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September 25, 2014 / archivalerie

Silence in the library (and within the librarian)

My first thought in converting this journal entry into a blog post was to make a brief playlist with songs mentioning/tangentially related to silence.

Then I realized that by doing this, I am just encouraging the sort of ADD-style clickaround media consumption style that I mention later that I’m trying to get away from.

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and One Year to a Writing Life by Susan M. Tiberghien both address the concept of silence. Tolle wrote to pay attention to outer silence to create inner silence, to still the mind. “The unmanifested is present in this world as silence. Silence without, stillness within.” (113) Tibhergein discusses May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude: “She invites you, the reader, to go down to the matrix, the huge empty silence where your creativity is embedded.” (14)

I suppose this is where I disclose that i’m a librarian and if this were a conversation at a party, someone would chortle, “No wonder you enjoy silence! I bet you’re a shusher.” After I procure another drink to replace the one that I had thrown in the offending party’s face (possibly crushing their face into the shards of wineglass strewn on the floor), I would calmly explain that stereotypes hurt everybody, including/especially the person who believes and perpetuates them.

Stereotypes aside, as an introvert, I do often prefer solitude and lone activities over boisterous crowds of strangers (as to how I got into bike racing is a mystery to everyone). Yet last weekend and others where I did not have any social plans or desire to commit to social invitations extended by others, I felt a strange unease. I usually sleep in late, or stay in bed, indolent. Before, it was due to depression, the despair of being unable to answer the question “What is the point?”

Now it’s just laziness or recharging my batteries from the social interactions of that week and attempting to pay off my sleep debt. Yes, I know that’s not how sleep works.

Sometimes I end up staying in all day binge watching things on Netflix when I should be out on the road or in the dirt riding for fun or training. I could easily do these things alone, but don’t very often. Or even if I stay in, I really should be catching up on chores or writing/reading more.

When I do finally re-emerge from one of my shut-in fits, I go for a walk. I sit by Jamaica Pond and read a book, sometimes journal a bit (like this entry) or work on a short story.

Yet why go to the pond? I could just as easily read and write in the comfort of my own room. THere are usually others out jogging, walking dogs, pushing strollers. Not to mention the Jamaicaway traffic can get quite loud, especially when the ambulances, fire trucks and police cars pass with their sirens on. Sometimes musicians have jam sessions in a circle near my usual sitting spot.

Perhaps it’s too quiet in my room. Even with roommates and upstairs and downstairs neighbors, I’m quite well-cloistered. What happens is I then feel the need to turn some music on, so I start up my computer. Then I find myself checking email, then Facebook or Twitter or Reddit. Next thing I know I fall into the black hole of YouTube videos or Netflix or a bunch of tabs open with news stories and blog posts that seemed interesting from my friend’s feeds, but I ended up not finishing them. You all know how the internet works: one click leads to another.

This spills over to analog media as well. I have several books I started reading at different points, but haven’t finished yet. There are multiple knitting projects I’ve started or disassembled, but haven’t completed yet. Sort of like Penelope trying to stall her suitors, I would get halfway finished with a project and then unravel it (in my case usually because I decide that I don’t like the pattern). With winter coming, I really ought to finish that pullover.

So why? How is it possible to be more distracted in a closed room than out in the world? Right now (while I was journaling by the pond), there are small waves of higher frequency from a passing motorboat. I suppose the rhythmic lapping of water is more soothing than whatever guilty pleasure pop album or dorky playlist I usually put on. For one thing, the sound of running water is usually used with those relaxation devices or fancier alarm clocks.

This clearly affects my writing as well, since I usually start with an endpoint or message in mind. Lately I find myself meandering in too many tangents, sometimes never returning to the main idea. My writing professors would be mortified at this (especially considering I don’t really revise my blog before posting). This might be why I never could make it as a writer: the work required to revise or the social networking of trying to get word out about my projects.

Back to the main point. Silence.

I often turn on music or a movie or show while I’m performing tasks to help pass the time, but this only enables distraction. It took me at least twice as long to go through one box of clothes for discards when I had my laptop on as it did when I just went at it after breakfast.

I find myself having difficulty sleeping even though I’m tired when I go to bed. Then again, using mindless internet browsing as a cooldown from reference requests, resource evaluation and budget planning is hardly the same as an easy recovery spin after a time trial. Whoops, I really wanted to make this blog entry not about bikes for a change.

So why do it? Studies have proven that screen viewing before bed is terrible sleep hygiene. Perhaps in my case, I am seeking silence, but in the wrong way. To drown out the noise in my head, I use these distractions.

