Tell us a bit about the Portman Archive, for those who may not know about it. The Portman Archives is the repository for the architectural and artistic contributions of John C. Portman, Jr. serving to promote and preserve his architectural philosophy and legacy. We are centrally located in the heart of Peachtree Center, one of his lasting contributions to the architecture of downtown Atlanta. The Portman Archives act to provide resources for research, digitization, and circulation of information and assets from our collections, internally, locally, and internationally.
What is your staffing, are you a lone arranger or are you a team? Here at the Portman Archives, we are a team of three, directed by the leadership of the Portman Foundation. In addition to myself, the visual materials archivist, there are two other wonderful archivists, Becca Brown and Katie Twomey.
What kinds of collections do you have in your archive? Our collections include architectural drawings, paintings, sculptures, artifacts, photographic materials, and marketing materials all related to Mr. Portman’s career as an architect and developer.
What were some of the changes in your job due to the pandemic and lockdown, and how did these changes reveal new opportunities? During the pandemic we shifted our focus to digital projects, while also using the time away from our physical assets as an opportunity to revamp our archival policies and procedures. During this initiative, we streamlined our mission statement and collection policy and began working on a collaborative deaccession project that focuses on reducing our physical footprint, while ensuring retention and expansion of our digital collections. This exercise has been both challenging and rewarding!
My favorite example from our deaccession project has been working to rehome a beautiful set of Olga De Amaral weavings titled, ‘El Gran Muro’ that were commissioned by Mr. Portman in the 1970s to hang in the central atrium of the Westin Peachtree Plaza. While these weavings help to tell the story of Mr. Portman’s Westin Peachtree Plaza, we have come to realize that keeping the physical items is outside of our collection policy due to their scale and our inability to display them, especially with our move to smaller square footage on the horizon.
While the pandemic certainly made it more of a challenge to handle and show the weavings in-person to interested institutions, our deaccessioning initiative has really proven to create a new and exciting opportunity to build relationships with institutions who share our goal of making these assets accessible and able to be enjoyed by the public once again!
What prompted your move? Our move represents a new direction for the Portman Archive as we aim to be more outward facing in our promotion of Mr. Portman’s legacy. Our new space will also position us closer to our sister companies within the Portman Companies so that we can collaborate more efficiently. We are excited about what the future holds for The Portman Archives and look forward to sharing with SGA in the future. If interested, please visit our website at www.portmanarchives.com!
Georgia Southern University Special Collections continues its tradition of celebrating Georgia Archives Month with another exciting game experience for their campus community. This year’s The Case of the College Sweetheart is an immersive mystery game in which players must examine historical evidence and digital clues to solve the forgotten mysteries of Georgia Southern’s “Sweetheart” Campus. The game offers players an opportunity to engage with archival primary sources that document the historic area of campus in a fun and engaging way. The program builds upon the success of their 2019 Secrets, Sources, and Swamp face-to-face escape room but in a safer, semi-virtual environment that allows players to socially distance themselves.
The Game Case of the College Sweetheart mystery game sets are available for checkout at the library checkout desk. A welcome letter included in the set introduces players to a fictitious, but real-world scenario that includes a series of interconnected puzzles. Working individually or in small groups, participants have a two-hour checkout window to examine physical game materials including archival documents, private correspondence, and campus memorabilia to help solve seven interconnected puzzles. Access to digital clues and puzzle prompts are available through the online game portal at georgiasouthern.libguides.com/sweetheart. The mystery is revealed to players by solving the final clue. Participants who successfully complete the game are eligible to enter a grand prize drawing.
The program will be available throughout October and is partially funded by the 2020 Georgia Archives Month Spotlight on Archives Grant.
By Anicka Austin, Emory University Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library and SGA Blog Contributor
In the gospel of Mark in the New Testament of The Bible, readers meet Salome, Herodias’ daughter. Herodias harbored a strong dislike of John the Baptist, who disapproved of her marriage to Herod, her previous husband’s brother. Herodias’ opportunity to enact revenge came unexpectedly when Herod gave a banquet on his birthday. Salome dances beautifully for Herod and his guests during the banquet, prompting Herod to offer Salome anything she wants. Salome asks Herodias what she should request, returns to Herod and says, “the head of John the Baptist on a platter”. Herod reluctantly acquiesces (Mark 6:17-29). This story has been explored by artists throughout history and choreographer Lester Horton almost obsessively recreated and reimagined it throughout his career.
