Wednesday, April 01, 2015

"Manufact" Defined

For April Fool's day, I present a word in archives that I can find only one citation for in the English language but which was used seriously as a term in that case in our field. Since it is not a term appropriate for the Dictionary of Archives Terminology, I present it here, but in the format of that dictionary.

archivity furthers

manufact   n. ~ an artifact considered as an object that records and preserves meaning similar tot he way that an archival record does

Related Terms



cognitive artifact

  Notes   Just as a manuscript is written by hand, a manufact is made by hand. Each is a human creation, each records the fact of its manufacture, and each transports meaning into the future for continued use by other humans. The concept of the manufact accepts that all “recordings” (even digital “recordings” of text or image or sound, or physical recordings in the form of objects) exist as physical realities that maintain information over time, thus each must be accorded the respect archivists usually reserve only for the record.  
Citation   Washburn, Wilcomb E. “Manuscripts and Manufacts,” The American Archivist 27:2 (April 1964): 247. The important distinction is not between the written word and the material object but between the specific fact and the general idea. The specific fact may be either in the form of a written document—a manuscript—or a material artifact or “manufact” (if I may be permitted to use an archaic term to demonstrate the close relationship of the artifact and the manuscript). The historian has an obligation to the specific before he plunges into the general, and it is this responsibility that unifies the manuscript and the manufact.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Address, and the Place the Address Takes Us

SAA President Danna C. Bell Just before Her Presidential Address, Washington, D.C. (14 August 2014)

I am a person of words, of words isolated, of words in roving packs, of words sunk into the soft bedding of the page, of words swirling into my ears. I am the captive of the word, the manner in which it holds and transmits meaning, the shapes it takes upon a screen, the sounds it has in flight.

For these reasons, a presidential address--any presidential address of any president I must accept as my own--is important to me. The traditional address of the president of the Society of American Archivists as she or he steps down is particularly important to me. There is, after all, the tradition, the notion worn into me by so many long years that at the end of an SAA conference the president looks back at the year just past, the only year of a fruit-fly's-life presidency, and looks outwardly and forward toward the future, at what archives and archives will be, must be, will strive to be.

So I was distressed, to a visible degree, when Danna C. Bell (now the immediate past president of SAA) reported earlier this year that she did not intend to give a presidential address. Most members of SAA Council urged her to give one. I certainly did. But she was determined. She said that she didn't think it necessary to give an address, and she seemed uncomfortable at the thought of it. 

Think about it: The Society is now growing, it is larger than it has ever been, and the presidential address is delivered in a giant room, with multiple video projections showing the president up close to a thousand people or more. The presidential address at the annual conference of the Society of American Archivists is the biggest speech an archivist will ever give to archivists. It is momentous, after a fashion, and possibly unnervingly so.

Intended reality, however, changed on us, as it always does. (There is a Borges story where a man imagines all the possible details of how he might be executed so that he might escape death--because nothing in life ever happens as we imagine it will.) Danna decided to give a presidential address, but a very small one, one to only to SAA staff, members of Council, her family, and a few of her close friends. Most members of Council, including me, learned of this change on the Monday of the conference. 

Upon hearing the news, I was both happy and disappointed--happy that there would be an address but disappointed that the address would not be to everyone in attendance at the conference. Because the news of the presidential address, and the location and time, were a surprise, not even every member of Council could attend. At least one had a scheduling conflict, and I don't remember seeing everyone else there. 

In fact, I almost forgot about it, because it wasn't listed on the little app I used to navigate the conference. I remembered at the last moment but still made it on time. Upon walking into the room, a small one, I noted that many of the sessions at this conference were more than ten times larger than that room. There were probably under 100 people in attendance, but they were all people Danna knew well, except for a few extra people who unwittingly followed invitees into the room.

Once in the room, I chatted with people, reintroduced myself to Danna's mother (whom I'd last, and first, seen when Danna was made a fellow of the Society), and sat talking with Danna's family until the speech began.

I remain ambivalent about Danna's decision to give her speech in this manner. On one hand, I understand the difficulty some people have speaking in public. (Personally, I can't really understand it, because the bigger the crowd, the more comfortable I am speaking before it. The size of the crowd gives me energy. I pull it out of their bodies.) Still, I like to believe that leadership requires us to push ourselves beyond on areas of comfort. I would have preferred Danna to give a speech to everyone or to explain before the conference why she wasn't.

