Wedding vows for archivists

What started as a colleague wishing me a happy birthday and adding, “Throw some plasti clips like confetti!” turned into a joke about starting an “archivist wedding planning company”. So I went ahead and wrote some appropriate vows:

Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here today to witness the union of these two archivists in Holy Accessioning.

Do you, File Title Natalie, Series: Daughter, Quinn fonds, take File Title Paul, Series: Son, Brown fonds, to be your lawfully arranged and described Box Partner? Do you promise to be faithful to him in good times and in bad, in mould and in proper humidity levels, in funding grants and budget cuts, to love him and to honour applicable access to information legislation all the days of your life? I do.

Do you, File Title Paul, Series: Son, Brown fonds, take File Title Natalie, Series: Daughter, Quinn fonds, to be your lawfully arranged and described Box Partner? Do you promise to be faithful to her in good times and in impossibly-long backlogs, in vinegar syndrome and in efficient media migration, in new folders and in used ones, to love her and to honour the theories of provenance and original order all the days of your life? I do.

By the power vested in me by my ALA-accredited MLIS, I now pronounce you Series: Husband and Wife. You may consult the documents.

Therefore, what the archivist has arranged and described, no one must de-accession.


Convocation #ThrowbackThursday

It’s convocation season at McGill. Was it five years ago already that I got my MLIS?

graduation, cropped

Apparently! And even longer ago that I got my BA. Here’s a little #ThrowbackThursday I had written a few years ago about that first graduation:

KSC. Officially these letters stand for “Keene State College”, but to my friends and me they meant “Kinda Sorta College”. It’s a good enough school if you want to study music or education. The out-of-state student body is disproportionately from Connecticut (“The University of Connecticut at Keene State College”), a fact that never failed to amuse us New Hampshire locals. The campus is right on Main Street in a city of 25,000 people. There are definitely good students and great professors, but it’s the local state school and those of us in the area saw it more as a back-up plan. It was not the kind of place I saw myself graduating from. Yet one Sunday in May there I was, doing exactly that.

My degree is in European History and French. I was inducted into both disciplines’ honor societies although I can’t say I participated in either. In fact, I forgot to go to the induction for Phi Alpha Theta! Two years in a row! I guess history really does repeat itself. But I paid my dues and got to wear honors cord at graduation, so I was happy. It’s all about the honors cords.

I arrived at the college around 11:00 a.m. to stand, herd-like, with the other graduates while we waited for the actual Commencement to commence, which I think was at 1:00 p.m. I had brought my knitting with me to help pass the time but since the chairs had been placed thisclosetogether, I decided not to risk the accidental elbow jab into my neighbors’ ribs. Happily, one of the students behind me provided snarky commentary. Boredom was kept at bay and I continued to bask in my academic superiority.

After the requisite 4,000 hours, the ceremony finally ended, after which my parents and I went out to dinner. We didn’t stay out too long; I had to go home and pack up enough stuff to stay in Québec for 3 ½ months for a summer position. I was leaving the next day, and between emptying out my dorm and just plain old procrastination, I hadn’t packed a thing.

Monday dawned bright and clear and as I woke up I remembered there were still snow tires on my car. Since it was May this was starting to be illegal (if not so already). I’m not sure when exactly it becomes illegal to have snow tires on your car in New Hampshire, but I’ve probably broken that law many times. Especially since I often have studded snow tires! Oh well. The guys at the tire place never seem to care. Driving down there and getting my tires changed added an extra hour to my schedule, which didn’t have time for that. Nor for the time it took me to clean out my car. And to get delayed at the border. And to get lost driving through Québec City. I had told my supervisor I would arrive at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré at 4:00 p.m. I got there at 8:00 p.m.

And that was my commencement into the real world.

Math Problems for History Majors

Inspired by McSweeney’s “Math Problems for English Majors”, I’ve decided to make a list of math problems for history majors:

1. If the Roman Empire splits into East and West, and there are four emperors, and Emperor Diocletian makes some administrative changes in the Eastern Roman Empire resulting in 12 dioceses and increases the number of provinces from about fifty to one hundred, how many scholars are going to first draw this out in chart form so they can understand it?

