Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Webinar: Disaster Recovery for Electronic Records

Jobi: When I heard that SAA (Society of American Archivists) was presenting a webinar about disaster planning for electronic records I thought it would be an excellent learning opportunity for the collections staff and collections interns. What I discovered in the end is that there is yet another hole in our EPP (Emergency Preparedness Plan) and I need to develop a clearly written and fully executable plan in the event of an emergency. While the EPP includes the steps to take to recover the objects, archives, photographs and the buildings for water, fire or smoke damage (and steps to mitigate the potential for these types of damage in the first place), computer files and electronic records are not addressed in the plan. At all. Ugh! More work for me. But, I guess it is always good to discover flaws in the plan before you need to use it in a true emergency. Fortunately, William W LeFevre, the Reference Archivist at Wayne State University who did the presentation, provided a good blue print to follow.

Passersby wonder what everyone is doing in Jobi's office

Julie: The disaster recovery seminar produced useful information that I didn't know before on how to preserve data in the event of flooding--did you know that dvds, cds and even flash drives should be kept wet and rinsed in distilled water? After it air dries, the data may not be lost after all.

Interns watch the webinar

Brittney: I participated in a webinar about disaster planning, specifically about electronic records. I think it was an important webinar because even though the museum has an extensive disaster plan, salvaging electronic records is not currently included. The webinar discussed developing a disaster plan as well as disaster recovery, all very important topics, especially because the museums records and collections are going to increasingly be electronic.

Jobi talks about the flaws in our existing Emergency Plan

Kristin: I attended the "Electronic Records and Disaster Planning" webinar with Intern Wrangler Jobi, and two fellow interns. It was very informative and reminded me of some of the issues covered in a Digital Preservation class I took this past Spring semester. I learned that it is important to have a Disaster Recover Plan for electronic records because many types of storage media are not very stable.

Everyone is excited to learn about disaster recovery for electronic records!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Secret Lives of Interns: Field Trip to the Holocaust Museum Offsite Storage

A blog by Kristin Davidson

Wednesday was a particularly exciting day for Intern Brittney and myself, as Intern Wrangler Jobi had arranged a little field trip for us, along with the rest of the interns and Rachel K and Elena. Yes, that’s right they let us out of the basement!! After letting our eyes adjust to the sunlight, we drove down to the US Holocaust Museum offsite storage facility.

All of the interns arrived at the unmarked building without incident; however, we quickly realized that someone was missing…


Our fearless leaders Rachel K. and Elena!

still looking...

We watched and waited as we saw their car pass by the facility not once, but two times before they pulled into the parking lot. But they did finally arrive safely, and there was much rejoicing…

A victorious arrival

Heather Kajic, Registrar for the offsite storage facility, met us at the door. After introductions, Heather told us a little bit about the facility and their rapidly increasing need for more storage space (a problem that apparently plagues all museums great and small).

Our behind-the-scenes tour began with a peek inside the facility’s very own conservation lab (a luxury that small museums like JMM can only dream about). Next we moved on to the loading dock which was relatively empty and awaiting the incoming 4000 shoes from the Holocaust Museum downtown. These 4000 shoes (which you may have seen on exhibit) were on loan from the State Museum at Majdanek and will be returned to the site in exchange for another set of 4000 shoes.

Heather shows us the shoes waiting to be cleaned and packaged for shipment.

Then we moved onto the storage closets, where Heather showed us many interesting artifacts and explained how different types of materials are housed separately….



And Leathers.

Seeing these types of artifacts was a haunting reminder of the people and events they represent. While showing us a concentration camp uniform that had been altered by a survivor into a dress, Heather told us that often when survivors had get-togethers, they would wear their uniforms to the meetings.

An example of a survivor's uniform.

Next we walked by archival materials, housed on 2-story high shelves, without an empty space in sight. We also got to see the facility’s wood and metal shop where models for new exhibits are built. Then it was back to the break room for questions.

I asked Heather how many objects were in the collection, and she told us she thought there were about 30,000 objects and millions of pages of archival material. She told us about many of the day to day challenges of working with a collection this size - turns out we have a lot of the same ones at the JMM!

It was interesting to see that apparently all museums, large and small, have to work through the same kinds of issues, such as having a balance between protecting the materials and allowing access and that of constantly running out storage space.

But for now, it’s back to the basement for Intern Brittney and myself!

