The Digital Underground: Adapting Archival Practices in Times of Crisis, Michele Combs Discusses Crowdsourcing during Covid-19

by Brittany Bertazon, Graduate Assistant for Digital Library Program

This post expands on the two work-from-home (WFH) digital projects developed for students and staff to enhance digital object records during COVID-19 quarantine spring 2020. These projects were a joint effort of the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) and the Digital Library Program (DLP). The Marcel Breuer transcription project used documents and correspondence from the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive in which participants created transcripts of digitized handwritten documents.  The Dime Novel description project used images of covers of early 20th-century books that comprise the Street & Smith Dime Novel Collection; participants created augmented, culturally-sensitive, accessible narrative descriptions for these visual objects. [Note: The transcripts and descriptions will be added to the records when they are migrated to the Libraries’ new digital asset management system, Quartex.] These projects were led by Michele Combs, Lead Archivist for Syracuse University Libraries Special Collections Research Center, and initiated with the help of Deirdre Joyce, Head of the Digital Library Program. In an interview conducted in July 2020, Michele Combs talks about her untraditional path to become an archivist at an academic institution, SCRC’s first experience crowdsourcing projects with SU staff outside of SCRC, and how Covid-19 presented a rare opportunity to alter the archival status quo for greater inclusion. 

Brittany: Tell me a little bit about your background and education. How did you get to the role you are in now?

Michele: This is my third career. I initially was a preschool teacher, although I had always been interested in technology. In college, I started out as a computer science major and then switched to history. When I graduated, I got certified to teach and then ended up moving. In America you have to be certified in each state, so I was no longer certified to teach when I moved. So, I took a temp job working on technical manuals for the US Navy. The subcontract team revised technical manuals and created illustrations using a desktop publishing program called Interleaf.

The woman who ran that team was from Syracuse, where General Electric [which operated the subcontract team] had a plant.  She asked if I would come back with her and start up a similar team here, which I did. At the same time, the Navy was beginning to move all of their technical documentation from a paper format to an electronic format, Extensible Markup Language, otherwise known as XML. I gained a lot of experience with data conversion and manipulating XML.

After nine years in military industrial work, I was ready to move into something else. Library school had always been in the back of mind since my mom worked at a library. In 2004, I started library school at SU. In my last semester I did an internship in SCRC, which at the time was looking into converting all of their finding aids from paper to electronic format using Encoded Archival Description (EAD).  EAD is the XML standard for encoding archival finding aids. So, I was like “I can do that for you!”

It was a really amazing convergence of the technical background that I obtained while working at Lockheed Martin [GE Aerospace was sold to Martin Marietta, which later merged with Lockheed] with my library science degree. I was hired by SCRC in a temporary donor-funded position to work initially on the adult education collections, which turned into a permanent role. That’s when I got to focus on the finding aid conversion. When Kathleen Manwaring, who had been my supervisor and the Head of Manuscripts, retired, I became Lead Archivist.

Brittany: What is your role?

Michele: My responsibility is all of the processing of the collections. That’s everything from accessioning the material when it comes in, to the initial rehousing to make sure it’s stable, to prioritizing what collections to process. In addition, I supervise the processing by training interns, student employees, and new staff. I make sure we have the supplies to do the processing, create and code the finding aids, then publish the finding aids online. It’s basically from the point the curators make the decision to accept something to getting it ready for researchers. At that point, it becomes the responsibility of the curators again or patrons who want to use it.

Brittany: What does the typical day look like for you during usual circumstances when unaffected by Covid-19?

Michele: A large chunk of it is usually spent doing processing. I really enjoy the actual hands-on work. There is always a portion of my day that is devoted to one-on-one meetings or answering questions from my staff. This could be talking with them about what they are going to do next or what they’re working on now, or any questions they may have.

There are always a certain number of meetings because the processing unit also has the responsibility for descriptive metadata for our digital materials. As a result, there are meetings with the Digital Library Program people for discussions about new metadata projects that are coming up or the status of current ones. I monitor the supplies we have and whether we need to order more, because we never want to run out or people would have to stop processing. We always want to make sure we have enough of the basic supplies—the folders, the boxes, etc.

Since I’m also responsible for publishing the finding aids, usually once a week there’s a little bit of work on uploading those to the server, letting Information Technology (IT) know that we need them re-indexed, and doing a little bit of quality assurance to make sure they’re following our guidelines. We have documented guidelines for how the EAD finding aids should be written and encoded. I’m the final quality check for finding aids before they go online.

Brittany: Is the greatest involvement with the DLP within your position through descriptive metadata?

Michele: Right now, yes. Mike Dermody is the technical side of the metadata production. He manages the digitization, works with the vendors, and provides the technical metadata. Then, IT manages the front-end for our users to access materials and search our collections. Our involvement is inputting the metadata so that it is discoverable and accessible.

Brittany: What equipment or technology do you use most frequently?

Michele: In general, we use the basic Office Suite. Excel is an important part of what we do because as we are processing a collection, we start to build the inventory of that collection which will eventually become part of the EAD record. We can also use Excel to manipulate and prepare metadata in big batches for ingest.

Then, any XML editor tools (like Oxygen XML Editor or XMetaL) are important for preparing and encoding the finding aids. I have been doing it long enough that a lot of times I will just work in Notepad. But everybody else usually uses an XML editor because it helps to prevent any errors from creeping in.

The other major one would be FileMaker Pro; our entire collection management is done through a FileMaker database. It is a homegrown one which has a lot of the same capabilities as ArchivesSpace or Archon. However, we started this before those were widely available. Maintaining that database is another big part of my responsibility by way of adding to it, upgrading it, testing new functionalities, etc. Everybody in the department accesses that database, from public services staff to processing staff to curators. Right now, I am also using Photoshop because we have a huge number of photos that we took of the American Book Company illustration plates that need to get converted to TIFF and resized.

yellowed sheet with 4 old black and white photos of buildings on the sheet
Figure 1 shows four examples of landscape illustrations in the American Book Company plates. During the initial metadata creation process of the digital object records, an intern identified that one of the illustrations (circled in red, top right) was signed by Thomas Moran, an American painter and printmaker of the Hudson River School in New York. Such a discovery further demonstrates the value of digital collections and the impact descriptive metadata can have for researchers. This image is retrieved from a SCRC blog post written by Sebastian Modrow, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Brittany: Can you tell me more about the American Book Company (ABC) project?