2. If Nestorius brings two prosopa and one physis (for which he sometimes substitutes ousia) to Ephesus, and Cyril brings one hypostasis and one physis, and Leo sends a delegate with one persona and two naturae, how many glasses of lacryma Christi (pun intended) will you need to drink?

3. If Latin has 5 declensions, 4 conjugations, verbs that look like they are written in the passive but are actually translated in the present just to trip you up and make you feel stupid, and, to top it off, isn’t really fond of articles, while Ancient Greek dialects have 3 declensions, a verb tense called aorist that you always think of as aortic, 3 voices including something between passive and active, as if that is actually possible, an almost perverse love of the conjunction καί, but, on the other hand, does actually use articles, how many hours will you spend crying in your therapist’s office as you wonder why you made such horrible life choices?

4. What is the difference of one iota?

“Turn me over, I’m done on this side!”

A couple weeks ago the archives start-up I am involved with had what we called a “friendraiser”. It was basically a cocktail in order to network, get the word out about ourselves, and ask other archivists for feedback. We also gave a presentation. The event didn’t go entirely as planned (but what does?), so we decided we needed a patron saint for our company. I suggested Saint Lawrence. He is one of three patrons of archivists that I know of, plus it makes sense geographically. Everyone liked that so we adopted him as our patron.

St. Lawrence was a 3rd-century Roman martyr who was roasted on a gridiron and is supposed to have said, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!” So I got to thinking, gee, wouldn’t it be funny if, for our logo, we had a drawing of a small scanner with the top up, showing a document on the glass, obviously in the process of being digitised, and obviously two-sided, since there would be a speech bubble and it would be saying, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!”

In Terra Viventium

It’s always interesting when I join the land of the living, technology-wise. I’m not really anti-technology. It just takes me a long time to be convinced that something new is actually better. Once I see that, then I like it, provided that it is in fact better.

Recent adventures in the technological land of the living include trying to get pictures off my cell phone. For the first time.

“Other people do this. How hard can it be?”

Well. Allow me to present the Table of Contents to the hypothetical volume detailing said adventures:

Chapter 1, in which I take a picture with my cell phone and successfully send it as a text message, and assume I am now a sufficiently modern person. This was last year, btw. Ahem.

Chapter 2, in which I now have a bunch of pictures on my cell phone and then realize I have no idea how people get pictures off their phone.

Chapters 3-6, in which I ask one of my sisters. She says she uses a USB cable. I realize I don’t have one small enough to fit my phone. “Can I text you these pictures and then you download them and email them back to me?” She says sure. Somehow the settings got changed, which I don’t remember doing, and the files are now too large to send as MMS.

Chapter 7, in which I add “get micro USB cable” to my perpetual to-do list. It stays there for a very long time.

Chapter 8, in which a colleague and I go look at a building we might want to use as an archives repository. Did I think to bring my camera? No. Phone camera it is. “Oh well, this will force me to finally go get that USB cable.”

Chapters 9-15, in which the nice lady at the phone store says a memory card would have been easier. I get one for the future, but it doesn’t help me now. I go somewhere else and buy a micro USB cable. Why is this not working? Email some friends in desperation. Apparently the USB settings on my phone were helpfully set to “off”. Turn them on. File shows up on computer as “empty.” I start wondering how much chocolate it will take to turn my mood around.

Chapter 16, in which I am fiddling around with the individual photos and decide to try to this modern thing called “Bluetooth”. Many adventures ensue here but suffice it to say I finally figured it out – all by myself – and got the files transferred to my computer.


Last week my boss asked if we had heard about #OverlyHonestArchivist. We hadn’t, so, since I was just being the intern standing in the way while the two “real” archivists were moving posters, I looked it up and read some aloud. There was a good blog post about it on ArchivesNext ( Here are my favourites:

  • If you pronounce Archivist ‘archive-ist’ I judge you and find you wanting
  • I love the sight of a shelf of uniform neatly labelled boxes and move items to achieve this
  • Every time someone asks me if I have everything digitized I take a shot.
  • Sometimes we can’t read the document either
  • No, student employees, your file-label writing is NOT neat enough. Listen, you should have learned this in grade 2.
  • I actually hate using pencils and at home I have nothing but pens.
  • When I wear white gloves I pretend I’m a character on Downton Abbey
  • We really do enjoy putting things in new folders & removing rusty paperclips. Looks so tidy.
  • My personal papers are a mess.
  • “Box-level description” = “Nobody’s going to want to see this crap. Ever.”
  • I actually kind of like helping with genealogy research.
  • We will want to throw something at you if you refer to “digitization” as “digitalization”.
  • I write my diaries with contextual clues for future archivists
  • I resist surveying the backlog because I can’t afford the alcohol required if I knew the actual size.

