Monday Marvels: The Early Years

In anticipation of a blog entry I’ll be posting soon about re-processing Part I of the collection, I thought it would be fun to highlight one of the collection’s earliest items today. This piece of correspondence was written in 1920, just one year after the ACLS was first formed to represent the United States in the Union Académique Internationale (International Union of Academies). The document speaks for itself, so here it is:

Very early correspondence regarding the ACLS.

It’s always fun to find things like this in collections – formative thoughts about ideas, events, organizations, and projects that go on to become a Big Deal.

“Has anybody sent you information about our American Council with the long name…?” Surely that “long name” refers to the full name of the organization as stated in the Constitution: American Council of Learned Societies Devoted to Humanistic Studies. How interesting to look back through the lens of history and see the beginnings of an organization that is currently putting millions of dollars into fostering the humanities every year – they certainly have come a long way in the past century!

Thoughts on the SAA Annual Meeting

Like many other archivists, I attended this year’s Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting. There were nearly 2,500 people there, which broke all previous attendance records and made for some very cramped (and very interesting) sessions! As a member of this year’s Host Committee,* I spent some time at the registration desk before attending some very thought-provoking sessions. Professional conferences are a great way to brush up on current trends in the field while also learning new things and expanding your network. Here are a few of my thoughts about this conference: what impressed me, certain themes that I noticed, and what these themes might say about the archives profession in general.

First, I have to give kudos to the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and its members for embracing technology to make this conference run more smoothly. A free, easy-to-use conference app allowed people to set up their own personal schedules and see what was happening at any given time. The SAA is in the process of putting up MP3 recordings of many sessions for further learning opportunities. Danna C. Bell’s outgoing presidential address was filmed and published on the conference website, and anyone is welcome to read Kathleen Roe’s incoming presidential remarks online (more on these speeches later). There were so many people posting about the conference on Twitter that it was nearly impossible to keep up with what everyone was saying. Sessions had specific hashtags, and many presenters posted their Twitter handles during their presentations. There was free wi-fi for conference attendees, and a charging station set up in the career center. The Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Roundtable blog will be posting a number of session summaries over the coming weeks. Overall, this was a pretty tech-heavy conference for a profession that is widely believed to be full of people who want to work with old stuff – what a great way to show that many archivists love technology as much as (and sometimes more than!) 17th century diaries that have that delightful “old book” scent.

A few themes really struck me during this year’s conference:

Technology: I loved seeing so many sessions about electronic records and digital initiatives! In the first group of sessions alone, there were panels focused on born-digital collections, oral history collections in the digital age, access to archival science on Wikipedia, and cloud archiving. In other words, almost half of the ten panels in the first group of sessions involved technology, which is fantastic. Despite the cliché of “dusty old archives,” archivists have been working with technology for a long time: digitizing materials to make them more accessible and/or to preserve them, acquiring and processing born-digital collections, encoding finding aids to make them more searchable online, the list goes on and on. One of the things we’re really struggling with right now is coming up with best practices and standards for born-digital materials. Many repositories aren’t collecting these types of materials yet, and there’s a good chance that a large chunk of them will be lost to future researchers if they’re not dealt with quickly and properly – some call this the Digital Dark Age. It’s easy to think that anything produced on a computer will be around forever, but hardware and software are both unstable and innovations in technology happen quickly. Realistically speaking, it wasn’t that long ago that we were still using floppy disks. How many of you have floppy disk drives now? My current laptop doesn’t even have a CD/DVD drive! I certainly wouldn’t be able to open or read a document that was saved in WordPerfect on a 5.25” floppy disk in the late 1990s, and that’s less than 20 years ago. Who knows what kinds of software and hardware we’ll be using in another decade or two? Who knows if we’ll even be able to read thumb drives, or access any files that were saved in a cloud? We’re trying to keep these records perpetually. Think about the implications of that, and you’ll start to see why it’s so important that we figure out how to deal with born-digital materials sooner rather than later.