Michele: If you go to the SCRC blog, there’s a great post on the ABC project. It explains how the project came about and when it was done. Essentially, it  was part of a major rehousing project. Since the ABC illustrations are so fragile due to the acidic mounting board, we opted to take photographs of the materials while rehousing. Although it was not initially intended to be a public project, the photos turned out really good, so we decided to make them available publicly which required accompanying metadata. That’s one of the projects people have been working on from home during quarantine.

NOTE: The Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at Syracuse University Libraries has its own blog in addition to the Libraries’ general blog. It has been active since May of 2019 and is edited by Grace Wagner, Reading Room/Access Services Supervisor at SCRC.

Brittany: Speaking of working from home, how have archival workflows changed in general for you and your staff?

Michele: I think the most notable difference is that by the nature of processing you need access to the actual stuff. So, the biggest change is that the main part of our job, we cannot do right now. As a result, everybody has shifted over to the descriptive metadata projects while working from home. In terms of the Digital Library Program, that’s all we do right now. Everybody is working on some aspect of descriptive metadata.

Brittany: It is my understanding that the work-from-home (WFH) digital projects enhancing metadata description began per Dean Seaman’s request, but ultimately it was you and Deirdre Joyce that were responsible for initiating and launching these projects.

Michele: Originally, we had talked about them as exclusively for SCRC staff. It was partly the Dean’s idea that some of these projects are really big and could be something we open up to the rest of the library staff.

At that point, Deirdre and I said to each other, “Okay we need to talk about this…how is this going to work?” because that meant bringing on board a lot of people who don’t have experience with archival material. We went over how we could make it as easy as possible, so that people could work on a project whenever they needed to without a lot of supervision. In that respect, the implementation of the project was slightly different than we would have done it if it had been more normal. Normally, it would have been a much more monitored project. But having people check each other’s work has actually functioned really well. I’ve gotten emails from people who were excited to have a chance to work on Special Collection projects. One person said: “I feel like I’m a detective!”

Brittany: As the WFH content specialist and project lead, was there anything that immediately stood out as not ideal to go about creating and process testing for it to be fully inclusive and easy to use for non-SCRC staff?

Michele: One of the things that was clear right off the bat is that within the library as a whole we have a huge range of technical comfort levels, experience, and capability. So, there were some parts of the process that we changed to make it simpler and easier. For example, initially we were going to have people claim a particular item to work on and then go to the digital platform and search for that item. Deirdre suggested that we provide a link instead, so people don’t have to search, they can just click. She found a quick and easy way to get working links into the tracking spreadsheet we were using. We continue to enhance the instructions, too, based on the questions we get.

Any time you start a project you make certain assumptions, consciously or unconsciously, about how people will interpret what you say in the instructions or how easy a particular step will be. If it turns out something is not clear, then you revisit it. From that respect, doing everything on Google Drive was fabulous because I could update the instructions and the new version was immediately live. With this many people working from this many places, using Google Drive was really the only way to do it.

Brittany: Were the Marcel Breuer archival materials and the Street & Smith Dime Novel covers digitized prior to the launch of the WFH projects?

Michele: Yes, the dime novels were digitized back in the early 2000s. We got a grant to do that and then Breuer was done between 2008 and 2011.

handwritten letter in cursive
Figure 2 is a letter written by Eberhard Thost to Marcel Breuer, which serves as one example of the different kinds of archival materials with handwriting in need of transcription. This correspondence is a part of the Marcel Breuer Papers at Syracuse University Libraries and is available for closer examination on the digital archive.

Brittany: How did you feel about the outcome of the WFH projects?

Michele: I’m all for it, I think it’s great! We’ve gotten an incredible amount done—so much more than I expected. One of the best things about getting the whole library involved is that some of the people who have been the most active are folks that work at the Facility. Working in the warehouse, they don’t normally get a chance to do hands-on work with archival material, and they were fantastic.

It was satisfying to be able to give non-SCRC workers at SU Libraries, especially those whose work was hindered by lack of physical access during this pandemic, a work-from-home experience. The projects are low stress. The work is easy to do, but it is concrete. Each record makes up a little piece of a larger whole. You can visually see the number of works go up, and that you are contributing. Psychologically, I think it had a positive impact for people during a time of crisis.

Brittany: In regard to the DLP, are these the only projects going at this moment or are there any future projects on the horizon?

Michele: I think Special Collections will continue to be an active partner with the DLP just by the nature of our holdings. We want to make our collections available to more people and the metadata will be complicated because it is archival materials, but access is at the forefront of our work. Making these digitized objects accessible to people who use screen readers is an additional challenge because these are not new materials that we’re creating from scratch, like a Word document. When we digitize a letter, it is an image. It’s not accessible to screen readers and it isn’t searchable, because that’s not an option without a lot of extra intervention. So yes, I’m 100% sure there will be many things that we will be proposing as projects for the DLP.

For example, I would love to see the full content of the dime novels scanned and OCR’d (optical character recognition) then made downloadable as text files. Because of the nature of these books and when they were written, they give a vivid picture of the popular culture of the time. The adventure novels tell you so much about how America saw itself at that time. If you had the corpus of texts that you could analyze and pull apart, it would have really rich potential.

As far as transcription within the library or outside it, I would love to see us do some of our abolitionist correspondence. We have letters from Gerritt Smith and Frederick Douglass and all of these amazing people who made big strides in early social justice. Women’s rights, rights for former slaves, anti-slavery, prison reform—we have materials from people who were deeply involved in those battles, and it would be amazing to digitize all that correspondence and have it transcribed.

colored drawing of man in white suit looking at boats and Asian workers at dock
Figure 3: Jack Harkaway in China (Round the World Library No. 130) is part of the Street and Smith Publications in Special Collections Research Center’s rare books collection at Syracuse University Libraries.

