Women’s Words, Women’s Work: Part One

This is part one of a two-part series discussing the recently installed exhibit, “Women’s Words, Women’s Work.”  The exhibit will be on display through December 2018 and explores the social and cultural expectations that have framed women’s experiences on the Oregon State campus over 150 years.  The exhibit makes extensive use of SCARC’s manuscript, photograph and oral history collections.


Tell me a little bit about the exhibit and what provoked you to pick it as a theme?

Rachel Lilley: The impetus/catalyst for the exhibit was, I believe, OSU’s celebration of its sesquicentennial, combined with the applicability of Tiah’s and Chris’s HC 407 content. I didn’t play a role in picking the theme, but I suppose that I helped refine it (and how we would break it up).

Chris Petersen: The exhibit emerged out of an honors colloquium class that Tiah and I taught during Winter 2018 called “OSU, Women and Oral History: An Exploration of 150 Years.” The class focused on oral history methods and theory, using women’s history at OSU as its historical grounding. We uncovered and shared a lot of interesting themes over the course of the class and pretty quickly began thinking about repurposing and further exploring these themes in an exhibit. At some point we also made contact with the President’s Commission on the Status of Women who agreed to fund a student position to support the exhibit.

Tiah Edmunson-Morton: That’s a hard question to answer succinctly.

From a practical standpoint, Chris and I taught an Honors College class winter 2018 that focused on gathering OSU women’s oral histories. The final product for the students was an indexed oral history and an online portal to their interviews as well as other interviews we’d identified in the SCARC collections. The upshot is that both of us were thinking A LOT about women’s experiences at OSU, and when it turned out that we needed a spring exhibit I said, “this will be easy, we’ll just copy all the class content.” Chris has worked with me for a while, and I think he knew that I wouldn’t make it “easy.” Concurrently, during winter term we had some good opportunities to share our class plans with others, including the leadership in the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. They had plans to create an online gallery of women, so we piggybacked onto that idea and included an online component to the physical exhibit. PCOSW offered some money for a student intern position and the library expanded Rachel’s position to full-time for two months. All of a sudden, we had an actual exhibit team!

c5be2ab2e6bfd84481172c8efa7e55e9The more complicated part of the answer is that I have long been interested in women and representation, especially as it pertains to archival collections and the historical record. It’s unsurprising to many that women’s work (academic research or otherwise) often isn’t recorded in archives – for lots of reasons, but the main being that many of these women weren’t doing work that was deemed “appropriate” or “scholarly” enough to be included in an archive. It’s also the case that there is a disproportionate number of men in positions of leadership or power, so when archivists are making priority lists for “distinguished faculty” women just aren’t on that list. There are exceptions, but for the most part, other than in their role as students, the work that women have done at this university has been in clerical or staff support roles; often, that means they don’t leave behind file cabinets full of memos or research reports.

In 2013, I established the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives, an initiative that documents a VERY male dominated field. The women in these industries are called on pretty regularly to talk about “being a woman in a male dominated field,” but often not asked deeper questions about their lives or experiences. So… over the past several years, I have come to think of oral history as a powerful tool for recording the stories of these women, and I’ve found that by continuing to focus on gathering their stories in addition to the stories of the men in the industry, I talk more about gender than I have since my time as an English Lit graduate student.


What was your role in curation of the exhibit?

CP: Many of the visuals and some of the themes used in the exhibit emerged from work that I did for the honors class. I also drafted the first iterations of four of the panels, created the videos that run on a loop in both cases, and built the companion web exhibit.

TEM: I was the exhibit lead/project manager. This meant I had the 40,000 ft view of what was going on, but also knew the minutia. I was the point person for calling meetings, doing much of the initial selection, hiring and working with the intern, working with Clara on graphic design (colors, font, layout, etc), working with/checking in with Rachel on her collections research, working with Chris on the web site, working with Natalia to coordinate printing, materials prep, and designing and installing the physical exhibit.


How did “Women’s Words, Women’s Work” differ from other exhibits you have worked on in the past?

RL: The sheer scope of it. This was larger, by far, than any other exhibit I’ve worked on in the past, both physically and intellectually. I also found myself very emotionally invested in this exhibit, to a degree that I’ve never been in the past. It was both heart-breaking and disheartening at times – when we had to leave women out of the main display, or to read stories that made it clear that, though we’ve come a long way, there are so many things that remain the same.

CP: There were a lot more people involved than is usually the case. Also, we created a companion web exhibit and LibGuide, which has not been done in the past either.

Female students in an auto mechanics class, 1918

Female students in an auto mechanics class, 1918

TEM: We’re living in a time when gender relations, harassment, rights, et al, are in the national and international news regularly. The #metoo and #timesup movements have given many of us a framework within which to discuss these issues and our own experiences. And I thought it was important that we (SCARC) brought these conversations into the OSU150 commemoration year.

We had super interesting conversations as an exhibits team about issues of item selection, but also deeper conversations about things like the title and the colors (purple, yellow, white for Suffrage). “Women’s Work” carries multiple meanings for people, and I advocated for us embracing that ambiguity and pushing people to engage with what “Women’s Work” means on a symbolic and practical level. What is women’s work, what work were women allowed/banned from doing, what work just wasn’t feasible for a single mom, etc.

This exhibit felt deeply personal, both as a mid-career / mid-forties woman, but also as the mother of a teenaged daughter. I want us to have these hard conversations about intended/unintended behaviors/messages and to look deeply at how much gender inequality is STILL built into the very structures in which we exist. Not everyone who has a gender bias is a bad person, but I’m ready for us to look critically (again) at gender expectations as it pertains to roles, behaviors, abilities, voice, opportunities, etc. What are the choices we didn’t even know we had to make? What do we never think to even try?


I’m sure there was a lot of material to choose from and sift through.  How did you narrow items down to those displayed?

CP: Most of the visuals that we used for the honors class were mined from Larry’s pictorial history of OSU or from Oregon Digital sets with which I was already familiar. Many of these images were repurposed for the exhibit, though Tiah, Rachel and Natalia did a lot of digging to find more. I was not really involved with that component of the work.

