More thoughts on New Apps?-NUCMC Mobile

Since I plan to learn how to program apps for historical repositories to make the genealogical world an easier place to navigate for friends, relatives, and the rest of the world, I want to work on getting more thoughts down on paper. I make notes everywhere. Can’t stop writing if I wanted to, but they do not always make it here. Must write this down before it leaves my thought processes.

So, NUCMC exists. It’s this massive union catalog of manuscripts done by the Library of Congress.

  •       For anyone not heavily invested in libraries, a union catalog is how a bunch of libraries together (supposedly) try to save money by using one major catalog and adding entries as needed. Since supposedly no government entity has money anymore (and most libraries are the forgotten beneficiaries of Borders closure, hence making a lot of people try to return to libraries that lost funding and programs in the never-ending stream of budget cuts that come out when people lose interest in culture) then the union catalog supposedly helps people find their information faster. Once I had a teacher who was extremely upset about converting a library to a union catalog. I need to hear positive opinions about them before I can give a more-accurate conclusive judgement. So, consider the above paragraph biased due to that experience.

NUCMC is a manuscripts version of OCLC’s WorldCat. In the end, it’s all about finding the right piece of information as quickly as possible. I was wondering when it comes to NUCMC, is there an app for that? I know that is a trade marked catch-phrase from Apple, but really- IS there an app for that? I am investing my time and energy in learning more about how to make existing technology work easier. If something exists and it’s not incredibly easy to use and does not function on a level where it only takes a few taps, then it’s outdated already. Not as if everyone has the time or power to use such technology on a grand scale. That is not the point here. Accessibility, while a hot topic in any archive or library, along with a basic design, (advanced design principles) that clarify and streamline are the essentials to an effective group’s work.

History matters to the people who live it and somehow either loved it or hated it. And it also matters to the people who don’t know about it for themselves, meaning “Was this family story for real?” That is where the repositories come in. The places that physically host or hold the information must be open virtually, 24/7, while the staff go to bed, live, eat, take care of children’s runny noses, and have lives. They don’t have to operate staffed all the time, although this would be a little ideal for the world employment situation. Someone complains about money issues and then everyone curls up in virtual fetal positions or raise their hands and say no.

I can see when war is the only option to divest tyrants, and military actions tend make really great, detailed records, but it’s like no one has the ability to tell me where all of the money went. Congress has not passed a real budget in 3/4 years of the current presidency and runs on these strange executive orders. I’m sorry. I don’t elect kings. I elect a president and I can get them out. America feels more like a police state now than it did ten years ago. I am not a fan of the illusion of security over the reality of corruption in every level of government and spying on your own people because you are afraid of losing your power. That smacks of fear and lack of confidence in a huge degree. I mean, when you are done being president, you continue with your security detail, you have a huge paycheck, and if the spouse wants to, she can run for president, too. I mean, it seems incredibly silly to worry so hard over the power struggle. And no, it’s not a case of scarcity of resources. It’s a struggle against innovation to clean things up versus keeping costs low. Other countries figured out how to get away with much less oil consumption back in the 1970’s during the first oil crisis by using sugar and other plant-based fuels that Americans seem completely unaware of. No, it does not cost more to convert over. It costs lobbyists and politicians their dependence on the fuel profits from corn shares that literally change how all food grows in the US. I may not know a ton on this topic, but I do see inter-connected webs throughout. It’s a pain in the rear.

Back to the libraries and archives, there is need for NUCMC to be accessible by app if it is not already. When thinking about how historians actually work, it’s not just IN libraries and archives. We need as much portability as any other traveler. Most of my research time is on a day off from other things, or maybe on Saturdays. I research on the way to other places instead of that place being the only thing on the list. It’s the only way that I do not feel guilty for taking the time out to make my work happen. I have yet to be able to do a work trip specifically geared for simply research unless I plan it way in advance. I know of other professionals who actually do plan for research trips and spend their time in the libraries and archives akin to gold.

Due to the expenses involved, online record repositories like Ancestry are incredibly popular, and if I am correct, just passed the one billion mark for profits for good reason. Some of the basic records should be free, and it would be the ideal in the best of world for the whole thing to be, but that is not going to happen either in the current economy or any other. A market economy will not allow it. However, instead it comes down to enough people basically buying into the program to lessen the charge for everyone else.