What is the noise in my head? I imagine that everyone has their own noise. As a vague summary, my noise is all of my doubts, worries, insecurities and negative emotions. Sometimes they don’t manifest as coherent words or thoughts so much as a feeling like low level white noise, like a television or radio tuned to an empty station. If it’s so quiet, then why does it take so much to drown it out? The quiet is what makes it so insidious. It’s always there and I don’t notice it until it’s all I have to focus on.

Quiet vs silence? What is the difference? Back to Tolle’s idea of “silence without, stillness within,” that is a very difficult concept to enact. When was the last time you were perfectly still? No phone notifications of email or social media, no movies, television or music on and even if it werequiet, were able to not think about anything at all or did the flood of thoughts start with the trickle of everyday minutiae: Did I remember to pay the gas bill? When will I be able to pay off my student loans? Could I ever afford a house? Do I really want to stay here for the long term? What if I end up dying alone?

Ok, that last one was a bit of a jump from the others, but you get the idea. Obviously everyone has their own stream of consciousness and random things that trigger their deepest fears and traumas. For me, this often becomes a jumble, so perhaps the silence outside could help me try to focus and tune into my deep-seated fears and biases. Or, more importantly: wants and needs.

In my private journal, I often write about want. No. Not in that way (ok sometimes in that way, but that’s one of many reasons that journal stays private). What do I want? That seems to change on any given day. If I don’t know what I want, then how am I supposed to know what measures I need to take to get it?

Sometimes I want to skip town. Other times there’s nowhere I’d rather be. Sometimes I’m tempted to apply for other jobs. Other jobs I feel that swelling, brash pride of someone who is treated like a rockstar at work for “knowing her shit” and helping solve problems and answer difficult questions. Sometimes I love being unattached. Other times I wonder what I’m missing out on by choosing not to pair bond and reproduce. Usually more of the former than the latter. It’s doubtful I’ll change my childless mindset anytime soon considering how long I’ve held it and especially considering my financial state.

So, yes. That is the noise again. This is what prevents me from enjoying the sun on my skin, the breeze on the pond, or fully tasting the salted caramel in my mouth and just being in the moment.

Ambition and goals are important. It is good to have things to strive for. However, if the future comes at the cost of the present, is it worth it? Tolle writes about this a lot: the idea that always looking forward means wanting things that may not come as opposed to enjoying what you have directly in front of you.

Marcus Aurelius actually refers to this in his Meditations (IV. 32): “… but most of all consider those you personally have known who ignoring the good that lay at their feet, ran after some vain thing and never found the happiness that was within their reach all the time.”

All I can do is try harder at silence. Maybe not try so much since it’s like the idea behind “don’t think of pink elephants.” If I feel sad or angry, I should not try to push it aside or distract myself. I should let myself feel it, process where the feeling came from, figure out what, if anything I can do about it and just wait for it to pass like a thunderstorm.

If I can tune into things one at a time and process them, perhaps I can finally find that stillness. Perhaps I might even be able to close out my browser tabs knowing that I’ve actually read and processed any information in them. Or better yet, leave the damn computer off and get some sleep.

September 29, 2013 / archivalerie

Cyclocross Season (cross-post)

Ok, that was a bad joke even for me. Seriously though, this is technically a cross-post that happens to be about cyclocross as I wrote this for the cycling group on my work’s social networking site. I thought of it as a warm-up for writing the massive link-dump/online pathfinder for my co-workers that outline our available online resources. So yeah, this should explain my recent whereabouts and complete lack of updates.

So what’s with the cowbell? Why are they going through mud and carrying their bikes on their shoulders uphill? Did that spectator just heckle a rider and then hand her a beer? [favorite heckle: “(directed at rider with a fancy expensive carbon bike) Hey, you should throw more money at your bike. Maybe that will make you go faster!”] These are some questions you may find yourself asking should you find yourself at a cyclocross race (possibly the only cycling sport that is as fun to spectate as it is to ride).

I could go on at length about the wonder that is cyclocross/CX (the sport where the knights occasionally carry their steeds), but there are far better resources out there. Please feel free to post yours.

For a particularly cute and brief breakdown of CX: CYCLOCROSS! The 24 Hour Comic Book (aka The Little Golden Book of Cross) | Slonie

Cyclo-cross – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Cyclocross Magazine

Cyclocross | Bicycling Magazine – online cycling event registration

Heckle Hall Of Fame | Chicago Cross Cup

Coping With Heckling in Cyclocross: BikeSnobNYC | Bicycling Magazine

I practice over at Danehy Park with Hub Bicycle’s Team Monster Truck on Mondays and Smith Field on Wednesdays. Feel free to post any CX clinics or races that may be of interest.