Students working in the Secretarial Science lab, 1951

Students working in the Secretarial Science lab, 1951

RL: This was the most difficult part. For me, as classified staff, I had a natural bias and affinity to the “everyday” women of OSU – the women who toiled away as “secretaries” for 50 years and then went unidentified in the photos taken at their retirement parties. If it were up to me, every concourse in the library would be covered in their photos and stories. But we tried to do our best to tell the stories of both the recognized agents of change, you could say, and the lesser known/unrecognized women.

TEM: I literally had a binder full of women, printouts of every picture anyone found and loved. I carried it around with me like some sort of talisman! I did part with the binder for a few days and left it up in a staff and student space for people to note which were their favorite images. I had my favorites, but it was cool to feel like others were chosen by the group.

It also helped that I knew we could put all the images in the online gallery.

I have dreams of making a more official binder(s) to put in the gallery in the fall. We’ll be having some public events then, so I have some time to recover from the installation and start thinking about the exhibit again!

The Sublime: Exploring Oregon with Wild Bill

This post is contributed by SCARC student archivist Hannah Lawson, a chemistry major with a passion for art, conservation, and preserving history.

thousandislandlake1947Imagine trudging through the mud on a rainy morning, with fifty pounds of supplies tied to your back. Your socks are soaked through, and you’re miles away from any sort of civilization. When Ralph Waldo Emerson described the great outdoors, he surely couldn’t have meant this, you think to yourself. The only respite is your Geology professor, who is leaps and bounds ahead of you, excitedly pointing out igneous rock structures and patterns.

William “Wild Bill” Taubeneck was a faculty member of the Geology Department at Oregon State University from 1955 until 1983, during which time he taught many classes and was in part responsible for building Wilkinson Hall, the home of the Geology Department. Bill received his BS and MS in Geology from Oregon State College and his PhD at Columbia University.

riverBill served in the US Army during WWII, and then had several jobs involved in timber and forestry. There, he found his love for the outdoors. During his doctoral program at Colombia University and throughout his academic career, he conducted several field studies of Oregon. Field studies often took place over the course of weeks – during which time Bill would be deep in the Oregon wilderness, mapping out geological formations and taking notes and pictures of what he saw. With his trusty rock hammer, Taubeneck would take samples from the places he studied to store in the Wilkinson Hall basement, which held over 200 of his specimens at one point.

Bill’s field studies were long, hard work. His students often remarked that they would be out taking surveys from dawn until past dusk, using the car headlights to see their way around the dikes in the darkness. Bill was focused on igneous petrology, or the study of the conditions under which volcanic magma form ancient rock structures.

Through his letters and photography of nature and geological formations, it is immediatelyglaciallake apparent that William Taubeneck had an immense appreciation for the world around him. He describes weather and wildlife with poetic detail. In a series of letters, Bill describes seasonal wildflowers to his elderly neighbor, Norma, who lived next to Bill Taubeneck for over ten years in Corvallis, “Norma, you would have loved the wildflowers in the Eagle Creek Cap Wilderness Area. All of the rains of May and June have resulted in exceptional flowers. The red mountain heather is especially nice this year. This flower grows very close to the ground, is small, exquisite, and very much like an Arctic flower such as you would see in Greenland. Each small flower in the clusters is about 1/7th the wildflowers2001size of your thumbnail, bell-shaped, and red. Generally the plants with the tiny flowers are not more than a few inches above the ground…Buttercups also are extra nice this year. I walked across one small meadow at 8,200 feet with only buttercups – no other flowers.”


Bill had a particular interest in nature and wildlife, though he specialized in geology. Many of his letters and retained subject files contained stories about black bears, elk, and bearsmountain lions. The photographs in his collection tell the quiet stories of his travels; along mountains and lakes, in the snow and through the High Desert of Eastern Oregon. His studies and adventures continued past his time with Oregon State University. After his retirement, “Wild Bill” remained in Oregon, conducting field studies and mapping the wilderness until his death in 2016.

taubeneckonsomerocksAs a professor at Oregon State University, Taubeneck was loved by both his undergraduate and graduate students. He received several awards for his teaching, and devoted most of his extra time towards the needs of the Geology Department. His dedication and passion for geology and the Oregon outdoors is exemplified through the letters and photographs in his collection at the Special Collections and Archives Research Center.

Recent Updates and Additions to Our Collections

New collections:

oh39-gridOregon State University Climate Change Research Oral History Collection, 2017-2018 (OH 39)

This collection consists of 12 oral history interviews conducted with 11 OSU faculty members and one undergraduate student that focus primarily on scholarly research related to climate change and global warming.  The sessions take on the form of life history interviews that trace a given narrator’s entire professional life, with particular attention paid to academic work and attitudes concerning ecological topics.  All of the collection’s interview have been contextualized and made available online through a dedicated web portal.

Benjamin F. Cook Letters, 1860-1865 (MSS CookBF)

This collection is comprised of approximately 150 letters sent by soldier Benjamin Cook to his wife Julia during his service in the Union Army in the Civil War.  His letters provide a first-hand account of certain battles and events in the Civil War and detail his life and concerns as a soldier.  The finding aid includes a item-level description of each letter.

Employment Records, circa 1910 – 1989 (RG 290)

These records document the employment of faculty and staff by Oregon State University and its predecessor institutions through 1989.  These records are in the form of microfiche film jackets.

Indian-Americans in Corvallis, Oregon Oral History Collection, 2016 (OH 37)

oh37-imageThis collection consists of a set of 6 interviews featuring 10 members of the Indian-American community in Corvallis.  All interviews were conducted in Corvallis, Oregon by Sravya Tadepalli, a student at the University of Oregon at the time she completed the project and with family living in Corvallis.  All of the digital recordings of the interviews are available online.

Oregon Tilth, Inc., Records, 1975-2018 (MSS OrTilth)

tilth-logoThese records chronicle the establishment and emergence of Oregon Tilth, Inc. from Tilth, which originally was established in 1974 in Washington State.  Oregon Tilth, Inc. is an organic agriculture certification and education organization based in Corvallis, Oregon.  The materials reflect the growth of sustainable agriculture in the Northwest and later, globally.   The collection includes Oregon Tilth board materials, newsletters, audio recordings, video recordings, manuals, photographs, the organization’s websites, and educational materials.

Payroll Records, 1971-1998 (RG 289)

kerr adminThe Payroll Records consist of computer output microfiche of the payroll register for all Oregon State University employees – faculty, staff, and students – from 1971 through 1998.  The microfiche was produced by the Oregon State System of Higher Education, which provided administrative and institutional services for the public universities and colleges in Oregon.

