Employing Diverse BookFinder in BIPOC Collection Development for Children’s and YA Collections

Diverse BookFinder
The logo for Diverse BookFinder taken from its site.

In response to the feedback from students in children’s and young adult (YA) literature courses at the University of Florida’s College of Education as well as results from its three-year patron survey, The Education Library decided to employ research tools and strategies to assess the diversity of its collection. The Education Library already possessed a robust children and YA collection of approximately 13,000 titles appropriate for PreK-12th grade. Students suggested an increase in the number of books about diversity and/or featuring Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) as well as an increase in the number of recently published children’s books. This feedback led director of the Education Library, Rachael Elrod and education librarian Brittany Kester to examine their collection to see if they could improve representations in terms of identity markers such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability for children and YA.

The team at the Education Library started their analysis by conducting a catalog search with natural language terms related to race and ethnicity. A catalog search within the Children’s and YA Collection, narrowed to the subject of “African American” resulted in 450 books, which is roughly 4% of the collection. When the team searched for other racial and ethnic demographics, the search yielded similar or fewer results. Though these searches indicated the demographics represented in the collection, it did not go as far to show how they were represented. Ultimately, the team decided to utilize Diverse BookFinder (DBF), provided the database’s focus on BIPOC characters and its analysis tool of the diverse representation in children’s literature.

Researchers at Bates College designed DBF. It began as a content analysis project of diverse picture books, headed by Professor Krista Aronson, author/illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien, and then senior thesis student Brenna Callahan. DBF consists of a searchable database of picture books published since 2002 featuring BIPOC characters. It also included a Collection Analysis Tool (CAT) the provides data on who is depicted in the books as well as how. Employing colon classification, the DBF Collection allows users to search for picture books and filter results using several broad facets: race/culture, tribal affiliation/homelands, ethnicity, immigration, gender, awards, religion, settings, content, and genre. An additional facet, “Categories,” provides information that describes the “dominant messages conveyed” within the books or how BIPOC characters are represented. These categories consist of:

  1. Any Child: Books in which a BIPOC main character is set in an everyday setting but their racial or cultural membership is not central to the plot.
  2. Beautiful Life: Books in which a BIPOC main character explicitly focuses on specific cultural components and are central to the plot.
  3. Biography: Nonfiction books about a person or group.
  4. Cross Group: Books portraying “relationships between named characters across racial or cultural differences.”
  5. Folklore: Books featuring the folklore of a particular group of people.
  6. Incidental: Books where BIPOC characters are nonprimary, secondary, or background characters.
  7. Informational: Nonfiction featuring BIPOC characters, but in which race or culture is not always central to the content.
  8. Oppression & Resilience: Books with BIPOC characters who experience injustice and/or struggle for justice.
  9. Race/Culture Concepts: Books that “explore and/or compare specific aspects of human difference.”

CAT provides deeper insight into how BIPOC characters are depicted in the books within the user’s collection, based on the nine categories provided. CAT compares ISBNs from the DBF collection to ISBNs from a submitted file and generates category information about the titles common in both collections. Providing a snapshot of who is represented in the collection, CAT allows the user to identify gaps in their collection related to BIPOC representation in their picture books. In order to run a CAT report, the user must submit an XLSX, CSV, or ODS file with a listing of ISBNs and titles in their collection to be analyzed with the DBF collection.

In their initial report from January 2020, The Education Library uploaded an XLSX file of 10,358 ISBNs of their children’s and YA collection to CAT. CAT recognized only 6,230 items, with 186 duplicates between the collections that could be analyzed.

Results from Diverse BookFinder (January 23, 2020).
Results from Diverse BookFinder provided by The Education Library (January 23, 2020)

The CAT report identified several places for improvement within the collection. For example, there were significant gaps in the collection, particularly within the Informational category, and the largest crosstab was at the intersection between “Black/African/African American” and “Oppression & Resilience” with 32 books. The largest category in the Education Library is “Beautiful Life.” Also, while “Black/African/African American” was the largest race/culture category, the smallest was “Middle Eastern/North African/Arab.” These results prompted the team at Education Library to immediately purchase 95 picture books in February 2020, using the categories and DBF collection search.