Team Monster Truck (TeamBikeMonster) on Twitter

Wednesday Night SuperPrestige | Facebook


This is my friend Tim. He can bunny-hop over barriers.


I, however, cannot and thus have to dismount and leap over them. About as graceful as a swan riding a segway.Image

This was shortly before a tree root caught on my pedal and I wiped out and somehow landed beneath my bike. The first thing I said was not “Ow” or “Is my bike ok?” but rather, “DID YOU GET A PICTURE OF THAT?”

Because I’m clearly out of my mind, I signed up for the Great Brewers Gran Prix of Gloucester (update: I made it to spectate the race, but due to the commuter rail/me waking up late and missing my ride, I got there two minutes before my race started so I wasn’t allowed to enter the field, live and learn.), The Night Weasels Cometh, and Providence Cyclo-cross Festival and the TCC Mansfield Hollow Cyclocross Race.

I might not be fast or handle corners, hill runups or hurdles all that well yet, but my goal is to become an internet meme like Joey here (he’s totally OK).

February 18, 2013 / archivalerie

Sometimes archiValerie finds things in her own archives

So back in the day, I pretended I was a writer. I apparently didn’t pretend hard enough since I ended up more on the media consumption as opposed to production side of things. However, I found an old notebook with one of the last poems I wrote before going to grad school. I wrote it after reading the book I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita (which I highly recommend as it was gorgeous, sad and based on a bit of history you don’t usually read about in your high school textbooks) and thinking about the Manong culture in California, my old divey studio apartment on 16th and Hawthorne in what was once an old SE Portland flophouse, crashing at my boyfriend’s place after my 12th and Stark basement apartment flooded. Most of all, I thought about how diaspora almost comes naturally to Filipinos. We go so far away for so long, yet the ties of family are still there. If I ever thought I could rewrite and publish this, I’d probably remove the last stanza, since it’s too specific/related to romantic relationship nonsense.

International Hotel, 1978

They wander,
these ghosts, down
labyrinthine halls
narrows leading into rooms not much larger
than sepulchers and coffins.

But there is more life
within these walls,
cracked concrete, peeling wallpaper
like the scars of an old boxer
whose last battle is still fresh in his mind
but he can’t even remember
his mother’s face.

Or the soldier
at only two wars old
was told to go home
but sent out with barely the bus fare to go
to the next town.

Or these men
whose shoulders once held the earth’s weight
fed a nation with their hands,
sweat, blood,
yet for a time they were told
they couldn’t get a shave or a haircut
because the establishment
doesn’t serve dogs.

Many of them, gone.
The building they haunted, gone.

Their memory stays
over long nights, months
in small one-room apartments.
As I spend the night elsewhere
when they renovate my building,
I wonder if not for friends, lovers,
where would I stay?

Though I could afford a hotel
I could not sleep,
not someplace that isn’t home to anyone.

But then, I wonder,
how did they do it?
Miles and years from all they knew,
cramped like the fish they canned in Alaska, California,
sleeping in a place that wasn’t home.

But then, I remembered,
some places you can make home,
if only for a little while.

I never understood why
it as easy for me to
call someone “brother”
though I was an only child.

It wasn’t until years later
that I found out what
“manong” meant in Tagalog.

A brother could mean
your mother’s other son
or a stranger who gives
you a hand when
you’re flat on your ass
with no change in your
pocket to stamp a letter home.

Manong is laughter
when you’re too dried out to cry
squeezed of your last dime
at the casino or dance hall
not even a cup of water
to replace what was lost.

Walls flayed
peeled back to wood skeletons,
the smell of cats
just barely departed.
Ceiling gone,
can only see floorboards above.

This is not our home anymore,
just like this wouldn’t have
been home three months from now.

But in the past three months
I haven’t slept as well.

Some people call us home
and I will call you home
even if we’re no longer in the same town.

February 12, 2013 / archivalerie

Love in the Time of Big Data

As a woman of a certain age, I’ve been thinking about relationships a lot lately. Sixteen-year-old me would be so disappointed right now, considering she once wrote a newspaper column railing against the commercialized “holiday” known as Valentine’s day. I suppose it’s yet another thing for me to grumble about the fleeting nature of digital records, as I was not able to find a link to my old high school newspaper column online.

A January Atlantic column lamented the ubiquity of technology and how despite making dating more convenient and efficient, it causes a lack of intimacy and stunts our ability to truly communicate with each other. A friend of mine more or less orders dates on the internet like other people order takeout. Still, I feel that the Atlantic article makes a few good points, but misses a very large point: technology isn’t the bad guy here. Apparently according to another Atlantic column, feminism and the increasing number of female college graduates is, but I’m not going to open that can of worms other than roll my eyes and wonder what time machine dredged up these columnists. My main point is that the way people interact with each other changes with the times, just as technology changes. While it’s easy to wring our hands and clutch our pearls, the best we can do is adapt to these new arenas (much like we do as librarians, archivists and information purveyors).