I prefer more access to the presidential address than had occurred last week. I want any information at the conference to be available to everyone. I desire the free flow of information for everyone. But I also have to consider the human being Danna is. I'm not really sure she was worried about speaking to such a big crowd, I don't remember her saying that, but many have told me that was the issue. It's possible that she simply didn't want the attention or considered the presidential address a distraction from the serious business of learning and networking. And I say that unironically.

In her speech, Danna noted that the speech would be taped to "provide access to members and non-members." And she explained that she didn't know if it was necessary to give a presidential address, noting that her "columns and blog posts had given members plenty to consider." Then she said, "But a number of people were aghast at an SAA annual meeting without a presidential address." And she explained that an unnamed member of Council told her she would give a speech "come hell or high water."

Her speech I thought was one of the best I'd heard, especially at the end. She demonstrated some oratorial legerdemain, a bit of genius with the tools she was using: words. 

She begin by talking about using primary materials in education, something her life is focused on, and she demonstrated, through personal illustrations in her life, how "we must think about the story," how "we must think of the people behind the documents." She made some of the arguments I myself would make for archives and archivists. She hit some delicate nerves within me and played a bit of music.

And her ending was beautiful, if extended.

She began by quoting from, of all places, Mary McLeod Bethune's last will and testament:
I leave you love. I leave you hope. I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another. I leave you thirst for education. I leave you respect for the uses of power. I leave you faith. I leave you dignity.
And Danna continued with that anaphoric structure, never letting on that she'd left out the details Bethune had included after each of those opening sentences, which were simply dramatic topic sentences to most of the ending paragraphs of her will.

Then Danna switched the tables. Bethune was a woman in the present past who was looking forward to a time when she would be dead and people would hear her words as words from the past urging them forward. Danna was a woman in the present giving words in that present as a means to make us move forward toward that wished-for future. What Danna did was wish for the future with us; she wasn't leaving us anything. She was telling us her desires, hoping they'd be ours, encouraging us to think of them as such. Telling us to make them so (as Bethune herself was, from another direction).

Though, maybe the world of archives seems a less important place than the struggle for racial justice, especially today, I still believe that archives holds some of the promise of that justice.

In the climax of her presidential address, Danna asked for a world where archives matter more to people. And she gave a wish for the SAA staff, saying that "full-time staff, just like archivists, deserve jobs and living wages, benefits and support." (I loved that human touch, that respect given to a group of people who work hard for the Society and accomplish more than I would ever think possible.) Danna also wished that members would support one another more, finding ways in which we are brought together as one, rather than ways in which we can separate from each other. She said, "We are a strong, vital, powerful group with great minds and passionate hearts." And I believe it. I believed her. I see it.

In the end, I don't know for sure why Danna didn't want to give a presidential address or why she gave her speech this way, but I accept that this venue, that small crowd, might have made it possible to give a speech as good as the one she gave. I'll take what I can get. I'll accept what is lost if what replaces it seems sufficient.

And this speech seemed more than good enough. And it is available on line for all to see, to hear. We can all watch it. And we can watch it again. I'd move the dial to the last eight minutes of the speech. I'll listen to that again. I already have tonight.

I am a man of words, of my word, and I'll accept these words from Danna as a gift to archivists. I'm happy for the gift.

Earlier today, I wrote to Danna to explain that I'd be writing this little essay, to say that I'd explain my thoughts about the speech and its manner and place of birth. Danna seemed curious about what I'd have to say, so I was glad I didn't surprise her with this.

Yet I continue to wish I had heard this presidential address in a grand hall, even if that meant I'd miss a chance to see her mother again or meet her aunts and uncles. I wish everyone had had the chance I had to hear this live and in person, even if not as intimately as I had.

I'm sitting teeteringly between two poles of thought. But I'll let the more hopeful thought win out.

archivity furthers

Friday, April 25, 2014

Attending S10 Remotely

1. Go to

2. If requested, enter your name and email address

3. If a password is required, enter the meeting password: Webharvest1

4. Click "Join".

5. Follow the instructions that appear on your screen.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

My Introduction to the 2014 Archives Leadership Cohort

I'm Geof Huth, Director of Government Records Services at the New York State Archives, where I've worked (in six different positions) for the past 23 years. Random notes about myself:

I'm a native Californian, descendant of multiple '49ers (none athletes). I've lived in five states, nine countries, and four continents, and I don't have a favorite country.

I know too much about beer, so bring homebrew (which I don't make). I am serious half the time.

