An archival journey

Archives have a truly remarkable way of storytelling. They exist in the space between science and literature by taking a rigorous approach to selecting and preserving materials that can be combined to paint a picture of a specific person, event, or period of time. Archives are uniquely poised to play a primary role in this process.

Like many bibliophiles, I had a vision of an archive as a room filled with endless gray boxes full of immense treasures that were just waiting to be discovered. I had some experience with archives, enough to understand the challenge of the immense backlog of materials and the endless hunt for climate-controlled “storage space.” I have also had my fair share of intimidating experiences in archives, such as the time my use of a post-it was met with a mini-lecture in which I was effectively asked why I hated books and wanted to destroy them. Put simply, the archives are a place where the stereotype of the “stodgy librarian” is alive and well.

As I progressed through the course, my vision of an archive was challenged. I began to think of the archive as a dynamic collection of materials designed to tell that story. It became clear that the collection could be a set of documents that were born digital, or photos in both print and digital form. The collection could tell the story of a historic event – or they could be a contemporary group of items that were just recently created. The archivist role became a caretaker and facilitator more than a keeper. Items in the collection were cared for so that future researchers could find and interpret the materials. It became clear that a complete record was not necessarily required for every single item. The archivist needed to have a basic knowledge of the entire collection, but they did not need to be able to say “Oh, I have just the piece of paper that will answer that specific question – let me grab that for you.” It is OK if the researchers look through a box of materials that may or may not be fully characterized in the metadata. Also, while the archivist understood the collection, its contents and context, they do not make any “judgement calls” or exegesis. Archivists can tell the story, but it is up to researchers to say what that story means.

It has become clear that the work of an archivist is one of a balancing act. They must understand and accommodate a variety of sometimes competing interests. While the goal is to preserve materials for generations to come, this must be balanced with opening access and inviting exploration. Archivists need to work and understand digital mechanisms and standards, they must not necessarily believe “digital” is a panacea. Archivists have one foot in the stories of yesterday, and one foot in the research needs of tomorrow.

book-3164759_640In preparation for a potential career within archives, I determined that it would be important to have a very robust toolbox! I would need to know which organizations had which types of collections and I should focus on the subject area and expertise of the individuals in my organization. To be effective, I would need to understand the mission of the library, the audience I was serving, and the broader intellectual community surrounding that focused group. I would want to be able to help a researcher find other archives that might have the types of items they needed (if they weren’t in my collection). I would want to be able to refer potential donors to other libraries who could handle new material appropriately (if I wasn’t able to do so). I would want to be able to direct a researcher to the appropriate area within my collection, including the “non-obvious” connections to other areas of the collection.

One of the paramount characteristics of an effective archive is transparency. This means being clear about what you will and will not accept. It also means making the “right amount” of information available to researchers who might want to use the collection (i.e. perhaps a full record is not always necessary). Transparency also means being ethical about the materials that you initially accepted, but determined they are not appropriate for full accession. Transparency also means being up front with the researchers, and letting them know what is and is not acceptable. This includes physical access, electronic access, and use of materials.

I found the concept of organization and “original order” particularly interesting (and somewhat challenging). I naturally tend to take a collection of materials, and begin to shuffle them around to make them more organized. For example, I naturally classified the materials in the Ted Carlson papers into series such as letters to parents, letters to others, professional activities, military activities and other. If I had the physical collection, I would have naturally started to re-arrange the items. However, you loose an incredibly valuable piece of provenance when materials are “organized.” Additionally, when I begin to re-organize materials, I begin to interpret the items. I impose my own sense of importance and order on items that were originally ordered by the creator.

Throughout my journey this term, my mind referred back to the archive tour. I visited an archive that I had been curious about, but never visited. My tour guide walked me through the public physical space, then sat me down and told me the story before showing me the processing area. I found myself intrigued by the tale – both about the subject and formation of the archive. Interestingly, at one point in the archive’s history, a researcher imposed their own order on a variety of materials. This complicated the final characterization of the collection and caused confusion. The current archivist was passionate about the story. He saw how the historic pieces fit together and his goal was to make the archives more broadly available. He could envision enhanced interpretation of the materials. Based on his invitation, I signed up to receive regular updates from the archives. I really think the Shermann Library & Gardens serves as a model of what could be accomplished by an archivist who understands the underlying philosophy and amazing potential of library archives. It inspired me to connect with archives and seek out opportunities to help make archives the dynamic heart of an organization or community.


