Thursday, December 30, 2010

Water magnets

I GOT A LOOK at the damage in the College Archives from the flood of Dec. 20, and all I can say is, it sure could have been worse. Almost miraculously, our complete run of Harper's Magazine through the Civil War (1861-65) seems to be okay. And, Deo gratias, our most valuable Bibles are safely out of harm's way on exhibit at Santa Clara University.

Still, it's a mess. Here's a photo of a less valuable 19th Century Bible that looks to be a total loss. It's moldy and not worth the expense of restoration. There are several other books in similar condition and facing a similar fate.

Some of the archival records awaiting processing got soaked and are still in their cardboard boxes. I'm hoping they're not moldy as well. Yecch -- won't that be fun! What a way to start the New Year. Well, happy 2011 anyway. Truth be told, many of our rare books show signs of water damage from centuries ago. You can't fight physics.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Deluge No. 3

I TEACH MY graduate students that through an as yet unexplained force in hydrology, rare books attract water.

So once the shock wore off (in about 20 seconds), I was not altogether surprised to hear from a colleague on Monday that parts of the ceiling in the College Archives had collapsed and sent buckets of runoff all over some of the Special Collections stacks and my work table. If drains and downspouts haven't been maintained, you'll find where the leaks are real quick when it rains for nearly a week without stopping.

This is actually the third leak since I've been in the Archives -- an average of one a year. It is by far the biggest, but back in 2008 it didn't take long to figure out that the Spearman Room is the lowest point in the Charles Willard Coe Memorial Library. Overflowing toilets, condensation from the A/C and now rain have all had their turn. Rare books are water magnets.

I don't know whether it's long tradition, economics or what that inspires architects to locate rare books in basements. They all do it. In teaching library preservation management, I've seen plenty of blueprints that run all manner of pipes and plumbing directly over the treasures. One of my students just a couple weeks ago got firsthand experience when a clogged drain leaked onto the bound records in the basement of the Orange County Archives. The epic flood in Florence in 1967 swamped thousands of square feet of centuries-old basements, each filled to the joists with medieval books and manuscripts. Forty-three years later, by the way, they're still cleaning up.

I had to sit this disaster out, unfortunately; I'm home on vacation and getting over a sprained knee. My wonderful colleagues Joseph, Cheryl and Lorena moved the wet books to dry ground -- the Porch -- set up a few fans, interleaved with paper towels what pages they could. The stacks shelves are covered with plastic in case there's more water. We're all hoping that the first floor won't bloom forth with a garden of mold, which has happened before. We'll know next week.

I was dreaming of a wet Christmas, but this isn't quite what I had in mind!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oh! antiphons

I HAVE A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS who like me are fans of the Liturgy of the Hours, and when Dec. 17 rolls around I can count on a couple of emails anticipating the beginning tonight of the "O Antiphons," the ancient short prayers that precede recitation of the Canticle of Mary, also known as the Magnificat, during the evening office of Vespers.

The O's are very old, dating as far back as the 400s A.D. -- a 1,600-year-old tradition that really speaks to their beauty and power. Each of the O's corresponds to a title of the Messiah bestowed so poetically by the Prophet Isaiah seven centuries before Jesus' birth. The seven O's (see the Wikipedia entry for the list) form a Latin acrostic referring to the Savior's imminent arrival, ERO CRAS, "Tomorrow I will come."

One of the treasures in the Mount's Special Collections is our 18th Century antiphonary (photo above), a big book o' Gregorian chant used by monks for singing the Hours. It's bound in leather and wood and printed on cotton-rag paper in Venice in 1746. Most of the Mount students have at least heard of Gregorian chant, and they are always impressed by this folio-sized tome.

The first of the seven O's begins, "O Sapientia quae exore Altissimi produiisti..."
O Wisdom from the mouth of the Most High, you fill the whole world. With strength and gentleness, you order all things: come to teach us the way of prudence.
Besides the 7-day countdown to Christmas, what I love most about the O's is their 16 centuries of continuity. The translation above is courtesy of Universalis, a free online resource. You can download the O's, and the rest of the Liturgy of the Hours for your smart phone, Kindle, or other e-book reader, or pray the daily office with the rest of the Church via your web browser. Now that's continuity. I wonder what Isaiah would think.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bethlehem rocks

A cave of soft white limestone typical of the Galilee.
AN OLD ENVELOPE turned up in a book donated by Sister St. George Skurla, CSJ, one-time head of the English Department. Dealing with old envelopes is kind of why archives exist, so it made its way to us this morning.

Even in an archives full of wonderful surprises, it's not every day you see something like this. In the envelope was an original typewritten letter dated June 1, 1964, and signed by the mayor of Bethlehem -- the Bethlehem, not the one in Pennsylvania. It was written on the letterhead of the "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan" and attested to the authenticity of an archaeological dig in late 1963 in the Holy Land, during which some amount of rock was excavated from the site of the 4th Century Basilica of the Nativity, believed by Christians to be the location of the stable where Jesus was born.

Mr. Stanley S. Slotkin, the letter went on, obtained some of the rock with the idea of sending it back to museums and churches in the United States, "with the conviction that these stones will create interest in all faiths." The rocks were shipped, the mayor confirmed, accompanied by a letter of authenticity similar to the one we held.

At the name Slotkin we perked up. We've seen Stanley Slotkin's name elsewhere in the Mount Archives, usually associated with one of our treasures. He was the founder of Abbey Rents and seems to have spent part of his fortune donating rare books, whole collections of books, paintings, and illuminated manuscripts to colleges, universities and museums in the United States. Slotkin, who died in 1997, was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the winter of 1964 when he decided to start giving away Bethlehem stones.

But there was more in the envelope. we pulled out a shiny black card with magenta trim and white lettering, and glued in the center was a tiny white rock labeled "Stone from Bethlehem's Cave of the Nativity, Manger Room."

At that point we confess to goosebumps. Manger Room? The rock -- pebble, really -- is chalky and soft, which is what made digging caves for houses, inns and stables so popular in 1st Century Bethlehem. But this particular little piece of Palestine geology, tradition says, saw the birth of the Son of God. We held in our hand a bit of calcareous rock that is a souvenir of the Incarnation.

It's on our desk, with Mayor Elias B. Bandak's letter. As we work through this third week of Advent, we will have in front of us a piece of the cave to which Mary and Joseph resorted when they were turned away at the inn. Mary gave birth to her divine Son in that cave, and perhaps some of the light of that Holy Child and those choirs of angels and the light of the Star glinted on this little rock.

What to do with it? We suppose we'll add it to the collection of other treasures Slotkin donated -- some sheets from books of hours, a fragment of a 12th Century Quran. Seems strange, though. Maybe that's why Sister St. George tucked it into a book, to be forgotten for the next 46 years. What do you do with a souvenir of Ground Zero in a cosmic shift in the universe?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Water features

STUDENT SURVEYS indicate that the Circle -- the open area at the center of the Chalon Campus -- could be more user friendly. It's a lovely spot and the umbrella tables are often occupied, but on a sunny day the glare is pretty harsh, and it's often more of a pedestrian corridor than a spot to sit and enjoy.

