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Preserving Audio Collections: A Conversation Between Archivist and Preservationists

Click here to listen to the streaming audio file

In honor of Preservation Week, an NYU Libraries archivist and two preservationists discuss the value and importance of audio recordings and the efforts we are taking to ensure that these primary source documents are around and accessible in the years and decades to come. 

Featured clips are from the John Canemaker Animation Collection and the David Wojnarowicz Papers, both available at the Fales Library & Special Collections at NYU.

Speakers: 

  • Ben Moskowitz (Media Lab Supervisor) Barbara Goldsmith Preservation & Conservation Department
  • Brent Phillips (Media Archivist) The Fales Library & Special Collections
  • Kimberly Tarr (Media Preservation Unit Head) Barbara Goldsmith Preservation & Conservation Department.

For more information, please visit:

NYU Preservation 

Fales Library & Special Collections

John Canemaker Animation Collection 

David Wojnarowicz Papers

Special thanks to: Brent Phillips, Ben Moskowitz, Kimberly Tarr, Melitte Buchman, and Daniel Farmer

RELEASE: The Mimi Thi Nguyen Collection in Collaboration with the POC Zine Project

In the summer of 2012, POC Zine Project partnered with Mimi Thi Nguyen to facilitate her donation of over 60 poc zines created in the 1990s to NYU’s Fales Library.

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Here is the donation statement in its entirety, along with a list of the zines that were donated.

FALES LIBRARY DONATION STATEMENT

The Mimi Thi Nguyen Collection in Collaboration with the POC Zine Project

January 13, 2012

By Mimi Thi Nguyen

As a zinester and a scholar, it is an odd thing to be both an object of the archive and an interlocutor with them. Or, as the case might be, it is an odd thing to be both an object whose presence is perceived through absence and an interlocutor called upon to enact its retrieval.

The story of this donation follows from just such an absence and call when my collaborator Daniela Capistrano, founder of the POC Zine Project, noted that archivist Lisa Darms’ upcoming manuscript on the Riot Grrrl Collection at the Fales Library –about which Darms’ tweeted, with an invitation to propose materials to include— could not address some of the most important zines by women of color, because at the time almost none of these zines are found in the archive. (It bears noting that the collection depends upon donations, and Darms’ does not purchase zines for the collection.)

In a Twitter exchange, Capistrano encouraged Darms to continue including zines by women of color lest an important but much under-observed contribution to the story continue to be subsumed to a “big picture” of riot grrrl as feminist movement. At the same time, Capistrano contacted me to compile some of those zines for a collaborative donation to the Fales Library. As the mission statement for POC Zine Project states, the archive and access to it are central: “POC Zine Project’s mission is to makes ALL zines by POC (People of Color) easy to find, share and distribute. We are an experiment in activism and community through materiality.”

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There are two issues that concern us –myself, and Capistrano at the POC Zine Project– in general: For the first, we argue that the archive is not just a place for study, but must be itself an object of it. What is in the archive, and how did it get there? What are the criteria for assembling, organizing and presenting materials? Who selects and collects, shapes and donates their stories to an archive? What is not there? How do these materials and absences produce knowledges, including norms and teleologies?*

It is stating the obvious to observe that no archive is an authoritative source for grasping a record of the past; we know from postcolonial studies in which the archive is demonstrably an artifact of colonial frames that the story the archive –any archive— tells is provisional, partial. For this reason, some who are concerned with history making aim to create a more full archive, excavating from the cracks and fissures those stories and persons identified as absent (of course, this requires the recognition that absence matters).

But the second question I wish to address here is bigger than just what is in the archive, and how a donation like this one might “correct” an absence— it is for me a concern about how the archive, the absence, and the excavation tell another, useful story.

Such bigger stories are about feminist historiography –how do we tell the story of feminist movement and teleology, and the place of women of color? I want to suggest that a donation from my collection and the POC Zine Project does not necessarily address the underlying troubles for feminist historiographies of riot grrrl movement. As the narrow scope of liberal multiculturalism has by now taught us, it is that inclusion and incorporation might be made to cover over more troubling queries about how women of color are included, incorporated, or otherwise made visible. I am thinking of feminist archives or retrospectives that too often “hold a place” for women of color to say their piece, but in such a way that contains their critique and segregates it from the story of the movement’s contribution.

