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August News Wrap Up

By Colleen Theisen, Chief Curator

August was a busy month in the Special Collections Research Center with many of our staff traveling to the Society of American Archivists conference in Austin, Texas, and IDEAL ’19: Advancing Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility in Libraries & Archives in Columbus, Ohio. Interns and student workers hurried to finish summer projects. Instruction requests started to roll in for fall (request a session here!). Exhibition preparation and installation dominated the month of August. Stop by for a sneak peak at the progress  or join us for the official unveiling of “150 Years of Tradition at Syracuse University”  at a reception on September 5, 2019, from 4pm-6pm on the 6th floor of Bird Library.

News and Mentions:

August 21, 2019. SCRC’s graduate student assistant, Isabel McCullough describes her summer internship.

New Acquisitions:

The Reentry Box Set, 2019. The People’s Paper Co-op, Philadelphia, PA. A set of 10 prints in a folder, all handmade by formerly incarcerated women and men on handmade paper from pulped criminal records.

(Please allow time for cataloging. Contact the department for updated status.)

New to SCRC and the Belfer Audio Laboratory & Archive:

Help us give a “warm” welcome to our new oven!

Many audio tapes manufactured since the 1970s exhibit a chemical breakdown, hydrolysis, also known as “sticky shed syndrome. This manifests as a sticky brown deposit on tape machine parts such as heads and guides, often accompanied by an audible squeal and reduction in audio quality. The condition worsens as the tapes age.

Reversal of this condition can often be achieved by baking the tapes in a lab oven for extended periods of time, sometimes up to several weeks. Belfer’s new lab oven has precision digital control necessary for repeatable results and the capacity to treat multiple reels at once. It will also be used for controlled experiments in flattening warped vinyl records from our collections. We will work to  establish optimum temperatures and exposure times for flattening vinyl records of different density.

Thank you to audio engineer Jim Meade for sharing information about this process.

Highlight from August Social Media:

First-year students on SU’s campus are still getting used to college life, but at least they don’t have to worry about…

Posted by Syracuse University Archives on Thursday, August 29, 2019

Andre Norton: Creator and Guardian of Fantastic Worlds

Student workers join the Special Collections Research Center over the summer to work on focused projects and internships. For the month of August we will be highlighting student work and student research projects from summer 2019. This week, we highlight a research post from one of our graduate student workers.

By Jana Rosinski, Curatorial Assistant

Syracuse University Libraries Special Collections’ Pulp Literature and Science Fiction Collections is home to the papers of Andre Norton (other pen names: Alex North and Allen Weston), a science fiction and fantasy phenom with enough publications to inhabit the many worlds she created. The Andre (Alice Mary) Norton Papers, a gift from Andre Norton, contains Norton’s writing in varying stages of development, correspondence with other science fiction and fantasy authors, and a sampling of fanzines she followed.

As a writer, Norton’s some 300 titles that spanned over her epic 70 year career as a writer are awe-inspiring to me. Breaking into the largely male-inhabited realms of science fiction and fantasy in the 1940s and 50s and earning a plethora of awards for her creativity and contributions to the genre shouldn’t be overlooked—she was the first woman Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy, the first woman to be the Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master, and the first woman inducted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. But what is truly stellar is her immersion in the community of science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts (AKA fandom).

Norton provided support to science fiction fan communities and other writers in several ways. Aside from trying her hand at owning and running a bookstore in 1941, reading for Gnome Press (a small publisher of what would come to be considered sci-fi classics), and working at the Library of Congress and nearly every branch within her home library system, Norton subscribed to fanzines and engaged with writers, illustrators, and readers in the community.

Fanzines (way pre-internet) were DIY publications of fan fiction, original art and pieces of writing, a space for reviews of books and movies, a means of knowing the realm’s goings-on (conventions, group activities, and other events), and analogue discussion forums. These pages allowed cross-country and even global communication and connection between humans who really loved a character, series, world, or even just an element of the genre.

SCRC has an assortment of fanzines owned by Norton that she collected as a fan, including an issue with her handwritten note about an illustrator and regular contributor, suggesting her knowledge of the publication, as well as an issue of Amra, a swordplay & sorcery fanzine about Conan the Barbarian, with a letter addressed to Norton from the zine’s editor. Since this was 1962, each issue was individually addressed and mailed to subscribers (some of the zines still have stamps and the handwritten traces of this). Noting that Norton was a patron of the publication, the editor thanks her for her support and even asks for her to contribute an original piece (while also joking about all the fanzine can offer in cents per word).