Compare the three selections of text below. One is a Civil War era love letter. The others are messages I received on OKCupid.

July 14, 1861

Camp Clark, Washington

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more . . .

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt . . .

Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness . . .

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again . . .


Him 1: I really can’t think of anything to put in here, so in your head just imagine five minutes of intensely creepy silence.

Me: You know, we run in the same social circles. It would have been much easier and considerably less creepy if you just talked to me once at a party.

Him 1: True, but I thought I’d really crank up the creep factor on this one. Really I think I could’ve been much creepier if I had sent you a photograph of myself one of those tiny horses on springs they have at playgrounds. Maybe I should’ve? Alright creep experiment over.

Him 2: I am [name redacted] and you are just the type of woman I would like to meet. I am married but not just looking for sex, I am also looking for well more sex. I know you wont reply but i really did like your profile. You seem pretty hard headed and stubborn. Bye

To be fair, this sample is slightly skewed (although I did become somewhat good friends with creepy playground horse guy for a bit). However, the point is, as an archivist/librarian, my expectations of men are kind of on the high side. I’ve spent my time among real love letters, was in love with the poetry of John Keats and fictional characters like Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy since high school. On the flip side, I aim to be the sort of person I would date: intelligent, bold, adventuresome, on first impression a bit rough around the edges and intimidating, but deeply loyal as a friend.

As an archivist/librarian, I started thinking of things in terms of information seeking and processing. It’s difficult for me to not think of people in terms of books or documents. The analogy I make regarding interpersonal relationships is that the world is an enormous library. Each book is the story of someone’s life. Your book, my book, everyone’s book is somewhere out there. Meanwhile we are all just browsing. Occasionally, we pick up a book and skim the back or jacket liner, maybe flip through a few pages. Sometimes we read entire chapters. Some people skim through many books without reading them. Others only fully read through a few.

I’d like to think that I’ll meet someone who will pick up my book someday and read it, not only not skipping the sad or difficult parts, but will also add good things to the book. Then I’ll find their book, read and add to it as well. Yes. This is the part where archiValerie reveals that despite her hard, cynical exterior, she really is kind of a romantic after all. Although this analogy not only applies to romantic engagements, but friendships as well.

Save the date card that looks like a library due date card including significant dates of couple's relationship.

Who will add to your book? Image source:

If the world is a library and we are all manuscripts in it, then does that make dating websites like eHarmony and OKCupid card catalogs/OPACs/WorldCat for them? Is my Facebook page a finding aid for the collection that is my life? Likewise, if I were to run a search for an educated, well-read gentleman, who rides bicycles (a taunt in my group of male bicycling friends when one of them gets a new girlfriend is: “Bro, does she even ride?”), would I be able to find my one in seven billion? Then again, with a number that high, I imagine statistically, there would be more than one suitable match. I even included an ISBD record biography on my blog to make it easier to find me. Or on a more sinister note, I have to admit I’ve done my fair share of “google stalking” in which I’ve tried to find out as much information about someone before making a move (“I see you enjoy caffeinated beverages and wearing plaid shirts. I too enjoy caffeinated beverages and wearing plaid shirts. Would you like to enjoy a caffeinated beverage with me while we both wear plaid shirts?”). Using my information-science-fu for evil is not really a new thing though.

This is the part where I acknowledge that this method is flawed. My list of requirements has changed over the years. When I was a teenager, I was into the punk rock guys or musicians in general since I was a band geek. In undergrad, I either went for guys in computer science, creative writing or student film. There was only ever really one guy I went for in my PDX years, sandwiching all of the humorously failed first dates via the Portland Mercury Lovelab as my first, last and only Portland love. Interestingly enough, I did not meet him online, but at a video store (hey, anyone remember those before Netflix?) where we talked about the last Harry Potter book, Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica followed by our own writing/film projects. Now I’ve just come to the conclusion that I’m drawn to people who are passionate about whatever it is that they do, whether it’s writing, filming movies, building bicycles, or designing biological assays. Of course, riding a bicycle helps as I can’t help but roll my eyes whenever a prospective date says that wherever we meet has to have parking for his car. This is Boston. Parking is nonexistent!

