Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Rhythm Road Ambassadors

It’s Sunday, June 20, 2010. It’s a beautiful day in San Francisco: the sun’s shining, birds are chirping, guys are in t-shirts and girls in sundresses, and I’m stuck in a laundromat on Oak Street. Life isn’t always glamorous in the City’s hipster neighborhoods, but I digress.

Catching up on the previous week’s human-interest news, I was surprised, amused, and happy to see an article on musical ambassadors in the June 17 edition of the Wall Street Journal. Immediately, my mind recalled our Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) collections and the slideshow my colleague Brandon Burke assembled. Fifty years ago, America sent musicians to Europe, and it’s great to see that, today, the same is happening in the near East. Though, as an ardent fan of rock and roll, I was bummed it wasn’t one of the mentioned genres.

The Journal article highlights some differences between the programs. Were one to visit the Archives, one could hear Dizzy Gillespie talk to RFE’s Bulgarian service about Jazz at Lincoln Center. Or hear interviews with British punk rock fans from 1977. Or—forgive me for the self-serving nod—Phil Woods blowing sax in an RFE exclusive recording. I would invite the listener to then contemplate how it compares to today’s world.

Sometimes history repeats, and during those times, it’s fascinating to look at what happened before.

British beat group the Creation in the studio with RFE disc jockeys Janos Havel (left) and Jan Tyszkiewicz (right). Box 117, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Broadcast Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bulk Freezing

Although it's not cryogenics, freezing is a tool for archival preservation. Collection materials that are damaged by water in a disaster such as a flood or burst water pipe can be frozen to retard further deterioration. The frozen materials can then be thawed in small batches and treated. This is a job for preservation professionals, as you'll see from these leaflets about salvaging wet papers and wet photographs.

Freezing can also be used to eliminate insects and other pests from newly acquired collections. That's just what we did in December with a collection that had been stored in a barn. All magnetic media--audiotapes, videotapes, floppy disks--had to be removed first because they can be damaged by freezing. Each box of papers also had to be bagged in plastic, with excess air eliminated and the bag tightly sealed. By eliminating as much air as possible and freezing the materials very quickly, few ice crystals form. When the materials are gradually returned to room temperature while remaining in the bag, moisture condenses on the outside of the bag but not on the materials inside. This prevents any water damage to the materials that are frozen.

What I like about this use of freezing is the mass-treatment approach. Five pallets of boxed papers received preservation treatment as a big group--that's a cost-effective process! This is the way archivists approach many aspects of our work. It's when we have to deal with items individually, be it applying intensive conservation treatments to each or describing every single document individually, that our systems break down and our backlog grows exponentially. In archival work, we're always looking for an aggregate approach.

Supplies were at the ready as we prepared an archival collection for freezing.