first place! It was titled “Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington: How Their Investment in People Led from Tragedy to Triumph” and it was by Matthew Palatnik. None of the websites my group had nominated for special prizes won. So that was positive.
History Day made it clear to me that even the topics often written about can be talked about in a new way, with a new interpretation, with these students entering the process of historical research, so I wish them the best in the days going forward. In June, I will serve as a judge on the national level of History Day at College Park, which should be fun!
In closing, there is a strain that connects the visualizations I made this semester and Maryland History Day: the importance of history and interpretations of what happened, allowing for new insights and thoughts, enriching how our collective past is understood.
Recently, on Twitter, there was justified consternation with what a library director, named Justin, wrote about librarians on May 3rd. I’m only new to the library and archives profession, although I am planning to work in an archival institution rather than a library, and my hope is that others in the profession could build upon this post with their own experiences and thoughts. I am also posting this because Justin the Librarian locked his Twitter account, raising the question that he does not want his opinion to be challenged! This post is not meant as an attack on Justin himself, but rather a challenge to him (and others who feel the same), that they should change their views on libraries. Additionally, I understand, as Stephanie Crawford put it on Twitter, criticizing this post, “public libraries are often places for people to stay warm, to use the rest room, to job search, to do hw, to print resumes, to check email, etc” and do not intend to paint those who are poor as “an unwanted burden,” but rather are talking about responsibilities librarians should have to their respective communities. The socioeconomic class of patrons of libraries is clearly important, and I have tried to incorporate that into this piece, but it should also be acknowledged that I am mainly talking about the role of the library profession, rather than the patrons, in this post, so that leads some aspects to fall to the wayside.
After saying how public libraries have changed a lot since 2009 and that there will be changes in the future in these “great place[s],”adding that “this is a time to celebrate and also a time to think about the future,” Justin declares that “if you’re working in a public library now and you’re not enjoying it maybe you shouldn’t be working in a public library” which implies that everyone in a public library will enjoy their jobs and that no toxic environments exist, which is clearly incorrect.  He followed this with the most jarring statement of his post:
If you feel grumpy about your day to day work, if planning and hosting events isn’t your thing, and if you’re just not ready to be everything to every community member that comes through your doors, this public library thing just isn’t for you in 2019. And honestly, it’s just going to continue to be less of a thing for you as public libraries move ahead. The public libraries that I see existing today in 2019 will continue to be improved upon and become even more community focused in the next ten years. Libraries are on the right path these days, one that is fully focused on their communities. Do you want to be on that path?
The section when he says that librarians should be “everything to every community member” is what angered librarians on Twitter, rightly so, with Alexis Logsdon calling it “infuriating.” Why should this heavy responsibility be hoisted on librarians? Why do they need to be “everything”?  As such, the idea that public librarians (or any librarians for that matter) should be “everything” to the communities, regardless of their class, race, gender, or creed, they serve should be challenged. I say this, while acknowledging the important role that librarians engage in when serving their communities, especially those who use libraries as a community space to serve their effective information needs, to pull from the titles of one of the courses I took in the fall, which was called “serving information needs.”
The first part of that challenge is to summarize the tweet conversation on this topic. In fact, I thought of creating this piece after reading through the whole thread and responses, beginning with a thread by Julie Jergens. This piece goes beyond “shutting things like this down” and rejecting “this bullshit savior narrative,” to quote her, as I aim to look at various posts he has made, not only one solitary post, to form a cogent argument to counter his points.
Jergens, in her tweet thread, called the statement that librarians should be “everything” to communities is not only “dangerously misinformed” but some “male BS” for a majority-female profession. She went onto say that relationships where one person or an organization is meant to be everything to another is “unbalanced, unhealthy, and unsustainable,” adding that people are asking more and more of librarians, but not what local jurisdictions can do. With that, she points out what should be obvious: “the library cannot and should not be everything,” with librarians working to serve the information needs of users. But this does not mean that librarians are lawyers, doctors, social workers, or “miracle worker[s]”  and that these information professionals should not be told to do more with nothing (or less) or that they are not focused on their community, as they evidently are, on the whole. She added to this by saying that the community she serves “deserves real experts, real services, real care, not just a librarian with access to narcan,” doing what she can to help her community, but is not willing to “sacrifice myself and my staff to be EVERYTHING to EVERYONE,” saying that “does not make me unsuited for public libraries.”
Those that responded to Jurgen had a similar and understandable sentiment, clearly based in reality. Some sarcastically pointed out it was a “great time” with librarians when budgets for social services are being slashed, with job insecurity and low pay, which Justin the Librarian barely talks about, as I’ll note in this piece. Others said that it is wrong to say that librarians who are facing trauma (or stress) from their work are “worthless and not cut out for the job” and that it is dangerous for librarians to think of themselves as everything for their community and patrons without training, as “it’s unethical to pretend we are or can be.” Responses beyond this pointed out that library budgets need to train staff appropriately if they continue to “stay on the front lines of community service,” especially since some people at their library jobs have not received any training, and that there should be efforts to “set boundaries for yourself/your organization.” The latter would use effective “social capital” of libraries to push back. Some added that the idea that librarians should do “everything” is problematic because “working with the public is taxing emotionally and physically,” making it an unrealistic expectation, and that the idea that librarianship is a job “worth killing ourselves for” should be challenged, citing an article by Fobazi Ettarh within In the Library With the Lead Pipe. Additional comments echoed the same sentiments already expressed, noted that this is one of the only professions where an unrealistic “level of involvement is expected and required,” that there should be professional boundaries as “it’s just not healthy or good service to expect library staff to be everything to everyone.” Final comments stated that if librarians are required to “everything to everyone they need to raise your salary” a lot, that people were apparently “misinterpreting” the post, called the thread by Jurgens a “must read” with Jurgens outlining “perfectly what should be done,” and said that the idea that librarians should be “everything for everyone” is a perfect “recipe for burnout” along with being a harmful expectation.
In the case of Justin, his viewpoint as a White male librarian should be no surprise. While you could say he has good intentions in that he wants librarians to connect with the community, out from behind their desks, including his support of efforts to reduce library fines, which are positives that librarians should undoubtedly aim to do in order to cement the importance of their public institutions to the communities they serve, his idea that library materials should be put in public restrooms is a mistake, especially if there are actual materials in those restrooms. I remember when working at the Washington Village branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and there was a key to get into the bathrooms and it was prohibited to bring library materials into the bathrooms themselves. Perhaps he is thinking about pamphlets or something, but this idea, from how I understand it, rubs me the wrong way. The same goes for his “seven things” that he declares libraries should do. He suggests buying/collecting local, making stuff with patrons, building apps, standing up for yourself, exploring new partnerships, collect things the community wants not “what you want,” and be “very nice.” Some may say that this is all hunky dory and that there are no problems with these approaches, especially when it comes to providing new and exciting services for the communities they serve. But, should libraries have their collections solely determined by the community? Shouldn’t they have the ability to choose materials they think are necessary, even if that does not fit with what the community is requesting at the present time? Additionally, the “very nice” aspect (which he brings up in a later post), seems optimistic but also unrealistic. Can libraries afford to be nice to every single person, including those patrons which are problematic or disruptive? Clearly libraries should strive to serve every member of the community they can, regardless of their socio-economic class, race, gender, or other characteristic, but the idea you should be nice to everyone is clearly emotional work/labor for the librarians themselves. At the same time, the goals he suggests could easily cause stress on librarians with increased responsibilities on top of their existing duties. 
