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Back home

Finally, a couple of weeks after my return, I’ve cleaned up the blog by loading all my photos to Flickr and linking to them there.  More photos of my trip are at my Flickr trip set.

Communicating with others this way has definitely worked for me, and I plan to post from time to time on our progress with implementing the many learnings from my trip. But not any time soon – in another fortnight I head back to the US and Canada for a seven week touring holiday and although I’m still thinking about blogging that trip for friends and family, I think I’m more likely to have a technology-lite holiday and leave the laptop where it belongs.


Last day in Kingston, Ontario

Four fantastic days in Kingston, Ontario are coming to a close and at last I have a minute to update the blog.

I was a little perturbed to find myself flying here from Toronto on a 16 seater plane on Wednesday (just as well I was the only one in the plane who didn’t have a window!), and a bit more perturbed to find that my luggage had not joined me. It did eventually – six hours later – but not without some inconvenience, including deciding not to attend the welcoming cocktail party of the Association of Canadian Archivists’ conference in tracksuit pants and sneakers, and being without my asthma medication for more than 14 hours (my fault for packing it in my luggage).

I have/am summarising the papers I attended at the ACA conference on a separate page, so read on only if you want to hear about just about the most charming small city you could imagine.

Kingston has around 110 000 people and is very ‘human’ in scale. I walked everywhere I wanted to go (the conference itself was a half hour walk away), and enjoyed slow moving traffic, slow moving people and a really relaxed atmosphere everywhere. The city lies on the shores of Lake Ontario. From my hotel balcony I looked straight out over the lake, with the junction with the St Lawrence River just to my left.

Lake Ontario

One of the social events was a three hour cruise up the St Lawrence, through the 1000 island region, aptly named. It is absolutely gorgeous and I was gobsmacked at the green luxury of so many tiny islands. What I wouldn’t give to have one of the summer houses dotted over these islands. The evening was made even better by impressive thunderheads building up and eventually giving a fantastic light display.

Kingston is an old town, and very ‘British’ – with good reason. Previously French, it became effectively the ‘frontier’ for British loyalists against America. The town is full of gorgeous 18th and 19th century public buildings and homes, many of them built from the local limestone. I loved the Georgian houses and pubs (I did not find a single cafe or straight restaurant – there are combined pub/cafe/restaurants everywhere), like the Prince George Hotel

Prince George Hotel, Kingston, Ontario, Canada - front view

and this gorgeous private house (embellished, alas, with an Italian Villa porch – there are many spectactular if to my eyes slightly vulgar Italian Villa style houses from the Victorian era in the city)

Limestone Georgian

Kingston is a university town, home to one of Canada’s best and oldest universities – Queen’s University – and the Royal Military College (more like Australia’s ADFA than its RMC). Many of Queen’s buildings are also built from limestone, but built from the mid 19th century, they are often in the Baronial style in evidence at Australia’s own ‘sandstone’ universities.

Queen's University, Kingston, Canada

Kingston has been alive with summer since I’ve been here – their winters sound so gruesome that I am not surprised everyone gets out to bask in the sun and eat icecream! I’m listening to a live music performance downstairs at the hotel – nice cheerful rock – and on my way back from the last conference session stopped with others to hear a great band perform in the park near my hotel. It’s great hearing French spoken in the streets, and was even cooler to hear very funky, spunky, Francophone folk rock in the sunshine.

Street life by the lake

I really have enjoyed my stay here. Aside from the great conference, I’ve also enjoyed being around super friendly people, have eaten great food (it is so wonderful to have perfectly steamed veges!), and just the sense of a small and very relaxed community by the shores of the lake.

Harvard in mid June

I spent all day Saturday travelling from the West Coast to the East. San Francisco airport was a circus on Saturday morning, and I needed almost all of the 2 hours prior to flight that the authorities recommend. The increased security issues were not really the issue – just too many people wanting to travel on a Saturday in June, and terrible organisation of the check-in processes. Still, everyone was cheerful, so can’t complain.

My dear friend Cathy was waiting for me at the airport and returned me to her family’s home in Brookline. It was wonderful to catch up with her husband Mark, three teenagers – Lily, Max and Sam – and five month old puppy Amos. Sunday was a day off for me, and I enjoyed celebrating a combination of Father’s Day and three Year 8 graduations (the end of ‘middle school’) with the family. A walk in the gorgeous Arboretum – including seeing Bonsai grown from 1767 – and then a ‘potluck’ supper with neighbourhood friends, topped off a great day.

