Author Archives: Patrick Grady O'Malley

I apologize for how absurdly last minute this is. Just realized I never published my final blog. I couldn’t attend NYPL, so I wrote about my experience researching in the reading room at the Morgan one day… Happy summer!

I examined a journal written by William Ellery Channing on Emerson and Thoreau. I can’t include any images, unfortunately. The journal itself was very hard to read most everywhere because Channing’s handwriting is very poor. The book itself is 248 pages and in a very attractive brown leather bound and cover. An interesting quirk is that Channing chose to write some pages upside down of others, so the reading room attendant was worried how I’d flip the book on the stand the Morgan provided when I would have to change directions. She was concerned the stand would collapse and something “catastrophic” would happen to the artifact, so I had to be careful to turn the stand in a certain way that she showed me.


He took notes of people that were curious. Of “young lawyers” and “Edward of the city.” I’m not sure who these people are exactly, whether they are people he met or people he read of. The journal doesn’t seem to be organized in any way, a true stream of consciousness. It’d be frustrating if I was using this artifact for my final project, but since I am exploring it, I’m enjoying myself. He speaks of farms a great deal; one entry is devoted largely to cows and what they do for farms. He also traveled to a town Marlboro (I think he wrote) and talks of the scenery in a very Thoreauian way. Some of the entries have curious lines going through them that don’t have much rhyme or reason to my ignorant eye, but I’m sure he had his reasons. He also did a good job numbering his entries to keep track of his writing. There was also a few little notes and the odd number here and there that were written off to the side to remember something for later, presumably.


In one of Emerson’s letters, there were interesting spots that presumably came from taps of the pen all dotted around what was written. It could just be the paper, but then that would bear the question where one finds spotted paper and why someone would choose to buy it? There was some residual wax left from a seal that was very fascinating to find. It is these little things that give me interesting ideas for aspects of my final project. Emerson’s handwriting is also hard to read, but perhaps that says more about me never reading just about anything handwritten anymore.


Working in the reading room at the Morgan was a meaningful experience. There were other readers here, and just a quick scan shows them over some very intriguing materials. Certainly not the place to ask questions about what they’re researching, but this a place for true scholarship, that is clear. It is incredible to be staring directly at Emerson’s own handwritten pages. Like looking back in time almost.

Schomburg Visit

I think my favorite part of our time at the Schomburg was listening to the archivist talk about her experience working there. I was very interested to learn what I could on the business side of archiving. Listening to her talk about the donors and the various places she receives materials from was very interesting to me. The monetary value of some of these items was very shocking. It really made me realize how special of a place the Schomburg is and how lucky we all are to have it in our community, as it tells the story of the black experience in a way I have never seen before. What’s more was listening to the archivist discuss her process while working. She said it looks more like a sloppy librarian than an organized archivist, and I would imagine you would have to be with all the materials that need a home.


When I asked her about what the process looked like when people wanted to donate materials, she was very thorough in explaining. Often times, if people are in New York, she would travel to their homes and look through what they have. She said that it wouldn’t take her long to know if something was a fit or not. Often times, the archive would be lacking in say photos of a certain event in history, as opposed to maybe letters written about that event. So, before she would even see the materials, she knew what she was looking and/or hoping to find. Items are donated from around the world and some are purchased while others donated. It was also inspiring to hear how the Schomburg keeps one eye open on current events to look for possible source materials from what’s happening around us. The archivist was less robust in explaining, but she said they do and are, especially related to #blacklivesmatter.


I was deeply moved by all of the photos we saw that day. There was an especially fascinating one of a black soldier in uniform. He was cropped into a different image with his partner, and their physical sizes did not match, which was very obvious. Makes one realize how technology really gives us a great deal of agency to manipulate the past in ways that weren’t afforded to those in history. The man presenting these images was a wealth of information about the Schomburg and its many processes, and also of the stories of the photos he was showing.