Justin doesn’t stop there. He writes about e-books, suggests that librarians should stop saying “no” to patrons (whatever that entails), and wrote a chapter of a book on library marketing while also presenting on personal branding.  This writings remind me of the Achieving Organizational Excellence I took last semester as part of my MLIS program, with skills that would speak to a manager like himself, but was seen as an annoying and unnecessary class by many of my fellow classmates, from what I recall. I still remember at the beginning of the semester when the professor asked who wanted to be a manager and a few people raised their hands.  By the end of the semester, the same question was asked and NO ONE raised their hands, as everyone detested the class and did not want to be a manager, with most of the class materials written for managers, not for those at the bottom of the employee ladder who could be managers in the future. In this way, his perspective differs from most librarians, many of whom are not managers, since that’s not how hierarchies work. Is it any surprise that Justin the Librarian would push aside planning programs “having grand ideas, and just thinking and talking and thinking some more but not acting as quickly as I could”? Simultaneously he would endorse library programming, which seems contradictory. Furthermore, he seems to be on the “innovation” train when it comes to libraries, seems to think he “knows” how librarians should act at work (compared to how they apparently use their time), and focuses on hiring. As a director, it is no surprise he would write about the difference between management and leadership, declare that libraries need to transform, and say that “working in a public library is not about competition. It is about community.” Some of these ideals, like saying that libraries are about communities, is not necessarily bad and should be encouraged. But, grumbling about how librarians spend their time at work and focusing on transforming/innovating a library is a problem, especially since the latter could cause undue disruptions in the library itself, weakening the role that libraries play as community centers.
Many may say that libraries are for “every single person that comes through the doors of their public library,” which fits with existing concepts of social responsibility that librarians often exude, and that librarians do, on the whole, work which “has a positive impact on your community.” However, the former carries with it various problems, like the issues of Nazis in the library or other bigoted individuals, which none of his blogs, from what I could find, ever address. The closest he gets to this is focusing on having a safe working environment which does not have “sexual harassment, stalking, and inappropriate comments.” Does he never think about bigoted individuals in libraries? His blog indicates that he does not think about this in on a general basis, which is troubling. Similarly, you can say that he is right that every public library should do an annual report. However, this could easily be turned back on the library itself, used by those who want to cut public services and privatize them, so there should be care in compiling these reports, that they don’t result in the idea that libraries can “do more with less” which is inherently destructive, as even Justin the librarian admits, when he says that there’s a limit to that thinking. As anyone who has been employed would know, just because people are nice and friendly to you, they can be sadistic and use the statistics, requirements, and metrics against you and your organization. As such, just because someone is nice, this is no guarantee that those on the other side of the relationship (like those in government or business) will not be jerks.
In other posts, Justin the Librarian says that libraries should be made more simple, focus their services on the “hyperlocal” level, and focus on the community more than anything else, even giving suggestions for small rural libraries with strapped budgets. Again, the first two suggestions are problematic in that it could limit the purview of libraries too much, at worst making them not as much of community centers, allowing them to serve patrons from all walks of life, and centers of learning then they should be. In one post, back in October 2017, he declares that “people don’t come in and borrow books on how to do things/fix things/research things anymore.” I wouldn’t say that is completely true, as people come in and borrow books all the time and that will not stop, even with the advent of the library. Of course, libraries should change over time and not be static, but I think “simplifying” libraries could have problematic elements to them, especially with the incorporating business elements: providing library patrons “with amazing customer service.” I still remember in my exit interview with a HR rep of the Pratt Library and I started talking about patrons and they corrected me to say those were “consumers.” To me, it is deeply problematic to adopt these business terms and concepts in libraries and other public institutions, as you could call those who use libraries as either patrons or library users. There should be a clear wall of separation between public and private institutions when it comes to conceptions used to make a profit. I know there has already been some leakage into public institutions, but it should be limited to the best extent possible.
One of Justin’s worst ideas is not his “summer reading treehouse” which seems a bit silly or even library billboards, but rather library currency. How is this exciting, as he claims? That sounds like a terrible idea that need an extensive infrastructure to put in place. He actually wrote about this idea again, recently, saying that he likes “the idea of a library currency that rewards good library behaviors, engages community members in programs, and helps patrons with library fines” and saying this idea of currency “goes a long way in promoting kindness in the community.” He closes by adding that “this idea may work or this idea may not work. The important thing is to always keep dreaming and to keep on trying new things for your community. They are the most important thing in public libraries.” While I appreciate that sentiment, I’m still not onboard on the “library currency” train, as it seems that it would cause strain on libraries themselves and those that work within them. And with that, I would argue that it seems evident that he doesn’t care as much about those who work in librarians as much as he would think.
Overall, you could say that Justin the Librarian has his “heart in the right place.” However, he seriously needs to rethink many of his conceptions of how libraries work and think not only of management but the legions of librarians who do the on-the-ground work, leading to stress, trauma, and strain, to say the least. The idea that librarians should be able to do “everything” for every community member is a clearly ignorant statement. It should be roundly rejected and replaced with the idea that librarians should do what they can, but never try to be “everything” since it would stretch their personal capacities and the institutions themselves, weakening the profession as a whole, even as librarians work to serve patrons from all walks of life.
 He almost guilt-trips people into working in public libraries, saying: “this is a great time to be working in a public library. Sure, there are bumps in the road but overall your community members value the work you do, from the events you plan to the collections you develop and even the little moments where you’re checking out library materials to a community member. Every step of the way in your work at your public library your community values you. Who wouldn’t want to work in a place like this?” This is utterly disgusting, as it seems to act like those who don’t work in public libraries are somehow bad.
 But Justin the Librarian does not stop there. He does say it is fine if you “do not want to be on the path that public libraries are on” and even if you do not like change, there is nothing wrong with you, adding that by asking yourself if you want to work in a public library you can “learn a lot about yourself, grow, and if the need arises move onto something that better suits you.” He ends by saying that if you choose to work in a public library then it benefits the library and the community, adding “be honest and be true to the decision. Be honest and be true to yourself. That’s all you need to be in this life.” You could say these sentiments are, a bit, condescending.
 At minimum, we can say that librarians should not be social workers, grief counselors, or financial advisors, to say the least. Perhaps they will be forced into these roles, due to the current strain on social services within the U.S., but this is not an ideal situation.
 Justin has probably never read Not Always Right (focused on funny and dumb stories about “consumers”/users across society) and its many stories focusing on libraries.
Recently, when going through LinkedIn, I came upon a post by Margot Note, whom wears many hats simultaneously as a records manager, archivist, author, and consultant, about the shifting concepts of preservation in the digital world, which had been written last fall. She argues that information professionals, like archivists, have questioned existing assumptions about preservation, with the creation of new principles to born-digital materials (like tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts) and those materials which are digitized. This change is happening while physical records deemed to have “enduring value” are still acquired, stored, and made accessible. She goes on to state that the ever-changing digital landscape has added complexities to archival practice, altering existing procedures, especially in the realm of preservation, since those methods used to preserve physical paper materials no longer translate to digital resources, requiring new methods. For example, she notes that you can’t reverse preservation treatments for digital records, unlike with paper records, such as migrating digital files to new formats when old ones are not usable anymore. These are transformations that, hopefully, do not constrain the original functionality of records.
She also adds that for digital materials, the content is what important, not the carrier for such content and that unlike physical paper materials, which may not deteriorate rapidly if they are ignored, digital files are stored on media that “deteriorates, and rely on hardware and software that may no longer be available” which means that neglect is not an option. This means that despite differences in preserving digital and paper materials (often called “analog” or “legacy” materials), some practices can apply to both, like appraisal and addressing information as a collection rather than on an individual level, while recognizing that all materials have “the tendency to decay.” She ends by saying that digital and paper preservation considers needs of patrons, with action needed, ultimately, to preserve materials in the immediate future, “ensure the survival of research materials for our users,” and ultimately sustain “cultural heritage for the next generation.”
While this is a good start, there is a lot more to talk about. I could bring in some of her other publications, like a book on family archives , but I’d like to broaden the scope. This article will talk about the challenge of digitization in archives (with connection to Robert Caro’s recent comments) and challenges of digital archives. There will also be a connection to sister institutions of archives, libraries, which are distinct in and of themselves , as I have noted on this blog in the past, even as you get a MLIS/MLS (Master of Library and Information Science or the rapidly dwindling Master of Library Science) to study…archives. As the SAA notes on their “So You Want to Be an Archivist” page, the “number and content of archival education offerings, especially multi-course programs, has continued to expand in recent years, and a few institutions now offer master’s degrees in archival studies.” I’ve recently wondered why degrees like archival science (or perhaps archival studies) are not more widely offered, but perhaps that is a discussion which can branch out from this post.