NOTE: The Dime Novel cover description project was launched to create more accessible descriptions for low/no-vision users and provide rich descriptions for potential digital humanities projects. It incorporated anti-racist description techniques in order to de-center whiteness in the collection. While Street & Smith were committed to “clean and wholesome” adventure stories and serve as a testament to the social culture of the Progressive Era, the content and cover art exhibit dominant narratives of white superiority and examples of Western racial hierarchy during intercultural encounters. Combating racism with descriptive metadata is an imperative and ongoing issue in libraries, archives, and museums and was recently explored in depth at the Association of College and Research Libraries 2021 conference. By providing more inclusive and conscientious descriptions of our resources, we can begin to deconstruct colonial ideology and revitalize collections within the social context of today.

Brittany: Flipping that perspective, are there any past projects that you really enjoyed that the DLP and SCRC worked on together?

Michele: The DLP is still relatively new. I was on the team that helped draft what the DLP would look like (the original white paper) in 2016. But I think it is going to be really valuable. For example, in the early phases of the Breuer project the necessary internal communication channels were not all in place. The DLP connects all areas—information technology, digitization, descriptive metadata, and digital humanities. In the white paper we argued pretty strongly to have a digital humanities person on the DLP core team, because that’s the ultimate goal when you digitize materials and create metadata. What do you do with it? What are some creative or innovative digital humanities projects you could do? I think the DLP will be key to making these sorts of things happen.

Brittany: Do you think SU could (or should) continue to internally crowdsource digital projects post-Covid?

Michele: Absolutely! It’s fun for those of us in Special Collections to have a chance to interact directly with other people in the library on a project. I love that we’ve been able to do it. We had talked within Special Collections about some of these bigger projects and the idea of crowdsourcing, because other institutions have done that kind of thing, but it never occurred to us to crowdsource within the library. It was a really good fit for this particular moment and shows promise for the future.

Brittany: When do you feel most fulfilled in your role?

Michele: When I go through the Reading Room and I see a researcher using a collection that we processed. It’s really satisfying to see that that final step realized—we did all this work, and here’s somebody who wouldn’t be able to do what they’re doing if we hadn’t made that possible. That just feels so good to see somebody using the end product of all your work.

The other part I really enjoy is working with my staff, and our interns and student employees. By the nature of processing, there are certain best practices and certain constants but essentially it’s a big sorting project and everybody approaches it differently. I love watching people figure out how to do it, to see them internalize the key points and then make it their own.

And it’s always fun to hear from our interns and student employees two or three years later, when they’re out in the world and putting that experience to use.


Faculty Experts at Syracuse

by Brenna Helmstutler, Librarian for the School of Information Studies

Faculty profiles in Experts@Syracuse is an excellent opportunity to highlight your expertise and dedication to impactful research. Research metrics are often used to show evidence of research impact for tenure and promotion, grant proposals, performance reviews, CVs, and faculty webpages.

If you’re looking to populate your profile, there are two ways to add works automatically via selected database feeds and import of online sources by title or author. For more information on this, visit the ‘Importing Online Sources’ page of the Experts@Syracuse Profile Management research guide. For other entries not included in the feeds or imports, there is a manual option to add content, available under ‘Adding/Updating Own Profiles’.

You can also add research metrics in your Experts profile, including:

  • Scopus: h-index and citation count
  • PlumX: citations, usage, captures, social media
  • Altmetric: blogs, Mendeley readers, social media

For more information or help with your Experts@Syracuse profile, go to:


Behind the Spine

by Jessica Rice, Preservation Lab Supervisor

You are relaxing with some tea and reading a book, and suddenly you get the distinct and eerie feeling that eyes are watching you.  You do not see anyone else in the room.  Well, just an idea: those eyes might be inside your book!

Employees in the Syracuse University Preservation Department take pride knowing that their work will impact readers for years to come.  The repairs vary from simply re-attaching loose pages to reinforcing the book’s structure.  Occasionally, however, the books themselves provide little surprises that add fun to the process.

Many older books have a paper or cardboard lining inside the spine of the book.  (The spine is the “back” part of the book, opposite from where the pages open.)  Bookbinders would put a lining in to help the book open more easily.  For the most part, the linings are just dull scraps of blank paper, perhaps something that was found lying around the workshop.

But every once in a while,  we find a spine lining that provides an extra dimension to the book considered as an object.  What was the binder of the book-with-eyes thinking?  Perhaps they were making a (really inside) joke, providing personal commentary on the book’s topic, or even just amusing themselves on a dreary day.  As with all the linings discussed here, the paper was later removed to complete the repair and was not preserved. 

You just never know what you might find inside a book once you take it apart.  The spine liner below was found inside a 1950s-era book on Rationalism in French Literature of the 1700s. 

binding of book with cartoon of people in old fashioned costumes, woman holding parasol, men wearing hats

The publisher was J. Vrin, located in Paris.  Did the binder pick this paper on purpose, perhaps as a comment on rationalist criticisms of social institutions?  The grumpy-looking woman in the center certainly looks as if she might have something to say.  Or, more prosaically, this was just a random left-over scrap from an advertisement or magazine page.

book spine with monochromatic image of cherubs playing

This book’s spine liner does not look like a randomly cut piece of paper, but something that was selected to allow the two groups of cherubs to remain intact. As you can see in the close-up, the two little cherubs are enjoying a book.   The paper scrap shows just a portion of what originally was a very detailed illustration with fine cross-hatching, a lovely floral border, and a dramatic scene on the right side that is difficult to decipher.  This kind of find makes one wish to see what the rest of the image contained.

close up of two cherubs sitting side by side reading a book

Below is another rather dramatic image, with a woman holding something in her left hand that could possibly be a torch.  The partial text at the bottom, “Verlag von Carl Krabbe,” is the name of a publishing company in Stuttgart, Germany.  This spine lining may have started off as a portion of a book cover or catalog from that publisher.

book binding of woman with text at bottom that reads Verlag von Carl Krabbe

Below is a spine liner made from what appears to be a form or page related to marriage.  The larger letters at the top look like the beginning of Holy Matrimony.  In the middle of this scrap paper are spaces for the date and what might be a space for witnesses to sign.

book spine with green lettering that looks like marriage certificate

Below, a closeup view of the bottom of the paper shows a delicate flower image that appears to be a wild rose along with the word “Love” in ornate script. 

book spine with word "love" and rose

Finally, sometimes we see text written in a language that we cannot read on the spine lining of a book. There can still be an interesting picture that draws attention.  In this case, the yellow and blue circles bring an astronomical diagram to mind. 

blue and yellow circles with connection lines and text in another language/alphabet

These humble and hidden scraps of paper are amusing and give some insight into the world of bookbinding in the past.  A physical book truly links a past craftsperson and a current reader in a real and tangible manner. While there are still people who make books by hand, most books now are printed and bound on large industrial machines.  Book designers are not as intimately involved with the final products.  Even today, however, people make creative choices about fonts, book covers, illustrations, sizes, and materials.  That human element of the book, so apparent as we work in Preservation, remains and will continue to make books a valuable part of the cultural record.