But I digress. The main point is I can create lists, index and cross-reference every eligible heterosexual male in the Boston metropolitan area based on my terms (there was a rather amusing This American Life story in which the Drake equation was used to try to determine the number of eligible men for a tall, female physics PhD in Boston here), but that doesn’t mean we’ll be compatible or that he’d even be interested in me. Not to mention, I am forgetting one of the first things we discussed in my reference class: read the person first, not just the text. Talk to them, conduct a reference interview to try to figure out what they need. Sometimes what they say they’re looking for at first isn’t actually the book/information they actually needed. Just because a guy looks perfect on paper doesn’t mean that he is perfect for me.

Likewise, I seem to fit the bill for being the sort of attractive Asian female that guys on dating sites send lurid messages to, but I really doubt that who I am actually matches the image of what they’re seeking. In other words, it is very easy to build an image of someone in the mind, a fiction that shadows the reality to the point where it leads to disappointment in both parties (or outright manipulation and espionage, like in David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly). I suppose this is yet another peril. People are often much more than the data they present or that others present. So, once people find each other, how do they stay together?

A book came out discussing the results of a large-scale survey of couples relating their relationship habits and general happiness in their relationships. There was an NPR story about it here. The scientific skeptic in me can’t help but wonder what sort of statistical hypothesis testing went into determining the conclusions that you should hold hands during an argument or that using cutesy annoying nicknames correlate with being happier as a couple. Still, I would love to see the raw data more than I would be interested in reading the book.

Well, this is what happens when I haven’t blogged in over a year. I hope this wasn’t too tl;dr for all of you. I also hope that it had enough library/information science in a pop framework to balance out my incoherent ranting. When it comes down to it, all of the data mining and information spidering in the world might help you find someone, but it takes actually spending time with them and talking to them to actually get to know them as a person and not a dataset. Or, in two-wheeled terms: a relationship is like a bicycle. You get as much as you put into it. If you don’t dig deep, you’re never going to get up that hill. Also, always make sure you remember to clean and re-lube your chain regularly.

August 13, 2012 / archivalerie

Happily ever for now: the post-SAA 2012 reflection

It looks like I’m not the only one who’s come a long way in the year since Rebecca Goldman’s Post-SAA Howl [Correction: It has been two years since Post-SAA Howl, which goes to show how long it took to gain recognition. via Rebecca Goldman on Twitter]. After feeling like recognition of students and new archivists was lacking in the organization, the Student and New Archives Roundtable started after petitioning and an application spearheaded by Ms. Derangement-and-Description herself. Mark Matienzo (@anarchivist) won the Emerging Leader award. Not to mention, our former SAA President Gregor Trinkaus-Randall gave us a shout-out at the second plenary session. Our new SAA President Jackie Dooley is on Twitter (@minniedw)! Not to mention all of the new electronic and education initiatives going on.

I’m really not sure I can say much more than I’ve already tweeted like crazy… perhaps tweeted too hard. If you missed the conference, a lot of us were livetweeting quite a bit. Fear not, however, as I had plenty of opportunities for tête-à-tête interactions with archivists in real-time/space and I had a great time over brunch/dinner/drinks discussing many nerdy archive-y things with them, including starting urban legends about how some of us partied so hard with some military personnel at the Hard Rock Cafe that they got kicked out of karaoke or how one of us threw a drink at the hotel bartender resulting in Hilton refusing to ever host an SAA ever again… like that apocryphal San Francisco tiki bar story (seriously, if you were witness to this, please let me know because I need confirmation). Hm. Perhaps this isn’t exactly the sort of “new face” to the profession I should be encouraging, considering it seems to consist mostly of getting rowdy. Unfortunately, I hate to admit that for every business-card swap, there were at least two whose names I can’t remember.

I gave my first presentation at SAA, which was based on this blog post, and I daresay it went quite well considering the fact that we were scheduled in the Saturday 2:00 pm-3:00 pm death slot and still got a good amount of attendees and our discussion went well to 4:00 pm. One question I received asked if I had actually gone out into the underrepresented community my collection reflected and admittedly, I had not. The asker brought up the fact that I was in a position of power, considering I had processed this collection and had the ability to connect it to the people it affected. I remember seeing a picture in one of the newspaper clippings of a teddy bear that had been left behind in the desert. I remember wondering how bad it was that some child had to leave what was most likely a beloved stuffed animal behind and wondering if that child was even still alive.

So the question still remains unanswered. How do I help what was once a faceless number go from Johns and Jane Does to meaningful stories and names to go with them? After all, the easiest way to create an enemy is to make them nameless, faceless, an invading horde of “aliens” or “illegals” or “migrants.” After our panel, we had an interesting discussion about philology and the weight of words, whether it’s how mainstream media refers to people crossing arbitrary borders as “migrants” or “illegals” or how the Library of Congress Subject Headings included “Orientals” and “Yellow Peril.” How does one turn a potential enemy into a friend? By listening to them, learning their stories, finding out that we’re not so different after all. We’re all just folk trying to build a life for ourselves.

