Making Connections

Creating Dialogue

Even though this is a virtual internship with the potential to be isolating, the Cultural Rescue Initiative has worked to build connections. We have had ongoing phone meetings as part of the larger group and as the smaller group of George Mason interns focused on the Caribbean. Our smaller group often emailed and shared documents as well. Another valuable connection has been reading their intern blog posts. This communication provides insight into other aspects and geographic areas of the project. Ultimately, this helps us as virtual interns to see the larger picture and the need for this project.

In addition, this internship has sparked conversations with my colleagues at work. Today, I discovered that the science librarian I work with at UNC Charlotte helped preserve the papers of the Hiẓb al-Ba’th al-‘Arabī al-Ishtirākī Records (Ba’ath Party Records). As a student in her library science program, she contributed to the digitization project. We talked about the overlapping concerns with preserving information. Just as terrorist groups have destroyed museum objects and cultural sites in the Middle East, Saddam Hussein tried to destroy the records of his opposition. Thankfully, the need to preserve as many documents as possible was recognized and acted upon. I’m grateful for the dialogue this internship has created.

 

Connections to My Teaching

The internship has provided some challenges as well. Many of the Caribbean islands we are researching did not have any sites listed in De Gruyter’s Museums of the World directory. As a result, I had to utilize the advice I give to students when conducting research and evaluating online information. Much of the information I used to find and evaluate potential museums came from Google searches. Some website came from the government and universities, but many of these were travel websites. As I result, I had to be even more careful about the information source. I chose to ask a combination of the questions from the University of Maryland Libraries. Questions 6 and 7 gained added importance because of the hurricane damage.

1. What are the qualifications of the author or group that created the site?
2. What is the purpose of the web page or site?
3. What kind of information does the web site provide?
4. Does the web site provide any contact information?
5. When was the web site last updated?
6. Is the site well maintained?
7. In your opinion, how does the web site appear overall?

In addition, I tried to find information about the museum’s mission when available. Sometimes, a museum or gallery was simply a hobby or vanity project. I think the one that will stay with me is the “bird sanctuary” and accompanying “museum” that turned out to be some birds put in the backyard by a man whose wife liked birds. Their tax status was also an important question to ask, whether they were for profit or not for profit. Many institutions fell somewhere in between the bird sanctuary and clearly qualifying museums like Trinidad’s National Museum and Art Gallery. This project has helped me to practice what I preach and reconnect with my teaching material.

Trinidad national museum 2006-23-02.JPG
National Museum and Art Gallery, Trinidad from Wikipedia Commons
Damage to St. Maarten from Hurricane Irma, September 6, 2017, from the Ministry of Defense, Netherlands

The Lifecycle of Information

While working to collect information on the museums and related sites in the Smithsonian Institution’s Cultural Heritage Rescue Initiative, I am reminded of a library assignment I used with students to teach them about the lifecycle of information. The assignment focused on the reporting and discourse surrounding Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The cycle starts with information posted online with blogs and other social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, usually on the same day. The next stage quickly follows with newspapers as seen with articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post about Hurricanes Rita and Irma. In the following weeks, we can find articles in popular magazines. A notable example that was brought to my attention by a fellow intern is the December 14 article “What It’s Like to Evacuate a Museum in a Natural Disaster” in The Atlantic by Sarah Zhang. Of course, this article is of particular interest to me working on the virtual side of the process with my internship. However, it will be months before information is published in scholarly and trade journals because of the process for submissions and peer-reviewing. It could then take years to see academic discussions of the events and their effects in book form due to the formal publishing timeline. This publishing timeline makes the work of the Cultural Heritage Rescue Initiative all the more urgent and necessary. As Zhang notes in her article, “not all museums are impenetrable fortresses.” As a result, it is critical that this information is recorded as quickly but also as thoroughly as possible.

Infographics created in 2012 by Jenna Rinalducci for an Honors Research Methods class at George Mason University

Using Librarian Research Skills to Track Down Museums

As part of George Mason University’s graduate certificate in Digital Public Humanities, I am currently working as a virtual intern for the Smithsonian Institution’s Cultural Heritage Rescue Initiative. I am also the Arts & Architecture Librarian at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and until last year I served as the Art & Art History Librarian at George Mason. Our intern group from Mason was tasked with documenting museums and other cultural sites in the Caribbean, and my daily work as a librarian has proved helpful.