Finals Week Tips: How the Libraries Can Help

Whether you’re finishing up a paper or project or studying for a final exam, here are some tips to help you finish the semester strong.

Student studying on a laptop while wearing white earbuds in front of colorful book shelf

Take advantage of the Libraries’ resources and helpful staff—near or far!

Reach out to your Liaison Librarian
Search by subject to find an expert librarian who specializes in your topic or area of study! Then, simply schedule an appointment, or call/email your librarian for help finding resources or tools for your research.

Use Research Guides to find resources by topic
Stuck while searching for resources? You’re in luck! Our Research Guides cover over 265 specific topics, with curated recommendations on books, databases, streaming video, open access items, and more.

Find a quiet space
We’ve designated certain areas for quiet study, including:

  • Carnegie Library Reading Room
  • Quiet Reading Room, Bird Library – located on the Lower Level
  • Quiet Computing Area, Bird Library – located on the 2nd floor, computer workstations available
  • Plastics Pioneers Reading Room, Bird Library – located in Room 610 on the 6th floor
  • Safire Room, Bird Library – located in Room 605 on the 6th floor

Need even more privacy? Reserve an individual study room
Reserve individual study rooms in both Bird and Carnegie Libraries, available for up to 3-hours at a time. Plus, choose a room with technology equipment to ensure a quiet spot for an online class, presentation or exam!

Brush up on the research process, including how to cite sources
Check out the blog post below from Giovanna ColosiLibrarian for the School of Education, with helpful research tips and process recommendations, from narrowing your topic to correctly citing sources.

Virtually browse our online collections
Millions of items are available in our online collections, which can be searched through Summon.

For direct links to our online curated databases, visit:

Pick-up items from Bird Library
Borrow items from our physical circulating collections at the Check-Out desks, via UPS delivery, or through our contactless pick-up options at Bird Library, including new item pick-up lockers:

To request that an item to be held in a locker for you:

  1. Find the item in our catalog. Under Holdings Information, check that it is marked “Available,” and select “Request this item.”
  2. Select “Bird Library Lockers” as your Preferred Delivery Method
  3. Complete the remaining form and select “Submit Request.”
  4. You will receive an email with an access code and QR code to scan notifying you that your item is ready.
  5. Head to the lockers, located first floor of Bird Library at the Waverly Avenue entrance, and proceed to the touch screen display.
  6. Scan your QR code or enter the numbered access code, and your item’s designated locker will open automatically.

For assistance or accommodations, call 315.443.5727 or email circhelp@syr.edu.

Gray metal Item Pickup lockers with orange Libraries logo and Item Pickup stickers in Bird Library

Borrow technology items
Visit the Check-Out desks in both Bird and Carnegie Libraries to borrow technology equipment, like laptops, headphones with microphones, and calculators. Most items are available for 3 hours, with limited quantities of laptops available for extended loan (14-days).

Request scanning or electronic delivery
Looking for a specific physical book from the Libraries? No problem. Anyone with a valid SU or SUNY-ESF ID can request a digital copy of journal articles or book chapters from our physical collections at Bird Library, Carnegie Library, or King+King Architecture Library.

To request a digital copy of an item:

  1. Log into SU Libraries’ Interlibrary Loan system.
  2. On the left side of the page, select “New Request” then “Article or Book Chapter.”
  3. Complete the form then Submit Request. Note that copyright law limits how much we can copy in some circumstances.
  4. Once the item is scanned, it will be electronically delivered to you.

Graduating? Here’s how we can continue to help!
Congratulations and great job! The Libraries offers some familiar resources to SU alumni, plus new resources to meet your information needs.

Contact us!
As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Libraries with any questions. Our staff are ready to provide remote support to point you in the right direction. Simply choose the method that works best for you:

Don’t forget to take a break!

Self-care is important, so remember to get up often, drink plenty of water, talk with friends and family, and take part in campus partners’ study break events throughout finals week—like meditations with Hendricks Chapel, ice skating, e-sports, and more through the Barnes Center! The Barnes Center at the Arch staff is also here to help and support you every step of the way with counseling and other health services.

Your local public library also offers tons of free leisure material, from fiction and fantasy to e-books and audiobooks! Below, John Stawarz, Online Learning Librarian, gives his tips and how-tos for accessing all of these relaxing resources!

The end is in sight! After a long and uncertain semester, we’re proud of all you’ve accomplished—and you should be proud, too! From your friends in the Libraries: best of luck on finals, and have a relaxing and restful winter break!


Library Resources You Might Not Know About

by Dan Mulvihill G’21 (Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs), Access and Resource Sharing Student Employee

Streaming services and digital news subscriptions are more popular than ever, and the University Libraries has students covered. With over 700 databases, we have access to tons of great services from streaming movies and documentaries to digital news subscriptions. Here are just a few highlights that every member of our campus community should know about!

Video and Streaming Access

Swank Digital Campus: Swank is a wonderful source for accessing all genres and eras of movies, from “Casablanca” (1942) to “Tenet” (2020). SWANK is constantly adding new and popular movies, so it is definitely worth checking out frequently to see what you have access to watch. To access this resource, search for “SWANK” in the “Databases” tab. Click on the source in the search result, and you will be redirected to the Syracuse University page for Swank (or sign-in with Net ID if off-campus). Once you’re in, enjoy watching the broad array of content available!