After adding the 95 picture books to our collection, they ran a second report to compare to their initial report, which apparently was missing hundreds of ISBNs after it dropped the leading zero in the ISBN. The CAT report recognized 322 duplicate results in the second report.

Results from Diverse BookFinder (June 26, 2020).
Results from Diverse BookFinder provided by The Education Library (June 26, 2020)

The CAT results prompted an increase in diversity of the Education Library Though they were not able to get a full snapshot of the diversity present in the collection, the Education Librarians we able to increase the number of contemporary BIPOC children’s picture books in their collection. A shortcoming of the CAT is its inability to provide information on the intersection of race and other categories in its metadata. Nevertheless, the Education Library was able to fulfill the information needs and desires of its users while using a database that implements aspects of colon classification, allowing for items, or in this case, books to be searchable and classified by facets.


Avery Jonas (INFO 653-03)

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Posted in Books, Classification, Libraries, Library

Below the Belt: Tumblr Tags and Their Hidden Syntax

My classmate Hafeezah’s blog post1 earlier this semester regarding fanfic writers and their tagging systems got me thinking about the role of tagging on social media, specifically Tumblr. I was active on Tumblr from 2012 to about 2018 with a gradual decrease in activity as undergrad wrapped up and I graduated into the void of job hunting. 2019 and 2020 saw occasional reblogging, but amounted to about 30 posts a month due to loss of interest (and the loss of my password). Today marks my first visit back since this past April.

Tumblr has always mainly been a place for eccentrics, whether it be those marred in aesthetics or those obsessed with fandoms, but also accepts anyone in between who needs some time to kill. Each user displays their collection of interests and their pages take form as a visual diary, and with that, comes emotion. To me, one of the most interesting aspects of personal blogging was the tags accompanying the post which provided a secretive dialogue, an aside to the post at the forefront. Bourlai (2017)2 addresses this nature of “social tagging” and how it diverges from a tag’s original function of being a keyword to amend the visibility or searchability of a post. My experience has shown me that this type of folksonomy is specific to Tumblr; Twitter has a physical character limit preventing this behavior and Facebook and Instagram are intrinsically outward-facing profiles who’s posts are cast to a large audience and not necessarily an in-group.

Dashboard appearance of a text post with tags. Tags can include spaces and are separated by #’s. Source: Bourlai, Elli

Information on Tumblr can be transferred across posts in two main ways: reblogging and tagging. When a post is “reblogged”, once can add their own comments that stick to the post and any subsequent reblogs from other users. However, tags do not transfer between each post, allowing each user to express opinions, feelings, and commentary without impacting the original post. Bourlai attributes the diverse tagging customs to the platform’s lack of a comments section and a user-aversion to cluttering original posts. A change in Tumblr’s searching and tagging functions (ostensibly in May 2017) caused a shift in how users promoted and organized their content. The feature of “tracked tags” gave users a quicker way to follow new discourse surrounding desired tags. Only the first 20 tags on a post will show up in a search and on the user’s own blog, and only the first 5 tags will show in the pool of tracked tags. The search function also limited searches to “tags and captions of all new (i.e. not reblogged) posts that do not contain an external link”3. These changes have impeded artists from having their original works searchable and have caused general users to shift “content” tags to the front and “personal” tags to the 6th space.

To wrap, Tumblr’s tagging etiquette employs community solidarity by tagging spoilers, triggers, and NSFW content (whatever’s remaining that is) while still allowing users to express themselves and even find loopholes around the company’s own policing4.