Writing Intensive Curriculum (WIC) Program Records, 1990-2018 (RG 291)

Teaching with Writing-Spring 2003-coverThese materials document the establishment and functioning of this program to incorporate writing across the curriculum at Oregon State University.  The collection consists of published newsletters and the program’s website.  The Writing Intensive Curriculum was established at Oregon State in 1990 as part of the Baccalaureate Core Curriculum.  Vicki Tolar Burton has served as Directory since 1993.  All of the published issues of the Teaching with Writing newsletter are available online.


Finding aids that have been updated or incorporated additions:   

Marian Field Collection, 1933-1982 (MSS Field)

hc1883-600wThe Marian Field Collection is comprised of botanical illustrations produced by Marian Field, an Oregon artist and botanical illustrator.  The illustrations in the collection appear to have been generated by Field between 1933 and 1941 in collaboration with faculty at the University of Oregon and the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  The collection includes approximately 250 illustrations of plants and fungi, materials from an exhibit of Fields’ works, photographs, correspondence, and a short biography of Field’s life and work.  The finding aid includes an itemized list of the drawings.

Helen M. Gilkey Papers, 1910-1974 (MSS GilkeyH)

These papers were generated and assembled by Helen Gilkey, an American mycologist, alumnus and professor of the Oregon State College Botany Department, and curator of the OSC Herbarium (1918-1951).  The materials include personal and professional correspondence; notes, research materials, and drafts of publications authored by Gilkey; specimen photographs; and scientific illustrations created by Gilkey.

Elizabeth Henley Papers, 1918-2000 (MSS Henley)

hc3345-600wThe Henley Papers document the life and work of Elizabeth Henley, a Pacific Northwest poet and member of the Oregon State University faculty from 1959 to 1975.  The collection is comprised of research materials; manuscript and audio-recorded drafts of Henley’s work; published and pre-publication poetry; and personal materials including photographs, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and yearbooks.

Components of the Student Affairs / Memorial Union processing initiative:

Memorial Union Program Council (MUPC) Records, 1964-2016 (RG 275)

battle_of_bands_2006These records document the administration of the MUPC and its role in programming campus events.  Primarily reflecting activities related to event coordination and publicity, this collection includes artifacts, budgetary documents, contracts, correspondence, digital files, flyers, handbooks, meeting minutes, photographs, posters, publications, reports, and scrapbooks.  The MUPC was established in 1948.  The collection includes 52 physical photographs and more than 2800 digital photographs; a VHS videotape; and 8.38 Gbytes of born-digital materials.

Student Leadership and Involvement Records, 1964-2015 (RG 232)

rg232-andallthatjazzThese records document the administration of Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI) and its predecessor, the Student Activities Center.  These organizations provide support services to student organizations through leadership training programs, event planning assistance, financial advising, and management of the annual student organization registration process.  The administrative role that SLI fills was first established in 1957 as the Student Activities Center as a part of the Memorial Union.  This collection includes 194 photographs, 4 VHS videotapes, 8 sound recordings and 653 Mbytes of born-digital materials.

Component of the Gerald Williams Collection: 

Gerald W. Williams Prints and Postcards of Native Americans Collection , 1887-1969 (P 317)

huckleberry_woman_1024This collection consists primarily of black and white and color lithographic mounted postcards and photographic prints, some by well-known western photographers and studios.  The images depict Native American culture in North America with a focus on the northwestern and southwestern United States, especially Alaska, Oregon, and Washington.  Williams acquired the images in the course of his work as a Forest Service sociologist and historian and due to his interest in the history of Native Americans in the United States, especially that of the Pacific Northwest region.  The collection includes 237 images; the finding aid provides item-level description of the collection.

A Reflection

This post is contributed by Ethan Heusser, a SCARC student archivist, who is graduating this week and pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in poetry.

Photo courtesy of the Honors College: http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/honorslink/2018/04/20/hands-engagement-past/

Photo courtesy of the Honors College: http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/honorslink/2018/04/20/hands-engagement-past/

This moment marks the end of a full-year journey as a SCARC employee and a four-year journey as an OSU undergraduate. As I look out on the quiescence of the library quad and its summer sun from what is commonly touted as “the best view on campus,” I’m full of mixed feelings about this point of transition away from the Special Collections and Archives Research Center. One possible metric for a touchstone’s strength is the measure of both one’s professional ability to move beyond it and one’s emotional difficulty in doing so; in that sense, SCARC has proven quite strong indeed.

It’s difficult to fully encapsulate my job here, since so much of it has been based on fitting around wherever I was needed and best suited. Often this meant working with patrons directly, learning about their research goals and questions and helping them access our (sometimes daunting) collections. I also worked on a number of research/infrastructural projects, including the building of a poetry ephemera collection, the synthesis and summary of new accessions, and the assembly of a small exhibit showcasing our collection of comics and cartoons. That being said, my favorite part about my role at SCARC, personally, was the ample opportunity I experienced to write at length about topics and materials I didn’t understand in the slightest. Which meant it was up to me to learn, and almost always in a self-directed fashion. That amount of freedom is, in my experience, very rare at the undergraduate level – especially if you’re being paid for it.

Beyond my own specific job, I think what I like best about SCARC is the culture of continuing discovery. While tasks such as paging and collection management have a simple veneer, in reality everyone in the department (students included) is engaged with improving bodies of knowledge, both personal and collective. It’s an additive, cumulative, and self-sustaining process, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There are, of course, practical and mercenary benefits to the work as well. Many college students seem to be ill-equipped to handle customer service; SCARC offers a safe place to learn those skills with close guidance and patience for error. For STEM students, SCARC offers a place to hone one’s attention to detail, research skills, and capacity to understand the larger contexts within which scientific discovery operates. For liberal arts students, SCARC lets you tap straight into history and see how any number of your respective fields and areas of interest have changed over time; it also gives you practice synthesizing those discoveries and communicating them effectively. For everyone else, it’s just plain rad.

To newcomers, I would encourage you to remember that some of the most significant lessons and experiences at SCARC can at times be tangential to the specific list of job requirements you agreed to. For example, the act of re-shelving can lead you down rabbit holes of time, revealing long-running trends of history, art, and culture made manifest for you as you walk among them. You could find a rare copy of one of your favorite novels while stumbling through McDonald. You could find touching letters from humble Cold War activists in Linus Pauling’s correspondence.

