Archives and Special Collections

Greenhouse Studios at UConn and NU Library receive Mellon Grant for Sourcery app work

Sourcery logo  

The Northeastern University Library is excited to be involved in a partnership with Greenhouse Studios at the University of Connecticut to create Sourcery, a mobile application for sharing scans of archival materials. Greenhouse was recently awarded a $120,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the continued development of Sourcery.

From Greenhouse Studios:

Launched in December 2019 by Greenhouse Studios, Sourcery is an open source, community-based mobile application that expands access to non-digitized archival sources. With the Sourcery app installed on a phone or laptop, a researcher seeking a document can simply type in the citation information, and the app will notify Sourcery-registered researchers currently working in and around the repository where the document sits. One of these remote researchers claims the job, calls the document from the archive, takes a picture of it from within the Sourcery application, and sends it directly to the requesting researcher. A custom, enterprise version of Sourcery, for use by archivists – especially during COVID-19-related library closures – will launch in late-summer 2020.

Funding from The Mellon Foundation will allow the Sourcery team to expand the geographical reach of the app, improve its user interface, and work with partners in libraries and archives to support the development of the enterprise version of the software. As a part of this effort, Northeastern University Library will host a virtual workshop series for institutional stakeholders in the fall of 2020, during which the team will solicit feedback and advice from stakeholders in the library and archives community.

Learn more about Sourcery and the grant here.

Archives and Special Collections Teams with Zooniverse to Crowdsource Boston Phoenix Index

For nearly 50 years, The Boston Phoenix was Boston’s alternative newspaper of record, the first word on social justice, politics, and the arts and music scene. Its intrepid journalists tackled issues from safe sex and AIDS awareness to gay rights, marriage equality, and the legalization of marijuana. Ads for roommates, romantic mates, and band mates—one could find all these and more in the newspaper’s probing, irreverent, entertaining pages. It ceased publication in March 2013, but in 2015 was preserved for posterity thanks to owner Stephen Mindich’s decision in September to donate the paper’s archives to the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections (NUASC).

Screenshot of the Boston Phoenix 1974! Zooniverse Project pageToday, NUASC launches Boston Phoenix, 1974!, a new project that aims to make The Boston Phoenix’s content more accessible to researchers. Using Zooniverse, Boston Phoenix 1974! (left) will recruit an army of volunteers to create an index to The Boston Phoenix. Participants will be re-typing a large set of index cards that once helped Phoenix reporters find past articles. Volunteers will have the opportunity to take a deep dive into the arts, culture, politics, and topics of vital importance to Bostonians in 1974 by encountering articles such as “The Winning Ways of Mike Dukakis,” “Kissinger: Financing the Death of a Government,” “Lifestyles: Conversing with Lesbian Mothers,” “Changes ahead for Cambridge Rent Control,” or “Garrity on Busing: No Delaying Tactics.” The nonprofit Zooniverse offers this platform to connect professional researchers with 1 million+ volunteers in order to enable research that would not be possible, or practical, otherwise.

Index card from a 1974 issue of the Boston PhoenixFor any researcher visiting NUASC to research Boston’s political, cultural, and social history between the 1970s through the early 2000s, The Boston Phoenix is always recommended as a primary resource, and it is widely used both for research and teaching. Pre-COVID, NUASC staff had previously digitized January-June 1974 of The Boston Phoenix for preservation purposes (right). These issues are now available, and provide a prime opportunity for revisiting this year—one filled with civil unrest, racial violence, and ubiquitous activism.

NUASC is offering this free (and fun!) activity for use in homes and classrooms across greater Boston (and nationally through the Zooniverse’s already-established volunteer network) in order to build a community of support—people who will be inspired to read articles they have transcribed and write about them on their favorite social media platform. When complete, the index will become a way for researchers to quickly pinpoint articles without having to browse whole issues. Ultimately, NUASC hopes to raise $250,000 to digitize the entire collection.

For information about the complete contents of NUASC’s collection of the Phoenix and some brief background information, please go to our portal page.

The Boston Phoenix masthead

Little Buttons, Big Movements: Processing the Mary M. Leno Button Collection

Mary M. Leno Button Collection

NUASC estimates the collection contains about 5,000 buttons documenting a number of political and social movements, mostly since the 1960s. Original label for this box: “Peace Now; Bombs and Guns; Native Americans.”

Northeastern Archives and Special Collections holds the Mary M. Leno button collection (Z09-016 and Z19-011), a personal collection of about 5,000 items collected by Leno which document a range of social issues and political activism from the second half of the 20th century and early 21st century. The materials in this collection complement other special collections in the repository, and give voice to local, national, and international solidarity movements. The Archives has recently developed a plan to organize and inventory the collection, and is also considering digitization.

The collection consists mostly of pinback buttons featuring text and graphics, as well as enamel buttons, patches, and ribbons. Most buttons with text are in English, but we have also found items in Spanish, Russian, and Japanese. The topics the buttons cover include women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, African-American rights, Native American rights, prisoners’ rights, immigrant rights, civil rights, ecology and environmentalism, health issues, nuclear power, housing and development, war and imperialism, labor issues and unions, media power, consumer rights, and ageism, among other subjects. A large part of the collection consists of American political campaign and political party buttons, spanning back to at least 1916.

Despite spanning such a diverse range of topics, the majority of buttons are undated and typically provide little provenance information beyond manufacturing details. Text or graphics usually give some indication of context, but often we cannot place the buttons in a particular time and place, and know little about their background prior to donation. Because of this lack of context, we have decided to organize buttons by topic to the best of our ability. Most buttons were grouped into loose topics when they were donated. Apart from adding some additional topics and changing some language, we have decided to in large part retain Leno’s original organization of the materials.