We can see this logic operating in retrospectives of riot grrrl in which the story of race is contained as a chapter, or a part of a chapter, in its history, when it appears at all. Here then I cite Anjali Arondekar, whose For the Record considers these questions with regards to sexuality in the colonial archive: “The critical challenge is to imagine a practice of archival reading that incites relationships between the seductions of recovery and the occlusions such retrieval mandates. By this I mean to say: What if the recuperative gesture returns us to the space of absence? How then does one restore absence to itself? Put simply, can an empty archive also be full?” That is, it may be that the problem is not just a matter of historical invisibility (in this case, of people of color in punk subcultures) that would otherwise be corrected with further excavation and more visibility.

The problem is this: Through what stories do absences become visible, and manageable? And does filling up that absence somehow hide the important stories that absence might tell us – about history-making, knowledge-making, movement-making? I wondered then, as I was pulling together zines by women of color (pre-1996) for this donation, how an almost-empty archive might lend greater substance to the story of epistemic violence that erases or otherwise contains our presence.

As I have said elsewhere, the archive is a political and cultural meaning making machine for the passage of objects into what Michel Foucault calls knowledge's field of control and power’s sphere of intervention, and for “minor” objects in particular, we know well how troublesome such a passage might be. At the same time, myself and Daniela here wish to posit another historiographical gesture. That is, what if we refuse the emplottment of absence and subsequent redemption-through-presence that would render women of color as mere addition or supplement to the archives? What if the intervention –like this donation— becomes the story to tell about them?

The donations made from my collection in collaboration with the POC Zine Project and in conversation with Lisa Darms at the Riot Grrrl Collection is both a critique (broadly construed) and an alternate chronicle taking up questions about race and coloniality that cut across assumed feminist histories, investments and teleologies.* These pre-1996 selections from my collection point to not a side story in riot grrrl movement, but the story of encounter and contest, exchange and challenge – denoting not the singularity of riot grrrl movement, but its slide by other feminisms, fracturing and multiplying into other worlds.

Again, as I have said elsewhere (and repeatedly on the first POC Zine Project/Race Riot! Tour in 2012), those other histories of people of color –here represented in the materials we donate together– are not an interruption into a singular scene or movement but the practice of another, co-present scene or movement that conversed and collided with the already-known story, but with alternate investments and forms of critique. These other stories of riot grrrl in particular and also punk at large unfolding enact historical and theoretical provocations with which we have yet to reckon.**

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* I am grateful to my graduate research assistant Ariana Ruiz for the hours she put in copying and creating an inventory for the zines.

** Some of the material adapted here for this statement comes from Mimi Thi Nguyen, “Afterward,” in Punkademics: The Basement Show in the Ivory Tower, edited by Zack Furness, New York: Minor Compositions/Autonomedia, 2012, 217-223; and Mimi Thi Nguyen, “Riot Grrrl, Race, and Revival,” in Women & Performance special issue “Punk Anteriors,” edited by Elizabeth Stinson and Fiona I.B. Ngô, 22:2-3 (July-November 2012); 173-196.

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Here is the full list of zines created by POC in the 1990s that were donated:

Behind These Fragile Walls #1

Boredom Sucks #8.5

Borelando

Broken Thought #1 and #2

Cage #1, #2 and #3

Chica Loca 2

Chinese, Japanese, Indian Chief

Consider Yourself Kissed #2

Cyanide #1

Eracism #1 and #2

Evolution of a Race Riot

Exedra #4

Funeral #1 and #2

Hey Mexican!

Hey White Girl

Hijinx Zine #1

Hollyhock 3/War 1

Hollyhock #4.5

Housewife Turned Assassin! #2 and #4

Juryrig

Kreme Koolers #2 and #4

Mamasita #4

Marks in Time: The Very Early Go-Gos’s

Messy Flowers 3/Lolita

Mestiza

Mija

My Broken Halo #2

Oppression Song #1

Photobooth Toolbox 2

Please Don’t Hit Below The Belt!

