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.

Boston Phoenix 1974! finished!

Since I last posted, the Zooniverse volunteers made short work of all of the card files we posted for the Phoenix 1974! project, and we find ourselves without any more cards to give them. But naturally, the project is far from finished. We need to download, parse, (edit?) and make the data useful to all. Here is a sneak preview of a set of 1974 author cards–the first set they completed.

One day I’ll learn how to embed Airtables, but in the meantime, click on the image and it will go to the view.

I want to publicly thank all of the folks that contributed to this project. I am completely in awe of their dedication and attention to detail, and look forward to making this mountain of data they created into a useful, publicly available format. My little COVID archival data experiment initially was scoped small (1500 cards!), but grew and grew and grew, and their enthusiasm and appetite for more never wavered. I’m also looking forward to putting together additional crowdsourced projects in the future to take what’s hidden and expose it to the world.

Here is a little spreadsheet showing how many cards per year the volunteers completed, which is a grand total of (drumroll, please) 144,656 cards!

YearAuthor cardsSubject cards
19731025
19741504411
197511611132
19761390798
197715631285
19781609692
197918281179
19801712480
19811835305
19821564447
1983152423(1983-1986)
19841899
19851739
19861530
19871583
19881938
19892230
19901778
Total294126752
Grand Total36164(typed 4 times)144656

We acquired the Boston Globe’s Archives (in 2019)

Northeastern University Archives– Boston Globe

I nabbed my first ‘real’ archives job in 2002, and have done pretty much every aspect of archival labor since– reference, processing, records management, fund raising, accessioning, preservation (digital and analog), outreach, events, and in recent years, managing an amazing team that does all of that work far better than I ever did. In addition to management, my main role since 2008 has largely been acquisitions.

Acquisitions is tricky, finicky work that requires a lot of ‘people’ skills– honesty, empathy, credibility, trustworthiness, persistence, and persuasiveness– and essential for an Archives without a collections budget. But even the most experienced archivist with years of skills, experience, and success can just swing and miss.

I started working with the Boston Globe with advising them on what to do with their Archives in March 2016, and we had a preliminary gift agreement in place by May of 2017. The collection was packed, shipped via trailer truck by June. (This was an intense process, managed excellently by collections archivist, Daniel) After the ink dried on the agreement and the collection was in storage, I started planning a celebration to be as big as the collection– 4376 cubic feet– including a press release sent to listservs, a short video announcement, a lecture series with our Journalism department, etc. Plans, interviews, etc.

The back of the photograph

And then for reasons that had little to do with the Archives, all of the announcing, profile-raising, and celebrating (not to mention the related fundraising opportunities), vanished. Swing and a miss.

In the intervening years, the collection has proven to be a wild success. It is heavily used both for research and for teaching, as well as by the Globe’s own staff. We are thrilled to provide access to this extremely unique slice of Boston and Massachusetts history. The acquisition was, by all accounts, a home run. But if you google “Northeastern Archives and Special Collections acquires Boston Globe Archives” there are no results that mention that this pretty significant event happened. This, is the miss.

This blog is a place for me to put things I don’t want to forget, thoughts not ready for prime-time, and my personal opinions. Somewhere between the three of these is the language we put together about the acquisition. It follows.

____________________________________

Boston Globe Donates Archive to Northeastern University Library

The Northeastern University Library’s Archives and Special Collections is pleased to announce the addition of the Boston Globe library archive to Northeastern’s diverse and growing Boston history collections. The Globe archive is a vast collection comprising more than one million photographs, 5.6 million negatives, and decades of clippings from the Globe and other local and national newspapers. The material was used extensively by Globe staff at the newspaper’s previous iconic location on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester.

“It is tremendously exciting to add the Boston Globe to Northeastern’s expansive collections that richly document the city and region. I grew up reading the Boston Globe, and as it was for me, so it was for millions of people an incredible record of Boston’s history and culture,”  said Dan Cohen, Vice Provost of Information Collaboration and Dean of Libraries.

Northeastern is an excellent match for the Globe’s archives. As Northeastern’s Distinguished Professor of History emeritus William M. Fowler, Jr., observed, “Since 1872 the Boston Globe has observed and recorded the history of this community. Its voice has been heard in times of depression and war, its pages have recounted moments of joy and sadness. The Globe archive tells the story of the people and institutions who have created the world in which we live. This collection is a powerful prism through which we can examine and reflect on the past, and by such reflection we can come to a better understanding of our own identity.”  

The Library’s strong record of extensive teaching and research support on campus and in the community through archival outreach initiatives and programming make this collaboration a natural partnership and research opportunity for all Bostonians and those interested in Boston’s history, as well as in the Globe’s outstanding coverage of national and global events, history, and culture. The collection is already available for research; archival class sessions with students from Journalism, English, History, and Landscape Architecture departments, to name a few, have used the Globe’s published photographs and clippings to enrich their studies of Boston’s development and hone their storytelling skills. 

