Friday, June 29, 2012

Nothing new under the sun

Sr. M. Germaine McNeil, CSJ
OR AS SISTER GERMAINE would have put it, Nihil novi sub sole.

Sister Mary Germaine McNeil, CSJ, was a Latin scholar, head of the old Classics department, the first dean of the Graduate School -- and an archivist.

She was College archivist at the time she passed away in 1999, and about 20 years before that had served as archivist of the L.A. Province of the CSJs.

Archivists are always trying get people interested in their own history. Sister G. didn't have a blog, but 40 years ago she was doing the same thing--sharing tidbits from the olden days with the Mount community.

In the April 30, 1973, edition of  the Faculty and Administrative Bulletin (Vol. IV, No. 14), under the heading "Did You Know?", she reports on the first-ever social get-together over of the Mount's lay faculty on April 15, 1946.  (She lists the nine participants and informs us that it took place over dinner at Lawry's. One of the diners, Miss Gerber of the Languages faculty, went on to become Sister Aline Marie.)

Sister Germaine didn't know it, but she was starting a tradition. Between now and August 20, 2012, we have to come up with 15 new "Did You Know" posters for Welcome Week at both campuses (or campi, as Sister would put it in Latin). We'll share a few in this blog.

Maybe one of those Did You Knows should be "Did you know that 'Did You Know' started back in 1973?"


Headline from article about ESL class.
Did you know that the Mount offered English as a Second Language classes decades before "ESL" became a household term? This excerpt from The View explains how a number of foreign students (young women came to the Mount from all over the world in those days, especially the Pacific Rim) needed a bit of extra help.

This was 1946 or '47, right around the time the faculty was over in B.H. partying at Lawry's.


Milestone: We finished the last of the metadata for the Lyrasis program, and the last of the material to be digitized will be dispatched by FedEx on Monday, destined for the scanning center in North Carolina. In all, we've sent boxes comprising about 35,000 pages, including The View. 

We couldn't have done it our excellent volunteers, Emily Deutsch Keller '65 and Dianne Plou Schautschick '65, Mary Marshall Ugianskis, and a terrific San Jose State library student, Jennifer Ta.

And Sister Germaine, of course--who did such a good job of College Archivist and ensured that this stuff would still be intact and well ordered in 2012.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

'Reimagining' the Doheny Estate

Blanche Seaver gets the facts about the planned redevelopment of Chester Place
from Cardinal McIntyre as Sisters Rebecca Doan and Josephine Feeley look on. May 21, 1965.
TAKING A SHORT BREAK from the digitization project, we're starting to work on the 50th anniversary of the Doheny Campus, which opened to Associate of Arts students as the "Downtown Campus" in September, 1962. The planning committee has lots of good ideas for marking the date.

The campus' antecedents make for a fascinating story. The CSJs had a long history, starting in the 1940s, of living and working on the Chester Place estate, even in Countess Estelle Doheny's lifetime. But when the property went to the L.A. Archdiocese on her death October 30, 1958, the problem of what to do with it became a thorny one for then-Cardinal James Francis McIntyre. After much study and discussion his Eminence talked the CSJs into taking it and opening some form of educational facility.

We move ahead a few years to a proposed major redevelopment of the Downtown Campus. In those days of the Mercury Astronauts and Cold War, the thinking was that students wouldn't want to attend classes in old and somewhat dilapidated Victorian homes. (The upkeep wasn't nearly as pristine as it is today.)

The Cardinal brought in his favorite architects, the firm of Barker & Ott, which had built most of the Chalon Campus and a great deal of L.A.'s "Catholic infrastructure" as well. While the architects developed their master plan, Sister Rebecca Doan, Mount president, launched an ambitious $10 million fundraising campaign (about $70 million in today's dollars), a portion of which would go to the redevelopment of Chester Place. The campaign was branded, tellingly, the SPACE Program.