Archival education and issues related to students and new professionals: Perhaps I noticed this as a theme partially because it’s of interest to me as a recent student and a fairly new professional. I also ended up meeting, for the first time, lots of people I follow on Twitter (a good number of whom are students and new professionals). There’s an entire SAA roundtable devoted to this theme, and it’s something that is being discussed by people throughout the profession – even those who have been archivists for decades. Some major questions that I saw pop up again and again: How do we make archival education more efficient and effective? Are graduate programs in archives taking on too many students and oversaturating the job market? How can we better prepare students for the job market? What kinds of tools and skills do you need to get a job in this field? What responsibilities does a school have to its students? How do we attract a more diverse set of people to archives programs and the field in general? What are the implications of unpaid internships for the interns, the organizations they’re working for, and the profession as a whole? What about term/temporary positions, or part-time positions? A lot of these are questions that you could ask in many different professions, but they’re still worth asking in this one.

Biting the bullet and getting things done: This was especially prevalent in talks about technology, and I heard this message over and over throughout the conference. How do we start collecting born-digital materials? Just do it. Want to digitize materials to put online for wider access, but scared of the copyright implications? Just do it. As archivists, we think a lot about the ethical and legal implications of what we’re doing, so we ask ourselves a lot of questions. Should my repository really collect born-digital materials if we don’t have a way of processing them or making them accessible to researchers? Are we violating copyright law by posting letters from the 1950s online for the whole world to see? These are valid and important questions to ask, but many panelists at the conference were trying to make the point that we have to start somewhere. If we continue to act in fear of what might or might not happen, nothing will get done, and in the meantime we are losing essential records, hindering research opportunities, etc. We can only talk so much; we must back up those discussions with actions. Collect born-digital materials and find a way to process them. Find a way to make them accessible. Introduce the methods and technology to numerous people who work in the repository so the knowledge doesn’t just rest with one person. Put materials online with the assumption that your actions are covered by fair use (if you’re in the United States). Get it done, even if best practices and standards haven’t been perfected. Do enough to make sure the records you’re collecting will be safe and whole when they’re handed down to the next person in your position. Be creative and innovative. Spearhead projects. Work with other repositories to strengthen those projects. Be an advocate for your repository and your profession. No more excuses!

Finally, I’d like to briefly discuss the two presidential speeches mentioned above. Danna C. Bell’s outgoing address had some powerful moments. She discussed the importance of stories, and how much power archivists have in deciding which stories to keep and how to make those stories accessible. Stories can change us, and primary sources provide real stories from history that can change a person’s life forever. Sharing stories through archival sources can get school children interested in history and archives, and collaborating with other cultural heritage repositories can make outreach efforts even more powerful. I personally believe that regular and innovative outreach to school children would help diversify the profession, which is important in a field that is trying to collect the history of a whole society. She ends the address by saying that we must continue moving forward and being advocates “for our repositories, for our profession, and ourselves” by listening to each other.

Which brings me to Kathleen Roe’s incoming remarks. I think it’s safe to say that most archivists have been met with puzzled looks when we tell friends and family what we do. Most of us have an elevator speech prepared – I often say I’m like an archaeologist with paper (not necessarily true, but easier to understand than including digital and unusual materials), or that I get unique collections of records ready for researcher use (my current job focuses on processing). I’m getting off track, though – why don’t people know about archives and archivists? If you say you’re a doctor or a librarian, people will give you a knowing nod. They understand what you are telling them and at least think they understand the basic functions of your profession. But for archivists? We get blank stares more often than not. Kathleen Roe’s major theme is advocacy – as archivists, we need to let people know who we are and why we are important. We need to be better about sharing our stories and telling people why archives are essential to a well-functioning society. Roe’s incoming remarks challenged archivists to do just that. At the end of this engaging speech, she passed out pledge cards to people willing to spend time over the next year “living dangerously for archives” – committing acts of advocacy to further themselves and the profession. I have to say, it was a fantastic way to end the conference. It’s important to remember that we’re not in this alone, and we don’t exist in a bubble with our collections. We must talk to people about archives, and we can’t expect the rest of the world to see our value if we’re not willing to tell them why we’re valuable.

