Freight car archives, was: The growing problem of erroneous captions


jim_mischke <jmischke@...>
 

I did the Public Archives of Canada gig a few years ago.

The Merillees collection was tossed by his heirs into boxes for transport to the archives, and now the order in which they were so tossed is sacred. I understand how provenance can be valuable, say with presidential or other historical figures' private papers. This is not the case with the Merrilees collection but there is no telling that to the archival Nazis there.

The only way to get through 161 random boxes of freight car photos for their B&O content is to request a bunch and flip through them. Whereupon the archival Nazi officer of the day told me that photos are to be moved and viewed with two hands at all times. And that if I used only one hand to view a photo just one more time, I would be thrown out the door.

Great collection. No fun at all.

--- In STMFC@yahoogroups.com, cinderandeight@... wrote:

Jim, and the rest of the group.
First off, I know personally that the B&O book was a big
disappointment for Craig Bossler because of all the work he did to "get it right", only
to have it thrown by the wayside. He told me he wouldn't do anymore such
books for them. Anyone who knows Craig well, also knows what a
perfectionist he can be.
A second thought on your comments are that when at the National
Archives of Canada I experienced the very same problem as you in terms of "the
way we got it is how it should be". Anyone who has been there knows that the
collection is only "two steps from random". There are some groups of
photos that are related well to each other, but many boxes are just a mess of
prints with no relationship. I found boxes with the same print in them four
or five times in different places, each print of a different quality, but
I was not allowed to place all of them in one spot so people could compare
them and order a copy off the best one.
Happily some institutions bother to listen to knowledgeable persons
and adjust files. I've had a number of files at the U of M Transportation
library changed over the years because they bother to listen to a reasonable
argument for the change. Across town at the U of M Bentley Library it was
exactly as you describe, a rigid set of rules that allowed some really nice
documents get trashed by over handling, rather than make a "user copy"
first (which I offered to pay for even).
Jim, I live within 4 miles of the Kettering collection and will
contact you off list for some input on what you saw there. Yes, the demise of GM
has hurt all the collections here, most staff are gone, but maybe I can
still access it.
Rich Burg


Anthony Thompson <thompson@...>
 

jim_mischke wrote:
I did the Public Archives of Canada gig a few years ago.
The only way to get through 161 random boxes of freight car photos for their B&O content is to request a bunch and flip through them. Whereupon the archival Nazi officer of the day told me that photos are to be moved and viewed with two hands at all times. And that if I used only one hand to view a photo just one more time, I would be thrown out the door.
Great collection. No fun at all.
Jim, I hear you, but remember that most archives have suffered theft, in some cases considerable theft. The archivist on the receiving end of THAT particular fun is gonna be less accommodating in future.

Tony Thompson Editor, Signature Press, Berkeley, CA
2906 Forest Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705 www.signaturepress.com
(510) 540-6538; fax, (510) 540-1937; e-mail, thompson@signaturepress.com
Publishers of books on railroad history


Armand Premo
 

Really, with today's technology?.Why don't they just put the material on a .disc?The reward should be obvious.Armand Premo----- Original Message -----
From: Anthony Thompson
To: STMFC@yahoogroups.com
Sent: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 6:21 PM
Subject: Re: [STMFC] Freight car archives, was: The growing problem of erroneous captions





jim_mischke wrote:
> I did the Public Archives of Canada gig a few years ago.
> The only way to get through 161 random boxes of freight car photos
> for their B&O content is to request a bunch and flip through them.
> Whereupon the archival Nazi officer of the day told me that photos
> are to be moved and viewed with two hands at all times. And that if
> I used only one hand to view a photo just one more time, I would be
> thrown out the door.
> Great collection. No fun at all.

Jim, I hear you, but remember that most archives have suffered
theft, in some cases considerable theft. The archivist on the
receiving end of THAT particular fun is gonna be less accommodating in
future.