Continuing her support of writers, Norton went on to create a research and reference library of popular literature genres for writers, with a foundation of some ten thousand texts from her personal library. She called the research library High Hallack, named for a continent from her Witch World series. In addition to texts, Norton provided art and videos she collected, as well as support for mail and phone inquiries. Like fanzines, the library was a space for the celebration of fandom and the exploration of new worlds.

Through her fiction, fan patronage, and her amassed collections, Norton created galaxies for exploration that continue to serve as ready portals to discovery.

The Special Collections Research Center is dedicated to providing opportunities for student learning and research. Stay tuned for more updates from our students throughout the month of August.

The Andre (Alice Mary) Norton Papers, are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections (Andre (Alice Mary) Norton Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).

Additional Sources:

“High Hallack Library.”, 2019,

Norton, Andre. “High Hallack Library: What It Is and Why.” The SFWA Bulletin, Winter 1999, pp. 24-25.

Voices from Attica

Student workers join the Special Collections Research Center over the summer to work on focused projects and internships. For the month of August we will be highlighting student work and student research projects from summer 2019. This week, we highlight a research post from one of our public services graduate student workers.

By Chris Barnes, Public Services Assistant

As part of its large collection of activism and social reform materials, Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center holds nearly 170 titles from poet Dudley Randall’s Broadside Press, a small press that sought to publish books by African-American poets such as Nikki Giovanni and Audre Lorde at affordable prices. The book of poetry Betcha Ain’t: Poems from Attica exemplifies the press’s commitment to publishing voices that may not otherwise exist.

On September 9, 1971, over 1,200 prisoners at the Attica State Correctional Facility in upstate New York took 39 corrections officers hostage and occupied the prison’s main yard for four days, demanding long-awaited improvements to the prison’s deplorable conditions. The standoff drew international attention as inmates negotiated for these changes with State Corrections Commissioner Russell Oswald. The negotiations eventually stalled, and on September 13, when Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered state troopers to retake the prison by force. Some troopers dropped tear gas from helicopters while others stormed the prison and fired their rifles into the smoky yard killing hostages and inmates alike and ending with more than 40 casualties. 

Edited by Celes Tisdale three years after the rebellion, Betcha Ain’t contains poems by Attica inmates. Tisdale held multiple eight-week poetry workshops in Attica in 1972, working with 15 men chosen by a lottery system. In the workshops, the men discussed various poetic forms and workshopped their own original writing, honing their poetic voices. Tisdale then submitted the poems to the Broadside Press editor Dudley Randall, who then made the final selections. 

The poems are about an array of topics, such as prison life, societal racism, and celebrations of blackness. And, not surprisingly, many are about the Attica uprising and its bloody aftermath. For instance, in his poem “1st page,” Daniel Brown imagines himself physically freed from Attica, but still mentally gripped by it: “I’ll find a house or hut to live in / In a lonely countryside / With Atticka on my mind.” Such feelings of loneliness not only stem from the physical isolation of incarceration, but also the sense of being forgotten or disregarded by the outside world. John Lee Norris’s poem “Just Another Page (September 13-72)” grapples with similar themes, as it expresses the sense that a year after the uprising, the world beyond prison walls has already forgotten about the rebellion:

A year later
And it’s just another page
And the only thing they do right is wrong
And Attica is a maggot-minded black blood sucker
And the only thing they do right is wrong
And another page of history is written in black blood
And old black mamas pay taxes to buy guns that killed
    their sons
And the consequence of being free…is death
And your sympathy and tears always come too late
And the only thing they do right is wrong
          And it’s just another page.

Also included in Betcha Ain’t are excerpts from Tisdale’s personal journal about the workshops, along with individual biographies of each poet. The journal entries depict a relationship founded in a shared sense of respect and intellectual camaraderie: “The men joke with me as we enter and leave, but I still detect great respect, almost an awe, a stand-offish attitude. I see them as the men I relate to every day in the world outside. How it pains me when they go back to their cells, but linger and talk before the guard hurries them along. If I could only stay here a few days more.” His entries also attest to the difficulties of running the workshops in Attica, as he must compete with the vagaries of prison life that affect the poets. He describes one attendee who has become “unusually despondent these days. His cell was ‘raided’ by officials and his poetry and books confiscated. He has been very tight, recently.”  

The poems in Betcha Ain’t challenged contemporary media depictions of the rebels as a monolith of dangerous, radical leftists. But as my time working in the SCRC Reading Room reminds me, archives are not only a repository of materials, but are also institutions that help shape historical and cultural memory. Indeed, the historian Heather Ann Thompson explains in her book Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy that a comprehensive history of Attica has been difficult to write, as many of the important documents about what happened during the chaotic retaking of the prison have remained sealed in state archives or are available only in heavily redacted form through Freedom of Information Act requests.