Piruz Haney (INFO 653-01)

1. https://lis653.wordpress.com/2020/09/24/fan-fiction-fans-make-the-best-catalogers/

2.  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320464031_%27Comments_in_Tags_Please%27_Tagging_practices_on_Tumblr#pf4

3. https://asoiafuniversity.tumblr.com/post/161247412925/tumblr-101-how-tags-work-may-2017-edition-the

4. https://piunikaweb.com/2019/02/04/tumblr-users-rally-behind-citrus-scale-to-circumvent-nsfw-adult-content-ban-will-it-work/

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Posted in Born Digital, Cataloging

In the Halls of Mnemosyne

“Temple of Time,” a three-dimensional projection of historical chronography by Emma Willard (1846)

When it comes to classification systems, the Greeks are second to none: Aristotle’s categories and biological taxonomy, Aristoxenus’ tonoi, and Callimachus’ pinakes were the gold standards for millennia. Another antique classification system, the mnemonic device known variously as the method of loci, the memory palace, the memory journey, and the Roman room, remained in wide use until the Renaissance and is still employed by some “memory champions” today. The method is said to have been devised by the lyric poet Simonides of Ceos (556–468 B.C.E.) and relies on the visualization of familiar spatial environments to improve information recall. 

Three Roman sources, all rhetorical manuals—the anonymous Rhetorica ad Herennium, Cicero’s De Oratore, and Quintillian’s Institutio Oratoria—attest to the existence and use of the device. According to Cicero, Simonides invented the technique after escaping a disaster that destroyed the home of his friend Scopas, where he was having dinner with other dignitaries. Their bodies had been crushed beyond recognition, but he was able to name the victims by recalling where they had been seated.

John O’Keefe and Lynn Nadel describe the basic Roman room in The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map:

In this technique the subject memorizes the layout of some building, or the arrangement of shops on a street, or any geographical entity which is composed of a number of discrete loci. When desiring to remember a set of items the subject “walks” through these loci in their imagination and commits an item to each one by forming an image between the item and any feature of that locus. Retrieval of items is achieved by ‘walking’ through the loci, allowing the latter to activate the desired items.

More complex Roman rooms behave as taxonomies: each primary locus can be further subdivided into secondary loci. For example, a refrigerator might stand for “food” with each of its shelves and drawers representing a different foodstuff. The stout of mind might even consider adding tertiary and quaternary loci (e.g., each shelf could represent a type of food, such as fruit, containing different items). 

The method of loci is a popular tool for modern memory athletes who have performed staggering feats of memorization (one event is simply called “30-minute binary digits”) at the World Memory Championships every year since its founding in 1991. In 2017, the memory athlete and coach Boris Nikolai Konrad teamed up with the Dutch neuroscientist Martin Dresler of Radboud University to investigate the brains and brain activity of 50 memory athletes. While there was nothing structurally different between the athletes’ brains and the control group’s, their scans showed unique patterns of activity. 

To figure out whether the method of loci had anything to do with this increased activity

Konrad and Dresler divided 51 men in their 20s who had never trained for or participated in memory competitions into three different groups: one group was trained in the method of loci, and they practiced using an online course for six weeks, 30 minutes per day. One control group got a training regimen of the same length, but played a simple short-term memory game that didn’t involve any strategy. And the other control group didn’t have to do anything but show up for brain scans and memory tests.

Sure enough, after the six weeks were up, the group that trained with the method of loci demolished their previous scores on the second set of memory tests—recalling an average of 62 of the 72 words, an increase of about 36 words. By contrast, the group practicing with the memory game and the group that didn’t train at all barely improved.

The Classical rhetors who promoted the building of memory palaces may not have had scientific evidence of their efficacy, but they surely knew they were on to something.

Jeffrey Greggs, INFO 653-03

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An Archive of Police Brutality

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless unarmed Black individuals over this past year alone has amplified the national cry for police reform to global levels. While some have taken to the streets in protest, others have donated to support the cause from afar. For conservative lawyer T. Greg Doucette, collecting an online archive of videos and photos of police violence is his way of fighting back.