The Archives and Special Collections hold several other news-related collections, including the Gay Community News (1973-1992), the East Boston Community News (1970-1989), and the Boston Phoenix (1965-2013). The department has a decades-long history of collecting and making available the records of Boston-based community based organizations and activists, such as Freedom House, the Chinese Progressive Association, ACT/UP Boston, and Inquilinos Boricuas En Acción. 

With the addition of the Globe, the Northeastern University Library furthers a commitment to building dynamic research collections relating to the city of Boston, its history and development. Head of Special Collections and University Archivist Giordana Mecagni said, “Adding the Globe’s collection to our already existing range of Boston-focused collections marks an exciting new era for the University Archives and Special Collections department. We are already well known for our Boston-based activist collections, and have had visitors from all over the country and abroad coming to Northeastern to research. Adding the Globe brings the Archives to a whole new level. We are now a one-stop shop for researching the Boston experience—its people, places, institutions—from both the Globe’s meticulous and comprehensive city documentation perspective and from the activism of its under-represented groups. Bringing the Globe’s content to a research-focused institution like Northeastern opens up a whole new world of opportunity for scholarship, both on-campus and around the world.”  

For more information about the collection go to this helpful resource put together by Daniel and a team from the Library : https://globe.library.northeastern.edu/using-the-collection/

For more information about how the collection has been used, go to this wonderful blog post by Molly https://librarynews.northeastern.edu/?p=275183

Boston Phoenix 1974! Zooniverse Project

In July 2020, I launched a ‘citizen science’ crowdsourcing project that aimed to create an index to one year of the Boston Phoenix. TL;DR, so far, 2400+ volunteers have typed 115,000 index cards from 1974 all the way to 1987. To say it has exceeded my expectations is an understatment. The following is the text of a post I wrote for the University Library’s blog when we first launched the project. If after reading it you are interested in learning the nuts and bolts of how this project was created and the status as of today, here is a link to a presentation I made at Northeastern’s Digital Scholarship Group open office hours. Please note: all of this is a work in progress– and includes the appropriate amount of problems and typos and unknowns– but goes over the details of my unexpectedly popular COVID project.

_______________________________

Archives and Special Collections Teams with Zooniverse to Crowdsource Boston Phoenix Index

by Giordana Mecagni, July 28, 2020

For nearly 50 years, The Boston Phoenix was Boston’s alternative newspaper of record, the first word on social justice, politics, and the arts and music scene. Its intrepid journalists tackled issues from safe sex and AIDS awareness to gay rights, marriage equality, and the legalization of marijuana. Ads for roommates, romantic mates, and band mates—one could find all these and more in the newspaper’s probing, irreverent, entertaining pages. It ceased publication in March 2013, but in 2015 was preserved for posterity thanks to owner Stephen Mindich’s decision in September to donate the paper’s archives to the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections (NUASC).

Screenshot of the Boston Phoenix 1974! Zooniverse Project page

Today, NUASC launches Boston Phoenix, 1974!, a new project that aims to make The Boston Phoenix’s content more accessible to researchers. Using Zooniverse, Boston Phoenix 1974! (left) will recruit an army of volunteers to create an index to The Boston Phoenix. Participants will be re-typing a large set of index cards that once helped Phoenix reporters find past articles. Volunteers will have the opportunity to take a deep dive into the arts, culture, politics, and topics of vital importance to Bostonians in 1974 by encountering articles such as “The Winning Ways of Mike Dukakis,” “Kissinger: Financing the Death of a Government,” “Lifestyles: Conversing with Lesbian Mothers,” “Changes ahead for Cambridge Rent Control,” or “Garrity on Busing: No Delaying Tactics.” The nonprofit Zooniverse offers this platform to connect professional researchers with 1 million+ volunteers in order to enable research that would not be possible, or practical, otherwise.

Index card from a 1974 issue of the Boston Phoenix

For any researcher visiting NUASC to research Boston’s political, cultural, and social history between the 1970s through the early 2000s, The Boston Phoenix is always recommended as a primary resource, and it is widely used both for research and teaching. Pre-COVID, NUASC staff had previously digitized January-June 1974 of The Boston Phoenix for preservation purposes (right). These issues are now available, and provide a prime opportunity for revisiting this year—one filled with civil unrest, racial violence, and ubiquitous activism.

NUASC is offering this free (and fun!) activity for use in homes and classrooms across greater Boston (and nationally through the Zooniverse’s already-established volunteer network) in order to build a community of support—people who will be inspired to read articles they have transcribed and write about them on their favorite social media platform. When complete, the index will become a way for researchers to quickly pinpoint articles without having to browse whole issues. Ultimately, NUASC hopes to raise $250,000 to digitize the entire collection.

