I have just returned from a visit to New York to meet with a number of LGBT Digital Archive projects. Building these connections and opportunities for the sharing of ideas, experiences and practical skills is crucial for me as I work on developing a Cork LGBT Digital Archive. The opportunity to be in a room with others who share my obsession with the importance of preserving and sharing the rich history of LGBT communities, and with using digital tools to do so, is a crucial but rare experience for me.
I met with Anthony Cocciolo, Associate Professor at the Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science in New York. Since 2008 Anthony Cocciolo has been working with his students on digitising some of the audio and video collection from the Lesbian Herstory Archive in Brooklyn.
Anthony teaches a module called Projects in Moving Image and Sound Archiving. As part of this course the students work with Anthony on digitising various collections from the Lesbian Herstory Archive. They began with series of interviews Joan Nestle conducted over a number of years with Mabel Hampton (1902-1989). Mabel was an African American Lesbian who was closely connected with the Lesbian Herstory Archive. They have since digitised the archive’s collection of Audre Lorde’s public speeches, readings, and panel presentations, a series of videos in relation to the Daughters of Bilitis group and the interviews from Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold (study of the lesbian bar culture in Buffalo).
One of the key issues we discussed was the importance of secure storage options for digital materials. Anthony stores the digital collections on multiple external hard drives. He uses FixityBerry to regularly check the hard drives and ensure that there has been no degradation. FixityBerry is software that runs on a Raspberry Pi computer that runs fixity scans on all hard drives connected via USB. In addition to the external hard drives Anthony also uses Cloud storage to provide secondary storage and back up for his digital materials.
We also discussed the challenges of trying to archive items with multiple provenance, as is the case with the archive I am developing. Anthony suggested exploring the International Council on Archives – Access to Memory ICAAtoM. This is open-source archival description tool developed under the governance of the International Council on Archives. “ICA” indicates that the software incorporates descriptive standards published by the International Council on Archives and “AtoM” stands for “Access to Memory,” which is demonstrated through the online interface that provides public and institutional access to the holdings of archival repositories. (see Jessica Bushey report)
Anthony also suggested exploring using EAD as a tool to link the digitised materials with a finding aid. EAD (Encoded Archival Description) is a non-proprietary standard for the encoding of finding aids for use in a networked (online) environment. EAD allows the standardization of collection information in finding aids within and across repositories.
I also met with Anthony’s colleague Cristina Pattuelli. One of her key areas of research is on Linked Open Data for Libraries, Archives and Museums. She is currently working on a Linked Jazz project which is an ongoing project investigating the potential of Linked Open Data (LOD) technology to enhance the discovery and visibility of digital cultural heritage materials.
Together with Anthony Cocciolo, Cristina Pattuelli and visiting scholar Javier Calzada-Prado, we attended the Opening Reception for A Buried Past, Forgotten Stories: The Sexual Underground of the Meatpacking District before Gentrification – a photographic exhibition and slide show by Efrain John Gonzalez of trans, gay, bisexual, and fetish clubs, gatherings and events in the Meatpacking District of New York from the late 70′s. This was held in the New York LGBT Community Centre, which is also home to the LGBT Community Centre National History Archive. Following the exhibition my colleagues took me to Julius, one of the oldest gay bar in New York.
I also met with Jim Hubbard and Daniello Cacace from the ACT-UP Oral History Project. The ACT UP Oral History Project is a collection of interviews with members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, New York. 179 oral history videos have been produced so far, with another 30/40 interviews planned. Transcripts of the video interviews, along with video clips are displayed on the http://www.actuporalhistory.org/ site. The project received funding which enabled them to pay to have the videos transcribed.
Harvard University bought the videos of the ACT UP Oral History project five years ago, on the condition that the project can still work with the material and that Harvard will preserve the videos and make them available. Five years later Harvard is just beginning to develop a finding aid for the videos. They are also working on a system for delivering video online but this is in early stages of development.