In an interview with The Verge, Doucette says he’s always been skeptical of the government, and has been sharing videos of police “doing stupid stuff” on Facebook since 2007. In 2011, he began sharing the same kinds of videos on Twitter. After George Floyd was murdered in May, he began posting a thread of videos exposing of police brutality in different cities, to showcase that incidents of excessive police violence are not isolated. A week after he began posting online, he was receiving hundreds of direct messages of videos to post from users online. At the peak, his Twitter DM backlog was at 2,400 messages.

It wasn’t long before mathematician Jason Miller saw Doucette’s work, and began to create a public online repository on Google Sheets to better catalog and organize the videos. In an interview with VICE, Miller said, when he saw Doucette’s thread, he “knew the thread was going to be LONG, I knew it was going to be good, and I knew it was going to reach a lot of people. I wanted to help, so I just started making a Google spreadsheet so that other people could see, sort, and spend time with the documentary evidence he shared.” Miller says the new format makes it more accessible for people to find, and eliminates the chance of Twitter erasing the content on its platform.

The spreadsheet, titled George Floyd Protest – Police Brutality Videos on Twitter, is organized into 14 categories: TGD Number (T. Greg Doucette Number), State, Tweet URL, Video/Image Filename, Youtube Link, Doucette Text (text that Doucette posted online to accompany/add context to the video), Twitter Date, Twitter Time, Incident Date, Incident Time, Latitude, Longitude, & Google Street View. There are currently over 900 entries in the doc. The doc also has other tabs including links to media coverage on police brutality incidents, information on protests and riots, and other efforts in documenting police brutality.

Doucette fact-checks each video submission by crowdsourcing information from Twitter, cross-referencing information that’s been posted through media outlets, and by working with users that DM him to find out further information. If Doucette can’t confirm the information he needs, he will not post the video until he can. The work that Doucette is doing is happening at rapid speed and speaks to the idea that if media organizations or other institutions don’t have an archive of this information that’s happening every day, we can come together to compile this information as civilians. Doucette hopes that this project will eventually bring change in policy to how police are monitored and held accountable.

Hafeezah Nazim (653-01)





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Posted in Archives, Cataloging, Open Access


Dorothy Porter Howard University librarian

Dorothy Porter was the first Black graduate of Columbia’s library school and the chief librarian of Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Center for 43 years (1930-1973). During her tenure, Porter not only built up one of the countries leading repositories on Black history, but reframed the way history and materials were catalogued.

Two collections, the private libraries of Arthur B. Spingarn and Reverend Jesse E. Moorland, form the foundation of the Center. Additional books were acquired through donations or through Porter befriending publishers. When beginning to organize the Center’s materials, Porter struggled with a Dewey Decimal system that listed all works by Black authors under either 326, slavery and emancipation, or 325, colonization.

Porter reorganized the works in line with the ideals of the Harlem Renaissance, which understood the foundational role of Black people in all subject areas. Categories were (re)identified as art, anthropology, communications, demography, economics, education, geography, history, health, international relations, linguistics, literature, medicine, music, political science, sociology, sports, and religion. Moreover, Porter also developed methods to accurately appraise Black collections as the Library of Congress’ appraisers lacked the expertise.

Porter’s work highlights the important collaboration between Black studies and Black information science in challenging and expanding the archive.

Claire Mooney INFO 653-03


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Posted in Archives, Books, Classification, Knowledge and Truth, Libraries, Library

A Taxonomy of Occlupanids

The Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group : A Database of Synthetic Taxonomy (HORG) is a singularly unique example of amateur taxonomy.

HORG is an archive and resource dedicated to the classification of occlupanids. Occlu- (meaning to close) and pan– (meaning bread). Or what may be more commonly known as bread ties. Those small, flat, plastic clips used to hold store-bought plastic bags of bread closed.

The Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group seal. Images from HORG.

HORG places the class Occlupanida in the under the Kingdom Microsynthera, of the Phylum Plasticae. This phylum also contains other small overlooked plastic objects.