Carmen de Lavallade as Salome, and in The Beloved, Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
Carmen de Lavallade first danced the hefty role of Salome in Horton’s production when she was still a teenager. Frank Eng, Horton’s business manager and partner, said she possessed “a youthful, lovely lyricism; an implicit and natural feeling for drama…and, most important, the drive.” (Bizot, 1984). De Lavallade’s commanding presence and ability to tap into the dramatic elements of a work would be a defining quality throughout her career.
For de Lavallade, dancing with Horton helped shape her formative years. She recalls working with Horton’s company as being part of a team. The group did everything from painting sets to cleaning, which she says set her up for a well-rounded career in the arts (You Might Know Her From, 2020). This is evident in early photographs of the company, including depictions of de Lavallade teaching young students, performing Salome (1950-1953)and The Beloved (created in 1948), and working intently in rehearsal processes. She would help reconstruct Salome, or as Horton later called it, The Face of Violence, along with James Truitte for the Cincinnati Ballet Company in 1972 (Bizet, 1984).
Carmen de Lavallade with children, Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
Throughout the collection of photographs in the Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade papers, researchers might notice de Lavallade’s commitment to a variety of projects, which explains the range with which she performs. From actor to choreographer to dancer to educator, de Lavallade made her way through commercial film, Broadway, Yale Repertory Theater, and the stages of Paris where she danced with Josephine Baker. A series of negatives, slides and photographs show her journey through Southeast Asia as headliner of de Lavallade-Ailey American Dance Theater (1962). Her work with choreographer John Butler is also well-documented, including photographs of the well-loved Portrait of Billie (1960-1992) performed throughout several years.
Carmen de Lavallade and John Butler rehearse Portrait of Billie, and de Lavallade and Alvin Ailey on Southeast Asia tour, Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
Through photographs, researchers can also see de Lavallade celebrated and celebrating at formal events such as Kennedy Center Honors and the “Divas of the Twentieth Century” award ceremony (1991). De Lavallade’s life in photographs is rounded out by decades of headshots and documentation of dinners, parties and relationships with friends and family.
Carmen de Lavallade at White House, and with friends, Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
The photographs shown here represent a fraction of de Lavallade’s early life (circa 1949-1968), but researchers can find photographs in this series from circa 1900-2017. Photographs of Geoffrey Holder’s life and career are also prominent. For research questions, please reach out to email@example.com
By Anicka Austin, Emory University Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, SGA Blog Contributor
Roger Moore had tough shoes to fill when he took over the job of depicting Ian Fleming’s James Bond in 1973’s Live and Let Die. Bond, up until that point, was played by a relatively well received Sean Connery and once by George Lazenby. Another Roger (Ebert) called Moore’s performance humorless, saying “Moore has been supplied with a lot of double entendres and double takes, but he doesn’t seem to get the joke.” (Ebert, 1973) While Moore’s lack of wit may have been a shortcoming, Geoffrey Holder’s scene-stealing portrayal of Baron Samedi held the “convoluted” (Mager, 2001) film together. Holder’s guttural laughter and mischievousness as the loa of the dead gave some weight to vodou themes in the film, as did his choreography.
Holder’s choreographic vocabulary is reflected in several moments in the film. In an opening scene on the fictional Caribbean island, San Monique, an MI-6 field agent named Baines cowers as Dambala dances a snake in front of his face. Behind Dambala, a crowd of people dressed in white step side to side, contracting and releasing their spines in a ritual dance. A revised Live and Let Die script described that same crowd in a later scene:
Ext: VOODOO CEMETARY – NIGHT
Lines of WORSHIPPERS and ACOLYTE GUARDS sway back and forth to the beat of drums, chanting. Oddly-dressed people of all sorts: WOMEN with cigars and bowler hats, MEN with rum kegs smoking root drugs, most wearing strange fetishes and amulets. A large cross-like stake with ropes hanging from it has been erected nearby, exactly in the place where we saw BAINES killed in the pre-title sequence. DAMBALA stands by the stake, takes in the proceedings, looks off as if waiting for something.