Being able to take advantage of those opportunities requires open eyes and ears. They are waiting for you to reach out and hold them – with clean hands and your gentlest touch.

After I graduate, next up on my docket is grad school, pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry. Many facets of my experiences as an Oregon State University undergraduate helped to prepare me for that next step; SCARC, specifically, expanded my interests beyond the written word alone to the broader category of book arts and book production. Thanks to my time here, I gradually realized that the creative experience of reading or making a book is above and beyond the words inside it; just like the work at SCARC itself, what happens after my time here can build on those same bodies of knowledge and human experience. In broader terms, I would say that my SCARC experiences affirmed that archives work can build a solid platform upon which a variety of careers and professional skills can expand.

In summary, working at SCARC means working in a field of legacies. These are the legacies of the millions of items held here, but they are also the legacies of the many students and scholars who diligently worked to build, protect, and share what is for better and for worse, simply human. Both objects and people revolve around the building of relationships – by working yourself into the weave, you become part of that legacy, building on it and making it even better for whoever comes next. It creates the privilege of a life with meaning, a life worth living – and there aren’t many privileges greater than that.


The Problem with Rock Concerts

This post is contributed by SCARC student archivist Helena Egbert, currently a master’s student in library science at Emporia State University.

While arranging The Memorial Union Records (RG 099), I discovered a folder titled “Rock Concerts.” As far as folder titles go this already held promises of being a fairly interesting folder. I anticipated newspaper clippings, advertisements for shows, and maybe some correspondence planning the shows. I didn’t anticipate it being comedic!

Image from the concert in the 1970 Beaver Yearbook

Image from the concert in the 1970 Beaver Yearbook

Usually when I read letters and memos in the archives, it is easy to read them in the dry formal tone I imagine they were written in. The very first document in this folder was titled “The Problem with Rock Concerts.” This immediately imparted the image of curmudgeonly administrators shaking their proverbial fists at students for their destructive youthful tendencies. Many documents in this folder carry the same tone and clearly lay out their objections to the negative behavior and destruction of property that rock concerts seemed to encourage.

One of my favorite documents is the letter written to Dean Popovich from the Assistant Director of the Physical Plant Department, Donald Hout in 1969 regarding the Jefferson Airplane concert and its aftermath. The first line begins: “We believe that you should be made aware of the disgraceful and contemptuous disregard for university rules…” and within the first paragraph goes on to describe how the band referred to them as “some chicken Fire Marshal.”  The letter continues in numbered paragraphs describing the wrongs committed.

The first section of these complaints include the program being conducted in total darkness, ignoring the rules about no smoking, the odor of marijuana from both the band and audience, and all of the cigarette butts that had to be cleaned up. The author notes very specifically that it totaled to be about ¾ of a bushel! Not being familiar with this measurement, I looked it up, and a bushel comes out to just over 9 gallons, meaning 6-7 gallons worth of cigarette butts were cleaned up. I can’t help but wonder if he was somewhat prone to exaggeration!

Some of the items left behind by students at the concert

Some of the items left behind by students at the concert

The complaints continue with issues with parking, underage attendees, trashed dressing rooms, and uncharacteristically rude behavior, or as number 10 states: “Never in the memory of long-time employees of the Physical Plant have Physical Plant employees been subjected to the vilification and abusive insults by those in charge of this program and by the performers.”

The letter wraps up to recommend future acts be required to provide an indemnity bond totaling to $500,000, in order to pay for any potential damages. The letter closes out using phrases such as “wanton disregard,” “valiant but futile attempt,” “disgust and revulsion,” and finally “fiasco.”

The Jefferson Airplanes are not the only concert that had these kinds of problems. Due to the consistent nature of these issues at concerts like the Jefferson Airplanes, rules were passed to discourage concerts like these from taking place.

Things I Wish To Discuss with the Late Milton Harris

This post is contributed by SCARC student archivist Hannah Lawson, a chemistry major with a passion for art, conservation, and preserving history.

Milton Harris relaxing on the golf course

Milton Harris relaxing on the golf course

The 20th Century introduced a relatively new brand of scientist – the celebrity scientist. Milton Harris, born in 1906, graduated from OSU (then OAC) and later Yale. He primarily worked with textiles, creating multiple methods by which to prevent wool from shrinking and prevent moth damage. He worked closely with the military in WWII and with the razor blade company Gillette. Milton Harris’s ability to apply his discoveries to the commercial world launched him into relative fame and wealth. Interestingly, even after his days of laboratory research, he never lost sight of the role of science and scientists on society and technology. I am fascinated by his insights into the direction of chemistry – many of which are still relevant in our world.

As I’ve been researching Milton Harris and his work, I have noticed how thoroughly his personality bleeds into his science. His passion for technology, business, and education are prominent features in his speeches. After reading through Milton’s notes and speeches and jokes (which were often scribbled onto hotel notepads, presumably while he was away at industry conferences), I feel as though I know Milton Harris. I keep wanting to ask him questions – both about chemistry and industry – as well as his life and the impact he’s had. The questions below are those I wish to discuss with the late Milton Harris.

-Why textiles? What about the chemistry of textiles interests you most?

-How do you view collaboration in the laboratory? How have the works of earlier scientists and your colleagues influenced you?

-Through reading through your speeches and the articles that have been written about you, you seem to have a very distinct coupling of industry and science. Was this relationship between business and chemistry always apparent to you? How did this relationship influence the way you approached research?

-I have also noticed that you have supported educational institutions throughout your life. What would you say to those who do not value education as you do? What can we do, as scientists, to keep education well-funded and well established?

-Burnout is an increasing consequence of unpaid laboratory labor for STEM undergraduate students. What advice do you have to young, aspiring scientists to keep motivated and stay passionate? What kinds of opportunities should they be looking for?

-What role do scientists have in politics and law-making? How can we make our voices and concerns heard in a culture where science isn’t always seen as trustworthy?

-As technology advances, so does our opportunity to chemically analyze our world to a depth we never thought possible. Which chemical advancement or instrument do you wish had been around at the time, say, as your Yale dissertation?

-Ethics are becoming an important topic when sourcing textile materials. What role do you think chemists play in the moral acquisition of textiles and fiber for both research and industry?