It was a real pleasure to attend this conference, and I learned a lot that will be useful to me in the future. It’s amazing how a few sentences uttered by one panelist can open up a whole new world of thoughts and ideas. In this one week, I was able to catch up on new ideas and theories about born-digital materials and records management while also connecting with people who will be able to help me if I have questions about these topics as I’m discussing them with the ACLS over the next few months.


* If you are ever planning on visiting D.C., I highly recommend looking over the posts on the Host Committee blog – they cover everything from restaurants to outdoor attractions to packing and transportation tips to places of worship. It’s a great resource for visitors, whether attending a conference or not.

Monday Marvels

While processing collections, archivists occasionally come across documents related to someone who was very famous, powerful, or important in some way. We say that these items have intrinsic value – that is to say, the item is important partially because of its physical characteristics, and a photocopy of it would not offer the same type of value. We look for many types of value in archives; this is one that describes very specific types of materials. For example, a check signed by Louis Armstrong would have intrinsic value because of its physical association with the jazz legend. An actual signature on a document touched by someone with that amount of historical influence would normally be something that people would think is worth keeping, even if they would dispose of a very similar item signed by someone else.

Many times the value we search for is informational in nature – what can people learn from this document? Might anyone be interested in using it as part of a research project in the future? What does it tell us about a specific person or event, and how does that fit in with the larger picture of society in this time period? Sometimes, though, it’s great just to find something that was read by or written to someone with a big name; someone you’ve read about in school or seen on television, or someone you greatly admire for their actions and accomplishments.

The following document doesn’t strictly fall into the realm of intrinsic value (it’s debatable, anyway), but it was written by the ACLS to someone quite well-known: President Lyndon B. Johnson. This letter, written by former ACLS President R. M. Lumiansky, thanks President Johnson for his strong backing of the arts and humanities.

1967.03.01 Letter to LBJ

I suspect the special message to Congress mentioned is the one here; it’s dated just a few days before this letter was written. In this special message, President Johnson asks Congress to approve a $16 million budget for the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities, increasing it almost one-third from the previous budget.

It’s always wonderful to see people in power fighting for arts and humanities funding. Although the President did not personally write back to the ACLS, there is a response from his office thanking the organization for its support.

Monday Marvels

Since my two previous posts were about a fairly heavy topic, I thought I’d highlight something a bit lighter today. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve gone into some detail about how primary sources can help us feel the humanity inherent in history. That’s true for many reasons – just as these sources can let us glimpse individual stories from larger historical events and time periods, they can also give us physical signs that show us how human their creators really were – how very similar they were to us.

Take, for example, the 15th century Croatian manuscript that was found to have inky paw prints, presumably from a feline companion. The internet loves cats! Archivists love cats! Seeing this type of thing in archives and special collections can make us chuckle – but even more importantly, it can make us realize that even in the 15th century, even while physically writing books that are seen as sacred pieces of history today, people were just people. Their cats walked all over their work just like our cats walk all over ours. If you’re a cat owner, how many times has your little furry friend decided that your keyboard or homework or reading material would be the perfect place to plop down? It happened to people in the 1400s, too (maybe not with keyboards, but you get the point).

It’s always interesting to find the physical remnants of a totally normal life on documents – lipstick kisses on envelopes, dirty fingerprints, accidental tears, burn marks from cigarettes. These little reminders of humanity can make us feel even closer to history and the many interesting people who lived long ago.

This isn’t from the very distant past, but it was still fun to find in the ACLS collection. In October of 1943, someone undoubtedly got upset when they realized their coffee (or tea?) mug had stained this piece of correspondence:

Coffee stain

Enjoy, and remember: one day, your coffee stains might show up in an archival repository somewhere, giving a moment of amusement to a busy researcher.

Tuesday Treasures: Tiananmen Square, Part II

Last week, I posted some materials from and about scholars who were in China during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. This week, I’d like to expand on that post by showing you all two more items related to the protests – I just found so many interesting documents that I couldn’t confine them all to one blog post!

In the last post, I wrote about the importance of primary sources: they give us a glimpse into the past by allowing us to see first-hand accounts of it, and pull us into history by making it more human. They can give us stories, memories, and cultural insights. Likewise, they can pull us straight into the heart of an important event from the past, allowing us to see details that might otherwise have been lost forever.