Robert Caro’s faulty argument and archival digitization
In order to begin this discussion, I am reminded of some dialogue in the 1971 science fiction movie, The Andromeda Strain. One character, Mr. Mark Hall (played by James Olson) asks “where is the library?” to which his colleague, Dr. Charles Dutton (played by David Wayne) responds: “No need for books. Everything’s in the computer.” And the movie goes on, as there is no more discussion. Later on, the computer does have an error and overload when too much information is inputted by the scientists, the “heroes” of this film in this top-secret facility in the Nevada desert called “Wildfire.” The fact that everything is stored on the computer is not mentioned in any reviews of the movie I have found, and as such, perhaps people should revisit this movie for just this reason, as it is still relatively enjoyable. We have gotten to the point that everything is “in the computer” like in this film, not only with libraries and other public institutions, but more and more with archival institutions in recent days.
That brings us to the recent debate of what Robert Caro, a presidential scholar of the Johnson Administration said about digitization, whom was criticized by fellow archivists on the Twittersphere (and likely elsewhere), of archival records. He tried to describe how people are differently interacting with the records now than they had in the past, in the “pre-internet” days, those before the internet was publicly available, the days in which it was available only to universities and the government which Joe McMillian tried to exploit in a few episodes (starting with the Yerba Buena episode) of the third season of the short-lived series, Halt and Catch Fire, but not having much success as the show is all about failure.
Caro’s words come from a recent interview by Eleanor Hildebrandt of Popular Mechanics because of the publication of his new book, Working, about his research process, apparently a #1 best-seller on Amazon. He told the interviewer that he still does much of his writing on a typewriter although he has a laptop on his desk (apparently a Lenovo ThinkPad). This is because he was told by those at the Johnson Presidential Library that his “typewriter was so noisy, it was disturbing the other researchers” which is telling. He also tells the interviewer that he took notes on his computer but still uses his typewriter and writes in longhand (who does that anymore?). While some would argue that this is fine, what he stated next is what was criticized by archivists on Twitter:
It [writing on a typewriter] makes me think more. Today everybody believes fast is good. Sometimes slow is good. Almost two years ago, Ina [Caro’s wife] and I went down [to the archives], and I’m sitting there, in the reading room, writing my notes. Everybody else is standing there taking photographs of their documents. They do it with cell phones now. If you saw me there, you’d see one person who’s not in the modern age.
Now, while each researcher can choose their own way to use documents, it seems like he is glaring down on those whom use their phones, or other electronic devices, to take pictures of documents. How can you even argue that those individuals are not taking their own notes or that they can think the same amount when using digital devices? As Jan Murphy, a family historian whom is a big fan of encouraging people to take notes, added on Twitter, it wouldn’t be right to “insist on all handwritten notes all the time,” the latter of which is “just nuts.” Adding to this is the fact that digital photos can be transcribed at home, even comparing information from different archives. Additionally, sometimes people like Caro, whom could be considered to be part of the traditionalist/silent generation since he was born in 1935, may not even be able to read their own handwriting! This is the case with other people, especially those whom have dysgraphia, with the extent this learning disability affects the general population not currently known. With this, we should also consider that not everyone has the leisure/ability to transcribe material needed from an archive in longhand. Some, as Murphy noted in another tweet, would rather “spend the time in the archive, having taken my photo, making notes about the record’s condition & taking notes for my source citation etc.” The question is simple, as Murphy, who sometimes wishes she had a small manual typewriter when electricity is off, asks, posing a question which Caro never really answers: “But what’s wrong with taking digital photos of records in archives?” I could concur with that. I don’t see anything wrong with it. In fact, I would argue that institutions like the Maryland State Archives are examples of institutions which allow electronic devices such as phones to take photos of documents.
After this, he goes into the use of paper records:
I feel there’s something very important, to be able to turn the pages yourself. I don’t want anything standing in between me and the paper. People compliment me on finding out how [Johnson] rose to power so fast in Congress by using money. That happened down there, and it was a vague, amorphous thing. I was sitting there with all these boxes, taking all these notes. And you saw letters, his very subservient letters—“Can I have five minutes of your time?”—and then you see the same letters coming back to him. And I said, Something happened here. What’s the explanation? Why is a committee chairman writing to Lyndon Johnson, asking for a few minutes of his time? So I sat there and put my notes into chronological order. And then it became absolutely clear. Would the same thing have happened if I’d stood there taking photographs and went back? Possibly. But I don’t believe it. To me, being in the papers is really important.
While I understand what he is saying here, more and more records are online than ever before, meaning that the records of the Obama Administration and future presidencies will undoubtedly be different from those of the Johnson Administration. Caro is almost stuck back in time, part of the old guard of presidential scholars whom inhabited presidential libraries (which can more accurately be called presidential archives). I won’t touch on the plans for the Obama Library only because I have written on that topic for one of my classes at UMD and it may be published in an academic journal in the future (fingers crossed), so I don’t want to tread on the same topics in this post. I would add that using paper records is not the only way to interact with records, as users can easily interact with them online using new and exciting methods.
From here, Caro becomes a bit ridiculous:
Well, there’s no reason why that [a deep dive through thousands of digital pages of emails] has to be a different kind of research. Someone else could come along who was nuts like me and say, I’m going to look at every email. What’s more worrisome to me is that, when you talk about digitization, somebody has to decide what’s digitized. I don’t want anyone deciding what I can see. It’s very hard to destroy a complete paper trail of something. Lyndon Johnson was very secretive, and he wanted a lot of stuff destroyed. But the fact is, they were cross-referencing these pages into ten or twenty or thirty different files. There’s always something. But the whole idea of emails—I don’t use emails, I may be wrong—I’m not sure there’s a trail like that. It’s too easy to delete.
While he makes a good point that there can be the same kind of research, that doesn’t mean he is right overall. It is laughable for him to claim that “when you talk about digitization, somebody has to decide what’s digitized” and to then declare “I don’t want anyone deciding what I can see.” Clearly, he does not, understand the fundamental archival principle of appraisal, which has been debated from the time of those like British archivist Hilary Jenkinson in 1922 and U.S. archivist T.R. Schellenberg in 1956, the selection and description within archives. The records he is looking at, while researching at the Johnson Library, are chosen by professional archivists, specifically those from NARA, so people are deciding what he can see. As such, deciding what records are digitized is also a responsibility of archivists, which will be explained later in this post.
He further claims that it is “very hard to destroy a complete paper trail of something.” I’m not actually completely sure about that. Taking from NARA’s official history of presidential libraries, they write that before these libraries came about, with impetus from FDR in 1939 when he donated his personal papers to the federal government, presidential papers were often dispersed by former presidents and their heirs after their time in office. They further note that while many collections of records exist of presidents before Hoover at the Library of Congress, others are divided between historical societies, libraries, and private collectors. Even worse, as they acknowledge, “many materials have been lost or deliberately destroyed.” So, a “complete paper trail,” as he described it, CAN be destroyed.
Considering that “Lyndon Johnson was very secretive, and he wanted a lot of stuff destroyed” as he notes, this contradicts his point that it is “very hard to destroy a complete paper trail of something.” I mention this because it would mean that if Johnson wanted, he could have worked to destroy a complete paper trail, especially since it was after Watergate that presidential records were considered property of the federal government rather than “private property” of the former Presidents, a view also widely held in the archival profession at the time. Furthermore, when he talks about cross-referencing of the pages, he seems to not understand how emails work. This is no surprise from someone who doesn’t “use emails,” as he admits! He claims that he is not “sure there’s a trail like that” and that “it’s too easy to delete” emails. While it is true is easy to “delete” them, think about “deleted” files on a computer. They are not really deleted but rather the directory to them is eliminated. The same is also true of any file, whether a PDF, a photograph, or something else you upload online: the file is never truly deleted, but only the directory to it is deleted. Just like when you throw something away in a garbage can, it is not simply eliminated, but it is sent somewhere else, like a horrid waste-to-energy plant or an overflowing landfill. There was actually a whole Futurama episode about an overly wasteful society back in May 1999, titled “A Big Piece of Garbage.”
