Friday, September 19, 2014

Introduction from Max Johnson, new University Archivist

Now that I've settled into my new role at OHSU, I want to introduce myself and talk a little about archives.

My first working experience with libraries was in the Summer of 2001 at Beloit College.  I had signed up for an 8-week intensive Russian-language course in preparation for a semester abroad in Moscow in the Fall.  During that time I worked nights (Midnight-8am) 4 days a week in campus security dispatch, had classes from 8am-3pm 5 days a week and worked in the Library circulation 4 evenings a week from 3:30pm to 6pm. That was busy, luckily the dispatch position was light duty so I could finish my homework and use that 6pm to midnight time for sleeping.  My circulation experience was fantastic.  The Librarian, who was off-duty while I was on, gave me the option to do ILL work, collection development and reference on top of the standard Circ duties.  It was an excellent introduction to some of the baseline work of libraries and gave me some practical experience which would inform my decision to apply for Graduate School a little less than a decade later.

When I applied for grad school in the Spring of 2010 it was completely different than I had imagined back in my undergraduate days.  Due to the desire to stay in Portland I took recommendations from a few friends and applied to, and was accepted by, San Jose State University's distance MLIS program.  I started in the Summer of 2010 after finishing up a 6-month volunteer gig at Multnomah County Libraries, Hillsdale Branch and assisted in the RFID tagging project at MCL Central.  In August, I began volunteering at the Portland Archives and Records Center and started a an internship at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine doing copy and original cataloging of Chinese medical textbooks (TCM).  In January 2011 I was hired by OHSU HC&A and PARC (in the same day) for part-time work at each institution.  From that point on there was no going back, archives had hooked me.

I stayed in both positions until graduation, after which I took on more hours at PARC while looking for work and in September of 2013 started working at Multnomah County's Records Management and Archives Program as a Records Management Analyst.

What I absolutely love about the archives profession is the constantly changing, almost mercurial nature of what we do.  On the one hand we work with highly structured environments designed for maximum control over assets of cultural heritage.  We set-up significantly complex systems for easy and simple access to historical records and we work with ever changing, ever diversifying patron groups, whose attributes are difficult to classify from one reference interaction to another.  We have standards, but our standards are also subject to our means, meaning that archivists typically display a huge level of creativity in processing collections, collection development and the means and ways of outreach.  It could be said that one never processes two separate collections in the same way under the same conditions and restrictions, which is the active process of determining preservation action, original order, material integrity, collection relevance and institutional capacity.  At the same time that we make decisions that could differ from one project to the next, from one records group to the next and from one manuscript series to the next, we still manage to leverage the invisible architecture of archival standards to ensure cross-searching functionality, web and physical access, and the aggregating power of metadata.

In addition to the granular work of archivists, I am interested in developing the archives profession and community in Portland, OR and the PNW at large.  We have some excellent resources in the region ranging from the exciting and friendly Northwest Archivists, whose annual conferences are a blast (of learning AND fun); the Portland Area Archivists, who hold regular tours and meet-ups at various repositories in Portland and surrounding and also arrange and host the Oregon Archives Crawl; to the new Portland Emerging Archivists, who focus on happy hours, tours, and other archives-related events.  The Portland Emerging Archivists (PEA) was started by myself and Pete Asch, Archivist for the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, after a successful presentation and discussion at the 2012 NWA annual conference in Salem.  We determined there was a need in Portland for a space in which students of distance MLIS programs could gather to trade info, network and talk shop outside of the discussion forums and online group work of a distance program.  After several years we continue to meet, develop plans for events and have a good time.  The leadership is as mercurial as the profession involving many local archivists, students and new professionals rotating steering roles and working together to set-up these gatherings.

Beyond the professional employment in archives and professional service in the region, I have experience doing freelance consulting in community archives, due diligence research and assisting in building small, need-oriented family archives for local residents.  That combination of research and consultation has been fascinating and unique adding new layers to my own perceptions of what archives are and how they can arise out of a variety of needs.

That's a lot about archives, so to finish, I'll talk a little about hobbies.  Musically, I enjoy a wide range of genres such as ambient music (Brian Eno, for example), electronic music that uses DSP (digital signal processing) as an instrument of sorts, mash-ups, copyright boundary pushing audio creations, and psychedelic black metal.  Recently I have been listening to orthodox liturgical chanting (Russian and Serbian specifically).

I enjoy hiking with the occasional challenging mountain climb.  In August of this year my wife, a buddy and I climbed Mt. St. Helens during the full, near-Supermoon reaching the summit a little after nautical sunrise.  Possibly due to having two architects for parents, I spend a lot of time walking around and looking at the various stages of growth of the new structures in town.  I've tried taking at least a weekly visit to the site of the new PMLR Bridge (Tilikum Crossing), which is about a 10-minute walk from my apartment.  I cannot wait for it to open next year and have it become a viable commuting option.

Before this becomes "tl:dr", I'll sign off by saying that it's been an incredibly warm welcome up here for me these last few weeks and I look forward to working further with everyone in the Library, our Campus contacts and supporters in the region and beyond.  If you ever need anything from the archives, want to chat about archives or have questions about what we are up to, please don't hesitate to drop by my office (BICC 239), call (503-494-0186) or email (johnsmax[at]ohsu[dot]edu).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

New HC&A Fall Exhibit: Exploring 19th and 20th century Reproductive Healthcare Through a Feminist Lens

At a time when women’s access to birth control, abortions, and other OBGYN services remains a divisive topic in the American political landscape, it feels like a perfect opportunity to examine the complicated history of women’s reproductive healthcare. This history provides an intimate look into the ways perceptions of women and their bodies dictate not only medical procedures but also the construction of the very diagnoses these procedures are meant to aid. It also illustrates how pervading societal perceptions of women and their bodies continue to constrain and/or enhance the choices available to women. These are the inspirational frameworks that guided the research, curation, and installation of the latest exhibit of the OHSU Historical Collections & Archives.  

