Sick

Northeastern University, my employer, recently reduced my sick time from 66 days per year to 12, effective January 1 2021. The messaging: “In setting the new parameters, HR found that, on average, employees take 5 sick days per year and that only 5% of employees use more than 9 days.”

I am one of the 5%–I’m a parent and someone who lives with chronic illnesses. 

“Do you have a 7:30 AM or a 4:30 PM appointment available?” has been a mantra for all of my working life.  Early on in my career, when I had limited sick time and positions that required my physical presence, I got used to holding each hour of sick time like a precious jewel. If I had a 7:30 AM appointment, I could usually make it in by 9:00, and if I had a 4:00 PM appointment and a flexible manager, I could come into work at 6:00 and not have to use (“waste” is actually the term I used, which in retrospect is problematic!) any of my time.  I did this because inevitably, I had appointments that required sick time, either because I couldn’t see/walk/speak when they were over, or because they were with doctors with such tight schedules that they couldn’t accommodate my early/late needs. 

The casual observer wouldn’t know that I had health challenges. I’m a valued leader both in my workplace and in my field. I always show up. But I have a minimum of 22 doctor appointments per year–47 when I was in regular therapy.  I have two fairly healthy children, (4 additional doctor/dentist visits), a grand total of 51 doctor visits in any given year. To be clear, I hate the fact that medical care takes up such a large percentage of my life. But this is the one way I can continue to stay “well.”

And there are the things that just “happen.” Plantar fasciitis (2x/ diagnose 2x/week PT, 7:30 appointments x 6 weeks), broken bone (7 hours in the ER and 6x ortho +PT), kid had a non-serious health challenge (20x/year ped visits), and new school COVID restrictions require BOTH kids home if one has a sniffle (~6/year)–we used to keep them home only if they had a fever (~2-3/year).

When I started at Northeastern in 2014, I was amazed at the sick policy– employees received 22 days on day 1 with increases by longevity until 66. I thought that it was the sign of an organization that really cared for its more vulnerable employees.  Even someone like me wouldn’t run out! I still asked for 7:30 and 4:40 appointments because I love my job and want to be as present as possible, but I allowed myself to take the occasional day off to stay home with a cold or a few hours to care for a sick kid before parking them in front of the computer with a bowl of cereal so that I could work. I felt safe because if one of my chronic illnesses required serious downtime or even more doctor appointments, I would have plenty available.

In one of the forums where folks were discussing this change, an astute observer noted, “This is a solution in need of a problem.” Was the problem the amount of sick time someone like me takes? HR hopes that its expanded leave policy (26 paid weeks for medical leave and 12 paid weeks to care for family after 7 days unpaid) will make up for such a drastic reduction in sick time.  “Depending on your situation, there are pluses and minuses to this change in sick time policy.”  For folks like me whose chronic illnesses require us to take regular sick time in order to keep ourselves and/or those in our care healthy and on track, this policy feels draconian, and I’m disappointed that HR enacted this blanket policy without finding out how it might affect the community’s most physically fragile. 

Please note: this blog post, and this blog is mine and represents only my own, ideas, opinions as a human being and not as a representative of Unviersity in any way.

East Boston Historical Society and Museum

I recently joined the Board of the East Boston Historical Society and Museum. I love Eastie history, love working toward impossible tasks, and to top it off, I can see the Donald McKay house from my kitchen window. The Museum was recently featured in Historic Boston, Inc.’s blog, which you can read directly here, but I’ve copied the text below as well.

_____________________________

SEPTEMBER 23, 2021 
MEET THE EAST BOSTON MUSEUM AND HISTORICAL SOCIETY

in Blog by Kathy Kottaridis

Earlier this year, with assistance from the East Boston Community Development Corporation (EBCDC), the East Boston Museum and Historical Society entered into a purchase and sale agreement with the owner of the historic Donald McKay House at 80 White Street in East Boston.

The Museum is devoted to preserving and promoting centuries of East Boston history. It provides regular local history programs for the public and has long hoped to identify an historic building for its headquarters.  When the Donald McKay House became available, they were convinced it was the perfect place for the organization’s home and a museum of East Boston history.

Hey Brian Gannon, I see you!

Debra Cave, the organization’s President, leads an all-volunteer organization with an 11-member board of directors.  “The East Boston Museum is an organization with members from ages 24 to 75,” she said.  “We have so many stories to tell and so much more to discover about our past that can inform the future.”   Cave particularly highlights three themes that are woven through East Boston’s 400-year written history that guides the Museum’s work:  transportation, immigration and advocacy.