A lot of apps are free or else people do not try them. I want to do things that are free and somehow make ends meet and get paid for it. I am too much of an idealist in that regard. Not sure how in the world it will work out, but I love the idea of flooding the earth with the ability to find what is necessary to get the research done. I am a romantic in this ideal, and I understand it. Going into academia unfortunately will not pay for it, but I also love teaching. Why is it that everything that I get a kick out of does not pay bills?

*sighs from the GenealogyDr*

Ancestors: The Things You Don’t Expect to Learn

There are some things about ancestors where I did not expect to have a “Who Do You Think You Are?” moment. I am a professional and have researched family history (genealogy) for years. I have expertise in the Mid-Atlantic states areas, although I also have familiarity with Slovak, Canadian, and Californian records and I know enough of the basics for being “dangerous.” I love the topic, seemingly never stop talking about it, and I eat, breathe, and generally do things with it more likely than not.

It’s been a long time since I last researched my family. There’s been a break of a few years, full-disclosure. It’s been a rough time, actually. That aside, tonight I needed to get back to my touch-stone. I came to one of my schools in a rain storm because of their Ancestry Library subscription. Usually this means that I start asking “who wants to be found?” and follow whatever guidance there is. Not exactly the professional manner of doing things, but I always find things that way. Going by one’s gut, instincts, or other methods, it produces the same results. And training helps with knowing search patterns, but it was looking and then I came across “nothing” for a while. Searched a few people…whomever looked interesting, but nothing methodical. I was actually distracted by the people next to me.

After looking up my g^x power great-grandma, I was playing on the site and noticed ships manifests… more records were there than were on the site a few years ago. Before, it was always my great-grandfather and his sister. Been there, memorized those. This time, though, it was different.

I saw my great-aunt Regina Opacity’s record. She was a good, nice woman from all accounts. She had some sort of eye problem and came to America and lived with my great-grandfather’s family. Tonight I saw her manifest and then saw her detention record. I looked over her detention report, and although on the manifest it gave the record of who she was going to live with, she was still detained for the following reasons: “LPC Aliens likely to become public charges, P.D. Aliens with mental, physical, economic or educational disqualifications”. That ticked me off. She had someone who she was going to, legitimately. It was the same family member that my great-grandfather went to, and it was not a “fake” family member. So what if she had a problem with her eye? This was prior to EEO, but … I felt defensive for her. I tried to investigate the inspector, but came up with nothing from minimal Google searching.

All that I know is that when I was Ellis Island years ago, I felt drawn to the inspection room for reasons unknown to me. I was honestly scared of the inspection room although I had no legitimate reason for this emotion for my own purposes. I saw the stairs leading up to the room, and the thought of “The stairs! The stairs!” came to mind. Felt like a scared adrenaline rush. It was not my personal thought process. I tried to look into the room but I was too short. Still, I felt compelled to see the inside of that room. Went down the stairs and then up a side stairway to the outer balcony area to try to see into the room as it was set a little lower than the outside for sight lines. I could not see much, but I felt like something that was not positive happened there and I was the first family member back to that place since they all came through originally in the 1920’s. It had been 85 years but something was as fresh as if it was two weeks ago and traumatic. I was witness of some sort, and Regina was NOT happy with whatever happened there. She was dead years before my birth. However, there was a feeling of fiery indignation, and I could assume that whatever happened there was basically humiliating. Unknown character Inspector Marsh was on her detention sheet. I think that she was the only one detained from her ship, and she was at the most 26 years old in 1921. Come to your own conclusions.

Great Hall, Ellis Island

Great Hall, Ellis Island, 2006, Pictures shot by author.

The design of Ellis Island made the Great Hall into two wings. One was where they had the computers for the tourists. Back then, it was crowd control. Took a while to get to the other section where there was a massive glass window made up of miniature windows where there was the most beautiful New York skyline possible. Stuck between the ocean and across a very short bay to a beautiful New York skyline, waiting for a fate that could be anything, better or worse than home.

Ellis Island parapet from archives

Ellis Island Parapet through archives skylight, July 2006.