Starting today, the Circle is being transformed into a more inviting space of trees and a central fountain. It's an exciting project. Not only will it add beauty to this already marvelous campus, it will at last fulfill what turns out to be an 80-year-old vision.

Mark Daniels, the original architect of the Chalon Campus, sketched his ideas in 1929, a partial set of which is held by the College Archives. But in some old newspaper clippings and the St. Mary's Academy 1930 annual, I came across a drawing I hadn't seen. This scanned image (click to enlarge) shows the expanse below a much more ornate Mary Chapel, with two fountains splashing away on either side.

Daniels, who was also a landscape architect, knew that the timeless combination of water, gardens and dappled light was essential to inviting the College into the glorious climate he sought to showcase in his vision for the Mount.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Postcards from Chalon - Part II

THE VIEW FROM CHALON is one of the most spectacular in Los Angeles, but in the early days when there were just a couple of buildings, the 270-degree the vista from this remote hilltop must have been absolutely breathtaking.

The addition of St. Joseph Hall (science and administration, 1944), Coe Library (1947), the Carondelet House of Studies (1954), Carondelet Hall (1959), Humanities Building (1964), and Drudis-Biada (1974) each took a piece out of the expanse, although there are still plenty of view sites from balconies, patios, roads and between buildings.

This undated postcard predates the Coe Library and shows the surrounding ridges and coastal plain looking southwest, interrupted only by a straggly redwood. The postcard is titled "Facing the Pacific." There was nothing between the Mount and Santa Monica but bare hills.

I admired the view yesterday as I drove downhill toward Chalon Road. The view across Santa Monica Bay toward Catalina Island was crystal clear thanks to the gusty winds. I slowed the car and wondered for the umpteenth time what prompted Mother Margaret Mary Brady to build the campus a thousand feet in the air. The view reminded me yet again of what a special place the Mount is.

I just wish the students would look up once in awhile from thumbing text into their smart phones to take it all in. I guess it's a student thing: One of the alums on my architecture tour in October, who graduated in the 1990s, was blown away by the view. "I just didn't pay attention to it when I was here," she said.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Mount of the future, 1930

CAME ACROSS a cute story in Lightning 1930, the yearbook of St. Mary's Academy, on whose campus the College met between 1925 and March, 1930.

A short story called "Can This Be Saint Mary's?" by Vivian Hainley '30 describes a classroom scene in which the instructor, Sister Agatha, notices two of her students are missing. She promptly picks up her Visiscope, which the author explains is a phone-telescope combo. She spots the truants chatting away under a palm tree. They're summoned to class.

Next, our tech-savvy Sister hands out a demerit to a student who was caught talking by the Merit Monitor, the "hall machine [that] records everything." You see, the author advises, "Saint Mary's now has complete modern equipment." And wow, are they ever strict.

Finally, Sister lights into poor Mary for being late to class again. The student earns knowing smirks from her classmates. How many times have they heard this?

"My plane wouldn't start," Mary tells Sister. The campus, we're told, quickly filled with small planes every morning as students arrived.

Can this be St. Mary's? Yes, writes the author, in 1950. To Vivian Hainley, this is what the bright future was going to look like in just 20 years -- all-seeing monitoring devices, videophones, and a truly modern solution to traffic jams.

If Vivian could have seen ahead 75 years she'd be almost right -- except for the traffic solution. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "gridlock" didn't show up until 1980. We're still waiting for our airplanes, but I don't think Vivian would be surprised by video chat on a hand-held -- do you?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

First draft of history - digital edition

ONE OF THE MOST VALUABLE COLLECTIONS in the Mount Archives is the run of campus newspapers, starting with Inter-Nos in 1927 (typewriter to mimeograph), and running more or less continuously through The View 1945-1992 (ink on newsprint), The New View 1993-1995 (same), The Oracle, 1995-2007 (newsprint, then color photocopied) and now (deep breath) ...

... The Oracle on the internet.

The digital Oracle debuted last week and can be viewed at It's nice looking, full of articles and images, easy to navigate, and entirely virtual. How does a format like that fit into 65 years of print copies in the archives? How do I preserve it?

This lone arranger cannot/should not/will not do digital archiving. (If you want to know why, you'll have to sign up for the 15-week graduate class I teach each semester at San Jose State University.) Suffice it to say, I will probably end up trying to print it out screen by screen.

I pointed my one preservation "tool," Acrobat Distiller, at the Oracle website and ended up with 67 fragmented and duplicative pages. (It could be worse--I did the same with the MSMC online catalog and ended up with over 1,200 before my computer crashed.)

Newspapers are the historian's lifeblood; just this week I had a visiting postdoc in from Rutgers going through all the old newspapers and yearbooks of the Mount. I am honor-bound to capture Mount journalism for the archives. But here's the great conundrum: Even as technology makes it easier and less expensive to publish a campus newspaper, the same technology dooms it to oblivion if left alone.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fr. Joseph Anthony Vaughan, S.J.

EVERY COLLEGE, IT SEEMS, is blessed with certain families that give freely of themselves generation after generation. At the Mount, the Vaughan family is one of those.

It was announced this week that the 2011 Commencement speaker will be the renowned Sister Judy Vaughan '68, CSJ, founder of Alexandria House, a transitional residence for women and children in need. Sister's blood sister is the also-renowned Sister Kieran Vaughan '64, CSJ, of our education faculty. Their parents, J. Robert and Margaret Vaughan, were long-time supporters of the College and recipients in 2005 of the Carondelet Medal.

I've encountered another Vaughan in the College Archives: Father Joseph Vaughan, a Jesuit who served as Mount chaplain and chair of the philosophy department for many years beginning in the early 1930s. Father, it turns out, was the great-uncle of Sisters Kieran and Judy, and a legend in his own right.

Most of what I know about him I've gleaned from a Los Angeles Times column written many years ago, and stories from a couple of the older CSJs who knew him back in the day. With doctorates in economics and philosophy his academic credentials were superb, and in addition to Greek and Latin he was fluent in Spanish and French. He studied and taught on two continents. His services as a labor negotiator were much sought after. He set up the first radio station at the Vatican. Nothing but a stellar scholar would do for the new College in Brentwood Heights.

According to the Sisters, though, Father Vaughan arrived at the Mount in something of an emergency. The original road climbing to the Chalon Campus was reputedly so treacherous (it collapsed altogether during construction in 1930) that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles forbade any of its priests from making the drive. That left the Mount without access to the sacraments, so in stepped the Jesuits from Loyola University -- one of them being Father Vaughan. Not only did he brave the winding, slippery dirt road above Sunset Boulevard, he helpfully leaned on the horn of his Model A Ford as he shot past Brady Hall to make sure the students would be wide awake for the 7 a.m. daily Mass.

He founded the Mary's Day tradition, drilled two generations of Mount students in the finer points of philosophy, celebrated their liturgies, spoke at their Commencements, comforted them through the trials of higher education. He was lenient and exacting, funny and scholarly, and very, very smart.