Ground was broken for what is now Building 4 on the Feast of the Epiphany, 1965. A few months later, on May 21, the completed master plan was unveiled to College benefactors at a reception held in the Doheny Mansion.

Seen today, the architects' drawings are a shock: Gone are the graceful homes 1, 2, 7, and 10, replaced by the up-to-date academic architecture prevalent at the time. Only No. 8, the Doheny Mansion itself, remains as a small, ornate island in a sea of modernity.

Fortunately, the master plan was never carried out. It's not at all clear why not. Did fundraising fall short? Or did someone argue that the buildings needed to be preserved? While the latter seems plausible to us now, it's far from certain that the CSJs and the Mount signed up for architectural preservation. They had a mandate -- go into the neighborhood and teach -- and a bunch of antique firetraps wasn't necessarily in the program.

An old contact sheet turned up this week that provides another clue. (The negatives, alas, are gone.) Dated the day of the unveiling reception, the ten frames show Cardinal McIntyre, Sister Rebecca, and Mother Josephine Feeley, L.A. Provincial, with a most prominent benefactor -- Blanche E. Seaver.  McIntyre is explaining the architectural rendering to her.

Mrs. Seaver wasn't just any benefactor, however. Her late husband, Frank, had been in the oil business with Edward L. Doheny, and ties between the Dohenys and the Seavers went back 50 years. Moreover, the archdiocese was now her landlord. She had rented 20 St. James Park, a block west of Chester Place, since 1927.

If you look at the contact sheet, it's obvious that Mrs. Seaver isn't smiling.

We can't read minds -- or much else -- from two-and-a-quarter-inch contact photos. Perhaps she was on board with the demolition plans. But we might more safely surmise that Mrs. Seaver was pleased with preserving the urban oasis that was, and is, Chester Place. When she died in 1994 at the ripe old age of 102, she had lived in No. 20 for sixty-seven years. Perhaps a word from her was all it took to put the rebuilding program on permanent hold.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A yearbook named msmc01001-1-1

Lightning title page.
TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-SEVEN yearbooks, catalogs, journals or magazines have been carefully entered in the complex Excel spreadsheets; only 2,177 items to go. The physical objects are on their way to becoming digital ones, and pretty much the first order of business is to give this particular yearbook a new name in proper computerese. MSMC01001-1-1 is Mount St. Mary's College's first item in the first box of the first shipment, and will thus be our first digital object to go into the Internet Archive.

After a couple days of processing with my meticulous volunteer, library student Jennifer Ta of San Jose State, we are up to MSMC04002-10-39, which happens to be the final volume of Inter-Nos, the excellent campus quarterly journal that ceased publication in 1958. Its successor, Westwords, is next on the data docket. (Volume I, No. 1, of January, 1959, will be MSMC05001-1-1, in case you were wondering.)

For us as new members of the Lyrasis Mass Digitization project,  this is what the process is all about -- creating a representation of a real book in a form that can be understood by a computer.  The process involves lots of spreadsheets, first to inventory the items and numbers of pages, then to create the metadata (aka "data about data") that will make the collection and individual items appear in a web search, and finally to generate paper packing lists for the numerous heavy-duty shipping boxes. 

When the scanning company is done taking pictures and capturing text from our pages, the spreadsheets we create will be married up with the scans, and voila -- a searchable database of pages in the data "cloud." The same process will be repeated through the remaining eight collections selected for digital glory.

Ironically, MSMC01001 - 1 - 1 technically isn't a Mount publication. It's Lightning, the yearbook of St. Mary's Academy for 1930, the last of the of the five years the Mount met at the high school campus. We selected it for scanning with the rest of the Mount yearbooks because it has some interesting text and a picture of the new Chalon Campus, and of course there were many future Mount students and CSJs among the SMA student body.

It's exciting, this process of bringing history to the 21st Century community of the Mount -- even if we're mostly typing strings of letters and numbers at this stage.