I made an appointment before arriving there to see what was in their archives on the roof of the building (I could not take pictures in the archive, so I snapped the parapet.) There was a collection of photographs taken by one of the inspectors. Striking, but every photograph had a person dressed up as if they were one step below meeting the queen yet they all had the most hateful, distrustful expressions on their faces. These were not happy people. Dressed to make the best impression that they could, fearful for their lives. Despite the nostalgic view that people on this side of Atlantic have a few generations later about civil liberties and the like, no one came here only because of opportunity. It was either America or in many cases death. Not exactly the best thing ever, but better than starving. I have no idea what kinds of features were available to the travelers, but I know that I have been extremely lucky and blessed in how people treat me thinking about Regina and her treatment upon coming to “the land of opportunity.”

Regina had a happy life with her family, but she never married and never had children. All that I know is that years ago when I was at Ellis Island, I did not expect to see or feel any of that. In going there, I was so happily expectant to make this connection of being somewhere where family members had been and figured that “Yeah. I’m part of America. My family came through Ellis Island,” and I bought two of the same shirt and still wear them. Then I learned more about the struggles of Americans that had nothing to do with military, but had everything to do with freedom. Now, seeing her detention record, I have documentation to back up those impressions. Although my experience was personal, the documentation was there and I found it. I doubt that anyone of my family has seen this since it was first typed over 90 years later. Digitized years after my trip, the document and experience did not come together until tonight and I remembered what happened.

Leaving Ellis Island

Leaving Ellis Island, afternoon July 2006.

Somehow I think that I am not the only person who something like this has happened to, but I wanted to write it down. There’s a lot more out there than natural senses explain and sometimes documents help. Had that not happened, this would be just another document. Her basics vital stats were recent enough that the family knew parts about her life that she came to America, lived with the family and was “everyone’s favorite aunt.” I did not know what else she had been through, and both experiences make her life more fleshed out. I do not know other aspects of her life, but I feel like she is determined to matter to her great-grandniece. I am listening and learning.

Interactivity and Accessibility for Libraries, Archives, and Genealogical Repositories in Web 2.0 Age

Reaction from reading Gerencser’s article for my Digital Media class conjoined with opinions developed from my Reference and Online Services class.

Customer service in libraries and archives for a Web 2.0 audience is vastly different from how librarians see themselves. Librarians see themselves as information interpreters beyond technical service catalogers. It is also different from how the public may see them as well. That impression would be “shushers,” and people who used to be applicable and are unfriendly bastions of the old guard, unfortunately less knowledgeable about the resources and needs of the student or faculty member than preferred.

The stereotypes of Marian the Librarian sans Dr. Harold Hill are alive and well. If repositories were always open when a user needed it, archivists would never sleep. However, pure customer service is about the needs of the patron beyond the needs of the archivist. I do not know of any archivist who goes into the field thinking that they will be staying up until 3AM to help a patron, but I have never asked about this question and will do so. Digitizing collections allows the patron to be up until 3AM and allows the archivist a family life and sleep. It is best customer service practice to help their patrons by increasing accessibility to collections and hence, digitizing.

Paper lasts a long time. Pardon the vagueness of that statement. Paper content varies from papyrus to rice paper to parchment and sheepskin through acidic based cheap 20 lb. weight copy paper to acid free preservation quality and vellum with other possibilities. With few exceptions, paper lasts longer than digital content pertaining to the evolution of the hardware involved. It seems a contradiction in terms, then, to want to digitize items to “save them from extinction.” Digital content lasts maybe five years if a person is lucky.

The idea is that customer service in archives for the 21st century is about increasing access in whatever way allows the archives to be useful, fresh, and brings collections to the people- the balance between preservation and open shelving. I am not an expert on Mendel’s genetic theories, but I heard that he sent copies of his work to other scholars. He did not wait for celebrity status or for publication. Instead, he spread his work out beyond his monastery. Succeeding abbot burned his work, and if there was only one copy, no one would know that he was the first to write about how two peas in a pod literally can change the world.