In a Feb. 10, 1975, essay, Zan Thompson, the Los Angeles Times columnist and an alumna of the Class of 1940, immortalized her former teacher and old friend Father Vaughan, who died in 1961, in a hilarious reminiscence about his gifts. She concluded,
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Oh, lots of us, honey. And see that one over there leading the Irish round? That's the boyo himself, Father Joseph Anthony Vaughan, who loved corned beef, conversation, and teaching a gawky girl at Mount St. Mary's to lift her eyes unto the hills.
Eight decades of Vaughans at MSMC... now that's a legacy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The legacy of lace

CAMPUS MINISTRY held a nice event in the Circle during Founders Week earlier this month with the intent of exposing students to a bit of CSJ history. The "Day of Lace" referred to the beautiful but important handicraft of lacemaking, which our founders, the Sisters of St. Joseph, taught to poor women early in the Order's foundation.

We might admire lace for the skill and artistry that goes into it, but we also need to remember that it meant the difference between starvation or prostitution and a life of dignity for widows and orphaned girls in 17th Century France. And it's still going on: The Sisters in some communities teach lacemaking as a meditative practice.

For Lace Day, Mount students decorated doilies and received lace-wrapped lollipops labeled with a short narrative about the CSJs. Sister Mary McKay, CSJ, of our religious studies faculty gave a short talk. This legacy is new to a lot of students, and most seemed to be paying close attention. Isn't it good to know from whence we've come?

The photo shows some of the Campus Ministry girls with a gift from a Mount alumna. Eileen Nason Rhyner '32 recently donated a handpainted wooden tray depicting Le Puy, the tiny French village where the lace ministry got going in 1650. Eileen's 60-year-old souvenir gave the Day of Lace some real geography to work with, and the tray will now become part of the CSJs' history collection at Carondelet Center.

With Lace Day, the legacy lives on.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Santa Clara Bible exhibit

I MENTIONED in an earlier post that several of our historic Bibles, including the London Polyglot, would be on display at the University of Santa Clara as part of an exhibit of important editions.

The website for "Scribes, Saints and Scholars: the Bible, 1150-2010" is up at The exhibit will run through January, 2011, in the 3rd Floor Gallery of the Harrington Learning Commons on the SCU campus. The gallery is adjacent to SCU's Special Collections department.

Spanish Chalon

Keyhole arch, Chalon.
FOR THE ARCHITECTURE TOUR I gave during Alum Day earlier this month, I handed out some side-by-side photos of Spanish university architecture and our own at Chalon. Burgos, Salamanca and Sevilla were the inspirations for the Mount's original architect, Mark Daniels, and when you line them up, the similarities are striking.

Here are a couple of photos I didn't use: the graceful arch looking toward the apron in front of Mary Chapel (left) and a keyhole arch at Salamanca.

There is something so characteristically Mediterranean about a shadowed arch looking onto a sunlit plaza. Daniels meant for the Mount's master plan to capitalize on L.A.'s exceptional climate, building in intimate, outdoor spaces wherever he could tuck one into Chalon's limited square footage.

He also had a strong sense of the cloister -- Europe's oldest universities all began as monasteries -- so many of these intimate spaces have the feeling of quiet enclosure, yet open to the skies and hills. Each opening frames a thoughtfully composed view, or did in 1929 when Brady Hall occupied its hilltop alone.

Keyhole arch, Salamanca.
Not surprisingly, this is almost entirely lost on most of the students, who are too preoccupied to pay much attention to little details like arches. Alumnae on the tour, on the other hand, were very happy to slow down and take notice of their beautiful alma mater, seei

ng some things for the first time.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mood lighting

A lone student in a remote setting, 1933.
FOUND THIS SNAPSHOT DATED 1933 in the photo archives, and it caught my eye because it suggests in an artistic way some of the remoteness of the early Mount.

Something I saw the other day referred to the College in the early days as "practically inaccessible" with its steep canyons and dicey road . Here, a lone student takes in the last rays of the lowering sun in a setting that's still very stark -- no landscaping, no bulletin boards, no patio. Her thoughts seem miles away over the Pacific Ocean.

The photo was taken on the west side of Brady Hall looking south, before the patio and dining hall extension were built. The steps lead up to what was a large stage in the lecture hall (now Brady Commons), and down to some office and storage space. The upper stairs are gone, but the lower ones are still there.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

From log hut to Brady Hall

FOR THE ARCHITECTURE TOUR I'm leading next month, I've been poking around records, photographs, blueprints and beautiful Brady Hall itself, a remarkable structure that served as the entire College between 1931 and 1939.

I must have had architecture on the brain when I came across this illustration of the Sisters of St. Joseph's first building in America in 1836, a log hut in Carondelet, Mo., from whence the congregation takes its name. The tiny new St. Joseph's Convent, perched on a bluff between the Mississippi River and miles of virgin woods, consisted of a stool, two mattress covers, a table and three chairs. A nearby hut (similarly underfurnished) served as a school room for the local village kids.

From small starts do mighty things grow. You can trace the lineage of that log cabin down to Brady Hall, which in its early days was equally utilitarian, providing dorms, dining hall, classrooms, science labs, student lounges, library, chapel and convent under its pantiled roof.

On April 20, 1836, one Sister Philomene wrote back to the motherhouse in France describing their new foundation in cautiously optimistic tones. She concluded, "We are doing our best and trusting in God." It's that same mindset, charism, or whatever you want to call it, that built Brady Hall, and everything else the Carondelets have accomplished in the 175 years since they first occupied the log cabin.

(The illustration and quote come from The Living Fountain: The story of Mother St. John Fontbonne, by Sister Mary Dolorosa Mannix, CSJ, with illustrations by Sister Francis Louise Russell, CSJ. Los Angeles: Wetzel Publishing Co., 1951.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reveling in the very ordinary

ARCHAEOLOGISTS AND HISTORIANS (and archivists) say that the ordinary stuff of daily life that turns up is often the most interesting. The literary, governmental, and military artifacts are important, for sure, but what would you rather see: another ode to the emperor, or a wax tablet from a homesick Roman soldier?

I'm doing an archaeological dig of sorts through back numbers of Inter-Nos, a combination literary magazine/ monthly newspaper/ scientific journal that the Mount published between 1927 and 1949. Some of them are astonishing, including one in 1930 dedicated to the Roman poet Virgil, with essays by students in seven (!) languages, including Latin.

More fun for me, though, is the more prosaic tidbit that a new set of dishes was introduced in the cafeteria on October 22, 1934. For students and the Sisters, that had to be a big deal. The new settings, we're told, are made of green glass, which the anonymous writer notes is "so popular at the present time." The 36 cups and plates were purchased with money from a candy raffle, won by Miss Fitch, the drama instructor, and "add greatly to the cheerfulness of the cafeteria." Big news on campus!

