You say he had smallish earlobes?

While cleaning out old files in St. Brelade Parish (Jersey, a possession of The Crown) hall, ancient records in French were found identifying people by describing their ears.

My favorite bit from the article:

“The handwriting is delightful, it really is. My forensic knowledge of the ear is very limited but there are some really quiet interesting descriptions.

I also love that the side links to a journal article on forensics, titled Ear and Identification.

Found in the British Archives: Haitian Declaration of Independence, only copy

Once again, an archivist’s and scholar’s work saves the day. Ottawa grad student Julia Gaffield found what is believed to be the only surviving printed copy of Haiti’s Declaration of Independence while doing research at the British National Archives in London.

Grad student finds what’s believed to be only printed copy of Haiti Independence Declaration –

Unearthing Haiti’s lost history

C-SPAN puts its full archives online

From The New York Times:

Researchers, political satirists and partisan mudslingers, take note: C-Span has uploaded virtually every minute of its video archives to the Internet. The archives, at, cover 23 years of history and five presidential administrations and are sure to provide new fodder for pundits and politicians alike.

Wow. That’s… a lot of video. Instantly I’m curious as to how well it’s indexed and searchable. Is it really accessible, or just thrown up there on the web willy-nilly? Like Rachel Maddow said in the article linked above, will it be “like being able to Google political history using the ‘I Feel Lucky’ button every time,” or will it be a more useful research tool? Did interns at The Daily Show just get a lucky break?

Cameras in the Archives

I’ve been following a discussion about allowing scanners (and presumably cameras) in archives, over on an SAA listserv. Coincidentally, OCLC just released a report on “capture and release”, the use of digital cameras in archives reading rooms.

Digital cameras and other mobile capture devices are revolutionizing special collections reading rooms and the research process, but at the same time are being wrongly framed as a threat or a challenge for some repositories to remain relevant. While some librarians and archivists have resisted digital cameras, others have embraced them—and rightfully so. Researchers, repositories, and collection materials can reap undeniable benefits from using digital cameras. In addition, digital cameras can help librarians and archivists achieve their fundamental goals of improving conditions for their collections materials, facilitating greater research economically and efficiently, and resolving competing demands for resources and maximizing the productivity of their staff.

A lot of my patrons are out-of-towners, genealogists traveling home to see family and with limited time to spend in my library, which does not circulate. Copies are expensive and some items can’t handle a photocopier, for various reasons (fragility, size, etc.). I encourage patrons to bring along a laptop, and a digital camera. A quick flash-free snapshot of that family tree found in an oversized, crumbling old bible is a simple way for a researcher to get the information they need fast. It’s a win-win, in my books, but surprisingly, not all librarians and archivists feel the same way. Many institutions prohibit the use of cameras in their facility.

Libraries have always been masters of adaptability; that’s why we’re still around. We don’t always like change, but we’ve rolled with it, giving up our bound encyclopedias and handsome card catalogs with a whimper, it’s true, but giving them up nonetheless. I have faith that the library community as a whole will, for the most part, continue to embrace innovation. But can we do it fast enough, and not get left behind?

Jesus, dodos, and Jack the Ripper: absurd requests from the Getty Hulton Archive

If you get a group of librarians together and ask them about the most ridiculous reference requests they’ve ever had, you’ll hear some humdingers. Most are ridiculous because they’re looking for the impossible, or sometimes just the really difficult but as if they’re simply asking for double pepperoni on their pizza. “Could you go through your entire collection and pull out every photo that has a blue house in it, then create a database of these, and write a report for my son’s 3rd grade class? It’s due tomorrow.” Those are exasperating. The ones we really chuckle over, though, are the impossible ones. More than once I’ve had someone ask me for photographs of the first town board meeting (1818) or from the War of 1812 (aerial shots, no less), and I’ve had to gently explain that photography wasn’t invented until quite a bit after that. Incidentally, the part patrons struggle with the most is that, furthermore, it wasn’t available on a widespread basis two days after it was invented, so expecting a photo of every Tom, Dick and Harry from 1860 isn’t realistic.

Filmmaker Laurie Hill has made a spectacular short film about absurd requests received by the Getty Hulton Archive. Photograph of Jesus showed at the Sundance Film Festival this year.

