This blog post is the first in a series by members of the Northeastern University Library’s Digital Production Services and Archives and Special Collections teams sharing their favorite images and their role in the Boston Globe Library Collection digitization project.
My name is Kim Kennedy and I’m the Digital Production Librarian in the Northeastern University Library. In our recent push to digitize Boston photographs from the Boston Globe Library photo morgue, I coordinated the work with our vendor Picturae. In four months, they digitized 59 boxes of material. I developed a workflow to perform quality control checks on the digitized items and helped prepare them for upload to our Digital Repository. Most of these images are limited to the Northeastern community while we determine the rights status of the photographs, but a subset has been reviewed and is available to the public.
Some of my favorite images are of the Boston Common Dairy Festival, an annual event in which cows returned to the Boston Common (in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Common was used as a cow pasture by colonists).
Here are some resources to learn more about the Boston Common Dairy Festival:
In an effort to engage in reparative description and a desire to improve the Library’s approach to processing and publishing digital collections by incorporating inclusive, non-discriminatory principles into our workflows, the Digital Production Services Department has been seeking new methods of description for digital collections that do not perpetuate harm to our patrons or to the communities described in the collections.
Creating an actionable list of reparative metadata practices we can engage in on the item and collection level with the Library and Archives’ collections in the Digital Repository Service (DRS).
Implementing updates for the upcoming version of the DRS, including new and expanded features which support inclusive description and mitigate harm.
Writing and generating institutional buy-in for a library-wide statement on conscious and inclusive description of our resources.
Much of this work is still underway, but we have made a lot of progress generating item-level statements to provide context to sensitive and questionable materials. We documented criteria for selecting items that need statements, instigated a regular group review with members of Archives for content that rises to the need of consideration, created thematic categories of content that merits item-level statements, and generated documentation to track and manage the addition of these statements to DRS resources. We have currently added contextual statements to over 120 individual items with our institutional repository. If you would like to review these materials in greater detail, here is a link to a set of materials we’ve added statements to (some materials may require you to sign into the DRS).
Here are some statistics from the initial implementation of this work:
Over 50% of the sensitive content contains overt racism or other forms of discrimination. The next most common category is graphic description of bodily harm, which almost exclusively comes from the Boston Globe Library Collection.
The content types vary, but almost 80% of identified digital objects are photographic in nature, with a much smaller portion of textual or audiovisual materials.
Two most commonly used statements are as follows:
This item has been flagged for racist or harmful content. We are preserving and making this item available as part of the historical record, but it does not reflect the values of Northeastern University Library. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Northeastern University Library Archives and Special Collections at email@example.com.
This item has been flagged for a graphic depiction of bodily harm that may not be appropriate for all audiences. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Northeastern University Library Archives and Special Collections at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Takeaways from patterns we have noticed in the process of identifying materials for statements:
As an institution that collects a wide variety of community-focused Civil Rights Era materials, there are a lot of items within the DRS that benefit from additional context and/or acknowledgement. For example, the Freedom House, Inc., records (M16, public collection) follows the institutional history of a community organizing group built to centralize activism for neighborhood improvement, quality education, and social, racial, and religious harmony in Roxbury, Mass. They collected a number of materials from an anti-busing racial hate group called ROAR, whose pamphlets and press releases we have digitized and added content statements to.
Photographs often lack context on the item level and therefore can be more jarring in their sensitivity. This is especially evident in the Boston Globe Library Collection, which contains thousands of print photographs taken by newspaper staff or contract photographers. Organized by topical subjects, the photo archive contains imagery related to difficult themes such as anti-busing demonstrations, fires, crime, and bombings.
There are items in the DRS which may be upsetting to some viewers, but after reaching consensus with the Archives staff, we do not feel that they rise to the level of needing contextual statements, given that their visual meaning is derived from their academic and research merit, such as marine animal necropsy photos in the Ocean Genome Legacy Project (public collection).
Ultimately, this is an ongoing process—one that will continue to need reflection and consideration from Library and Archives staff, as well as additional research on what other respected institutions are doing to provide context and mitigate harm. Inclusive descriptive practice is iterative, and as we continue this work, we will continue to reflect on the most effective ways to serve our users.
At 2:49 p.m. on April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs were detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, just over four hours after the start of the race. The aftermath of this disaster, on what should have been a joyful occasion, was devastating. Three spectators were killed, and 281 other people were injured. Many people in Boston and surrounding communities were affected and sought to find ways of healing from this trauma.
Among those seeking to make sense of this event were Northeastern English professors Dr. Ryan Cordell and Dr. Elizabeth Maddock Dillon. They noted the strong reactions in their students, including those not directly impacted by the bombing, and decided to collect public stories of the larger Boston community. They hired a team of graduate students to gather and organize contributions, with the goal of creating an online community archive reflecting on this event. Two graduate students from this original team, Dr. Jim McGrath and Dr. Alicia Peaker, later became co-directors of this project. Along the way, collaborations were established with the NPR radio station, WBUR, the Boston Globe, and the Boston Public Library. The goal of this collection, later entitled Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Digital Archive, was to construct a public memory to foster a better sense of community in the wake of this tragedy.