Tony Thompson Editor, Signature Press, Berkeley, CA
2906 Forest Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705 www.signaturepress.com
(510) 540-6538; fax, (510) 540-1937; e-mail, thompson@signaturepress.com
Publishers of books on railroad history






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Tom Madden <tgmadden@...>
 

Armand Premo wrote:

Really, with today's technology? Why don't they just put the
material on a disc? The reward should be obvious.
The reward to the holding institution is probably different from the reward you envision, Armand. You're probably thinking of having the individual documents available in electronic form, while the institution would be thinking of having an index to their collection available electronically. Their reward would come from improved access to the collection, both for themselves and for users/purchasers. Many institutions - particularly ones with paid staff - resist making their collections available to the public in electronic form for fear that they will lose control of potential income from selling copies. This fear is not unfounded.

As for the seemingly haphazard/disorganized condition of some collections, that I can understand. I have catalogued a number of photo collections as a volunteer at the Colorado Railroad Museum, and am a fairly heavy user of the Pullman collection at the Newberry Library in Chicago. At the document level, it's difficult to impose order on a large collection if the donor did not do so. If the donor is still living or has left specific instructions, the typical organization is chronological. If heirs are involved, all too often - even when we've been expecting the collection - it's delivered in random boxes with no more documentation than "Dad wanted these to go to the museum". Users, however, want collections catalogued by subject rather than date. But if you're sitting there with a couple thousand negatives in front of you, there's no way to efficiently sort them by subject. So you take them in whatever order they come, open a blank computer database in the museum's standard format, take the first negative, assign it a sequential catalog number, and in the appropriate fields enter the date taken (if noted), railroad, equipment number, description, location, any photographer's notes, and photographer's name. Negatives are removed from whatever sleeves or envelopes they may be in and placed (individually) in new, acid-free archival envelopes which have all the database information printed on them. Then they are filed by catalog number. Repeat until done.

Once a collection is fully catalogued, a user can sort or filter the database any way he wishes. You want all the photos showing D&RGW 2-8-8-2s on Tennessee Pass? No problem, we can fetch all of them from all of the collections, but except for sequential photos of one train taken by one photographer, the catalogue numbers (and therefore the locations in the files) will be all over the map. Like the collection cited earlier in this thread, the CRRM's photo and negative files are not set up for efficient browsing at the document level, and we certainly have our equivalents of the "four boxcar shots followed by one of Maurice Richard" file drawers.

Tom Madden


Frank Valoczy <destron@...>
 

One other thing I'd like to mention:

Yes, in many cases it's not very convenient to search archives for specific things.

But: it is there and *accessible to the public*! And THAT is the key important thing.

All the corporate files of the Morrissey, Fernie & Michel Railway ended up with someone in Alberta, who now refuse any and all access to the documents, by anyone, apparently for fear of damage. With this policy, they may as well just dump it all into the sewer, for what good (none) it's doing anyone like this.

One wonders how much other information folks on this list would love to have access to is "lost" due to such policies...

Frank Valoczy
Vancouver, BC


Gatwood, Elden J SAD
 

Coming from both sides of the situation, I'd like to share several additional
observations:

1) From the standpoint of some "owners" (museum, historical society, private
individual), you have no rights whatsoever. Some owners view what they have
as a money-making resource to be tapped for their own benefit. You have to
put up with whatever they desire to get access to it. I know individuals
that have containers (several; 48'+; like used on container trains) packed to
their ceilings with "one-only" paperwork from the PRR that will never see the
light of day in their lifetimes, and probably be sold off by their widows on
e-bay, since they feel they "saved" the docs from a landfil, and they did.
This enrages those that know these guys have it.

2) From the standpoint of those that want the info, we want it now, free,
and unencumbered. The Internet has not helped with that expectation. I
actually received a request like this recently: "why can't you scan that
photo for me, today, at high resolution, because I need it for an article."
Riiiight. Society members regularly field dozens of requests just like this,
from everyone from museum staff to authors to model builders.

The PRRT&HS is currently wrestling with a long-term argument over the also
long-term process of opening up Society-owned (not public) information to
access. Because theft or damage is a consideration, how do they do it? Scan
it and make available CDs at some cost to those that want it? Who pays the
archivist? Dues don't cover this. Doesn't this also result in a loss of
control over one of the few resources you possess? Who needs you when a CD
containing everything comes out? Or, just let folks in to go through boxes
of who knows what that was deeded to the Society? How do you control that
access? This all is a HUGE problem.