If you’re interested in history, though, you can’t just think about the details. You also have to make an attempt to see the bigger picture – context is important! Some questions we could ask about the Tiananmen Square protests include (but are not limited to): What happened in the months or years leading up to June of 1989 that might have contributed to these protests and the government’s reaction to them? What types of people were protesting, and what were their reasons for doing so? How did the rest of the world view China at this time, and vice versa? Did any non-Chinese agents play a part in these protests? Were there similar movements happening elsewhere? How did the protests change things in China and the rest of the world, if at all? How did the government react to these actions in the long term? Did the lives of normal Chinese citizens change at all on a day-to-day basis as a result of these protests? Did the educational system in China change, due to these protests being student-led? Primary sources can help us answer these types of context-driven questions.

This first document is a memorandum from the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China (CSCPRC) to their National Program scholars who left China early because of the protests. In the memo, dated about a month and a half after the June 4th incident, the CSCPRC urges the scholars not to return to China before January of 1990:

In terms of context, this quote is of particular interest:

The current political crackdown by the present leadership is having a profound impact on the Chinese academic community in China. Students and faculty are being arrested, and it is not unlikely that ties with foreign scholars will be viewed suspiciously by the government in the coming months. At the same time, it is also clear that some Chinese scholars are under pressure to inform foreign friends that their institutions are open for business as usual, that nothing happened on June 4, and that everything is back to normal.

This next document is a trip report by previous ACLS President Stanley N. Katz written a year after the 1989 protests took place – the first page gives a general introduction as to why he took the trip in the first place, explaining that his Chinese colleagues very much wanted him to return in the aftermath of the protests:

Stanley N. Katz: American studies trip, page 1
Later in the report, President Katz makes note of what has happened to institutions of higher education, American studies, and scholarship in general as a result of the previous protests. I found this segment of the report (the end of page 20 through the beginning of page 22) particularly interesting:

If you don’t want to read all of that, here are a few quotes:

…individual programs…have been temporarily badly damaged by the political repression following June, 1989. (p. 20)

The faculty seem determined to settle in for the long haul not at all confident that anything positive will happen soon, but seemingly sure that in the long run more reasonable values and policies will win out. The graduate students, on the other hand, seem angry, openly defiant and quite aggressive in their pro-democratic values. Their comments after my lectures, refusing for the most part to pursue the discussion of American studies and insisting upon talking about rights and constitutionalism, showed just how unafraid they are. (p. 21)

On this trip I came to believe that the single most subversive thing the United States can do in China is to promote the study of American culture. (p. 21)

The ACLS American Studies Program, which ran from 1961 to 1992, aided foreign scholars studying the United States. In visiting China to ascertain the state of American studies there, President Katz made note of the bigger picture as well, offering a look at the context surrounding an important event in Chinese (and world) history. This is the type of material that keeps scholarship pushing forward, offering a better understanding of how events and people and places fit together and influence each other. These documents can’t answer all (or any, in full) of the questions I asked above, but they do give us a starting point from which we can ask more questions and start building a map of history.

Monday Marvels: Tiananmen Square, Part I

Like most archivists, I love studying the past in order to better understand the world we live in today. There are many great stories to be told, and many lessons to learn. That is why it is such a joy to find items in collections that directly relate to important moments in history. Encountering a letter from a soldier who witnessed firsthand a watershed moment in wartime; reading a speech given during a major civil rights protest; holding a photograph documenting the first instance of a new technology emerging: these things have a certain quality about them, and that quality is part of what draws people to primary sources in the first place. We read about these moments in history and social science textbooks at school, but seeing a firsthand account of them brings us something more – these objects tend to add more humanity to past events, allowing us to put ourselves into the shoes of these people, to see that actual human beings participated in these unforgettable moments, helping to shape their contemporary world as well as the one we live in today.