Ethical Scenario

To the conscientious, ethics are more than principles that guide behavior. Ethics are a way of thinking – a framework by which all decisions and actions are measured. This framework becomes paramount when you’re faced with dilemmas and in the routine activities of the day. Archivists face a unique set of circumstances onto which a well-developed ethical framework must be applied. In this post, I’ll provide a synopsis of a scenario, identify the actions I would take, and describe how a framework that’s informed by the SAA code of ethics would be applied.

The Scenario

In working on the arrangement and description of a collection, you come across a piece of information that is of a highly-sensitive nature and could change the perception of a major (still living) political figure. What should you do?

I found myself seeking additional details. What was the relationship between the donor and the political figure (i.e. rival, supporter, colleague)? Does “piece of information” mean an artifact or an excerpt of an artifact? I was curious about the “highly-sensitive nature.” Does this have legal implications? Is it salacious? Would the potential perception change be adverse or complimentary? Is the political figure still in office or now a private citizen? Additionally, I wondered the politician’s level (i.e. local, state, national, international).

These questions were the natural response of an inquisitive archivist. However, most of these data points should not be factored into the application of the ethical framework.

Note: For the purposes of this discussion, I assume there are no legal implications, including but not limited to an admission of guilt, first-hand witness of a crime, plan to commit an illegal act, or other discussion or description of illegal act. If there were legal implications, I would notify the authorities and follow-up by informing the donor.


The Archivist’s Response

In this scenario, my main archivist responsibility is to preserve a collection of artifacts and make them available in the manner approved by the donor. This black and white statement, however, covers a variety of nuances that need to be addressed.

My first step would be to document the find. What is it? Where does it fit within the collection? Are there potential ownership and/or intellectual property issues?

I would then take two immediate steps: notify the donor and determine if any other archivists need to be notified. I would discuss the discovery with the donor and indicate indicate that I was working to make it available according to our original agreement. I would also clarify that before this item could be made publicly available, I would need to request permission from the owner and/or political figure. I would also seek out any archival collections that have the political figure’s official papers. If found, I would notify the archivist of the discovery.  

Any metadata documented on this artifact would be maintained in an internal database, until permission to distribute was formally obtained and documented. Additionally, I would put a note within any public-facing records (i.e. at the collection level), indicating that there may be an embargo on specific items within the collection. I would inform the archive staff that requests for access should be accommodated for other items, but that this particular item should not be distributed. To ensure the privacy of the item, I would place it in an internal storage location, separated from the rest of the collection.

Additionally, if approval was granted by the item owner, I would digitize the artifact, to facilitate long-term preservation and potentially distributed use.


Application of Ethical Framework

For the purposes of this exercise, I will apply the SAA Code of Ethics to evaluate the scenario.

Professional Relationships

I would need to determine if the political figure had deposited their papers with another organization. If that was the case, I would inform the archivist of the discovery (pending approval by the donor).


When a historically significant and noteworthy artifact is discovered, its authenticity must be verified. I would also take care to fully document the artifact in question. This includes, but is not limited to, ownership, provenance, location in collection, physical characteristics and specific permissions provided for the item.


I would be careful to store this item in a secure location to ensure no harm came to the artifact. If permission was provided, I would also digitize the item in its original condition. This would not only help to document the provenance, but it would facilitate long term access and use. I would include any specific actions taken to ensure long-term access in the metadata for the item.

It goes without saying that I would not alter, manipulate, or destroy any part of the item.

Security and Protection

The political nature of this particular artifact could make it more vulnerable to nefarious modification, either by defacing the item or by modifying it to alter the conclusions. As such, it should be treated particularly carefully by library staff. The research agreement to utilize the collection should include strict penalties for altering items.

If the donor and owner are open to the possibility of digitizing the artifact, I would proceed with that process. I would be careful in the handling of the digitized version. I would configure Google alerts for versions of the image, to ensure that any alterations could be discovered and addressed immediately. Additionally, the digital version of the artifact would be available only to researchers who have a signed agreement on file.

During the period of time where I am making decisions regarding the future of the item, it would be sequestered in a climate controlled location. This would ensure that it is not inadvertently made available inappropriately.

Access and Use

The primary goal is to make the item available within the collection, under custom access and use restrictions as articulated in the researcher agreement. This would help to ensure the item can be accessed, but is not used inappropriately. The custom use policy would be vetted with the donor and owner of the item. It is important they both understand how the item would be made available.

If the donor and owner were not comfortable with public access with a signed agreement, I would ask if it could be embargoed (i.e. made available at a specific time). If this was not acceptable to the donor and owner, I would respectfully indicate that all items in the collection must now, or at some predetermined time in the future, be made available to researchers. This would likely be a difficult conversation, but it would ensure that the archives are both ethical and equitable.


