Book Review: Entrepreneurs : the Boston business community, 1700-1850edited by Conrad Edick Wright and Katheryn P. Viens

Author: Conrad Edick Wright and Katheryn P. Viens, editors
Title: Entrepreneurs : the Boston business community, 1700-1850
Publication Info: Boston : Massachusetts Historical Society : Distributed by Northeastern University Press, 1997

This book is a collection of historical essays through the Massachusetts Historical Society about business in Boston in the 18th and 19th centuries.  I read this book with my co-workers as a way of understanding the people who created many of the materials held in our archival repository. The collection is hit or miss with some essays being really insightful and others being really boring.  Topics range from histories of women and Black people in business in Boston to the innovation of marine insurance, partnerships, and trusts in Boston.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

#AskAnArchivist Day 2019

The annual holiday this is Ask an Archivist Day is today!  I don’t discuss my professional life often on this blog, but I am, in fact, an archivist.  So if you have questions about my work or about archives and archivists in general, submit them in the comments or tweet me at @ArchivaLiam.

I work as a processing archivist in the Special Collections department of an academic library in Boston. My main responsibility is to take collections of material acquired by my library and make usable and available to researchers.   Archival materials are generally called “records” when they are the documents of an organization (such as university or business), and “papers” when they are documents of an individual or family.  The traditional term “papers” implies print material, but the collections I work with can and do include audiovisual material, photographs, born digital records, and websites.

The two main groupings of collections at my institution are Archives and Manuscripts.  The Archives are the official records of the school focusing on documents related to every administrative area: academics, faculty, research, finance, human resources, and so on.  We also collect the teaching and research papers of many faculty members and deans. Manuscript collections are donated to the library or purchased and are collections of records of businesses and individuals outside the school.

Archives and Manuscript collections are assigned to me for processing.  Collections usually need to be physically processed for preservation, which means moving materials into acid-free folders stored in archival containers and other preservation tasks specific to format (Mylar sleeves for photographs, appropriate containers for audio and video formats, and extracting born digital formats from disk media, ensuring they’re fixed in format, and stored on a secure server).

Intellectually, collections also need to be arranged. and described.  The archival ideal for arrangement is “original order,” which means maintaining the file structure used by the individual(s) who originally created the records.  Sometimes stuff is just thrown higgedly-piggedly in a box and the archivist has to work out a logical order.  Either way, collections are divided into series of different types of records.  A faculty papers collection, for example, will typically have series of “correspondence,” “teaching files,” “administrative files,” “research files,” “speech files,” “outside work and consulting,” and “personal records.”  Within each series are a number of files or items that the archivist indexes with file/item titles and the container where they’re located.

The archivist does a lot of “description” at the collection level, series level, file level, and sometimes even individual items to let researchers know what type of things they may find.  A persistent argument among archivists is just how much or how little description to provide.  A lot of description is time consuming and can reflect too much of the archivist’s biases.  Too little description may lead to records being “lost” to researchers (and can be another form of bias).  Regardless, a researcher will find some level of description in a “finding aid” or “collection guide” specific to each collection.

That’s a thumbnail sketch of what I do.  If you’d like to learn more, all you have to do is ask!

REBLOG: “Records Managers: Not Making This Stuff Up, Part the Billionth”

I generally shy away from posting anything on my blog related to politics or my job, but this post relates to both.  Below is a reblog from The Schedule: A Blog for the Society of American Archivists’ Records Management Roundtable regarding the recent report on Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server during her time as Secretary of State.

Now, I work in Records and Information Management (RIM) and Archives, so it gives me a bit of perspective on the controversy that I don’t hear in the general public.  Basically, it boils down to the fact that governments, businesses, and organizations have laws, regulations, and rules for the management of records.  These exist for many reasons but primarily because good recordkeeping allows organizations to be efficient (find the information needed when it’s needed), accountable (be able to demonstrate correct practices when called upon), secure (not allow sensitive information to be seen by the wrong people) and cost-effective (a lot of money is wasted on storing records – both physical and digital – that don’t need to be retained).

Ultimately, when the general public thinks of RIM, if they think of it at all, is that they’re a bunch of laws, regulations, and rules that are no BFD.

Clearly the staff in Secretary Clinton’s office thought RIM was no BFD.

And the response to the controversy has shown that a lot of people think RIM is no BFD.

The point here is not to “get Clinton!”  This issue shows poor judgment and a lack of honesty on her part, but it just one item in a list of things that demonstrate those failings.  The point here is that everyone – from cabinet members to journalists to ordinary working people – need to learn the value and importance of RIM.