Kanopy: This is the perfect place for streaming documentaries, biopics, and more! Found by searching “Kanopy” under the “Databases,” you will be redirected to the Kanopy site with full access if you are on-campus or go through a Net ID sign-in (EZProxy) if you are off-campus. Once you get to the site, you will be provided with access to many relevant and award-winning documentaries and movies.

Academic Videos Online (AVON): AVON, is a great source for silent movies, short films and archives of news broadcasts like “60 Minutes” and the BBC. By searching “AVON” in the “Databases,” you can find this source and be redirected to the AVON site (if you are off campus, you will have to sign in with your Net ID). Once you’re on the AVON site, you can browse collections and highlights and search for the content you’d like!

News Source Subscriptions

New York Times Digital Edition: As one of the most popular sources of news in the nation, the New York Times Digital Edition is a sought-after subscription for many. Creating an account and getting a subscription is included for all current students and faculty! To set yours up, go to the “Databases” tab. From there, search in the bar for “New York Times.” The New York Times Digital Edition source will pop up, and underneath the title will be link to set up your own account subscription. Make sure to use your syr.edu email when you create your account in order to get the free subscription.

Wall Street Journal: “The Wall Street Journal” is a wellknown source for all things business. With the Libraries’ subscription, all students and faculty can create their own account with an included subscription! To do so, search for “WSJ” on the “Databases” tab. Once you have located the source in the search results, click on the link in the paragraph below the source title to register your account. Make sure to use your syr.edu email account when you are creating your account to get the subscription.

Advance Media NY: Did you know we also have free access to local news through syracuse.com and The Post-Standard? Register for access on the syracuse.com website using the promo code SU2020STUDENT. You’ll have access to news, information, analysis and in-depth stories. While not directly offered by the Libraries, it’s still a great resource you should know!


Can you share your DEIA story?

by Kate Deibel, PhD, Inclusion and Accessibility Librarian

I was recently asked a great Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) question from a colleague at the University of Massachusetts: “Do you have any resources on approaching someone and asking them directly to share their DEIA story?”

To put it more bluntly, the question is about calling upon an apparently “diverse” person to speak about diversity, either in general, or about the “diversity” you think they represent. Examples include asking the one woman on a software team why more women don’t do programming. Calling on the Black kid in class to speak about the impact of slavery. Asking the one Asian staff member their thoughts on the Hong Kong protests. Appointing the person in a wheelchair to assess the accessibility of a website. Such questions or requests are fraught with problems and assumptions.

The first is to recognize misuse of the phrase “diverse” person. Diversity does not apply to an individual. It is a description of the way a group of people are heterogenous. A person’s sense of diversity comes from the identities, backgrounds, cultures, labels, etc. they have adopted as part of their sense of being. An individual is an individual. When with a group of people, the person’s identities may increase the diversity of the group. Note that some aspects of diversity may be more visually evident (race, language, etc.), but others may be outright invisible (sexuality, gender identity, disability, etc.). The only way to get 100% certainty about a person’s “diversity” is for them to openly share that information with you.

Next, recognize that identity does not necessarily confer expertise. In the provided examples, many assumptions were made, such as assuming the Asian staff member is Chinese or that they have they been following the protests. That the the wheelchair user has knowledge of accessibility testing or using a screen reader, let alone computer expertise of any kind. That the Black student is expected to give sociocultural commentary on history and society. The point here is that DEIA work is not simple and you can’t expect a person to fully know about or be able to speak about it because they live some aspect of it.

Even after recognizing that a “diverse” person may not have the expertise to speak deeply on the subject of DEIA issues, you might still want them to talk about their lived experience. Although everyone is an expert on their lived life, the act of sharing those experiences is not a neutral, cost-free activity for the person. Since the 1990s, the term diversity fatigue has referred to exhaustion that organizations and individuals can develop in regards to ongoing DEIA conversations. While study of this phenomenon has taken several directions, one important aspect to understand is the fatigue experienced by those who engage in DEIA advocacy directly.

Fatigue is a common symptom of “diverse” people. If your day is filled with tracking attempts to file new laws restricting your rights, facing accessibility barriers to enter buildings, or reading reports of another racially-motivated attack because of your race, you are absorbing stress. Being a member of an underrepresented group in America today means that DEIA, good and bad, is an everyday, lived experience. Mindfulness, compartmentalization, attempts to block it out, and other coping mechanisms can help, but it’s a daily occurrence you experience. A recent book on the topic, Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit by Mary-Frances Winters describes this ongoing fatigue felt by black people in America, and it is on my to-read list.

Now, let’s take that fatigue and add the onus of having to educate your peers about your lived experiences. Your peers may be quite enthusiastic to learn and engage, so it’s hard to say no. But look at what that teaching will entail. Will your time be compensated? Quite often, being asked to educate one’s peers about DEIA issues is unfunded service work. Black employees are reporting that they are tired of being tasked to do work that they were neither hired for nor have expertise in. The pressure to assist in DEIA efforts are difficult to refuse because the cause is important. But will you be rewarded for the work? The belittling of service work as less important is a well-known problem and has been cited as a significant barrier for women professors in STEM due to female professors typically having higher service expectations than their male counterparts. This can be due to the desire to create a diverse committee, which forces the few women on staff to serve in many roles. Furthermore, the expectation that women are more caring and have a helping mentality pushes them into service work that may not be as valued in tenure calculations.

Assuming the above concerns are addressed, are there any other reasons why someone might still feel uncomfortable speaking about their “diverse” life? Absolutely! The reason is tokenism.

Tokenism typically refers to highlighting that a “diverse” person is part of the group for the ability to claim diversity. This means showing the same student in a wheelchair in almost every photo on a college website. Or having the Black woman who is a middle manager appear in the background at every big press event. Or having a “diverse” speaker present at a meeting. It’s wishful thinking to think that one person can solve DEIA issues. And a person representing a group likely does not want to be taken as speaking for everyone in that group. Will your remarks perpetuate stereotypes or fight against them? This burdens the person with added stress and pressure to not “mess things up” for others in their community.