Inter-Nos was also where students and faculty could publish their poetry. One student, identified only as "M.V.B.," published a little paean to the College in June, 1931, ending with these lines:
Would you live in this beautiful school of ours
With a faith that never varies?
Then join with us as we start upon life
From the hills of Mount St. Mary's.
In my book, that's more fun than essays on Virgil any day. And now, back to my dig. As is ever the case, the number I'm actually looking for is missing...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mindful of the gap

THE BRITS' FAMOUS subway signs kept popping into my mind this week as I undertook yet another scanning project for the Mount's 85th anniversary celebrations in October.

Debbie Ream, the director of our Public Relations department, sent me a list of several dozen historic milestones for which she needed pictures. This request was easily fulfilled from our archives of exquisite black and white photographs (1925 through about 1990), somewhat more difficult to fulfill out of the color snapshots (circa 1990-2000) and virtually impossible after 2000. In fact, I found only one physical copy (a pretty good 4 by 6 snapshot) from 2003 of President Jacqueline Powers Doud receiving an award.

I'm the Mount's Lone Arranger by day, but by night I teach library preservation online for the San Jose State School of Library and Information Science. And Topic A-1 in library preservation these days is how we keep digital objects, especially those ubiquitous JPEGs pouring out of everyone's digital cameras that end up in Flickr, Facebook, websites and emails -- but never in the archives. They're everywhere, and nowhere.

Since I teach this, it's no surprise to me that we have no photography to speak of after 2000 in the College Archives. But I wonder what others expect.

Quite a bit of digital photography is actually in the hands of the PR department on various PC hard disks, servers and external drives. This is a very typical solution. (Full disclosure: I store the scans on my H drive.)

But it's not an archival one. But it's hard to find stuff, and it can't be easily shared, nor can it be preserved.

One of the things Debbie and I hope to do in the next few months is to try to get going on some kind of low-end, shared digital space where we can experiment with storing and cataloging our some of our born-digital photos. It won't be a perfect solution -- bigger institutions than the Mount struggle with this -- but it'll help. When the Mount celebrates its 150th, someone may want pictures from the early 21st Century. We need to be minding the gap.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Biblical time warp

HOW DO YOU REACT in the presence of a piece of Christian and English history that you can touch? Rare books have a certain effect on people that is practically universal, which I'd describe as awe accompanied by goosebumps. That was how I felt, anyway, in the presence of a rare copy of the second edition of the King James Bible, made from the same printing plates as the original in 1611. To see the exquisite language of the beginning of Genesis, some of the most beautiful words in the English language, was to peer across 400 years:
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] on the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
I realized I knew it by heart, but there was something about seeing it in ink on old paper that united me to all those literate Englishmen and -women at the dawn of the 17th Century seeing it for the first time. Brrr. Goosebumps.

That was perhaps THE highlight among many of getting to hang around around the historic Bibles that will be on exhibit at the Santa Clara University Library this fall. Too many mention here, anyway, but I'll share one more. Jumping ahead four centuries, I was boggled by SCU's lavish facsimile of the famous St. John's Bible, the first handwritten Bible in half a millennium currently being calligraphed (goose quill, ink, parchment) in Wales. SCU will also be exhibiting several huge leaves of the original.

Just the illumination on a capital T in the book of Genesis is a work of art. It all reminded me of the Benedictine motto, "ut in omnibus glorificetur Dei." Nine centuries of historic Bibles at SCU say Amen to that.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On the road with Brianus Waltonus

OR IN ENGLISH, Brian Walton. Walton was an Anglican clergyman in the 17th Century, but the reason we're interested is he was also the publisher of the renowned London Polyglot Bible, a six-volume masterpiece published between 1654 and 1657. Thanks to the largess of Countess Estelle Doheny in the 1950s, the Mount owns a complete set in beautiful condition. To see these huge folios is peer into both Reformation history and the history of printing.

The production of polyglots fueled a surge of interest in Middle Eastern languages, which at the time lacked any kind of reference materials. And to see all nine languages rendered in print -- Latin, Hebrew, Chaldean, Samaritan, Syriac Arabic, Persian, Ethiopian and Greek -- is to appreciate the depth of Walton's achievement in a technology that was barely 200 years old.

Hence the trip up the 101 to the University of Santa Clara, which is going to be holding an exhibit of historic Bibles from Sept. 21 through mid-December. The Mount has been honored with an invitation to share some of our own historic volumes, so I'm going to escort them to their temporary home in the fabulous new University Library. Coming along with Brian and me will be a tiny Hebrew grammar from the mid-16th century, a genuine incunable from 1488, a massive early Protestant Bible from Paris in 1532, and a couple of rare 19th Century versions in Gaelic and Welsh. All of these have been generously donated to the Mount Special Collections.

Few people at the College have seen these treasures, and it has been an amazing privilege for me to bring them back to light. For a small school, the Mount has some wonderful items, and now people in the wider world will know that, too.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Postcards from Chalon

OLD POSTCARDS are beautiful, and lucky is the archives that has a few of its own beautiful scenes. More than once I've come across a few squirreled away in an envelope, revealing a decades-long long tradition. Here is a sampling from the 1940s. A booklet postmarked 1945 was addressed by a visiting Sister to her nephew in St. Louis. It made it back to the archives in 2007. Later versions have the graceful steeple of Mary Chapel (1939) and new library (1947). I've found a few from our Doheny Campus, which I'll post later on.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Brilliant women

In the course of scanning photographs of our college presidents 1925-current, I had the pleasure of dipping into the slim file for Sister Rose Gertrude Calloway, CSJ, who headed the Mount between 1958 and 1961. She was an alumna herself -- Class of 1930 -- and went on to teach mathematics at the Mount after earning master's degrees and a doctorate from UCLA and Catholic University, respectively. (As if math weren't enough, she took two minors, physics and chemistry.)

It's probably because math was so hard for me that I so admire people, especially women, who excel at it. It was gratifying, then, to find Sister Rose Gertrude's 1948 PhD dissertation in her file, just 18 pages of calculations and graphs titled "The Reality of the Triangles In-And-Circumscribed to the Plane Rational Quartic With One Cusp and Two Nodes."

I'll leave it to the experts to figure out what that actually means. What's so marvelous to me is the brilliant arc of her life at the Mount. She was born in Anaheim in 1909, grew up on a ranch, schooled in Yuma, AZ, and Hemet, CA -- the geography of rural nowhere. Somebody must have spotted what a fine mind she possessed and propelled her to the Mount, where she could excel -- to be "all of which woman is capable" in the great phrase of the CSJ charism.

According to our written history, Sister -- who was Mary Ann Calloway back then -- took part in the college's first "entertainment" as an undergraduate in 1927. Three months after graduation she became the first alumna of the Mount to join the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

In 1935 she was back teaching math, and then on to department chair, academic dean, president, back to department chair and then director of financial aid. There was post-doc work funded by the National Science Foundation. All in all, it was the career of a distinguished professor. But one thing that always impresses me about the CSJs is how they are never exalted by having held high academic office, and there is always work to do.