If I were to write my own?

  • I like tasks like refoldering or reboxing because it gives my brain a rest
  • When I write file labels really neatly, I like to take a moment and admire my handwriting
  • When will PlastiKlips come in professional colours? I feel slightly ridiculous showing a researcher documents held together with neon green clips.
  • Sometimes when I am in the stacks, I take a moment and revel in the quiet.

A one-act play featuring my neurotic thought process during a business meeting

With the start of the academic year, I’m starting to feel anxious about all the things on my plate – or rather, my competence in handling them. To help me take a step back and see things more objectively, I dug out a little sketch I had written last fall where I was making fun of my “neurotic thought process” during a business meeting… I had been very nervous prior to it, but it ended up being ok. And I’m still involved with the project, so apparently they didn’t think I was as neurotic as I felt :-)

Setting: A boardroom in an office on a cold, windy afternoon in November

Characters: M1, programmer; M2, project manager; M3, attorney; Laura, an unseasoned archivist

M2 introduces Laura to M1 and M3. All four then sit down to discuss a digital archives project for the diocese. 

M1: [hands Laura a copy of their proposal] So, you’re the archival expert and we’d like to run our proposal by you for your advice.

Laura: [screams internally, then nods in agreement] Ok.

The discussion then turns to digital file formats and metadata standards. Laura is asked about current standards and best practices. After remembering she is allowed to pause and gather her thoughts, she manages a couple sentences containing “EAD,” “XML,” and “Dublin Core.” She also explains that Dublin Core is used more for artifacts than archival documents.

M1: Ok, that’s good to know because we will also be cataloguing artifacts. Another question I have, when you scan documents, how much does DPI affect the OCR?

Laura: [starts to panic because she doesn’t know the answer, and while she does understand the concept of OCR, she’s not entirely sure she remembers what the acronym stands for and wonders if they’ll fire her for not knowing; then she remembers back to her Knowledge Taxonomies class during her MLIS, and a guest lecture about consulting and not having to always have the answer right away – you can get back to them later] Off the top of my head, I’m not sure, but I will check and get back to you.

 Eventually the discussion turns to storing the physical archives.

M3: So will the archives be ok in the crate for a month while we digitize them? I’m not sure how they’re normally stored. But we need to keep the room temperature controlled, right?

Laura: [terra firma!] This I’m more familiar with then digitization processes. Yes, they will be fine for a month [explains that for long-term storage, the temperature needs to be kept cool and stable, no rapid fluctuations, and the humidity kept low]

After about forty-five minutes, the discussion winds down and it’s time for Laura to leave.

M1: Do you have any questions, or further thoughts?

Laura: [starts worrying because she doesn’t think well on her feet, and has not had a chance to properly read and mull over the proposal] Not at the moment, but I’ll read over this in more detail and if I do, I’ll email you.

M1: That would be great. We want to make sure we’re not reinventing the wheel or anything!

M2: Thanks again for coming by today, it’s great to have you on board.

Laura: [starts being afraid that when they return to the boardroom, they will talk about how unqualified she is and will wonder why the bishop recommended her; then, for the millionth time, she herself starts wondering why the bishop recommended her; then, also for the millionth time, she reminds herself NOT to ask him that, as that would not be professional] I’m glad to be part of this!

Laura steps outside, breathes fresh air and realizes her heart rate stayed relatively stable throughout the entire meeting, a miracle. Also, realizes she forgot to mention RAD, the Canadian archival arrangement and description standard. Somewhat understandable, as she’s worked with it mainly in its capacity as an arrangement standard, and tends to forget the description (i.e., metadata) side of it. Offers up a quick prayer that this won’t come back to haunt her. Decides she can mention it later. Resolves to work hard and become an archival expert.