Pure Tuna Fish #1, #6, #8, #9 and #10

Race Riot 2

Race Riot Project Directory

Scarbaby

Screaming Goddess #1 and #4 (zine and artwork)

Secret Agent Girl no. 666

Suburbia 8/ Tennis and Violins #2

Tennis and Violins 

The Bakery

Totally Fucked Up #1

Wild Honey Pie #9 and #10

You Might as Well Live #4, #5, #8 and #9

Superette #12

ywap! #13

YOU ARE RACIST WHITE PUNK BOY

Mimi also gave an identical donation to the POC Zine Project and all titles will be a part of the Legacy Series mapping project. If you are interested in accessing digital copies of any of these zines, send us a message.

A duplicate donation was also made to the Barnard Zine Library (details coming soon).

Emily Armstrong and Pat Ivers were cable access staffers and punk rock scenesters who dragged their primitive cameras around now-famed dives of the original NYC punk era and filmed endless hours of bands, fans, weirdos, etc.

They soon turned their hobby into the legendary cable access show, “Nightclubbing,” then transformed that into a groundbreaking video DJing gig at the infamous NYC club, Danceteria.

In 2012, NYU digitized their tapes for The Downtown Collection at the Fales Library, giving new life for lost footage from the original NYC punk era.

We caught up with Armstrong and Ivers to get the Nightclubbing narrative. Read all about it here.

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Alice, Alice, and more Alice in Wonderland! As our curators prepared for an exhibition celebrating Alice that will open next month, we are busy in the lab this week creating housings for a large collection of Alice ephemera. These salt and pepper shakers, ceramic figurines, plates, and holiday ornaments are only a sample of the items from the Fales Library & Special Collections’ Lindseth Collection. The housing method is quite simple. Start with a standard archival box, then create dividers with archival corrugated plastic, and then made custom “nests” for each figure using a soft acid-free tissue. 

nyu.edu
The Riot Grrrl Collection at Fales Library

The Riot Grrrl Collection is an attempt to document the evolution of the Riot Grrrl movement, particularly in the years between 1989 and 1996. Because Riot Grrrl was (and is) both a political and a cultural movement, its output was diverse, including writing, music, performance, film, activism, photography, video, and original art, as well as documentation of activism and performance. This research collection will provide primary resources for scholars who are interested in feminism, punk activism, queer theory, gender theory, DIY culture, and music history.

Excellent example of an innovative special collection that focuses on an interesting albeit brief moment in history. The finding aids are awesome!

This is a reminder that libraries are not just about books.

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Great conversations with colleagues during and after the annual Preservation Week panel discussion on recently conserved Fales Library & Special Collections Materials. 

Speakers included: Lisa Darms (Senior Archivist) and Charlotte Priddle (Librarian for Printed Books) The Fales Library & Special Collections; Angela Andres and Lou Di Gennaro (Special Collections Conservators), and Laura McCann (Conservation Librarian)  Barbara Goldsmith Preservation & Conservation Department. 

We appreciated the great turnout and the lively conversations after the panel. 

40 Years of Artists Space

Opening Reception Tonight, 6-9pm

The Fales Library & Special Collections
NYU Bobst Library
70 Washington Square So, Third Floor
New York, NY 10012

Image: Cindy Sherman, Untitled (Secretary), 1978
Photographed for Cover Magazine

In Conversation: Lisa Darms, Fales Library at NYU

Lisa Darms is a curator of radical art. She is the Senior Archivist at the Fales Library & Special Collections at NYU and founder of the acclaimed Riot Grrrl Collection. In an interview with MIXED MEDIA, Darms discusses the wonders of David Wojnarowicz’s journals and the fine lines  between artworks and archival documents.


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You founded the Riot Grrrl Collection in 2009. How has the collection evolved since then?

