2013: The ArchiveGrid Year in Review

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives

Starting 2013 with nearly 1.8 million descriptions in ArchiveGrid inspired us to declare that our first database update of the year “rocked,” a playful nod to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for being one of the new contributors included.

What the small but mighty ArchiveGrid ensemble would find out as the year progressed is that were going to get on a roll.

In February, Marc Bron – a scholar from the University of Amsterdam – joined OCLC Research’s San Mateo, Calif., office for a three month internship. Marc’s speciality is in information retrieval and visualization, and he led several interesting projects which headlined some of our year’s main events. Marc carried out a thorough analysis of tag usage in the approximately 130,000 EAD XML finding aids in ArchiveGrid. You can read some interesting findings from the perspective of “discovery,” published in the October Code4Lib Journal article by Marc and Merrilee.

Marc also did innovative work to try and train a program to examine EAD documents to detect the names of – and find relationships between – people, groups, places and events, and to then find connections between related documents and collections. Marc and others in OCLC Research tested various Named Entity Recognition processes, and the ArchiveGrid team and some brave volunteers tried methods to annotate sample document sets.


What followed was a crescendo to new and novel ways of thinking about archival collections, connections, collaboration and annotation.

During one of Marc’s first few weeks in our office, we ambled over to the Stanford University campus to see a presentation by Amy Jo Kim about collaborative games. Her presentation got us thinking about how we might employ similar techniques in ArchiveGrid, and engage with domain experts to help identify relationships between collections. We developed a game of our own to test this approach. Called “TopicWeb,” it used the ArchiveGrid index and a dash of gamification to help experts assemble and sort the relationships of collections for a topic. We were able to get some great real-time reactions from archivists at the Society of California Archivists conference in April, and also from a more formal focus group in June.

Marc Bron, Brian Tingle, and Bruce Washburn at SCA

In May, TopicWeb starred in a well-attended webinar we held to update the archival community on recent developments.

Staying tuned to organizing collection discovery around topics, we thought these connections might be staged in the ArchiveGrid user interface. Nine hand-crafted topic pages got their big break in July, when we implemented them on the ArchiveGrid homepage. And during the summer we also published the results of a survey we conducted in 2012, asking archive users about Social Media and Archives.

SAA ArchiveGrid booth

Our summer ArchiveGrid demonstration tour hit both ends of the Mississippi River: Merrilee in Minneapolis for the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section preconference in June, and Bruce, Merrilee, and Ellen in New Orleans for the SAA Annual meeting in August. We met a great many of our colleagues, some familiar and some new, at the ArchiveGrid exhibit booth, and took part in a range of meetings and panel discussions.

We wrapped up our summer by sharing a testbed of finding aids from ArchiveGrid with the Technical Subcommittee for Encoded Archival Description (the group reports to SAA’s Standards Committee) to help them test a program to automatically convert EAD 2002 format documents to the new EAD 3 format.

October brought the launch of the new ArchiveGrid user interface. Based on version 3 of the popular Bootstrap front-end framework, it’s a “Mobile First” redesign that aims to give us a strong foundation on which to extend ArchiveGrid’s features. We also tested some heatmaps to give us a better idea of what ArchiveGrid interface features are used the most, which helped us ascertain ways in which the update improved the user experience. Based on other analytics we’ve been tracking, the interface changes along with improved sitemaps for crawling by search engines have increased ArchiveGrid’s visibility and utility, with use continuing to track upwards since October.

ArchiveGrid visits through November 2013

And we ended the year with some promising work on “localizing” the view of ArchiveGrid, getting lots of good advice on that from colleagues at a couple of ArchiveGrid contributing institutions. It’s still an experiment and a work in progress, but we may have more to say about it soon.

But until then, there’s shopping to do for the holidays. Not ending the year without an encore, the team put out the call to our archivists colleagues (who have been very good this year) for advice on gift ideas, and Ellen assembled a fun and practical guide on the ArchiveGrid blog (to date our most popular blog post, by a mile).

Fun and practical gifts for archivists

[If you like this post, please also check out our list for 2015!]