And to your last query - you would not believe how much...

Elden Gatwood

-----Original Message-----
From: STMFC@yahoogroups.com [mailto:STMFC@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Frank
Valoczy
Sent: Friday, May 29, 2009 1:02 AM
To: STMFC@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [STMFC] Re: Freight car archives, was: The growing problem of
erroneous captions



One other thing I'd like to mention:

Yes, in many cases it's not very convenient to search archives for specific
things.

But: it is there and *accessible to the public*! And THAT is the key
important thing.

All the corporate files of the Morrissey, Fernie & Michel Railway ended up
with someone in Alberta, who now refuse any and all access to the documents,
by anyone, apparently for fear of damage. With this policy, they may as well
just dump it all into the sewer, for what good (none) it's doing anyone like
this.

One wonders how much other information folks on this list would love to have
access to is "lost" due to such policies...

Frank Valoczy
Vancouver, BC


Tom Madden <tgmadden@...>
 

Elden Gatwood wrote:

Coming from both sides of the situation, I'd like to share several
additional observations:

1) From the standpoint of some "owners" (museum, historical
society, private individual), you have no rights whatsoever.
Some owners view what they have as a money-making resource to
be tapped for their own benefit. You have to put up with whatever
they desire to get access to it.
I know you're setting up a straw man here, Elden, but unless you intend to hammer away at the foundations of the free enterprise system and the concept of property rights, what's the problem? Granted, with individuals the "Nyah nyah, I've got something you don't have" attitude can be really vexing, but how else can traditional custodians of such material pay their stewardship costs? The Newberry Library, as solid an institution as there is, sent an email to members and patrons last week pointing out that the value of their endowment had dropped from $71 million on 7/1/07 to $61 million on 6/30/08 to $43 million on 4/30/09. Income from their endowment covers a goodly portion of the Newberry's operating budget, and they are having to do some significant cutting and consolidating in both staff and service. I'm not making a plea for the Newberry - it's just one of many institutions housing the railroad archives we deem important. But I am saying that it costs money to store and service those archives, and if it gets to the point where institutions start taking hard looks at cost vs. activity level and cash flow, well, I'm not sure I want to contemplate the implications.

I know individuals that have containers (several; 48'+; like used
on container trains) packed to their ceilings with "one-only"
paperwork from the PRR that will never see the light of day in
their lifetimes, and probably be sold off by their widows on
e-bay, since they feel they "saved" the docs from a landfill, and
they did. This enrages those that know these guys have it.
Yes, these are selfish and egotistical individuals. But if appealing to reason doesn't work, and you are unable to arrange for purchase at an agreeable price or donation, what would you propose? Confiscation? We are, after all, dealing with records that had little or no long-term significance when they were generated. Consider time-traveling back to the immediate post-war period, into the procurement office of your favorite railroad. Tell the fellow working on the order for 500 new boxcars that you'd like a complete account of the specific ends, doors, roof walks and hand brakes applied to each individual car, and you'll need him to arrange for tracking all changes and repaints for the life of each car. Once he stops laughing (assuming you haven't been thrown out of the office already) he might say, "I'm ordering containers for transporting freight. I want them to cost nothing to build, service, maintain and haul, weigh nothing, last forever and deliver cargo safely without damage from shipper to consignee. Everything else is compromise, and those things you want me to track are beyond trivial." And you'll say "Because in 60 years I'll want to build models of three of those cars, and I'll want to know they're dead-nuts accurate". As Richard H. would say, "It is to laugh".

2) From the standpoint of those that want the info, we want it
now, free, and unencumbered.
Here's what the Newberry included in their email:
"With regard to our collections, we are concentrating support on those for which the Newberry is best known and which have the greatest associated staff knowledge and program activities."

