George Washington’s new library opens with a look at what he read

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When George Washington was a teenager, he studied this list of 110 short rules about personal conduct from a popular book at the time, “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior.” Rule 55 sheds light into how the future first United States president may have eaten: “Eat not in the Streets, nor in the House, out of Season.”

More intriguing to scholars than Washington’s taste for seasonal foods, however, has been what he read. An exhibit about his intellectual life called Take Note! George Washington and the Reader, kicked off the opening today in Mount Vernon, Va., of a new presidential library for Washington. Asking how his lifelong devotion to reading and self-education influenced him, the exhibit explores the connection between what Washington read and how he lead. Also commemorating the new library is a book for sale about the exhibit and its contents.

Unlike other presidential libraries under the the National Archives and Records Administration umbrella, the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington is privately funded. It contains an archive of hundreds of primary and secondary resources, including items from Washington’s own collection. Recent acquisitions were purchased at auctions, including his 1789 signed copy of the Acts of Congress, according to the Washington Post.

ArchiveGrid contributes to Archival Descriptive Standards Effort

Reader advisory: this posting is pretty heavy on the acronyms!

Although researchers who use ArchiveGrid may be unaware of it, the nearly two million collection descriptions that are under the hood fall into three categories. Roughly 90 percent of the records are in MARC, or MAchine-Readable Cataloging, a standard for the representation and communication of bibliographic and related information in machine-readable form. The remaining 10 percent are split between HTML, the markup language used for creating web pages, and an XML format called EAD, or Encoded Archival Description. EAD is a format that was designed by and for archives in the 1990s, specifically to encode more discursive collection descriptions or finding aids that would not be well accommodated by the MARC format. (A tiny fraction of ArchiveGrid records are in Word or PDF.)

EAD is currently undergoing a major revision, under the auspices of the Society of American Archivists, overseen by a group called the “The Technical Subcommittee for Encoded Archival Description” (the group reports up to SAA’s Standards Committee).  As part of the revision work, TS-EAD is developing a conversion tool that will transform finding aids from the current version of EAD (EAD 2002) to the new version (EAD3). The ArchiveGrid team has shared over 125,000 EAD XML files from ArchiveGrid with the team that is developing a testbed for evaluating the EAD3 conversion stylesheet. Although the timeline for the release of the conversion stylesheet is not yet set, the group reports that having such a large corpus of EAD records will be enormously helpful in helping to test and shape the stylesheet.

OCLC Research and the ArchiveGrid team are pleased to be able to contribute to this important effort on behalf of the archival community.

Archivist’s family donates 1963 bombing remnant to Smithsonian

Earlier I wrote about the 50th anniversary this month of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. Not many remains from the blast still exist, except a piece of twisted metal and broken stained glass from a destroyed window that the father of Randall Jimerson, an archivist and history professor at Western Washington University, collected that day and kept in the family. This month, the family donated the piece to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open in 2015. I first heard of Randall Jimerson in library school when a book he edited, “American Archival Studies: Readings in Theory and Practice” was used in a course. His next book due out next year, “Shattered Glass in Birmingham: One Family’s Fight for Civil Rights, 1961-1964,” will be an interesting look at the life he and his family lived in the Civil Rights-era south.

Anniversary of 16th Street Baptist Church attack is a reminder of struggle for Civil Rights

At 10:20 a.m. exactly 50 years ago today, a hate crime at the 16 Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., carried out by white supremacists killed four African-American girls – three victims were 14 years old, the other was 11. They were headed with a group of more than a dozen other children to hear a sermon in the church basement while a bomb planted nearby detonated, causing the deaths, injuries, and severe damage to the church. Why a church, first of all, let alone that particular one? The 16th Street Baptist Church was where successful Civil Rights campaigning had happened all summer. In the week leading up to the attack, public schools in Birmingham and throughout the south had desegregated and the March on Washington a month earlier was one of the largest political rallies in United States history. Those opposed to racial desegregation masterminded the bombing and other attacks in Birmingham that year. However, the 16th Street Baptist Church incident led to more public support for desegregation efforts and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – the fruit of the Civil Rights movement – was passed.

