eBooks in the Reference Collection

We have been purchasing ebooks for the Reference Collection for some time now, but this past year we have been selecting ebooks over books when possible. Here are a few interesting ebook titles we’ve added in recent months; search on their titles in the Library Catalog to find the links:

Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability (in 10 vols.)
Handbook of Psychology (in 12 vols.; from Wiley)
Encyclopedia of Sports Management and Marketing (4 vols.; from Sage)
Historical Dictionary of Tibet
Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan, 4th ed.
Bloggers Boot Camp
Encyclopedia of Arthritis
Almanac of American Politics 2012
Cities, Cultural Policies, and Governance
Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought
A Green Vitruvius: Principles and Practice of Sustainable Architectural Design
Civil War Naval Encyclopedia
American Indians and Popular Culture
Substance Abuse in America: A Documentary and Reference Guide
Brazil Today: an Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic
History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008
Mexican Political Biographies, 1935-2009
Open Access

It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Man

One of the things about having students in to do research is that we often don’t get to see what becomes of the research they do. That’s not really a complaint, by the way, it’s just the way things go. Back when I was a university student, by the time I finished a research project, I was done with it and never wanted to see it again, much less show it off to others. This is Arlene, if you’re wondering.

But recently, this changed for us. This semester, Professor Paul White of the Anthropology Dept, came to us and asked if he could have his students in A482, Historical Archaeology, do a project with archival records. Of course we said Yes! (We might have even shouted it, a little. We love it when students do research with us.) The collection he chose was the Alaska Pacific Consolidated Mining Company records. APCMC ran a variety of mines in the Hatcher Pass area, the best known of which is Independence Mine. So a variety of sections of records within the collection were selected, and the students were asked to do a variety of projects with those records, culminating in a term paper talking about the results of their research. Here’s the best bit: Dr. White was kind enough to invite us to see the progress reports given by the students to the class. And yesterday was one of those days.

I have to tell you, you have never seen a bunch of more energized archivists as when we’ve come back from those presentations. Seeing what the students do, where they went with the records, how their research interacted and intersected with other students in the class: it’s inspirational for us reference-providing types. Not to mention educational: we learn more about how people can make use of records than we could possibly ever come up with on our own. Which means that we provide better reference access to archival collections in future.

I’d like to share one with you, mainly because the moment the student presented the graphic in class, I was diving for my purse for my camera. Turns out, my battery was dead, but the student, Penny Bradley, agreed to drop by the Archives later this week and let me get a picture of it. But before I show it to you (am I good at tantalizing, or what?) I want to tell you about her project. She and another student were going through the accident reports dating from about 1938 to 1943 and creating a database of incidents. What Penny chose to focus on for her paper was where the miner was most likely to be injured–not location in the mine, but location on the body. And she decided that the best visual way to show this was to draw a man with the sections of his body color coded for frequency of incidents.  Okay, now I’ll show you.

Independence Mine Accident Man

This is Independence Mine Accident Man. That’s what Penny told me his official name was, when I asked if she’d named him. And the main reason I was asking was that she’d just told me she wasn’t planning to do anything with him, he’d probably just end up buried in her closet and eventually disappear, and so I took my opportunity and asked her if I (we) could have him. She agreed, kindly not with a hint of “humoring the insane woman at the Archives,” and we’ve now adopted Independence Mine Accident Man (IMA Man, for short.) He’s been framed and will be hanging on the wall in our processing area just as soon as I have time to go borrow a hammer.

The real reason I wanted IMA Man (aside from his obvious charm) is that he’s an excellent teaching tool: a representation of what archival records can become, how they can be used. I’m thinking he’ll be a centerpiece of any instruction sessions we do with the Public Health courses, for one.

We’ll be checking to see if any of the other students are willing to share the products of their research and maybe allow us to share them with the rest of you, too.

And in the meantime, IMA Man is hanging out with us. He’s not in a public area of the Archives, but we’re still willing to share. If you’d like to see him, please ask one of the archivists and we’ll be happy to escort you into his new home so you can meet him too. And, of course, you’re always welcome to look at the APCMC records too, but it’s a pretty sizable collection so you might just want to follow that link above and see if there’s anything specific in the collection that particularly appeals to you.

how much do you trust records?

We’ve had students in an anthropology class working in the Archives this semester on a variety of projects having to do with the Independence Mine (Alaska Pacific Consolidated Mining Company records, to be more precise.) They’ve been a really fun crew to have around.