So! The Office of the Inspector General released its report on Hillary Clinton’s emails today. Perhaps you’d heard about it.

The report itself is here (Warning: major TL;DR alert). It reads like a litany of “everything that can go wrong with a digital records management program”–poor communication, lack of executive buy-in, technology not up to the job of meeting requirements– and my plan is to break down the whole thing at some point to take a closer look at what happened from a purely records management standpoint. But in light of Eira’s excellent post on institutional silences and the digital dark ages, I wanted to quickly hit one paragraph that jumped out at me:

Two staff in S/ES-IRM reported to OIG that, in late 2010, they each discussed their concerns about Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email account in separate meetings with the then-Director of S/ES-IRM. In one meeting, one staff member raised concerns that information sent and received on Secretary Clinton’s account could contain Federal records that needed to be preserved in order to satisfy Federal recordkeeping requirements. According to the staff member, the Director stated that the Secretary’s personal system had been reviewed and approved by Department legal staff and that the matter was not to be discussed any further. As previously noted, OIG found no evidence that staff in the Office of the Legal Adviser reviewed or approved Secretary Clinton’s personal system. According to the other S/ES-IRM staff member who raised concerns about the server, the Director stated that the mission of S/ES-IRM is to support the Secretary and instructed the staff never to speak of the Secretary’s personal email system again.

Holy moly. I am simultaneously astonished and not at all surprised that this conversation happened. Without attempting to divine the source of this supposed gag order or the motivation behind it, there is at minimum a failure to communicate happening here, and in all likelihood a deeply ingrained culture of subordination. Two employees, rightly concerned that use of a personal email account posed a recordkeeping and security risk, were specifically told that they were there “to support the Secretary”, and as a result questioning her use of personal email was anathema. That is really an incredible directive, if substantiated. I would argue that pointing out vulnerabilities in information security and governance IS supporting the Secretary (by, say, helping her avoid a prolonged investigation into her email management practices during an election year), but that’s just me.

And yet… what do you even DO in this case as a records manager? In a lot of institutions records managers are so far down the totem pole that there’s not a lot of pushing back to be done if a C-level staffer doesn’t want to follow records management directives to the letter. It’s easier to stand up to your negligent or reluctant official if you’re based out of the Legal department (and even easier if you are yourself a lawyer), but for a records manager based out of an administrative department, or the library? How do you make the case for good records practices when you have been explicitly told not to pursue it? How far do you stick your neck out for the sake of the historical record and transparency, vs. the short-term interests of your institution? Particularly if, as in so many cases, the records law which you are following has no real penalty for non-compliance other than the hypothetical/tangential “you might get sued”?

I don’t have an answer to any of the above questions. I’ve struggled with the right level of aggressiveness in pursuing records of high-level officials at my own institution, and have almost certainly lost some key electronic records being kept on a personal hard drive or in an email account because of it. (Elsewhere in the report records staff reports “not feeling comfortable” directing the Secretary to use the internal records system and looking for an automatic system to capture the records; I feel this anxiety acutely.) In this *particular* case Secretary Clinton released (most of) the emails after the fact, so the damage to transparency and the historical record is perhaps not as great as it could have been. In other cases? Who knows what’s being lost because the records manager is not as much in control as he/she would like to be.

These are the kinds of questions that keep me up at night, because I am an enormous nerd and am kept awake by records management questions. (Well, that and a one-year-old baby.)

Source: Records Managers: Not Making This Stuff Up, Part the Billionth

New England Archivists Fall 2010 Meeting

Yesterday, I attended the New England Archivists (NEA) Fall 2010 Meeting at Keene State College in Keene, NH.  This was the second meeting I attended having previously attended the Spring 2010 Meeting at U-Mass Amherst.

Some general notes to begin with:

  • I enjoyed driving through rural parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire I’ve never seen as well as the charming town of Keene and the Keene State College.  On a crisp autumn day it felt nice to be surrounded by mountains and colorful foliage.
  • On the down side, I wasn’t feeling my best – tired, a bit feverish and a rattling cough in my chest.  Instead of networking I kept a respectful distance from my fellow conferees.
  • For the first time I tried live-tweeting at a conference.  I found it difficult to pay attention to the presenters, balance my laptop & compose an intelligent tweet at the same time so I didn’t contribute much.  On the plus side, there are many tweets from others that highlighted the very things I found important at the meeting.  You the hash tag for the meeting was #NEAFall2010 and I have a saved search that you may or may not be able to read.  I’m drawing heavily on other people’s’ tweets for my notes below for which I am greatly appreciative..