Our assignment became time sensitive because of the damage caused by Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Some islands we are researching received more damage than others did. For instance, Aruba and St. Kitts and Nevis are currently open to tourists, but many areas of Puerto Rico were destroyed. This devastation and subsequent lack of power made locating and verifying museums and cultural sites especially difficult. Since many of their sites are not listed in De Gruyter’s Museums of the World directory, I had to utilize the advice I give to students when conducting research and evaluating online information.

Implementing the standards of information literacy from the American Library Association became essential to finding and evaluating potential cultural sites. It is imperative that we think critically about the information we are consuming. My first step in identifying sites was to evaluate the information sources themselves. Some information came from government websites and a few from universities and colleges. However, many sources were tourist websites. These website required additional steps in the evaluation process. I chose to ask a combination of the following questions from the University of Maryland Libraries. Questions 6 and 7 gained added importance because of the hurricane damage.

1. What are the qualifications of the author or group that created the site?
2. What is the purpose of the web page or site?
3. What kind of information does the web site provide?
4. Does the web site provide any contact information?
5. When was the web site last updated?
6. Is the site well maintained?
7. In your opinion, how does the web site appear overall?

Once identified, evaluating potential sites required additional questions. For instance, I tried to determine if the sites were not-for- profit or for-profit. I also researched the mission of the museum/site and possible staff when available. Of course, the power outages meant that many of these websites were not available. Some museums were easy to identify, like the National Museum and Art Gallery on the island of Trinidad, while another turned out to be a small bird sanctuary in someone’s backyard because of a personal hobby. However, many institutions fell somewhere in between. Whether we use terms like information literacy, historical thinking, or critical thinking, evaluating information sources has been an essential part of this process.

View of Trinidad from Mount Saint Benedict Monastery – Photograph taken by Ned Rinalducci

Module 8 Portfolio Post

A comment by Jerri Wieringa struck me immediately when listening to the interview with her and Celeste Sharpe talking about their course Historical Thinking and Writing in the Digital Age. Jerri remarked that the scope of the course was an important decision for them because it is a difficult balancing act. You want to provide enough information to help students think and learn, but you also don’t want to overwhelm them to the point of saturation. This is something that I have been struggling with my current project. There is so much information about handmade paper and papermaking, but I have to remind myself that I have a limited amount of time and I don’t want to overwhelm visitors to the site and discourage learning. As a result, I have focused on the timeline and exhibits. The timeline (created using Timeline JS from Knights Lab) allows me to highlight keys points in the history of paper. I then added explanatory text and images and descriptive captions. I’m hoping that the interactive and visual qualities of the timeline will engage students in learning about papermaking history. However, going back to the issue of scope I have had to limit what I include in the timeline to prevent it from being seemingly endless. To address this issue, I have included representative examples. For instance, I cited work by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg as examples of handmade paper being incorporated into fine art in the 1970s. I also focused on the Women’s Studio Workshop as one of the key books arts and papermaking centers to emerge with the revitalization of handmade paper.

I also viewed Jennifer Coggins video about her project dealing with archives at UNC-Chapel Hill. Since she is focused on a specific archive holding, her project was naturally more focuses with modules and activities. However, I would like to incorporate her approach in some way even though my project began on a much broader level. Hopefully, by focusing on the contrast between Eastern and Western papermaking I can provide my focus to the learning. I plan to do this through the Exhibits plugin in Omeka. I have broken down the topic into key geographic areas (Japan, China, Europe, etc). From here, I am providing explanatory text and selected items from the collections of images and videos. I may be worthwhile to include selected readings as well to contribute to the learning goals. Her module approach has inspire another idea to create a page (using the Simple Pages plugin) to highlight the how-to videos and readings. I have marked these items in the metadata as “how-to” so they are searchable as hyperlinks and on the Subject Lists page. I used the Library of Congress plugin to suggest terms for the Dublin Core subjects. However, I think students would benefit from having these how-to guides highlighted on a separate page.