One such event took place 25 years ago – in the spring of 1989, student-led demonstrations were happening in Beijing, China. Gathering mainly in Tiananmen Square, the protestors called for widespread economic and political reform, and the government responded by declaring martial law. On June 4th, the military was sent to the square in an effort to displace the protestors. Arrests were made, and soldiers opened fire. Because the Chinese government refused to release any information about the event after it happened, casualty estimations range from several hundred to several thousand. I don’t condone using Wikipedia as a serious scholarly resource, but it’s great for learning basic information – the page on the Tiananmen Square protests is certainly worth reading if you’re interested. The BBC also offers a very short version of what happened in their “On This Day” feature. Most of you have probably seen the photo of a man (known only as “The Tank Man”) standing in front of a line of tanks – it is widely perceived to be one of the most iconic images of the 20th century, and was taken during these protests. Stories about the 25th anniversary of the June 4th incident have been peppering the news lately, showing up everywhere from Time to The Washington Post to The Guardian.

At this point, you might be asking yourself how this is related to the ACLS collection. I’ve written before about the international focus of the organization, so if you’ve been following along, you will see a pattern emerging – international programs are so important to the ACLS that there is currently an entire department devoted to them. Some of the boxes that arrived with Part III of the collection hold materials from the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China (CSCPRC, later known as the CSCC). I won’t delve too deeply into the details, but the CSCPRC was partially sponsored by the ACLS, which is why we’ve got some of their files here at the Library of Congress now. China has always been a main area of interest for the ACLS, and Chinese studies are heavily represented in all three parts of the collection.

In the first grouping of boxes I went through, I came across some grant materials from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Included were memoranda, pieces of correspondence, briefings, and notes about the Tiananmen Square protests to, from, and about scholars who were studying in China under the CSCPRC at the time. I thought it was worth taking the time to look more closely at these materials than I normally would, due to the historical importance inherent in them. Needless to say, I found them fascinating, and I hope that you all feel the same.

This first document, dated a few days after the June 4th incident, is a one-page letter from the Acting Director of the CSCPRC, Robert Geyer. In it, Geyer states that the committee is doing its best to get its sponsored scholars out of the country in order to ensure their safety. The seriousness of the situation is very clear:

CSCPRC - letter from June 7th, 1989

The following three-page fax sent to the D.C. CSCPRC office is worth reading in full, as it details the definite or assumed whereabouts of each of the program’s scholars on June 6th, noting that some scholars’ whereabouts were actually unknown at the time. I can only imagine how frantic and nerve-racking it must have felt to be in this situation, unable to find certain people. If you read nothing else, read the last paragraph. I can’t put into words how amazed I was reading this, so I will let the document speak for itself:


You might have noticed that Melissa Macauley’s name was highlighted in the above documents. That’s because they were with other documents related to her – for each scholar, the committee kept a packet of materials documenting their time in China. With Ms. Macauley’s permission, I give you one more document that I find to be particularly enlightening – a briefing from her to future scholars titled “Tips for a Safer, Happier Stay in the New, New China” from September of 1989:

Melissa Macauley - September 1989

The paragraph about demonstrations and mobs is especially interesting, with strong enough language that anyone reading it could imagine being there.

Documents like these ones always make me feel like time is suspending itself – there is nothing quite like a firsthand account of an important moment in history, the humanity jumping straight out of the source to engulf you in a true experience. I look forward to finding more documents like these as I continue processing the collection, and can only hope that researchers for years to come will use them to help us all better understand the human experience.

Strength in the humanities: The ACLS 2014 annual meeting

This weekend was a good one for the humanities – the ACLS annual meeting took place in Philadelphia from Thursday to Saturday, bringing together some of the brightest and most influential people in the fields. The ACLS graciously extended an invitation to me, so I took the train out and spent a few great days having inspiring conversations and listening to some truly thought-provoking speeches.