My baby wrote me a letter – Book review: Yours Ever

At the museum, I’ve got a number of interesting letters in the collection. First and foremost, there’s a set of World War I letters that I treasure. There are hundreds of them, that this fellow sent home to his fiancee. He was a lieutenant with an ammunition train, in France, and saw a lot of interesting things; he was there for about the last 9 months of the war, and then some of the “aftermath”, into Germany. The aspect of the letters that’s most fascinating to me is the way he’s censoring what he’s telling Harriet, his future wife, reassuring her all along he’s having a great adventure, everything’s fine, and then only after the war is over he starts telling her, actually, we were in a lot of danger. It’s pretty cool. The letters start when he’s sailing across the Atlantic to war, and the last one is the telegraph telling her he’ll be home tomorrow. It’s really pretty amazing. I get pretty excited when I’m talking about them, or showing them to someone. These letters? Are why we have archives, and museums, and why I do what I do.

But… who writes letters anymore?

That last time I maintained a letter-writing habit — I mean written letters that go through the U.S. Post Office — was back in 1996 or so, with a friend living in North Carolina at the time. I wish I still had those letters, because I don’t really remember much of what we talked about but they were great, and I’m happy to say she’s one of my closest friends today. We don’t write letters anymore — there’s email, and Twitter, and the phone (now that those pesky long-distance charges are little concern). And ironically, I can pull up every email we’ve shared in the past five years, through my Gmail account, in a manner of seconds. The letters, though, are lost to me.

Thomas Mallon, author of A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries, has recently published a new companion volume of sorts on letters, Yours Ever: People and Their Letters. In it, he looks at the letters of famous and semi-famous people, grouping them together in thematic categories: Absence, Love, War, Prison, to name a few. This structure has a surface value, at best; the letters therein sometimes hardly seem to relate to the chapter’s supposed topic, with the exception of the War chapter, which has some focus. Even so, as Mallon himself admits in the forward, there is obvious crossover between the categories. Letters about War will most likely touch on Absence. Or Love. This would seem only natural and unimportant, but it is worth mentioning that there is no other real rhyme or reason to be found in the organization of Mallon’s thoughts in this book. As the first chapter begins with the Paston Letters of the 15th century, I thought perhaps there would be a sort of chronological arc to each segment. There was not, however, and very little in the way of segueway between one topic and the next. The progression from one letter writer to the next is baffling. I’m sure there’s a connection between Nixon and Florence Nightingale somewhere, but I couldn’t quite grasp it.

Letters are such an important documentation of the human experience, however, from a very, very personal point of view, that perhaps there is something to be said for Mallon’s meandering methods. Maybe the whole point is that the connection between Nixon and Nightingale is that they both sat down and put pen to paper. They both decided to communicate their thoughts to one other person, and in doing so, left a record of those thoughts. The letter as written is a private communication, and the letter as published (even in excerpt) is an unforeseen public display of those intimacies. Woodrow Wilson, when writing his love letters to Edith Galt, surely never thought twice about the idea that anyone else would ever read, “If ever again I have to be with you for an hour and a half with only two stolen glances to express my all but irresistible desire to take you in my arms and smother you with kisses, I am sure I shall crack an artery!” But we have, and moving on from there to read briefly of Edward VIII’s besotted love missives to Wallace Simpson makes a great deal of sense.

The author mentions email (along with other modes of modern communication such as IM and Twitter) only in the Introduction, and then in a not entirely complimentary way. “The lack of emotional affect to much e-mail is a trait conceded even by the form’s enthusiasts,” he over-generalizes. It leads one to believe that perhaps Mr. Mallon is not an enthusiast or a even a devoted user of e-mail himself. Perhaps, like many of us and certainly like many professional people, he finds that his Inbox is so cluttered with work-related demands that he’s lost the pleasure of being able to instantly communicate with one’s friends. As he himself quotes Phyllis Rose from The Year of Reading Proust, “Like a collagen cream or estrogen which restores to the skin its lost elasticity, e-mail has given me back the spontaneity I had lost to the laziness of age.” One wishes that Mallon had rounded out his book with some examples of e-mail communication, but to be fair, this is a much more difficult task. Personal e-mail, in the decade and a half it has been in use, has rarely been archived or kept. While government agencies and corporations have measures in place to retain electronic records, including e-mail, this was not the case with the kind of communication Mallon is here discussing, the personal letter, in e-mail form. Gmail (and yes, I am unabashedly endorsing it) was the first personal web service to not just offer ample space for storage, but to push the idea of “archiving”, rather than “deleting”, old mail. As an archivist, I’m somewhat glad they did, because it may end up providing our only historical documentation of personal communication for the beginning of the 21st century.