Secret Lives of Interns: Film Review

A blog by Julia Mazur

As a life long fan of director Barry Levinson, I have always felt a strange connection to his films. I remember at a young age watching Robin Williams, Joan Cusack and LL Cool J in Levinson’s eccentric film Toys…still a favorite of mine today. It was not until my Architecture and Social History of Baltimore class during sophomore year of college that I watched what I feel to be one of Levinson’s best, Liberty Heights. Liberty Heights is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story sprinkled with humor, about a Jewish family, the Kurtzmans, who reside in a suburban neighborhood in Baltimore distinctively known as the “Jewish side”. The opening begins with a scene showing how the community views the Jews that live there, putting them on the same level as dogs. The main character, Ben, faces anti-Semitism and race relations, especially when he befriends Sylvia, and African American student. Meanwhile, Van, Ben’s older brother falls for a girl from the WASP part of town. His mother refers to them as the “other kind”. His father, Nate, owns a burlesque house on the Block while running a number racket. The film closes with the family’s annual visit to view the new Cadillac model and Ben and his friends accepting their Jewish identity. It gives what I feel to be an accurate depiction of Baltimore Jewish life in the 50's. I feel that the experiences of the family can translate to other cities and I know my family can relate to their lives when they lived in Chicago. The film helped me understand their life and their struggles a little better. After watching the film for the first time I felt a sense of pride in my Jewish identity and the Jewish people who had fought for a equal statue of Jews so that I can have the life that I do today.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Secret Lives of Interns: Growing the Museum's Collections

Over the past 2 weeks JMM collections & exhibitions interns got a first hand peek at how an item becomes a part of the Jewish Museum of Maryland collections. Interns sat in on both the staff collections meeting, where the relative merits of each item offered for donation were discussed. Those lucky interns also got assigned a number of small research projects to gather additional information about many of the items up for offer, checking both our own collections to make sure we don’t duplicate our holdings as well as researching further abroad to hunt down information not only about the items but about the donors and donor families. At the end of the meeting the staff made recommendations for the disposition of each item offered – some for accessioning into the permanent collection, some to our teaching collection or our vertical files and some to be returned to their donors.

Checking out the items offered for donation.

A week later we reconvened in the boardroom for the official Collections Committee meeting. The Collections Committee, chaired by Trustee Duke Zimmerman is made up of board members and professionals from other museums and repositories. At these meetings the staff explains their recommendations, answers questions (and often participates in very lively debate!). At the meeting’s close the Committee votes to accept or reject the recommendations. At the next quarterly board meeting the list of items for accession will be voted on – once concluded this round of items will become official parts of the collection!

Committee Chair Duke Zimmerman explains the meeting to the interns.

I asked the interns to write up their impressions (sadly, registration intern Sara was not present, as she was getting her wisdom teeth removed. Feel better Sara!)

Jobi shows off her favorite item of this batch -
a booklet about the Jewish "Fascination with Mahjong!"

I learned that when a donation is received, it must be contextualized in terms of related objects already accessioned to the collection or relevance to the museum's purposes. I explored the vertical files to find out if the JMM already had a copy of a donated document, and if there were other volumes of that same publication in the files. I was glad my work proved useful in determining whether a donation should be accepted by the Collections Committee.

Jenn talks about archives.

I've always wondered about the behind-the-scenes life in a museum, and today I was able to witness the cogs which turn the exhibit wheel. I was able to hear the board discuss whether an item was a significant contribution to the collection. As a lover of history, I never thought a museum would consider rejecting an item, but then again I never considered a museum's finite storage area to be a factor either.

Julie examines a package of Hanukah napkins (recommendation: accession!)

Attending the Collection Committee meetings and sitting through the accession process was a great learning experience for an aspiring museum professional such as myself. I did not previously know how much time went into selecting, debating, and finally coming to a decision as to what material is chosen to be accessioned. I enjoyed listening to the Committee's lively discussions about future collection endeavors and archives expansion options.

Brittney displays the record "Silence." Wonder what it sounds like...

I found the Collections Committee meetings, both with the staff and the rest of the Committee, very interesting. I was surprised by the lively discussion over the vertical files and the K collection. Who knew that newspaper articles, ephemera, and food boxes could create so much discussion?

Kristin checks out an empty box of Hanukah candles.

I enjoyed sitting in on the Collections Committee meeting because it not only showed me the accession process but gave me a better sense of what makes the JMM tick. The committee being fairly diverse in ages and backgrounds (and museum knowledge) made for some interesting discussions.

Rachael looks over the full disposition list...all 27 pages of it!

Lights & Shadows: Excerpt II

Chapter 2: The Nazis ascend to power and begin
to persecute and discriminate against Germany’s Jews.

