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).

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