As Curl Hopkins wrote in The Daily Dot six years ago, when a user “deletes” an email normally it becomes “invisible to that user and is immediately a candidate to be overwritten” but until then it exists and it may even “persist longer on company servers.” He further notes that even if a computer is “taken off your computer, it may still be available on the host’s server,” adding that you must “presume that any email you compose will be available remain accessible forever,” although secure email services are available. There may still be “elements that indicate the prior presence of the email” and logins that are often retained, to say the least. Even one article recommending how to delete emails forever warns that “some online email services maintain an offline backup of email accounts,” adding that “your permanently deleted email may still reside in these inaccessible backups…There is no way to force immediate deletion of emails in these backups.” Also, there are specific data retention rules on the federal level and likely within various organizations, which require retention of such emails. I am also reminded here of “Testimony” (S4, ep9) of Veep. I mention this because, at one point during the episode, Mike McLintock (played by Matt Walsh), the incompetent press secretary, is brought before a congressional committee. He thinks he deleted the voice memos of then-president, Selina Meyer (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus). In fact, as the committee reminds him, these memos exist in the cloud and they plan to listen to them for any further evidence in their investigation! 
With that, it leads to the next part of this post, which goes to a question that the public, taken in by stereotypes about archivists, often asks of archivists and archival institutions.
In May 2017, Samantha Thompson, an archivist at the Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives, wrote a post which aimed to answer the question of why archivists don’t digitize everything since it is a common question. As such, it is clearly important to remind people who not everything is digitized and that, in fact, “only a tiny fraction of the world’s primary resources are available digitally,” coupled with the fact that archivists and librarians themselves are “behind the abundance of primary sources already available on the internet” while organizations like the Internet Archive, or Ancestry.com have raised “public expectations about access to historical resources.”  She goes onto argue that digitization, the “production of an electronic image of these record,” saves information from a paper record, but it does not produce “a clone of the record” but rather results in an “approximation…of a dimension of the record,” often called a surrogate. She further notes that while archivists commonly digitize records in order to increase access (which some cataloguers do as well), they also argue (rightly) that mass digitization is costly in time and money, which sometimes people are skeptical of, not realizing that “large-scale digitization in an institutional setting is not your average home scanning operation.” There a few reasons for this, including archives holding vast amounts of material, with digitizing of even small archival collections as a big-time commitment since many groups of archival records are not easy to scan in quickly.
For instance, while you could use an automatic feeder to quickly scan a stack of pages, the benefits of such speed must be “weighed against the risk of a one-of-a-kind document being mangled by a paper jam” which is always a concern! This means you must engage in manually scanning which includes tasks such as removing staples (and paper clips), positioning the item, processing the images, and entering the appropriate metadata, all of which is a lot of work. As such, “scanning a single archival box of records can take days” as she puts it. This is even more the case if records within the file are various shapes and sizes, or if they are large enough that they must be scanned in sections and “digitally stitched together.” While sometimes taking a photograph is the best option, you need a “high-quality photographic set-up including lighting, document holders, and a camera with an appropriate lens” which obviously is expensive enough that not all institutions can afford such a set-up. This means that scanning produces not an exact copy of the record “but only an impression of certain aspects of it” and it may be hard to convey annotations (like sticky notes) on the paper record itself in a digital form, or physical characteristics of the paper records. This brings us to one of the most important parts: linking the digitized record to crucial information, which is often called metadata, some of which is technical and other parts that describe the record itself. The latter is information like a date or time the record was created. But some elements are more complex like determining the “story of the person or organization that created it.” As she puts it rightly, an individual record “within an archival collection does not tell us its whole story.” This means that without vital descriptive work of paper records in the first place, those electronic records which are produced through digitization would be an unusable and undifferentiated mass.
She goes onto note that since digitization involves investment of resources and time, archivists need to be clear that the electronic files produced adequately represent the originals, meaning there need to be quality control checks in place. This involves factors such as scanning resolutions, typing accuracy and photographic skill, since archivists are responsible for ensuring that “people are getting a reliable and authentic view of records.” There is another conundrum with digitization itself: archivists are required to not only retain the paper originals but the digital files as well. These are files that are subject to disorder and decay just like paper records, with a tiny shift causing a set of errors, with even unused data subject to random degradation and loss, often called “bit rot.” Coupled with this is the question of future readability of the data, since digitization of files is not worthwhile if no one can open the files as software and the accompanying “hardware inevitably becomes obsolete.” Luckily for all of us, especially those in the archival field, archivists are at the forefront of pushing boundaries of digital longevity as technologies and file format standards are improving. However,as she notes, the “average lifespan of a hard or flash drive is still a fraction of that of a piece of paper stored in optimal conditions” with digital data needing to be stored in specific temperature conditions as well. All of this means that when anything is digitized, archivists commit to maintaining the digital file and the original on which that file is based.
This connects to the resources required for digitization and post-digitization duties. For one, cameras and scanners which are high-resolution which can accurately capture the data are relatively expensive, with the same being the case for software to process images and attain digital storage which is secure. In order for digitization to “make a dent” in an average archival collection, a scanner, or several scanners, need to be constantly working, with some large archivists maintaining specific digitization units while smaller institutions fit it in when and where they can among their other duties. As a result, digitization of specific records is often part of projects which are funded by partnerships or grants, as she notes. In terms of the post-digitization duties, it is needed to make sure that the records are responsibly shared on the web, after checking with donor(s) to make sure the records can be freely shared in the first place with some not wanting this to happen for various reasons or due to copyright restrictions. Such sharing is important as it allows archivists to make the full meaning of records available to those accessing them online.
As such, digitization itself, as she argues, is a process that is approached by archivists methodically. This requires, of course, assessing archival collections beforehand in order to determine whether the records are worth being shared and digitized. Such a process takes time, even if an “inexpensive pool” of labor can be mobilized, along with a big investment of resources and time. As a result, as she puts it, we may never, in fact, have everything digitized, with trials and triumphs of digitization being a “constantly unfolding process” while new models are coming about. With that, access is still important, as is digitization, with archivists continuing to “grapple with this immensely powerful way to broadcast the knowledge we steward.” Her article ends by stating that everyone can help support digitization through sharing information that goes with a photograph from an institutional collection, and to, most important of all: “be curious about what archivists, information professionals, and cultural workers do.” The latter requires, of course, asking questions and spreading answers, since the more people who understand the value of archivists, the more support they will get, and the more support archivists can provide to the public at-large.
It is worth recalling here a paper I wrote last semester (which will likely never be published anywhere academically) where I asked different archival institutions about their approach to digitization, using different forms of interaction, like Twitter, email, web-form submissions, and web-chat (AskUsNow!), the latter which is relatively horrible/annoying from my experience, although others may have had different experiences.  One of the best responses I got was from Corey Lewis of the Maryland State Archives (MSA) whom told me that I could personally contact him if I was interested in their digitization efforts. It was a response of high quality I wouldn’t have gotten if I had just looked on their website. To this day, they still don’t have their digitization strategy on their website from what I can tell (perhaps its hidden somewhere). I also got responses back from the Council of State Archives (CoSA) on digitization and even from the Oregon State Archives, the latter of which I hadn’t even tweeted to, which was impressive. In a similar manner to the person from the MSA, I got a message from Joanne Archer, the head of Access and Outreach Services at Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland Libraries, which said I could send her any further questions. Interestingly, when it comes to digitization they do not “directly solicit campus input.”
With that, we can move into the final part of this post which focuses on challenges of digital archives and the digital world.