Keynote Address:

Richard Sweeney, University Librarian, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, NJ

Sweeney spoke about “Digital Natives in the Archives” on how archives can engage the Millennial Generation. He started by discussing the Long Now Foundation and the 10,000-year library and how each generation will need to take part in preserving the past for future research.  Much of the address was true and false questions about demographics regarding the Millennials.  While interesting I always find such generalizations to be more settling then useful (after all my generation is nothing but mistrustful, ironically detached slackers). I actually found much of the descriptions of Millennials to be true about myself at least until he got to mobile devices and text messaging (maybe I’m a premillennial?).  For a conclusion, Sweeney showed one possible way to engage Millennials in the archives by making photos, yearbooks, etc available on the web for tagging and for additional contributions and information to be added.  It was especially interesting when a Microsoft Surface was involved although that is something I expect that most archives will not have in the budget for some time.  Sweeney’s slide show is available on his website

Morning Concurrent Session – Email Archiving:

  • William Dow, CRM, Deputy City Clerk of Keene, Keene, NH
  • Virginia Hunt, Associate University Archivist for Collection Development, Harvard University Archives
  • Wendy Marcus Gogel, Manager of Digital Content and Projects in the Harvard University Library Office for Information Systems
  • Tamar Granovsky, Head Archivist, Lincoln Laboratory, M.I.T., Lexington, MA

Every archivist knows that preserving email records is important, but a clear method of doing so has yet to be determined.  Three methods serving the interests of the institutions represented were presented here.  Bill Dow talked about how our host city of Keene archives email in the cloud using Google Postini.  Tamar Granovksy and M.I.T. are exploring using Symantec Enterprise Vault.  Ginny Hunt & Wendy Gogel spoke about the Electronic Archiving Service pilot program now underway at Harvard.  A good point was made about how digital media has existed side-by-side with print since 1957 and it isn’t a choice of preserving digital or print, it’s a hybrid world.  There was also a good question about original order in e-mail with file paths being the possible solution.

Afternoon Concurrent Session I – Collections & Managements Systems:

  • Kat Stefko, Director of Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College, Lewiston, ME
  • Kate Bowers, Collection Services Archivist, Harvard University Archives, Cambridge, MA
  • Marge Smith, Executive Director, Kent Historical Society, Kent, CT
  • Linda Hocking, Curator of Library and Archives, Litchfield Historical Society, Litchfield, CT

Three collection management systems were discussed all of which have benefits to institutions of different sizes and purposes: Archivists’ Toolkit, Past Perfect, and Archon.  Kate Bowers spoke eloquently on how AT is used at Harvard and even included some statistics of how it’s been used at Harvard Business School.  It felt nice to have my work in AT represented before the meeting however so anonymously.   Bowers mentioned a CLIR Report on Archival Management Software as a resource.  It was interesting to hear Marge Smith’s experience with Past Perfect and see it demonstrated although it appears to more of a curatorial tool for museums and historical societies rather than for purely archival material.  Finally, Linda Hocking spoke about her experience with Archon. Here’s a good example of the public interface for Archon, something that AT lacks (although the Rockefeller Archive Center is developing a reference module add-0n) .  It’s interesting to note that the pros and cons of AT and Archon appear to dovetail and that the impending merger of the two products as ArchiveSpace may be mutually beneficial to all users.  Something to look forward to!

Afternoon Concurrent Session II – Born Digital:

  • Ed Desrochers, Interim Academy Librarian and Academy Archivist at Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH
  • Veronica Martzahl, Records Archivist in the Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University, Medford, MA
  • Jennifer Phillips, Digital Collections Archivist in the Digital Collections and Archives at Tufts University, Medford, MA

The final session was a team presentation by two members of the Tufts University Digital Collections and Archives.  As always the Tufts DCA appear to be light years ahead in archives & records management in the digital age so it is appropriate that they spoke of born digital records.  It was a nice reminder to be told that as archivists/records managers “you already know a lot” about what should be done with records so we should not be intimidated by the digital format.  Other advice included:

  • a four-step program: survey your holdings, document & store, metadata, & workflows.
  • referring to the Library of Congress reference for digital formats website at
  • just because they are digital does not mean that item-level description is necessary
  • there is nothing to be gained from converting PDF to PDF-A so don’t waste your time (Veronica Martzahl was emphatic about the unnecessary nature of this step as what’s lost is lost)
  • don’t go to the effort of conserving a floppy disk if you have already copied and preserved the files, just toss it like an old folder.