While I realize that Milton Harris cannot answer any of my questions himself, I have found that many of my questions he answers indirectly through his work as an advocate for science. Milton Harris’s views on research and development within industry and education were very progressive for his time, and would even be considered progressive now. His constant positivity and hope in our future as a society is nothing sort of uplifting and inspiring. I am thankful that I have gotten to know Milton Harris through this project, and I hope that I can do him justice by displaying his work and his ideas through SCARC.

Want to learn more about Milton Harris and his manuscript collection held at SCARC?  Check out his finding aid!

Collecting Stories of Climate Change

This post is an interview conducted with SCARC student employee Liz Thorley who has been conducting oral histories with people on the Oregon State campus who are involved in climate change research from a variety of perspectives.  Liz is a post-bacc student in environmental engineering and will be graduating this June. She has a BA in English from UCLA and worked seasonally as a field botanist for several years before returning to school. In her free time (so when she’s not in school…) she likes to hike, backpack, forage for wild mushrooms, and ferment things.


Dominique Bachelet

Tell me a little bit about the project and what interested you in this job?

This project is a documentation of the careers and research of people in the OSU community who work on and/or care deeply about climate change. I interviewed researchers, academics, the OSU Sustainability Officer, and a fellow student.

I was drawn to this position because it seemed like a unique opportunity to delve into climate change research and to talk to people about not only their research, but also their thoughts on the future of the planet. The oral history format was intriguing, and I liked that it was completely different from my engineering coursework.

Had you done oral histories before?

No, I had not. I was aware of the interview format, but did not know much about it. My supervisor, Chris Petersen, who conceived of this project and has conducted a lot of interviews, trained me before I started working on it and provided guidance.

Peter Ruggiero

Peter Ruggiero

What surprised you about the interviews you conducted for the project?

I can’t think of anything in particular that stands out. I found it interesting in talking with people about their lives that themes would often emerge. Childhood experiences or interests seemed to resurface in careers or life choices later on.

What did you learn about interviewing?

I learned how to better articulate questions that would elicit expansive answers. Ideally, you want to avoid yes or no responses. You’re acting more as a guide or prompter for the interviewee to tell their story. Oral history interviews require being very present. You don’t want to miss something important that you could follow up on. I also improved my listening skills. I realize that this sounds clichéd, but it’s true. An oral history interview is about the interviewee, not the interviewer. So while you may have a question in the back of your mind to ask them next, you’re not inserting yourself directly into the interview.

Hilary Boudet

Hilary Boudet

How did you select interviewees?

Chris had done some background research on potential interviewees and had sought recommendations from Phil Mote (the director of Oregon Climate Service (OCS) and Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI)). So when I came on board, most of the interviewees had already given their consent to participate.

How did you prepare?

I developed chronological outlines for each interviewee, using any information I could find online (such as resumes or interviews). Since most of the interviewees were researchers, I spent a lot of time reading their published work and trying to think of expansive questions that I could ask them.

What were some of the issues you encountered in conducting the oral histories?

I didn’t really have any major issues. Initially I was concerned about people committing to an interview time, given how busy academics are and that an interview was a one to two hour time commitment. Fortunately, people were pretty responsive and generous with their time.

Allen Thompson

Allen Thompson

What did you already know about climate change and the issues surrounding it?

I had learned about the science of climate change in high school and as a college student. So I knew the basics of the physical processes that are occurring, and how anthropogenic climate change differs from long-term climatic trends in the Earth’s history. It’s something I care about and think about, so I also read about follow climate science and policy in the news.

What were some of the things you learned in the course of conducting the interviews?

While performing background research, I learned a lot more about the impacts of climate change to our planet in a variety of contexts-oceans, atmosphere, forests, grasslands, etc…It was a unique opportunity to further my understanding of climate science. I also got to learn about the intersection of philosophy, epidemiology, economics, and policy with climate change.

Bev Law

Bev Law

How did the interviews shift your perspective?

The last question that I asked each interviewer was “do you feel optimistic about the future of the planet in the context of climate change?” Many people responded with cautious optimism. It was useful for me to hear how researchers who have been documenting the impacts of anthropogenic climate change for years (if not decades), still retain some sense of hope in the face of an urgent issue. For example, some people place their hope in technology, some in the progressive actions of their community or other countries, and some people reframe how they think about the future.

Quite a few people brought up the importance of communicating science to the public, and how politicized the subject of climate change has become. It made me reflect on how people can effectively communicate technical information or how to better integrate science into our culture. It also made me think about how people communicate from polarizing viewpoints, and at what point people stop being receptive to listening. So I don’t know that my perspective really shifted, but I found the interviews to be thought provoking, and they often made me reflect on how people communicate and value our planet.

Oregon State University has long been a center for groundbreaking ecological research and many of those who work and study here are presently wrestling with the implications of climate change as it relates to a number of different disciplines.

Want to learn more?  Check out the oral histories Liz conducted here, including those interviewees pictured above!


Shifting Collections to Maximize Space

We recently completed a two phase project that included a MASSIVE shifting of our collections on the fifth floor. This project was carried through in large part by our Public Services team, Rachel Lilley and Trevor Sandgathe. In this interview, they reflect on the project and what it means for the department and our researchers.

What is your role in SCARC and how long have you worked here?

TS: I am an archivist with SCARC. I help coordinate our public services, arrange and describe collection materials, and oversee our collections storage. I began working at the OSU Special Collections as a student employee in 2007 and have been a staff member since 2010.

RL: Like Trevor, I’m an archivist in SCARC. I’m the other half of the “front of house” Public Services team, so I do a lot of what Trevor already described. I started working at SCARC in April of 2017 (on the 17th), so I’ve been here just over one year.
What was the impetus for the shelf shift project?

So much space to move!

So much space to move!

TS: In the summer of 2017, we found that we were beginning to run out of usable storage space in our Valley Library facilities. As a result, we developed a multi-phase project to make facilities changes to allow for expanded storage and consolidate our existing materials.

RL: This meant that we presented a proposal to Faye Chadwell, University Librarian, for changes to our stacks core that would facilitate a more efficient storage design and allow for room to grow. We were given a fixed sum to implement Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the proposal we presented to Faye.

What were some of the lessons learned in the course of the project?

