Daily Archives: May 4, 2021

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Augusta Baker Bibliographies: A digital project

I wanted to share about my project proposal and where I am currently. My studies at the graduate center, including the capstone, has centered around diversity in children’s books and programming. The lack of diversity has become more apparent in recent years, and while I am currently working on the present I wanted to look at the past and those who worked to identify the bias happening in libraries and the publishing world. Someone I am familiar with is Augusta Baker. Baker was a children’s librarian at the Countee Cullen branch of the NYPL. Shortly after her hire, Baker and the branch began collecting children’s literature that portrayed black people in a positive light. The collection was named the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Children’s Books, and led to the publication of the first of a number of bibliographies of books for and about black children. In 1971, it was retitled The Black Experience in Children’s Books, and its criteria played an important part in bringing awareness about harmful stereotypes of black people in children’s literature. Baker furthered this project by encouraging authors, illustrators and publishers to produce books depicting black people in a favorable light. In 1961, she was named Coordinator of Children’s Services, becoming the first African-American librarian in an administrative position in the New York Public Library.
The focus of my project was initially about the bibliographies. NYPL has two digital collections featuring the bibliographies: The Black Experience in Children’s Books: Bibliographies and The Black Experience in Children’s Books: Selections from Augusta Baker’s Bibliographies. The first are the bibliographies themselves and the second is books in the public domain from the early bibliographies. My initial project was to combine the two digital collections, meaning a user can “read” the bibliography and then click on a link to the actual book. I was inspired by the Early Caribbean Digital Archive and their ‘Exhibits’ section, and wanted to create a website to showcase the bibliographies. On the site, I would include a section on the history of children’s books as well as background on Baker.
My research on Baker took me to her collection which is held at South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina. I wanted to offer my audience a look into Baker’s selection process by including materials like meeting notes or correspondence. I would upload images of her materials and connect them to a bibliography. My project would now include 3 digital collections. The finding aid for the collection lists 8 boxes of correspondence, photographs, publications and personal papers and would hold valuable pieces I could include in my project. Unfortunately, the collection is not digitized and I had no plans to travel to South Carolina to view the collection. I immediately contacted the library, introduced myself and my project and asked if any items in the collection were digitized. The staff kindly offered to email me scans from other researchers’ requests and said that they can scan more items but their backlog is extensive due to the pandemic. I received 3 files, with roughly 300 images from different folders. The scans and subfolders are not named, so it has been difficult to find materials to include in my project. Most of the materials are pamphlets and personal correspondence starting from the 1960s, so would not include insight on the earlier bibliographies. I emailed library staff with my requests, but I don’t think I will have anything in time for this semester. I am hopeful that the last half of the subfolders include items from the 40s and 50s that I could highlight in my project. This has been an interesting experience in remote archival research, and I appreciate the staff who sent me the scans for free!

A digital archival story with a happy ending! (plus, it’s about food)

Last weekend, as I was meal prepping for the week, I came across and episode of Proof (the America’s Test Kitchen podcast) that made me think about this class.

The episode focuses on a website that I knew nothing about, but that it’s my new obsession: The Food Timeline, created by Lynne Olver in 1999. Lynne Olver was a reference librarian with a passion for food history, who started the website to answer people’s questions about the topic.

As you can see, the website looks old-fashioned, with the typical aesthetic of late-90s Internet Explorer. Another thing you can notice immediately is that the contents are MASSIVE. Lynn Olver was the only person maintaining the website, answering people’s research requests, and collecting food history books. As of 2014, The Food Timeline served 35 million readers and answered 25 thousand questions.

But what does this website have to do with our class?

Lynne Olver dreamed of making The Food Timeline her full-time occupation after she retired, but unfortunately she passed away in 2015. Her family was left with the question of what to do with the website – and the massive collection of books and magazines that Olver had accumulated throughout the years.

Luckily, in 2020 Virginia Tech University Libraries and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS) became the new home for the website and the book collection. This way, Virginia Tech students can have access to these materials and work on their preservation (including the site maintenance!).

I wanted to share this website with you all, first of all because it’s a gold mine of fun facts about food and drink. The second reason – the one related to the class – is that I find that the agreement with Virginia Tech is a good example of “postmortem” archival practices that really take into consideration the afterlife of a collection. After hearing so many stories of archival neglect, this was a breath of fresh air!

To learn the whole story, you can listen to Episode 2 of Proof, The Curious Curator of Culinary History, here!

Cynthia Harry Blog # 2-The Start Up; A Research Proposal

Deciding which type of project would be ideal for such a short period of time was a difficult choice. I started off with many ideas about how I would like to exhibit a number of materials on a platform that is easy to access. However, when I reviewed what I wanted to relay, I had to settle for a research proposal because rushing and minimizing my presentation would not be an effective way to relay my project’s true purpose.   

I eventually decided that for this semester, it would be ideal to work on a research proposal consisting of at least one of the materials I wanted to present. If everything goes according to plan, I  will be able to complete my archival site by the end of the Spring 2022 Semester. 

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The overall purpose of my project is to create an exhibition using postcards to depict  the lives of indentured workers on the sugar plantations in Guyana during the time period of 1830-1930. With the help of Professors Lisa Rhody and Duncan Faherty, I decided that this would be a more honest way to display the scene of the plantations during that time, opposed to other types of artifacts, like newspapers, which may have been filtered and/or owned by the plantation owners. My exhibition will allow individuals to become more aware of the lifestyle and conditions of the sugar plantations in Guyana during that time period.  

As an American Indo-Guyanese woman, it is an honor and privilege to be given this opportunity to present a part of Guyana’s history. Many individuals I meet usually have no idea that the people of Guyana were indentured servant; even some of the Guyanese youth have no knowledge about the struggles and difficulties the Indentured workers faced after their migration from India. By presenting these postcards, I hope to create an accessible platform that will aid in understanding the lifestyle of indenture Guyanese workers during the 1800s.