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Archival Preservation in the Mainstream with Monocurate

Ellen Goodwin, Artifcts
January 20, 2022

The joys of Artifcts have been endless for Heather and me, the founders. We’ve experienced with our early subscribers the emotional highs and lows of bringing back heritage and forward memories. Whether that’s unearthing long forgotten family heirlooms, discovering the joy of connecting through shared experiences incapsulated in objects, or simply finding a new, safe place to preserve bits of ourselves, we’ve experienced a lot with our Arti Community.

One of the more remarkable and surprising aspects of the Artifcting journey has been how often people have come to us with ‘stuff’ that really should be in a museum or carefully preserved to ensure it can even last another year much less generation! Browse Artifcts and you’ll see what I mean – letters from WWII, old maps, stacks of photos, bibles hand carried from Europe in the 1800s, cherished cookbooks, original sketches, and more.

So, imagine my surprise when one Sunday morning while reading my local northwest Austin community paper I saw a short blurb about a new company that specializes in archival preservation services. Monocurate is just around the corner from my house, has a web design aesthetic that immediately drew me in, and drum roll please… is another female-led business!

I reached out to founder Brooke Lake to learn more. While her sweet spot is paper – think photos, books, and documents that require stitching, dry cleaning, and other restoration and preservation – her skills also include preserving textiles (think wedding gowns), digitization and digital catalogs, and more. I can also disclose the thoughtful, patient course correction she offered us at Artifcts to ensure we never encourage people to write on photographs or attach QR codes to objects in ways that could ultimately be damaging (now in our FAQs, "Artifcting Process"). Thanks, Brooke!

Brooke and I have since met several times, including a tour of her workshop, and I wanted to share with you some of our musings and discoveries about the overlapping world views of Artifcts and Monocurate.

Ellen Goodwin: Well, we might as well start at the beginning – we both launched our businesses during the late summer of 2021 with no end in sight for the pandemic. What led you to make that leap, at that time?

Brooke Lake: When quarantine happened, I, like many others, found myself faced with looming uncertainty. Widespread closures of public institutions left me with some extra time on my hands, and I used this opportunity to reflect on my experiences in public archives. I couldn’t shake the feeling that however much I enjoyed my work, it was becoming increasingly disconnected from our day-to-day lives. I created Monocurate with the hope of filling the need for archival and preservation services on a personal level.

Goodwin: You told me you have a passion for papers. What’s your background and how did it lead you to papers?

Lake: I have always been interested in the written record. I have a BA in history and and a masters in library science (MLIS). Through both, I have spent countless hours reading through source material. However, with my history degree I was the researcher; with my MLIS I was able to work as a formal Archivist making me the custodian of the records. Later in my career, I was trained by a highly respected Conservator here in Austin. My time spent with Carrabba Conservation gave me another perspective on the physicality of paper. Through all three—a researcher, a custodian, and a caretaker—I was provided with a multi-faceted perspective of the use of the records (i.e., paper). As a result, I was able to respect and appreciate use of paper and the importance and connection papers have to our day to day lives.

Goodwin: Respecting your clients’ privacy, of course, can you share with us the outlines of a favorite project?

Lake: One of our favorite collections in the past year was a client’s late mother’s poetry collection. It consisted of a handful of partially organized folders but the paper was folded, crinkled, and in desperate need of TLC. We flattened, cleaned, and encapsulated fragile pieces so that they could be safely read and handled. We created a simple inventory and reboxed the collection in an archival box with a brass nameplate with the client's name on it. The cherry on top was finding an old email that the client had written to her mother while she was away at school. Our client had no idea her mother had read that email let alone printed it out and saved it. We loved that we were able to rediscover that part of her history and preserve it along with the poetry collection, just as her mother had originally. 

Sample archival box with brass nameplate

Goodwin: What about the most challenging? What makes one object more challenging than another, or is it really just more time consuming?

Lake: Everything we take on can be challenging and time-consuming. We have to work slowly to respect the material regardless of what it is. Each object, in some way, tells us how it needs to be cared for and preserved. For example, with paper, it can rip so we must be meticulous when handling and caring for it. This is especially true of high-acid wood pulp paper. It was first developed in the early 1800s and used in some newsprint, kraft and manila papers, as well stationary, and is fragile as well as prone to darkening and staining with age. 

For digitization, when we scan, say photos from the 1920s, we have to ensure the color is calibrated perfectly to get the most accurate representation of the photograph which can be time consuming and challenging. For objects, there is no one-size-fits-all approach so everything we do is individualized to meet the needs of the material. This can be especially true for objects that people want to handle or display. Since we offer an array of services everything we do is met with some sort of challenge. The silver lining of course is that we are always learning and developing our skill sets so I appreciate the fact that our work keeps us on our toes. 