At 75, when she started to slow down, Sister Rose Gertrude was "missioned" to Daniel Freeman High School as a math tutor. She passed way in 1992, leaving a final legacy -- an inventory of all the pets and animals that were part of Mount life in her years on the hill. All that, and the Plane Rational Quartic With One Cusp and Two Nodes to boot.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Remembering Joanie Weston

It's one of the best research questions ever: "Wikipedia says a Roller Derby star named Joan Weston went to the Mount. Can you check it out?"

As I said at the time, you can't make this stuff up. And it turned out to be true -- Joan Weston did indeed attend Mount St. Mary's College but never graduated. She left during her sophomore year to join Roller Derby, and the rest is literally history; besides her Wikipedia entry, see the New York Times obituary and a fine tribute by her friend Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated.

Last week, I got a letter in the mail (the kind with a stamp) from a friend of hers during her Mount days. Kay Kemp '55 and Joan Weston were close during Joanie's freshman year (1952-53) and were teammates in water ballet. The 5'10" Joanie was a Physical Education major in the days when the College briefly offered it, and clearly a standout athlete in the pool and softball diamond before she started roller skating. In these photos from The Mount yearbook in 1953, Joan Weston is the one bending over a chair at the right in the upper photo (of the Women's Recreation Association), and is the blond seated at far left in the lower picture with some fellow freshmen.

Kay's touching note tells the story of Joanie's struggle to attend college:
Her mother was a waitress, and Joan's college spending money came out of a huge bottle filled up with tip money. Her mother emptied her apron pockets every day when she arrived at home from a corner [lunch counter] in downtown Los Angeles. [Those] wages kept the two of them in a very small apartment right next to the train tracks off Florence in South L.A.
In the fall of 1953 Joanie cajoled a Mount freshman with a car into driving her over to the old Armory in Exposition Park, which had a roller rink. By Christmas she was good enough for professional skating and left the Mount to join the brawling sport. According to the May, 1997, obituary in the New York Times,
Miss Weston could easily hold her own in the hair-pulling, face-slapping, roll-around brawls that became one of Roller Derby's most crowd-pleasing attractions.
This is the same tall, pretty girl who once smashed eight home runs in a single softball game -- and was finally told to stop when the opposing team was verging on tears. But Joanie was also kind and a little shy, not the bruiser that these images might suggest. Frank Deford wrote that she "was sweet and utterly genuine, a good Catholic girl whom everybody loved." In 1969, still going strong in Roller Derby, she told Deford,
All I want out of it is to make good money, get out of it in one piece, and years from now when I say I was in the Derby I want people still to know what it is. I want that.
I think she got her wish. At one time she was the highest-paid woman athlete in the world, and escaped without permanent injury, although she died at 62, strangely enough, of mad cow disease.

But Roller Derby itself lives on in various forms in mostly all-female teams who have embraced the bruising, showy high-camp of two generations ago. Joanie will probably always be considered one of the all-time greats.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The men of the Mount

One of the questions I get all the time is some form of "who were the first men at Mount St. Mary's College"?

This came up in the article on the Archives in the current Mount Magazine. It notes that the first male nursing student I've been able to find graduated in 1993, although men were allowed to apply to the program 20 years before that.

Sometimes we Lone Arrangers have to throw a "factoid" out there and see what happens. I'm delighted to report that I have now heard from the official First Male Nursing Graduate, complete with a fax of his diploma and the article above.

He's Michael Clannin, Class of '75. He had served in Vietnam as a Navy corpsman with a unit of Marines in a field hospital. (Think M*A*S*H.) After that heroic work he had plenty of experience but lacked the degree for an RN, and the Mount was a perfect fit.

Around that time the College started accepting what were called "capitation" grants, part of an effort by the U.S. government to cope with a shortage of nurses. As recipients of federal funds, institutions can't discriminate on the basis of gender, so single-sex schools like the Mount had to adjust admissions policy. Mike was one of the beneficiaries and can't say enough about the support he received, especially from the renowned Sister Callista Roy.

The Mount article mentions music students going way back to the 1930s. I had a phone message today from another male alum (as in alumnus), Hank Alviani, a music graduate in the Class of '74. I sent him an email with the following brief history: The earliest male students would have been Roman Catholic seminarians and priests studying Gregorian chant at the Bishop Cantwell School of Liturgical Music. The director of the school, Dom Ermin Vitry, OSB, also directed the College music program. Master's degrees in music were conferred as early as 1932 and expanded with the opening of the Graduate School in 1955. One of the most celebrated music programs in the city, the Mount's Department of Music began admitting male undergraduates around 1961. By the time Hank graduated, many men had received Mount degrees.

There seemed to be not much more than a handful in any given year, however. The article above, an undated story from the Los Angeles Times, mentions just three (ca. 1974): Hank, Mike Clannin, and Paul Gibson. The story says there were a dozen male undergraduates on campus at the time.

Our president, Jacqueline Powers Doud, likes to say we're a women's college "with a few good men." That has been the case for a surprisingly long time, and three cheers to our alumni for reminding us.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Connections and coincidences

Since The Mount Magazine came out the other day with a feature on the College Archives, I've made several new friends. My new friends have come bearing information about Mount history, so these phone calls have been wonderfully educational. And some of those "mystery photos" with no information can now be explained. Two of them provide us with a really special coincidence.

All archivists, not just Lone Arrangers, struggle with large numbers of beautiful old photographs that lack any kind of "provenance" -- important facts like who's in the photo, what was the occasion, when was it taken, where was it published and who took the picture. Thus we Lone Arrangers are always excited when someone has information.

The Summer/Fall 2010 edition of The Mount Magazine has a group of small photographs on the back cover under the heading "Commencement Through the Years." One of the photographs, showing one of the Sisters with a couple of students in cap and gown (top photo, above) is labeled "date unknown."

Now, one of the great techniques for dating pictures is to look at clothing and hair fashions. No help here! Because the students are in cap and gown and the Sister in traditional habit, the picture could have been taken any time between 1925 and about 1967!

So I was tickled when the phone rang and the caller identified herself as the Sister in the picture -- Mary Frances Rebel, or Sister Alfred Mary as she was known in 1955 when the picture was taken. She couldn't identify the students, but she told me that they were all in the nursing program.

Sister shared the interesting tidbit that students and faculty wore white for their morning Clinicals, and then the Sisters had to rush back to Chalon to change into black habits for teaching their afternoon classes. "Things were so strict," Sister told me.

The next day the phone rang again and it was Helen Antczak Sanchez, '71, whose mother Helen Fitzpatrick Antczak '45, is in the photo labeled "1940s," the second student on the right (lower photo).

Here comes the coincidence. When Helen Sanchez was 4 years old, something happened requiring an emergency trip to Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital, which at the time was operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

"You know who my nurse was?" Helen asked excitedly. "Sister Alfred Mary! The one in the 'date unknown' picture!"

Needless to say, little Helen -- whose aunt Sister Mary Brigid Fitzpatrick '47 was hospital administrator at the time -- received very special TLC from Sister Alfred Mary and the CSJs.

Sister Mary Brigid is a Trustee emerita and had a long, wonderful career at the College, and Sister Alfred Mary herself went on to become admin at Daniel Freeman.