Holder’s relationship with Haitian vodou, and particularly with Baron Samedi, permeates through most of his work. His early writings, including Les Mysteres (undated), depict the goings-on of several loas, including Baron Samedi, Erzulie, and Agwe as well as Hector Hippolyte, a Haitian painter and spiritual leader from whom Holder drew inspiration.
An excerpt from Les Mysteres:
The languid brown hand draws another delicate tracery on the orange earth: the vever of Ogoun. . .God of fire and might, power, authority, triumph, politics, war. Being an honest hero, a real shaker of history, Ogoun wears the sad tortured face of Christ, just unhung from the cross. The martyred warrior hero; his flesh is impervious to wounds but his spirit is not. The sword is sacred to him, the blood color of red, and the flames of burning rum on the earth are his salute. Thunder is the sound of Ogoun announcing that his balls are cold and he demands a drink of rum which he spits through his teeth.
Access to Live and Let Die and Les Mysteres is now available in the Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade papers. Holder and de Lavallade were both heavily involved in and influential to modern theatre, dance, and visual art. Scripts in Holder’s papers include other original writings such as The Odyssey ofAnna and the Red Pumps (circa 1991-2002) and Sister Alice in Wonderland (circa 1998-2008). Holder, whose work truly ran the gamut, was also featured in ads for 7-up, as narrator for films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), and as “Chef Geoffrey Lamont” on The Cosby Show (1990). These scripts and more, including several drafts of the Broadway productions The Wiz and Timbuktu, which Holder directed and costume designed,are well represented in the collection.
Researchers interested in learning more can view the finding aid, learn how to request materials from the Rose and contact reference services to make an appointment (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We, the GAI board, were disappointed last year, when the 2020 Georgia Archives Institute had to be cancelled due to COVID 19, and wanted badly to hold the Institute this year. After much discussion, the board decided on an all-online format. Sadly, this meant there would be no internships, but cancelling for a second year seemed so much worse. GAI 2021 concluded on June 14.
We were again lucky to have Pam Hackbart-Dean as our primary instructor, as well as Tina Mason Seetoo on Preservation and Katherine Fisher on Digital Preservation. To give everyone a breather now and again, we enlisted the help of guest speakers. Our topics included Anti-Racist Archival Description, Content Management Systems, Born Digital Records and Working with Community Archives. Our guest speakers volunteered their time and we valued the addition of other voices in archives for the students.
Meeting online via Zoom meant there would be no reception. The 2021 class had twenty-one students, and thanks to our sponsors, we sent everyone a goodie box with Georgia-themed treats and a mini Hollinger box. We hosted students from all over Georgia, but also from Connecticut, Alabama, Texas, Florida and South Carolina.
We also hosted several scholarship-supported attendees. We thank the Society of Georgia Archivists, the Friends of Georgia Archives and History, Georgia Public Library Service and the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council for providing these opportunities for attendees that may not have been able to take part otherwise.
On the last day of the 2021 six-day course, students, instructors and board members met for an informal online wrap-up. We heard about the Society of Georgia Archivists, the Clayton State Archival program, and the Regional Archival Associations Consortium, and heard from students about their experiences at this year’s Institute.
Our GAI sponsors include BMS Cat Fire, Water & Reconstruction Services, the Georgia Archives, HF Group, Hollinger Metal Edge, the Digital Library of Georgia, Master Enterprises, Inc., Patterson Pope, Preservation Technologies, PreserveSouth and the Society of Georgia Archivists.
We certainly hope that the 2022 Institute, scheduled for June 6 through June 17 2022, will once more include internships, a reception and our ability to meet everyone in person. You can keep an eye on our renovated website and our Facebook page for updates. In the meantime, we congratulate the 2021 graduates!
If you have been a member of SGA for more than a couple of years, you may have seen Bob Henderson and his table for Hollinger at annual meetings. But what do you know about Hollinger, really?
Who started Hollinger Metal Edge and when?
The Hollinger Company was started by William Hollinger in 1945. Mr. Hollinger worked with officials from The Library of Congress and National Archives to develop archival paper & board for long term storage. Following on the success of The Hollinger Company, in 1995 Bob Henderson along with the late Larry Gates formed the archival division of Metal Edge, Incorporated. After many years of collaboration, The Hollinger Company and Metal Edge, Inc. merged in 2008 to become Hollinger Metal Edge, Inc.