A beautiful Boston summer morning saw me catching the ‘T’ into Harvard, where Leslie Morris, Curator of Manuscripts at the Houghton Library had organised a great program for me. I had anticipated talking just about Harvard’s recent project to convert 1500 finding aids from hard copy and EAD, and around 5000 catalogue cards to MARC. But the discussions ended up ranging over three very interesting areas.

Houghton Library, Harvard

First, Leslie gave me a run-down on the multiplicity of libraries at Harvard, and the many lines of reporting and direction in place. This was important information, as it has a major impact on the various libraries’ and archives’ ability to work together for collective aims. We then met with Skip Kendall and Kate Bowers of the Harvard University Archives. Skip is running a new project to start collecting the University’s own websites. Even as a non-PANDORA specialist, I felt I was able to contribute quite a lot about the National Library of Australia’s website archive, begun way back in 1996. We discussed the Library’s two-pronged approach to website collection – selective collection using the PANDAS softwared, and the two whole of domain web harvests undertaken with the Internet Archive. I suggested that Skip contact Paul Koerbin, as the Library has much expertise in this area.

Kate then outlined Harvard’s involvement in the Archivists Toolkit (AT) project. Harvard was not a development partner, but will be a significant testing partner. 10 libraries and archives at the university are just about to start training in using the AT, followed by a rigorous testing phase. This is obviously important to Harvard – who are as much in need of collection management tools as we are at the NLA – but it is also important to the AT developers. Harvard will be the first ‘test case’ for deploying the AT over distributed repositories – each of the Harvard archives has its own identity, collection development policies, repositories etc.

Widener Library, Harvard

Widener Library at Harvard

Over lunch at the rather grand Faculty Club, Kate, Leslie and I were joined by two reading room managers from different libraries. We managed to talk the whole hour away about the changing needs of researchers, the benefits of having all materials available to researchers in a single place, the pros and cons of digital cameras in reading rooms, the extraordinary difficulties in fulfilling copy orders in archives etc. etc. I hope I was able to give a flavour of our desire to revamp our onsite and offsite reader services over the next few years.

After lunch, Leslie and I had a very ‘tin tacks’ discussion about their conversion project. It was just fantastic to hear about the different approaches they tried, what worked, how long it took, which vendors they used and how much various aspects cost. Leslie is in the happy position of having no regrets about the way the project was planned and implemented, and I felt very cheered and heartened by their success. This project gives us a very clear ‘blueprint’ for how to plan our own, and I was very grateful to Leslie for sharing some important project documentation with me, right down to the level of workflow documents. This kind of exchange is invaluable, and we got more done in a couple of hours than many months of emails would have achieved.

I finished the day by being a guest at the Harvard AT implementers Working Group. With just a week or so before the first training tutorials for librarians and archivists from across campus, the group was discussing many details of how to ‘get started’ with this new tool. I took careful notes of this, as I remember well how little of this kind of implementation detail was available when EAD was introduced in Australia in 2000. Enormous amounts of time can be wasted when instructions about installing and running a new tool are not available. Interestingly, I learned that few of the Harvard archives plan to use the AT for EAD authoring at this stage – they are much more interested in the collection management functions. Most of them use XMetal – a very expensive product that most of them feel is an excellent tool – with a few using other tools.

June in Harvard

June in Harvard

I have written up these ‘AT implementers’ notes elsewhere – they will be very handy when we come to test the tool ourselves at the Library. The day at Harvard, then, ended up being even more valuable than I had anticipated. Once again, I was made very welcome and much appreciated these colleagues’ generosity in giving up so much of their time for me.

Back ‘home’ at the end of the day on the T. I am very glad indeed to be staying with this special family in the middle of my trip. Hotels are all very well, but homes are much nicer. Especially when there is a very affectionate puppy – 5 month old Amos – to play with and walk at the end of the work day!

Cute Amos

The Huntington

Well, the smog cleared to a perfect early Summer day – wonderful for visiting the Huntington centre. A one hour tour of the gardens did my cold and cough much good, and I basked in the sunshine. Our tour guide was quick to point out Australian specimens! I especially enjoyed the Japanese and children’s gardens. The latter is all child sized, and as I walked in, two little girls rushed through the pint-sized blue gate and verdant tunnel, the older calling ‘You never know what is on the other side of a tunnel’. A lovely motif for a library I thought!

