Archives Staff Volunteer Day

Last week all of us in Archives got together to do a volunteer day with the Sutro Stewards working in their nursery and doing maintenance on the Sutro Forest. You might think of the Archives as a bookish place, but we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty with other kinds of stewardship besides the historical. As spits of rain began to fall we climbed the hill to the summit of Mt. Sutro to spend a day digging in the dirt and working in the weeds and the fog.

The Sutro Stewards work to conserve habitat through ecological restoration and native plant propagation while providing recreational opportunities in the UCSF Mt. Sutro Open Space Reserve. We were led in our work by Amy Kaeser, executive director of the stewards, who explained the group’s activities collecting and propagating native Bay area plants in their nursery and restoring native habitat while building and maintaining trails and recreational facilities on the mountain.

Amy Kaeser speaking to archives staff.

Amy Kaeser talks to archives staff about the Sutro Stewards Nursery operations.

Our volunteer tasks for the day consisted of re-potting plants in the nursery and weeding areas in the field where native plants had recently been re-introduced. Half of us started by re-potting native Yerba Buena, Sticky Monkey, and Columbine plants that needed bigger pots to continue their life. We finished almost 200 of these by the end of the day.

The other half of us ventured out into the field to pull weeds (himalayan blackberry, cape ivy, and nasturtium) from newly-planted plots where natives were being in the process of being re-introduced. We successfully pulled innumerable weeds, and also discovered several buckets worth of weird trash, all while learning about the ecology of the Sutro forest and mountaintop. Did you know that you can eat the seed pods of nasturtium? They taste a bit like horseradish.

Archives staff pulling weeds from hillside while our crew leader talks to someone in the foreground.

Archives staff pulling weeds from newly planted areas.

We had a great day digging in the dirt, being outside, and helping re-introduce some of the natural biodiversity back to Mt. Sutro. As much as we love the vaults, it’s always good to get some sunshine (or, in this case, fog and rain).

Archives staff posing in the nursery for a group photo

Archives Month — October 2017

Librarian Dorothy Allen explains how to use reference materials in the library. October is Archives Month! (also AIDS Awareness Month coincidentally). Since we’re an archive, we’re celebrating! Archives Month, if you haven’t heard of it, is “an opportunity to tell (or remind) people that items that are important to them are being preserved, cataloged, cared for, and made accessible by archivists.” We’ll be taking this opportunity to host all kinds of events and happenings which will revolve around the historical materials we preserve.

What exactly will we be doing? A lot! Here’s a brief summary:

  • On October 4th: Opening reception at 12 pm for our exhibit of Dr. Arthur Ammann’s photo-montages — a call for an end to the violence against women represented by the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.
  • Also on October 4th: We’ll be participating in #AskAnArchivist Day on October 4th all day long. We’ll be diligently tending our Twitter account (@ucsf_archives), so send us questions about our collections, our jobs, or anything else to do with stewardship of historical materials! Tag your questions with #AskAnArchivist to join the conversation.
  • On October 6: Archives Lecture at 12 pm by Dr. David Smith on the history of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics, which he founded 50 years ago just down the street.
  • On October 17: ZSFG Archives Drop-in exhibit at 12 pm. Learn about the history of ZSFG, meet Griffin the ZSFG Archivist, and see materials from the collections.
  • On October 28: Visit us and other SF institutions for San Francisco Archives Crawl: Counterculture and Social Protest, 12-5pm.
  • On October 30: A Spoooooky Halloween open house at 12 pm in our reading room where we’ll exhibit various macabre images and frightening implements from the early days of medicine.

A Dental Student work on the teeth of a patient.

And of course, the main thing we will do this month is the same thing we do every month: steward the materials that document our collective past and inform our future. We hope you’ll join us in October to celebrate archives, and thank you for your support!

A (very) brief Report back from Society of American Archivists

It’s been a whirlwind last couple of weeks for me as I bounced from conference to conference, but as I settle back in it’s been exciting to collect my thoughts on what I’ve learned. And while it’s still fresh in my memory, this is a brief report back from the largest conference I attended — the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) which was held last week in impossibly-quaint Portland, OR.

Being the digital archivist, I mostly spent my time in sessions focused on processing, preserving, and providing access to digital materials, in all the different forms that can take. One of the most fruitful of these was hosted by colleagues from UCLA, UCB, Stanford’s Hoover Institute, Cornell, and Emory, and was entitled “What we talk about when we talk about processing born-digital.” This session reported on an effort to establish shared definitions for what it means to process born-digital archival collections. Because this field is so new, what is considered “processing” a collection at one institution might be a totally different set of tasks from that performed at another. To address this, the group is attempting to identify which steps are essential or recommended, and assign different processing levels based on these frameworks.

To attempt to break all these steps out in a clear way is an immense amount of work, so I’m incredibly excited that my colleagues have begun to take on this huge task. It will help us all out in a massive way.

UCSF was not without good representation, as our own Polina Ilieva moderated several events — one that was a meeting of the section on Science, Technology, and Health Care archives, and one that was a panel discussion on Collecting and Preserving contemporary science in institutional archives.

Two people in front of a power-point presentation at a meeting of the Science, Technology, and Health Care Section of the Society of American Archivists.

A very poor photo of Polina Ilieva taking over as Senior Co-Chair of the Science, Technology, and Health Care Section of the Society of American Archivists

Finally, some of my most interesting food for thought came from a panel on archival responses to climate change. The panel covered everything from Native Hawaiian community preservation of historic material endangered by sea level-rise, to projects acquiring better data to map which archival repositories are likely to be most affected by a changing climate. Especially pertinent for my work was a presentation urging us as digital archivists to think more explicitly about what kinds of energy use we are engaging through our different preservation practices. Simply put: current digital preservation practices rely on cheap data storage, and cheap data storage relies upon energy from fossil fuels. So where can we start to change that?

More updates soon as we start to engage with all these thoughts more directly at UCSF.