I climb fast. I live in the world of archives because I'm passionate about it, and I'm passionate about electronic records more than is seemly.

I am a poet, visual and otherwise, mostly working in forms of poetry you will not have heard of. My shortest poem is one punctuation mark long.

My work has been shown in Bergen, Norway. I was a small but active part of the 1980s zine revolution.

Cliff Hight is one of my favorite people, and ALI14 will be my first time seeing him outside of an SAA conference, even though we graduated from the same library school.

Natalie Baur is one of the few people I know who knows the South American card game Telefunken, though the version she plays is considerably different from my Bolivian version.

I've never played a musical instrument, but I can provide you with recordings of my playing. I sing constantly, even at work, as my secretary can tell you, but the only song I know all the words to is "Happy Birthday."

One of the most respected craft breweries in the country is in Decorah, and I know the way there. As Terry Baxter has, I lived a good deal of my childhood in the tropics.
My first professional job was as a labor archivist. I consider myself a records manager, and I see archives as part of records management.

I am known to tell jokes. Language is my medium and element.

I keep my home at 52 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter (511.67 degrees Rankine). I have a general interest in clothing and color.

In 2008, I attended the first instance of ALI in Madison, Wisconsin. I firmly believe you'll all have a great time at ALI, because I know the people who will be working with you, I've read about all of you, and because there is also something that happens at ALI to bring people together and inspire them.
I write too much. I talk too much.

All of this is true. Be well, and see you in 101 days!

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Escape from New Orleans

firewater (at Pat O'Brien's) (17 August 2013)

My thought tonight is to begin to remember a little of New Orleans, specifically the Society of American Archivists' conference there last week, and to begin to stitch together a story. I begin with the night before leaving New Orleans because a story told in the proper order is not a story at all.

I found myself, at a point that night that was almost late, walking down Bourbon Street, a street known for rowdiness--and this was a Friday night. When I asked why we were walking down Bourbon Street, the answer was, "Because everyone wanted to," yet no-one expressed that want in such a way that I could hear it, which is understandable. The noise at Pat O'Brien's was huge and wavelike, surging at me, trapped as I was against a metal fence, pinned in by chairs to either side of me, the table--everything was metal--preventing my escape forward, if I'd wanted to escape.

Strangely, I'd found myself at Pat O'Brien's in much the same way. I had just started reviewing the beer selection* at Ralph & Kacoo's again with my friend Scott Goodine, the provincial archivist of Manitoba, when suddenly Rachel Vagts told me we were leaving. The "we" was not exactly clear at the time, but it ended up being much of the steering committee and both of the staff from the Archives Leadership Institute (@ Luther). I still ordered my beer and stood at the bar talking to Scott, but soon "we" were indeed leaving, so I had the bartender dump my remaining beer in a styrofoam cup and I hit the streets of New Orleans with my first open container of alcohol.†

Walking the Streets of New Orleans with a Styrofoam Cup of Beer (17 August 2013)

Pat O'Brien's was wild with the noise of talking and music and waterfirefountains, and we were there (I learned during the walk) for hurricanes, a common New Orleanian drink that consists of lots of sweet juice and some alcohol--the latter which appears to always be imperceptible through the sweetness. Once there, we sat at a round metal table and talked. About anything. Sometimes archives. Sometimes the fact that I never slept and never have had a hangover. Sometimes about where we were. Always about anything.

The reason I go to SAA each year‡ is to learn, and much of what I want to learn is about people I know or don't yet know. Archivists may be a strange and ruly-unruly breed, but there is something exhilarating about being together with 1650+ of one's closest colleagues and friends and talking in a language not many people know. I go to SAA to have a great time, to learn as much as I can, to help others learn whatever it is that I know, and to make jokes. (The last may be related to having a great time.)

And I go there to make sure SAA thrives. I've been a member continuously since October 1988, when I was in graduate school beginning my life as an archivist, and I do what I can to make SAA thrive so that I can help archivists thrive. And maybe it's because some of them are my friends, and because I am somehow free at SAA to feel the power of humanity, the power of friendship, but also that of the purpose and passion of archivist, of the drive to do good well.