Well, that’s a very small percentage of what I do here. Maybe 5, 10 percent of my time is spent on the Riot Grrrl Collection, in terms of being an archivist. In terms of being a press person, it’s a lot. So I guess it’s been about 5 years since I started the collection, which is hard to believe. I guess the main point that I try to make - and you understand this as an archivist, but most people don’t, especially in the mainstream press - is that, while a lot of people were like (even when it was 2 years old) “you started this 2 years ago, it’s done”, for me the timescale is decades. It’s kinda just at the beginning. Right now it consists of 18 individual archives. I feel like it’s evolving more from the way people are using it and the attention it’s gotten, rather than anything having to do with me and my intentions. Some recent additions have been the Riot Grrrl New York Collection, which I’m really excited about, and a collection from Los Angeles that also has material from Hong Kong. When I started working on the collection it was really Olympia and Washington DC-centric. So what I’m hoping is to expand it geographically.

Aside from the Riot Grrrl Collection, how is the rest of your time divided?

I’m the only archivist on staff. And we’re extremely large, so I do everything that an archivist could do: collection development; working with donors; doing site visits; accessioning; overseeing processing; editing and publishing finding aids; overseeing digital projects; doing PR stuff; and teaching. A lot of teaching for classes that come through from different departments, different schools. And reference! This is for all of our collections, which include the Downtown Collection, the Food Studies Collection, and a very tiny collection that’s called the Avant-garde Collection, a title that is really misleading ­— it’s actually a collection of small literary magazine archives from the late 60s and early 70s. 

Is there something resembling a division of labor if you’re the lone archivist?

The archives are about 11,000 linear feet right now, with over 400 individual collections, so I’m spread pretty thin. I’m really excited because in January I was able to hire a part-time reference archivist and that’s radically changed my life. We basically have 4 full-time people here: the director, a librarian for printed books (we have 350,000 volumes!), a media archivist and myself. The media archivist also helps with archives reference and overseeing student processors. So that’s kinda the division of labor. Most of our processing is done by graduate students.

Part of what I do is manage people’s expectations that I work for this mega-institution that surely must have tons of money, and then the reality of what I can deliver versus their expectations. So that’s been hard for me because I want to do a really good job, but I also think a super important quality to have in an archivist is that you need to be really pragmatic and be able to let go of perfection. I always say that to students that I’m mentoring. If someone is really obsessed with perfection, then I’m like, maybe you should be a cataloger.

Fales is home to a number of art-related archival collections, which contain artists’ materials, audiovisual elements and a number of objects in unconventional formats. What are some of the challenges of working with such collections?

When you have so many odd formats you have to learn how to describe them and care for them and how to even think of them conceptually. So I think we’re taking a lot of stuff that another archive might not take, and definitely wouldn’t have 20 years ago, like T-shirts, a skateboard, a taxidermy alligator. The materials in just David Wojnarowicz’s collection alone really defy how one conceptualizes a document and I’ve thought about that a lot. Also, the fact that most of these things are not artworks. I think a lot of the things we have shift into becoming artworks, they become conceived of that way, partly by the market. So for example, someone like Stuart Sherman, right before I got here we received his papers and there’s a lot of incredible drawings and textual process-oriented work in there that may have been defined as a sketch, but now I think is seen as an artwork. But where do you draw that line? For example, we have David Wojnarowicz’s test prints for Rimbaud in New York and he made a selection of some that were published, and then after his death another book was published from the archive, with the permission of his estate. But which of those are artworks and which of those are test prints and how do they shift over time? And if they are artworks, do they belong in an archive or not, and who decides? Do I decide what an artwork is or does the researcher or curator from outside decide? And that really applies to so many of our collections here.


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Another challenge we’ve had is the massive amount of unique audiovisual materials we have because of The Downtown Collection, which comprises primarily artist and gallery archives. We now have 90,000 individual AV elements. It’s terrifying.

The director of Fales, Marvin Taylor, said in an interview with artist Julie Ault that the library is not aggressively digitizing paper. What are your thoughts on mass digitization projects?