All these connections are one of the things that make the Mount so special. I'm looking forward to tapping into them more and investigating more of these mysterious photos. By the way, Sister Mary Frances/Alfred Mary offered to come up to the College help go through them, and I'm hoping to take her up on her offer.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Rose Alice Wills, Class of 1931

Found a tiny photo of who I think is Rose Alice in the 1931 graduation program. The 15 graduates are listed in alphabetical order and their photos appear in the same order on the next page. The original is about an inch wide.

Our Rosie was one of the most distinguished graduates of the Mount's very distinguished Music Department, chairing the Santa Monica City College music program for many years. For the 70th anniversary of the Mount in 1995, well in her 80s, she contributed this reminiscence:

I was one of the few students with a car, and the Sisters were always asking me to take them up to what they called "the site." The upholstery on the front seat was a little dilapidated, and one time a Sister got her rosary caught in the springs and we couldn't get her unhooked...

I remember driving up on a beautiful day in 1929, and we sat on some lumber and had a picnic. There was nothing up there but a big hole, and some sawdust. If my car stalled going up the hill, we'd get out and push. Going down, I'd just turn the motor off and slide, kicking up dust all the way to Sunset."
That sounds like a fun-loving Mountie of the early 1930s. Someone crazy enough to roar down the mountain on a dirt road in neutral might just be someone who'd come back to leave a "memento" and cement-crusted beer can in the basement. I'm glad to make her acquaintance!

And who knows... Picnics at the 1929 construction site -- the "big hole" -- would sure explain how milk bottles and other relics ended up buried in the basement.

Aren't archives cool?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Rosie and the wet cement

Our John Deeb is relentless as a good bloodhound. Checking my webmail, I see this:

So here’s my latest find…. It appears to be a metal can encrusted in cement. So far the cement that I have removed definitely shows a can that was not produced recently. It’s fun to think that maybe it was used by our friend Rosie to carry the wet cement from a wheelbarrow outside of the newly completed Mary Chapel to Brady basement where she slathered it on the wall before writing her name in it……..
Mary Chapel and what became Rossiter Hall were just finished and nearing completion, respectively, in 1940. With the poured-cement construction of the college there would be plenty of wet cement to go around.

John said he found the can about 15 feet from the memento blob. He goes on:
I've already identified the can and dated it to the late 30's, early 40's. It's a Golden Glow Ale can produced by Golden West Brewery out of Oakland... Rosie could have tossed it across the space on her way out.
I'm liking this girl. More questions. What brought her up to the Mount in 1940? Did she bring a six-pack of Golden Glow? Was the basement crawlspace a familiar hideout from when she was a student? Was she the one who tossed the milk bottle? What the heck else is down there??

I'm going to try to find a picture of Rosie from our very limited collection of pictures of the class of 1931. I want to see what she looks like. This is all conjecture, of course, but can you spot a beer can-tossing, cement-smearing, high-spirited alumna?

As I wrote back to John, "Doesn't it seem a little strange that 8 years after graduating she'd come back just to smear cement on the wall? And that decades later she was still telling people about it?"

What the heck else is down there?

Rosie revealed

The saga of the milk bottle began a few days ago with the visit of two old friends of Rose Alice Wills Smith '31, who had told them about a "memento" she'd left behind "in the basement" at the Mount. The basement had to be Brady Hall's, and our intrepid archaeology sleuth John Deeb set out to try to discover what she was referring to.

The excitement over the milk bottle had hardly subsided when John showed up unannounced in the Archives with a big smirk on his face and this handsome artifact. Rosie's memento.

He came across it in a narrow gap near what might have been a coal chute in the 1930s. John managed to squeeze into the passageway and noticed the blob of cement some distance up the wall with the magic word "Rosie." It was hard to get a good look at it and even harder to take a picture, so he somewhat reluctantly pried it off and brought it to the Archives.

Besides "Rosie" and "1940" it seems to have "Jun '31," which would have been when Rose Alice graduated. But 1940? Did she come back 9 years later to leave her memento? And where did she get the wet cement?

Don't we love the way one mystery is solved, only to reveal another?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Message in a bottle: postscript

We don't need a glass expert - we have John Deeb! He reported this little factoid:

I was able to identify the manufacturer of our milk bottle. It was made by the Illinois Pacific Glass Co. and was either made in 1917 or 1927, as indicated by the single number 7 next to the logo. In the 1930s they used two-digit date stamps. So... I'd be willing to bet the bottle was made in 1927, shipped to a dairy sometime after that and made its way to our basement in the early '30s.
John ("now that I'm an amateur archaeologist") mentioned that some years ago he found a 1950s-era vodka bottle in an area that was once a rubbish heap near the CSJs' convent. The area is now a shrine. That's another fun one to muse on -- how did it get there? (And who consumed the contents?)

The larger point, though, is something I tell my San Jose State library students: Given enough passage of time, virtually anything will become valuable. That makes preservation decision making interesting, because you can see the easy argument for trying to keep virtually everything. We all know people who do this. Lone Arrangers know better.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Message in a bottle

There's a Greek word, synechdoche, that refers to the way an ordinary object calls to mind a much bigger picture.

I'll risk semantic impurity here to talk about a synecdoche that yesterday was pulled out of the dirt underneath Brady Hall.

That object is a one-pint bottle of thick glass with a logo featuring a big M and the letters SCDA. It was removed from some exposed dirt in the basement of our beautiful Brady Hall by John Deeb, our assistant director of facilities (who took this picture). Of course, he was down there looking for something else. But as always in archives, we find interesting things when we aren't looking for them.

John thinks it might be a milk or cream bottle. It would take a glass expert to identify its provenance, but let's assume it dates from the early 1930s when Brady Hall was first built and occupied.

What bigger picture does an old pint bottle suggest? For one thing, how did it get there? Until 1939, Mount St. Mary's College was one lonely building atop a steep hill with little more than truck farms between it and Santa Monica. In those days before refrigerated trucks, that little bottle had to travel up two miles of winding dirt road – it wasn’t paved until about 1932. Was there milk delivery or did the Sisters have to buy it down the hill?

Or did a worker bring it in his lunch? Brady went up in 1930 just as the Depression was settling in. An especially wet winter mobilized the fractured slate and shale on the hilltop and cost extra time, worry and money in the midst of construction. There were delays, problems with one of the architects. Did the workers lose pay while they waited this out? Was that bottle of milk "dear," as they used to say?

Or did it come from the Mount kitchen? The whole student body in 1931 numbered fewer than 75 (top photo), but we know students in any era eat enough for an army. We can imagine the Sisters' little truck struggling up Bundy Drive weighted down with groceries. Did a hungry student sneak the bottle from the kitchen and then dispose of the evidence?

The Mount in the early 1930s was a special place to be sure.

I mentioned that John was looking for something else when he came across the bottle yesterday. I had welcomed two visitors to the College Archives who arrived unannounced and on a mission. Many years ago they had befriended Rose Alice Wills Smith '31, who passed away in 2009 in her 90s. Rose Alice, they said, loved to talk about the Mount and spoke often of some "mementos" that the Class of 1931 left behind "in the basement." The two men were curious to see them. Would the mementos be in the archives?