I’m no longer at the University of Arizona Special Collections since the internship was only a month long and I am happy at my current position as an assistant librarian for a pharmaceutical company, but I do feel like I should get involved, do even more. I have to admit that the query I received after the panel was jarring. As an Asian American woman, I always felt more or less invisible and voiceless in the greater history narrative, but the point of power is still valid. As someone educated as an archivist, I do possess the ability to literally shape the course of history. There are so many untold stories out there that my head would swim to contain them all… except I don’t have to. The papers, photographs, audio recordings, films and born digital items are there waiting for someone to find them…

I love being a science librarian. Being able to help great people do great science has been one of my fondest wishes since I learned what a science librarian did. However, I still find myself drawn to social justice and want to do more than the usual signing of online petitions and chain-mail-style, awareness-raising reblogging that people just tune out after awhile. Of course, there’s always the Archivists Without Borders US Chapter. I feel like I’ve fought long and hard just to carve myself a place in the library world, but now that I have, I can’t forget where I came from or why I wanted to get into in the first place: to give voice to the voiceless so that I may not be haunted by the ghosts of forgotten history.

The two parts of this involve:

1. Raising public awareness of what archives are, who archivists are and the sort of good they can do, such as:

  • Hold those responsible for ill-doings accountable to history by preserving the record of what they have inflicted on others (Nazi Archives, Iraq National Archives, John Cutler Papers)
  • Help create/restore beautiful music “California Stars” by Billy Bragg and Wilco, lyrics by Woody Guthrie as found in his archives).
  • Assist people in research their family histories as well as teach them how to preserve their own personal collections/items.

2. Assisting repositories in acquiring, processing and providing access to collections from otherwise underrepresented groups.

… as to how I’ll get around to accomplishing these two things… your guess is as good as mine, but I know I’ll do my damnedest.

Once again, I fear I’ve strayed from the main topic, which was originally intended to be a recap of SAA 2012: Beyond Borders in San Diego. Yet the title holds: I am content in my life, professionally and personally. I recall joking to Rebecca that if my plane crashed on the way back or if I got hit by a car, I think I would die pretty satisfied overall with how things ended up… yet I do know there’s so much I can do, so much more I must do.

After all, ghosts have a tendency to not stay quiet for long.

I’ll close this post with a quote from one of my favorite books/authors:

“They can’t silence me any more! I’ll tell the world what they have done to me!”

Carlos Bulosan, America Is in the Heart (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1943), 180.

This book was what helped shape the sort of writer I wanted to be, but I eventually realized my own story was rather dull in comparison. Now this book shapes the sort of archivist I want to be, the sort that helps others tell their stories.

I hope to see you all and share more stories at #saa13 in NOLA!

July 23, 2012 / archivalerie

Appraisal, Accessioning and What we Choose to Remember

So the major television stations and internet are all abuzz about the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. Even though nobody asked, here are some thoughts from an erstwhile archivist.

I don’t care about the shooter. I’m sick of seeing his name on headlines, sick of seeing his remorseless gaze from his Student ID picture, sick of hearing “experts” speculate about his intelligence or mental state or the socioeconomic/political climate that could harbor resentful, disturbed individuals with a mass of weapons. I’m not even going to get into the inevitable political firestorm about the Second Amendment or the “glorification of violence” in popular culture. For all I care, he can rot away the rest of his miserable days in a small box. I want his name to be forgotten, completely faded from the pages of history.

Who I do care about is Stephen Barton, who survived after being shot multiple times, who isn’t even from Aurora, Colorado but just happened to be in town with a friend during a 2,000+ mile cross-country bicycle tour. I care about Gordon Cowen, Jessica Ghawi, John Laramer and all of the other names listed during the memorial vigil. I care about the names I will probably never see in the news of other survivors and their family members.

Not too long from now, I’d love to read that Stephen was able to finish his cross-country bicycle trip with his friend after making a full recovery, see that he continued taking pictures and creating memories as he advised his graduating class at Syracuse. That is my hope. Just as it is my hope that those who survived go on with their lives and those who perished are remembered as they had lived and not how they died. I do not represent society as a whole. I do not even represent archives or archivists. Yet as a person, an archivist of my own history, this is what I choose to remember.

So what does any of my sentimental outpouring of outrage have anything to do with archives?