How many staff do you employ? Currently 35
Most of us are familiar with the standard supplies, but tell us about the product assembly department. The Hollinger Box begins from a large sheet of board. From there, we run the large sheet of board through a slitter to get a much smaller size sheet to accommodate the Hollinger Box cutting die. On to the die cutter, each Hollinger Box gets die cut from a single sheet of board. Think of the die cut as a cookie cutter. We can mend metal dies to make almost any shape we want. The final process in making the Hollinger Box is applying the metal edges. Our metal edge machines apply one edge at a time and resemble a large free standing sewing machine. Operators pre-fold each box and add a pull string prior to applying the metal edges to each box.
What has been the biggest challenge for Hollinger during COVID?
With the Global shutdown, we were not able to receive or ship orders. During the Summer of 2020, we noticed a small opening of Universities and Museums. Due to them, we were able to survive as a business and keep our employees employed. The Spring of 2021 is when we have noticed the biggest gain in orders, and we are hoping by Fall of 2021 we can resume operations at full capacity.
Tell us about the new website!
During late Spring of 2020, while working from home, we decided to focus on the future by building a new website from the ground up. This process was done between many people collaborating from their makeshift home offices. We wanted more than a fresh new look. We wanted a better browsing and purchasing experience. Our new web platform allows us to make immediate changes, so look for new product and new product pictures in the near future.
What is your best seller?
The first product made by Hollinger Metal Edge was the document case, better known as The Hollinger Box. This product today, in legal and letter size, continues to be our best seller. Of course, no Hollinger Box is complete without Hollinger File Folders.
How, if at all, will Hollinger change after the previous “unique” year?
As a small business, we have a better understanding of how essential our employees, vendors and customers are to us. Though the world is big, we operate in a small cottage industry where self-reliance is omnipotent. The phrase “thank you for your order” has a new-found significance.
By Anicka Austin, Emory University Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, SGA Blog Contributor
Dr. Melanie L. Harris starts off her book “Ecowomanism: African American Women and Earth- Honoring Faiths” by describing her mother’s garden, which is always in bloom. It reminds me of my favorite things about Spring when she writes, “gazing at bees already humming at my mother’s roses, I noticed that we all seem to be singing the same song. Even the color of the roses added a melodic tune.”
From this introduction to her family, Dr. Harris goes on to describe the first step of ecowomanism, which is to access our individual and collective ecomemories. How did we get here? Although the word “sustainability” is now in our collective vocabulary, there is a history of faith-based practices by African diasporic women that extends well-beyond our contemporary understandings of environmental justice (Harris, 2017). The legacy that Dr. Harris describes is extensive. She says, “the parallel between the colonization of the earth and the colonization of black and African bodies throughout the history of the transatlantic slave trade up to the present is an important theme in ecowomanist thought.”
History plays a major part in how we shift action and conversation around sustainability. This is one reason why the work of archivists and memory workers is directly related to our environment. Ben Goldman (2017) encourages archivists to steward collections that tell stories that are “fundamentally more respectful of our environment”. Senior Collection Archivist and Chair of Rose Library’s Sustainability Committee, Laura Starratt, notes that Rose Library is a major collector of political and social activism. She says, “we hold many collections focused on social justice, which relates directly to the conversations on environmental sustainability. Holding these collections, but not addressing how we are actively contributing to climate change would be an ethical conflict.” In fact, one of the collections at Rose is that of Alice Walker, who’s work provides a basis for Dr. Harris’ ecowomanism method. However, as Starratt mentions, there is tension between collecting and acting in the best interest of the environment and the Sustainability Committee at Rose is examining ways to reduce collecting. Even as we advocate for collecting the records of “people who are deeply observant of their communities” (Goldman, 2017), we also know that collecting less may be more beneficial to the environment than acquiring more.