HORG describes their methodology in developing the taxonomy of occlupanids as follows:

“In constructing a taxonomy, many factors such as genetics, derived traits, growth and development, sexual dimorphism, reproduction, and a fossil record are taken into account. For a synthetic taxonomy, all of these critical keystones of information are entirely absent. The synthetic taxonomist is forced to construct a lineage much like Carl Linnaeus winged it in the 1700’s: group things that look similar, draw lots of complex-looking charts, and hope your future descendents work out occlupanid genetics somehow.”

Taxonomy of the Occlupanida
 proposed phylogeny of the occlupanidae 2018

Fifteen families have been identified within the class Occlupanida, delineated by common physical characteristics. Each family further contains their own unique genera and species.

HORG welcomes specimen donations and information about potential discoveries from amateur occlupanologists to further the understanding of this class of the Plasticae Phylum. They are particularly interested in collecting specimens from Russia, China, and the continents of South America, Africa, and Antarctica at this time.

The exact establishment date of HORG is difficult to determine – the history given provided by the organization cites the origins of occlupanology as beginning in Florence, Italy, in the late 1600s, and the founding year of HORG as 1632.

More likely, this is the dedicated work of one individual John Daniel who has been working on this bit since roughly 1994.

What began as an idle curiosity, became a joke, became a very committed joke to the point where it isn’t clear if it counts as a joke anymore. HORG has been cited in at least one peer-reviewed medical journal in 2011 in an article regarding the ingestion of foreign objects, and a selection of specimens from the archive were displayed at the Mmuseumm in 2018.

Lee McIntyre, INFO 653-03

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Posted in Archives, Cataloging, Classification, Museums

History Erased, Justice Deleted: Social Media Giants Destroy Evidence of War Crimes

The frontier between the Golan Heights, Lebanon and Syria – photo taken by the author in July, 2019

“When elephants fight, the grass suffers.” This African proverb aptly summarizes the inevitable results of conflict. Regardless of a war’s time, place, or its combatants, innocent civilians and noncombatants often suffer the worst. For nearly a decade, the civilians of Syria –as misfortuned as grass trampled under elephants feet— have struggled to survive amidst the barbaric tug-of-war between supporters of the government led by Bashar al-Assad, opposition fighters, Kurdish paramilitary groups, the Islamic State, and numerous fighters supported and opposed by Turkey, Iran, Russia and the West. It is estimated that nearly half a million Syrians have perished in the conflict and that over five million Syrians have become refugees.

Since the outset of the conflict, social media has served as an “accidental archive” documenting the horrors facing countless Syrians. Civilians and activists on all sides of the conflict have used platforms like YouTube as a call to action, cry for help and testimony to what they have endured. Youtube alone is host to millions of videos documenting the Syrian Civil War. However, these videos are not necessarily safe. The Syrian Archive, a non-profit group whose mission is to catalog and preserve footage of the war, estimates that over twenty percent of Youtube content resulting from the war has been removed and deleted –not by government censors or jihadists but instead by AI used by Youtube, Twitter and Facebook. 

Why is this happening? It is a cataloging error with grave consequences. Spurred on, in part, by the barbaric 2019 Christchurch terrorist attack, in which an Australian gunman massacred over fifty New Zealanders in a mosque while livestreaming it on Facebook, social media platforms have been called upon by governments to regulate, monitor and expunge extremist content. Relying almost entirely on AI and computer algorithms, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have removed millions of videos, tweets and pictures from their websites –many even before users can see them. However, these technologies are often unable to differentiate between extremist propaganda and content posted by civilians, journalists and activists –content which though incredibly painful to watch is also a priceless record for history and a tool for eventual justice. 

What can be done? Can YouTube eliminate extremist and illegal content without also silencing civilians documenting the atrocities of war? There is no easy solution to this complex problem. Artificial Intelligence continues to be critical for content moderation. There is simply too much content for people to sift through. Instead, AI  must be used in conjunction with human content moderators who receive full funding, professional training and psychological support for a deeply traumatic job.  Regardless  of whether websites like YouTube like it or not, they are more than a platform for socializing or sharing funny cat videos. Instead, they have turned into a repository for history and an archive for the world. It is their duty to remain one by safeguarding the content entrusted to them –no matter how painful it is to watch.