Although digitization does not necessarily achieve true preservation, spreading the ideas or documentary notes and giving people the ability to know more and to use what is available is the best way to allow for material access without destruction. Highlighting such access is the marketing trend. Making documents keyword OCR and metadata searchable is crucial, and allowing for the material to have annotative qualities at the same time. Having a simple, friendly, stream-lined user interface where patrons or users find their content without extreme issues in searching is most important.

If a library, archive, or similar repository (or historical society) does not have a web presence with some sort of interesting local content or a good database with family surname index searches available, then their existence is in jeopardy. The point of a historical society is not preserving old ephemera, but interpretation of such collections or documents by the populace.

I will admit that not everyone is interested in history or wants to think. There are famous quotes about those who are not interested in history being doomed to repeat it, but what if the history is good? Scandal is the thing that usually interests people, but having a good name is equally as important. In the end, it what is learned from the life experiences of the  person or people in question that matter. Material culture helps people remember and assists with making events more real than simple stories.

When your collection does not matter to people, you may as well not have it. How does it matter, or better yet, how can interpreters and directors make it matter when no one knows about it? Advertise. Social media is the simplest and cheapest way of getting word out and it directly hits the hardest demographic to reach for historians: the 18-35 demographic.

Collections should contribute to stories. There needs to be back up documentation, but the stories and their reality is what makes the object important in the first place. Contextual learning and handling is also important. History is old and dreary unless it contains elements of connective realism staring people in the face.

GIS Coding Structures and WikiMap for Historians and Genealogists

I have to learn more about GIS. Sitting in an LIS 701 final last semester, suddenly connections between my different worlds (family history or genealogy, public history, library information systems, history of genealogical technology, cemetery obsessions, and now current technologies and their use in historical applications along with history of technology in general) coincided in a flash of insight. The idea came for WikiMap, or map for historical research repositories/locations (MHRL). Cute and clever name to be decided.

 

The idea is that present day apps have natural GPS features, and I use them non-stop to find my way around unfamiliar locations. Seeing mapping technologies and how they’ve changed since their primordial days in the late 90s, now there is continuous tagging and classifying of places and events. The idea behind this app is to either smush together the needed layers of maps akin to Adobe Photoshop layers.

 

  1. The layers would start with the basic Google Map. Although it may or may not be “fancy,” I do not know enough of the background coding or development as to its build to make sure that it is useful for this purpose.
  2. Add on top of that an “appative” (app plus additive or added layer) where a person could choose to look up an address and using the app immediately know all of the libraries, archives, historical societies, cemeteries and/or any other vital agency of pertinence (or that added themselves to this pertinence layer). That is the main “value-added” layer.
  3. Another layer would be subsections of mass census ethno-graphic data from the Minnesota Population Center, modern census information (optional layer).
  4. This would help with a cross-layer of historical (back to 1850’s) data. When crossing this data layer with that of layer three, suddenly patterns emerge concerning who used to live somewhere and who lives there now. When these patterns have the contextual usage of finding information from a death record, for instance, a simple address search suddenly becomes the beginning of immediate population with the closest archives, libraries, historical societies, cemeteries, churches, hospitals, funeral parlors, or other places where information of genealogical relevancy is kept.
  5. All of this turns into a self-guided walking tour if in the town in question, or a virtual physical space directory hosting Wikiguides to links to the places that pop up, preferably with user ratings.

 

Thought-process wise, this is taking yelp, specifying the searching mechanism, and turning it into a historical demography tool. These are the things that literally keep me awake at night, and on the computer past 2:30AM. That, and completing class reading assignments. There is one class (that I know of) at Loyola University Chicago that deals with GIS- UNIV 410, and I want in on it to make this happen.

I currently have a Digital Media class that may address this topic, but I need to crunch data with hard numbers that I probably cannot comprehend. I want to take massive data quantities that are all open source code variables and throw them into a matrix that makes them useful to the lay researcher who only needs a few sources here or there.

 

For once the source is going to the person and back to the map instead of the document being the end of a research question and the only payment for hard work is following the efforts with analysis and reporting back to the client. Although available before through more clicks than necessary, this tool would make it possible for anyone to walk a town and find the right sources in the right places immediately.

If there were agreements with the publishers of the Handybook for Genealogists to add their records data for the different repositories in their collection, that would be incredibly useful.