One of the most interesting aspects of this collection is how many of the buttons address intersectional issues and activism. Buttons about eco-feminism, housework labor, environmental racism, consumer divestment, AIDS prevention, and political prisoners are just some examples of overlapping movements and topics. To accommodate this, we intend to inventory and record basic information about each button, to help users find specific items they may be looking for across topics. The hope is that this will support the discovery and research of intersectional issues and social movements.

We hope that by processing and enhancing access to the Mary M. Leno button collection, we can help patrons research and discover histories of social and political activism through archival objects. The collection is open for research, and we encourage you to come take a look when the reading room reopens. For more information, please contact us at archives@northeastern.edu.

Mary M. Leno Button Collection

Buttons arrived at the Archives in several boxes, with multiple topics represented in each box. Original label for this box: “Multi-Cultural; African-Americans; Native-Americans, Prisoners’ Rights; Imperialism.”

Mary M. Leno Button Collection

A box of buttons documenting LGBTQ- and AIDS-related activism.

Behind the Scenes of the Freedom House Digitization Project

Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections has thousands of archival records available online through our Digital Repository System (DRS). While exploring our digital collections, you can learn more about the University’s past or dive deep into the history of social movements and community organizations in Boston. One of the library’s ongoing digitization projects is to make the Freedom House records more broadly accessible by digitizing and describing the collection, which provides a fascinating look at community activism in Roxbury in the mid-late 20th century. 

Cover of the June 1973 issue of the Roxbury Goldenaires Heart Line newsletter

Digitized during this project: The Heart Line newsletter, a source of poetry, humor, political content, and more for elderly Roxbury community members

As a digital production assistant, I help to bring these documents from the archival box to your screen. Over the course of a typical day working on the project, I split my time between scanning materials and creating metadata. With archival documents, the scanning process is a bit more involved than simply feeding papers through a scanner. Once I have turned on our scanner and let it warm up, I open our digital imaging software and check to make sure that the settings match our project standards. Before scanning, I wipe the scanner down with an anti-static cloth to ensure there’s no dust or dirt in the image. I dust the scanner after every few documents, but if the materials are particularly dusty or dirty I may wipe it down between each individual scan. Once the scanner is ready, I set the item on the flatbed and pre-scan to get a preview of the digital image and make color and cropping adjustments as needed. From there, I hit “scan” and watch as the software scans and saves the file to our server. After scanning, I write the matching file name lightly in pencil on the back of the document. This creates an easy link between the digital file and the physical material, and helps us to quickly identify whether a document has been digitized. 

Depending on the size of the folders, I may get through several in a day or just one. As I go through a folder, I watch for duplicates (which I don’t scan) and staples, which I remove to avoid scratching the scanner and creasing the paper when scanning later pages in the document. There are a couple of intermediate steps that I take care of before I start working on metadata for a folder. First, I convert all of the newly-created TIFF image files to PDFs, combining any files that make up multi-page documents – the PDFs are the files that will be uploaded for use on the digital repository. Once I have PDFs for each item in the folder, I make the files text-searchable by running them through Adobe Acrobat’s OCR tool. From here, my supervisor conducts image quality control to make sure that the images are up to project standards and to catch any personal information (like a social security number) that may need to be restricted or redacted.

Once a folder has passed through image QC, I create a new metadata spreadsheet for it using a template that our metadata librarians have developed. When I work on metadata, I like to have the spreadsheet and digital files open side by side in my two monitors so that I can easily reference each item while I’m assigning its metadata. I move through the spreadsheet, filling in all of the applicable blanks, like title, creators, genre, dates, and subject headings. These are the pieces of information that will help you search through the digital repository, and they appear alongside items in the repository to provide contextual information about digitized records. The metadata creation process is collaborative: archival material can be complex, so when I come across something that I am unsure about, I reach out to my supervisor and metadata librarians to discuss the problem and come up with an appropriate solution. Once I have finished the metadata for a folder, the spreadsheet moves through a round of quality control before the digital files and accompanying metadata are uploaded to the digital repository. 

The process requires patience and an eye for detail. What I love most about working on this project is getting to learn about the activities that Freedom House was engaged in while working toward racial, economic, and housing justice in Roxbury. It’s exciting to help connect users with these interesting and inspiring pieces of Boston history.

Discovering Roxbury

Northeastern University has the advantage of being surrounded by many different and distinct Boston neighborhoods. The Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections works to preserve the voices from these communities by collecting from different organizations. One of the newest collections available is from the non-profit organization Discover Roxbury.

As its name implies, Discover Roxbury aims to help people, both locals and tourists, to discover all of the things Roxbury has to offer. Originally named the Bridges Program, this organization was started by Marcia Butman in 1995 in order to introduce urban neighborhoods to suburban parents and students in the METCO program. The organization offers foot, trolley, and bike tours that include visits to historic sites, art galleries, and restaurants. These themed tours are lead by trained Roxbury residents passionate about sharing their knowledge on the history of the neighborhood and its current vibrant arts and culture scene.

Butman’s vision for the organization has always been collaboration, which has led to partnerships with organizations such as the Roxbury Cultural Network, The First Church in Roxbury, Roxbury Heritage State Park, and the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. Through these partnerships Discover Roxbury has been able to hold events supporting local artists such as Roxbury Open Studios and ArtRox, events supporting local restaurants and cuisines like Roxtoberfest, as well as holiday pop ups and their annual fundraiser Heart of the Hub held at the historic Hibernian Hall located in Dudley Square. 

The collection includes marketing materials for events and programs, administrative materials, and research used for teaching resources and tour scripts. The collection is currently unprocessed, but if researchers are interested in using the materials, please contact archive staff at archives@northeastern.edu.