Category Archives: Humour

ACA Conference Bites, Stevie : Day 3 – Poster Session

Finally! The poster session. This was a new format for the ACA this year. Where normally a very few posters would be shown out in the hall with the vendors during breaks on one of the days, this year more posters were presented, and each presenter (or group of presenters) were allotted five minutes to explain their work. This was a great idea, as it gave people an idea of what was on our poster before actually reading our poster, which in turn made them more interested in reading the poster, and asking questions.poster5b

Our five minute lightning talk was on the work UASC has been doing with the Courtney Milne collection, digitizing a selection of the 486,000 35mm slides donated and making them available online.

Other topics included: Preservation, other digitization projects, the portrayal of archivists in movies, human rights and archives, Lululemon(!) and much more. It was a great session with great people, and I am happy to have had the chance to meet and work, however briefly, alongside them all!

After speaking, we went over to where our actual posters were on display, and answered questions over the next two break sessions. I really appreciated everyone who came over to discuss the project!


ACA Conference Bites : Stevie, Day 2 – Extending Our Reach

Sandwiches are great. Complimentary sandwiches are even better. Sandwiches are what we were given for our first lunch at the ACA conference. Lest you experience envy at their marbled-rye and thick egg-salady goodness, I will neglect to post a picture here. (Also, I forgot to take a picture.)


(a salad)

We also had a salad.( I didn’t take a picture of that either.) But both were very good, and lunch provided a great opportunity for all of us poster-presenters to get together and make our plan of action for the next day. It was wonderful to meet the other presenters and put faces to names (and posters). Two of the presenters I knew from my previous life in Montreal, but most of them were new to me. I won’t drop too many spoilers about the actual poster session here — that will get its own post (and there WILL be pictures)–but eating lunch with the people we would be presenting alongside helped a lot with the nerves. They were all super-nice people.

The next session we went to was titled “Extending Our Reach — Engaging the Public with New Media and Old.” Being someone who does a lot of social media work for the University Library’s University Archives and Special Collections (and even some blogging on the side . . .) this was one of the sessions I was most excited for.

First up was Brett Lougheed from the University of Winnipeg who had some interesting and useful observations on the social media employed both at the U of W and at the U of M. He cracked open the discussion with the adage “the medium is the message.” While in many areas this can be a controversial statement, I think nowhere is it truer than with social media. Different social media platforms shape the way in which we share our thoughts–what we say on a subject on Facebook may be very different from the way we cram it into 140 Twitter characters. How we group and share images on a blog will be different from how we do it on Pinterest (I’m thinking the University Archives and Special Collections needs Pinterest in its life–is this madness?).

Some of Lougheed’s tips, tricks, and observations, as based on his years of experience working with social media in two separate institutions are as follows:

  • Be Unobtrusive – Posts should be informative and fun, spaced evenly enough apart that the user is neither over nor underwhelmed.
  • Facebook – Should not just be a place where you share your Twitter posts. There is room for exposition. Use it.
  • Fun Ideas for Facebook
    • Create an institutional timeline using old photographs and   Facebook’s timeline feature << Definitely something I’ll look into doing for the U of S!
    • Actually make use of the photo album feature (Derp. not sure why we’re not doing this).
  • Image Posts Are King
  • Play Off of the Now – If it is Valentines Day, post Valentines Day content. If the Riders are in the Grey Cup, post Grey Cup stuff (if the Riders are not in the Grey Cup, ignore the Grey Cup stuff — it will just make everyone sad).
  • Twitter Audience – Is mostly going to be people with some sort of pre-existing background in archives and special collections, be they contemporaries, or advanced researchers. This makes Twitter a less-than-ideal platform to engage with new users.
  • Youtube – Is good!
  • Blogs – Should be interactive spaces for discussion, and above all, fun!

Some of these are perhaps self-evident, but all were good points to keep in mind, and I definitely came away with some fun ideas for ways to extend our own online presence. Six months, already! It has been over six months since our Twitter feed and Facebook page and blog were born. I’m a proud Momma.

Next up Andrea Martin and Tyyne Petrowski from the University of Manitoba (interestingly, this was a very Central-Western centric panel. Are we really doing more outreach out here, or just more inclined to talk about it?) who shared their experiences using Tumblr to showcase a collection of letters sent home by Frederick D. Baragar during the Great War. I was intrigued enough by Tumblr as an interface for this sort of project that I put together my own Tumblr blog when I got home, just to get my hands in it. Rather than re-hashing their presentation, I will invite you to take a look at From the Somewhere , which is a truly fabulous example of an easy-to-use, easy-to-maintain-and-update blog that allows non-traditional (and traditional) archival users to engage with primary source materials. in a familiar format.

Last to speak was Saskatoon’s own City Archivist, Jeff O’Brien, who was introduced as having been raised in a culvert by a family of gophers. Which sort of set the tone, as such statements will. gopher_wiki Jeff is such an engaging and amusing speaker, and it is always a treat to listen to him talk about pretty much anything (the gophers taught him well.) On this occasion he was talking about his work with local media (and in particular his CTV news segment Saskatoon Stories) , encouraging those working in archives and special collections to make media relations a priority. Requests from the media tend to be highly time sensitive, and so archives and special collections need to make requests coming in from any news organ a “drop everything request.” We should also attempt to anticipate the needs of news entities (if there’s an election coming up, dig up our stuff on elections before they even ask), and never turn down an interview. He reminded us that “everyone likes a good story” and that archives and special collections, being places filled with good stories, are ideally suited for partnership with news outlets whose goal it is to share good stories.