I kept thinking about how many news articles and sound bytes there would be about the killer and how sick I was of seeing that cycle happen, an almost fetishistic obsession with death and what causes people to kill. I saw a video on Reddit condemning mass media for sensationalizing mass murderers to the point where every scrap of information is slathered all over the place, the killer’s face and words pasted everywhere practically sending the message: “Hey, if you feel disillusioned and want attention, if you murder a bunch of people, they’ll remember you forever and debate about what it was you were trying to say.” and turning the victims into a mere anonymous body count. Of course, I realize that by making a blog entry about this, I may only be adding fuel to the fire. However, note that I did not use the shooter’s name or provide any information about him.

As archivists, we’re often touted as the custodians of history. The appraisal and accessioning processes are where we select and gain control over collections that will act as a community’s collective memory. It may be a rough stretch, but what about helping save history as it happens? After the Tuscon shooting, the University of Arizona Special Collections (my internship supervisor Chrystal Carpenter coordinated this) tried to save as many of the well-wishers cards and memorial items as possible. Of course, I don’t even remember the name of the shooter and that was about a year and a half ago.

Naturally, I do feel slight apprehension about this mentality of “what we choose to remember,” considering the risk of potential censorship or the dangers of nostalgia: only choosing to remember the good and rosy things of the past, but not our mistakes as a society. For example, how there’s a strange nostalgia for the 1950s for having more family values, better economy, etc. but forgetting about segregation, racism, and lack of women’s rights. Or, how we will never forget Pearl Harbor, but don’t often discuss the internment of Japanese-American citizens.

Once again, I find it difficult to remain neutral, but I am a firm believer that we all have stories worth telling and that these stories should live on long after we do. So, as much as it dismays me, it is likely that the name of the killer will have its own Wikipedia entry and a long list of Google search results. Yet I feel that the stories of those that died and those that survived should be told and remembered as well. It has been done in the past, with oral histories saved from survivors of September 11. After the the funerals, the hospital stays, the recovery and rehabilitation, after the doctors are gone, or perhaps even before, I can’t help but ask: “Is there an archivist in the house?”

May 6, 2012 / archivalerie

Even Project Freelancer/Red vs. Blue Need Archivists

To those well acquainted with me, it is no secret that I have a great love for Rooster Teeth and their flagship series Red vs. Blue (which will start its tenth season on Memorial Day of this year). Their drive to create consistently high-quality, entertaining web content and their love of their fans appeals to me, not to mention they greatly love what they do and it shows.

For my readers not familiar with Red vs. Blue (Seriously, drop what you’re doing and watch it now, this blog entry can sit here and wait for you.), it’s a series about two opposing sides in a war: red army and blue army. These soldiers stationed out in a remote box canyon spend about as much time bickering with members of their own team as they do trying to kill each other or capture the flag. Delightfully absurd humor aside, a storyline comes into play around the third season and then things get pretty serious around the Reconstruction season (6). Naturally, nothing is as it seems /cue spooky music/. Don’t worry, the Red and Blue teams maintain their wacky shenanigans and quotable one-liners. Also, you don’t even have to have played Halo to appreciate the humor or plot. I know I can’t play a first-person shooter without getting nauseated and having to lie down after fifteen minutes.

Red vs. Blue is where Agent Texas, one of my all-time favorite ass-kicking female characters is from. Even her theme songs are badass (courtesy of Trocadero and Jeff Williams, soundtracks available on iTunes). Agent Carolina is a close second, but I do find myself often wondering what Agent Tex would do in situations involving unruly patrons, demanding researchers or funding sources that ask too many inconvenient questions…

Sorry, I got a bit sidetracked there. On with the show!

A fan of Red vs. Blue edited together the opening voiceover correspondence between the Chairman of the UNSC Oversight Committee and the Director of Project Freelancer from each episode of the Reconstruction season. Of course, such correspondence would be kept in an evidential capacity and later as a collection of enduring historical value. Even in a future filled with space marines, aliens and holographic storage, I imagine there is still a place for archivists. The rise of digital preservation/curation and our present fight to prevent a digital dark age is enough proof of our place in the future.

Without getting too spoilery, the Chairman is in the process of investigating some discrepancies about the project and some incidents that took place post-war and is sending inquiries to the Director of Project Freelancer. It is no secret that even when people are up to no good, they still keep records of it, even very detailed records of it (e.g. Nazi Archives, the most recent release of documents from Osama Bin Laden). Not to invoke Godwin’s Law, of course, but the Director is clearly the villain of this piece. Of course, he did not believe that what he was doing was wrong, considering as he put it, the very survival of humanity depended on finding a solution, any solution to the alien threat. So, naturally, as a scientist, he kept detailed logs of his (arguably highly-unethical) experiments.