If there’s an archivist to shop for, here is a list of ideas suggested by actual archivists:

Horn folders

Image source: http://www.johnnealbooks.com

The black swan of paper creasers, this folder made from cow horn is smoother and harder than bone folders.

Passes to historical sites

Photograph by Bruce Washburn, via Flickr Creative Commons.

April 9 of next year 2015 is the 150th anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant at the McLean House, now part of Appomattox Court House National Historical Park in Virginia. An annual pass covers fees into this park and more than 2,000 other national parks and federal recreation lands.


Image source: Miami University Libraries via Flickr Creative Commons

They abate bugs and rodents, warm laps in chilly rooms, and stare – keeping visitors on their best behavior. Plus, there is never a shortage of kitties needing adoption.

Feather dusters

Image source: http://www.maidtoshinecleaners.com

Say good-bye to dust collections with ostrich feather bundles.

Microfiche necklaces

Image source: http://www.oinx.org/

Let these conversation starters do the networking at conferences.


Professional Cordovan Cabrio from the Stapled Clog
Image source: http://www.dansko.com

Footwear favored by female processing archivists are sturdy, long-lasting, chic, and comfortable Dansko’s.


Yorkshire Gold Tea, 40-Count
Image: http://www.yorkshiretea.co.uk

Yorkshire Gold Tea is a beverage of choice among archivists.

Personalized pencils

Image source: http://www.crateandbarrel.com

Where it’s pencils-only, high-quality 2B pencils in different colors work.

Fingerless gloves

Open access: Cozy cashmere mitts keep hands warm and digits free.


Layers are essential to staying warm in a cool workplace. A classic cashmere cardigan will do the job well without sacrificing a sharp, professional look.

Lap desks

Contour Lap Desk, Natural
Image source: http://www.staples.com

Perfect for laptop use and note-taking for on-the-go description and processing.

Archival fiction

Image source: http://www.amazon.com

A reluctant archivist in a Russian prison during World War II is stirred by the writings in confiscated manuscripts which the government put him in charge of weeding.


Fancy hand creams and scrubs

Image source: http://usa.loccitane.com

Hands that handle history deserve the royal treatment.

Travel mugs

18 oz. Microwavable Wide Base Ceramic Travel Mug white
Image source: http://www.buzzmug.com

Where beverages aren’t allowed, these mugs break the rule with their sip tops and wide bottoms to avoid tipping.


Image source: http://www.adlerfels.com

Archivists and winemakers have a lot in common, according to the description of these aptly-themed red and white wines.

Zaner-Bloser notebooks

Image source: http://digitalservices.scranton.edu

Proceeds of these Moleskine notebook sets benefit the care, preservation, and digitization of the Zaner-Bloser Penmanship Collection at University of Scranton.

Gift cards for coffee

Image source: www.greenpackaginggroup.com

Present the plastic in coffee-themed gift card holders, such as these made from reclaimed burlap coffee bean sacks.

Basbanes books

Image source: http://www.amazon.com

Author Nicholas Basbanes explores the worlds of paper, books, and those who encounter them.

Versatile coats

Image source: http://www.shefinds.com

Leather layers like blazer jackets can wow in the workplace and beyond year-round, and go outdoors in cooler temperatures.

Record jackets

Image source: http://www.amazon.com

For the sound archivist.

Small scanners

Image source: http://www.amazon.com

Chip at daunting digitization projects with an iris scan mouse and other portable scanners. They’re compatible with mobile devices and optical character recognition technology.

Microfiber cloths

They’re washable, and they don’t take fabric softeners; Microfiber cleaning cloths hold both dust and their worth as worthwhile investments.

Roosevelt archives now open for virtual research in FRANKLIN

Seventy years ago, two years before World War II ended, President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his State of the Union address noted accomplishments the country had made at home and abroad, and credited Americans for their labor, sacrifices, and cooperation in the midst of stricter government regulations.