The “privacy” principle would be very dependent on both the nature of the “highly sensitive” material and the preferences of the original owner / political figure. It would be important to ensure that all parties authorize making available this particular item within the archives.

I would also include an internal note in the collection record indicating this particular item should be handled carefully in any digital or physical display. This would help to ensure that inadvertent wide distribution does not take place.


The applicability of the trust principles is very dependent on the nature of the item, specific permissions provided by both the donor and the owner of the work. The goal is very much to process the item with no predilection to political party or politician.

In this particular case, it is important to balance the needs and desires of the donor and the political figure. Depending on the relationship between the two, this might be challenging. It would, however, be important to not put the library in the position of advocating for either party at the expense of the other.


SAA Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics. (2012, January). Retrieved April 29, 2018, from


Part 2: Personal Reflection

Ethical Scenario – Personal Reflection

Part 1: Ethical Scenario

Part 2: Personal Reflection

I think that of the of the most interesting things about archives is the opportunity to see the stories that are hidden in each item or collection.

For example, the Ted Carlson papers started, for me, as a simple collection of the papers and letters of a young man dealing with war from inside the army. As I dug a little deeper, I realized he was involved in some of the most controversial scientific programs focused on nuclear weaponry. The routine nature of his letters and papers took on a whole new light as I realized that he was developing weapons designed to kill. Not only did this show a certain level of compartmentalization, but it showed that he could not share everything with his family and friends as he was dealing with his own ethical and scientific scenarios. Throughout the exercises, I was aware that Ted was from a different time. I had the privilege of looking back on the situation and making informed conclusions.

In the scenario included here, the politician is a contemporary. We don’t know if s/he is currently in office or not, but I would have opportunities to discuss the politician and his/her work with friends and family. I would see news articles that may or may not be influenced by the item. The temptation would be to “tell the world” about the discovery – really market the archives and in the process, expose some never-before-seen artifacts. It would be important to dismiss that temptation. An archivists’ job is not to interpret collections or use collections to influence viewpoints. An archivist is more of a photographer – using the tools of the trade to capture a moment or a series of moments in time.

The History of Fonts with Timeline.JS


The Timeline!

Access the Timeline of Font History

Curious about how I made this? Check out timeline.js


One of the most interesting things about archives is the temporal nature of the collections. There’s a cardinality to the story that we tell with artifacts and resources in individual collections. The timeline project really brought home the process of putting items in context, to document the progression from an archivists’ perspective.

For this task, I pulled together some basic information about the history of fonts and their use in publications. Some of this information came from the History of Books course at San Jose State University. Other pieces of information came from my personal interest and web searches. This timeline shows the progression of fonts, and how quickly the field has really grown. If you look at the beginning of the timeline, there is limited information, and only a few fonts being created. Once you hit the 1700s (the transition period) and later, the number of fonts really increases. The stories of the creators begin to get more interesting, and the “plot thickens.” For example, until you start to dig a little, you would never know that Times New Roman was designed by a critic who complained about the font used in a Newspaper. Add to that the fact that the “Times Roman” font was basically created by licensing wars, and you have quite a story!

I found myself exploring various features of the timeline.js tool. I wanted to know how to change colors, adjust the order, and do things like change the colors on the year bar at the top of the page. I explored what “Groups” meant, and how to incorporate HTML into things like descriptions and titles. The tool is quite powerful – with just some basic configuration within a Google Sheet, I could develop a fully featured timeline!

It is always a challenge to boil down a significant collection of information into a relatively short timeline. That tends to be one of the most difficult tasks. I found myself discovering all kinds of information that I wanted to include. I did look for more of a mechanism to incorporate formal citations within the timeline. I instead utilized links out to source content where possible.

There were a variety of resources that I used for the project. The references listing below includes a full listing of the formal resources. In addition, I used a standard HTML code chart ( to select the background colors for each of the entries in the timeline.

Overall, this was a very interesting assignment! I explored a variety of features of timeline.js, and can really see how this would be useful! I’m even thinking of ways I can use this in my professional work.