With important documents still inaccessible, a way of learning more about Attica rebellion is through the voices of those who helped shape the publication of texts such as Betcha Ain’t. For researchers interested in these voices, SCRC also holds Syracuse University student publications such as The Syracuse Sun, which covered trials against Attica inmates and also featured letters written by them that tell readers about the ongoing conditions in the prison. These materials offer a look at the ways local activists attempted to rally support on behalf of Attica inmates and to spread the word about the grave injustices continuing to take place at the prison.

The Special Collections Research Center is dedicated to providing opportunities for student learning and research. Stay tuned for more updates from our students throughout the month of August.

Betcha Ain’t: Poems from Attica and the Broadside Press publications are part of SCRC’s rare books collection (Rare books, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) and the student publication The Syracuse Sun is part of SCRC’s Syracuse University Student Publications Reference Collection (Syracuse University Student Publications Reference Collection, University Archives Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).

Additional Sources:

Leasher, Evelyn. “Broadside Press of Detroit.” Michigan Historical Review, vol. 26, no. 1, 2000, pp. 106-123.

New York (State). Special Commission on Attica. Attica: The Official Report of the New York State Special Commission on Attica. Bantam Books, New York, 1972.

Thompson, Heather A., 1963. Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy. Pantheon Books, New York, 2016.

A Perfect Pair of Graduate Student Summer Projects

Student workers  join the Special Collections Research Center over the summer to work on focused projects and internships. For the month of August we will be highlighting student work and student research projects from summer 2019. This week, we highlight a pair of graduate students working in our Belfer Audio Archive on digitization and audio preservation projects. 

By Colleen Theisen, Chief Curator

Two students working this summer in the Belfer Audio Archive have a surprising connection. Jenny Jian and Young Yang have been a couple for 8 years and been married for 6 months. They went to the same high school, the same university for undergraduate study, and now are pursuing their master’s degrees at Syracuse University together.

Jenny Jian, a student in the Audio Arts master’s program (’19 Newhouse & VPA College) is part of a pilot program to have student workers perform digitization work on the Latin American 45 collection.

The Bell Brothers Collection of Latin American and Caribbean Recordings at Syracuse University Libraries contains over 12,000 recordings from North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean. The 45-rpm disc collection includes various types of music such as merengue, bolero, guaracha, chachachá, pachanga, merecumbé, seis fajardeño, bomba, plena, mambo, guaguancó, son montuno, charanga, guajira, música jíbara, danzón, and more.

Max and Joseph Bell, the owners of the Bell Music Box, a New York City record store, were avid collectors of Latin and Caribbean music. Syracuse University acquired the entire inventory of the Bell Music Box store in 1963 and recently began a major digitization project to preserve and make accessible this unique collection.

Using digital audio production skills gained from the SRT program, and following a comprehensive training guide developed at Belfer, Jenny inspects and replays materials from the Latin American 45 collection. She also captures relevant technical metadata which is then embedded in the archival master files.

Jenny’s work is part of a pilot program to incorporate qualified student workers to increase digitization output on the project. So far, the team has digitized over 4,500 of the approximately 12,000 discs in the collection. Adding students to the team has enabled the Belfer staff to tackle this large project at a faster rate.

Meanwhile, Young Yang, a student in the Art Video MFA program (’19 VPA College) has been working on disc cleaning and image processing for the same project.

Much of the collection dates from the 1950s and 60s, and may have been stored in less than ideal conditions since then.  Poorly cleaned discs will render audio transfers which are unacceptable for archival preservation. Yang’s work is a vital step in quality assurance on the project.

In summer of 2018, SCRC undertook the Catalyst project in partnership with vendor AVP to photograph the entire LA45 collection and gather label metadata for cataloging. The high resolution images captured will enable researchers to examine not only the labels, but the runout area at the end of the groove where valuable information is etched or stamped during disc manufacture. Yang is cropping and applying filtering as necessary to images, according to the workflow developed at Belfer. These images will serve as visual surrogates for the original materials, reducing the need for handling of fragile and often rare discs.

Together, the couple is helping Belfer preserve audio recordings every step of the way, from cleaning to processing images to digitizing recordings.

The Special Collections Research Center is dedicated to providing opportunities for student learning and research. Stay tuned for more updates from our students throughout the month of August.

The Bell Brothers Collection of Latin American and Caribbean Recordings are part of the Belfer Audio Archive collections. (Belfer Audio Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University).