The annual meeting brings people together to discuss the state of the organization, its role in the humanities, and the humanities fields in general. There are panels giving presentations about specific topics or projects, speakers who give lectures or lead conversations, and of course there is the report of the President. Pauline Yu gave an excellent speech this year. She focused largely on the 1964 Report of the Commission on the Humanities (published 50 years ago!), which the ACLS produced alongside the Council of Graduate Schools in America and the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa and which eventually led to the establishment of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Comparing the present to the past is often a powerful tool, and this was no exception: In 1957, the ACLS was on the verge of bankruptcy. After some major changes, it picked itself back up, and today it is financially stable with a healthy treasury. Its robust fellowship programs continue to grow, and one only needs to look at the list of recent fellows to see the great diversity of projects funded by the ACLS, as pointed out by President Yu during her speech. Indeed, she affirmed that the humanities are not, in fact, dying.

And why would anyone think that the humanities are dying? For those of you who are not fully engulfed in the current conversation about the state of the humanities, it’s been a contentious one. For decades, the “crisis in the humanities” has been a hot topic of debate, and there’s no exception to that today – if anything, the conversation has become more heated in the past few years, in part because of the recent recession and its profound effects on society as a whole. If you do a Google search for “humanities crisis” (without the quotation marks), you’ll get more than 19 million results. Click on just a few of these results, and you’ll see a slew of articles and op-eds about how the humanities are crashing and burning: Lee Siegel says in this article that literature should be privately enjoyed, not studied in the classroom;* Gordon Hutner and Feisal G. Mohamed state here that the humanities crisis is happening in public universities; some point out that the downward-trending role of the humanities might have something to do with gender; and the New York Times has published on the subject in this article (with a quote from Pauline Yu on the second page!). It’s easy to worry about a decline in the humanities, especially when politicians are pushing to defund them, as in Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan’s most recent budget proposal, which states that the government should not be funding arts, libraries, museums, or the humanities in general. Well-known statistician Nate Silver has written about it on his blog, stating that the crisis is not nearly as bad as everyone is thinking, but also ending the article in the following way: “Perhaps we should at once encourage or require college students to take coursework in English – and tell them to be wary about majoring in it.”

It’s not all bad, though. Several pieces have pointed out that there might not be a problem at all, or at least the problem is not what everyone is saying it is: Anne E. Fernald states in this op-ed that “the crisis is not with the humanities. The crisis is with the failure to value them enough.” Michael Bérubé, one of the presenters at the meeting this weekend, says here that the actual numbers do not show a decline in the humanities at all. Additionally, all this talk of a crisis has encouraged hundreds (if not thousands) of people to blog, tweet, and post their thoughts about the subject all over the internet. One article called “The Unintended Value of the Humanities” gives some food for thought, and there has even been a book recently published called The Value of the Humanities. An infographic titled “The Humanities Matter!” is an excellent resource to pull out anytime someone might ask you, “but why would anyone want to study English/classics/history/religion/(insert humanities subject here)?” In short: people are defending the humanities, which is great!

But I digress – back to the meeting (being there just made me so excited about the humanities; I had to write a bit about this debate)! From reports of fellowship projects to conversations about the public face of the humanities to a panel about the results of a recent census of the ACLS’ constituent societies, there were a lot of interesting thoughts and ideas to take in. One project of particular interest to me was “CSI Dixie: Race, the Body Politic, and the View from the South’s County Coroners’ Offices.” Stephen Berry, the 2013 ACLS Digital Innovation Fellow, has used coroners’ reports to expertly paint a vivid picture of the Antebellum South, and will be launching a website on this subject soon – I look forward to seeing it once it has gone up. I was also particularly interested in the census of constituent societies, the results of which will be publicly available at some point in the (hopefully near) future – for those of you who are interested in the state of learned societies, look forward to this! In general, the societies seem to be growing in a healthy way in terms of membership, conference attendance, and revenue, which goes to show that Pauline Yu was right: the humanities are not dying.

Meeting attendees were also able to hear from Earl Lewis, President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. One of the things President Lewis stressed was that the future of humanities research and scholarship will be more teamwork-oriented than ever before. In order to bring the humanities into the digital landscape in a responsible and accessible way, scholars will have to work together with computer scientists, metadata experts, and people in a wide variety of other fields. I do think that sound digital humanities scholarship needs to be rooted in sound humanities scholarship in general, but he has a solid point here. Personally, I believe this foray into extended teamwork is exciting. Everything seems to be merging together and becoming more interdisciplinary, and we can only become stronger by working with each other and trying to understand disciplines outside of our own.


