Centering Communities in Digital Collections

Digital Commonwealth Conference Logo

I’ve been asked to speak at the Digital Commonwealth annual conference on June 14, 2022. I’m on a panel entitled “Harnessing the Power of Academic Institutions for Change” with Kate McNally (Brandeis) and Emily Pfotenhauer (Wisconsin Library Services). I’ll be speaking about a whitepaper Rebecca Riccio, Becca Berkey and I just recently published in Northeastern’s Digital Repository, Principles of Anti-Oppressive Community Engagement for University Educators and Researchers. https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/files/neu:5x21tg54q

Becca, Rebecca and I have been thinking about a set of best practices for community engagement that eventually became these Principles for a number of years now, and it feels really good to have them out in the world. Early ideas and thoughts I had about this topic include:

  • A (fake) certification program for DH projects that follow a set of guidelines or principles called LEEDh (2017)
  • “What Would the Community Think?” a conference presentation at DLF where I talked about how I went looking for a ‘ethical community engagement for dummiess’ resource and couldn’t locate one in the archives/library literature (2018)
  • My newly published article about how Paywalls are bad for under-represented communities (2022) https://doi.org/10.24242/jclis.v3i2.126 (2022)
  • Other conferences and publications about Radical Empathy, which is (of course) related, but the Principles only speak to a tiny piece of the RE puzzle.

I’m really excited about this presentation (and a few more I’m scheduling this spring/summer) becase it’s the first time I’ll have a publication (apart from a zine) that attempts to guide us toward a better future. It’s one thing to poke at our field and say “this thing is terrible” and completely another thing to gather a set of ideas and write them down in an attempt to help make things better.

Please come! The conference is a full day, is only $20 max, and the keynote is Dr. Tonia Sutherland (#swoons in Archives)

Register here:
https://digitalcommonwealth.wildapricot.org/event-4578939

Phoenix story on WBZ Radio

I talked to Matt Shearer, a reporter for WBZ Radio Boston this week for a story on how Northeastern Archives worked to put the Boston Phoenix free online this week. I missed listening to them live, but Matt sent me .mp3s. You can listen to them at the links below.

The first segment is on how people used to read the Phoenix while riding the T (Boston’s public transit system), and what it’s like for students to read the papers now:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pWzhgryvknahNEk9H0CW1MsX72633-YM/view?usp=sharing

The second is on the Phoenix classifieds section. It includes me talking about how I found many of my 1990s era roomates there:*

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-VyZ1Cn7kHpzdLpzRefBXsFftHpY8NCh/view?usp=sharing

Enjoy! I think they’re cute.


*Shout out to 5 Malbert, the $303/month (which included toilet paper, but not utilities) 7 bedroom apartment I lived in for 4 years– It always had a band playing in the basement, someone sleeping on the couch, and a cockroach skeleton in the silverware drawer. Memories.

Boston Phoenix issues now available freely online

In 2015, Stephen Mindich donated the archives of the Boston Phoenix to the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections. Now, a scanned copy of many of the issues are available for free in the Internet Archive.

How we got from A. to B. is the subject of a blog post by Caralee Adams on the archive.org blog. You can read the article at this URL http://blog.archive.org/2021/12/15/boston-phoenix-rises-again-with-new-online-access/ but I’ve also pasted the content below. Thank you Caralee and team!

Some exciting things have happened along the way:

1. I met Brewster Kahle (well, zoom, but still…)

2. Dan Kennedy wrote a really complementary article on his blog Media Nation, which made me blush the color of the Hancock tower’s beacon when it rains. Thank you, Dan. https://dankennedy.net/2021/12/16/after-a-long-delay-most-of-the-boston-phoenix-print-archives-are-now-online/

Boston Phoenix Rises Again With New Online Access

Posted on  by Caralee Adams

For more than 40 years, The Boston Phoenix was the city’s largest alternative weekly in covering local politics, arts, and culture.

The Boston Phoenix, Volume 2, Issue 44 – October 30, 1973

“It was really a pretty legendary paper. The style of the writing and the quality of writers were nationally known,” said Carly Carioli, who started at the newspaper as an intern in 1993 and became its last editor-in-chief.

With the advent of online advertising, it struggled like many independent newspapers to compete. In 2013, the Phoenix folded.

After the publication shut down, owner Stephen Mindich wanted the public to be able to access back issues of the Phoenix. The complete run of the newspaper from 1973 to 2013 was donated to Northeastern University’s special collections. The family signed copyright over the university. 

Librarians led a crowdsourcing project to create a digital index of all the articles and authors, which was helpful for historians and others in their research, said Giordana Mecagni, head of special collections and university archivist. Northeastern had inquired about digitizing the collection, but it was cost prohibitive. 

As it turns out, the Internet Archive owned the master microfilm for the Phoenix and it put the full collection online in a separate collection: The Boston Phoenix 1973-2013. Initially, the back issues were only available for one patron to check out at a time through Controlled Digital Lending. Once Northeastern learned about the digitized collection, it extended rights to the Archive to allow the Phoenix to be downloaded without controls.

Read The Boston Phoenix at the Internet Archive

“All of a sudden it was free to the public. It was wonderful,” Mecagni said. “We get tons and tons of research requests for various  aspects of the Phoenix, so having it available online for free for people to download is a huge help for us.” 

Inquiries range from someone trying to track down a classified ad through which they met their spouse, or an individual looking up an article about a band. The paper was a leader in writing groundbreaking stories about the LGBTQ community, the AIDS crisis, race and the Vietnam War—often issues not covered in the mainstream press. “Making that coverage public is adding an immense amount to the historical record that would not be there otherwise,” said Carioli. He said he appreciates the preservation and easy access to back issues, as do other journalists, researchers and academics.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Carioli of the Internet Archive’s digitization of the newspaper. “The Phoenix was invaluable in its own time, and I think it will be invaluable for a new generation who are just discovering it now. It was a labor of love then and the fact that it’s online now is huge for Boston, but also for anyone who’s interested in independent media and culture.”

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. ❤