Challenges of digital archives and the current digital landscape
In the “Mars University” episode of Futurama, which first aired on October 3rd, 1999, the Planet Express crew go to Mars, which has, in the universe of this wondrous animated sitcom, been terraformed and has a typical college campus called Mars University. Before the episode becomes an homage/parody to Animal House, there is a scene where Professor Farnsworth tells Leela, Fry, and Bender about the Wong Library, adding that it has “the largest collection of literature in the Western universe.” After that, Fry looks in and sees these two disks:
That’s obviously the joke, and is more than a “bookish moment.” It’s basically saying that all the knowledge can be stored on two disks. It’s still kinda funny, although the joke is dated, as these are supposed to be something like CDs (which first came about in 1982). In a future post I’ll definitely bring in the Futurama episode (“Lethal Inspection”) that fellow archivist Samantha Cross of POP Archivesreviewed, when I get to that season, as I’m currently only on Season 2 of the show as I plan to re-watch all the show’s episodes, over time.
This brings us to digital archives, specifically, which goes beyond the digitization of paper files. This applies to files which are born-digital. It requires, of course, a digital preservation policy as Margot Note, who was cited at the beginning of this article, writes about, which would need to be integrated into the program of an archives itself. It would also necessitate collaboration with other institutions and individuals in preserving digital records, and making sure that digital preservation is specifically tailored to your institution. Beyond this, there are two elements that apply to digital archives: choosing what will be preserved and file formats that are sustainable.
For the first element, I turn to an article, again, by Margot Note. She writes that selection and appraisal of digital records is similar to physical records,but that long-term preservation of digital records relies on “understanding of how file formats work.” It also requires, as she notes, access to the appropriate hardware and software, with the appropriate skills, with the unavailability of these factors in an archival institution meaning that preservation of the digital files will not be successful. As such, technical appraisal of the digital files, themselves, considers whether they can be read, then subsequently documented, processed and finally preserved. Helping choose what digital archives preserve depends on whether the content itself is relevant to the mission of the archival institution, the historical value of the records, specifically if they have enduring value or are significant socially or culturally. For the digital records themselves, archivists also need to consider the integrity of the files, if they are usable or reliable. This means answering whether the materials themselves are in “preservation-friendly file formats” and if there are limits on the records, in terms of privacy or intellectual property, which makes them “inaccessible for research.” Another important factor, as she describes is funding since the preservation and management of such digital records is by no means cheap. Finally, she notes that one must consider whether the digital records are unique or whether they are fully documented. She adds that keeping everything, when it comes to digital files, is not wise, since there are limited resources and mechanisms to search (and access) collections of a large-scale are often not adequate, and that selection curates collections which will ultimately have “high research value.” She ends with her point that no matter how complicated the systems for managing digital records become, people need to be involved in choosing what is preserved as digital archival records. Even with the possible automation of some decisions in days to come, archivists would need to balance benefits of saving certain digital records over other digital records, at a time that archivists continue to rise to the challenge of selecting and maintenance of “digital artifacts in a changing technological landscape” as she puts it.
In a related article, she writes about archivists choosing the right and sustainable file formats. This relates to digital archives because the sustainability of digital records in and of themselves depends on file formats that will last for long times, with the Library of Congress putting in place “some criteria for predicting sustainable file formats in digital archives” as she puts it. It further requires considering whether a format is widely used, the files can be identified, specifications of file formats are publicly available and documented, the files can function on a variety of services (be interoperable), and they have an open format since issues with licensing, patents, digital rights, and property rights complicate preservation efforts. She points to efforts by the Digital Preservation Coalition to analyze file formats which are commonly used. She also writes that over time some file formats have become preferred over others, like TIFF files used as master images for preservation during digitization and PDF/A as a standard file format. Even so, some standards for file formats are still in flux, with no consensus among archivists, as she puts it, as to what “file format or codecs should be used for preservation purposes for digital video”! At the closing of her article, she argues that regardless of the preservation actions you take, having file formats that are sustainable is crucial, since having file formats which are lasting influences the “feasibility of protecting content” in the face of a changing environment in the technological world where repositories and users co-exist at the present.
Speaking of all of this, I am reminded of an ongoing study by S.C. Healy, a PhD candidate in digital humanities at a university based in Ireland (Maynooth University), trying to find how “wider research and cultural heritage communities’ can progress from creating web archives to establishing paradigms to use web archives for study and research.” I plan to sign up for this study as I’ve talked about web archiving in several classes. This is relevant since, as Genealogy Jude, as she calls herself on Twitter, noted, “the Internet…has shifted the demographic profile of genealogists.” This matters to archives and archivists because many of those genealogists are some of the most common users of libraries.  In fact, one of the articles I found during my research for my paper on the Obama Library, a scholar in the 1990s (I don’t remember the exact date), National History Day, where I am being a judge again this year on the state and national levels, and connecting with genealogists as a way to bring in more users to archival institutions.
Perhaps we can even bring in one of the SAA words of the week, specifically level of description. Simply it is defined as the “level of arrangement of the unit being described” and the “completeness or exhaustiveness of the description.” It connects to recent discussions like one at Hornbake Library recently which focuses on impact of digital repositories, which is in the same realm as digital archives. Perhaps discussions like this will make it easier to define what archivists do and what archives are, as some have tried to do through teaching.
I also think about, apart from creation of some digital archives portals, of what Lilly Carrel, archivist at the Menil Archives in Houston said about digital preservation: “I think digital preservation offers creative ways to enhance the post-custodial approach and ensure important records are preserved” whom was recently interviewed by Vince Lee of the SAA’s Committee of Public Awareness, also known as COPA. That is even more the case when there are digital archives, whether completely digital or part of traditional archival institutions like those at universities or serving specific states. There is also a job at the Library of Congress about web archiving, with applications that close on May 1.
With all of this, there is, not surprisingly, a debate among scholars, especially in the field of archives and libraries, over a possible difference between a digital library and a digital archives. Some within the field say there is a difference, while others dismiss that, arguing that there is not. Currently, I don’t want to go down that road, or talk about some continuing tension between historians and archivists, despite past efforts by the SAA to make connections with the AHA, the American Historians Association. I also could talk more about the challenges when it comes to archiving born-digital material, but perhaps I will revisit that in a future post on here.
I’ll end with what one archivist, blogging on the New Archivist WordPress over five years ago, put it, “please keep up the discussions, and contribute in ways that you think have value,” adding that the “seeming lack of support in public” doesn’t mean that archivists are not doing anything.  That is what I am trying to do with post and this blog, as a whole, changing from a focus on historical explorations about the Maryland Extra Regiment, the Maryland Loyalist Regiment, reprinting past posts and biographies I wrote when I worked at the MSA on the First Maryland Regiment, which is often called the Maryland 400, and other topics, as readers of this blog from the beginning will know. This all connects to my newfangled newsletter on SubStack, which I recommend readers of this blog subscribe to, which I hope expands in the days to come.
Until next time! I look forward to all of your comments.
 She also stated, in a tweet following, that it is good that genealogy has found new people with “energy and new ideas, otherwise it would be a dying hobby” which I will agree with, as a millennial genealogist myself, beyond what someone like fellow genealogist Amy Johnson Crow will describe. Others whom responded to her said that its a time-consuming hobby, while others said that retired people still have some advantages over young people, and her responding to a concern that the internet has isolated people (not an invalid concern), that “the Internet has enabled people to contact relatives and share research much more easily than before” which also is a valid point! This also includes, as Carolynn, another genealogist, argued: “challenging racist, misogynistic and xenophobic genealogists” even if that can be hard. At the same time, I see those, in the wake of the racist ancestry.com ad (for Ancestry Canada) to grumble about how much they “hate” them, for justified reasons, although I don’t necessarily feel the same as a person whom runs two genealogy blogs and is a family historian for both my mom and dad’s side of the family. I seem to sympathize more with those whom say that there are reasons “why you can’t rely on search engines like @Ancestry” with misspellings and mistaken listings.
 They also said that the lack of supportive views on Twitter or lists “does not mean that the vast majority of people are not appalled by the few rude ones” but rather that the latter are shown indifference by the many.