Of course, the Chairman is able to make his case against the Director once the UNSC grants his investigation permission to take these records as evidence. I wonder if there was a scientific data librarian who assisted the Director and if he/she was also technically an agent of Project Freelancer. Naturally, I imagine this agent to have green armor (that never gets worn because as a librarian, he/she is not actually a field agent) and is referred to as Agent Oregon (or Agent Massachusetts). Was this librarian one of the staff members interrogated? Did he/she ever feel any conflicted feelings about the ethical nature of the Director’s experiments? Or, was the data librarian  complicit in it, fully believing in the Director’s motivations (because he sort of has that effect on people… to a point).

Sarge and Simmons at Command

Simmons and Sarge contemplate the meaning of being on the Red Team if there is no Blue Team to fight. Image screen captured from:

On a lighter note, there is a scene near the end of Red vs. Blue Reconstruction where Sarge, the gruff, regimental leader of the Red Team orders Simmons, the tech-savvy sycophantic nerd, to delete all the files Command has of the Blue Team. Simmons debates the existential quandary of how if there is no longer a blue team, what does it mean to be red… but then Sarge, being Sarge, hits the delete button using the sage logic of “What it means is what it’s always meant. We rule. They suck.”

Sarge Deletes the Blues anyway.

Simmons staring in shock after Sarge hit the delete button anyway. Image screencaptured from:

This is a running joke later when interrogating a prisoner, the Chairman states “I find no records of these blue soldiers.” and Church, the reluctant leader of the Blue team, says “Great, now I won’t get my paycheck for this week.” Now, if Command/Project Freelancer had a digital asset manager or records manager, they would be able to run checks on whether or not data had been added, changed, or deleted. Not to mention, they would have had suitable backups, often in a geographically distinct location. I imagine this is likely considering the AI backups were stored in holographic storage (which is mildly confusing to me since I recall someone mentioning that smart-AI cannot be duplicated/copied).

Also, in the Revelation season (8), there is a remote storage facility where additional equipment and journal entries from the Director were stored … until Church deleted them, bad Church! I know you had your reasons, but the unwarranted destruction of records is terrible. In some ways, I consider FILSS/SHEILA as an erstwhile reference librarian/archivist, as she assists Church and Caboose… and I use “assist” in the loosest sense of the word considering this happens:

At any rate, it’s good to know that in the distant future, there will still be absurd humor and a need for archivists to assist in holding scientific researchers accountable for their actions. On a closing note, one of the overarching tag lines of the series is “Memory is the key.” As custodians of history and collective memory, we archivists remember this on a regular basis as part of our driving purpose. This is why it saddens me greatly to see all of the listservs and social networking sites on fire about what is going on in Canada right now. As someone not currently employed as an archivist, I feel powerless to help in such situations, but of course, part of our job entails informing people of what we do, whether they are patrons or funding sources.


How could I have missed this? So thanks to the wonderful transcriptionists at the Rooster Teeth fansite, here is an example of SHEILA/FILSS acting as a digital archivist in Episode 17 of Revelation as Simmons tries to find a way to restore the deleted Blue team. Granted, she’s more snarky and patronizing than helpful, but to be fair, she’s been isolated a long time in the remote storage facility. Also, it is rather surprising that she would have missed all of the Blue Army records being deleted. I have to admit, if I was ever digitized and made to act as the perpetual custodian of the records made by a shadowy experimental agency, I would probably behave a lot like SHEILA/FILSS.

FILSS: That is not an approved operation-hey! Watch it buddy!
Simmons: Can you show me the data logs?
FILSS: Affirmative.
Sarge: Simmons, any progress in restoring the Blues?
Simmons: It’s a lot of data entry Sir. I was thinking I could hack the mainframe and reroute the data stream to-
FILSS: Or, we could just restore from an archive database.
Simmons: What?
FILSS: This is an off-site fallback facility. It is designed to have archives in case of data loss. Blue Team rosters would certainly be a part of that.
Simmons: Really?
FILSS: Yes. In fact, I am glad you pointed out the database anomaly. I had noticed it before, but did not have time to investigate. Strange.
Simmons: Oh. Okay, yeah, restore that then.
FILSS: Done.
Simmons: Great.
FILSS: You seem disappointed. Did I do it too quickly, and make you look bad?
Simmons: No…
FILSS: I could always, pretend that you hacked me, if it would make you look better to your friends.
Simmons: Stop patronizing me.
FILSS: Affirmative. Patronizing subroutines are now offline.
Simmons: You’re still patronizing me aren’t you.
FILSS: Kind of.

If you wanted to watch the actual episode this is from [Season 8 Revelation, Episode 17 “Tenth Percentile”], warning: it’s a bit spoilery and perhaps even confusing unless you’ve watched the rest of the series.

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