We had a request from one of the students today for some copies of oral history transcripts from the collection. Now, when I (Arlene) make copies, I don’t really read the documents I’m copying, but things still occasionally jump off the page at me. And a paragraph from one of the Joe Sertich transcripts really jumped off the page at me.

I want to switch thoughts for a second. When we teach about primary sources and how to identify and use them, one of the things we’re really careful to discuss is how researchers need to think about bias. What perspectives might have influenced the creation of the document? Is there “spin?” It’s really important to assess these sorts of things when using primary source material–well, secondary too, for that matter–because it may affect the conclusions you’re able to draw from information you’re seeing. So that’s all well and good, until you see something like the paragraph I just tripped across. I’ll copy it out for you. Mr. Sertich was talking about the various people he’d worked with at the mine.

(Quick note: the following quote includes some mild profanity.)

I got to tell you about another deal that was instituted up there at the Independence Mine. Of course, things were going along in great shape and this started, now, oh, it was probably about the middle of, maybe late in the year of 1938, and I don’t know how this was ever instigated, who had started this, but a fellow came up there from Seattle. He was an older guy and he was supposed to be the efficiency expert. Well, that’s all the miners needed was an efficiency expert, and especially, when they put that handle on them. Well, he was a nice enough old guy, but he didn’t fit in with our miner’s thinking at all. So they came up with these little forms. Every miner had to fill it out at the end of the shift, his name, the date, the stope or drift or raise you were working in, and how many caps you used, blasting caps, how many sticks at so many percent dynamite, how many feet of lagging, and how many feet of timber, and how many cars of ore or muck were mucked out or rock, or whatever it happened to be.

Of course, all of us pretty much resented it. I don’t know that we resented it, it just seemed to us that we didn’t need an efficiency expert there after the mine was pretty well established and on a paying basis, and boy we used to screw up those forms deliberately. Heck, and I don’t know what he ever did with them. I found some of those forms laying around years after. I think when I was up there in ’76 there was a bunch of those forms laying all over. I think he was just there to have a job, and I don’t think he was doing anything to make that mine any more efficient. I don’t know how much he knew about mining, but he was kind of a pariah around there, nobody ever, hardly ever talked to him. I don’t know, we just figured he was way-to-hell over left field where he belonged and nobody was going to have anything to do with him. And there were times when the guys would, hell they’d have more darn dynamite that they blasted up in one day, or timber that they used, say 20 feet of timber, they’d probably put 40 or 50. And, here they were using more material up in the mine than ever came up the hill. Drove him kind of crazy. I guess he used to add and subtract these things, and I don’t know what he ever did with them.

 My reaction to this is mixed. At the same time I find it really funny, I’m also kind of freaked out. I’m used to looking for bias, teaching how to look for bias, especially in personal records, but I think a lot of us tend to assume that corporate records are somehow cleaner. More accurate. In this collection, I’ve seen some of these forms that the miners filled out. And if I were assessing them for bias, I’d figure that miners might be exaggerating a little as to how much ore or such they’d pulled out of the mine to make their productivity look better. But it would never have occurred to me that they might be flat-out lying about the amounts of materials they consumed while working!

I’m not sure what the lesson here is. I’m not sure my take-away for students and researchers should be to assume the documents are totally and completely wrong, deliberately falsified. Maybe the lesson is (and it’s one I really, really like) is to remember the archivist’s secret weapon: context.  If you were to review other records that came from the mine that year–say, the purchasing records–it would become very clear very quickly that something was amiss, that it would be very difficult for the miners to be using double the dynamite that the mine was bringing in. Part of the reason I like this lesson is that for a long time I’ve thought it was dangerous for a researcher to rely on a single archival document and not read or assess the surrounding and related material when tracking down answers. It’s part of the reason I argue against item-level description for documents sometimes: we really shouldn’t be encouraging researchers–especially new ones–to ignore context and surrounding information that might provide a more realistic view of what was actually happening.

But that’s a different soapbox for a different day. At any rate, the next time somebody comes in to research in the miners’ logs, I hope they’ll understand that some of the documents might not be all that realistic. That if they’re looking at productivity, they’re going to need to use more than just these.

But really.  The part of my brain that found this amusing is the part of my brain that was cheering the miners on. Who hasn’t wanted to do this occasionally in the face of an efficiency expert when you think you’re doing your job just fine?

Footnote to Dean Rollins: I would never, ever do this on our departmental annual report. Ever. Really.