All that being said, I’m afraid I don’t personally quite have O’Brien’s gift for gab, and I am convinced that propping me up in front of a camera for any length of time could only end badly for everyone involved.

After all, I wasn’t raised by gophers.

Dinner that night was catered by Merv’s pitchfork fondue. This is a picture of Merv. With his pitchfork. SO GOOD!


ACA Conference Bites : Stevie, Day 2 – Gail Bowen

Anyone who loves books and lives in Saskatchewan is bound to have read, or at least heard of the detective fiction of Regina-based author Gail Bowen. On the first morning of the conference the plenary was delivered by this mistress of intrigue who, true to form, kept the ballroom spellbound with her tales of serendipity, working with archives, and meeting royalty.

I think her best line (and twitter seemed to agree) was the notion that “archivists are alchemists.” Aside from the obvious ways in which this analogy would resonate with a group of document-loving history buffs, it was adept in its comparison between the disorganized haystack that our documents often arrive in, and the golden order we transmute them into. It is often the task of the archival worker to take what seems like an impossible mess of highly valuable research materials, and convert it into something that will be clean, tidy, well-documented, and–above-all–accessible to researchers.

img520Heavily present in Gail’s talk was the notion of serendipity–a sort of stumble-across-good-luck which has, she claimed, played a huge role in her life and in her writing. She gave as an example the first book to which she had been invited to contribute: The Easterners’ Guide to Western Canada / The Westerners’ Guide to Eastern Canada (1985).  A random request from a friend to write a small chapter in a little-known “airplane book” sparked a writing career that would span three decades and over twenty novels.  (Interestingly, I myself had serendipitously found this book in our holdings a few months back and enjoyed a few moments reading Bowen’s segment “A Letter from British Columbia.”) In many ways, Bowen credits the success of her career to serendipity. The right person standing by the right fax machine at the right time has culminated in the adaptation of her novels into movies ; the right people becoming interested in the right play has led to her taking lunch with Prince Charles (who, as it turns out, isn’t much a fan of lunch–in Gail’s words “Clean your plate, boy!”).

Bowen’s focus on the power of serendipity was interesting given the loaded nature of the term within archives and libraries, and perhaps an unintentional nod to a major topic of discussion in information theory. In a recent C-EBLIP article, Frank Winter discusses the (perceived) conflict between the desire to maintain serendipitous information discovery (as by reading shelves) and the need for more efficient resource allocation in the academic library (as by moving resources off-site to provide better student study spaces, or relying upon electronic copies) (Winter, 2015).

The struggle to allow for serendipitous discovery in any type of research in which the user is not handling the material from shelf-to-table is a familiar one in the world of archives and special collections. Archives and special collections, being spaces where the bulk of information is kept behind locked (or at least heavy) doors may seem singularly unsuited to the coincidental uncovering of information–however, this is not the case. Serendipity can and frequently does occur within the archival context. In her 2011 essay “Serendipity in the Archive,” Nancy Lusignan Schultz names two elements essential to fostering serendipity in archival research : “good sleuthing” on the part of the researcher (Bowen would love that) and “the expert guidance of a willing archivist” (Schultz, 2011). Here, the reference assistant must become an active accessory to serendipity–providing the user not just with what they ask for, but with a few shots in the dark besides.

Serendipity, then, takes a different form in archives and special collections than it does within the library stacks, being reliant not only on the keen eyes of the user as she rifles through files, but also upon the initial decision made by reference staff regarding which finding aids she may find on-topic.  The reference staff must have a broad enough understanding of the unit’s holdings to provide guidance, yet be unfamiliar enough with the specific contents of each fonds to allow coincidental discoveries to occur. In many ways, each file within an archival fonds presents an ideal vehicle for serendipitous discovery, as its contents can be as varied as the interests of the person that created it.

In his article, Winter acknowledges the value of serendipity in research, but ultimately concludes that  there are “so many variables that determine whether a user stumbles across something relevant that they are almost impossible to identify,” and therefore serendipity should perhaps not be invoked as an “operating principle when deciding how to manage down print collections”  (Winter, 2015). His assertion about the nature of serendipity is in line with the vast difference between the kind of serendipitous discovery we see in the library stacks, and that which is found in archives and special collections. Serendipity is the result of a near-infinite chain of coincidences, and therefore can take a on near-infinite number of forms. Perhaps with the changing library landscape will come a shifting in the nature of serendipitous discovery in libraries themselves. As print collections shrink and move, we may lose the thrill of being accidentally (and literally) struck  with a relevant top-shelf book as we reach for another. The question is, what other form of coincidental discovery will take its place?

Bowen, Gail. “25 Years of Writing Joanne.” ACA 2015 “Perspectives on the Archival Horizon”.
(June 11, 2015).

Schultz, Nancy Lusignan. “Serendipity in the Archive.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 57.37 (2011). Canadian Periodicals Index Quarterly. Web. 17 June 2015.

Winter, Frank. “Serendipity, Algorithms, and Managing Down the Collective Print Collection.” Brain Work.  (March 2015). Last accessed: 17 June 2015.