In 1931 there was only one basement – Brady’s – but I’d never heard of any artifacts being preserved. I pinged John, who expressed his doubts. He emailed me that the basements had been in constant use and as far as he knew, nothing of interest was ever found. But added that there were a couple places that were "rather remote" and might yield something. A short while later after a bit of digging (literally) he produced the little bottle. After that stroke of luck, he said hopes to keep digging (figuratively and literally) as time permits.

It's doubtful that the mysterious “mementos” spoken of by Rose Alice would include litter, but in a sense the bottle is a memento of those early days just the same. It's often true in archives and preservation that mundane objects prove more interesting than “important” stuff for what they tell us about daily life in a bygone time -- that's the idea behind a synechdoche.

It's fun to think about a famished coed in her navy-blue uniform, surreptitiously sipping from a bottle of milk, high above and far away from the world. Like I said, it's a special place.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why keep archives?

Student life in the 1960s -- hair rollers, fluffy bathrobes.
OUR MOTTO, WHICH WE DISPENSE freely around the college, is: "Why keep this stuff if you're not going to use it?" And as a preservation professor, we are also well acquainted with the "precious jewels" mentality of some archives. Hands off. Or wear white cotton cloves. Don't breathe on them, etc.

The question to archivists, Lone Arrangers and otherwise, is always how much access to grant. our philosophy is erring on the side of use. We think it's wise, the best and only policy for the Mount.

Along comes the Kappa Delta Chi alumnae sisterhood this morning, a Saturday, to have fun with their own scrapbooks. The sorority, founded in 1929, is helping to note the 85th anniversary of the college this fall with a display from the collections. We have KDX material going back almost to the beginning, because the members saw fit to turn it over to the College Archives.

Another group of alumnae visitors to the archives is researching 85 years of student life (good grief -- how could those girls sleep in rollers?) we've had a group in to research the history of campus philanthropy, and others doing the nursing program (first baccalaureate in California) and the distinguished history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, our founders.

To a woman, they gasp with surprise and delight at their encounters with the archival stuff. They see themselves, old friends, respected predecessors -- all of which adds up to a legacy they are very proud of. And that they're reminded of by the encounter.

Do the files sometimes get out of order? Yes, but they were kind of a mess to begin with. (We Lone Arrangers all have "organize the photos" on our To Do lists.) Do we skim a few years off the life of the object by exposing it in a scanner? Possibly, but otherwise it might not have seen the light of day, ever. Does stuff disappear? Yes -- one of the KDXs alums is believed to borrowed all the scrapbooks from the 1990s and kept them. At least we no longer let stuff out the door.

You may want to argue, but we see this more as a boutique marketplace, a bazaar, of very cool, special information, than the Museum of Priceless Artifacts. Happy patrons are worth giving up a Saturday to help, and we can't wait to see the Founders Week exhibits this October.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Welcome back, uh... students?

Gee, it's been kind of lonely up at the Mount without our undergraduates -- especially for this Lone Arranger, toiling in monastic solitude in the Spearman Room. What do you know, a veritable high school showed up this week, complete with cheerleaders, cool cars and teenage 'tude. It was the cast, crew and marquee (pictured, waiting to be rolled onto a truck) of West Beverly Hills High School, that renowned institution of secondary education featured in "Beverly Hills 90210: The Next Generation."

We've also got a raft of young musicians enjoying the hilltop views -- iPalpiti, or heartbeat in Italian. The group comprises an internationally renowned pool of young talent and is here in Los Angeles for a two-week music festival.

This weekend is Orientation and the signs are up reading "Welcome Class of 2014." Seems impossible, doesn't it?

All of these are a gentle reminder of how quickly time flies when you're having fun (Lone Arrangers always have fun) -- and how the fall semester and the return of our own talented students is just a month away.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ode to safety film

A bottom drawer recently yielded some pictures that don't show up on our legacy inventories and appear to have been gathered by one of the Sisters who resided in the Doheny Mansion at some point in the last 50 years.

We have lots of photos of the mansion, known sometimes as No. 8 for its address on Chester Place. (This photo, taken by me, shows it undergoing a recent facelift.) You L.A. history buffs will know that Chester Place and its score of Victorian-era homes were once the private realm of Estelle Doheny, who lived in No. 8, and whose acreage was deeded to the Los Angeles archdiocese on her death in 1958. It became Mount St. Mary's College's downtown campus in the early 1960s and today remains a little Garden of Eden hard by the glass high-rises, Staples Center madness and urban grit of Figueroa Street.

The mansions--especially No. 8--have been extensively photographed, but most of what we have in the College Archives are either reproductions of turn-of-the-century prints, or pictures of the grounds after they became the college's.

Look, I'm a Lone Arranger, so forgive me if I squeal aloud with delight once in awhile. (No one hears me.) Finding these pictures elicited more of an exultant chortle -- more than a dozen 5" by 7" Kodachrome positives of No. 8 interiors and gardens. I've yet to encounter in our archives any color photographs of Countess Doheny's furnishings while she lived there, yet here were glossy-magazine images of the Great Hall, dining room, and a small reception room, in the rich, glowing colors and fine-grain detail of a really big film positive.

There were just scraps of information with the photos, literally: a torn, black-lined envelope with the date April 1950, and two small bits of paper, one labeled "Madonna/oil painting" and "Gellette [or Gillette?] wedding 1950." I got right on the phone to our local expert, Dr. MaryAnn Bonino, author of the definitive (to date) book on No. 8, The Doheny Mansion: A Biography of a Home. (Los Angeles: Edizioni Casa Animata, 2008).

The pictures, she said, are probably the work of Maynard L. Parker (1901-1976), a renowned architectural photographer whose work graced magazines like House Beautiful. The Huntington Library holds extensive Parker materials, including Doheny Mansion interiors.

I titled this post "Ode to safety film," because when a Lone Arranger comes across old color photographs that have been sitting heaven-knows-where for five decades, disappointment is often the result. Colors fade and emulsion glues itself to the contact surface--and that's if the pictures aren't bent, torn or moldy.

These were pristine, jewel-like, gorgeous. I carefully removed their 60-year-old sheaths, which, in spite of the presence of rips, grease pencil and black masking tape, had barely oxidized. The pictures got new heavy-gauge Mylar envelopes and should be good for another 60 years.

The thoughtful Lone Arranger always pauses to say "thanks" to her anonymous predecessors. Thank you Kodak, for making great safety film. Thank you, Maynard Parker, for your great skill in the darkroom. Thank you Sister, or Sisters, for managing to leave these pictures in a cool, dark, dry place. I hope I can do as well by them as you have.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When is an old book... rare?

Another area in which we're typical, even for a small college, is having an interesting collection of old books. Visitors often gasp in surprise at so many "rare" volumes, but rarity and value are in the eyes of the beholder.

