Friday, May 29, 2020

Preservation Team - Marietta

Preserving our historic collections is a key component of SCHS's mission, so as part of our Preservation Month celebration, we wanted to shine a light the members of our staff who work directly with caring for our collections and historic buildings.

Marietta Carr is the Librarian & Archivist in the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

Photo of Marietta Carr, in front of the house at Mabee Farm
Marietta Carr, Librarian & Archivist

How is preservation part of your job? What are some of the tasks or activities that you do regularly?
A significant part of my job is ensuring that the information contained in the library's historic materials is available for current and future researchers. The simplest preservation actions in the library are practicing safe handling and moving materials into archival folders, sleeves, and boxes. Activities like digitization and writing finding aids and indexes help to preserve the library's collections by reducing the amount of handling necessary for use and recording the material's intellectual properties. No matter what I'm doing in the library, I try to keep preservation in mind.  

What led you to a career in preservation?
I've always loved museums and libraries. As a kid, I made 'exhibits' with my toys and wrote card catalogs for my books. In college, I majored in history and worked in my college's archives. That was my first experience with all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into research, exhibits, and programs. I found that I was super excited to spend days in the vault, processing collections and writing descriptions. At one of my internships, I spent weeks prepping a large collection of railroad maps for a digitization project. Some of these maps were fragile, and some were over 6 feet long and hard to maneuver. It was a tiring project because I had to be exceptionally careful and meticulous when working with them. The joy and satisfaction I felt during that project proved that I was on the right track for my career.

What excites you about historic preservation?
I'm excited by the idea of joining the long line of caretakers who have ensured historic materials live on for generations. Historic preservation helps connect the past and the future; in some cases, by literally giving us something to hold on to that shows us where we came from. It's exciting to see the materials in use and the way researchers, students, and the public interact with the content. A sense of shared history helps build and sustain relationships in communities. I've seen people be inspired, shocked, fascinated, and moved to tears when they have the opportunity to handle original materials. I'm grateful when I can be part of that experience and part of building that sense of shared history.

What worries you about historic preservation?
I'm worried about the digital dark ages. A significant amount of historical materials created today (and for the last 40 years, at least) only exists digitally. Materials like photos, maps, games, emails, videos, and websites are created digitally, used digitally, stored digitally, and left to expire in their digital formats. Digital preservation tools and methods are starting to catch up, but software, hardware, and file formats are developed, adopted, and replaced at a pace that exceeds the preservation community's resources and ability to adapt. The sheer volume of information that is created and stored digitally is overwhelming to think about. Many tools and platforms are proprietary which is a barrier to preservation. Digital preservation also requires more resources like funding and staff time than most physical preservation. It's a significant challenge that will affect all of us, even if all we're doing is trying to save the photos our family members email to us.

A cartoon of two men talking to each other. One sits in a car, asking "What street is this?" The other stands next to the road and answers, "Watt Street."
A detail from Barstow's 1931 Pictorial Map of Schenectady

What is your favorite historic artifact or building?
I think I find a new favorite almost every day! Maps and scrapbooks are my favorite types of materials. I also love cartoons, so I'm a fan of the 1931 Pictorial Map of Schenectady, N.Y. and Union College by J.D. Barstow. With its humor, color, and level of detail, it's truly a work of art. 

What’s been your favorite preservation project to work on?
I haven't worked on a particular, discreet preservation project at SCHS yet; I've been carrying on the work that the previous librarians started with rehousing, digitizing, and describing the collection. Last week, SCHS received a large collection of materials from the Mohawk Club which were stored in the attic of the Stockade Inn. The collection includes large books like ledgers, annual reports, visitor registers which all reeked of smoke and mustiness. I used a baking soda treatment process to remove as much of the odors as possible, so these materials can join the collection without stinking up the whole library! At a previous job, I spent some time building custom housing for rare books. Trying to figure how the best way to stabilize, house, and store a fragile or oddly-shaped book is like solving a puzzle. The process can be extremely frustrating and fiddly, but it's so satisfying when it's done.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for how our members of our community can support preservation or preserve their own collections/buildings?
Talk about preservation and the organizations that work to preserve the community's history with your family, friends, neighbors, and government representatives! Supporting these organizations as volunteers and members is crucial and appreciated, but being vocal about your support can have a huge impact on our ability carry out our preservation missions. Preservation projects are more successful when community members spread awareness, and encourage support from local and state governments. When you hear about a preservation project in your area, share it with someone!

When you are preserving your own collections, I suggest you remember the adage: "Don't let perfect be the enemy of good." It may feel like everything must be done a certain 'right' way or that anything less is a waste, but realistically, preservation costs significant time and money. We're all trying to do the best we can with the resources we have available to us. Every little bit helps: whether that's changing out the art on your walls so that some pieces get a break to rest in a cool, dark place; backing up your digital files once a month; moving your family photos from a deteriorating album into archival folders; or storing your personal archives in a cool, dark, dry closet instead of the attic or basement. Something relatively small that makes it easier to find something (e.g. labeling your boxes or writing notes about how your collection is organized) can have a big impact on the lifespan of your materials.

Photo of Marietta arranging large books on a table in the SCHS library.
Sorting items from the Mohawk Club collection after the deodorizing treatment.

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