This is a transitional phase for the project. The team in the ACT UP Oral History Project are currently exploring ways in which to make the video interviews more available and accessible digitally. One of the challenges is that there are so many oral history interviews that it has been difficult to search them by themes, date or key words. The team are exploring the possibility of incorporating the OHMS system (Oral History Metadata Synchronizer) in a new website that is being developed. The OHMS system will enable them to link the video and the transcripts and enable better and more complex searching. “The OHMS system provides users word-level search capability and a time-correlated transcript or index connecting the textual search term to the corresponding moment in the recorded interview online. The OHMS system is free and open-source and currently being used by over 100 archives in six different countries.” OHMS website
Given his extensive experience of filming oral history interviews, Jim Hubbard had some good advice to offer:
- Use the best equipment you can access in the simplest set-up
- Main camera on tripod
- Film in the person’s own space – this makes them more comfortable and you find out more
- Use a clip on mike for the interviewer and interviewee
- Have one light available but may not need to use this
- Be as simple as possible
- Index the videos as you do them
I visited the Lesbian Herstory Archive in Brooklyn. The Lesbian Herstory Archive began in the mid 1970s. For the first 15 years the collection was housed in the home of Joan Nestle and Deborah Edel in Manhatten. In 1990 the collective managed to buy a house in Park Slope in Brooklyn and this is where the extensive collection in now housed.
The archive contains a wide range of materials, including
books, journals, newsletters, leaflets, badges as well as audio and video materials. The archive pays to have duplicate copies of materials are stored elsewhere.
As discussed above, some of the audio and video materials are being digitised by Anthony Cocciolo and his students in the Pratt Institute. In addition to this the Lesbian Herstory Archive is also digitising its vast collection of audio cassettes. These are not currently online but are made available on request. The archive is using Audacity to digitise the recordings. Audacity is free, open-source, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds.
The Lesbian Herstory Archive has a small collection on various countries, including Ireland. In the Irish files I found a few gems, including a poster from the 1998 Cork Lesbian Fantasy Ball and a leaflet for the 1996 Cork Women’s Fun Weekend.
During my trip to New York I also met up with Claire Potter and Kevin Ewing from OutHistory LGBT Digital Archive. The OutHistory site was originally developed by Jonathan Ned Katz who remains a Director of the project, alongside Claire Potter. OutHistory was originally developed as a wiki to which anyone could contribute. At a later stage it was developed as an Omeka site. Most of the material has been moved to the Omeka site, but some material remains on the wiki site. This is causing some challenges for OutHistory. They are currently inputing all their materials into File Maker Pro in order to tag it properly and to clearly see what materials have been moved to the new site.
Claire Potter works at the Humanities Action Lab in the New School in NY. A key aim of the HAL is the development of innovative curricula that foster public engagement with urgent social issues. Students on Claire’s courses, for example Introduction to Digital Humanities, are thus enabled to work on social projects such as OutHistory. Students develop digital projects as part of the course. For example some of the students developed the United States of Aids website, using some of the interviews from the ACT UP Oral History Project. Work on the OutHistory site is also integrated into course work on modules taught in the New School – the students work in groups and the work is edited before it is put on the site to ensure excellence.
Most of the ‘staff’ working on the OutHistory website are students who are paid as research assistants or are doing the work as an internship for credit. This provides a way to have ‘staff’ to work on the project and also provides the students with valuable hands-on experience and practical work they can show to future employers.
The model employed in the New School, and also in the Pratt Institute, where work on digitising archival materials, and developing digital resources, is integrated into course work within the college modules, could provide a potentially useful model to enable work on projects with few or no resources, such as my work on developing a Cork LGBT History Archive. Practical modules on Digitisation Skills and on Developing Digital Archives could be developed as part of DAH courses and could provide a bridge between college and community. This would be a mutally beneficial arrangement where students get practical hands-on experience while providing assistance to poorly resources community projects.
My visit to New York has left me with much food for thought and ideas, tools and websites to explore further as I work on developing the Cork LGBT Digital Archive. I also came home with a copy of Queers Online – LGBT Digital Practices in Libraries, Archives and Museums. And most importantly, I come home feeling more connected to other LGBT Digital Historians – Queer Connectivity that will hopefully spark further engagement, collaboration and exciting work.
Thank you to the UCC History Department for supporting this research visit.