Although this is a long response to the question, as I indicated, we cannot expect simple, single, silver bullet solutions to the complex questions and challenges that must be addressed to achieve DEIA in business, education, and society. In summary, the reasons you should not directly ask an apparently “diverse” person to speak on DEIA topics or their lived experiences as a “diverse” person are:

  • An individual is only “diverse” to a group in context
  • Not all diversities are readily apparent
  • Discussing DEIA issues is an area of expertise not held by everyone
  • A person may have ongoing fatigue from their lived experience
  • A person may not want to perform unfunded, unrewarded labor
  • A person may want to avoid being a token representation and enforcing stereotypes

When seeking out speakers to talk about diversity topics, you can look for people who have an established reputation of talking about their culture, identity, heritage, etc. You should plan to compensate them for the time and effort they provide. You can also attempt a general forum and invite attendees to speak on their own accord. But remember, not everyone may feel safe, comfortable, or have the energy and wherewithal to contribute. Hopefully someday everyone will be able to share about identities. That’s the goal of DEIA work.


Library and Information Resources for SU Alumni

By John Stawarz, Greg Dachille, and Austin Waters

Syracuse University Libraries warmly congratulate all students who will soon or who have recently graduated. Great work! During your time as a student at Syracuse University, you’ve likely come to appreciate many of the resources, services, and library professionals who have helped support you and your work. Here’s information on which SU Libraries’ resources you can continue to access after graduation, as well as help you discover new resources to meet your information needs.

Resources at Syracuse University Libraries

Alumni who have completed a degree program at Syracuse University, University College, or SUNY-ESF are eligible to obtain a free Guest Borrower card to check out materials from the Libraries for 28 days. Note that there are some restrictions; alumni can have twenty items checked out at a time, and can renew these items up to five times. While SU Libraries’ buildings are currently closed to alumni due to COVID-related safety restrictions, you can normally obtain your Guest Borrow card by presenting your Alumni ID card or other form of identification at the Bird Library circulation desk.

Due to licensing restrictions from publishers and content providers, alumni access to our licensed databases, e-journals, and articles is only available on campus, as EZproxy access officially ends at graduation. You can register at the Bird Library circulation desk to obtain a computer key to use a computer to access our licensed digital resources.

While access to licensed library resources will end, Summon, our main search tool, can help you locate ebooks, journal articles, and other information resources that are published under an open-access license. Open-access resources are freely available online resources that often carry less restrictive copyright and licensing barriers than traditionally published works. To find open-access resources through Summon, simply click on the “Open Access” filter listed in the “Refine Your Search” section of your search results, as demonstrated in this search for information technology resources.

In terms of library technology, you can print to our non-plotter printers through a guest printing account, as PaperCuts print quota account that you used as a student will be closed and any remaining funds will be deleted. And while Bird Library computers are available to alumni, other loaner technology items, such as power adapters and graphing calculators, are only available to currently enrolled students.

Resources at Other Libraries and Across the Internet

SU Libraries strongly encourage students and alumni to explore the wonderful resources and services that public libraries offer, some of which aren’t even available at SU Libraries. For example, not only do the Onondaga County Public Libraries offer research assistance, interlibrary loan, technology, and databases, but they also offer access to thousands of ebooks, audiobooks, streaming movies, and other digital resources that can be opened on nearly any device. Registration for an OCPL account is free and online. If you still currently live in New York State, registering for an account at the New York Public Libraries will open even more doors to hundreds of additional online databases and thousands more ebooks and audiobooks.

If you’re looking for a particular book or other resources near where you live, you can use the WorldCat search tool to learn which local libraries—including public, college, and university libraries—have the item available in their collections that could possibly be available to borrow.

If you have a particular database that you’ve come to rely on during your time at Syracuse University, we’d strongly recommend going to that database’s website to see if they offer any type of free or limited access. JSTOR, for example, offers up to 100 free articles per month to users, and other databases such as ERIC and PubMed also offer some level access. Two other online tools for finding journal articles and other resources are Google Scholar, which can search through many databases simultaneous, as well as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), which offers access to more than six-million open-access journal articles.

Information Technology Digital Tools & Resources

In addition to questions about library resources, library staff also receive a number of questions about digital tools that are not provided by SU Libraries, particularly the digital tools that Information Technology Services (ITS) provides.

Access to some of these tools, such as Adobe software and LinkedIn Learning, will end at graduation. For other digital resources, such as AirOrangeX, access to the G: and H: drives, Google apps (G Suite), and Office 365, you should have temporary access for up to 12 months. Finally, you should have perpetual access to resources such as Zoom (basic level), Handshake, and your Syracuse University email account (as long as SU continues to renew its current agreement with Microsoft).  

More information on these and other digital tools can be found on the IT Resource Access After Graduation, Retirement, Resignation webpage.

Questions?

If you have questions about any of the resources or services listed here, please feel free to reach out to Syracuse University Libraries for assistance. You can also watch the recording of “So You’re Going to Graduate? Library Resources for SU Alumni,” which was part of the Learn at SUL! workshop series.

Congratulations again your graduation!


New Libraries Resources

By Rachel Fox Von Swearingen, Interim Collection Development & Analysis Librarian

Streaming video

  • Digital Theatre Plus Streaming video collection of theatre, dance, musical theatre, opera, and film productions in many genres, as well as interviews and notes by practitioners about production, technique, lighting, design and more; includes content from provider such as the, BBC, Broadway HD, LA Theatre Works, and Royal Shakespeare Company.
  • Art Films Digital Films, documentaries, masterclasses, and interviews for arts education and practitioners.
  • Electronic Arts Intermix Media art from early works to present, as well as biographical information about artists, essays, and information about the media artworks, from Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI).