As a Catholic college we have quite a few old and very impressive-looking Bibles, with ornate tooled-leather covers and curlicue clasps. Most of them date from the late 19th Century and aren't nearly as valuable as they look. But we have quite a few pre-1800 books and not a few pre-1700 volumes. Even more interesting are the pre-1600 books and even a handful of incunables. Most of the old stuff isn't catalogued. Some of it is -- like this little 12mo., above, from Jacobus de Voragines, 1483. Someone has helpfully glued in a barcode.

Really rare books are actually expensive to own in terms of heating and air conditioning, protective covers, insurance and suitable (!) cataloguing. So it make sense to know what you own and where to spend scarce preservation dollars. I'm a Lone Arranger archivist, not a rare books librarian, so it's more guesswork than science, but I find the resources of ViaLibri, Worldcat and even Google to be pretty handy. I try to find out who else holds the book, where they've got it (stacks, storage, or special collections) what a copy might be selling for, and whether it has been digitized.

Even if I find a treasure, the best I can do is tie a little cotton tape around it and put it in a buffered box, the pre-cut and -scored kind sold by Hollinger-MetalEdge and Gaylord. Because it's beyond the capacity of our tech services department to catalogue these items -- many of which have been owned by the college for decades -- I've created a list in Worldcat of what I find that looks interesting. Since I haven't mentioned it to anybody, I was surprised today to see that four people have looked at it.

So what are my ad hoc, personal criteria for rarity? What warrants a $3 box?
  • Older than 1800
  • Not held by a lot of other libraries, particularly in California
  • Selling for at least a few hundred bucks via ViaLibri
  • Not totally falling apart
  • In the special collections of an important library (where it might be well catalogued)
You can see my list here.

This Lone Arranger doesn't have too much time for old books -- not with a backlog that just grew by a couple of yards -- but it's a nice break in the routine to pick something off the shelf and see what I can find out in an hour or two. The really nice thing is, it's all win-win; anything I do back there in the shelves is a net benefit. And let's face it -- building boxes and tying neat bows is really a pleasure.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Managing surrogates

Like most institutions of higher ed, we have acquired quite a bit of artwork through donations. The value of the items is wide-ranging, from what we might call "important" to the purely sentimental. We have, for example, a handmade 36-star American flag (ca. 1865) made by a benefactor's grandmother in the 19th Century, a beautiful hand-carved tribal figurine in African blackwood, and a handful of 18th century portraits. We also have a lot of reproductions and a number of framed popular prints of the kind sold by Costco and Ikea.

Separating the wheat from the chaff is important if we're talking about insurance -- which has been an interesting discussion for the past year. We only want to insure what's worth insuring, but we lack any systematic record of what we own (no surprise there in the Lone Arranger world). Fortunately, we have smart student workers so we're in the process of creating a new record.

This means a lot of digital surrogates. My summer student worker, Monica Alvarez, is taking pictures of all the "art" she can find: in frames and unframed, hanging, sitting, leaning up against a wall, piled on top of a cabinet, stacked in a closet. A similar project was begun in 2008 but all we have is photos (surrogates) and no information about them in terms of what, where and when they were taken. Back to the drawing board. This time, we're being systematic and applying Lone Arranger Best Practice, out-of-the-box (okay, off the website) Dublin Core Metadata Elements in a simple Excel file.

We settled on the very basic but pretty functional naming convention approach; you can pack a lot of information in a 24-character string. So "CL4," for example, tells us 4th floor of the Chalon Library. That data goes into the spreadsheet along with descriptive information, and it corresponds to a specific CD-ROM with the JPEGs. It's not foolproof (what if someone moves the item to another floor?). But sometimes -- most of the time -- we Lone Arrangers have to make on-the-fly decisions that will fulfill a short-term need. Lacking a budget and a database, a spreadsheet and CD-ROM is about the only approach we can take. They're just surrogates, remember, and it's easy enough to re-take the pictures. Again. This isn't a "preservation" collection.

What's fun is Monica's enthusiasm for and interest in metadata, a term she hadn't encountered as an art major. She's got fantastic organizational skills and the whole thing really appeals to her. It's exactly that kind of helper that puts the smile on the face of every Lone Arranger.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Oh, those digital assets

By day, I'm a paper archivist. By night, I teach online graduate students about digital preservation. Well do I know the pitfalls of going down the digital imaging road -- the unforeseen costs, the migration issues, the burden that metadata places on an institution, the permanent patient-on-life-support issues.

I am vigilant about keeping the Mount archives on paper as much as possible. To do otherwise would be fiscally risky behavior, since digital costs can go from zero to n times a factor of magnitude with the sky being the limit. (Note: that only applies to stuff we plan to actually keep for a long time, of course. If we don't care, zero remains a nice, round number.)

However, this Lone Arranger also knows that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of "archival quality" digital photographs of "enduring value" to the college parked on a mishmash of hard disks, servers, and portable media. (How about this photo of our statue of Mary getting boxed up by the crew of "Beverly Hills 90210: The Next Generation"?)

From a preservation standpoint, our digital photography assets are undeniably at risk. Physical media like CDs and DVDs are temporary solutions (< 7-10 years) at the most, so the alternative is a database. Can a Lone Arranger do a COTS (common, off-the-shelf) database? How much technical support do I need? How much time can I reasonably spend on any of it, let alone customizing the software? Who, besides me, will be able to do data entry? My digital asset management colleagues have opinions about Lone Arrangers in this arena, and at this point my own is one of doubt. However, I'm about to find out. We can't just leave those photos running around loose... gotta corral those puppies! I'm about to embark on a side-by-side evaluation of two packages (I hope) and will post my thoughts as I have them. Meanwhile, I have a pile of archival photos to scan.

Friday, June 18, 2010

And people think archives are dull

The fun of being a Lone Arranger is the daily choice of which among 40 different miniature projects to work on. Try to reconcile the contents of 33 four-drawer filing cabinets with their folder lists? Try to get the lists into a searchable database? Tackle the Public Relations, American Studies, or ESL backlogs? Add some metadata to the art inventory?

Or how about the rare books? Take another linear foot of crumbling volumes and see what they are? Each one takes an hour or two and my clothes get dirty. Should I try to stabilize another scrapbook, or put the flat files in some kind of rational order?

Here's a good one... how about the thousands of digital photos that we've accumulated in the last several years that are on a server here, an external drive there, or maybe on a few unmarked CD-ROMs?

You can make a nice career out of any one of these, but what's the fun of that? Lone Arrangers: the utility infielders of the archives profession. I think I'll go straighten up the shelves of yearbooks, and follow them up with some pamphlet-file origami. A fine conclusion to a satisfying week.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Getting out there

The perennial dilemma in paper archives is having a lot of great stuff and no way to find it. Getting Out There, or creating access as we call it in the archives world, is all about helping people find you.

Today I created an intranet portal and posted some policy documents. Want to give me stuff for the archives? Want to volunteer? Are you going to try to drop some disks of JPEGs on me? It's a start. It's fun -- after I jumped through a bunch of technology hoops.

So welcome to the Mount Archives blog. There's always something happening in the archives. Believe me.