RL: As the newest employee in SCARC, I’m finding that one of the surprising outcomes of this project is how many more collections I recognize and know a little something about, which is obviously useful in my public services role.

TS: To modify a popular adage, “measure twice, move once” was an important guiding philosophy during this shift (and a lesson we learned the hard way…more than once).

How will it make working in SCARC easier for employees?

Pauling's library shifted and now located next to the other rare books collections

Pauling’s library shifted and now located next to the other rare books collections

RL: I think one of the reasons I was drawn to the archival profession is that I love making order out of chaos. I would never have described our stacks as chaotic prior to this work, but I think both phases of this projects have helped us to arrange materials in a more efficient way, and in a way that makes them easier, and safer, for staff to retrieve. The project also gave us “space” to tackle some general “house-keeping” projects as natural parallels of the physical moving of boxes (e.g. rehousing as necessary, dusting shelves, etc.).

TS: Materials in our 5th floor storage area are now better organized and consolidated, allowing for simpler placement and retrieval of our manuscript and rare book materials.

How will it be better for our researchers?

TS: We should see an overall improvement in our retrieval times which will translate to more efficient research visits for our users. As we continue the project, we should be able to transition materials from our auxiliary storage to our primary storage which will further simplify the retrieval process.

RL: The whole goal of this project was space…well, maybe space, and as a by-product, efficiency. We now have more space, and space that is used better, so we can continue to accept new collections and additions to collections. The more collections we have, the higher the likelihood that we have material that will fit any given patron’s research interest. I think retrieval will also be faster, which I think many of our patrons will appreciate.

Did you find anything fun/weird/random?

An aisle of Pauling, condensed and reorganized

An aisle of Pauling, condensed and reorganized

TS: This project was a trip through SCARC’s history and offered plenty of opportunities to reflect on the work of our predecessors. It was a nice chance to be reminded of some of our lesser-known holdings and to appreciate the volume and quality of work that has gone into making these materials available to the public since the University Archives inception in 1961.

RL: I learned that Tiah can dance. I also have a fuller appreciate for the full breadth and scope of the Linus and Ava Helen Pauling Papers.

Digital Preservation and Outreach

This is the second post in a two part series exploring the work of Brian Davis, the Digital Production Unit Supervisor, which emphasizes the importance of  digitization and digital preservation in Special Collections and the Valley Library, and the field more broadly.


How did you get involved in the alliance’s digital preservation working group?

I don’t remember if I volunteered or was asked to be part of the working group, but I’ve been a member since January of 2016.

I’ve been involved with digital preservation at the institutional level for while, which means that I’ve largely worked alone or with one other person. Working with a larger group sounded like something that I’d like to try. There are five of us in this group. The first thing we did was put together a digital preservation survey for alliance members to gauge where their institutions are in terms of digital preservation, and then build out training resources based on the responses.

We could tell from the survey responses that there is a lot of confusion about digital preservation among alliance members. We ended up putting together an extensive website based upon the NDSA’s Levels of Digital Preservation. Each member of the group took on one of the five sections, mine was Fixity & Data Integrity, and I helped with the File Formats section. We also planned for each member to lead a webinar on their respective sections. I led two webinars in June of 2017. The webinars were supposed to have been recorded for those who weren’t able to attend, but they had issues with the GoToWebinar software and couldn’t figure it out in time.

What is the importance of outreach for you in your position and for the larger library community?

There’s little time for outreach outside of the day-to-day workload for me. It’s just me and two part-time students in the DPU who do the digitization, and I do the digital preservation. If I do any sort of outreach, then I have to shift other parts of my job.

While more along the lines of service than outreach, my digital preservation work for the alliance comes directly from the daily work I do and hasn’t required that much extra time outside of work.

Brian’s GitHub site for digital preservation scripts

Brian’s GitHub site for digital preservation scripts

I have found ways to share much of the work I do externally. For instance, most of the audiovisual tools I use are command-line driven, so I’ve translated many of them into right-clickable shell scripts and share them via GitHub. I’m also pretty active on digipres.club, as well as with the Twitter hashtags #digitalpreservation and   #avpreservation. I was maintaining work-related tumblr for a while, but putting together regular posts takes some time, so I’ve abandoned that. I’ve been using the Medium publishing platform to share DPU workflows and digitization specifications with others since access to wiki pages outside of the library is problematic.

What do you focus on in your training? What do you think are key takeaways for your training webinars?

I actually don’t do very much training any more. That’s not to say that there’s nothing for me to learn, I just don’t have that much time. The last instructor-led training thing I did was the Dive Into Hydra workshop at Code4Lib 2015. Now my training is more DIY, where I’ll find a resource online and go at my own pace. There has to be something practical that comes out of it, otherwise its pointless. In 2010, I took an Objective-C class that Stanford University offered through iTunes-U. When I finished the coursework I was able to build a few iOS apps, one was a companion app for Omeka image galleries I had setup previously and the other was an app for the library I was working for at the time.

tmux (terminal multiplexer) window

tmux (terminal multiplexer) window

A more recent example of my DIY approach is the local ZFS storage system that I use for my videotape digitization workflow. Oracle has a number of great guides on how to configure ZFS systems and I needed a good short-term storage appliance in my office. After a bit of reading and a couple of tutorials, I was able to configure a ZFS system on an old Mac Pro that I have in my office and I now have daily backups, replication, self-healing, snapshots, etc. These are all the things you want from your storage system. Another example is tmux, which is a terminal multiplexer that allows me to have multiple bash/ssh sessions open in a single window. There are a number of great tutorials out there, along with a lot of bad ones. It did take a bit of extra tweaking for me to get it customized due to the key bindings being different on a Mac, but it was definitely worthwhile.

You also have worked with young people as they are working on their degrees and entering the field. How do you encourage and support these new participants in the field?

Since we’re a small unit with a relatively large amount of work being sent our way every day, it’s a struggle to find a balance between making this job a learning opportunity for students and maintaining a reasonable level of productivity. For students, a lot of it is just picking up bits and pieces as the work proceeds. Of all the students that I’ve supervised, I think that only one has gone on to study library or archival science.

Presidents of Oregon State University Photographic Collection technical metadata work

Presidents of Oregon State University Photographic Collection technical metadata work

We have a current student in the DPU who is very interested in archives, digitization, and digital preservation — pretty much everything that we do. She also has a solid technology background, so she takes on a lot of the higher-level work. I would love to be able to spend time showing her a bit more about the digital preservation work that I do, as well as the videotape digitization processes. She’s only able to work 20hrs a week and that doesn’t leave time for additional training.