Online Archives

E-books and texts

  • New Play Exchange Contemporary play scripts, monologues, adaptations, and more from a variety of writers, lyricists, and composers.
  • SAGE Knowledge 2021 ebook frontlist now active on the SAGE Knowledge platform
  • Springer Nature Access & Select Program ebook titles (includes Springer and Palgrave Macmillan) now active on the SpringerLink platform
    • New access to Behavioral Science & Psychology ebooks for 2018-2021 imprint years
    • New access to 2021 frontlist titles for Biomedical & Life Sciences; Earth & Environmental Sciences; Education; Engineering; History; Social sciences

Journals


The Digital Underground: The Perils and Legacy of Audio Preservation at The Belfer Audio Archive, A Conversation with Jim Meade

by Brittany Bertazon, Graduate Assistant for Digital Library Program

This post pertains to the preservation of audio recordings currently underway at the Diane and Arthur Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive (Belfer). Belfer is part of Syracuse University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center. It is one of most inconspicuous buildings on campus; it is constructed partially underneath the hill adjacent to the Goldstein Alumni building and connects to Bird Library via an underground tunnel. Constructed in 1981, the building was the first structure anywhere in the world specifically dedicated to the restoration and preservation of audio recordings. Although the building was not constructed until 1982, the original archive collection was founded in 1963, with the acquisition of the Joseph and Max Bell Collection. In this August 2020 interview with Belfer’s audio engineer, Jim Meade, we explore topics such as risks involved in preserving different audio formats, passing on vestiges of audio preservation knowledge to the rising generations, and quarantine Work-From-Home (WFH) projects.

Brittany: Can you encapsulate what you do at Belfer?

Jim: I am an Audio Preservation Engineer at the Belfer Audio Archive, which is part of the Special Collections Research Center. My primary function is to digitize the Libraries’ audio collections, which cover everything from the earliest wax cylinders up through Shellac 78 records, including various formats such as analog tape, cassettes, wire recordings, and transcription disks. We have about 500,000 audio items in the collections.

Brittany: Is audio digitization how your position contributes to the Digital Library Program (DLP)?

Jim: Yes, digitization work is a primary contributor to the DLP. But we also contribute to digital stewardship of audio materials by helping the DLP folks to decide on the metadata standards that we use to describe digital audio objects. I spent a lot of time working on that with Mike Dermody (Digital Preservation and Projects Coordinator) and Déirdre Joyce (Head of Digital Library Program).

Brittany: What is the organizational structure of Belfer and how does that relate to your contribution to the DLP workflow?

Jim: Mike Dermody, [SCRC’s] Digital Preservation and Projects Coordinator, is our direct supervisor here at Belfer, so all of our workflows come through Mike. The engineers typically have a lot of involvement in that process as we will look at the collections and assess our input concerning what the most at-risk formats are.

Some formats are deteriorating more quickly than others. For example, analog tape is an at-risk format whereas our vinyl records will last quite a long time. Things of that nature guide our decision-making and will impact decisions as to what we digitize and when. We also consider the potential research value of the collection items.

Brittany: What are some of the projects that you have worked on with the DLP?

Jim: I worked with the metadata advisory group when it was still active, mostly in my capacity as an Audio Engineer. I was also involved in specifying some aspects of our back-end preservation system, which is Preservica. We looked into a lot of vendors’ systems for that, and my involvement was peripheral just for audio preservation input.

Brittany: Which digitization project are you currently working on?

Jim: I am currently working on the digitization of the Bell Brothers’ Latin American and Caribbean 45 rpm record collection, which are old single 45 rpm discs from the 1950s and 60s from all over the Caribbean, Latin America, Central America, South America, as well as a lot of imports from Spain and Portugal. I have been working on this collection for four years; it is a four-year project, and there are about 12,000 discs to be digitized, so that’s a lot of hands-on with discs and cleaning. I have worked on other things in the past, but that is the mainstay of what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years, and we’re hopeful (fingers crossed) that we’ll finish it early next year, in the first quarter. We will crack open the champagne when that happens.

Brittany: What equipment or technology do you use most often for this work?

Jim: We use a lot of analog equipment like professional record turntables and tape machines. We have specialized cylinder playback equipment, namely two Archeophone machines, manufactured to order and quite costly.

We then use very high-end analog to digital converters, like benchmark ADC16 converters, which we use consistently. We also use Steinberg WaveLab software (digital audio editor and recording computer software application) as our ingest front-end platform. Also, we have very high-quality audio cards for our specially designed computer workstations.

machine to read audio cylinders
Machine used for cylinder audio playback.
three side by side photos of audio recording equipment inside Belfer
Three images were captured by David Hoehl for a featured article “On an Overgrown Pathé,” which documented his visit to the Belfer Audio Laboratory at Syracuse University for TNT-Audio – online HiFi review viewable at https://www.tnt-audio.com/vintage/syracuse_e.html.

Brittany: What is one thing no one ever knows about what you do?

Jim: People generally do not understand the complexity of playing back old materials. There are two things specifically people do not understand:

  1. Every single format requires a specific type of machine to play it back on.
  2. There is no formal training or degree program dedicated to audio preservation in libraries or archives.

Firstly, keeping the machines in working order to play back things that are 100 years old, is a challenging thing to do. Our tape machines are nearly 40 years old, and parts are difficult to find, so people don’t understand the impact of equipment obsolescence. Many think you just get a record, put it on a record player, and put a needle on it. But we have a stylus kit at Belfer with 40 different styluses in it for all the different groove sizes. These cover a wide range of materials from the earliest manufactured records in the late 1800s to contemporary vinyl’s used today.

The complexity of the under the hood elements of preservation is not well understood. You have to understand the physics of sound, how the material was manufactured, and its limitations, what frequency responses one can get from it, etc. in order to line up those machines to give you the best possible playback. Digitization is complex and very expensive, so it is crucial to get it right the first time and get the very best transfers possible.

People also don’t understand that there is no formal degree program akin to the library science programs for the preservation of sound recordings. LIS programs barely touch on what we do. As a result, people in similar positions to mine come into preservation from other fields. My background is in broadcast, film production, video production, and network news. Audio preservation workers always enter the field sideways.

Brittany: How does an emerging professional learn to handle the delicate equipment without that kind of base knowledge and experience to be working with it?

Jim: The equipment is not too complex. You can read the manual and learn how to work the equipment if you have an audio engineering background or recently completed coursework that touches on audio engineering or studio recording technology. This is how we get our student workers who come in with some knowledge about audio and how it generally works.

Learning the intricacies of the materials is the most crucial thing to comprehend. Once you start handling old records, cylinders, and the like, there are specific techniques for each and specific techniques for cleaning them. You also have to know how to line up the equipment to playback legacy sound materials. With 78 rpm [revolutions per minute] records, there are scores of different manufacturer’s tone settings and varying stylus or needle sizes we use. You have to develop an ear for listening to it, especially younger people who are born-digital and used to listening to ultra-low noise digital stuff.

