All posts by Amber Lautigar Reichert

About Amber Lautigar Reichert

I'm a web developer and tech/design generalist working in higher ed on history and public affairs content. I tweet about my work through @MillerCtr_Amber and through the CPC shared account @Pres_Collection.

Exciting things on the horizon!

There are a couple of big things on the horizon that we’re VERY excited about. In addition to the main presidentialcollections.org site, there are several auxiliary pieces of the project that have been coming together rather nicely. They include:

1) The catalog: presidential sites and libraries, mapped

map-thumbAs we’ve mentioned before, there are more than 70 locations dedicated to Abraham Lincoln alone.* The National Archives system only formally covers modern (post-Hoover) presidents. The resulting landscape is broad, diverse, and incredibly hard to wrap one’s head around. What if you wanted to tour all the major Lincoln sites? What if you needed to search across John Quincy Adams’ letters?

Those tasks just got much easier: we’ve built a catalog of presidential sites and libraries. You can browse by president or location, and we store basic information about each. Our hope is that more of these locations will be partners in the CPC site (and we certainly note when they’re searchable through CPC!) but the catalog is a rich resource whether these orgs have a formal relationship with Presidential Collections project or not: it’s the only place in the country collecting this data in this way, and we’re very proud of it.

*Thanks to Thomas Mackie at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum for this statistic!

2) Digital Development Resources

whyI’ve written about the these before, primarily about the challenges of synthesizing all of your amazing feedback into usable tools. So lets call this a start… but it’s a start we feel quite good about.

The page contains 5 videos and a few writeups to help jump-start organizations who might have trouble scanning, digitizing, or communicating on the web. There’s also great material here for convincing your colleagues, your stakeholders, yourself that this is a good idea.

3) Publicity materials!

twitter_logo_blueIf you like what we’re doing here, please please please help us spread the word! We’ve created this publicity page to make it easy for you: presidentialcollections.org/publicity

Many thanks to all of you who have remained interested in this project. We’re so very excited to be seeing some pieces come together, and will be doubling down our publicity efforts in the coming weeks!

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A black locomotive climbs uphill.

Momentum! Momentum. Momentu… m… mo… men… tummm….. mo…………….

I’ve been busily editing the videos for the “Educational Materials” (which is in pretty dire need of a snappier name!). The animations came out great and I’m going to re-record a few video segments but we’re very close to posting time. Our video titles are:

  1. Why Digital Development?
  2. Best Practices for Web Communication
  3. All About Metadata
  4. What is the Connecting Presidential Collections (CPC) project?
  5. Bonus! “Open” Data? – an interview with Waldo Jaquith, director of U.S. Open Data

In addition to videos, we’re doing some writeups of supplemental content. Those are:

  • Scanning: Where to start, what to do
  • Funding options for digital development
  • Calls to action! Some strong examples
  • Community outreach ideas
  • Case studies
  • Survey results

Related (but less tangible) news:

As we head into the final phase of the CPC grant project, at times it definitely has been an uphill climb. One of our big challenges recently is in fighting to keep visibility and priority on the project internally… especially now that we’re past the initial excitement. Have any of you had that experience? It can be hard to maintain a sense of momentum without broad institutional support and enthusiasm.

That said, our secret as of late has been in planning: punch lists, marketing plans, looking toward “what comes next?” to maintain a sense of momentum.

How have you kept your focus on a less-visible project in the past? Do you think prioritizing a nearly-finished project is a common challenge? Are there institutional things (updates, meetings, marketing strategies) that have proven effective for inspiring ongoing internal support?

Pausing for humility

I’ve been focusing on the “educational materials” for a few weeks now and I have to admit—this is a very daunting task.

The purpose behind this part of the project is to empower organizations who, for whatever reasons, haven’t prioritized digital development. We want to provide some tools, as well as some inspiration, for pushing the ball forward. (Build [or update] your website! Digitize records! Put things online!)

But now that I’m attempting to synthesize all my interviews, all my surveys, into usable material, I’m just feeling a little lost. Do I believe digital development is a good move? Absolutely! But all of these conversations have served to paint such a rich picture that it’s very difficult to speak to these issues with just one voice.

Every organization we’ve meet with has been impressive. If there’s one thing I now know for sure, it’s that the people who choose to work at libraries and museums are dedicated, passionate (, overworked, underpaid) people. Finding ways to speak to them as one and create some “hooks” that they can grab on to is so daunting.

But I guess that’s why my goal shouldn’t be to instruct or to pressure but to assist. How could we help? What could we create that would be actually useful, actually empowering?

My hope is that this set of videos (some instructional, some inspirational… after all, we usually have bosses to convince!) and write-ups (ideas, funding sources, digital resources) will start to get there. The subject of the videos and write-ups come from the most common requests from surveys and in-person interviews… but I’m always open to more feedback!

As you read this, what comes to mind that would be helpful to you? Here, complete this sentence: “If someone showed up at my office to [help with, finish, tell me about] ____________, I’d be thrilled!”