Just thought I’d share the most recent news, that I’m working with the DCIC (Digital Curation and Innovation Center) at UMD to “conduct research using computational tools and archival data to illuminate the history of enslaved people in Maryland,” with two other MLIS students (Chrissy Perry and Ben Shaw), and one sophomore in the iSchool (Ali Bhatti). I’ll also be working, with these wonderful people, Ryan Cox of the Maryland State Archives, faculty sponsor Katrina Fenlon, project manager Noah Dibert, and programmer Greg Jansen “to tell the stories of people represented in the data using mapping and digital storytelling tools; to identify connections between the data and related projects on the history of enslavement; and to develop and explore visualizations to support discovery, use, and interpretation of the Archives.” Read more about it on the DCIC’s website. Also see photographs of me, and other fellow students, at the student showcase last semester in that horrid ugly sweater, lol, with most of the charts on the poster made by yours truly:
"Burkely Hermann…said housing in the area shouldn’t exceed $1,500 a month. “Places like Alloy should stop treating students as literal cash cows, they are clearly not full of money, but are heavily in debt.”" Thanks @samantha_subin for such an interesting article. https://t.co/2xCNjgLvZD
As you may or may not know, I was recently quoted in the student newspaper of University of Maryland, The Diamondback, as shown above. I recommend you read Samantha Subin’s interesting article as it shows I am not the only one with concerns about the lack of affordable housing in the College Park area while luxury housing that no one can afford is built instead! Some on Twitter have scowled at the article, calling it “extremely misleading” or acting like they are unpaid boosters for The Varsity/University View, claiming there is magical “affordable housing,” it’s just that you “have to look.”
As it usually goes in journalism, Ms. Subin only took one of my quotes from what I had sent her through Twitter DMs, but it was still powerful:
Burkely Hermann, a 25-year-old College Park resident, said housing in the area shouldn’t exceed $1,500 a month.“Places like Alloy should stop treating students as literal cash cows,” Hermann said. “They are clearly not full of money, but are heavily in debt.”
As you probably know from reading this blog, I said a LOT MORE than this. As such, this article reprints what I sent her, while protecting my own privacy.
The conversation with Ms. Subin was prefaced by her tweet on February 7th asking “A new apartment complex is opening in College Park this spring. If you live in the area or attend UMD, The Diamondback wants to hear your thoughts! DM me” to which I replied “You mean the really expensive one near U Club? Or is there another one?”
From there, the DM’ing was on. She first asked about my thoughts on the Alloy by Alta apartment complex in Berwyn, to which I responded
Sure. I have thoughts about it. My thoughts are that it is too expensive for the students that go to UMD and that there should be more affordable housing. I also think the OCH database should prohibit rental prices above $1500 a month, at minimum, if not lower (maybe as low as $1000). Places like the Alloy should stop treating students as literal cash cows as they are clearly not full of money but are heavily in debt as shown by the ever-expanding student loan debt. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask them.
So, the part of Subin’s article when she took the quote about tweeting students as “literal cash cows” is from the beginning of the conversation, but I didn’t exactly say that “housing in the area shouldn’t exceed $1,500 a month” but rather that $1500 should be the utmost limit for entries on the OCH (Off-Campus Housing) Database, with the lowest limit being $1000. I say that because I remember seeing some apartments on there which were over $2,000 a month. Current searching on the OCH database you find 10 entries charging over $4,000 a month, 24 entries charging $3,000-$3,999 a month, 35 entries charging $2,000-$2,999 a month, and 34 entries charging $1500-1999 a month, if charged per unit.
Subin followed up by asking for one if there were any benefits of Alloy by Alta for the graduate community, clarifying if I was a College Park resident. I responded by telling her that while in theory it “will provide residency for college park residents, in reality it will be too expensive for people to afford” and clarifying I am a resident, while also adding that:
…while casually observing the construction of this apartment for months as walking by it, there is no doubt in my mind that the Spanish-speaking workers building it would not be able to afford living there. As such Alloy by Alta is not only an insult to UMD students but also an insult to the working class that worked on building the structure (and grounds around it) as well.
I would have been nice to have at least part of this in the article, but perhaps it was too far along at that point. I also told Ms. Subin, after she asked how long I lived in the College Park area, that I had lived there since August 2018, since “last fall was first semester as a grad student” and…that was the last I heard from her.
I thought it would just be best to put all this out there, as I don’t mind speaking out on issues like this. While this post is not the same as other posts on here, I think it deserves a space as well.
In late October, I asked the Preservation Directorate of the Library of Congress (LOC), about what they decide to digitize and if they have a process similar to NARA (National Archives and Records Administration, called National Archives in the rest of this article), with their own digitization priorities including working with external partners. After thanking me for my interest in the LOC’s preservation work, Jon Sweitzer-Lamme of the Preservation Directorate responded by saying:
The Library’s digital strategy is available here: https://www.loc.gov/digital-strategy. Our prioritization is driven by demand, such as demand for our presidential papers collections like the newly released Theodore Roosevelt Papers (https://www.loc.gov/item/prn-18-132/), and preservation needs, especially if an item can’t be served to researchers anymore due to its condition. We have excellent in-house digitization capabilities and also utilize external contractors and partners to digitize our content.
Generally, that does answer my question, but unfortunately the answer from LOC did not come soon enough for a class assignment I had where I asked reference questions in the same vein of different institutions (AskUsNow!, Maryland State Archives, and UMD Archives). I’ll post that on Academia.edu likely later this month.
Most exciting of all is not the digital strategy, but LOC’s new “crowd” program, which is a bit like the citizen archivist initiative of the National Archives which I have participated a bit with in the past. While there are only five campaigns to transcribe, review, or tag information currently, but it is only in its beta stage, so this will likely be expanded in the future, without a doubt. This could become something of linked open data at its finest, not only connecting people with content, but bringing them further into the process to make the usage of records more collaborative for all, going beyond past efforts. In the coming days, I will test out the site and let the rest of you know on this blog what it is like. They even tied in the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address to this program.
With that, this new program fulfills the digital strategy of LOC (without a doubt different than the one in 2000), which states that their mission is to “engage, inspire, and inform the Congress and the American people with a universal and enduring source of knowledge and creativity,” with initiatives such as this one trying to ensure that “all Americans are connected to the Library of Congress.” This is also connected to their strategic plan which has four major goals: expanding access, enhancing services, optimizing resources, and measuring results. As for the digital strategy it also notes the role of digital technology in fulfilling the mission of this institution, while also “throwing open the treasure chest, connecting, and investing in our future.” This strategy is also forward-thinking, stating that:
The Library’s content, programs, and expertise are national treasures…We will make that content available and accessible to more people, work carefully to respect the expectations of the Congress and the rights of creators, and support the use of our content in software-enabled research, art, exploration, and learning The Library will continue to build a universal and enduring source of knowledge and creativity…We will expedite the availability of newly acquired or created content to the web and on-site access systems…We will explore creative solutions to reduce the barriers to material while respecting the rights of creators, the desires of our donors, and our other legal and ethical responsibilities…We will continue to enable computational use of our content and metadata…The Library offers an incredible wealth of content, programs, and services to Congress and the American people. We strive to connect with more users by making those services and content accessible for all…Many of the Library’s digital users come directly to our websites to discover content. To expose even more people to the Library’s content and services, we will bring digital content to users by making more of our material available in other websites and apps that they are already using…We will continue to participate in professional organizations and cooperatives that expand our perspectives and enable us to share our experiences. Additionally, developing partners in industry can allow us to connect the Library with new areas of expertise and resources…We will cultivate an innovation culture by empowering our staff, who have expertise in a wide range of subject areas, including the work of Congress, United States copyright law, American and foreign law, and our collections…Our plans for the future must entail preserving and protecting our collections and content…While we plan for our future, we are also paying close attention to innovations and trends that will present future challenges and opportunities. Newer tools, such as augmented and virtual reality, computer vision, natural language processing, and machine learning, are already transforming how we live and work.
There aren’t many other articles on this subject , from a quick online search, but all of the ones I found are relatively positive, although some are more critical than others. Roll Call, in their article on the subject, described how the digital strategy is “digital forward,” advocated strongly by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden (who heads LOC, and formerly the Pratt Library in Baltimore), and Kate Zwaard, the Director of Digital Strategy. Most interesting in this article was not that Accenture, a huge contractor, won a contract “to build the long-planned new data center” for LOC, or that the plan includes “employing user-centered design to invite digital and physical visitors to explore more offerings” but that the organization has been stuck in the past, trying to shed this past, because it has “a computing system built in the 1970s to static processes for staff.” Having a 21st century computing system is important for LOC, which holds over 167 million items in its collections which sit on “approximately 838 miles of bookshelves,” making it the “largest library in the world.”