Goodwin: What do you wish people knew or better understood about archival preservation?

Lake: It’s not as simple as keeping everything “safe” in a bin in your closet. Lots of factors come into play with preservation. The environment (light, humidity, air quality) to the type of enclosure you are storing items can not be understated. Poor handling takes it’s toll as does poor-quality storage, which can accelerate the deterioration of your collection.  

It is important to remember that very object is unique and should be treated as such when it comes to preservation, as mentioned above: it’s rarely a one-size-fits-all approach. A common example is scrapbooks. Sure they store all your favorite photos and nostalgic items but ultimately they are incredibly damaging and horrible from a preservation standpoint.

Goodwin: I could imagine that like Artifcting, with archival preservation services people may not know where to start. They have too much to prioritize. What would your advice be to these people?

Lake: Start organizing your collections at home first. I think this is an area where Artifcts truly shines. Just being aware of what you have and where it is located is a great first step. From there, evaluate your collection and decide what needs to be prioritized. For example, if your important family papers are in a plastic bin on the ground, move them into an acid-free cardboard box to a mid-tier shelf. If you have a large collection of glassware, rearrange them so the boxes are not overcrowded and include lots of padding. For metal objects ensure the environment is dry and ensure each piece is stored individually. Move slowly through your list of Artifcts and focus on one area at a time (e.g., first family documents, then glass, then metal) that way you are in the headspace and can streamline your at-home preservation endeavors.  

Goodwin: Artifcts are literally unique, transferable digital assets. Artifcts will outlive us as individuals, they might even outlast the objects they capture. And yet, with your services, we have hope that objects can be carried forward from generation to generation, family history and world history captured and preserved. Tell us about a project that really resonated with you and the why behind it.

Lake: Currently we are working to digitize and preserve a large collection of hi8 home-movies. This family came to me to digitize and preserve the original media that they recorded over a 20 year time period. These tapes include a complete timeline of their marriage and children’s childhood through birth to graduation. It’s an incredible amount of footage. I found it interesting that each family member had a different take on the “why.” For example, the father simply didn’t want to lose the footage. The mother was more interested in editing clips of the newly digitized media to share with friends and family, and their two now grown children didn’t recall all the moments that were filmed and were more interested in watching the footage to see what was there. 

For me, I was just happy to bring these forgotten memories to light while simultaneously stabilizing and preserving the original media should a better analog-to-digital conversion technology come along in the future.

Goodwin: In your experience, what’s the primary motivation for someone who brings you a precious object for archiving?

Lake: Many collections are becoming increasingly fragile and are in danger of being lost forever. Our clients want to ensure that their collections remain in stable condition to be passed down for generations to come. This is true regardless of whether it is a family collection or work for institutions. While deterioration cannot be stopped, it can be slowed down, and that’s our primary motivator for helping people. In addition, we also provide organization, inventories, digitization, and reference and research services—all of which provide our clients with an accessible, holistic approach to their collections regardless of what they may consist of. 

Goodwin: Okay, last question! I asked Jennifer Singleterry of Sort & Order about this and want to ask you, too. You know all about Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help you in your work with your clients? 

Lake: One of the biggest aspects of family collections is the lack of collaboration. Usually, one person is the gatekeeper so to speak. As a result, external stories tend to be lost or forgotten simply because the other individuals don’t have access to the item. Artifcts rectifies this problem by providing the space to crowdsource and share stories. The way Artifcts allows several individuals, no matter their distance, to provide context to objects is just incredible. 

< End of interview >

We know that when it comes to our personal lives and histories “someday” often turns into never or maybe simply too late. We hope you will think about those pieces of you that should be Artifcted and archived to pass to friends and family and future generations before it’s too late. Take it one object at a time. If you get stuck, see if some of our partners and membership organizations can help you!

You can reach out to Brooke at Monocurate for a free consultation. She has beautiful project examples and easy to follow steps on her website as well. And, if you’re in Austin, we encourage you to attend a Monocurate workshop!

© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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What's New at Artifcts
Collection Management Made Easy and Meaningful  

Artifcts thanks Sarah Reeder, Artifactual History Appraisal, for her contributions to the following article.

Reading time: 4 minutes

You may have one or many collections, intentional collections and accidental collections. Part of the fun of collecting is keeping track of it: Knowing what you have and what you’re still hunting for, what is sentimental vs. valuable, and what is okay to sell some day versus you’d prefer to pass down to someone special.

