February 25, 2016

Wrapping up NDNP

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Services Technician

From September 2009 through August 2015, the Montana Historical Society participated in the National Digital Newspaper Project (NDNP) funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with the Library of Congress.  The project consisted of three grant cycles (2 years each), funded two positions (filled by 6 different people), and produced 265,231 digital pages from over 50 newspapers in 41 cities.  This post is about what happens when a large, multi-year project ends.
When the Library of Congress accepted our last batch, we celebrated the completion of a project that had been the center of our working lives.  If I had only known the difficulty of the task awaiting us…

Two months later, we began to officially wrap up the project.  We needed to review all the project files and decide what to keep short-term, what to preserve long-term and what to discard.  This is one of those tasks that sounds straightforward until you try to do it.  For example, our organization of files wasn’t always consistent.  We had different folders for different activities.  Within those folders, sometimes files were organized at the batch level, sometimes by cycle, and sometimes they were all together.  An additional hurdle involved the mix of print and electronic files.  While most records were either print or electronic, the most important documentation had versions in both formats.  We choose to retain the digital files, but we still needed to ensure the digital files constituted a complete set.  When we found instances of a print record without a digital copy, we scanned the print version.

In general, we knew what was in most folders and could determine quickly whether those files should be retained or not.  However, a few folders required more thorough investigation and evaluation of each document.  We discovered that typically these documents were reference materials.  While these files are not part of the NDNP record, they are relevant for our current projects.  Therefore, we did  kept them but removed them from the NDNP folder.

Throughout this process, the overarching question “Do we need this?” formed the core of the decision-making process. The question “How will we use this in the future?”  helped me frame the decision.  If I could look at a document and say “I would want to look at this if I wanted to understand how this project worked or if I was doing something similar” then I kept it.  I also found it helpful to ask “What question would this document answer?”

How much time did this take?  We met three times for a total of 5 hours.  Then each of us went off to examine individual sets of files and decide how to store or dispose of them.  We estimate that we reduced the size of the original computer file folder by 40% and the amount of hardcopy by 80%.

In addition to being good stewardship, this process cleans up your computer file folders and filing cabinets.  Perhaps most importantly however it offers the opportunity to reflect on the project.  What worked? What didn’t? If you knew at the beginning of the project what you do now, what would you have done differently?  The answers can then be applied to current and future projects.

Whatever your specific process is for ending a project, it is a challenging but essential task.

February 18, 2016

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: Bison Hunting and Extermination

For hundreds of years, bison (B. b. bison) had been integral to the survival of the Plains Indians. With the expansion of white settlement and new, brutally-efficient hunting methods, bison hides became a major export. In 1858 alone, an estimated 20,000 hides were shipped from Fort Benton down the Missouri River to St. Louis. By the 1870s, Native Americans had largely been relocated to reservations and their hunting took place under the supervision of Army troops. In 1882, more than 5000 bison hunters and skinners were working in southeastern Montana, northeastern Wyoming, and western North Dakota. A single herd of 50,000–80,000 animals was slaughtered in one season. By 1885, with the exception of a few small, protected herds, bison in Montana had largely been exterminated.

Key dates

1830—At Fort Union on what would become the Montana-North Dakota border, the American Fur Company initiates trading with the Blackfeet.
1850s—Demand for leather drive-belts and and the popularity of buffalo robes lead to year-round demand for bison hides.
1873—Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano encourages the slaughter of bison as a means to subjugate Native Americans.
1884—Due in part to the disappearance of bison, the Blackfeet have become dependent on government rations for survival. When food supplies don’t reach them, hundreds perish.
1884—Fewer than 100 hides are shipped from the Miles City-Glendive area.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: bison, buffalo, hunt, hides

Written by Catherine W. Ockey

February 12, 2016

Deaccession Gems: Ranganathan’s Third Law of Library Science

By Roberta Gebhardt, Library Manager Montana Historical Society Research Center
I loaded my cart with a group of books and was curious about the two leather bound volumes.  They appeared to be quite old, but I didn’t think too much about them.  When I got to my desk things got interesting.

Photograph by Roberta Gebhardt
One of my responsibilities as Library Manager is to compile a quarterly list of deaccessions.  These are books, documents and posters that are duplicates of our collection or things that were accepted here at one point, but no longer fit our collection or our collection management policy.  The stacks hold a treasure trove of items and you never know what you are going to find.

Photography by Roberta Gebhardt

The smaller book was a law text published in 1846.  There was a note attached to the front cover that stated that the book was “formerly the property of the law firm Lincoln and Herndon, of which the senior member was President Abraham Lincoln.”  It goes on to say that the 3 signatures in the book are in the handwriting of President Lincoln.   

Photograph by Roberta Gebhardt

I immediately took the book and showed it to the Senior Archivist, Rich Aarstad.  I wanted another opinion and to talk about what we might do with this book.  After looking at the signatures and comparing those to several found on-line, we decided that this probably wasn’t signed by President Lincoln.  He suggested that I contact the Lincoln Presidential Library to see if they knew anything about the book or if they would be interested in it.  I sent an e-mail to James Cornelius, Curator of the Lincoln Collection, at the Presidential Library. I included a scan of the note and the signatures.  I received a very quick reply from Mr. Cornelius.  He stated “We would be delighted to receive this if it is being deaccessioned. Herndon’s signature on the Lincoln & Herndon law books is pretty recognizable to us – we have several, including vol. 1 of the Greenleaf title.” 

Even though this item is very cool it doesn’t fit within the scope of our collection policy and it doesn’t have a tie to Montana.  We are very excited to be able to reunite this book with its mate.  It is very humbling to think that I have been able to hold in my hands a book that Abraham Lincoln held. 
The second book was even older; it had a publication date of 1791.  It was the Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, being the first session of the Second Congress, begun and held at the City of Philadelphia, October 24th 1791; and in the sixteenth year of the sovereignty of the United States.  It also included a note inside the cover.  This item had been donated to the library at the

Photograph by Roberta Gebhardt

Montana State School of Mines in Butte.  How it arrived at the Montana Historical Society we may never know.  The book had been found by the donor’s family in the attic of a house in Alexandria, Virginia. 
This book will be sent to the Mansfield Library at the University of Montana.  The Mansfield Library serves as the Regional Federal Depository Library for Montana.  This means that they have the most complete collection of federal documents in the state.  The Government Documents librarian, Susanne Caro, stated that if they could not use this volume at the Mansfield Library she would find it a good home.  She is connected to a large network of Federal Depository Libraries and will offer the volume to them if it will not be kept in Missoula.
There is something very gratifying about reuniting a set of books.  This experience reminded me of Ranganathan’s 5 laws of Library Science.  Especially, the third law: Every book its reader.  It’s nice to know that these items will have homes where they will be utilized more appropriately then if we had kept them in our collection or included them on our deaccession list.  I’m ready to head back to the stacks and see what other treasures I can find.