-D. Anger, INFO 653 03

Further Reading:





For Sama –an incredibly moving documentary of the conflict in Syria. It serves as a testimony to the content threatened by Youtube’s increasing reliance on AI to remove controversial content.

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Posted in Archives, Born Digital, Cataloging, Classification, Preservation

Random organization makes efficiency possible in Amazon warehouses

“amazon warehouse” by hnnbz is licensed under CC BY 2.0

After looking at Amazon’s website in class last week, and discussing how commercial websites organize products for searchability, I became curious about how huge companies actually physically store their products before shipping them to customers. Amazon, of course, has monopolized the market in part through being highly efficient, and the horrible effects of efficiency on workers are well documented. How does the organization of products within the warehouse fit into this picture of efficiency, and how are workers expected to interact with it?  

Through reading “Amazon: This company built one of the world’s most efficient warehouses by embracing chaos,” by Sarah Kessler, I learned that Amazon does not organize its warehouses through any classification system. Items are stored completely randomly. Amazon wasn’t the first to use this strategy, but according to Kessler they’ve been doing it since the late ’90s and have deployed it at an unprecedented scale. 

In traditional warehouses, goods are grouped together in bulk boxes and assigned to specific shelves. This way it is obvious where to put shipments when they arrive, and where to find them when they are shipped out. However, this also requires a person to walk to a specific shelf both to store and ship the same item. As an online store that promises extremely quick delivery and stores its products in huge warehouses, Amazon found that the traditional system was inefficient. Because Amazon delivers items to individuals rather than bulk to businesses, it does not keep a large store of the same item in each warehouse, but rather a huge range of items. When Amazon employees unpack boxes, they place goods on the closest shelf where there is open space. They scan a barcode on the product and on the shelf, and Amazon’s inventory system tracks where each item is located. In warehouses with Amazon robots, the process is the same but the shelves with available space are automated to come to the worker. 

This system means that workers often don’t have to travel as far within the huge warehouse to locate an item. According to Kessler, “If there were a dedicated “toothpaste shelf” and someone ordered toothpaste, a ‘picker’—how Amazon refers to employees who gather items—would need to travel there, whether he were 10 feet or 100 yards away from that location. But if the warehouse stores toothpaste in 50 different locations, there’s a much better chance that there’s a tube close to some picker. There’s also a greater chance that the second item the customer ordered is also nearby.”

I’m curious what, if anything, this type of organization system portends for classification in a library context. Are any libraries big enough to encounter the type of retrieval problem that Amazon has problem-solved for? Would Amazon’s technologies for storing and retrieving physical items ever be adopted by libraries?

– Ali Post 653-03

Based on: Amazon: This company built one of the world’s most efficient warehouses by embracing chaos by Sarah Kessler’s in Quartz

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How Archived Films are Saving Independent Theaters in NYC

Like any small business in New York City, independent theaters are itching to open back up for their loyal audiences. Although movie theaters in New York State have opened up for limited capacity, New York City remains the outlier, with restrictions still in place. 

With this in mind, it seems realistic to anticipate the closing of beloved theaters like The Film Forum and The Angelika Film Center & Cafe compounded with the probable survival of large cinema chains like AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas. However, the situation is just the opposite. Since these main-stream cinema chains rely on brand new, Hollywood produced movies to pull in ticket sales, they are the ones edging on bankruptcy. This is due to the COVID-caused mass delays in Hollywood production and filming of these slated big box-office hits. On the other hand, New York City independent theaters are barely or not at all reliant on the Hollywood Machine. These theaters cater to niche audiences – those who are specifically looking to view some rare, weird, archived film from the past. 

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

According to The New York Times, The Film Forum and the Anthology Film Archives drew in 40,000 online viewers in the first three months of the shutdown. Not only did The Film Forum have a number of backlogged, already advertised films ready to screen before the shutdown began, they were able to increase the amount of films shown online since cleaning and clearing of the physical space was not an issue. 