With that in mind, acknowledging history is not just about collecting. Institutions could acknowledge the history of the land on which their archival repository resides. The ecohistory of Emory is tied to how the land in Dekalb County, Georgia was acquired. In the land acknowledgement developed by Professor Craig Womack and Professor Debra Vidali, it is noted that “Emory University was founded in 1836, during a period of sustained oppression, land dispossession, and forced removals of Muscogee (Creek) and Ani’yunwi’ya (Cherokee) peoples from Georgia and the Southeast.” Emory, like other academic institutions, relied on the labor and land of indigenous and African people. With this and ecowomanism in mind, it matters that conversations around environmental sustainability are nuanced and diverse. In recognizing old narratives and creating new ones, Dr. Harris notes that “as a first methodological step to ecowomanism, mining ecomemory simultaneously pushes back, critiquing traditional forms of environmental history that leave out the histories of peoples of color, and pushes forward social justice commitments to be incorporated within the environmental movement.”
Finally, archival institutions can address how we are collecting that history and the legacy we want to leave behind through our process. Starratt talks about how the materials we use reflect our commitment to sustainable archival practices:
We can also look for options to reuse. We should be looking for ways to reuse what we already have. The boxes may have writing on them or not be the right color, but they can still hold materials…. Recycling means more than just having bins in our spaces for paper, aluminum, or glass. We should ensure that we are not buying single use plastic or Styrofoam. This is a common packing material for archives, but there are options. We should also be insisting that the people and organizations we work with refrain from using these materials. We should only buy recycled paper for our printers (and continue to reduce how much we print).
Rose Library’s Sustainability Committee has been advocating for some changes that might help other libraries in their commitment to sustainable practices. According to Starratt, “the committee was set up in 2018 by then Digital Archivist, Dorothy Waugh with goals including creating a culture of sustainability, developing green habits, and building resiliency.”
Some of the committee’s successes are in line with practices Jan Zastrow (2019) supports as ways to move towards greater sustainability. She mentions supporting research projects with environmental themes, selecting conference venues that have made commitments to sustainability and going to conferences remotely to offset our collective carbon footprint. We have all been going to conferences remotely for the most part (due to covid-19, of course) but the sustainability committee at Rose aims to take further steps. Having a zoom option for all meetings is becoming normalized, as to encourage teleworking after pandemic restrictions lift. Rose Library has also received a Silver Level Green Office certification from Emory University.
Please welcome Tricia Miller, Head Registrar at the Georgia Museum of Art, based at the University of Georgia in Athens.
Tricia Miller has a Masters in Art History from the University of South Carolina, with a concentration in what was then called “Applied Art History.” She says her first paid job was as Director of the Stanly County Historic Preservation Commission in Albemarle, North Carolina (now the Stanly County Museum). Along with two other employees, they did everything from exhibition development, to collections management and sometimes even cleaning duties. She says that job taught her the aspects of museum work that she was good at and enjoyed and what aspects she struggled with or did not enjoy. Her next job was as assistant registrar at the Georgia Museum of Art. She moved up the ranks at GMOA to associate registrar and then to head registrar, and has been with GMOA for 22 years.
Miller estimates that approximately 2% of the 17,000-plus objects are on display, which leaves the problem of storing the rest. As she points out, it is not just about public display, but the storage and preservation of holdings for future generations.
“Institutions with some financial resources to put towards storage of art and the space to handle it may want to look into some standard museum quality storage units. Depending on your objects (framed works or sculpture, or even furniture) your basic options are rolling/sliding racks, bins, cabinets, or shelving. For framed objects rolling/sliding racks (for hanging storage) or metal bins (storage units with vertical slots for storing framed works side by side) are your best option. For small sculptures or other objects (pottery, baskets, silver, etc.) museum quality cabinets with slide out drawers are your best option. For larger items like furniture or larger sculptural items, you may consider industrial, powder-coated metal shelving from industrial supply companies.”
If, like so many of us, you have little cash or perhaps even storage limitations, perhaps you can start small:
“Nobody’s art storage is perfect and we all have something we can improve, even in most museums. My mission each year is to take the resources available to me (money, labor, time) and try improve the storage situation for as many objects as I can. It probably won’t ever be totally perfect, but I know I’ve improved the situation for some objects each year. “
Miller suggests using industrial cardboard bin boxes for storage, which can be purchased from industrial supply companies such as Uline or Grainger in various sizes. Line the bottom of the box with another piece of cardboard or foam-core (for extra stability) and place the framed works vertically in the box side by side. A good rule of thumb is, front-to-front and back-to back. The hardware on the back of frames can damage the front of another frame or the surface of a painting, so by placing them back to back you can avoid unnecessary damage. It is also a good idea to place a piece of cardboard between the frames which are face to face to protect them from rubbing against each other. Keep in mind that many framed works together in a box can become heavy and difficult to move, so consider using more numerous smaller bin boxes rather than fewer large ones. If possible, keep the boxes elevated off the floor, if you can do that safely. Also, you may want to cover the open tops with plastic to avoid dust accumulation and it serves as protection in the event of a crisis situation such as a water leak from a pipe. Avoid wrapping the frames in bubble wrap. As it deteriorates over time, bubble wrap will damage the painted or gilded surface of frames, sticking to it or leaving permanent marks in the surface.