Overall it was a good day.  I felt that it was not as well-attended as the spring meeting nor did I feel like I had any real “wow moments” where I heard something I’d never heard before or presented in a new way.  Still, it was all good, thoughtful information that should help inform my work in the near future.  It was great to be there and interact both virtually and physically with the other conferees.

Ten Years @ The Library

Ten years ago today I began work at Baker Library at Harvard Business School, my first library job.  Ten years later I still work in the same building albeit I have had three different jobs (officially), survived a two-year renovation working in a windowless warehouse-like interim building, and find myself 21 out 53 staff members in seniority.  I’ve worked in 8 different offices and may be the only person to have office space on all four floors of the library building.

Here’s my progression of work:

…I started as an Access Coordinator, a position that involved both the grunt work of checking ID’s and bags but also a good introduction to  ready reference and bibliographic instruction.

…After a year & a half I moved into the Interlibrary Loan/Document Deliver office and learned the wonders of OCLC Passport and making lots and lots of photocopies.  I still worked a lot of hours on the desk  providing access and ready reference.  And I worked on Saturdays supervising the casual staff.  The Tue-Sat schedule helped with library school internships albeit it made life exhausting.

…In the summer of 2003, the library was closed for renovation and ILL was folded into something Article and Book Delivery Unit which provided access to print resources stored offsite.  My new digs were in a musty warehouse that also housed the university police rifle range and a kiln for the ceramics club.  My desk time was curtailed significantly and I spent many hours anonymously hidden in the stacks pulling books and journals.  Fun times.

…Moving into the renovated library in 2005, I resumed ILL/DocDel work and public service desk shifts but added more reference activities as a liaison to the reference team.  This included verifying citations for the faculty research division, creating a reference interview training program for my Access colleagues, and responding to email reference questions.

…In the summer of 2008, I made biggest job change yet joining the Information Lifecycle Management team taking care of the school records storage programs and working in the metadata and taxonomy team.

…Just over a year ago after the departure of the Information Lifecycle Manager and some budget considerations ILM was merged into the Archives.  I began reporting to the Archivist and taking on many new archival responsibilities including reference and processing.

I’ve been fortunate in that whatever my official job duties I’ve had the opportunities to learn new things.  While working full time I went to library school at Simmons College greatly eased by tuition assistance and release time.  Following a somewhat circuitous route I’ve found myself working in archives which is where I was interested in going from my earliest days in the field.


Return of A Day In a Life of a Librarian

Back in July, I participated in a web-wide librarian event entitled Library Day in the Life.  This event was created by the terrific librarian-blogger Bobbi Newman to allow people who work in libraries to share the great variety of work we do with students, patrons, and fellow librarians.  For more on what I do, check out my post from July.

A Day in the Life of an Information Lifecycle Management Assistant

  • wake up late after a rough night due to my son having frequent coughing fits.
  • once out of bed though, he seems alert and energetic so now it’s time to chase him down to get him to school.
  • my wife drives my son and I to the school.  He goes to the childrens’ center, I go to the library.
  • sort through my email and catch up on social media sites.
  • scan a few articles from Peter Kurilecz’s Records & Archives in the News (RAIN) update, but none of them seem worth in-depth reading today.
  • spend some time planning out tasks for the work week to come.
  • worked on a project to calculate the amount each administrative office at the school would pay for records storage (costs currently absorbed by the library).
  • lunch break:  the students are back so there are nearly no seats left in the cafeteria.  I’m able to sneak into a dark corner to eat my salad and write in my journal.
  • for one hour I’m on-call to page materials to the reading room from the stacks, but I’m not needed.
  • read articles from professional literature and blogs related to libraries, archives, records management and general news.  Tag some articles on Delicious.
  • place an order to retrieve a box of student records from offsite storage.
  • get a call from the Childrens Center that my son didn’t nap well due to coughing fits, and he’s a little warm but not feverish.
  • work on accessioning five boxes of videos which includes making a preliminary inventory, labeling & barcoding the boxes and preparing accession forms.
  • talk to wife on phone about coming to pick up me & our sick son on a miserable, rainy night.
  • close out day & head to the Childrens Center.
  • my “sick” son is cheerfully jumping up & down and playing with his friends.  As usual, he doesn’t want to go home.
  • supper, tubby time, bedtime for the boy & chores for me, and that was the day that was.

I think a lot of people are doing “A Week in the Life…” but for me I will end it there unless there’s some popular demand in the comments for more.

