Research Services at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference

From October 19-22, 2022, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) held its 50th anniversary fall conference in College Park, Maryland (just a stone’s throw from the National Archives at College Park). This afforded the opportunity for many colleagues local to the area to attend the conference, hear what’s currently happening throughout the field, network, and catch up with friends. The following are reflections from some employees from research services that attended.

Ray Bottorff, Civil Rights Subject Matter Expert, National Archives at College Park

The two presentations I had a keen interest in were the S11: Read All About it! Outreach for Digital Collections with the National Digital Newspaper Program and S7: Our Interactions with Contentious Archives: Repairing Historical Narratives.

Our Interactions with Contentious Archives discussed the reparative description work done with their archives at the Universities of Virginia, Maryland, and Pittsburgh. In particular I asked the UVA participant, who was talking about archiving the events of the Charlottesville protests without giving credence to the racist groups who rallied. With the University of Pittsburgh guest, I inquired what they did to avoid losing the context of locating the records when people use old source information when that information had changed during the reparative process. They let me know that their work was on things like finding aids and anything created by University archivists and not renaming of folder titles so this was not an effort to change the history of the items itself but to describe them better, in greater detail for neglected marginalized groups, and remove harmful language.

The coverage of Read All About It! looked at efforts by the Library of Congress and others to digitize newspaper collections on microfilm and the problems they confronted. My question to them is that in light of modern digital photography was any consideration given to revisiting what remains of the original sources and digitizing them so they could be presented in their original color or fix problems done during the original microfilm photographing process? It was a mixed response as literally the Library of Congress folks stated that they never considered the idea. The speaker from the University of Delaware stated that they did digitize new material in color, but when it is sent to the Library of Congress Chronicling America, it is posted in black and white. I hope it led them to consider the idea of revisiting the digitization of the original sources.

David Castillo, Archives Specialist, Textual Reference Branch

I was especially excited to go to MARAC this year, because it’s the first time I’ve attended an in-person conference since the pandemic started. It was great to meet archivists from other institutions (including other NARA facilities), to catch up with colleagues I hadn’t seen in several years, and to hear about the cool work everyone is doing. 

I especially enjoyed the panels S2: Documenting Black Lives: From Erasure to Black Lives Matter and S13: Archives, Activism, and Invisible Histories: The West Virginia Feminist Activist Collection. The archivists who spoke on these panels are all doing incredible work in their communities, collaborating with activists and community organizations to support them in documenting, preserving, and making known their histories. As a DC resident, I was also thrilled to hear a talk by Lisa Warwick at the The People’s Archive at the DC Public Library about their many awesome programs and collections (Punk rock and Go-Go archives! Library rooftop concerts! A DC history conference!). MARAC was a great re-entry back into the world of in-person conferences and I can’t wait to attend more!

Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist, Textual Records Division

This was my second MARAC conference. I attended one in Baltimore many years ago when I was relatively new to the National Archives and the archives field in general, so it was interesting to be back at this conference with a fair bit of experience in the profession under my belt. I was surprised and pleased to see that many of the sessions had a focus on reparative description or reexamining the way records have been traditionally processed. These topics have been of great interest to me personally and have become a swelling movement of work to be done throughout the country at many archival institutions and programs.

S2: Documenting Black Lives: From Erasure to Black Lives Matter focused on the work of community and university archivists collecting and doing memory work within Black communities. The reality of the “hidden workload” (work that is done beyond a job’s defined scope, but needs to be done in order to complete meaningful work) hit close to home. In S7: Our Interactions with Contentious Archives, the University of Pittsburgh Library went over the approach of “conscious editing” in their archival descriptions. All of the speakers in S10: Old Habits Die Hard: Addressing Processing Practices of the Past, presented interesting and compelling reasons for why already processed (or seemingly processed) collections should be given another look, including: to provide record’s saving holdings maintenance, increase access with better description, and bring descriptions up to the field standard. All in all, the sessions, plenary, and tour I attended were all very informative and provided me with inspiration and ideas to apply to current or future projects at NARA. Bonus – I attended one of the happy hours and my team of fellow colleagues (team name Nartians) came in second place!

John LeGloahec, Archives Specialist, Electronic Records Division

4 people sitting on a stage
MARAC 50th Anniversary Meeting Plenary Panelists, from left: Moderator and former MARAC Chair Geof Huth, Founding MARAC Member Ron Becker, former MARAC Chair and National Archives staff member Fynnette Eaton, MARAC Member and former MARAC Vice Chair Jodi Koste

Just last week in College Park, Maryland, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) celebrated its 50th birthday, not far from the Hornbake Library on the University of Maryland campus, where the organization was founded in 1972.  I, along with several other staff from the National Archives at College Park, attended the meeting.  I was concluding my service as one of the “tri-chairs” of the 50th Anniversary Committee and was excited to be a part of an in-person conference once again.  In addition to networking with friends and colleagues throughout the three day meeting (the meeting was expanded by one day for the anniversary), I presented at the first session of the meeting – speaking on the relationship between MARAC and the Society of American Archivists (SAA).  I also attended a session on Saturday which was devoted to what the future holds for MARAC.  The panelists included several younger archivists in the profession, including the MARAC Chair-elect Jessica Webster of Baruch College, City University of New York.

I’ve been a member of MARAC since joining the profession nearly 30 years ago, and have presented at numerous conferences and served on both Program and Local Arrangements Committees for past meetings.  I have also served the organization as a Member-at-Large, Treasurer, and Chair of MARAC.  Since joining the staff of the National Archives fifteen years ago, I’ve worked on collaborative efforts between MARAC, SAA, and the National Archives Assembly, as well as presented on archival topics, including archival reference, electronic records, and preservation, descriptions, and access. In the photo above are seen Geof Huth, who served with me as the co-chair of the Local Arrangements Committee for the Spring 1998 MARAC Meeting which was held in Saratoga Springs, New York, where MARAC will return next fall.  Also on this anniversary plenary discussion were former NARA staff member Fynnette Eaton, who spent the last part of her career with the ERA Program Management Office from 2003 until her retirement in 2007.

Edit: The post was updated to correct information regarding the career of Fynnette Eaton. It previously stated she spent the entirety of her career with the predecessor to the current Electronic Records Division.