References Used

P. (n.d.). [Helvetica Font Poster]. Retrieved April 15, 2018, from

A Brief History of Times New Roman. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2018, from

A Brief History of Type. (2015, June 13). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Adobe Caslon™ Font Family Typeface Story. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Arial Font [Download]. (2016, November 22). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from
(2013, April 28). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Boone, A. R. (n.d.). TYPE BY GOUDY – Popular Science (Apr, 1942). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Britannica, T. E. (2014, December 16). William Caslon. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Creative, A. (2014, July 03). A Brief History of Typography. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Crum, M. (2014, March 13). The Incredible Histories Of Your Favorite Fonts. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Crum, M. (2017, April 10). The Wild History Of One Of Our Most Popular Fonts. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Family Classifications of Type: Transitional. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Google Fonts. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Harding, M. (2017, August 21). What Are Grotesque Fonts? History, Inspiration and Examples. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Heidelbach, W. (2014, May 19). [Moveable Type]. Retrieved April 15, 2018, from

Hustwit, G. (Director). (2007). Helvetica [Motion picture]. United States: NewVideo.

Helvetica (2007). (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Hustwit, G. (n.d.). [The Helvetica Film Poster]. Retrieved April 15, 2018, from

Italic vs. Cursive. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Italics. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Nealon, T. (2014, September 17). How a Frenchman Who Lived Nearly 600 Years Ago Created One of the World’s Great Typefaces. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Olson, K. (2013, May 9). Typeface Comparison. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

S. (2009). Periodic Table of Typefaces. Retrieved April 15, 2018, from

Prisco, J. (2017, August 15). The game-changing design made to go unnoticed. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Yau, C. (2009, June 17). Know your type: Futura. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Yau, C. (2010, October 26). Know your type: Baskerville. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Introduction to Archives

Archive material is a fabulous starting point – individual documents are like signposted roads, heading to a variety of intriguing possibilities.
― Sara Sheridan

Let’s take a few minutes to think back over the last 24 hours. Did you write any notes? Send any emails? Take any photos? Sign any documents? Create any artistic doodles or drawings? Document any official records of a work task or personal achievement?

Imagine if a researcher, 100 years from now, was interested in understanding more about you. They would potentially be interested in your answers to each of these questions and more. They would use this information to recreate your life for the last 24 hours. A library archivist works through the answers to these types of questions and works to preserve the items that would paint a picture. Think of an archivist as an academic professional who is working to recreate a picture of a specific time, place, person or project. They use physical and digital items to characterize something specific. The goal is not to interpret these items and activities – merely to document them!

In practical terms, this means an archivist identifies the items that would be most effective at painting a picture. They then work to completely describe each item (or group of items) that is selected for saving long-term. All the while, the archivist is constantly working to make sure the picture and all of its parts, are available for decades to come. This could mean working in climate controlled spaces, or protecting the physical embodiment of the item. When you really think about it, that introduces some complexity. One hundred years ago, we didn’t even have computers. Now, we all think about saving things long term as making them digital. Speaking of which, what exactly does digital mean? At one point in time, the general public used a tool called WordPerfect. Now, that software is a long-distant memory. The archivist uses best practices to ensure that items created today, with today’s tools and techniques, will still be accessible years from now. Each piece of the painting is important – and each piece has to be processed and prepared for long term access and use.

Of course, the archivist doesn’t want to hoard the picture they’re painting. The goal is to make the picture interesting, findable, and understandable. Let’s take each one of those individually. The collection of items was pulled together because they tell a story. That story could be about an individual’s life (i.e. personal papers), a specific project (i.e. medical research), a company (i.e. records, output, and marketing for an organization), or a time (i.e. the turn of the century). That story is the glue that holds the collection together – and it’s the key to making the archive interesting! Archivists tell that story, and they use the archives to engage others with the story.

Archivists also make the collection findable. This could mean a website that Google knows about. Additionally, it will likely involve partnering with other libraries and archives to share information about the particular items an archivist is preserving. It could mean working with the press to get the story out. Perhaps it means hosting events or marketing the story to the general public. Not only does this help a wider audience know about the collection, but it helps the archivist raise funding or collect additional resources to keep the archives running well.

The third goal was to make the picture understandable. For an archivist, this means providing context for an individual piece of the picture. Perhaps there’s a picture of folks enjoying a day on the beach. The archivist can make this picture more understandable by saying when the picture was taken, where it was taken, who was at the beach, and describing how this is a part of the story. Take that same photo, and show it to a conservationist. They will see not only the people in the photo, but the erosion of the coast, the birds flying in the air, and and the basic level of the ocean. Some of the same context is vital, but it is used in different ways by different researchers. In technical terms, this context is called metadata – and it is published on websites and in other systems. The metadata describes not only what the item is, but how it came to be in the archive and the history of ownership or stewardship. All of this context is crafted carefully, so computer systems and individuals can find, read and understand the story.

Archives really exist to tell the stories. The archivist works to make those stories available so that researchers can connect the potential of the future with the lessons and experience of the past. Archivists provide access, make the picture understandable through well-formed context, and helps others find pieces of the picture that tell the story. Each piece has value in its own right, but taken as a whole, the picture presents an irreplaceable resource that the archivist ensures will be available for generations to come.