A Day in the Life of a Librarian

Librarians everywhere are signing up for the Library Day in the Life project as a way of showing what we do to fellow librarians, library school students, and anyone curious.  I missed out on this the last time it occurred so I definitely wanted to participate this year, especially since I’ve been looking for ways to kickstart the library content on this blog.

My position at my place of work (MPOW) is Information Lifecycle Management assistant.  The job title is not the most self-evident and in the year and one month I’ve been working in this position the responsibilities and definitions have shifted.  Basically, I work with people and records whether those records be active (records management) or permanent (archives).  My typical responsibilities involve accessioning records for storage or for archives, retrieving & returning boxes at the request of an administrative or faculty office, and answering reference questions related to archival material.

That scratches the surface, and hopefully this exercise will explain more.  With no further ado, I present…

A Day in the Life of an Information Lifecycle Management Assistant


  • wake up (late).  My son gets me up with zerberts and lots of giggling. Get ready for work.
  • My wife drives my son and I to the school.  He goes to the childrens’ center, I go to the library.
  • begin work day by checking emails, planning out tasks for the day and other administrative tasks.
  • check out Twitter and FriendFeed to see how my other library peeps are doing.
  • continue an ongoing reference project to learn about details of the lives of students from China who attended the school in its early years.  This involves reviewing registrar records, yearbooks, and alumni bulletins among other things.
  • at request from a faculty assistant, arrange to have boxes picked up and returned to offsite storage
  • prepare a student file for loan to the admissions office.
  • Lunch!  I eat a salad and read the Rex Libris graphic novel.
  • Spend an hour on-call to page materials from the stacks for patrons in the reading room.  Spend the time populating a spreadsheet for records storage stats and reading scholarly articles and blogs relevant to my job.
  • At request of my manager, I refile boxes related to a reference question we worked on last week.  Also photocopy a few pages of interest to the patron.  I cut my finger when trying to remove the staple.  Ouch!
  • Resume research on Chinese students.  Also work on a similar question about the school’s earliest research in India.
  • Close out my day of work.
  • Go to childrens’ center to pick up my son.
  • Take bus to public library.  I get teased for going to the library on my time off, but MPOW generally doesn’t specialize in stuff I’m interested in.
  • Ride subway home.  My son is inordinately fussy.
  • Relieved to get home, eat supper, put the boy to bed and go to bed myself.  Whew!

I’m glad to get that done.  Now I’ll have to find time to read what everyone else wrote.

On the brink with Twitter & FriendFeed

In my efforts to be more connected with the professional community at large in library world I’ve been a member of Twitter and FriendFeed for about a year.  I liked it at first reading other people’s thoughts and ideas, sharing my own, and seeing what news and links others posted that I might not have seen otherwise (or may have ignored until a critical mass all post the same story).

Lately, I’d not been feeling the vibe:

  • Too often I was reading a lot about the mundane daily life of people I don’t even really know.
  • Some of the people I follow can “tweet” an awful lot in a short amount of time.  I’m sure they’re wonderful people, but I don’t have time/patience to read all that.
  • Since I’ve been working in records management since last summer, even the library-related content wasn’t too relevant to me.
  • I admit that I’m egotistical enough that I’m miffed that people rarely respond to anything I post.  Even my comments on FriendFeed seem to be thread killers.

One day last week I came close to deleting my Twitter and FriendFeed accounts.  But then I decided, it’s probably not them.  It’s me.

So instead, I:

  • Un-followed some of the folks who I was finding were posting the mundane/overly-frequent content.  Again, wonderful people I’m sure, but I think if this is going to work for me I have to reconcile to the fact that a “follow” is not a binding contract.
  • Put my real name into my handle to make it more professional.  It was easier on Twitter where I’m now LiamTSullivan, but on FriendFeed I have hybrid real name/nick name liamothemts.
  • Since I’d not found many people in the RIM field on Twitter on my own, I asked for good people to follow on, where else, Twitter.  Since I’m also now an assistant to the archivist at my library I also asked for good archivists to follow on Twitter.  I got an excellent response with some good suggestions from some unexpected sources.  There’s even a blog post for 25 People All Archivists Must Follow on Twitter sent to me by my wife’s cousin.
  • I’m making a concerted effort to be more participatory myself, posting work-related stuff, and responding to others.  And I think it’s working.

And thus the story of my social media midlife crisis and how it’s been satisfactorily resolved.  Now if I can just get through all the people complaining about the redesign of Facebook.

PS – Feel free to follow me on Twitter and FriendFeed and tell me I’m being a pompous windbag if you so feel inclined.