* I heartily disagree with this assessment – I understand the literature I studied in school in way that I never would’ve been able to without having an open discussion about it, and university classes made me appreciate and love the likes of Chekhov, Faulkner, and numerous other phenomenal authors that I might otherwise have never read in the first place.

Monday Marvels

Last week I promised to start posting interesting records from Part III, so that’s what I’m going to do today! In general, Part III has more recent materials than Parts I and II. This means I’ll be able to share some more contemporary ACLS activities with all of you, highlighting some programs and aspects of the organization that are very much still alive.

One of the things that makes the ACLS so special is the inclusion of constituent societies under its umbrella. Many of the records in this collection focus on these member societies, and one of the most important ways in which they are able to communicate with each other and the ACLS is through the Conference of Administrative Officers (CAO), which “holds semi-annual meetings to discuss substantive issues in the humanities as well as practical and organizational aspects of society management,” according to the ACLS website.

The CAO originally started as the Conference of Secretaries back in 1925. The title was changed in 1988, and the CAO continues to be an essential part of the ACLS mission to strengthen the relationships between its member societies. Before receiving Part III and beginning to process it, I was told that I would be seeing a lot more CAO files in this part than the previous two. This is already true! Three of the thirty boxes that arrived on the first pallet contained CAO materials, including many administrative files. Most of the files regarding the Conference of Secretaries / CAO in the first two parts pertain directly to the semi-annual meetings, with just one or two folders per meeting in general. The CAO files in Part III are rich with information, however, and I’m excited to see more of them as I make my way through this next stage of the project.

My reason for sharing so much about the CAO is simple: The document I’m highlighting this week is from a CAO meeting, and was written by ACLS Vice President Steven Wheatley (with the help of other ACLS staff), whose passion and knowledge are acutely expressed in this document titled “International Programs of the American Council of Learned Societies.” I’ve already waxed poetic about the prevalence of international programs and committees overseen by the ACLS, so you know that the organization has a strong international focus. For this November 1994 CAO retreat, constituent societies also wrote reports about how they had dealt with international matters throughout their histories – these files could be an excellent resource for someone doing a project on international affairs (hint, hint)! As an aside, the CAO spring meeting is happening this weekend, right at the tail end of the ACLS annual meeting, which I feel very honored to be attending (you’ll be hearing about it next week!).

This document begins by stating that the ACLS was founded “to represent American scholarship in international fora,” so indeed, the very creation of the organization was centered on opening up scholarly relationships around the world. To date, I have found materials in the ACLS collection representing every single continent except Antarctica, which is quite a feat. This document outlines the goals, activities, strengths, and problems of the ACLS’ international programs. I always love finding documents like this – they help me understand more about the ACLS and its history, which of course allows me to process the collection in a more straightforward and comprehensive way. Happy reading, everyone.

International Programs, page 1 International Programs, page 2International Programs, page 3International Programs, page 4International Programs, page 5

Converting spreadsheets to word documents: A walkthrough

Good news: The first major part of this project is finished! The finding aid is complete for Parts I and II, and has been sent on to my Library of Congress supervisor for preliminary editing. The work involved in editing and standardizing and re-editing and re-standardizing the finding aid took me more time than anticipated, but I have now moved on to the processing work for Part III. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting about some of the things I’ve been doing to intellectually process the collection over the past months. Because I’m physically working with materials again, I will also be returning to regularly scheduled Monday Marvels posts.

As you might already know, when this project is complete, the finding aid for the ACLS collection will consist of three parts:

  1. An Excel spreadsheet with the container lists for Parts II and III, which will be available for research use in the reading room
  2. A WordPerfect word document with pertinent information for Parts I, II, and III, including a title page, collection summary, table of contents, administrative information, organizational history, scope and content note, description of series, container list, and appendices
  3. A version of the completed finding aid in Encoded Archival Description (EAD), which will allow users to easily search through it on the Library of Congress website

Because I am initially creating the container lists for Parts II and III in Excel, I had to figure out an easy way to transfer that information into WordPerfect. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to share some tips on how to do this with all of you (I’ll include information on how to convert to Microsoft Word, as well), since other people out there might also be doing this as part of a large project. Side note: If you’re interested in converting a finding aid straight from a spreadsheet to EAD, you might want to look at this tutorial by Maureen Callahan.