What primary sources about this anniversary might be of interest to researchers? One record found in ArchiveGrid describes a collection at the Alabama Department of Archives and History of 15 photographs taken at the church the day of the bombing. They were last used in 1977 and 1978 in court when those responsible were finally prosecuted. According to the finding aid, the photographs “…consist of interior and exterior scenes and include shots of emergency personnel.” Digitized photographs and other materials such as news, academic, and entertainment outputs related to the incident are available in an online exhibit through the Birmingham Public Library. Another interesting item a record in ArchiveGrid describes is a 1975 transcript of an oral history interview at University of Alabama about the bombing. Media access is restricted.

Disaster preparation is relevant to archives during National Preparedness Month

One outcome of the World Trade Center attacks 12 years ago today is that September is National Preparedness Month, a federal observance and outreach program that started in 2004 to help the public be ready for emergencies.

Virginia has been prepared to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks with help from the state’s Office of Commonwealth Preparedness, formed after 9/11. According to a finding aid found in ArchiveGrid for a collection, Office of Commonwealth Preparedness, 1999-2006, at the Library of Virginia, “The Office of Commonwealth Preparedness was created with the purpose of developing a coordinated security and preparedness strategy and implementation plan.” Some noteworthy correspondence in the collection includes writings from prior Department of Homeland Security directors about National Preparedness Month.

The National Archives and Records Administration has information for archivists and records managers about protecting themselves, their workplaces, and their materials for emergencies. A recent example of how having an emergency plan worked was at the state records center in Tumwater, Wash., where staff acted quickly and saved more than 700 documents from destruction after flooding. This conveys what National Preparedness Month is about, at archives and elsewhere: Be proactive. Have a disaster plan and the people and equipment in place to carry it out well.

The world’s lunchboxes share a slice of 20th century history

One way to bring meals to school and to work in fancier storage than paper bags is with a lunchbox. This time of year may remind some of going back to school carrying a new metal lunchbox decorated with images of television and movie characters. More than 2,000 of these lunchboxes – mostly produced from the 1950s to the 1980s in more than 600 variations – are on display at the Lunchbox Museum in Columbus, Ga. (Watch a video about the museum here.)

However, we were surprised to learn that ArchiveGrid also covers lunchboxes. Claremont Colleges has in its rare books area a collection of bento box labels from Japanese railroad stations from the 1930s. In Japan, “ekiben” is boxed bento sold at train stations and the fare is known for its distinctive packaging. A Google search for ekiben points to articles, blog posts, websites, videos, and other content by a growing international interest in ekiben, and demand may grow as well to see digitized images from the 20th century, when both the cuisine and the experience were becoming a Japanese commuter culture staple.

A 1989 book called Ekiben: The Art of the Japanese Box Lunch, offers a look at the decades-old practice of serving fresh bento to-go in ornate boxes and wrappers which varied, as well as the contents, by train station. A well-known ekiben wrapper collector, Tsuyoshi Uesugi, highlights in his 2009 book the relationships between particular ekiben designs and ingredients and the rail routes where they were sold.

Historic Seattle names embedded in back-to-school rush

Frederick & Nelson store at Washington Square (Tigard, Ore.) in 1988. Photo by Steve Morgan. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

For families in Portland, Oregon’s westside suburbs, this time of year usually means a back-to-school shopping trip at the Washington Square Mall. One stop for shoppers who could afford it used to be Frederick & Nelson, a Seattle-based department store which went out of business in 1992 after it started as a furniture store in 1890. The Washington Square store (above) closed in January 1991 after the holiday season, remembers my oldest sister, who at the time worked at its restaurant. In the store’s place is the other Seattle-based, high-end department store bearing a Swedish surname: Nordstrom.

Like Nordstrom’s founder, John Nordstrom, Nels Nelson of Frederick & Nelson was a Swedish immigrant who took advantage of Gold Rush-era opportunities in the Pacific Northwest. More about Scandinavian Americans in the Pacific Northwest and photographs including Nelson and Nordstrom can be researched here.

Forty-eight boxes make up the Frederick & Nelson records, 1901-1991, at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle. Northwest Digital Archives supplies the collection’s finding aid to ArchiveGrid.