Short checklist about collections

 
 
We know a thing or to about accidental collections. Try out our free checklist available here.

If you were a professional archivist, librarian, or appraiser, you’d have a ready tool in your pocket to help manage your collections. It’s called a finding aid. But guess what? As you Artifct your collections, you are implicitly leveraging the best of finding aids, but in a friendly form that all can enjoy and benefit from. 

Here’s your peek inside the world of archivists where we show you how finding aids and collection management are made easy and meaningful with Artifcts!

What Is a Finding Aid, and Why Should You Care?

Unless you are a collections professional (archivist, librarian, appraiser…), the concept of a finding aid is likely foreign to you. For the longest time at Artifcts we even mistakenly referred to them as finding keys. Oops!

A finding aid is exactly what it sounds like: A tool that helps you locate items within a large collection in a fast and efficient way. A finding aid is a guide that describes the contents of an archival collection. A well-designed finding aid makes quick work of determining the topical relevance of any collection. After all, what good is a collection if discoverability hinders locating and using elements within the collection in the future.

Many of us have experienced the feelings of dread and being overwhelmed upon contemplating many boxes of inherited items that probably have something important contained in them but what and where? Imagine if you had a finding aid that told you exactly what was important and where you could locate it!

This is the magic of what finding aids do.

To a large degree, information within a finding aid is standardized per guidelines from the Society of American Archivists, “Describing Archives: A Content Standard,” better known simply as DACS. Standardization means a professional could work with or for any gallery, library, archive, or museum (aka GLAM) and their collections without much difficulty. They might simply display the information differently than one’s accustomed to.

A finding aid would have information such as: reference code, title, date, extent, name of creator, description, dates, and location. Does that list look familiar? If you Artifct, it should… 

For those of us who didn’t go to Library Science school, in our daily lives we probably do not want to think about taxonomies, metadata, bytes of storage, or even finding aids. We want to enjoy and share the meaning behind the items we’ve collected and ensure the stories and value behind them live on!

Enter Artifcts: Solving Age Old Problems of Finding Aids for Every-Day Collectors 

What we created at Artifcts is the solution to several age-old problems of finding aids in an individual and family-friendly fashion. And this means great things for you all!  While finding aids are brilliant tools for professionals, they are disconnected from how most of us describe and catalog the ‘why’ of our collections. We need more multitasking support in our lives.

Here’s how you can use Artifcts to preserve the history and the value of your collections beyond the constraints of traditional finding aids.

Use those QR codes.

If you were to work with a professional appraiser, archivist, or collections manager of any type, they will likely offer as part of their services a description of the collection and list organizing the inventory within your collection, a finding aid of some sort. But how do you link that list to your physical collection? At Artifcts, you can print a QR code or use Artifcts QR code stickers to link the physical and the digital.

music box with Artifcts QR code on the bottom of the base

 
 
An Artifcts QR code unlocks the story and value!

Record your stories.

Move beyond “scope notes” and “meta data” inherent to the archivist’s expertise – “This is a 19th-century {name of item}” – and breathe life, context, and personal meaning into the objects in your collection, e.g. “This is what Great Great Grandma brought from France when she moved to New York. And I’m giving it to you now.”  

Artifcts offers the options to share your story, indicate what you want to do with items in the future, and supply critical other information like where on earth you’ve stored the item in your home or elsewhere and the supporting documents (receipts, appraisals, and more). 

Connect the dots.

We typically describe each Artifct you create as connecting the dots, because only you know how photos of those specific items relate to shape a story or history. But we help you go a step further, too. You can use our @ feature to cross reference one Artifct with another, tying together pieces of a collection and pieces of a story that others may not otherwise realize relate.  

Description field on Artifcts with menu open showing options for linking with @

 
 
Simply type @ as you add the story or description to your Artifct to link to other Artifcts.

Leverage your community.

Let’s not forget the value in sharing and collaboration to learn more about items in your collections. Through Artifcts Circles and the option to give ‘Edit’ permission to other paid Artifcts members, you can crowdsource information from your loved ones and experts alike to capture important details about your collections that may add historical and family history information as well as increase the value, too. 

Preserve what is.

Add the photos, videos, and original documents you have to your Artifcts. There’s a spot dedicated to securely preserve each as is. No compression. No conversion. What you upload is what you can always download again, too.

 
 
 
 
In our spring 2024 series finale of Evenings with Artifcts, our expert guests shed light on the 'why' and 'what' of collections.

Ensure that if you work with an appraiser or other collections manager in the future, they provide documentary support through Artifcts, so that you can protect and share the value of your collections with friends and family as well as knock off those “to dos” with your insurance company, financial planner, and estate attorney. 