Historic Boston is supporting the East Boston CDC and the Museum on a feasibility study for the house’s preservation and transformation into a museum.  The three organizations are actively interviewing architects and consultants to help with planning.

“Most of us who grew up in East Boston have been hearing about Donald McKay all our lives,” said Cave.  “This is a rare opportunity to purchase a building associated with him, and a great chance for the Museum to have the space it needs to store collections, present programs and display exhibits that will tell a bigger and richer history of the neighborhood.  Our members value history, but we also believe in building community by understanding the past and present.  This should be a place where everyone in the community feels welcome.”

“We are often offered donations of papers, books, and such, and haven’t had the space for their storage,” said Cave.  “The McKay House gives us space to plan for acquiring things that residents and visitors can use for research, and that we can use to create exhibits.”

The Donald McKay House was built by McKay (1810-1880) in 1844 near the crest of Eagle Hill.  McKay lived there until he moved to Hamilton Massachusetts in 1869 for the last decade of his life.  McKay emigrated to the US from Nova Scotia, and established his shipyard on the East Boston waterfront, from which he launched dozens of great 19th century sailing vessels, including clipper ships like the Flying Cloud and the Sovereign of the Seas, which was clocked as the fastest sailing ship ever recorded.

The City of Boston CPA has granted the Museum $400,000 toward the McKay House acquisition.  The Museum and the CDC are working on a capital campaign to raise the funds necessary to purchase the building.  Over the next several months, East Boston CDC, the Museum and HBI will be working with its chosen architect, engineers and contractors to determine the cost of restoring the historic house and adapting it for public and commercial uses.

According to Debra Cave, the East Boston Museum will plan the new facility with input from a cross section of East Boston community organizations whose work can complement the goals of the McKay House. “Many East Boston groups have cultural programming that we can support, too,” said Cave.  “We’re going into this optimistically and with our eyes wide open.  This will be hard work, but we know it will be a valuable contribution to the present and future of the neighborhood, and we know we have the right partners working alongside us.”

Neighborhood Matters, lunchtime film and lecture series

Neighborhood Matters, 2014

In 2014, Bree Edwards and I founded a lunchtime film and lecture series called Neighborhood Matters, to “celebrate the ways in which community groups have shaped the neighborhoods surrounding the Northeastern campus.” It was intended to be a chance for students, faculty, and community members to meet, share some takeout from the delicious Haley House Bakery and Cafe´, and learn about various aspects of our communtities’ history.

I often joke that my goal was to start an event series that required almost nothing, “All I have to do is pop the VHS tape in and press play!”** But Bree really hepled shape the series into something more– an intentional space without an us/them; one that uses food as a connector, and conversations that bridge gaps and promote mutual understanding. We have attempted to keep this up even after Bree’s career path took her elsewhere.

The guest speakers/commenters/presenters we’ve asked to come to campus have been superstars. Each has openly shared their nuanced and vast understanding of the topic at hand while also being incredibly patient with our students. The 2014 series (flyer pictured above) featured Mel King, Carmen Pola, and John Barros! What a lineup.

I’ve been assembling a little digital collection of our Neighborhood Matters posters, and you can see it here. Enjoy. https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/collections/neu:ww72bs340

**please note that this was a pragmatic choice– at the time I had one employee, a lot of technical debt to deal with, and an archive to run.

Overcoming the Paywall: Radical empathy and making the Gay Community News accessible to all

The August 2-8, 1987, issue of the Gay Community News. Its front page is an image of protesters standing in front of the U.S. Capitol with the headline "DC-Active! Coming out center stage to march on Washington"
The August 2-8, 1987, of the Gay Community News.

The Library (thanks, Kerri!) recently published a piece about the article I wrote for the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies (currently in preprint) that problematizes for-profit companies selling digitized collections that originate from under-documented comminities, and our attempt to un-paywall the Gay Community News. I’ve pasted the text below, but the article can be read directly on the Library’s blog here.

TL;DR? The main message is to archivists and digital collection builders: You can un-paywall your collections legally, too!

______________________________________

When Jackson Davidow was looking for information on Boston’s gay community in the 1970s, he knew where to go.

“I’ve long been interested in the relationship between queer politics and queer art, particularly in Boston in the 1970s, a point at which the city was a crucial hub of gay discourse, activism, nightlife, and sex,” said Davidow, a postdoctoral fellow in the “Translating Race” Lab at the Center for the Humanities at Tufts University. Gay Community News “was grounded in the political, cultural, and social environments of Boston. For that reason, it is an invaluable resource for researchers who study gay and lesbian life and liberation in Boston and beyond.”