When they start listening to analog recordings, it is noisy, crackly, and hissy, and the inclination can be to get into the software and take all that noise out. But you can’t do that because then you’re taking away half the signal as well, so you have to educate the younger engineers into understanding what analog sound is and what we’re trying to preserve.

newspaper clipping of article dedicating audio laboratory
Herald-Journal Newspaper article “SU Dedicates its Audio Laboratory” written by Jay P. Goldman in 1982. This press clipping includes a relevant block quote by William D. Storm, previous Director of Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive at Syracuse University, which reads “our objective is to preserve sound for history, posterity’s sake, not to manipulate in any way, although that would be very tempting with the equipment here.”

Brittany: Do you have a group of younger people working with you regularly and what kind of work do they do?

Jim: Currently, we have one student preservation assistant, Jenny Jian, who’s working with us at the moment, helping us do transfers. She directly assists me, which entails dropping the needle in the groove, monitoring, and digitizing those discs. I hand off work to Jenny comprising discs that are in pretty good condition. If she comes across serious condition issues, those discs are passed on to me because there are manual techniques that you can use that can be dangerous if you don’t have that skill base.

All materials for digitization are analog, which is why engineers like me are often of a certain age, born in the analog era and maturing into the digital world, understanding the analog side of things, and trying to pass that on to a younger generation of rising professionals. This work is a niche, but I think there are many people interested in it, and a lot of younger engineers are getting involved in it as well, which is a good thing. I am hoping that those skills will transfer across.

NOTE: The Belfer Audio Archive hosts preservation assistant positions and internships for any students interested in developing skills in audio preservation. The assistant mentioned in this interview has since graduated and Belfer will be looking to potentially hire for the summer 2021 session. Interested parties should also consult the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) resources website which provides contacts for related professional organizations, discussion listservs, training opportunities, and other sites of interest.

Brittany: Speaking to both the technicality and physicality of this work, how did quarantine fair for you?

Jim: Quarantine was a nightmare for me because of the amount of hands-on work I do in the studio. I have to be in this studio to access all this equipment. Fortunately, I had a couple of weeks of work lined up that I could do from home remotely, like editing files already digitized. It was a bit glitchy over the web, but I learned to tell the difference between clicks coming from the network lag and genuine audio clicks, which takes a bit of experience.  That took up about two or three weeks of work, and then I assisted with other projects.

Working from home was very strange for me. It took some getting used to; I missed working on the projects. As the months dragged on, I realized how behind we were getting on audio projects where a digitization aspect was present, which was a big concern. I was constantly thinking: “my God…when are we going to get back to doing this?”

NOTE: At Syracuse University, all students and staff were given a quarantine order to not enter the premises as a result of the initial onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Only essential staff members were granted access to buildings after roughly three months of quarantine. During this transitory period, SU Libraries shared digital projects, colloquially referred to as the Work-From-Home (WFH) projects, to give both student workers and staff from across the library opportunities to enhance object records. This was in part created for those whose normal tasks were hindered by the current circumstances, so that they could continue working from home. Using documents and correspondence from the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive, the first project involved transcription of 1,986 handwritten pages to create machine readable transcriptions for later enhancement of digital objects. Another project similarly used scanned images from the Street & Smith Dime Novel collection to create rich, accessible descriptions of Dime Novel cover art for low/no-vision users with techniques borrowed from art history. These projects were conceived by Michele Combs, Lead Archivist at Syracuse University Archives, and initiated with the help of Déirdre Joyce, Head of the Digital Library Program.

Brittany: Were the other projects you mentioned any of the Work-From-Home (WFH) projects created by Special Collections and the DLP?

Jim: Yeah! I worked on both of those, especially the descriptions of the Street & Smith Dime Novel Covers. I did quite a bit on that, and I thought it was fun. It was way more difficult than I thought it was going to be. Trying to describe the still cover picture was quite tricky, but I think I got it down in the end (at least I think I did). During the early phases, Michele Combs, WFH project lead and content specialist, gave us great pointers on what to do, what not to do, what level of detail, and what was not necessary to include in the description. Once we got all of that out of the way, I started to really understand it.

It was not unlike what I do in audio preservation! In the Marcel Breuer Archive Transcription project, I looked at documents and visually scanned the handwritten portions. It was hard for me because I was mistakenly engaged with the meaning of the text, whereas that was not the main focus. I had to get past that and analyze the document objectively, which I realized is the same thing I do with audio. In sound recordings, I am listening for the noise and the anomalies (the messy bits) just like I am searching for the anomalies in handwritten notes in the Breuer Archival documents.

Brittany: When do you feel most fulfilled in your role? 

Jim: When I get feedback from people who use the sound materials, it is at that moment that you realize how important it is.

The other thing that excites me is when people come in for studio tours and instructional sessions. I enjoy instances where we get to show off what we do because people have no idea. I also like to talk about the old analog stuff to people who are studying audio engineering. Once they understand the nature of early acoustic recording, you can see the moment they realize how fantastic it was that people were able to record audio with no electronics and nothing that plugged in—no microphones, no nothing. Yet, they were still able to make these relatively fantastic recordings. Sharing that knowledge with people excites me. We get many research inquiries through Special Collections, and that’s another vector by which we share our knowledge.

Brittany: Are you still going to be hosting students for tours and the like with the pandemic still in play?

Jim: I do not think so. Our plan is to produce a video tour of Belfer for virtual learning. I usually do about 20 tours and presentations a year. Our class presentations are all tailored for the particular group. Unfortunately, I do not think we’ll be doing a lot of that this year—at least that is not the current plan.

Brittany: Is the Belfer Laboratory and Archive usually accessible to the public?

Jim: The door to the premises on the outside is always locked. There is no public access without an appointment.

NOTE: At this time, in-person tours remain suspended due to COVID protocols. The landscape on this is constantly shifting. In the interim, Belfer continues to participate in live online SCRC instruction sessions and has produced recorded materials for several classes. Several instructional recordings also exist on Syracuse University Libraries’ social media sites.