James Madison Museum, Orange, VA

I wanted to take a moment and call up an exceptional museum that Sheila and I recently visited—one that, whatever you’re doing, you should stop and visit at this very instant. (Or, I suppose, during your next free weekend.*)

I’m going to be cliché here, so bear with me—but the James Madison Museum in Orange, VA, was an absolutely incredible hidden gem. We were blown away by the quality of their collection, the variety of their active exhibits, and (perhaps most of all) the ingenuity of their staff.

IMG_4925Beth Sullivan, the museum administrator, treated us to an incredible showing of the Museum’s collections, including an original copy of the Virginia ratification of the U.S. Constitution, “Preceptor” (a beautifully illustrated educational book created for “His Highness Prince George”), and a wonderfully curated set of artifacts from the Madison life and presidency.

The James Madison Museum, like so many libraries and museums we’ve visited, relies largely on public support for its wellbeing. It’s an unfortunate consequence of this model that irreplaceable artifacts, evidence of our essential shared history, are subject to the wax and wane of Americans’ personal generosity. Many sites like these have no endowment, few (if any) grant funders, and find themselves fighting tooth and nail just to stay afloat, much less rehabilitate or further disseminate their priceless holdings.

There’s a much larger discussion to be had here about public/government funding for educational and history organizations—a conversation often fraught with differing political views and our own perceived consequences of any given approach.

But there are a few things you can do immediately, and they’re so simple:

Support your local organizations.
Visit.
Make a donation, however small. (A place to start? Try the Madison roof fund.)
Join the email list.
‘Like’ them on Facebook.
Tell your friends about them.

I guarantee they’ll be grateful, and they’ll stretch your dollar so much farther than you might ever imagine.


Below are a few items from the James Madison Museum collections. Plan your visit today!

In addition to the Madison collections, the Museum is home to a number of Taylor artifacts--notable because there are so few resources for Taylor collections available.
In addition to the Madison collections, the Museum is home to a number of Taylor artifacts–notable because there are so few resources for Taylor collections available.
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Madison chair
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Madison eyeglasses

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Want a quick way to contribute? Beth has set up a GoFundMe for a much-needed new roof—take a look.

*The James Madison Museum is hosting a Plant and Bake sale THIS WEEKEND, April 25-26. Plants! Baked goods! What’s not to like?

Who owns presidential papers?

I’ve fallen a little behind on writing about this but I loved this piece from Slate that came out on Feb. 12: “Who owns Lincoln’s papers?”—it rings so incredibly familiar to the challenges we’re encountering as we attempt to “unlock” presidential materials.

I don’t want to mis-represent the CPC project as I talk about this: We’re not actually tracking down individual presidential items, for acquisition or scanning or… anything. We leave that up to our partner organizations. But what we do encounter is massive complexity (and… incompleteness…) in partner collections. The chaos is in no way the fault of the organizations themselves—these are places filled with dedicated, clever individuals who do everything they can to clean up and make available these important collections. But the world of presidential materials is a tough nut to crack… and the Slate article outlines one very specific example of why.

A few months ago I had a wonderful meeting at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln and was so intrigued to see that they have an actual map, with pushpins and flags and markers of all types, of where they know Lincoln papers to be held. Some are organizations, but many are individuals. I got the sense that a bit part of their job is exactly this: tracking down, identifying, and attempting to make public documents of importance to national history.

As the article notes, the modern presidential materials are controlled by NARA through the Presidential Library system (and, for our purposes, bless them for it!). This means that the most recent 13 presidents have a neat and tidy 13 presidential libraries. But, before that regulation was put in place, it was the wild west. For example, I had a conversation with Thomas Mackie at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum a few years ago in which he estimated that there are 50-60 site, museums, and libraries dedicated to Lincoln alone.

At any rate, I think I speak for the whole CPC team in echoing the sentiment conveyed in the Slate article: we believe this material should be available for all. For research, for posterity, for entertainment, for education. The purpose doesn’t really matter, in fact. History belongs to all.

Well said by Louis P. Masur in the aforementioned article:

“Beyond academic concerns, there is a public interest in seeing the physical document. Lincoln’s last speech is not just any Lincoln text. In his address, he articulated his plans for reunion and publicly endorsed limited black suffrage for the first time. Hearing that, John Wilkes Booth, who was in the crowd, declared “that is the last speech he will ever make.” Three days later he made good on his threat.”

….“Viewing a manuscript makes history tangible. That is why the National Archives displays the nation’s charter documents. Anyone can read the Declaration of Independence; but to see the original is to imagine the drama and meaning of history in ways that no transcript can provide. Private collectors need to recognize their obligation as citizens to loan Lincoln’s speeches, and other significant documents, to cultural institutions. The American past belongs to the American people, not only to those who can afford to purchase it.”

New Partners!

globe-304586_640Just wanted to do a quick check-in/shout out (!) to our wonderful partners—the ones who send us metadata and help make CPC the resource we know it can be. We’re constantly in conversations with new organizations who are interested and, if you’re reading this and manage some sort of presidential collection, that could include you!