Where do you see the field going? How do you see your work being important for the future of libraries and scholarship?

As the question relates to digitization in general, I think that most institutions have already gotten into building digital collections. The next steps could include getting into preservation-level digitization for certain materials. While the fundemental equipment isn’t that expensive, getting someone with the appropriate skill level to do the work could make it prohibitive for many organizations. However, there are plenty of vendors out there offering this type of digitization.

Digital preservation is the one thing that I get asked about most often. I think that we’re going to start seeing an influx of organizations looking to fill digital preservation-focused positions. It’s not an issue that’s going away.


Videotape signal testing with a vectorscope

Hopefully everyone knows that magnetic videotape is an obsolete format that is actively degrading. It’s doing that even in ideal storage conditions. It’s estimated that the window of opportunity to preserve this content closes in fifteen to twenty years, less for certain formats. More institutions are going to try to follow what Indiana University is doing with their Media Digitization & Preservation Initiative. Audiovisual digitization is something that the Orbis Cascade Alliance has discussed as a potential area to offer some sort of service. I would love to be involved with something like that.

Why should we care about preserving obsolete formats (Beta, VHS, etc.) and continuing to preserve them as we get more and more digital?

I think that tape-based materials, such as Betacam and VHS, are deceptive when compared to other collection items. While the exterior of the tape itself may look clean and like new, the actual carrier of the content, the magnetic coated polyester, is unstable. Depending on the manufacturer and age of the tape, it could be suffering from loss of the lubricant that assists the tape as it winds through the tape deck, or the binder holding the magnetized signal could be absorbing moisture from the air, making the surface too sticky for playback.

Tension error on U-matic deck caused by sticky tape

Tension error on U-matic deck caused by sticky tape

Magnetic tape was never meant to have a very long shelf life. It was initially developed to save a recording for a very short period of time. Bing Crosby was doing a live radio show two times a day in the mid-1940’s, once for the east coast and another for the west coast. He only wanted to do one show so that he could get an earlier start on the his evening festivities. He invested pretty heavily in this new technology that would allow the radio station to play back a recording of the earlier show, which they were finally able to do in 1947.

There’s also the obsolescence issue, where the machines required to playback the various formats are no longer being made and replacement parts are becoming scarce. Even if you can locate machines and parts, finding someone who knows how to do the repair work is becoming difficult. All the old school broadcast engineers are retiring, so there’s a vacuum of knowledge and experience fast approaching. Considering all of this, I think it’s vitally important for SCARC to preserve these materials pretty quickly. This includes audiotape recordings since they are on the same carrier with the same issues as videotape.

Capturing VHS recording of No Big Whoop

Capturing VHS recording of No Big Whoop

I have been able to digitize 342 videotapes for SCARC over the course of the last four years. Much of what comes through DPU is sports-related, which is pretty popular. Outside of athletics, there’s amazing content ranging from flyover shots from an erupting Mount St. Helens and mechanized potato harvesting footage from the Oregon Tilth records to ridiculous (and awesome) KBVR productions like No Big Whoop and Limited Reality.

“The Archives/Digitization/Digital Preservation Thing”

This is the first post in a two part series exploring the work of Brian Davis, the Digital Production Unit Supervisor, which emphasizes the importance of  digitization and digital preservation in Special Collections and the Valley Library, and the field more broadly.


What has your career path been like? What got you interested in videotape digitization and digital preservation in the first place?

It’s been broad and a bit random. I say that because I didn’t take the traditional path and sort of backed into the archives/digitization/digital preservation thing that I do.

I’ve been at OSU Libraries & Press for almost six years years, and part of SCARC for two of those years. Just before coming to OSU, I worked as a Media and Digital services Librarian for a small liberal arts college. Although overseeing a number of things, my primary responsibility was managing a media production lab that was open to all faculty, staff, and students. Along with my student staff, it was my job to provide instruction and assistance with a variety of projects ranging from building posters and presentations to providing lecture capture services for professors and leading monthly technology workshops. Although there isn’t much crossover from this job to my current one, I did learn quite a bit about managing students and projects.

Prior to that I worked as a Digital Production Developer at Duke University Libraries. I was focused on three primary areas in that position; digitization, programming, and digital preservation. Of all the positions that I’ve held, this one is the most closely related to what I do here.

Brian at Arizona State University’s Hayden Library

Brian at Arizona State University’s Hayden Library

I do have a background in archives and special collections. I began working at Arizona State University Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections department in 2003, initially as a digitization technician, but I eventually became the visual materials archivist. My position, inconspicuously titled Academic Associate for Media Development, was that of film and video archivist at first. Then our acting photo archivist left a couple years into my position. At that point my responsibilities were expanded to include all of the photographic materials. To be honest, I was in way over my head, as I was still managing most of our digitization (including audiovisual digitization) and getting started with digital preservation. This is when I realized that I enjoyed the technology-focused responsibilities of my job more than the more traditional archivist’s parts (e.g. processing, collecting, reference, collections management). More than half my time each week was devoted to providing reference services, which didn’t leave much time for the rest of my responsibilities.

My time at Arizona State is when I became interested in audiovisual materials, but the initial spark started in the late 90’s. I worked installing exhibits at an art museum and worked as movie theater projectionist. At the museum, I got a crash course in materials handling and storage as I assisted curatorial staff with whatever they needed. The movie theater was focused on showing indie and foreign language films. Most of the prints we got weren’t produced in great quantities and many were already in poor condition, so I soon became aware of the general need for film preservation. My experiences from both of these jobs have had an impact on the work I do today.

When I arrived at Arizona State and saw the telecine machine in the audiovisual lab, I jumped right in and started inspecting, cleaning, and transferring 16mm film. In addition to motion picture film, we also had a number of large videotape collections. We were the repository for Arizona PBS and I was asked to do videotape transfers from that collection soon after I started. This was before I really knew what I was doing. It was a great learning experience for me, as I could run over to the Arizona PBS studios, which were on campus at the time, pick up some tapes to accession and get technical help from the broadcast technicians that worked there. They were especially helpful when we were getting our 1” open reel video player operational in our digitization lab.