Google yourself today

No, I don’t work for Google (I wish). But I am posting this to urge you to use Google today. And periodically hereafter. If you haven’t Googled yourself already, you need to. Regularly.

The reason is that the Internet never forgets. The Internet remembers that you once spent hours every day on an X-Files forum, or that you once posted photos from your brother’s graduation party to your AOL account. You can delete all you want, but it’s still out there, forever and ever. There for your friends to find. Your potential boyfriends and girlfriends. And most importantly, your potential employers.

Since the beginning of time, for us humans, forgetting has been the norm and remembering the exception. Because of digital technology and global networks, however, this balance has shifted. Today, with the help of widespread technology, forgetting has become the exception, and remembering the default. (NYT)

Here’s a story I’ll share, with all the names removed, of course. I was once on a search committee for a rather prestigious and well-paying position. This was a national search, conducted at the highest level of professionalism, and taken very seriously by every member of the committee. At the same time, everyone on the committee knew each other very well, and knew some of the candidates. With any profession, it’s always a small world, you know? Anyhow, after a few weeks or collecting resumes, narrowing those down to phone interviews, and then scheduling a few in-person, we commissioned background checks on those finalists. Nothing especially bothersome turned up. Then we Googled, and that’s where it got ugly — for one candidate, at least. This person wasn’t doing anything wrong, per se. She had broken no laws. But what we found was that she spent pretty much all day, every day hanging out on a forum for her favorite television show. All day, every day, including the ones where we knew she was working, at times we knew she was working. And no, she couldn’t have just been on vacation. Not every day for the past six months, including some where one of us personally had seen her in the office. I’ll give you one guess: did she get the job? Obviously not. Because to be frank, we weren’t about to pay someone six figures so she could chat online all day. This woman lost a job opportunity because of Google, and because she was stupid enough (sorry, but it’s true) to post on this forum using the same email address she’d given us on her resume. Using a screen name and a spare webmail address would have gotten her the job. But she didn’t so that, and Google was there to help us, and I can’t say that’s a bad thing. For us, anyhow. Not so much for her.

So if the Internet never forgets, why bother Googling yourself? Well, forewarned is forearmed, for one thing. Even if you’re not applying for a new job or planning on making any new friends any time soon, I still think it’s a good idea to know what’s out there about yoruself. Also, in the event that there is something potentially embarrassing about you on the Internet, while you won’t be able to erase it completely (thanks to the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine), sometimes you can at least “correct” it. Change your public address. Ask a forum moderator to remove an “incriminating” post. Take the photo of yourself chugging beers at a frat party down from the MySpace page you forgot you had — but that the Internet never will.

Houston, We Erased the Apollo 11 Tapes

Houston, We Erased The Apollo 11 Tapes
by Nell Greenfieldboyce

Morning Edition, July 16, 2009 · An exhaustive, three-year search for some tapes that contained the original footage of the Apollo 11 moonwalk has concluded that they were probably destroyed during a period when NASA was erasing old magnetic tapes and reusing them to record satellite data.

“We’re all saddened that they’re not there. We all wish we had 20-20 hindsight,” says Dick Nafzger, a TV specialist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, who helped lead the search team.

“I don’t think anyone in the NASA organization did anything wrong,” Nafzger says. “I think it slipped through the cracks, and nobody’s happy about it.”

NASA has, however, offered up a consolation prize for the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission — the agency has taken the best available broadcast television footage and contracted with a digital restoration firm to enhance it, so that the public can see the first moonwalk in more detail than ever before.

Read the rest of the story here