At this moment, we’re absolutely thrilled to have officially signed on Ohio History Connection as a partner. This org is truly impressive: they serve as a technical hub for myriad historical organizations in the state, and their archival and museum programs are unique, accessible, and interesting. You’ll see their content on the CPC website in the weeks to come—for now, we’re over the moon to be moving things forward with such an impressive organization!

In Fall 2014, we added three fantastic partners:

  • UVa Press’s digital imprint, Rotunda, which includes collections from the first four U.S. presidents;
  • The National Archives’ Founders Online, another impressive collection representing material from the first four U.S. presidents; and
  • The Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library at Mississippi State University, which brings correspondence, research notes, artifacts, and photographs from Grant’s lifetime.

Together, these collections have added more than 100,000 items to the CPC index and have expanded content available to researchers by both their depth and breadth of coverage. We’re thrilled to have them on board!

Finally, last but never least, we want to acknowledge our original partners, whose participation let us launch a robust initial site to begin with. Those are:

  • The Miller Center Oral History Program;
  • The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum;
  • The Theodore Roosevelt Center;
  • The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center;
  • The Massachusetts Historical Society; and
  • The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

Should your name be on one of these lists?! Of course it should! Shoot us a note, we’d love to hear from you.

We need your help!

help-147419_640Do you now—or have you ever—worked with a library or museum? We need your help!

We’re collecting information about the state of digital collections. Please click here to take our 5-minute survey. We’re especially interested if you’ve worked for a history-related organization, but any connection will do!

The survey is fast and anonymous, and you’ll be doing your part to advance the field since it will help us empower libraries and museums to succeed. Please spread the word! The more responses we receive, the better our project can be.

Results and updates will be published through this blog and our Twitter account, @pres_collection.

THANK YOU!

Thanks!

The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site
The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

Just wanted to send out a quick thanks to all of the wonderful folks who made my trip last week such a success. After leaving Ohio, I headed to Indianapolis and the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. I had a fantastic conversation with folks at the site, and was able to see a whirlwind tour of the Harrison home, which was especially neat since it was newly decorated for the holidays.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential LibraryIMG_4573

Finally—last stop!—I headed to Springfield, IL, to the land of Lincoln and the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Springfield is impressively dedicated to all-things-Lincoln, and (in an incredibly fitting final act) I flew out of Abraham Lincoln airport on my way back east—though not before stopping by the Lincoln tomb for a quick visit.

I truly wish I had more time to really dig into the sites I visited last week, but I felt very successful in accomplishing the goals set out for the CPC project. We came out of last week with a few new potential partners for the site, and lots of information about challenges shared across the field. All of the sites I visited, in one way or another, had come up with wonderful solutions to digital challenges… and I left with an invigorated faith in the ability of a dedicated staff to overcome almost any hurdle.

But that’s a bit beside the point, because the broader goal at this phase of the CPC project is to look at those challenges and see how we might help. So I’ll take this moment to reiterate the (New! Improved!) survey, which will be invaluable as we continue to sleuth out challenges and solutions. How might we help YOU? What’s challenged you in the past?

Have 5 minutes and want to help? Take the survey! And yes, I mean YOU!

A million thanks to the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, the Harding Home, the Ohio History Connection, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library for making my trip a successful one. These sites are each, in their own unique ways, such impressive treasures. I appreciate each taking the time to talk with me and make the personal connection.

That’s it for me for now. Safe Thanksgiving travels, everyone!IMG_4574

Ohio, Indiana, Illinois: Halfway point!

IMG_4539I’ve had a great trip to Ohio so far—beautiful snow, impressive sites, and delicious food. I want to send out a special “Thanks!” to Nan Card at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center (www.rbhayes.org) for braving the incoming lake-effect snow (that really was something!) to spend time talking with me about the CPC project and ways to address challenges facing modern libraries. The Hayes Center’s grounds were beautiful in the snow, I wish I had more time to stay!

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The Rutherford B. Hayes Center

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Ohio History Connection

Yesterday I had a wonderful meeting with folks from the Ohio History Connection (http://www.ohiohistory.org/) and the Harding Home (http://www.hardinghome.org/)… while I wish I had days and days and days to soak in this area’s incredible offerings, meeting Conway the Mastodon was surely a highlight of my trip.

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Conway

I can’t help going on a small tangent: Ohio History Connection is also currently displaying a full Lustron home (http://www.ohiohistory.org/exhibits/ohio-history-center-exhibits/1950s), a popular modular-type home that was immensely popular post-World War II. The home was complete with furniture, dishes, and even an in-sink machine meant to wash dishes and, at other times, clothes! Pragmatic to the max, I loved seeing it.

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Lustron home, as seen at the Ohio History Connection, 2014

In the next few days I’m heading through Indianapolis and Springfield, IL. Think I can take Tim Hortons’ “Timbits” on the plane?

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