Miller shares the following tips for art that you may have hanging or otherwise on display:
If possible, avoid hanging art near heating/cooling vents or above water fountains. The direct flow of conditioned air onto a work of art over the years will possibly make it crack or buckle, any source of water is a potential hazard for works of art.
Avoid hanging works of art near windows or in areas where they will get direct sunlight. We know the impact of direct sunlight on paper, and it can eventually have an impact on paintings as well.
If possible, avoid hanging works of art in places where other objects (furniture in public areas or other items in storage) may be accidentally pushed up against the work of art. Also, think about the height of a person’s head when they are sitting in a chair or on a bench over which a framed work of art might hang.
If possible, avoid hanging works of art in areas where food and drink are prepared or served. It is amazing how food and drink particles can travel through the air! Grease can fly, and carbonated drinks have a potentially wide spray factor when opened.
If possible, avoid hanging works of art near pipes, fire suppression sprinkler heads, vents or any other source of water or potential condensation. One of the biggest threats to museum collections is not theft, but water.
Regularly tour your storage spaces, looking for potential problems. What is the art leaning against, or what is leaning against it? What is around the art and what is moving around it-is it in a main thoroughfare? And, what can you do to mitigate the risks?
One of the biggest risks for paintings in non-museum storage is damage to the surface of the work either by puncture or abrasion from another object. Consider putting paintings in a container, if possible, such as the bin boxes mentioned above. If the object is too large to go in a container, there may be other options. Large paintings can be faced with a piece of cardboard (the size of the frame) and wrapped in plastic. The cardboard provides some protection from impact on the front and the plastic provides overall protection from potential water damage. Before you wrap the painting, take a picture, print it, and tape to the cardboard (under the plastic) so you can identify the object while it is stored. Additionally, a moving blanket over a piece of furniture can provide some level of protection and help to avoid the accidental scrape or mishap.
Many thanks to Tricia Miller for her time and to Hillary Hazel Brown for the building photograph. The Georgia Museum of Art, on the campus of the University of Georgia, is both an academic museum and, since 1982, the official art museum of the state of Georgia. The permanent collection consists of American paintings, primarily 19th- and 20th-century; American, European and Asian works on paper; the Samuel H. Kress Study Collection of Italian Renaissance paintings; and growing collections of southern decorative arts and Asian art. https://georgiamuseum.org/
This workshop is for archivists and custodians of primary source materials who wish to increase the visibility and sound use of their holdings to educators. Participants will engage with multiple primary sources from a single collection to learn how to connect archival literacy with the creation of turnkey resources for educators. This workshop will help custodians of primary sources think critically about their collections as they relate to state education curriculum standards and broaden their potential K-12 audience. Participants will learn of unique strategies and resources currently applied in the classroom from the teachers who are currently using them as a means to foster discussion regarding how archival outreach might be enhanced at the K-12 level.
Instructor: Amanda Smith, Jena Sibille, Mike Santrock
By Megan Kerkhoff, SGA Assistant Communications Director
Podcasts have been on the rise for the past decade, gaining more downloads every day. They are short episodic audio shows that can cover various topics including, true crime, cooking, celebrities, entertainment, and lifestyle, just to name a few. Podcasts are surprisingly easy to create and consume, making them a great tool for promotion. There are several podcasts that utilize archives to tell history, but there are also podcasts produced by archivists to promote their institutions. How do they go about producing podcasts and can they be an attainable promotional tool for any institution?
Below meet Lolita Rowe, Community Outreach Archivist at Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archive, and Rare Book Library, where she gives some sage words of advice on starting a podcast and how it is beneficial to promote archival institutions. The Rose Library currently has three podcasts with multiple episodes already available for downloading, so we asked Lolita how and why she went about creating podcasts for the archives.