Scan of the January 12, 1974 issue of the Gay Community News. It includes the headlines: New Gay Bills; UNH Saga Continues; and Maine Gays Attacked
The January 12, 1974, issue of the Gay Community News, one of its first published.

Gay Community News (GCN) was started in 1973 by eight Bostonians seeking to create a community voice for gays and lesbians in the Boston area. Originally published as a 2-page mimeographed sheet, the newspaper grew to have a national and international audience by the late 1970s and became one of the longest-running and most progressive national newspapers in the gay community. It was a natural place to start to gather the information Davidow needed. Issues of the GCN and records from its parent organization, the Bromfield Street Educational Foundation were subsequently donated to the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections (NUASC).  

While today’s researchers can contact many archives by email and receive scans of collections remotely, there was a time when physically visiting an Archives was only possible for those who lived in or could travel to the area. To provide more access to collections in the 1980s and 1990s, some Archives made arrangements to microfilm high use portions of their collections. In recent years those microfilms have been digitized and are offered via subscription to libraries — usually at a high cost — and then made available to the students and faculty affiliated with that university, a practice commonly described as “paywalling.”

Unfortunately, this means that the many of the volunteers who wrote and edited articles, turned the crank on the mimeograph machine, or paid to advertise a queer night at a local club no longer have access to the content they created. It’s a trend that Giordana Mecagni, Head of the NUASC, knows all too well. Troubled, she recently published “Tear Down This (Pay)wall!: Equality, Equity, and Liberation for Archivists” in the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies. The piece describes the negative effect paywalled archives have on institutions, archives, and researchers, and focuses on the GCN.

“Having the Gay Community News behind a paywall results in uneven access, where affiliates of universities can access the resource but members of marginalized groups within the queer community may not,” Mecagni wrote.

“Paywalls restrict who has access to archival materials. Many scholars are independent and unattached to academic institutions, or attached to academic institutions that do not have the money to subscribe to special historical resources,” Davidow added.

The NUASC recently completed an effort to made the Gay Community News freely available to anyone by re-scanning the GCN with help from the Boston Public Library’s “Library for the Commonwealth” program. This program provides free scanning services to Massachusetts libraries who have unique materials they want to share widely  and freely. Now researchers, students, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, writers, and anyone else can browse through 26 years of the GCN to get a glimpse of the gay community in Boston and around the world.

Researchers like Davidow are thrilled.

“The digitization of GCN helps scholars and community members learn about and revisit these important histories,” he said. “During my research for my recent essay in The Baffler, ‘Against Our Vanishing,’ I talked with many people involved in GCN, and everyone was thrilled to learn that the full run is available online.”

The GCN is available to access digitally through the NUASC’s LGBTQIA+ History Collection.


Against Our Vanishing– Jackson Davidow in the _Baffler_

Jackson Davidow was a 2020-2021 New England Regional Fellowship Consortium awardee, working in our University Archives and Special Collections and several other member archives He recently published an article in the Baffler that draws from his archival research on Gay art and politics in 1970s Boston including the newly publicly available Gay Community News. It is a wonderful read.

https://thebaffler.com/latest/against-our-vanishing-davidow

When I had been dancing for hours, hugging briefly one woman then another, jumping up and down, music blasting—Patti LaBelle, “Voulez-vous couchez avec moi / ce soir”—a moment would come when I would feel ecstatic with love for everyone, every single one of us, all of us lesbians together, even if I didn’t have anyone to go home with.

Globe article about METCO– B.E.A.T.

March 13, 2021 Boston Globe

In March, I got an email from the director of communications at METCO that said:

A bit more than a year ago, you played a crucial part in METCO’s pilot youth leadership program, B.E.A.T. You helped to shape the curriculum, you hosted a few high schoolers as they spelunked into your institutions’ treasures, and you met the students to share your stories and wisdom (in person or via Zoom).

The project that resulted has just been celebrated in the Sunday Boston Globe, and I wanted to make sure you saw it. You were a crucial part of their journey, which is now reaching a wider audience.

METCO (the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity), is a uniquely Boston institution. It started as a desegregation program in the 1960s whose aim was to invite predominantly white suburban schools to host Boston’s children of color– voluntarily. 55 years later, METCO’s programs still vibrant, largely because the 1974 decision only desegregated Boston _proper_, not the region, a fact often lamented by Boston’s education activists.

We love supporting youth programs including METCO and their aim to empower teens by promoting a better understanding of our City’s past.