From September through December 2014, Women, Power, and Reproductive Healthcare: Highlights From 19th and 20th century Obstetrical and Gynecological Practice will be open to the public. Through medical artifacts and archival photographs and documents, all housed by HC&A, the exhibit highlights the changes in obstetrical and gynecological practices throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. From the treatment of women diagnosed with hysteria in the late 1800s to the resurgence of natural childbirth and midwifery practices of the 1970s and 80s, the exhibit touches on a variety of topics relevant to OBGYN history. 

The exhibit is located just past the main entrance on the third floor of the OHSU Library BICC building on the Marquam Hill campus. Please be sure to take home an exhibit brochure containing additional historical information or view an online version of the brochure here:

This exhibit merely touches the surface of a rich, dynamic history. Hopefully it sparks conversation and inspires viewers to critically examine the past and its persisting influence on our present and future.
For additional questions about HC&A, please contact University Archivist Max Johnson at or Head of Historical Collections & Archives Maija Anderson at

By Crystal Rodgers

HC&A Student Assistant 

[Note from Max:  Crystal has included a computer-based slide-show of images and materials related to the exhibit, which can be viewed on the iMac in the exhibit space, BICC, 3rd Floor.]

Thursday, September 11, 2014

New exhibit: "Women, Power, and Reproductive Healthcare"

Our new exhibit on 19th-20th century reproductive healthcare just opened! "Women, Power, and Reproductive Healthcare: Highlights from 19th and 20th Century Obsetrical and Gynecological Practice" was curated by HC&A Student Assistant Crystal Rodgers. The exhibit brings a critical perspective to the historical relationship between gender and health care, drawing on a wealth of rare books, archival materials, and artifacts.

The exhibit runs from September-December 2014 and is open to the public. It is located on the 3rd floor of the Main Library, in the BICC building on the Marquam Hill campus. The exhibit text and selected images are posted on our website.

Monday, September 08, 2014

An archivist rides into the sunset

This week, we are saying goodbye to Karen Peterson, our archivist of 15 years.

Karen began working at OHSU as a volunteer, and went on to become OHSU's first professional archivist. While OHSU Library has collected archival material and artifacts since at least the 1940s, Karen was the first staff member assigned full-time to managing and providing access to these collections. Karen has often told the story of her first encounter with OHSU's archives - a jumble of disorganized collections housed in a dark, dank storage room, covered in tarps to protect them from the leaking roof!

Over the years, with help from student workers, volunteers, interns, and assistant Jeff Colby, Karen transformed these collections into a working archive, and an invaluable documentary record of OHSU history. Karen also took pride in training and mentoring her assistants, one of whom won an award for his volunteer service to OHSU.

Above: Karen and volunteer Scott Deskins at the Volunteer Services Awards Luncheon, 2012

Karen also made important contributions to outreach for HC&A and the library in general. She coordinated our exhibit program, and her curatorial collaborations with OHSU faculty brought in new audiences and new collections. She played a key role in the Oregon Historical Society exhibit "OHSU: 125 Years of Teaching, Healing, and Discovery," coordinating with curator Morgen Young to select photographs and artifacts  that tell the story of OHSU.

Above: Karen worked with curator Morgen Young to select from among thousands of items for OHSU's 125th anniversary exhibit, 2013.

Karen's work was driven by a passion for history and the unique, personal stories found in archives. We are grateful for her many years of dedication and service, and her hard work in positioning the archives - and OHSU's new archivist - for success. At the end of this week, Karen moves on to the next exciting stage of her life - retirement!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Nurses on nursing: three new rare book acquisitions

Three new acquisitions for our rare book collections have one important thing in common: They are all books on nursing, written by nurses. There are many 19th century books on nursing written from the point of view of physicians. These three books represent nursing as its practitioners experienced it.

From left to right, the three books are:

Lees, Florence S. Handbook for Hospital Sisters. London: W. Ibister, 1874.

Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Hospitals: Being Notes on Hospitals: Being Two Papers Read before the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, at Liverpool, in October, 1858.  With Evidence Given to the Royal Commissioners on the State of the Army in 1857.  London: John W. Parker & Son, 1859. 

Williams, Rachel and Alice Fisher. Hints for Hospital Nurses. Edinburgh: Maclachlan & Steward, 1877.

Florence Nightingale was, of course, the founder of the modern nursing profession. The other authors were Nightingale's early trainees, who then went on to educate the next generations of professional nurses. All three had distinguished nursing careers: Florence Lees served in the Franco Prussian War, conducted a critical survey of nursing practice in London, and was the first superintendent of the Metropolitan and National Nursing Association. Nightingale described her as "my dear warrior friend." Rachel Williams was the matron of St. Mary's Hospital, and was closely mentored by Nightingale. Alice Fisher eventually moved to the United States, and became superintendent of the Pennsylvania General Hospital.

The Nightingale book has some interesting foldouts showing floor plans of military hospitals. The book contains extensive studies of hospital planning and construction, and draws attention to the large number of patient deaths then caused by poor facilities planning.

These books will be cataloged for our rare books collections, and will be available for research in HC&A.