Author Archives: Georgette Keane

Augusta Baker’s Bibliographies, Part II

Picking up from my last post, I will focus on the design and curatorial decisions for my project. While looking through the Baker scans, I started to sketch out my site’s design and what it will include. I chose WordPress through the Academic Commons since I am familiar with it and I want to include more text than images. My minimum requirements are: 

  • 4 of Baker’s Bibliographies (digital)
  • Selected children’s books (digital)
  • Selections from Baker’s Archive (paper to digital)
  • History of children’s books leading up to Baker’s Bibliographies
  • Biography of Baker
  • Resources for students and librarians (links to websites and current bibliographies)

Since the bibliographies are the focus, I had to figure out how to best display them. I wanted the bibliographies to look like a book, so I used 3D Flipbook (WordPress plugin) and created a book from the PDFs I downloaded from NYPL. I chose this because some of Baker’s bibliographies are not available digitally through NYPL. I can now download from other resources (like DPLA) and they will all look the same. Underneath the bibliography is text that highlights what was happening in the publishing world and the U.S. at that time, along with pieces from Baker’s collection that connect to the bibliography and her editing process. I thought about using Flipbook for the children’s books, but I knew that would create unneeded work for myself. There are also a lot of great collections that have the books along with additional resources that would be beneficial to my users. Those repositories deserve to have their work viewed. Selected books from the bibliographies are hyperlinked in the text, along with why they are important. I only have 2 bibliographies on the site right now, but have the children’s books and text ready to paste. 

Deciding what children’s books to include was difficult, since the majority of early picks were from White creators. It makes sense, since Black creators were so few and often not picked up by major publishing houses. I made a decision early on to include as many Black creators as possible in my project, especially since it was a Black woman who created the bibliographies. Altman’s Black Women in the Archive and the editing choices made for the Black Women’s Suffrage collection reinforced my decision. “To combat this disparity in the Black Women’s Suffrage collection we strove to include as many materials about Black women as possible, and limit the number of materials about White people and men.  We did not want to exclude White and male voices from the collection, because they provide important context for Black women’s experiences”  The White creators I did include wrote inclusive books and often collaborated with Black creators. 

I had a brief biography of Baker ready to upload, so it was time to work on the history of children’s books leading up to the bibliographies. Books in the early 1900s promoted harmful portrayals of Black people, and it took decades for these books to be removed from circulation or edited (Little Black Sambo). I wanted to include images of books in my text, but I was concerned about highlighting harmful stereotypes on the site. Duncan and Lisa pointed this out as well in our meetings, so I struggled with what to do. I decided to follow Curator Shanee Yvette Murain’s plan (Altman) of including racist materials because they provide important historical context, but I limited it to two images. I provide links to sources that provide more information for those interested, but I will not go into more detail on the site. 

My final and most daunting task is uploading items from Baker’s collection. I am grateful to USC for sending me the scans, but those I am interested in using are blurry or too light/dark to make out. I also believe they have a copy of the first bibliography (1938) which is not available at NYPL and the one I wanted to have on the site. I would love to make a trip to the archive so I can see everything in person. I debated whether to include the images I found in my site, but decided including them would illustrate the importance of digitizing the collection and this project overall. A friend recommended an open source version of Adobe Photoshop, but I don’t think I will have enough time to figure it out and edit the images. I have spoken with USC about digitizing, and explained my project a bit more to them. They are encouraging, which I hope will lead to a successful collaboration. Only two weeks left, and so much to do!

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!

Letters of 1916-1923

About Ireland’s first “participatory digital humanities” project, Letters of 1916-1923 explores early 20th century Ireland through letters. Susan Schreibman of Maynooth University created the project to collect letters from the eight months before and after the 1916 Easter Rising. A grant from the Irish Research Council allowed Schreibman’s team to expand the project’s collection period to the end of the Irish Civil War. The project includes letters from private collections and institutions around the world, with the team acting as curator for this digital exhibit. There are over 5,000 letters covering subjects including politics, WWI, medicine, culture, and the arts. Users can contribute to the project in several ways. Team members will digitize letters on-site after being contacted by letter owners or owners can upload images of the letters on the website. Owners and the general public can register to become a transcriber.

Audience Letters is open to the public so the site is easy to navigate. An introduction to Letters is on the homepage, with visible tabs available for users to explore the collection, contribute letters and transcribe them. ‘Explore the collection’ allows users to filter results by keyword, sources, authors, gender, language, and date written. Clicking on a letter shows an image of the letter, letter information, a transcription (if available) and a brief bio of the sender.

Users can also interact with letters through worksheets and lessons plans found under ‘Resources.’ Primarily used for teaching secondary school and adult students, three lesson plans created by the team are available for download covering Ireland during WWI and the Easter Rising. The team collaborated with the Irish Military Archives to create the ‘1916 in Transition’ packet, which focuses on the aftermath and effects of the Easter Rising. There is also a digital treasure hunt available for users of all ages.  

Technologies The team listed all software used for Letters and provides a brief description of why they used each one on their ‘Technical’ page. WordPress, Omeka, Scripto, MySQL, and Apache are just some of the software packages used on Letters. This information is extremely helpful for anyone thinking about creating a similar project. I have some experience with WordPress and Omeka, but little MySQL and Apache (server related packages used). I know that for a project to be as successful and user friendly as Letters, I would need team members who have the technical experience I lack. I also appreciate the team offering technical guidance/support to their users regarding these software packages. 

Future projects can learn much from Letters 1916-1923. I found especially useful the way Letters gathered support for the project from both public and institutional archives. Institutional archives are historically seen as exclusive or elitist in terms of access, so it was great to see institutions eager to contribute to the project. One could argue that it is because they are digital copies of the letters and in the public domain, but for smaller archives that do not have the resources available to create a digital exhibit, Letters is a useful way to introduce their materials to a worldwide audience. I had an increase in research requests after contributing to Letters, which turned into support for my archive. I also spoke with a few private owners and they commented how kind the team were when digitizing letters and the respect they showed to the memory of the letter sender/receiver and the letter itself.

I think it is also important to continually evaluate your project once it has launched and to listen to feedback from your audience. The team was eager to visit my archive because we provided Irish American sources, something that was lacking in their initial launch and was noticed by users. They were also looking for letters written by women since a majority of their initial contributions were to and from men. Just because a project launches does not mean that the work is done.