I don't know where the CB&Q and Pullman archives rank in the Newberry's collection hierarchy, but "program activity" includes not just in-person research visits, but ordering of copies, microfilms and electronic files as well. If we insist that everything be both free and instantly available, and turn our backs on the institutions that have the temerity to actually charge for their services, we may find the collections becoming inaccessible, or worse.

Tom "the common scold" Madden


tmolsen@...
 

Eldon,

I did research at the Hagley in Wilnington for the articles on the Panhandle Division a number of years ago. I had to have a library researchers card and to apply for it. I had to fill out a form listing my name, address, phone numbers, my affiliation, in this case the PRRT&HS, and what my purpose was.

I had to look up the material that I wanted in their card files and then made a request for it to be located and delivered to me. I was shown to a room which had access through one door and had to pass the archive attendent who monitored the room access and the material going into and out of the room. The room had chairs, a long work table for the researchers to work on. No pens or copy equipment were allowed into the room. If you wanted anything copied, the attendent would arrange for it to be done at a nominal fee.

In this way, the material was always under the scrutiny of the archive attendents. I understand that the State Archive in Harrisburg operates in the same fashion.

Of course, this means that the work spaces and archive material rooms have to be manned by archive employees which requires financial expenses. This is the only way that you can maintain control of the material in use.

Perhaps Tom Madden can give us an overview of how the Newberry operates and keeps control of their materials.

Regards,

Tom Olsen
7 Boundary Road, West Branch
Newark, Delaware, 19711-7479
(302) 738-4292
tmolsen@udel.edu


water.kresse@...
 

In the past, the U of Michigan Trans Lib (Ann Arbor North Campus) and State of Mich Archives (Lansing) had you lock up coats, back packs, etc. and then had you claim a table in an open group of tables with a monitor.  I believe you were allowed a pad of paper and a writing devise, or a laptop.  You would be allowed two items checked out at a time.  Depending on the material, you might be asked to wear white gloves.  Attendant at the checkout desk would do the copying for you.  If the material was fragile, you might have to come back a different day or pay to have the copies mailed to you.  Certain materials had to be pre-ordered four days ahead of time from controlled environmental storage.  Don't  remember if you had to leave your driver's lic or some ID when checking out material.



Al Kresse

----- Original Message -----
From: tmolsen@UDel.Edu
To: STMFC@yahoogroups.com
Sent: Saturday, May 30, 2009 12:16:41 AM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern
Subject: RE: [STMFC] Re: Freight car archives, was: The growing problem of erroneous captions

Eldon,

I did research at the Hagley in Wilnington for the articles on the Panhandle Division a number of years ago.  I had to have a library researchers card and to apply for it. I had to fill out a form listing my name, address, phone numbers, my affiliation, in this case the PRRT&HS, and what my purpose was.

I had to look up the material that I wanted in their card files and then made a request for it to be located and delivered to me.  I was shown to a room which had access through one door and had to pass the archive attendent who monitored the room access and the material going into and out of the room.  The room had chairs, a long work table for the researchers to work on.  No pens or copy equipment were allowed into the room.  If you wanted anything copied, the attendent would arrange for it to be done at a nominal fee.

In this way, the material was always under the scrutiny of the archive attendents.  I understand that the State Archive in Harrisburg operates in the same fashion.

Of course, this means that the work spaces and archive material rooms have to be manned by archive employees which requires financial expenses.  This is the only way that you can maintain control of the material in use.

Perhaps Tom Madden can give us an overview of how the Newberry operates and keeps control of their materials.

Regards,

Tom Olsen
7 Boundary Road, West Branch
Newark, Delaware, 19711-7479
(302) 738-4292
tmolsen@udel.edu


[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]


Tom Madden <tgmadden@...>
 

Tom, the Newberry operates in much the same way. There's a security desk in the entrance lobby where you have to sign in and out. No briefcases, bags, or anything which will cut or mark paper is permitted past the desk. (#2 pencils are available at the librarians desk at each reading room.) Laptops and their power cords, mice etc. are fine but you have to carry them in loose. Oddly enough, at my last visit I was told cameras were now permitted in the reading rooms, but no flash or tripods. The security attendant used to give you a transparent plastic shopping bag for carrying loose gear, but they weren't doing that at my last visit (March 2008). You'll be checked at security going and coming. There's an unattended locker room off the main lobby for storing coats, briefcases, etc. A locker costs a quarter, and your quarter is returned when you unlock your locker.

