How the Librarians Saved History: Harvesting Government History, One Web Page at a Time

My work is rewarding whether is gets recognition or not, but I have to admit, it was nice to get an honorable mention in this NYTimes article.   screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-11-29-42-pm

There is so much I love about what I do, and where I do it and who I do it with, and this project brought it all together. My fellow harvesters and I were all connected by at most 1.5 degrees of separation. There was even someone who was in a class I taught a zillion years ago when I was an adjunct at Queens College!

It is so great to go the conferences and events and run into so many Pratt graduates, many were my students and took my information policy or government information classes. I remember their term papers and their presentations, and it is great to see them involved in information activism.

But now that my five minutes of fame are over it’s time to get back to work for access to information. Looking for suggestions. And don’t forget to #GovDocs@Trump


Double feature: #GovDocs2Trump Tweetathon and End of Term Harvest

This came to me through library channels and may have originated from @noftalee . The idea is to tweet Trump some of the documents that tell the story of our country.

The Tweetathon announcement  says:

#GovDocs2Trump Tweetathon

America deserves a president who is well versed in the history of this nation and the documents upon which that history was built. Let’s present those documents to the President-Elect through his favorite medium–Twitter.

Tweetathon will begin at 9am (central) on December 1, 2016. You are welcome to join at any time.

Feel free to use whatever government related document (Supreme Court decisions, innagurial addresses, speeches, early American papers, etc.) strikes your fancy.

Tag each tweet with the hashtag #GovDocs2Trump and please send them to @realdonaldtrump. This way we can fill his feed.

Finally, please make your first tweet “Dear @realDonaldTrump, We the people demand an informed President.

So yes, of course I plan to join the Tweetathon. In fact, I started making a list of documents I will send. These include the CONAN, The US Constitution Annotated , the Nixon grand jury records  and many more

For those who would like to join the conversation but need suggestions on where to find government documents, here are some suggestions:

Our Documents  has a list of 100 millstones documents from American history such as the Emancipation Proclamation . A much larger collection is available from Govinfo and Government Publishing Office’s database. Browse their index  for Executive orders, Presidential papers and more.

Are your interests in history, diplomacy, foreign affairs? Try FRUS  Foreign relations of the United States. There you will find all the correspondences, cables, letters, etc. between presidents and other official. The collection is arranged by president and by topic. For example John F Kennedy Kennedy-Khrushchev Exchanges, Volume VI (it’s basically a retrospective edited wikileaks)

For those that are more into numbers, there are reports from the Census Bureau  on topic such as poverty as well as infographics

And the Double Feature? The start of the Tweetathon happens to coincide with the End of Term Harvest event I am facilitating tomorrow at the New York Academy of Medicine

Grey Literature End of Term Harvest. 10-1pm, The New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029.

The change of government administration brings the potential to eliminate websites, remove information and limit access to past administration content. This day we will identify such websites, particularly in areas on the Affordable Care Act, climate change and more, focusing on government social media and information not on .gov domains.

The plan is to double dip. Not matter where you are #GovDocs2Trump


Archiving the Obama administration

On Thursday. Dec 1 I will be facilitating an event in which participants help archive websites for the Obama administration, website that are in danger of disappearing with the change of administration. The event is hosted by the New York Academy of Medicine. Details on NYAM website Archiving instructions are available here

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Loosely translated: The value of ephemera

The March 18 print issue of the book reviews from the Israeli paper Ha’aretz, includes a few columns on the value, insights and lessons to be gleaned from what we tend to think of as ephemeral publications.

Ariana Melamed writes about telephone directories. In the young state of Israel (est. 1948) the wait for a telephone was 10-15 years and the directories of the first decade read like the social registry of Israeli society. It included the old guard and the names listed were those of judges, members of Knesset, physicians and others of the well-connected elite. Up until the mid 1960’s it served as a who’s who of Israeli society and could be used to track social mobility, gentrification and changes in family structure.

Yuval Albashan writes about public records, specifically foreclosure cases. He deconstructs the tedious legalize of these documents down to their essence: Mr. S and his family were evicted from their house for a debt of about $2100, which includes fines and eviction charges. Everything is by the book, all the paperwork accurate, everything follows the letter of the law. The legal fees to the state for this eviction are close to $7000. You do the math.

Udi Orman begins by reminiscing on Ernest Hemingway who (allegedly?) wrote a six-word story on a napkin in the Algonquin hotel (For sale: baby shoes, never worn) and then goes on to write in praise of notes in the pre-twitter age. The kind we used to leave parents (dad, wake me up at 5:30, I need to study for a math test) or roommates (I paid the phone bill, you owe me half). Some notes were more elaborate, like the micro writing on the crib sheets for the world history exam.

The strongest social statement is made by Vered Lee who describes the business cards to be found all over Tel-Aviv advertising the services of call-girls, massage parlors and similar businesses.Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 3.40.26 PM She quotes Henri Bergson (who quote  Un modéré par habitude, un libéral par instinct is part of my signature file) who said that chaos is order we can’t see. Lee sees in these business cards proof to the silent institutionalizing of these services and protests the sharp contrast between illusion and reality. The prevailing color is pink, the images fairy-tale like, the language suggestive, and the solicitation indirect. And what is missing? No word on abuse, violence, depression, stigma, addiction, fatigue, malaise, and shorter than average life expectancy. Small pink business cards scattered all over the sidewalks, concealing the lives of the women who are really the ones out on the street.

As someone who teaches reference, I am well aware of the value of these publications, especially for future research. We regularly receive requests for high school yearbooks, business and telephone directories, old newspaper ads and more. We librarians struggle to capture, preserve, digitize and make these drafts of history available to future generations.


Grey Literature 15 conference coming soon

I’ll be giving the keynote address at the GL15 conference this winter in Bratislava (Slovakia) this Dec.
Hope to see you there.

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