For information about the complete contents of NUASC’s collection of the Phoenix and some brief background information, please go to our portal page.

The Boston Phoenix masthead

Black Lives Matter

News at Northeatern ArticleNews at Northeastern profiled our work in the University Archives and Special Collections.  The following is the text of the article, but you can always read it directly here: https://news.northeastern.edu/2020/08/06/you-see-how-activism-is-done/


How did the Black Lives Matter movement get to where it is today?

The Northeastern archives renew stories that have been forgotten to history—including many that resonate today.

In 1970, Frank Lynch, a 24-year-old singer, was a patient at Boston City Hospital when he and another man in his room, Edward Crowley, were shot and killed by a white police officer. In spite of protests in Boston and an investigation by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the officer did not face charges.

The Lower Roxbury Black History Project blends compelling narratives with everyday efforts that were made by many people to bring justice to American society on the local level.

“You see how activism is done—the meetings of nonprofit community groups, the pamphlets, the internal conversations, the letters that they wrote to other civic institutions in the city,” Cohen says. “This kind of history shows that community efforts, and individual people brought together in a collaborative spirit, have made changes to American society.”

A secret to building upon the current momentum of Black Lives Matter can be found in these records, says Molly Brown, a reference and outreach archivist at Northeastern.

“It starts with meetings,” Brown says. “It continues with conversations. And it asks us to look at all of the institutions that we participate in.”

The Lower Roxbury Black History Project was funded in 2006 by Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, based on a suggestion by Reverend Michael E. Haynes, a local leader who died in 2019. Haynes’s interview is a featured treasure among the archives.

“Today we can’t talk to Rev. Haynes in person, but we can go to his interview and keep learning from his wisdom,” says Giordana Mecagni, who heads the archives and special collections at Northeastern. “He was involved in almost every Black activist cause in Boston for many years.”

“People think about the civil rights movement as being exemplified by Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks,” says Mecagni, who also notes renowned Boston-based activists like Melnea Cass, Muriel Snowden, and Ruth Batson. “But it was also millions of individual people with jobs and families doing their part to make sure that there was change happening. We want the people out in the streets right now to understand that there were people like them in Boston whose efforts sparked real change.”The project includes references to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the 1965 civil rights march to the Boston Common from the William E. Carter Playground a decade after he had attended Boston University. His presence in the archives gives power to the actions that have been taken by people who weren’t so well known.

Another trove of perspective can be discovered at the Beyond Busing: Boston Public School Desegregation project, which provides thousands of digitized resources on desegregation, starting with Brown v. Board of Education, the unanimous 1954 Supreme Court ruling that found the segregation of public schools in Topeka, Kansas, to be unconstitutional.

In 1974, Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. issued a U.S. District Court ruling in Massachusetts that called for busing to desegregate Boston’s public schools, which set off a series of protests and riots.

“What was missing from this public narrative was the 40 years of Black activism in Boston that predated the Garrity decision,” Mecagni says. “There was a reason why the court had to intervene. It was because for years Black activists were saying, ‘Schools are not equal. This is not fair.’ And finally, Boston was forced to do something about it. But this didn’t happen in a vacuum. It took a lot of mostly unpaid volunteer work.”

“Boston’s civil rights movement is mostly remembered as being education-focused. But  Boston’s activists weren’t just looking at Boston schools,” Brown says. “They are protesting racial imbalance. They’re looking at housing. They’re looking at the ways that our political constructions affect and enact white supremacy.”

The Archives and Special Collections staff is also building the archives of Northeastern’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, which was founded by Margaret Burnham, a lifelong civil rights activist and university distinguished professor of law at Northeastern. The justice project’s staff of Northeastern students investigates acts of racially motivated crimes that took place in the Jim Crow South from 1930 to 1970.

“What happened to George Floyd tragically happened to thousands of other African Americans,” Cohen says of Burnham’s efforts to tell those stories. “And so this goes back a long way and that makes it even more infuriating that it’s still going on in 2020. But it also shows the broader historical context of some of the economic, social, and cultural problems that have persisted in American society.”

Additionally, the library’s Teaching with Archives Program offers an array of opportunities for experiential learning with archival records, such as documents, photographs, local newspapers, and architectural plans related to the history of Boston’s social justice organizing as well as Northeastern’s history.  The program encourages reflection about the participants’ own role in history, and how their neighborhood, school, and beyond are part of the story of Boston’s past and present. Teachers may access a variety of digitized community collections, including:

Northeastern’s archivists have used the Boston Public School Desegregation collection to teach hundreds of Boston Public School students about the education history of their city.

The library’s archives are an important resource for understanding racial injustice during this polarized time, says Cohen. Northeastern’s library is home to the Boston Research Center, a digital community history and archive lab that aims to bring Boston’s deep neighborhood and community histories to light through the creation and use of new technologies.