How and when did the idea for creating a podcast at your institution come about?
Podcasting as an outreach tool for archives has been on my mind for a while. When I started my position in 2018, I was asked what I wanted to do first. I proposed a podcast. A podcast can be consumed at any time the person who is listening can digest the information. An archives podcast could reach an audience of people who may have never set foot in one before but would be interested in the stories we have about the collections.
I didn’t know what it would look like, but I was inspired by LeVar Burton Reads Live show in Atlanta. Reading Rainbow was my childhood. It created awe, but curiosity and it inspired me to learn. I wanted to do the same for archives, to demystify them and introduce them to people who have never set foot in one, as well as people who may not know what materials the Rose has in its collection.
I knew that others outside of our profession have been doing podcasts, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I wanted to learn how the wheel turned. I went to a Podcast Convention PodX, now PodCon, and purchased a ticket that allowed me to learn from the different podcasters at the convention. I got to speak with the creators and talents behind popular shows like Welcome to Nightvale, Lore, and The History Chicks. When I told them the premise of my show, they were supportive and thought it was a great idea.
I had the idea, but I did not have the tech background until Poetry and Digital Humanities Librarian, Nick Twemlow, was hired. The idea for one podcast morphed into two shows. One that would answer the question, “What is an Archive?,” which became Rose Library Presents: Behind the Archive. The second show would be a conversation about a historical person, event, or place connected to Rose Library collections, which we turned into Rose Library Presents: Community Conversations.
How do you prepare to record a podcast? Any important tools to invest in? Is it nerve wracking?
To answer your last question first, it is nerve wracking when you first start. Then you have the first tech issue or a global pandemic that changes how you thought things would go, and you realize, you got this. Mistakes happen and can lead to a better show. I recorded episodes for both podcasts in February 2020, then the global pandemic gave us a chance to rework how we would move forward. We discovered a platform called Squadcast that allows people to connect anywhere they have access to the internet. It also led to our colleague, Randy Gue, Assistant Director and Curator of Social and Political Movements, to use the framework and guidelines that Nick and I wrote, to create a third show in our suite of podcasts, Rose Library Presents: Atlanta Intersections. The shows were launched in October 2020 for Archives Month and we have continued to grow our audience ever since.
This delay led us to an amazing editor who could handle any issues we have with sound, since I have been recording in my home’s closet since episode two. Yes, we have Audacity, a free tool, but having an editor who understands how to fix sound levels or give us tips on the backend has been instrumental in our show. We also have Emory Center for Digital Scholarship Lab, who have been extremely helpful with guests who work on campus and can interview in their sound booth. But most of our interviews have happened in our guests’ homes.
The tech has been the most interesting component. The questions feel like a reference interview or an oral history interview. I have prepared questions that we loosely base the interview on, but the interview is about the guest. I send out an email before the interview with a list of questions, I ask if there is a project or organization they want to highlight and tell them what to expect the day of the interview. The day of the interview we start when they are ready, and once we begin, we have a conversation more than an interview.
Do you think a podcast is attainable for any archival institution to implement? And do you have any tips for podcast beginners?
I think it can be. There is some cost associated with starting a podcast, but podcasts can be as inexpensive or expensive as you make it. You just need good quality equipment and software. And good quality is not the most expensive microphone. You can use your phone, or your computer’s microphone. Yes, a real microphone is better, but you can start small and build up. Below are some other things to think about as well:
Quiet place to record (HVAC hum will also be audible)
Microphone (Will need an omnidirectional microphone if recording with one mic and two people)
Computer for editing
Program for editing (Audacity or Audition)
For editing, we mostly use Audacity, which is free to download. There are great tutorials online, which are needed.
I think anyone can start a podcast if they have the support to do so. I planned how I wanted to record the shows, when I wanted to record, and my timeline and guest list were thrown out the window in March 2020. Be flexible and adjust to your circumstances. The most imperfect moments are the best.
Do you have any favorite archives and non-archives related podcasts to listen to?
Lore, LeVar Burton Reads, Smartless, The History Chicks, Welcome to Nightvale, Why Won’t You Date Me? with Nicole Byer, and I keep downloading more each day.
Interested in Rose Library’s Podcasts? See the links below!