Arnold Fleischmann with his mother, Nelly.

My mother’s bridge club was made up primarily of the non-Jewish women with whom she had gone to school. Most were the wives and daughters of German military officers who were stationed near Bayreuth. Mutti had known some of these women for her entire life, and she enjoyed their company. The women got together twice a week, frequently at our house—where I enjoyed snitching chocolates as they played cards.

It must have been 1933, around the time the Nazis rose to power, when some of the women came to my mother and said, “Mein Mann, mein Vater, mein Bruder, sie haben Bedenken.” (My husband, my father, my brother, they have concerns.)

“What are their concerns?” my mother asked.

“They say we should not associate with Jews,” my mother’s friends told her. “I’m afraid we cannot have you as part of our bridge club any longer.” The ladies were tearful and expressed regret, but like many German women at the time, they were subservient to their husbands. Almost overnight, my mother’s friends seemed to disappear.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Annual Meeting 2010!

On Sunday, June 6th here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, we held our annual meeting. But this wasn't just any annual meeting! No, this was the annual meeting of our 50th year! We've been trying to celebrate our jubilee year with panache through special programs (like the re-dedication of Lloyd Street Synagogue in March) and putting just a little bit of extra sparkle on all our regular offerings. Our annual meeting was no different!

One of the special features of this year's meeting was a tribute to past JMM leaders, delivered by Baltimore's own Gilbert Sandler. After sharing a number of stories, Gil thanked all past and present JMM trustees for their dedicated service to and support of the JMM. Following Gil's tribute came our keynote speaker, Marsha Semmel from the IMLS, speaking on the future of museums.

At the end of her talk, Marsha was surprised by the presentation of an Award of Appreciation to the IMLS, on behalf of Baltimore museums. Roland Woodward, president of the Greater Baltimore History Alliance (and JMM trustee) was on hand to present the award.

But before all of these illustrious speakers, the meeting was opened with a welcome from our own associate director Anita Kassof. Her remarks, which follow below, set the tone of the meeting and truly capture the direction of the museum's gaze as we celebrate our 50th year.

As we began planning for our anniversary year, we batted around a number of potential taglines. One of my personal favorites, which, unfortunately, didn’t stick, was “Halfway to one hundred.”

What I like about that tagline is that it acknowledges that while anniversaries are an occasion to look backwards, they also offer an opportunity to look ahead. As a history museum, we do a good job of examining the past, interpreting it, and drawing messages and meaning from it. Our exhibitions exemplify our commitment to learning from our collective past: In Her Inward Eye, Nancy Patz’s works asks us to ponder the significance of memory. Voices of Lombard Street is a nostalgic journey that explores how community is shaped. The Synagogue Speaks, our newest exhibition, unearths the mysteries of a building that continues to reveal new secrets every time we dig a little deeper.

Certainly, nostalgia and reflection have their place in our exhibitions and programs, but we would be shortchanging ourselves and our visitors if we only looked in one direction. Our job is also to meet the future head on by embracing new ways to engage and inspire our visitors. To that end—with the help of the under-30 staff at the Museum—we’re diving into the social networking world by Facebooking, blogging, and developing an interactive microsite for our Chosen Food exhibition. And Tweeting is just down the road. Developing and using these applications has been quite an education for those of us who grew up with manual typewriters and rotary telephones, but it’s clearly the wave of the future and provides wonderful opportunities to engage visitors, younger ones in particular.

Just as I was pondering the role of social media and other new technologies in engaging visitors of the future, I learned that the theme of next year’s conference of the American Association of Museums is “The Museum of Tomorrow.” It seems that, of late, numerous symposia, articles, and online discussions have been devoted to exploring what shape museums will take the twenty-first century.

Not a little anxiety accompanies these musings, as museum professionals—and our visiting public—envision how museums will look in the internet age. Wonderful opportunities await us. But as we enter uncharted territory in our march toward the future, I hope that we don’t lose sight of the value of traditional museums as places of discovery that offer authentic experiences. Sometimes, visitors find things in our exhibitions that surprise even us, as they interpret the authentic—a yellowed document, a snippet from an oral history, the brushstroke on a canvas—through the lens of their own experiences.

So as we celebrate the Museum’s fiftieth and look forward to our next half century on Lloyd Street, it’s critical that we keep in mind, first and foremost, what makes us special. Our two historic synagogues—beautifully restored and interpreted—offer real encounters with material evidence of the past, showing how different people have used and shaped the buildings. Our collections, the largest and most varied of their kind, vividly illustrate our communal past. Our programs and exhibitions invite visitors to engage with real things in authentic settings. The Museum is truly a place of discovery—and of mystery—where visitors can encounter the unexpected. In the process, they may just find out more about themselves.