Mapping Feminist Cambridge

Mapping Feminist Cambridge events, 2021

I’m going to start collecting miscellaneous rad* things that Molly and her reference team at work have participated in, either by contributing photographs, helping aid with research, etc. The first I’m sharing is from the Cambridge Commission on the Status of Women’s “Mapping Feminist Cambridge.” Description follows:

Mapping Feminist Cambridge is a series of historic tours focused on the feminist movement in Cambridge from the 1970s–1990s. From the takeover of 888 Memorial Drive, to the formation of the first domestic violence shelter on the East Coast, to one of the earliest feminist bookstores, to the home of the earliest women’s studies courses – Mapping Feminist Cambridge is a vibrant account of feminist organizing and politics. Each tour spans several organizations and provides context about the movement and its priorities including abortion access, racial equity, women in film and print, healing for survivors, lesbian and bisexual visibility, political collectives, and so much more.

https://cambridgewomenscommission.org/mapping/index.php

Our archives has some pretty rich Boston-based feminist organizational collections and some great personal papers collections from women who may/may not consider themselves feminist but are still rad.* Sophia Smith and Schlesinger are obviously much more focused and collect nationally, but our collections have a hyper-local and grassroots perspective that both community members and scholars love to dig into. Here’s a link:

https://archivesspace.library.northeastern.edu/repositories/2/classification_terms/21

*Rad is my 11 year daugher’s top complement. It might have something to do with the book given to her by Auntie Beck and Uncle Mike when she was little, “Rad American Women, A-Z” that she has read cover to cover several times. She called me “rad” in my latest mother’s day card. She must really love me. ❤

The Katz Tapes

Photograph depicting audiotapes of interviews with Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Allen Toussaint, Tom Petty, Seal, Ike Turner, Nancy Wilson

One of the more fun projects I have been working on is a collection of audiotaped interviews of local and national musicians recorded by Real Paper and Boston Herald reporter Larry Katz.

We have been working with Larry, Tom Blake and co. at the Boston Public Library, expert audio reformatting studio George Blood Audio LP, the Internet Archive and various Library teams to make these tapes available to the public. Our short-term goal is to upload the files to our digital repository and apply accurate metadata to each record. Our medium-term goal is to transcribe the interviews (crowdsourcing this may be an option), so as to provide deep access to the collection and its contents. Loftier goals may include using Wikidata to interoperate with with the Arthur Freedman collection at Harvard and the other private (David Bieber Archives) and institutional collectors interesting in celebrating Boston’s music and arts history. This lofty goal makes my 1990s and 2000s-era music nerd heart sing.

Larry and his collection was recently featured in a Boston Globe article. You can click on the image above to read a .pdf of the article which includes a couple of quotes from me, one of which is what my former Lexicographer better half calls a “colorful colloquialism.” Those who know me IRL know that this isn’t an unusual occurence, it’s just odd to see one appear in a national newspaper.

Larry was also interviewed by Dan Cohen for his “What’s New” podcast. It’s a great listen.

Countway Community Garden, est. 2010

Jessica Sedgwick, Wendy Brown and I at the Harvard Green Carpet Awards, 2012.

In 2010, I was working at the Countway Library in the Center for the History of Medicine. I started as the inaugural archivist of the Archives for Women in Medicine, and was promoted to being Acquisitions Archivist. A few colleagues and I used to have a communal salad for lunch together nearly every day. We called it (unoriginally) Salad Club. While talking shop, reading People Magazine (or, as Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health called it, the “Journal of Popular Culture”) and sometimes we would come up with ideas. One of these ideas was to put a few tomato plants on one of the unused porches on the higher floors of the library. Quickly rejected for safety reasons, our next move was to ask if we could put a few potted plants in the unused, locked courtyard on one side of the library. We had a few meetings with decision makers, and a few more, and a few more. These decision makers said “how?” “who?” “what?” and “why am I in this meeting?,” but never said a definitive “no, you can’t do this.” Along the way, our idea expanded from a few plants into raised beds, community snacks, a medicinal herb garden, harvest festivals, lectures and most importantly, a beautiful pocket garden on what once was just concrete slabs.

This is the origin story of the Countway Community Garden. And my colleague, Harvard School of Public Health archivist Heather Mumford, even had the foresight to preserve these humble beginnings in the Archives.

Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. The Countway Community Garden, & Harvard Medical School. (2010). Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. The Countway Community Garden. Program Establishment, Management, and Review Records, 2010-2019 (inclusive). http://id.lib.harvard.edu/alma/99153781207503941/catalog

Here are some photos of Phase 1: