Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

A Christmas Memory

Written on: December 22, 2014 | 3 Comments

One of the benefits of starting my library and archives life as a shelver in the Humanities Library at MIT was exposure to some great writers.  As an employee I took advantage of my borrowing privileges and went on a literary journey that set the foundation for my passion for reading to this day.  One of the authors I discovered was Truman Capote and his short story, A Christmas Memory, is an annual “must read” for me at this time of year.


A very autobiographical tale set in the American South of the 1930s tells the story of a boy named Buddy living with poor relatives, including an eccentric cousin, Sook, who is his best friend.  Buddy and Sook collect pecans and buy whiskey with pennies saved to bake fruitcakes to send to people they have met, or not, including Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.  In the days leading up to Christmas they make decorations and craft gifts for each other in secret.  On Christmas morning they discover they have each made kites and head for a meadow to test their gifts.  This is the scene which has stuck with me over the years.

“Satisfied, sun-warmed, we sprawl in the grass and peel Satsumas and watch our kites cavort… ‘My, how foolish I am!’ my friend cries, suddenly alert, like a woman remembering too late she … [ Read all ]

Flat Stanley’s Magical Visit to Washington

Written on: June 17, 2013 | 0 Comments

Just before Memorial Day, Eva Wall, a third grader at the Fiske School in Wellesley, Massachusetts wrote to tell me that her class was working on a Flat Stanley project.  If you are not familiar with Jeff Brown’s 1964 children’s classic, illustrated by Tomi Ungerer, check it out.  Eva sent me a hand colored flat Stanley and my assignment—write an illustrated short story about Stanley’s visit to Washington.

student letter


Stanley and I wandered up and down the Mall looking for photo ops.  At the White House a friendly security guard reminded me that sticking things through the fence was not allowed—after Stanley had already posed on the other side!

White House


He really wanted to climb the Washington Monument but the restoration work forced him to settle for a view from a nearby tree limb.

Washington Monument

We stopped at the National Archives, of course, and dropped in on the Archivist of the United States.

AOTUS office

AOTUS and Obama

But the real excitement came on Memorial Day when Stanley got to ride on a float in the parade down Constitution Avenue.

Parade Float

And who should he meet along the route?  George Washington, himself!

George Washington

And last week Eva got to share Stanley’s adventures with her classmates. I heard that Stanley’s picture with George Washington is hanging on the bulletin board! Thanks, Eva!… [ Read all ]

What Happened to Those Twinkies?

Written on: November 20, 2012 | 2 Comments

In 1997 President and Mrs. Clinton created the White House Millennium Council with the theme “Honor the Past—Imagine the Future.”  The Council asked former presidential and congressional medal winners and students from across the country to identify artifacts, ideas, and accomplishments which represent America at that time in history for inclusion in a National Millennium Time Capsule.  The sounds of Louis Armstrong, a photograph of U.S. troops liberating a concentration camp, children’s art, and a model of the Liberty Bell are some of the more than 1300 contributions made.  And a package of Twinkies!

The Time Capsule now resides at the National Archives and I had a chance to talk with some of the staff involved in processing the contents of the capsule for long term preservation.  “In perpetuity” is imbedded in the DNA of the National Archives, after all.  So…how did the Twinkies stand up to our rigorous standards?  While they do have a reportedly long shelflife—14 years in one source—they failed the perpetuity test.  The fact that Twinkies had been originally included was, of course, documented, but in the end they were eaten!

Photo courtesy of Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


I have a long history with Twinkies, culminating in winning the New Year’s Eve Dessert Contest while at the MIT Libraries with my Sarah’s Surprise recipe.  I … [ Read all ]

Celebrating Our Volunteers

Written on: October 12, 2012 | 1 Comment

This week we had an opportunity to honor volunteers who contributed more than 100 hours of their time to the National Archives this year in our Washington and College Park locations—295 volunteers who contributed 42,284 hours! These amazing numbers demonstrate their love of history and the work that we do.

A parade of staff supervisors took the stage to brag about the work of their volunteers who wrote hundreds of item-level descriptions, created thousands of photo captions, scanned tens of thousands of files, indexed tens of thousands of records, inventoried rows of stacks, answered researchers’ questions, improved access to our online holding, and even used social media to broadcast information about our records. Some wrote articles for our Prologue magazine as well as blog posts about the records and some presented lectures to the public.

The work of our volunteers leads to a better understanding of our records and better service to our users. In particular, this year volunteers shed light on the records of Fort Monroe, the Army Signal Corps color photographs from Vietnam, the military service of Marine dogs in World War II, the role of Clara Barton and the Missing Soldiers Office during the Civil War, the Brooklyn Navy Yard glass plate negatives, the preservation status of our diplomatic cables from the 1930s to the 60s, and the relationship between the FBI … [ Read all ]

Look Down

Written on: May 29, 2012 | 7 Comments

As a kid I had a “talent” for finding four leaf clovers. Stretching before a run recently I looked down and noticed one staring me in the face. And reconnected with my childhood. In fact, over the past weekend I found 23!

23 four leaf clovers

According to my favorite encyclopedia, Wikipedia, 1 in 10,000 clovers has four leaves. Legend has it that three leaves represent faith, hope, and love. The fourth: luck!

We are surrounded every day with messages to “look up,” “look ahead,” “look back,” but not so many to “look down.” Except “mind the gap!” A quick Google search for “look up” results in 560m hits while “look down” only 231m hits. So, while you are looking up for inspiration or ahead for direction or back for perspective, remember to look down. It is amazing what’s at your feet!

 clover[ Read all ]

A New Presidential Library

Written on: March 29, 2012 | 2 Comments

On Tuesday of this week I had a chance to visit the construction site of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas, Texas.  Some 700 workers were onsite at the time, inside and outside, to bring this latest addition to the National Archives in on schedule in April 2013.  This facility will house more than 70 million pages of paper documents, 43,000 artifacts (primarily foreign and domestic gifts to the President and First Lady) and an immense audiovisual archive including more than 4 million photographs.

AOTUS at the George W Bush Library construction site

AOTUS at the construction site of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas

Of special significance is that digital component of the library which includes some 210 million email messages!  We began collecting email during the Ronald Reagan administration and have about 8 million from that administration and 20 million from the William Clinton White House.

The new Library and Museum was designed by architect Robert Stern and the landscaping designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh and the intended interplay between inside and outside spaces is truly magnificent.  The acreage will include a variety of Texas specific landscapes and a cistern currently under construction will collect rainwater for natural irrigation of the space.

More detail is available at

View the live webcam to monitor construction activity at … [ Read all ]

Thank You, Irma Johnson

Written on: March 13, 2012 | 3 Comments

Many, many years ago when I was shelving books in the MIT Humanities Library I was fortunate to have the benefit of advice from several members of the staff who took an interest in my “career.”  One of them was the Science Librarian, Irma Johnson.  I got to know Irma well because every summer she would want some portion of her collection shifted to better serve her clientele—and I did the shifting.  It was an interesting way to learn the literature of the sciences!

That was the beginning of a 31-year stay in the MIT Libraries during which time I became Irma’s boss and my real learning from her began.  She had her finger on the pulse of the needs of her users—mathematicians are heavily dependent upon the literature of the past, similar to historians; materials science was a discipline invented at MIT and heavily dependent on the literatures of many sciences; demanding chemists need access to their literature 24×7; the food and nutrition folks were doing interesting work with freeze-drying that might have library preservation applications, etc.  Irma clearly shaped my curiosity about user behavior and my lifelong perspective of looking at everything we do from the user’s viewpoint.

I kept in touch with Irma throughout my career each time thanking her for those early lessons.  She passed away in 2010 at the age … [ Read all ]


Written on: February 15, 2012 | 1 Comment

The National Archives keeps looking for ways to work with other agencies to spark citizen engagement with our records.  Our most recent project is the Document Your Environment contest for students, which we co-sponsored with the Environmental Protection Agency.  We invited students aged 13 and older to explore some of the nearly 16,000 photos in the Documerica collection and create their own graphic art, poem, or multimedia video in response.  I was delighted to see the entries we received from students around the globe.  The selection process was difficult because many of the entries were so creative.

I am pleased to announce the grand prize winner of the Document Your Environment student contest: iRevolution by 24-year-old Anna Lee of San Francisco, CA.  Her work stood out because it got the message across graphically and did it in a crisp manner that I found visually appealing.


“iRevolution” by Anna Lee, winner of the Document Your Environment contest (left), the 1972 photo that inspirited her-- “Children in Fort Worth Are Learning that Protecting the Environment Will Take More Than Awareness” by Documerica photographer Jim Olive (right)

Original Documerica photographer Michael Philip Manheim judged the graphic arts category and selected Anna’s work as a finalist.  He wrote, “There is a message that is telegraphed in this art, so it achieves the goal of dramatically bringing an environmental … [ Read all ]

Becoming a Citizen

Written on: December 23, 2011 | 3 Comments

Last week we celebrated Bill of Rights Day here at the National Archives in my favorite activity—a Naturalization Ceremony in the Rotunda.  On December 15, 1791, the first ten amendments the Constitution were adopted and for many years we have been marking the anniversary by hosting the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s swearing-in ceremony for new citizens of the United States.

This year, 19 individuals became citizens.  They came from Armenia, Canada, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Nigeria, Venezuela, Pakistan, Peru, United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sri Lanka.  If you have never seen the course of instruction and examination which prospective citizens complete, it is worth a look.   Take the test yourself and see how you do!  I always find it a good reminder of how lucky we are and how much we take for granted about our rights and freedoms.

The Honorable Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court for the District of Columbia, administered the Oath of Allegiance and then shared the story of discovering his own family’s French Huguenot background.  I had an opportunity to remind them of their new responsibilities as citizens (see my remarks) and to share the story of my grandparents’ arrival from Italy.

Our special guest speaker stole the show with his story of … [ Read all ]

Post Wikileaks

Written on: October 31, 2011 | 0 Comments

In early October President Obama signed an Executive Order (EO) covering “Structural Reforms to Improve the Security of Classified Networks and the Responsible Sharing and Safeguarding of Classified Information.”  The National Archives Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) is the Government entity charged with overseeing Executive Branch performance in executing the President’s program for classified information.  Three “generations” of ISOO directors, Jay Bosanko, Bill Cira (Acting), and John Fitzpatrick have been at the table for the seven months of policy discussions leading to this EO.

The EO spells out a set of responsibilities for those who operate or access classified computer networks, establishes a Senior Information Sharing and Safeguarding Committee and a Classified Information Sharing and Safeguarding Office (CISSO).  ISOO, whose role in helping blend the goals of safeguarding and sharing is recognized by the EO,  will be represented on the Committee and will work closely with CISSO on policy and standards issues.

In addition, the EO names the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Agency Director as the Executive Agent for Safeguarding Classified Information on Computer Networks.

Finally, an Interagency Insider Threat Task Force is established to develop a program for “…deterring, detecting, and mitigating insider threats…”  ISOO will also be represented on this Task Force.

Throughout this process the motto of our National Declassification Center has been very much in my mind—“Releasing … [ Read all ]