FedScoop also wrote about the digital strategy, noting that the “The Library of Congress…is interested in exploring what artificial intelligence and similar technologies can do for its mission,” saying this focus on digital aspects is not “out of the blue” as LOC launched labs.loc.gov, “a home for digital experiments…last year…[and] it…recently began experimenting with geographic information systems mapping as a way to explore collections online.” Both are positive aspects, to say the least.
Finally, there is Cory Doctrow of Boing Boing, which often has short articles with little content other than the document(s) they are quoting from. Regardless, Doctrow describes how the digital strategy supports “data-driven research with giant bulk-downloadable corpuses of materials and metadata…crowdsourc[ing] the acquisition of new materials…[and] preserv[ing] digital assets with the same assiduousness that the Library has shown with its physical collection for centuries,” among other aspects. He interestingly notes how the LOC has an “outsized role” in the current digital era because it contains the Copyright Office, which is “patient zero in the epidemic of terrible internet law that reaches into every corner of our lives.” This clashes with the fact that Carl Hayden, the Librarian of Congress “is the most freedom-friendly, internet-friendly, access-friendly leader in the Library’s history, replacing unfit leaders who were brought down in grotesque corruption scandals” even though her leadership has fallen short, in Doctrow’s view, because “the Copyright Office is still a creature of Big Content, and it has direct oversight over your ability to modify, repair, sell, and use all of your digital property.” Still, he argues that
…this digital strategy is a very bright light, but it shines in a dark and menacing cave. I love the Library — I love its work, its collections, its diligent and thoughtful staff, its magnificent building. But for all that, the Library has become a locus of terrible policy that runs directly counter to its mission. The contradiction between the Library’s mission and its real role in policy has never been more clear than it is in this wonderful document. 
That brings me to the end of this article. What are your thoughts on this new digital strategy of LOC and its new Crowd program?
 James Tanner of Genealogy’s Star makes a similar point, but says that LOC is not “certainly not the leader in the number and value of their online offerings” since the “the recent history of the Library of Congress is far from promising” with the closure of the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room in 2013, and the “inherent contradiction in the current efforts of the Library of Congress due to the fact that they are also the agency responsible for the controversial access policies inherent in the United States Copyright Law because the Copyright Office is an integral part of the Library.” This means, as Tanner argues,due to “Congressional action, use and access to many valuable research materials have been overwhelmingly restricted” while adding that “policies and budgetary constraints at both the Library of Congress and the National Archives have severely limited the number and availability of digitized records from both institutions. It would be a huge change if this present plan includes real changes in the number and availability to access items in both institutions collections.” Still, he is optimistic, saying that “it will be interesting to see what will happen, although I do not expect any significant changes during what is left of my lifetime,” although he says that the Internet Archive “may become the largest library in the world considering its growth during the past few months and years assuming they catch up with the National Library of Australia.”
Since the 1980s, the homeless population in the United States has expanded due to Reagan administration policy which deinstitutionalized those deemed mentally ill, coupled with a breakdown of marriages, stagnant wages, spread of illegal drugs in cities, increased poverty, and expensive housing, all putting strain on public services. In the city of Baltimore, the main library, the Enoch Pratt Free Library (herein called the Pratt Library) has a mobile jobs center, book mobile, and other services that help the homeless. However, their policies of no loitering, having offensive body odor, sleeping, lying down or appearance of sleeping on library premises, undoubtedly lead to conflict with those who are homeless, a population which does not have means of other individuals and may have mental illnesses. Homeless people are sometimes restricted by existing library systems, even though libraries are becoming pseudo-homeless shelters since libraries provide necessary services for these unique library patrons.  While the exact number of homeless Baltimoreans is not known, possibly numbering in the thousands or tens of thousands, 90% of whom are either Black, White, or Latino, who could be assisted by library services.  This blogpost, which was part of a submission which was unceremoniously rejected today by the board of In the Library with the Lead Pipe, focuses on the idea of a library on wheels, without a fixed location, that serves homeless Baltimoreans. It is my hope that this post will either inspire individuals to create an institution like the one posed in the scenario or to improve their public libraries to be more accommodating to the homeless populations in their respective cities.
What has been outlined so far is only part of this scenario, as what would be needed is a collection development policy for the institution itself, which would serve as a way of developing the collection of such an institution. This policy, let us say, would be modeled after Goddard College’s collection development policy for the Eliot D. Pratt Library, and would be periodically reviewed and revised every two years, with input from all staff members, in order to make sure it is in tune with current trends and developments. Furthermore, this policy would support information needs of the homeless Baltimoreans by working with advocacy groups and governmental institutions, and making sure that selected materials led to social growth and information enrichment. Since such an institution would not have the resources of the Pratt Library, printed books, newspapers, and other publications would be the mainstay of its collections, but would have a few e-readers. Additionally, in order to encompass the whole swath of the homeless population, most of the materials of such an institution would be in English, but some would be in Spanish, and others would be specifically for those who visually impaired. In addition to these aspects, materials would be selected by the staff of such an institution, allowing recommendations from the served population, and weeding out any materials deemed unnecessary, ensuring that selected resources have high quality in their factual, artistic, or literary style. At the same time, the collections of this institution, let us say, would have a wide diversity of expressions and views, including the religious texts of all the world’s religions, some of which may be controversial to either users or staff, even when not every idea or representation within the collection is endorsed, and any items published by hate groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) not be stocked as part of our collection or any other content deemed hateful after consulting with advocates, and other institutions. Any materials that would be damaged by bugs, by mold, or smell smoky would not be brought into the collections of such an institution, and any challenges to materials would undergo a specific procedure.
Without getting into the specifics of this institution too much, it is worth noting what its organizational structure, based on the organizational structure of the Pratt Library let us say, would look like. It would include a chief coordinator, individuals concerned with public relations and institutional enrichment, and four departments: administration, patron services, collection development, and external relations to serve its homeless patrons. Let us also suppose that this institution is a public non-profit since its startup money came from a Mighty Cause crowdfunding campaign, with those who give money to an ongoing campaign getting perks for their investment in this effort, including hats, t-shirts, and tote bags. Let us also say that this institution would follow all applicable SEC (Security and Exchange Commission) regulations and federal laws, including the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act, which specifically mentions crowdfunding. In the case of this scenario let is suppose that in 2017, $100,000 would be raised from crowdfunding, and $50,000 in projected 2018 costs. Once the transaction fees from crowdfunding, rewards to crowdfunders, crowdfunding plan, and all elements of library operations were considered, the general fund would only be $67,812 in 2017 and $26,124 in projected 2018 costs. 
With this scenario roughly outlined, I hope it has given another perspective to this topic which was not deemed “academic” enough for those In the Library with the Lead Pipe. I had hoped to publish there, but that isn’t going to happen, unfortunately.
P.S. The original article I wrote and sent to them in early October, minus the unnecessary beginning section, which I have uploaded to academia.edu for your consideration. They claimed this wasn’t academic enough, saying I hadn’t dug into the “literature on the homeless/diverse users and libraries” and that it “reads like a paper for a lib school class,” adding that at the time it was “not a journal article in its current form, even though it may be an interesting way of approaching the issue…I would suggest that the author rework the material and ideas, do deeper scholarly research on the topic.” I did rework it, and they STILL rejected it, which annoyed me.
On September 17th, sirens rang across the UMD College Park campus, with the issuing of a tornado warning by University of Maryland Police Department (UMPD) through an email alert and some students, like myself, being herded to the bottom of buildings like the Hornbake Library, as a result. As it would turn out, this warning was issued based on information from a private weather company, Accuweather. This led to stories in the Baltimore Sun, ABC 7, and Patch, coupled with comments from the UMD community, varied meteorologists and reporters. The rationale behind the UMPD issuing this tornado warning is understandable. In 2001, there was a tornado on campus which killed two female students, and seven years ago there was a similar case to what is happening now. While recognizing this history, one question which arises: should UMD be relying on a private company to issue weather alerts?
