From the Library: Experiencing Omaha


The Setting

You progress toward a group of people who are milling around on an early spring morning. Snippets of conversations can be heard as you pass through the crowd, providing a clue why such a gathering is taking place in a large hallway. The hallway here is L-shaped shaped with an open meeting area or foyer as part of the bottom of the L. Decorative carpet with a swirl pattern extends off in all directions. Toward the far end of the open foyer area, which contains several low couches and polygon-shaped seats, are stairs that lead up to a ballroom called Blackstone. Along the hallway, are various rooms with designations such as Merchants, Cozzens, and Herdon, clamor for attention.

The conversations focus on renewing friendships and discussing issues relating to archival collections. Some of the discussions revolve around engaging the outside world in becoming more aware of the collections themselves, while other voices carry on about funding. A woman approaches you with a friendly smile on her face and says, “Hello. Here for MAC? Yes? Could I have your name?” What is your next action?

The Story

Thus began the adventurous time spent during a spring week in Omaha, Nebraska, as a gaggle of archivists from several mid-Western institutions gathered to share ideas, talks, and camaraderie, as well as indulge in some local eateries. These supportive people attended workshops and met at diverse places to catch up on personal histories, network for the job market, and develop new inter-institutional collaborations. Thus progressed the Midwest Archives Conference’s (MAC) annual meeting for Midwestern archival professionals, para-professionals, students, and vendors for 2017.

The Omaha Hilton was the location for the conference (from April 4th through the 8th). A day-long workshop on diversity was held on Wednesday, while various tours were held Thursday morning. I decided to tour Creighton University’s Reinert-Alumni Memorial Library rare book room. David Crawford is the head of the archives and special collections (which includes the rare book room) for Creighton and presented the history and collections held by the institution. Their collection of rare books was quite diverse, running the gamut of 18th and 19th century history, literature, and religious tomes. Many of the books were received as gifts from alumni donors, such as a rare facsimile of an ancient Greek text known as the Vienna Dioscurides or a collection of iterations of Aesop’s fables.

Thursday evening, the opening reception took me to the KANEKO cultural gallery. The KANEKO provides a space for creativity and includes a small art library. The following day brought the main group of panels in which attendees could participate. The panels boasted a diversity of titles: “From chaos to order: making artifact storage work for you,” “NHPRC answers your questions,” “Building professional capacity through informal peer networks,” and “Listen in: podcasting the archive” were held in various meeting rooms.  The conference wrapped up on Saturday with three early morning sessions and three late-morning sessions.

I was there to present the results of research study I helped conduct, at one of the early morning sessions; our report was titled “The missing link: finding aids and digital collections.” To present this topic, I was joined by two other professionals, Dr. Donald Force and Dr. Ann Hanlon, both professors at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. This panel came about based on some research Dr. Force and I conducted over the past year regarding the amount of finding aids that are linked from digital collections of archival materials at various institutions around the midwest. The results of the research indicated that more than 90 percent of digital collections do not provide any link to a finding aid that would reveal background information for or the extent of the physical archival collection the digital images are representing. We divided our panel into three parts. Dr. Force discussed the results of the research, while I talked about the reason this research is important, and Dr. Hanlon concluded the panel with a discourse on potential solutions. This was followed by a Q & A session.

Next year’s MAC conference is slated for March 2018 in Chicago. I hope to see you there.

Randy Smith


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