“The key service that we provide is knitting all of this together,” Cohen says. “Obviously, there are people who are interested in history. There are researchers who work with maps and data. There are social justice activists; there are community historical societies.

“The library is the institution that can synthesize the wide variety of materials that are created by human beings in a city like Boston, and present that in a coherent way so that audiences can come to understand their world better.”

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu

Boston’s Black History

I was rejected twice by a major institutional donor to digitize the Freedom House collection, in 2016, and then in 2018. The papers are extensive, and our low-ball digitization estimate was that it would take $150K to complete. The first time, it was because of some incorrect assumptions about the digital humanities portion of the grant, the second time (if I’m remembering correctly) is that it didn’t have ‘national significance’.  Recently, we began an in-house project, but it’s slow going, without money to pay vendors.

I’m disappointed, because if it had been funded, we would be wrapping up the work right now– at the height of BlackLivesMatter protests, the collection is completely closed.

I’m sharing this little narrative section, because it says a lot of things that I want to say about history, about community memory, the importance of Black Boston, and what kind of effect universal, free access to this collection could have.

Any chance [large granting agency] you want to reconsider, and happen to have $150K for us to continue to digitize Boston’s Black history?

neu_130163
Thomas Atkins, an unidentified man, Kenneth Guscott, and Paul Parks in front of the Liberty Mutual display at the 1968 NAACP Annual Convention.

Grant Narrative:

Freedom House brought people together around pressing Civil Rights and Social Justice issues from 1949 to the present. It served as both a mouthpiece for and as a reflection of the African-American community in Boston. The collection is thus of crucial value to scholars interested in studying grassroots social justice movements or how conversations on civil rights, Jim Crow, integration/desegregation, and Black Power were started or fostered in northern African-American communities. The Snowden’s attempts to alter Boston’s culture of discrimination chart the evolution of their strategy: starting with open houses, teas, and neighborhood clean-ups in the 1950s, expanding to block-by-block organizing efforts in the 1960s, and organizing more politically targeted events such as school walkouts and Freedom Schools in the 1970s.  The collection also casts an important light on how a ‘liberal’ northern city interacted with its residents of color over time, including city and state agencies, political leaders, philanthropic organizations, and employers.   

The collection also provides rich documentation of the experiences, activities, and social interconnections of an entire community. It offers a detailed record of the experiences through which the community expressed cultural identity over an extended period of Boston’s social justice history. Freedom House’s membership and board serves as an Honor Roll of leaders in Roxbury, suggesting the political and social alliances being established between community leaders and the larger Boston political scene. Ebony Fashion Fairs brought community members on stage for beauty contests, and the Showcase of Stars brought international performers like Nina Simone and the Commodores to perform. The collection can illuminate how the community united to influence and react to national events, such as Brown v. Board of Education.

Important strands of scholarship are already exploring Boston’s busing crisis, but the Freedom House collection has the potential to support perspectives that are often overlooked.  As Jeanne Theoharis has argued, much current scholarship on the history of Boston school desegregation, including Anthony Lukas’ Pulitzer-winning Common Ground (1986) represent “prevailing historiographical and sociological schools of thought that marginalize the entrenched and explicit structures of racism in Boston and erase a well-organized, protracted local movement constructed against racial injustice” (Theoharis and Woodard, Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Movements in America, 18). Adding Freedom House’s long history of local struggle for education equity provides ample research fodder.  

In addition to clear scholarly research value, the collection also carries immense significance for current curricular priorities in both the Boston Public Schools (BPS)  and potentially for other K-12 programs in areas where social justice history is a pedagogical priority. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Boston’s court-ordered desegregation, BPS built a multi-grade curricular unit for students to study the city’s desegregation efforts. To assist, UASC has been spearheading the BPS Desegregation Project, a multi-institutional digitization project whose goal is to make available material that shows Boston’s decades-long fight for equal education. This project will take advantage of the DPLA platform and API to provide integrated searching across a deep pool of primary source material gathered from many different sources.


In 2007 we digitized some of their photographs; you can see them here: https://freedomhouse.library.northeastern.edu/ Imagine if we had the stories attached to those photographs?

Tear down this (pay)wall!: Equality, equity, liberation for archivists

Freedom HouseAttached is a preprint of an article that I have submitted for the forthcoming special edition of the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies. “This issue will provide an extended exploration of “how an archival ethics of care can be enacted in real world environments.” https://journals.litwinbooks.com/index.php/jclis/announcement/view/10

My article, “Tear down this (pay)wall!: Equality, equity, liberation for archivists” uses the concept of radical empathy and applies it to a discussion of archival collections made available for sale by for-profit companies.

Some folks have asked me for the pre-print, and I thought it would be easiest to attach it here.

Enjoy!

Mecagni JCLIS _Paywall_ resubmission