Headwaters of History – The Midwest Archives Conference

MAC 2011 Annual Meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

Digital archivist with unidentifiable superhero delivery man

Digital archivist with unidentifiable superhero delivery man

What? Snow in late April? Thank goodness for hot tater tot casserole and superheroes who deliver pizza with wild rice topping!

At my own expense, I recently had the pleasure of attending the Midwest Archives Conference in St. Paul Minnesota, where I presented with two colleagues in a session called On the Front Lines: Challenges and Opportunities in Archivist-Records Creator Collaborations and enjoyed some of the Twin Cities’ extracurricular offerings.

Others have summarized and blogged about the individual sessions, so I will provide just a few memorable tidbits from the trip.


  • The keynote by Dr. Mark Neuzil, University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) was about Henry Bosse, whose government-sponsored photographs of the Mississippi River have been re-discovered in archives, libraries and personal collections throughout the United States. The St. Paul District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers loaned their Bosse album to the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) for digitization, and the photos are now available in the Minnesota Digital Library. Dr. Neuzil joked that Fort Snelling was the fort built to protect the U.S. from Canadian invasion!
Fort Snelling, 1889. Bosse, Henry Peter, 1844-1903.

Fort Snelling, 1889. Bosse, Henry Peter, 1844-1903.

  • Unfortunately, there are no remaining negatives of Bosse’s photographs. The Corps destroyed the glass plates because they were too large and took up too much storage space. Imagine the loss if someone had done the same with negatives  of our WJ Moore panoramas, which can be up to 8 inches high and 8 feet long.
  • I was excited by the extensive use of social media to enhance the conference experience and share with other archives and library professionals who could not attend in person. Search the #2011mac hashtag on Twitter to catch some of the action and check out the conference blog.
  • In his portion of the session Using What Works: Practical Approaches to Born-Digital Archives, Seth Shaw from Duke University dubbed the term “promiscuous access”, which could be a challenge for donors of digital materials, to whom access to analogue collections means something much more limited than the kind of access that can be provided via the Web to entire collections. The difference is, respectively, an audience confined to the repository reading room and one including anyone with access to the Web.
  • The Friday night MAC reception was held at the Wabasha Street Caves, prior host to a silica mine, a  mushroom growing operation, a speakeasy and several discos. A local actor playing the ghost of a Prohibition-era gangster gave a tour riddled with intrigue, hauntings and humor… and showed us where the caves were riddled with gunshot holes! He was a good sport when all the archivists wanted to know the archival sources for his historic tales.
  • Walleye on a stick! The night after the first meetings, a group of archivists took in a Twins game at the new Target Field. The MAC group was sheltered from snow by the overhang as the Twins were hammered by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Food on sticks at the Twins game

Food on sticks at the Twins game

Very cold archivists under the overhang at the Twins game.
Very cold archivists under the overhang at the Twins game. Photo by Lara Friedman-Shedlov.
  • Charles Schulz, of Peanuts fame, was from St. Paul. There were life-sized statues everywhere, including the conference lobby.
Empress Manufacturing Company [plant]

Wrong peanuts. Empress Manufacturing Company - June 1945. Item Number CVA 586-3904.

  • Our session on the final Saturday of the conference was packed, which made us quite nervous at first. Lisa Carter, Associate Director for Special Collections and Area Studies at the Ohio State Libraries, ably chaired our session and bolstered our nerves. The crowd was wonderfully engaged and had great questions about my topic, the VANOC archives acquisition. I look forward to refining the presentation and presenting with the same groups at the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting in August, where the audience could more than triple!

Overall, I warmed quickly to the cold Minnesota climate and the professionals I met were all bright and engaged archivists and librarians.

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