While it is good to rely on multiple sources of information it is a step too far to choose a private source over a public source. As the UMPD stated in a press release on September 17th, “in the interest of public safety, the University of Maryland Police Department contracts with AccuWeather to receive real-time information on storm paths approaching the footprint of our campus community,” which sounds like UMD is outsourcing its weather warnings to a private company. Some may say that such a state of affairs is fine because Accuweather may have better information. While meteorology is not a perfect science, Accuweather is concerned about its bottom line and its shareholders, while public institutions like NWS are accountable and answerable to the public, but an institution like Accuweather is not in the slightest.
The company has engaged in despicable practices in the past. This includes putting out a false tsunami warning earlier this year, then blaming the NWS for “giving them” the information, and slamming the NWS three years before that for not covering a tornado which hit Moore, Oklahoma, even though they didn’t cover the tornado either! They also continue to employ predictive analysis, which includes long-day predictions of 45-90 dayswhich are broadly inaccurate. The company also has violated people’s privacy, by their mobile app storing and sharing a user’s location even when they opted out, something that the company claims it has fixed after such privacy concerns.
There is a more nefarious element to Accuweather and other private weather companies: they are part of an effort to privatize weather prediction in the United States. In 2005, then-Representative Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, proposed a bill which would have prohibited “federal meteorologists from competing with companies…which offer their own forecasts through paid services and free ad-supported Web sites.” While this effective privatization of weather prediction failed, the bill’s goal is something that private weather companies want.
Accuweather’s CEO, Barry Myers, brother of company’s founder (Joel), is a problematic figure. Putting aside that he is a lawyer by trade, he (and the company itself) said that Hurricane Florence wasn’t that bad, despite the fact that 44 people have died, along with the death of 3.4 million poultry and over 5,000 hogs in North Carolina alone. Myers is a big political contributor, not only to Republicans, like Mitt Romney, but to Democrats like Hillary Clinton.
In October 2017, the current U.S. president nominated Myers to head NOAA, at a time that his administration proposed “cutting the NOAA budget by 17 percent.” Currently, Myers’ nomination is pending before the U.S. Senate, meaning that privatization of weather prediction will be up for a vote in this legislative body.
As a first step, the campus community and other concerned citizens should push UMPD to cancel their contract with Accuweather to receive “real-time information on storm paths” and push it to use information from public institutions like NWS to issue weather warnings or gain information on the paths of storms. The flagship educational institution of Maryland should be doing all it can to keep the campus community safe, using information from public institutions, rather than private ones.
This was originally slated to be published in the Diamondback but they never responded to me, and then I sent it to the Baltimore Sun on October 3rd as an op-ed with Tricia Bishop, the Deputy Editorial Page Editor, telling me “Thank you for the submission, but we’re going to respectfully decline to run it.” As such, it has been published here. Due to those denials, it likely will not reach the audience I originally intended, but I’m not completely sure what to do about that. I delayed the publishing of this article in hopes that my letter to the editor is published.
Note: Below is a recent letter I wrote, which was published in the Baltimore Sun, online and in print. The bolded phrase, which is bracketed in the text below, is one I should have added before sending in the piece, but did not realize the error until after the letter was published. Oops. Some phrasing and such was changed when it was finally published, as I originally called Sandra German, Mrs. German due to her marriage noted in the letter, but the Sun changed this to Ms. Since this was published it has been shared on Facebook and by those in the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, some of whom I have been communicating with. In sum, Baltimore is my city, so I can’t just stay silent and I refuse to stay silent.
Recently, Greater Fern-Glen Community Association President Sandra German wrote a screed against the light rail (“Why Glen Burnie is opposed to light rail,” Aug. 2). As a user of the light rail and buses in the Baltimore area, Ms. German’s commentary deeply concerns me. The public transit system in the Baltimore area shouldn’t be cut back further, but rather should be expanded.
In 1965, as a recent article by D.W. Rowlands on the web site Greater Greater Washington noted (“Baltimore once had an elevated streetcar along Guilford Avenue,” July 31), Baltimore received money from the federal government to study a regional rapid transit system. Three years later, the city released a report proposing a “71-mile system with six branches radiating from downtown.” If the system had been built, Baltimore’s subway system would be comparable to the Washington, D.C. Metro. In 1971, rather than approving a complete transit system, a 28-mile initial plan was proposed, consisting of two lines which would later become the Baltimore Metro subway route (opened in 1983) and light rail line (opened in 1992). Sadly, the southern branch of the subway was cut due to opposition from Anne Arundel County residents. In this sense, the commentary by Ms. German is in keeping with historical mores!
As for what Ms. German had to say, it is not fair to paint the light rail’s users as a bunch of criminals. The majority of those who use the service are well-natured individuals going to and from their jobs, those going to sports games, tourists, or those going to the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, to name a few reasons. The point of a mass transit system is that everyone can use it, including some who are seen, rightly or wrongly, as unsavory types. 
The same applies to the bus system. Recently, Baltimore County Council members David Marks and Cathy Bevins have said that the bus service stop at The Avenue in White Marsh should be closed at 11 p.m. because of “large crowds of youth in the evening on the weekends,” claiming the youth are disruptive, uncontrollable and harming their own safety, after a recent fight at the White Marsh Mall (“Baltimore County council members urge MTA to reduce bus service to White Marsh Mall area after fight,” Aug. 8). For those who use such mass transit, especially those who are transit-dependent, it is not right to stigmatize them because doing so makes it clear there is a “race issue” at play rather than a concern about public safety, despite what Ms. Bevins told The Sun.
Eliminating the Glen Burnie stop of the light rail  would be another blow at the inadequate public transit system of Baltimore. Apart from having a better-run light rail or a Red Line in Baltimore, which is advocated by many, including the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, there needs to be a full-throated mass transit system for Baltimore. Already, the SmarTrip Card is part of the WMATA system, so why not have a physical connection [other than the MARC train*] between Baltimore and D.C. by rail? Additionally, Annapolis should be connected to Baltimore, possibly by extending the light rail beyond Glen Burnie, in order to further tie the state together. Having a complete and working mass transit system for the Baltimore area, rather than one outranked by those of Miami, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, D.C., Chicago, Boston, and New York, is vital.
It is time that Baltimore live up to its motto still inscribed on many city benches (“The Greatest City in America”) by creating a world-class transit system, building upon the existing and inadequate transit system to make something that will benefit the people of the Baltimore area.
Burkely Hermann, Towson
 On ipetition is a petition (stronglypushed) to close the Cromwell and Ferndale Light Rail Stations started by none other than Ms. German. Currently 395 people have signed it. Some even say the Linthicum station should be closed too! Hilarously are the comments on the community association’s Facebook page that it is “horribly unprofessional and clearly not in support of any type of “community”…this person clearly has no idea what they’re talking about. Whoever is representing this association is the kind of person who ruins communities, not builds them up for the good of the people living there” and another saying “Horrible site run by a nasty racist woman. Not accurate about the area at all.” There are some positive comments of course, but many negative ones. The organization, with the page run by Ms. German herself as it seems from some of the comments, takes a clear anti-immigrant stand, saying that “I think it’s time to secure the boarders, build the wall, and make sure these kids are given back to their parents” and talking about the “illegals” (undocumented immigrants). They also oppose affordable housing, watches for what they see as crime (like this post), and praised those in the Sun who did not call her racist, reprinting her screed, which was also published in the Gazette in a shorter version. She is clearly preparing for some sort of fight, possibly even in court, apparently, angry at efforts to keep the light rail open, even threatening the Baltimore Sun with newspaper cancellations if her letter was published. She thanked the Maryland Gazette for covering a protest of the association opposing the light rail, which she claims is “unaccountable.” I have a strong sense she supports the current U.S. president.
 Its officially called the “Glen Burnie (Cromwell)” stop of the Light Rail, or Cromwell Station. It is in Glen Burnie, despite one of the comments which said it isn’t…