When you visit the archive, you will begin your exploration of the materials by talking with an archivist. Through the conversation, the archivist looks to identify what you might actually benefit from seeing (i.e. the parts of the picture that would be most fulfilling), and then the archivist works with the archive staff to ensure you view the items. All the while, the archivist and archive staff would work to verify that future researchers could have access to those same items in the same order.

This is really the exciting part, because it’s during this process of viewing the items that you get to see the picture the archivist has created. You’ll probably use the documentation to make interpretations! This is where your input and expertise is invaluable to the archivist. You can share your findings with them. Let them know the additional pieces of the picture that you’ve found. Describe how this picture is a part of your research project, and share your publications with the archivist. This type of information sharing just might help the archivist begin to craft the picture of your life and the work you are completing!

Ted Carlson Papers – Scope and Content Note & Container List

OK, the next element of the Ted Carlson Papers finding aid is the Scope and Content Note and the Container List. This is a little unique, because I have been working on digital scans of the original artifacts. Note that I’ll also be working to refine the earlier elements of the finding aid, to make this as effective as possible. Watch for more info on that…

Scope & Content Note

The Ted Carlson Papers, dated 1943-1949, contains personal letters, records of Carlson’s higher education and early professional career, and official documents related to his military service. Correspondence to and from Ted Carlson comprise a majority of the material. The letters depict the life of a university student, professional and serviceman during this period. Official military records portray the experiences of a chemist and member of the Manhattan Project.

Container List

Series I: Correspondence with Family (1944-1949) – This series includes letters received from and addressed to Ted Carlson’s parents. The letters contain personal reflections, details from each of their lives, and information about Ted’s educational and professional experiences. In addition, Ted shares his experiences in the Manhattan project along with how those experiences shaped his personal and political views.

Series II:  Correspondence with Friends and Colleagues (1943-1945) – In the correspondence with friends and colleagues series are letters exchanged with Rog, Bob, Sam and Arvid. These letters details the movements of the individuals, and their daily experiences. These individuals were introduced in either educational settings or through the military service.

Series III: Education and Career (1944-1946) – This series contains correspondence with administrators at Wesleyan University and Iowa State University, regarding admission and graduation. There is a professional newsletter that includes writing about Ted Carlson’s political activity. Additionally, there is a variety of pragmatic documents, including an ID card from Iowa State University, a timecard from Iowa State University, and an employee inter-plant pass.

Series IV: Military Service (1944-1946)- This series contains a variety of official documents related to Ted Carlson’s military service. Included in this series are official orders, various service-member passes, verification of services, and correspondence requesting clarification of policies or discharge.

Ted Carlson Papers – Abstract and Description

This is the first post in a series focused on a new project! The Ted Carlson Papers are a collection of documents that I will be exploring as part of the Archives and Manuscript course!


For this first step, I was given a set of 71 PDFs, and asked to pull together an abstract and description, which will eventually be incorporated into the EAD (encoded archival description).

The trick… I was not allowed to do any outside searching. The abstract and description that are included below came only from my scouring the 71 documents! I have to admit that as I was looking through the collection, I was very curious about the whole story. I felt like I had only part of the story… and I definitely wanted to know more!


The collection is comprised primarily of personal letters to and from Eric T. Carlson (a.k.a. Ted Carlson), a chemist who worked on atomic energy during World War II. During the time covered by the collection (February, 1943 – December, 1949), Carlson was affiliated with Wesleyan University, Iowa State University, Cornell University, the Manhattan District and Monsanto Chemical Company.


In 1943, Eric T. [Ted] Carlson was planning his future. He had applied to medical school and was completing his studies in Chemistry at Wesleyan University. The Ted Carlson Papers highlight the struggle of an academic, who tried to obtain a deferment from military service. Just one month after his graduation from Wesleyan University, Ted was ordered to report for service. He successfully avoided joining the army until July, 1944 when he received an order to report for induction in Aimes, Iowa. Ted had been working as a graduate student at Iowa State University.

During Ted’s time in the Army, he continued to correspond with his parents and friends. The letters provide insights into life as a researcher in the military. Ted shares his political insights, his experiences with friends in social situations, and he talks of his stamp collection, among other topics.

Ted’s skills as a chemist were deployed in the “Manhattan District.” Readers are given a glimpse into a scientists view of the atomic bomb research. He believes the atomic research should be a deterrent for war, and hopes the bomb will cause humanity to walk away from war for good.