The building space is very impressive. I was in awe of the photo exhibit of Martin Luther King Jr.  One could tell that this institution has a very notable place for the people that spend time there. It is certainly one of the many highlights of Harlem and noting that I asked the archivist if the author Nella Larsen ever had any connection to the Schomburg, being as she wrote so vividly of Harlem. Unfortunately, she didn’t know but I’d be interested in knowing if and how the two paths crossed.



Alaska’s Digital Archives

I explored Alaska’s Digital Archives (ADA) for this assignment. The “About” page is seemingly purposefully empty, in order to not distract from the plethora of materials available throughout the archive. It says: “Alaska’s Digital Archives purpose is to provide a single easy to use location for institutions across this state to share their historical resources.Our goal is to support the instructional and research needs of Alaskans and others interested in Alaska history and culture.”ADA is a digital repository for materials from seventeen cited collections, ranging from the University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska State Library, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, and Alaska State Archives, to name a few. It would appear that the need or opportunity that motivated the creation of ADA was a united place for all these collections to be housed together, digitally. The importance of understanding the historicity of the state to the archive’s creators is apparent in the types of materials found throughout the site.

On the homepage, there are two main digital exhibits: “Alaska Native History & Cultures” and “Movement to Statehood.” Each exhibit offers different options for exploring the materials either categorically, like “art, education, military, traditional ways of learning, natural resources.” One could also explore by clicking a specific physical region of the state. Finally, there is a historic option as well, clicking on a specific timeline will bring you materials so related. The anticipated user appears to be a general audience; Alaskans, or anyone else, interested in learning more about the history of the state. I say a general audience because one of the things that stuck out to me was their link to the page “General Search Tips for Online Databases.” While clicking the link produces a 404 error, their inclusion of the would-be helpful article tells me that the site’s creators expected people to use their archive that weren’t necessarily skilled in online databases. The archive presents materials in a scrolling list and tabs of pages that make navigation very simple, but its design is a little clunky in that it is rather slow to load (probably typical of many online databases) and it would be a little bit difficult to find something specific.

Beyond the main “exhibits” on the home page, there are also links to historical photographs and albums, oral histories, moving images, maps, documents, physical objects and “other materials from libraries, museums and archives throughout our state.” This appears to be a gateway to the wealth of the materials housed on the site. I was exploring the moving images, and I found short news stories entitled “The Heritage of Alaska.” These were short, five-minute clips from a TV series shown from 1950-60. Select titles include “Farthest North School – The University of Alaska,” “Fred Machetanz – Distinguished Artist,” “Alaska on the World Map,” and “Alaska Day 1867.” These short videos are hosted on a site called SchoolTube.

The materials throughout the archives seem to have an admirable place in the site creator’s heart. This seems to be a very passionate project, with the main goal of telling the story of Alaska and Alaskans. Obviously, the site’s creators are very fond and proud of their state, one can tell by the sheer thoroughness of what is included throughout the archives. I have been going through the site for quite some time and I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface of what is fully available.

The design of the site isn’t very flashy, so as not to be a distraction I suppose. Some basic web development skills (HTML, CSS, Java) could build a similar site. Even the copy of the different sections is very minimal so it wouldn’t take much to write as they do. What is most impressive is how they housed and hosted so many materials. That would be the greatest technological challenge. While some of the videos are hosted externally (i.e. SchoolTube), the majority of the photos and albums I saw was right on their site. Same for the documents and maps, etc.

I’d say future projects could take away a great deal from this archive for their own purposes. If one was building an archive on a particular physical location, ADA has much to offer for inspiration purposes. There is stress on the heritage of the indigenous population, so that would be a possible research track this site would be helpful for too. I’d say something that could be improved would be the overall usability and browse-ability; it would probably be helpful if they classified more items into groups based on their appeal/type of product/theme. However, ADA is very well maintained and curated, done lovingly so to seem. The scope of the collections is vast, and ADA has a number of reputable partners for source materials so that is also very impressive.