*All photographs by Will Kirk and Mark Mehlinger.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Secret Lives of Interns: Intern Abroad!

A blog by Lindsay Waskow

As an undergraduate student at Drew University with a minor in Jewish Studies, I feel that having an internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland is very fitting. Not only do the information in the exhibits, the history of synagogues, and many of the objects in the collections both relate to and reinforce what I have learned in my Introduction to Judaism, Jewish History, and Zionism courses, but working in the museum also gives me an opportunity to appreciate the history of the Jewish people of Baltimore. Thus, while my courses have focused on Judaic studies from a broad and general perspective, interning at the Jewish Museum of Maryland allows me to explore the Jewish roots and history of my own hometown.

While it is incredibly interesting to learn about the experiences of the Jews of Baltimore, who lived right on these very streets that surround our Museum today, I also have become fascinated with studying and exploring different Jewish communities around the world. In fact, two summers ago I had the opportunity to travel to Uruguay, a Spanish speaking country located towards the very south of South America, and was incredibly surprised to find that a Jewish community actually existed there.

As a sophomore who was almost 100% positive that she wanted to major in Spanish, I decided to start looking for a study abroad program for the summer, since I had never visited a Spanish speaking country before. Very soon after I began looking around for programs, I received a forwarded email from my Hillel Director at Drew. It described the “Hillel Uruguay Spanish Program”, where students would take daily Spanish classes at the Berlitz language institute while at the same time becoming immersed in the Jewish community of Uruguay. I was excited about this program as it combined two of my favorite subjects: Spanish and Judaism!

Montevideo (on the other side of the water)

21 de Septiembre (one of the streets)

After asking my parents and showing them where the country of Uruguay is located on a map (as they did not have any idea where it was), I applied for the program and a few days later was notified that I had been accepted. Several weeks later, I found myself on an extremely long plane ride, first to a layover in Buenos Aires, Argentina and then finally to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, where the program was to be held. Upon landing, I found eight other people that were also participating in the program, who seemed really friendly. We were then shown around the city and the director pointed where the Berlitz Langugage Institute, the hotel, and the Hillel building, “Hillel Uruguay” were.

Our hotel

In addition to the wonderful Spanish class in which I was enrolled with two of the other students in the program, I very much enjoyed learning about the Jewish community of Uruguay. At first, I thought that Hillel Uruguay, the Jewish center in Montevideo that held many activities and also included a restaurant, was really the only place of Jewish life in the city. However, I soon found out that the Jewish community was much bigger as not only did I have to opportunity to attend Shabbat services in various synagogues, but I met native Jewish Uruguayans upon having Shabbat dinner at their homes. In addition to my discovery of the size of the Jewish population in Uruguay, I was also surprised that their Jewish traditions and practices were very similar to mine here in the United States. Although the tunes of the prayers in synagogue were somewhat different, the prayers they sang as well as the Jewish food they ate and the Jewish customs they practiced were quite similar to what I practice at home. Some of the families even spoke Hebrew and owned Spanish to Hebrew/Hebrew to Spanish dictionaries!

Hillel Uruguay

Sephardic synagogue

With additional trips lead by the program to the cities of Punta del Este and Colonia del Sacramento as well as to Buenos Aires, Argentina (which had a much bigger Jewish population than that of Uruguay), this program was truly successful for me because it gave me the opportunity to learn Spanish from native Spanish speakers in a Spanish speaking country and also allowed me to learn about a Jewish population that I never even knew existed. While the trip permitted me to practice my oral speaking skills in Spanish, it also made me realize how important my Judaism is to me. In this case, I very much enjoyed observing the many similarities between the Uruguayan Jewish community and the Jewish community here in America. It gave me a feeling of almost being at home, especially at the Shabbat dinners and at services.

Before going to Uruguay, I was very much considering a minor in Jewish Studies due to my love for Judaism that I have attainted throughout my entire life and especially during my four years of Jewish high school at The Shoshana S. Cardin School. Upon returning from Uruguay, I decided to make Jewish Studies my minor and have thoroughly enjoyed the courses I have taken so far at Drew. Thus, I think my enjoyment of my present internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland not only comes from the fact that I have a minor in Jewish Studies and that I am eager to learn about the history of the Jews in Baltimore, but also can be seen as a result of my love for Judaism.

The nine of us in front of “La Casa Rosada” in Buenos Aires, Argentina