What’s more, these theaters also have been, like many small businesses, surviving on a patchwork of government payroll protection and bank loans. Additionally, loyal, enthusiastic customers were also quick to donate, and some theaters report forgiving landlords who were keen on helping them stay in the area. I don’t think anyone would be donating to Regal Films anytime soon. Some of these independent theaters also enjoy the best of both worlds, as they screen and have access to archived films, but are also backed by larger companies or wealthy individuals, for example The Quad is owned by the billionaire real estate developer Charles S. Cohen.

However, the word surviving should ostensibly be used here instead of thriving, as although online screenings have been successful, cinemas like the Anthology Film Archives are only seeing five percent of normal box-office income from streaming. The Film Forum and the Anthology Film Archives operate as non-profits, and so as aforementioned, generous donations from members and board members have really been their life line. 

A screenshot from http://anthologyfilmarchives.org

Although I worry for the culture of New York City as it has the potential to deteriorate due to the current financial crisis, I am also trying to stay optimistic, as those who really love and support cultural institutions are willing to donate and be supportive. I believe this is also tenant of New York City culture – to believe in its survival through even the roughest times. It is my hope that these theaters will be allowed to open soon at some capacity to compound their income with online streaming and donations. 


*Independent theaters linked within text

Most info from:

by Melanie Zerah, INFO 653-03

Fall 2020

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When an Archive is “Accidental”

I recently read an article in the NYTimes titled “How Richard Nixon Became an Accidental Archivist” about how David Frost’s son came to find a huge archive of recordings of his father’s show (The David Frost Show, 1969-1972)  in the Presidential Library of Richard Nixon. 

David Frost was a British journalist and television host who interviewed many political figures beginning in the 60’s into the 2010’s (8 British prime ministers and 7 U.S. presidents, for example) and is perhaps most famously known for the “Nixon interviews” (1977): over 28 hours of interviews in which Nixon was questioned about Watergate, his presidency and his life. To this day, the premiere episode (1 of 5) holds the record for the largest television audience for a political interview with 45 million viewers. 

Which is all to iterate the importance and impact of Frost’s life work and why I found this article somewhat surprising. 

Not only did it take his son (someone with a personal as well as professional stake in the matter) to track down these specific tapes, he found that only singular copies of many of these recordings exist at all and not in the archive of CBS, who owned the rights to the show. The article describes how 370 tapes were “missing” from their archive, but 62 of them were found in the Nixon library, and in some ways, purely by chance.

“Nixon White House staff members, it turned out, had recorded 62 episodes of the show, using a video system installed during the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson. The interviews included those with civil rights activists like Jesse Jackson, a session with Nixon’s 1972 Democratic opponent George McGovern and Frost’s conversation with Huey P. Newton, who co-founded the Black Panther Party, all people that the Nixon administration had been keeping a wary eye on.”

One of the things that struck me however is how the article and people quoted within it emphasize the serendipitous nature of the discovery as well as the fact that the tapes exist at all. It seems to me that, in some ways, there was not an incredible urgency to preserve or record the show itself (for the sake of memorializing Frost) but that the reason the recordings still exist have more to do with the fact that they were recorded for President Nixon’s “personal” use. (I am also personally very curious as to what other types of video, specifically, were/are recorded by various administrations — why did LBJ have that specific system set up in the first place?)

It makes me think about the general why(s) of archiving as well as the importance of who is doing the archiving and how, in some cases, the person who archived is as important (if not more important) than the person (or persons) the archival material is about or pertains to. Is archiving ever truly “accidental” and can you really call anyone (in this case, a president) with an archive “an archivist” ?

“Wilfred Frost, 35… is using some resurfaced material from his father’s interviews for a twice-weekly podcast, “The Frost Tapes,” that debuts… on Oct. 6.”

link to original NYTimes article: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/29/arts/television/richard-nixon-david-frost.html

a NYTimes article from 1975 about the White House recording system: https://www.nytimes.com/1975/07/02/archives/nixon-declares-johnson-urged-taping-system-in-white-house.html

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