In what seemed like almost no time at all, we were finished with our work at Pat O'Brien's, the massmind of my friends having decided (again, outside the range of my perception) that it was time to leave, and we left the facility from the other side of its majuscule L, foot-tall hurricane glasses in hand (courtesy of Rachel--and I had two, since I took the one Terry Baxter left behind). Suddenly, we were on Bourbon Street's riot of noise and light and flesh, watching people vomit as they walked, watching people take their three-year-old children by the hand through the throng, watching the sign blinking "LIVE LOVE ACTS."‡‡ In the accordioning mass of people, which we snaked through as well as we could, we occasionally broke into individual pearls of humanity, separate from our friends, but we would soon pull back into a line of limbs curving through the crowd.

Eventually, we exited Bourbon Street, where people barely made room for a police car, lights rolling, that was trying to inch its way through the humanity. So what did we do first? Look for food for the next morning's meeting, something happening on Sunday, my last session of the conference, even if post conference, the Archives Leadership Institute's Practices Workshop, another round of connection, another attempt to bring ourselves together, another venue for linking, our final chance at building more relationships between us as we try to unravel the mystery of making and keeping the light of archives burning at the start of the twenty-first century. (But that's another story, if maybe not the next.)

Later, back at the hotel, I packed my suitcase, and lay in bed watching the middle of a poor comedy, wanting to see how it ended even though it was clear what the ending would be. But I gave up, I relented, I poured myself into my weariness. And I dreamed of connections, of people, of how archives is always about people, about relationships, about the blurry boundaries between ideas, about how we are all one in our multiplicity of differences, about intertwingularity, about arrangement and description.

Only connect.


* NB: Do not visit New Orleans for the beer. The beer in and near the state of New Orleans is never much good. But if you must go to New Orleans for the beer, go to the Avenue Pub on St Charles, which has an excellent selection of fine brews, because they almost entirely ignore nearby beers. I provide you this information as a beer aficionado.

† Hint #2: Do not carry a glass container of alcohol on the streets of New Orleans, not even an empty glass made of glass. The fine for that is $500, which explains all the broken glass on Bourbon Street.

‡ At what I too too often note is at grave personal expense (the pocketbook variety here, not physical). 

‡ As I explained to Terry, "love" means "sex" in this context, but I wasn't sure it was an accurate description of what might have awaited us.

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Preparing for a Daylong Workshop in Cheyenne, Wyoming

Still Life at a Home in Cheyenne, Wyoming (6 October 2011)
SpringHill Suites, Room 109, Cheyenne, Wyoming

Today, I flew to Chicago and then I flew to Denver, and from Denver I drove to Cheyenne, Wyoming, under a sky that really did seem bigger than the same sky as seen from the eastern part of the country. The reason for this trip is to give a workshop on electronic records tomorrow to 136 people from Wyoming and Colorado. This will be my biggest in-person workshop ever, and by a long shot (I did have an audience of 1,000 once for a webinar, but this is people in one place).

I spent an enjoyable evening tonight with members of the board of the local ARMA chapter, and tomorrow will be my presentation in celebration of Archives Day in Wyoming. I'm hoping to have the energy tomorrow night to report on what happened, because I think it's interesting to see what happens when one of us archivists flies around the country to talk about what we do.

Members of the Cheyenne ARMA Chapter with Geof Huth
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Monday, January 31, 2011

MARA Colloquium: What My Career Has Taught Me

DATE: Tuesday, February 1, 2011
TIME: 5:30-6:30 (PST) – 8:30-9:30 (EST)
WHERE: Live from Schenectady, NY, via Elluminate



Deciding to join the field of archives and records management is a strange one, a rare career choice, but one filled with many interesting challenges and fruitful rewards. Geof Huth will discuss his own career, how he chose to enter the field, and how he took advantage of opportunities to create a rewarding career but one not at all like the one he had imagined for himself. He will discuss what newcomers to the field need to think about and be prepared to do to find their own surprising careers.

With two decades’ experience in the field, Geof Huth is an authority on best practices in records management in government. He currently serves as the Director of the New York State Archives’ Government Records Services, ensuring the development and delivery of quality records management and archives services to local governments and state agencies across the state. These include direct advisory services, records center services, retention scheduling, and publication and workshop development. He speaks frequently around the country and the state about records management and archives.

Apart from his archives and records management interests and responsibilities, Geof is well known as a ‘visual poet.’ Check out his dbqp: visualizing poetics blog:

RSVP: Although virtual seating is unlimited, I’d appreciate an estimate of the number of participants. Please respond to Dr. Pat Franks at if you plan to join us.

ELLUMINATE: If you have not used Elluminate before, a student guide is available to help you prepare:

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