After going through security you need to apply for a reader's card, which is good for one year. My typical visit is at least three full days, and I usually have a good-sized list of items to pull, and filled-out call tickets, when I walk in the door. (I have boxes, rolls or folders pulled, not individual items.)

Bob Wayner gave me some good advice when I started using the Newberry a decade ago - if you're making heavy use of the staff, show your appreciation in a tangible, financial way when you leave. Not necessary for the occasional, drop-in visit, but for multi-day research visits it's a great (tax deductible) investment. It costs me roughly $150 per day (food & lodging) to be in Chicago conveniently close to the Newberry, plus the expense of getting there, so I figure an extra $25 per day honorarium is money well spent. Railroad archives are in the Newberry's Special Collections department, and I hand the Special Collections head librarian a check made out to the Newberry noted "for the use of Special Collections" at the end of a visit. (I'm told few readers do this, but it works for me!) If you're serious about your research, come prepared and show some appreciation (if appropriate), the staff will be more than helpful.

Tom Madden

--- In STMFC@yahoogroups.com, <tmolsen@...> wrote:

Eldon,

I did research at the Hagley in Wilnington for the articles on the Panhandle Division a number of years ago. I had to have a library researchers card and to apply for it. I had to fill out a form listing my name, address, phone numbers, my affiliation, in this case the PRRT&HS, and what my purpose was.

I had to look up the material that I wanted in their card files and then made a request for it to be located and delivered to me. I was shown to a room which had access through one door and had to pass the archive attendent who monitored the room access and the material going into and out of the room. The room had chairs, a long work table for the researchers to work on. No pens or copy equipment were allowed into the room. If you wanted anything copied, the attendent would arrange for it to be done at a nominal fee.

In this way, the material was always under the scrutiny of the archive attendents. I understand that the State Archive in Harrisburg operates in the same fashion.

Of course, this means that the work spaces and archive material rooms have to be manned by archive employees which requires financial expenses. This is the only way that you can maintain control of the material in use.

Perhaps Tom Madden can give us an overview of how the Newberry operates and keeps control of their materials.

Regards,

Tom Olsen
7 Boundary Road, West Branch
Newark, Delaware, 19711-7479
(302) 738-4292
tmolsen@...


Dave Nelson
 

tmolsen@UDel.Edu wrote:
Eldon,

I did research at the Hagley in Wilnington for the articles on the
Panhandle Division a number of years ago. I had to have a library
researchers card and to apply for it. I had to fill out a form
listing my name, address, phone numbers, my affiliation, in this case
the PRRT&HS, and what my purpose was.

I had to look up the material that I wanted in their card files and
then made a request for it to be located and delivered to me. I was
shown to a room which had access through one door and had to pass the
archive attendent who monitored the room access and the material
going into and out of the room. The room had chairs, a long work
table for the researchers to work on. No pens or copy equipment were
allowed into the room. If you wanted anything copied, the attendent
would arrange for it to be done at a nominal fee.

In this way, the material was always under the scrutiny of the
archive attendents. I understand that the State Archive in
Harrisburg operates in the same fashion.
Tho it's been some years now, last time I was at the Bancroft library at UC
Berkeley, they operated in exactly the same way.

Dave Nelson


Anthony Thompson <thompson@...>
 

Dave Nelson wrote:
Tho it's been some years now, last time I was at the Bancroft library at UC Berkeley, they operated in exactly the same way.
Yes, numerous archives work this way. Tom Olsen's description was accurate and complete.

Tony Thompson Editor, Signature Press, Berkeley, CA
2906 Forest Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705 www.signaturepress.com
(510) 540-6538; fax, (510) 540-1937; e-mail, thompson@signaturepress.com
Publishers of books on railroad history