I think Marvin and I have always been in agreement that there are other priorities. It’s not that, “Digitizing paper is stupid!” It’s that there are other things that need immediate attention. And he says this all the time: paper will last. We have books here from the 15th century and obviously paper was much better then, but point taken, right? We have DAT tapes from the 1990s that are possibly going to be obsolete tomorrow. So if we’re putting resources into digitization, which we could call preservation instead because preservation for AV now is digital, then we would rather make sure we’re addressing our 90,000 AV elements than digitizing a collection that people can already come here and see. Not only that, there’s a lot of copyright issues with our collection that I think maybe people don’t understand. It’s late 20th century material primarily with living donors and artists. Of course, as we [as archivists] know, the materials in the archives are not primarily created by the artists themselves. It’s also sometimes a population that feels they’ve been taken advantage of. Artists who came about in the 70s and early 80s who maybe didn’t get the attention that of some of their peers did, but now feel like they’re starting to, but don’t necessarily want to give everything away for free for obvious reasons. For large digitization projects from our paper holdings, there would be a lot of rights assessment stuff that I think is a little different from many archives that house organizational papers, where it’s very much like, put it and see what people ask to be taken down.

We’ve also been very concerned with born digital material. Both more recently, as we’re receiving stuff on hard drives, but also historically there’s just obsolete computer disks riddled through the collection. And that’s a huge concern for us. We’ve recently been able to hire a really great digital archivist at NYU, Don Mennerich. We’re really excited to be able to start being able to take care of these things.

But we do digitize paper. We digitized the Judson Memorial Church arts series. It’s 60s stuff: it’s Happenings, it’s Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy, Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton and Claes Oldenburg, etc. It’s really incredible stuff. And then we also digitized David Wojnarowicz’s journals. And again that was easy because it’s mostly material created by David and his estate said yes. It’s material that’s requested all the time, but that’s actually really delicate because his journals are amazing, there’s a lot of glued-in material and a lot of original artwork. So that was something I’m really excited that I got to do.


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You also teach in NYU’s Masters in Archives and Public History program. What’s the topic of your upcoming class?

It’s a class called Historian and the Visual Record. It’s sort of directed at archives students, but also museum studies people, curators, etc. It’s a survey of systems of reproduction starting with the birth of print, moveable type, then etching, engraving, lithography, photography and then 20th century systems like xerography. So it’s a huge survey, but it’s focused on actual looking at actual material. Instead of it being purely theoretical, for every class I pull a lot of materials from the collections here, which is really cool because I’ve been able to work with our incunabula, I get to bring out the Nuremberg Chronicle, and stuff I’ve never looked at like our 17th through 19th century print holdings. So that’s been really exciting, and then with the 20th century processes, I go nuts with comics and zines and the mimeograph revolution.

You often work with donors. Do you enjoy the acquisitions process?

Yeah, absolutely. I do, just to be able to go visit people in their homes is really interesting. Sadly, a lot of people are being forced out of their homes and that’s often the point at which people call us. So it’s actually gentrification driving this in many ways, which is upsetting, but at the same time, I’m excited that we have the ability to take the materials that maybe wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. I love working with donors, I also love working with researchers and we work more and more with curators now. I would say that the bulk of our researchers now are definitely art historians, art critics and art curators. So with my background in art history, that’s really exciting for me.

THIS IS SO FANTASTIC:

Thanks to New York University’s Fales Library the journals of multimedia artist and social activist David Wojnarowicz have been digitalized and made available to view in full online. Containing personal tales of the unsung hero’s travels across Europe and America and correspondence with those he became associated with alongside the developmental processes of his art and film work, the catalogued pages are dated from 1971 to 1991 shortly before the artist’s own death from an AIDs related illness in 1992.

The artist was known to be the lover of photographer Peter Hujar (most noted for his photography of American actress Candy Darling on her deathbed) before his death from AIDS complications in 1987, after which the Wojnarowicz’s work became heavily concerned with and driven by the social and legal injustices inherent in the response to the AIDS epidemic, summed up so succinctly a jacket worn by the artist at a demonstration emblazoned with the words “If I die of AIDS – forget burial – just drop my body on the steps of the F.D.A.” [the American Food and Drug Administration at the centre of controversy surrounding the mismanagement of responses to the AIDS epidemic].