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You may also be interested in these ARTIcles by Artifcts:

What to Consider When You Plan to Donate Art and Other Collectibles

From Rare Art to Family Heirlooms: Tips From a Master as You Consider Selling Your 'Stuff'

Everything You Wanted to Know About Appraisals but Were Afraid to Ask

How to Artifct that Collection

© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Artifcts® Platform Now Supports Publishing to Custom-Designed Books with Partner Akin

Whether you think about photo books as unique and personalized gifts or dream of publishing a life memoir, we love our books! Today Artifcts announced a new partnership with Akin (https://akin.house/artifcts-books/) to offer simple, custom designed books to Arti Community members who wish to publish their Artifcts to books. 

You need only look at the explosive growth of photo book companies to support everything from build-your-own to instant print from Instagram or your phone to know how much we love to have and to hold books. 

Together, Artifcts and Akin have made it simple and affordable to publish a custom-designed, premium quality, personalized book of your Artifcts.  

“Not everyone enjoys spending hours combing through photos, uploading them into software, stressing over layouts, colors, and font choices,” commented Artifcts Co-founder Ellen Goodwin. “Our partnership with Akin means you can simply choose the Artifcts you want to publish, share them privately with Akin, and they’ll lay out the book in the template of your choice and ship it off to you! The whole process for our members takes minutes!” 

Artifcts excels in innovation that places the needs of its Arti Community members first. People expect to share their stories with meaningful context that includes photos, audio, and video. Artifcts has ensured this promise translates to printed books, too. Unlike a standard photo book, for every Artifct you publish, you can include a QR code that allows the viewer to scan and access additional photos and video tied to the story. Your book can come alive. 

“We don’t want our members to worry about the book creation process. We want people to enjoy spending time reliving their stories, and recording what they value most,” said Artifcts Co-founder Heather Nickerson. 

For more information, visit Concierge & Other Professional Services or review the FAQs available at Artifcts.com/FAQs. 

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© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 

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Not Sure What to Write? Tips from Author Jeff Greenwald

He's authored 1000s of articles, several books, and what's maybe the first known travel blog. And during the Fall 2022 series of Evenings with Artifcts Jeff Greenwald shared with us simple but powerful tips, and a healthy dose of perspective, to help us craft our own stories behind the objects of our lives.  

Watch the full Evenings with Artifcts event here.

  • It is hard to write about an object with no personal meaning but even harder when it has tremendous personal meaning. Bear that in mind and go easy on yourself. 

  • Start with something true. This is the trick to writing anything nonfiction. For example, start with a little line about where you got the object: “I bought this in a street market in Istanbul.” And from there go on to describe the scene a little bit and what happened there that connects you with the object.  

Start with something true.

  • Other starters for your Artifcts:  

        • Where were you when you acquired the object? 
        • Was it a gift? Who gave it to you? Tell a bit about them. What was your relationship with them that they felt they should give you a gift like that? “The moon Rocket was a gift for my friend Dave Mccutcheon, and he and I have been friends for many years and share a love of robots and spaceships and dinosaurs... all those things we loved when we were kids.” 
        • Why is it important to you?
        • What feelings does it evoke in you?
  • If a story comes to mind, you can just start jotting it down anywhere. Let your thoughts go where they will. It can be a collection of random thoughts that you can look at later and put together into some sort of a story structure. 

  • We all have stories. Writers block comes from our internal critic. It challenges you with, “Why would anybody want to read it? What could you have to say? What makes you think you're so great that anyone should listen to anything you're telling them?” You have to tell yourself, “I have a right to do this because I’m a human being with a story, and the story deserves to be told whether or not you, my internal critic, thinks that it does.” Push the internal critic aside. 
I’m a human being with a story, and the story deserves to be told.
  • If you value the stories and need motivation to begin capturing and preserving those stories with Artifcts, make a deal with yourself like Jeff did. Jeff made a pact to give away the objects once their stories were told. Maybe you’ll choose to Artifct twice per week. Or perhaps you’ll start with those items that are most meaningful to you.  

  • A bit of advice Jeff shared from esteemed author Kurt Vonnegut: Write your stories as though you are writing them for one person, as if you are telling this person each of the stories. It gives all the stories a similar tone, a singular voice. 

  • Always include when and where the object was acquired. These are important details.

  • Struggling with a title? Write out 10 of them. It will help you to start to shape your story, too.

Our stuff, the objects that we collect, that inspire us, they are really not what's important. We do not need to keep them. The only thing that is important are the stories, and the only way to keep the stories is to tell them.

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© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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