Arizona State is also where I was first exposed to digital preservation. I had been involved with programming to some degree since the 90’s, but it was a visit from Bill Comstock to ASU in 2006 that put me on that path. Bill managed digitization at the Harvard Library and I owe a lot to him. I’ve been involved with digital preservation ever since that meeting. I learned from Bill that there’s a large amount of information embedded into files that could be utilized. I also learned how to insert additional information into files using terminal commands to write to TIFF tags.

Batch embedding Dublin Core XML records in directory of DPU’s TIFF files via Adobe Bridge

Batch embedding Dublin Core XML records in directory of DPU’s TIFF files via Adobe Bridge

At the time, standardizing technical metadata was a big project for the Library of Congress as they were developing the MIX standard. At Arizona State, we were following along behind them, making similar metadata decisions for the library. I was specifically tasked with deciding what NISO Z39.87 elements should be in our technical metadata standard. While this work might sound a bit dry, it was pretty exciting for me to be able to couple my interest in programming with audiovisual materials and photography, the other things that interested me most. Once I started putting together scripts and began automating workflows, things progressed pretty quickly for me.

How have you seen the field change and evolve in the past 15 years?

It terms of digitization, things have been on a pendulum of sorts, slowly swinging from one side to the other for the last decade. When I began working in digitization, everyone’s goal was to capture the best quality they could for virtually everything that they were digitizing. We were primarily focused on digitizing nitrate negatives, glass plate negatives, and audiovisual materials at Arizona State. Digitizing at a high level made sense for us because these are materials for which you really do need to do provide preservation-level digitization.


When the OCLC published Shifting Gears, it brought up a lot of good points about what we were doing and why we were doing it. When I got to Duke, we took a hard look at our workflows to see where we might be able to make some changes. It’s always been my opinion that you can work more efficiently, but if your goal is to just to work faster, then you’re going to make mistakes and potentially damage collection materials. We made a number of informed decisions to minimize certain parts of our workflows, like post processing of image files. That cut overall digitization times pretty substantially.

Post-scan editing is also something that I stopped students from doing in the DPU when I began in 2012. Students were scanning things poorly and then editing them in Photoshop to try to compensate for the bad initial scan. Below is screenshot comparing a glass plate negative that was scanned by a student to my rescan of the same negative.

Glass plate negative scan comparison

Glass plate negative scan comparison

The right-side image that I scanned has greatly expanded tonal range and substantially more detail compared to the one from the student. DPU had professional scanning equipment at the time, but they didn’t know how to use it properly. There shouldn’t be any sort of post-scan editing, aside from a bit of cropping and rotating.

I should mention that preservation-level scanning doesn’t mean just scanning at higher resolutions. There are other factors that are just as relevant as resolution. The quality of equipment, the scanning environment, color settings, and file formats are every bit as important. When someone gives us photographic materials, we do them all the same regardless of what digitization level has been requested. Most are going into Oregon Digital and need to have sufficient detail for the image viewer.

Scanner color calibration

Scanner color calibration

With that being said, there are materials for which quicker access might be more important than going down a slightly slower digitization path. For instance, we do access-level scanning for many of our periodicals and publications. Most of these are off-set printed with lots of text, so there’s little to be gained by scanning at the same resolutions that we use for photographs. We’ve settled on 400ppi as a good compromise between scan time and sufficient quality for OCR. However, we still use the same calibrated equipment, color profiles, and formats even if preservation isn’t the goal.

As the question relates to digital preservation, I think that it has unfortunately become as much of a buzzword as it has something that people and organizations are actively engaged in. I guess that I should be happy that at least people are talking about it. The time is now to start doing something. Having led our digital preservation efforts for a couple years, I found that it’s very hard to make headway if people aren’t sure what digital preservation is and don’t have a clear picture of the resources needed. Digital preservation is not a single application that you can download from the App Store and it’s not something that can be just handed off to a student.

There are only a few organizations who have good digital preservation systems in place, but most of them have lots of resources. It’s hard to find a comparable institution to look to as an example of how we might proceed. We made an attempt with this technical report last year but little has happened so far. That’s why I think that a consortial-level effort in the Pacific Northwest could be a way to bridge some of those resource gaps that a lot of us have.

What do you find most interesting about the work you do?

U-matic videotape capture with live levels monitoring

U-matic videotape capture with live levels monitoring

I think that almost all of it is interesting to be honest. If I have to pick one thing I would say it’s the relatively recent intersection of audiovisual digitization with digital preservation among colleagues. I’ve been working in both areas for a while, but now it seems that there’s suddenly an influx of people who do both. They’re coming out of programs like the National Digital Stewardship Residency program at the Library of Congress and the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program at NYU. It does make sense with most audiovisual preservation work leading directly to digitization, which then moves into digital preservation. With all magnetic media like videotape, there is a substantial level of degradation actively occurring with the physical object. This newly digitized file will act as the representation of this artifact as time goes on and the physical source further degrades. Knowing that, it’s imperative to do whatever it takes to ensure that the file survives.

For me, it’s encouraging to have lots of younger people participating in the profession. It’s certainly been making the yearly AMIA conference more technology-focused, which is great. It also makes for lively Twitter discussions.

What do you want people to know about your work? Why do you think this is such an important aspect of what the work of the Valley Library?

This might sound funny, but one thing I’d like people to know is that I am not a cataloger and I have never been responsible for mail deliveries anywhere I’ve worked.

DPU’s BagIt file verification

DPU’s BagIt file verification

In all seriousness, I hope that everyone realizes that the Digital Production Unit plays a vital role in making our unique collections accessible. This was a key objective in our most recent strategic plan, and without the work of the DPU, the library definitely would not have the number of items available online. We also would not have the quality of work that we now have.

As far as digital preservation goes, I don’t want people to think that we’re not doing anything. There’s a fair amount of digital preservation happening every day on library materials that move through the DPU. ETS has also made progress with daily backups for our preservation storage and with our distributed backups of ScholarsArchive@OSU materials to MetaArchive.

What are common misconceptions about your field/work that you do?

I think that there’s misconceptions surrounding a lot of digitization and digital preservation. The first thing that comes to mind is the confusion surrounding what digitization means and the implications of having an object digitized. Just because an object has been digitized that does not mean that it’s been preserved and there’s nothing else to do. I think that’s the point where a lot of the ongoing work begins.