I attended the annual Internet Librarian conference, and was inspired by Anne Karle-Zenith’s presentation about the recent work of the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO). Anne was lead on a digital archiving project funded by Knight Foundation. Culture in Transit focused on smaller collections and individuals to digitize and democratize metropolitan New York’s cultural heritage. The project has two parts: digitizing smaller collections from cultural heritage institutions part of METRO and community archiving events.
The first half of this project consisted of a lone archivist traveling with 40+ pounds of equipment on subways and trains to pre-selected institutions in New York City and Westchester County. The archivist would spend two weeks scanning and photographing objects, then another two weeks inputting these items so they would appear in Digital Culture of Metropolitan New York online collection and Digital Public Library of America.
One of the chosen cultural heritage collections was from the LGBT Community Center. The collection selected for digitization were guides from the late 1960s. These guides listed gay-friendly establishments and current events. Anne pointed out in her presentation, these guides provide a way to map a historic cultural landscape not previously available.
The second part of the project involved community members bringing in their maps, documents, news clippings, oral histories, sounds, and images to library-hosted events. These events took place at libraries, churches, bars, and schools. A community member would sit with a staff member, show them their collection, and share their stories. Items would then be chosen for archiving, digitized, and described on-site. At the end of the day, community members left with their original items and digitized versions on flash drives.
Two libraries had community events, the first was the Queens Library for the Queens Memory Project. Queens is the most diverse county in the US, and these many stories are brought together through standard access points such as year, place, and object type. Browsing by “Astoria (New York, NY)” interviews about the hair salon on 30th, Richard walking his dog in 1963, and a family portrait of the Ahmad family are collected together.
Queens Library also cultivated community partnerships to build a more diverse collection. They collaborated with an arts project, My Baryo, My Borough, that works to document the Filipino-American community in Queens. Without these partnerships community members may not have considered one of the community events, or not have participated due to language barriers.
Brooklyn Public Library began creating an oral history archive, Our Streets Our Stories. The project is now a podcast in the iTunes store, and if you subscribe a new podcast arrives to your phone weekly. Their work has won them the 2016 Apple Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Radio Program/Podcast”. Take a listen!
If you or your organization is interested in participatory archiving check out their newly launched Culture in Transit Toolkit. They show how it is they do what they do: planning community digitization events, working with institutions, and their equipment lists.
A big thank you to Anne Karle-Zenith and Caroline Catchpole, the Mobile Digitization Specialist out of METRO, for helping with this article and providing images.
Have fun exploring!
UW-SAA Publicity Officer 2016-2017