January 2007

Time versus space

I am coming closer to terms with the speed at which health science materials travel. The urgency for new information and the rapid turnover of theories, studies, and reports in the professional literature creates an environment with little regard for historical perspectives. Who has time to look at all this “old stuff” when the review of incoming material is beyond the limitations of any individual. Aggregators and literature review services are the only means available for health science professionals to be aware of the enormous amount of information passing through their periphery.

The speed of information coupled with the space limitations of departments and divisions operating in facilities designed in an era that could not anticipate their current needs creates a hazardous environment for institutional documentation and the personal papers of faculty. The time/space pressure results in a clean sweep after the retirement or death of faculty and administrators.

The loss is happening in real time. On any given day I can walk through the various buildings and see material piled next to trash containers or left for janitors outside of office doors. Or, as in a recent case, it comes to me through an email notifying me that it is all gone. Usually, it is tendered with a “wish I had known…” or “I didn’t realize someone would want this old stuff.”

Obviously, I cannot change the established environment, but, hopefully through a few upcoming events, word of the project and the value of the material can begin to seep into the consciousness of those I am working to document.

School of Public Health

Yesterday at a Libraries’ planning retreat, Dean John Finnegan of the School of Public Health spoke to us about what he felt his school needed from the Libraries.

With a background in media and communications, Dean Finnegan’s interests include pairing new technologies with the mission of the SPH. This is clearly evident on the School’s web site that displays current SPH student blogs, podcasts, and videos (Student SPHere) related to their education and time in the field.

The SPH’s emphasis on new technologies presents interesting and exciting challenges for me in documenting the School’s activities. I hope to use the backbone of the University Digital Conservancy to preserve the SPH’s digital materials.

Faculty meetings

Last week’s visitors from Seoul National University prompted several conversations with retired faculty either involved with the original partnership or international programs.

First, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Neal Gault, former Dean of the Medical School. Dr. Gault lived in Korea with his family for two years. Dr. Gault and other university faculty acted as program supervisors at SNU during the reconstruction of the medical school and faculty training.

I also had the chance to meet Dr. John Arnold, former Head of Surgery and Radiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Arnold was the only CVM faculty member to stay in Korea during the partnership. He and his family were on site from 1960-1961. He described his work as modernizing the training of graduates and supporting the work of the younger faculty. Dr. Arnold also discussed his role as a faculty consultant in Columbia in 1963.

Although not a participant in the SNU partnership, I also met with Dr. Stanley Diesch, a retired faculty member of the College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Diesch served as director for the CVM’s international programs. In addition to his international work, Dr. Diesch was a founding member and former director of CENSHARE (Center for the Study of Human Animal Relationships and Environments) housed in the School of Public Health. Dr. Diesch also served as the Head of Food Hygiene and Veterinary Public Health.

All of the above conversations were enlightening and acted as a starting point for new collection leads.

Seoul National University

In the 1950s and 1960s the University of Minnesota partnered with Seoul National University in a cooperative relationship to develop educational and research programs in agriculture, the medical sciences, and engineering. The effort allowed University of Minnesota faculty and civil service staff to learn from their counterparts in Korea and assisted in SNU’s reconstruction after the war as an institution and as a source of intellectual labor to strengthen Korea’s post-war economy.

Recently, a cooperative partnership between the SNU Archives and the U of M Archives has worked to identify materials held by the two institutions documenting the cooperative arrangement. Currently, researchers from SNU are mining the materials at the U of M to locate unique items not known or held by SNU.

This is an opportune time to locate and identify individuals in the AHC that have a connection to the original partnership or departments and offices that may still have material related to the University’s work with SNU. The Medical School, School of Nursing, and Veterinary Medicine were all involved in the cooperative.

I have already noted that the small sampling of John Arnold’s papers have some correspondence resulting from the partnership. The School of Nursing has a binder of related documents as well. Dr. Neal Gault, former dean of the Medical School, was also a participant. We are working to identify additional individuals and I hope the current interest in the SNU partnership will generate collection leads and accessions for the AHC archives project.

The Brothers Mayo have left the building

The two portraits of William and Charles Mayo that were placed in my custody a month ago have moved on to another home. The AHC Office of Communications took the portraits to investigate what level of restoration the paintings might require and what it might cost. It is still not clear where they will ultimately hang, perhaps they might even find their way back to my office. I have still not been able to determine when they came to the University, but it seems the best guess is the early 1980s. If the portraits cross my path again, I will update on their condition.

Exploring environmental connections

I recently stumbled across the proceedings for the 1993 Conference on Expressions of Caring in Nursing: Exploring Our Environmental Connections (ed. Eleanor Schuster & Carolyn Brown, NY: National League for Nursing Press, 1994). I thumbed through several of the articles for two primary purposes. First, I am enjoying becoming more connected to health sciences literature. It helps me better understand the materials I work with as well as connect to the people I meet. Second, I was curious to see the connections depicted that draw the field of nursing closer to environmental studies. As you may recall, I previously mentioned my own interest in examining archives as a single field among many interested in the long-term use and access to rare and unique resources as is the case in environmental protection.

The preface to the first chapter states

The phrase domain of nursing knowledge calls forth old images of ownership, territoriality, and control. We use the word domain in the sense of laying claim to an area of knowledge development for nursing. (p. 1)

The semantics of ownership and control are present in environmental literature. The shift in language from land management to land stewardship parallels the shift in nursing knowledge from a domain of knowledge ownership to a domain of knowledge growth.

As for archives, a recent article by Joel Wurl (Archival Issues 29, 2005) echoes this shift in language and, thus, perception. Wurl writes

In the custodial approach to archives, property is relinquished… material is now owned by the repository. A stewardship ethos… is characterized by partnership and continuity of association… jointly held and invested in by the archive and the community of origin. (p. 72)

In each of the three fields, nursing, environmental protection, and archives, a clear break with past paradigms of ownership and control are made and replaced with growth and partnerships.

When discussing incorporating an environmental awareness into nursing, Dorothy Kleffel recommended

(a) making the community and the broader environment our nursing client, (b) redirecting our nursing activities to the macro-level environment, and (c) moving the profession from oppression to empowerment. (p. 11)

I find all three suggestions applicable to archives as well. If we document human activities and the broader environment then archivists follow the suggestion of Candace Loewen (Archivaria 33, 1991-92) to be “survival-oriented,” meaning we document “records of value to humans and to the planet as a whole.” Second, archivists are becoming more aware of provenance and appraisal issues at the macro level and are engaging records at their creation, not just at their deposit. A macro level approach is also becoming a part of our processing and description activities. Finally, the third point is again evident in Wurl’s discussion of stewardship of a community’s resources rather than control.

So what is the ultimate connection between nursing, environmental protection, and archives? All are primarily interested in the long-term survival and improvement of the communities they serve. And by doing so, cross over to the other fields with a measure of support as well.