A powerful leader, FDR empathized with Americans who were affected by unprecedented regulations put in place in order to win the war without compromising quality of life: “We all know that there have been mistakes – mistakes due to the inevitable process of trial and error inherent in doing big things for the first time.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He went on:

“Fortunately, there are only a few Americans who place appetite above patriotism. The overwhelming majority realize that the food we send abroad is for essential military purposes, for our own and Allied fighting forces, and for necessary help in areas that we occupy.”

And he asked:

“We should never forget the things we are fighting for. But, at this critical period of the war, we should confine ourselves to the larger objectives and not get bogged down in argument over methods and details.”

If any of this resonates with current politics, then learning from the past would be worth the research involved. Hundreds of thousands of primary sources by and about FDR exist and now anyone can access those held at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY, online through FRANKLIN. It’s set up to create a virtual experience of browsing papers and photographs held at the library. There is no charge for anyone to browse from a remote location more than 350,000 digitized pages of archival documents and photographs documenting FDR’s leadership through World War II and the preceding Great Depression.

From the home page:

“Whether you are a lover of history, a student working on a school project, or a scholar, FRANKLIN allows you to keyword search for archival documents and photographs and to search, browse, and view whole files, just as you could if you came to the Library’s research room in-person.”

Love’s notions echoed in letters past

Another addition to my must-read list is the new book How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life by Roman Krznaric. According to one review,

“Krznaric trawls the timeless to surface the timely and excavate practical ideas about the art of living, about how we, today, can live better, richer, more fulfilling lives — ideas across love, work, family, time, money, death, creativity, and more.”

In a chapter devoted to love, Krznaric challenges the modern definition of romantic love and suggests the ancient Greeks offer the best answer to the ongoing question, “What is love?”

Awhile back I wrote a Valentine’s Day post about love letters because archival collections contain them and they are one way – and a good way – see the world through others. Rather than wait two more months to devote another Valentine’s Day post to love letters, this book review inspired me to do some trawling of my own in ArchiveGrid for collections which give testimony to the human condition regarding romantic love, regardless of how it was defined at the time they were written.

Here are 10 I picked out for their novelty and possible interest to researchers:

1. At Filson Historical Society is a collection of two letters a man wrote in 1893 and 1894 to a woman asking her to marry him, even though she repeatedly refused his offers. But, according to the finding aid, he asks her not to discuss his proposal with others.

2. Unlike the last collection, letters at Duke University by a young man in the 1890s working to earn enough money to marry a woman he’s courting aren’t of unrequited love. According to the finding aid, “…his declarations of love were often accompanied by discussions of other women and instructions on how Rosa should comport herself and what activities she should undertake.”

3. Summer love is what a three-page letter at Maine Historical Society from 1900 is about.

4. Included in a collection at Eastern Washington State Historical Society are letters a school superintendent wrote to his fiancee and “They are love letters in the truest sense of the word,” according to the finding aid, because they exemplify men’s attitudes toward women in the 19th century.

5. Different suitors in the 1890s wrote personal love letters to a schoolteacher whose papers are at East Carolina University.

6. A story of a 19th-century woman’s failed romance is in a collection at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Although her papers also include letters from different suitors, the finding aid notes pieces of letters that were probably by her ex. An envelope they’re in is marked to be burned.

7. Love in New York wasn’t easy in the summer of 1804 either for a young man who complained in a letter now at the New York State Library, about bad luck in love and too much male companionship.

8. Journals at Smith College by a 19th and 20th century woman who opposed social norms “…document her early experimentation with anarchism, vegetarianism, companionate marriage and daily life during two World Wars,” according to the finding aid. It goes on to say she and her future husband ran a vegetarian cooperative before they married in 1908.

9. Two widows found love again and got engaged around 1854. Their collection is at University of Pennsylvania and includes documents of their love, engagement, and marriage. Although the future groom’s father tried the Aaron Burr case in 1807, and the bride’s father was a plantation owner, the couple overcame early mishaps. According to the finding aid, a shipment of slippers she sent to her future husband got lost, and there was a misunderstanding of their wedding date.

10. Last but not least, nothing symbolizes modern romantic love more than putting a ring on it – and making sure it fits. A woman mentions in her 1924 letter to her fiancee that the engagement ring be bought for her is too big. That letter is also at Filson Historical Society.