At this point, you may be wondering why I didn’t build the container list in a spreadsheet and a word document at the same time. There are two major reasons for this. First, I didn’t want to have to type everything twice or copy and paste everything individually, both of which would’ve taken up a lot of extra time. Second, I was able to easily re-order the spreadsheet after completing it, which allowed me to put it into the exact order it needed to be in for the word document. If I had built the container list in WordPerfect as I was building it in Excel, I would’ve had to rearrange both, which would have taken an enormous amount of time.

But how to get the information from Excel to WordPerfect without it looking like a huge mess?

1. Here is a screen shot of the Excel spreadsheet for Part II. I’ve used bright colors for the columns because it’s easier for me personally to deal with the information when there is color differentiation involved, and because having a screen full of bright colors is more fun than having one that is just black and white (Caroline, my predecessor, had originally set up the spreadsheet with colors and I thought it was a great idea!).

Excel spreadsheet

2. This is what it looks like when I copy and paste the Excel spreadsheet into WordPerfect:

Spreadsheet copied into WordPerfect
Clearly this won’t do! Many of the columns are missing, it’s in portrait instead of landscape mode, and it’s just a different format overall. So how do I change this to look like a normal word document?

3. One of the great things about WordPerfect is that you can look at the codes going into the formatting, so if something is frustrating you, you can see exactly what is happening and change it right in the code. This isn’t a possibility with Microsoft Word, sadly. To see the codes in WordPerfect, click on View -> Reveal Codes.

WordPerfect's "reveal codes" feature

4. Here is what it looks like when the codes are revealed:

WordPerfect - Table Defined code
You can see them down on the bottom of the screen – it shows information about the font, the style, and all other aspects of the formatting involved in a word document. Now you want to go into the code and delete the table while keeping the information in it. To do this, I first clicked on the upper left hand corner of the table, and then clicked on the “Tbl Def” (define table format) button in the code and hit the delete key on my keyboard.

5. This brought up some options – I could either delete the entire table, just the contents of the table, just the formulas, or convert the table to another format. I wanted the last option, highlighted here:

WordPerfect - Delete table

6. The easiest way for me to reformat the text in the way that I wanted was to convert the table to text with the different cells separated by tabs. Some of you might find it easier to separate the text in other ways, but I found that separating it with tabs allowed me to see where the separations were very easily and also allowed me to reformat it into a usable container list without too much effort.

WordPerfect - convert table using tabs

7. Here is what it looks like after deleting the table structure and separating the cells with tabs – still pretty messy, but much better — at least all of the information is present!

WordPerfect - table grid deleted

8. All that’s left to do at this point is some manual reformatting of the text. This means going through and deleting the tabs, hitting enter whenever a new line has to start, making sure everything is nested correctly, deleting extraneous headings and container numbers, and reformatting in other fairly simple ways. It did take some time, but wasn’t nearly as bad as it could’ve been! Going through the entire container list manually also allowed me to catch mistakes and correct them, see what kinds of terminology I should be changing to make it more user-friendly, and get a better idea of the collection overall. Here’s what it looks like now, as a finished finding aid in WordPerfect format:

WordPerfect - formatted
Beautiful, right? Much better than the original spreadsheet copied and pasted!

Here’s how to do the same thing in Microsoft Word 2007 or 2010 (it’s very similar):

First, click on the table. Then, go to the Layout tab and find the “Convert to Text” button (highlighted here):

Microsoft Word - convert table tool

At this point, you basically get the same message as you do in WordPerfect – the program asks how you want to separate the text:

Microsoft Word - convert table with tabs

Finally, this is how it looks after reformatting everything, as displayed in Step 8 above:

Microsoft Word - formatted

Pretty simple, all things considered.

Stay tuned for more updates about the intellectual processing of the ACLS records!