I also visited the Library’s exhibition hall. The Huntington buildings were built in the 1910s and are traditional in style. Likewise the exhibition gallery which is well thought out and provides a walk through some of the Library’s areas of collecting – illuminated manuscripts to early books, early American history, early American literature and – its great strength – the history of the west coast of the United States. Some highlights included a Gutenberg Bible on vellum (only 12 of these exist), Books of Hours and Breviaries (not, I thought, as beautiful as the National Library of Australia’s Clifford collection), Shakespeare first quartos and folios, and many 18th and 19th century first editions of British and American literature.

A number of manuscripts were on display. I most enjoyed seeing a page from Thoreau’s Walden Pond. This was apparently written in 7 versions before publication, and the Huntingdon holds all 7 versions plus the corrected proofs of the first edition. Other treats were a letter from Charlotte Bronte about reviews of the already successful Jane Eyre, and various ms pages of Auden, Isherwood and Spender. I found the displays of the manuscripts a little frustrating. Although they provided good context about the creators and circumstances, I really could not ascertain from the exhibition whether most ms items were ‘one-off’s, the kind of curiosities that collectors acquire, or were part of larger and more substantial archives. Something to think about when we display our NLA archives.

I took a quick look into the very traditional reading room in the research centre. This is not open to the public – scholars have to apply to work there. Around 1000 readers attend every year (around one-quarter of the number who use the NLA Reading Room each year). I suspect that cataloging and findng aids are very traditional, and wonder to what extent the Huntington can participate in newer technologies. But oh what a wonderful place in which to do one’s research.

I did not make any appointments at the Huntington – this was really an homage to one of the world’s great libraries – and I’m glad I didn’t as I was just too sick to be able to meet professionally. But something about the woman next to me in the cafe lunch queue suggested she might work in the library. Indeed, I was right – she worked in manuscripts. In the smalltalk we exchanged, I learned that the manuscripts collection is still being developed, through donations and occasional purchases. But I suspect its glory days of collecting are over, and of course its main mission is to document a particular part of America’s past.

Alas, I had to skip the art galleries, as I was feeling unwell and my coughing and nose-blowing would have been unpleasant for others around me. But still, a wonderful visit and I’m very glad to have been here.

Here is a shot of part of the wonderful desert garden, full of cacti, succulents and agaves I’d never seen before.

Cactus garden at the Huntington 12 July 2007

the magnificent Japanese garden:

Japanese garden at the Huntington

The blue gate in the children’s garden:

Blue gate

and the Library exhibition hall (the Research Centre is behind this building):

Exhibition hall at the Huntington


So, I made it to Los Angeles – or, to be precise, to Pasadena. Alas, I travelled with a very heavy cold and dose of sinusitis, which made for an unpleasant trip. I have every known cold/flu/asthma medication with me, and will hopefully pick up soon. Los Angeles is absolutely blanketed in smog – not good for an asthmatic – and I’m really hoping for a nicer day tomorrow when I visit the Huntingdon. Can’t say that what I saw during the $75 cab ride grabbed me – although it was nice to see lots of gum trees and even some jacarandas in bloom (the latter about the only colour in the grey gloom).

And now, to rest…

My itinerary

I leave Australia on Monday 11 June – and arrive in Los Angeles on Monday 11 June.

My first stop is in Pasadena, Los Angeles. I’ll be visiting the Huntington Library, Art Galleries and Botanical Gardens. This visit is purely for the pleasure of visiting one of the world’s great research llibraries.

I head to the University of California at San Diego, to discuss the new Archivists Toolkit, a new open source software suit developed by a consortium of US universities. I’ll also be discussing some issues in digital archiving.

I fly to San Francisco at the end of my first week. I’ll be visiting RLG in Mountain View (Silicon Valley). I’ll be discussing ArchiveGrid, an RLG service providing access to the contents of thousands of archives.

A long hop to the east coast will take me to Boston, where I’ll be visiting special collections librarians and archivists at Harvard. Harvard has recently completed a major project to convert its textual finding aids to EAD, the international metadata standard for archival description. The contents of Harvard’s archival collections can be searched through the OASIS service.

From Boston, I’ll head to Kingston on the shores of Lake Ontario. I’ll be attending the conference of the Association of Canadian Archivists, and look forward to meeting colleagues from a similar jurisdiction.

Finally, I’ll head to Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa .

Then it’s back to San Francisco via Chicago for a rest day before flying back to Canberra at the beginning of July.