The Our Marathon collection includes nearly 8,000 items, with materials ranging from letters to collages to oral histories and other first-person accounts collected by those who founded the project. This archive bears some resemblance to other projects that used crowdsourced materials in response to a public trauma, such as the September 11 Digital Archive (created in 2001) and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank (created in 2005 following hurricanes Katrina and Rita). All three of these projects also focus on the places where traumatic events have occurred. There is a strong emphasis in this collection on showing the implications of this attack for the local community, although materials also include letters sent to people in Boston from students around the world.
In this past year I have become familiar with these materials while adding to and editing some of the metadata for these items in the DRS to clarify the copyright status, associated names and subjects of these materials, as well as the languages used in certain items, for researchers. In surveying this collection, I was particularly intrigued by how the marathon community dealt with this trauma. This attack created a lot of fear and uncertainty around future marathons. In fact, the London Marathon was run six days later, and security was greatly increased there because of what had happened in Boston. But many marathoners in Boston and across the country defiantly raced again, and two of these races – both called “One Run” – are documented in the Our Marathon collection.
The first of these races, the “One Run” Boston Marathon event, took place on May 25, 2013. The bombings kept about 5,700 runners from finishing the original race on April 15, and so “One Run” was seen as a way for these runners to complete the final mile of the race. The Facebook post about the event also said “all are welcome to run – nobody will be turned away. This is a free event open to everyone. No registration is required.” This event was thus meant to be inclusive and healing, but it also allowed marathoners to re-experience the outcome of their race.
Numerous photographs, contributed to this archive by MarathonFoto, also display the joy of the participants and their families as they cross the finish line.
The second race highlighted in the Our Marathon collection occurred a month later. “One Run for Boston” was a non-stop running relay of 3,328 miles, starting in Los Angeles on June 7, 2013, and ending in Boston on June 30, 2013. This race, organized by Danny Bent, Kate Treleaven and Jamie Hay, was a fundraiser, collecting $550,000 for the victims of the bombing through Boston’s One Fund.
The “One Run for Boston” race had an emotional finish. John Odom was badly injured while watching his daughter run on April 15. On June 30, his daughter, Nichole Reis, handed the baton to him in his wheelchair and pushed him over the finish line.
Both of the “One Run” races served first and foremost as an acknowledgement of the suffering caused by the marathon bombing. They also served as a unifying force, made clear by the obvious camaraderie displayed in the photos here. But finally, these races allowed marathoners a kind of therapeutic experience – they took hold of a situation in which they were vulnerable and transformed it into an active reclamation.
Christine McVie, long-time keyboardist for the band Fleetwood Mac, died at the age of 79 on November 30, 2022.
Records of McVie’s life and legacy can be found in the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections’ Larry Katz Tapes, a collection of audio recordings between Boston arts and music writer Larry Katz and numerous musicians from 1980 to 2005.
This interview with McVie took place shortly after Fleetwood Mac’s fourteenth studio album Tango in the Night was released in 1987, which marked the band’s triumphant return after a five-year hiatus. This hiatus saw the band’s members pursuing solo careers in music, but they ultimately came back together to create more music for, as McVie calls it, “the entity called Fleetwood Mac.”
Listeners of Katz’s interview can come to understand McVie’s view of the band as something larger than herself or the other members in it. “The end result to me is always magical,” McVie states when asked about the “magic” that Fleetwood Mac imbues on its listeners. Even though she admits that the process can be tedious at times, she also reflects on the “mystical” feeling of listening to a record she could spend an entire year working on.
In this way, McVie describes the creation of an album “like a painting.” “[We] decide what colors we need, what depth we need, what kind of emotion we need… We sketch it in and fill in the colors as we go along.”
When asked about her future, McVie states, “I don’t see any reason to stop…I don’t see any reason at all–it’s my life. I don’t know what else I’d do if I didn’t write songs or sing.”
Source: “Interview with Christine McVie, English singer, songwriter, keyboardist and member of band Fleetwood Mac.” Larry Katz Tapes. University Libraries Archives and Special Collections Department.
American Indian activists began working to establish a national “American Indian Day” in the early 20th century. Native advocates like Arthur C. Parker, Sherman Coolidge, and Red Fox James believed that a national day of observation would commemorate the Indigenous community’s history and culture. Various individual states established “American Indian Days” between 1915 and 1920; more recently, some states—including Massachusetts—have changed the second Monday of October, formerly “Columbus Day,” to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” to focus on the stories of the Native peoples who existed in these lands before European contact, rather than on the oppressors, and to acknowledge the United States’ complicated legacy of colonialism and white violence. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush declared November National Native American Heritage Month (also known as “American Indian Heritage Month”).
Throughout November, visit the Hub on the first floor of Snell Library to explore our print collections featuring Native and Indigenous authors. If you’re not in Boston (and even if you are), make sure to check out the e-books and audiobooks on our virtual bookshelf! Here are some recommended reads from our collection:
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones (2020): If Halloween didn’t fulfill your cravings for creepy, check out the book Entertainment Weekly called “one of 2020’s buzziest horror novels.” The dark past of four American Indian families leave them terrorized by a vindictive entity determined to make them pay for their sins.
Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo (2021): Three-time United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo writes about her ancestry and the tribal stories and traditions that shaped her. She meditates on grief, loss, ritual, memory, music, joy and everything in between.