Archiving, Librarianship, and Art

So the other day I was digging through old papers and found this antiquated gem–it’s basically the opener to an essay I submitted that eventually got me the grant to gain my archives certificate while I was studying Library Science at Pratt Institute, back in 2006. Sadly, my archives certificate is gathering dust, as my career has moved onto more acquisitions-based duties. However, I can say without a doubt that the skills I’ve gained with archival practice have stayed with me, especially through my ongoing collecting of heavy metal music ephemera. Upon re-reading this section of my essay, I got nostalgic and a bit weepy if I really admit, that yes, this was a great reminder of why I wanted to study archives and be a librarian.

During my undergraduate years, I was a double major in Art (Drawing & Painting) and Art History (Medieval Art & Architecture). Being an art student gave me an easy way to transition into librarianship. I was in the slide library at my school on most days researching for art assignments anyway! And, I recall becoming heavily-influenced with visual resources and their influence on poets, writers, musicians and painters. The strong impact of an image on the brain was something I could never ignore. The visual image, as created by an artist, arises as part expression, part dreams realized. It’s probably why I didn’t hesitate to use John Constantine in my opening quote below. There’s something beyond our comprehension in art that sparks the wonder that amazes the human brain. Finding and preserving that experience is part of what motivates me in my daily work.

So read on below and hopefully enjoy one of my earliest essays that steered me towards my first passion of librarianship.

“One thing I’ve learned. You can know anything. It’s all there. You just have to find it.”
John Constantine, in SANDMAN #3: “Dream a Little Dream of Me

From the beginning, my thoughts on archival study and librarianship were tied with the needs of both knowing and preserving. As a child, I had been enamored of the adventures and mysteries of history. Learning to unlock secrets of the past, the feel of something old, traveling through places I could never go, somehow traveling through time and correlating experiences with the past had all been wonders to me. Now, as an adult, I find myself pursuing an extension of that youthful bewilderment and want. I have come to believe Constantine’s quote of being able to know anything because the answers to the glamours of history are all somewhere out there, waiting to be found. The unwrapping of the past and the thrill of discovery have been strong attractions to my curious mind. I found that in my first two semesters in the SILS program at Pratt, I have been able to learn the new and various ways in which to access this knowledge, these secrets. With formal education came a need to further my opportunities with exposure to great minds. I wanted to learn more and to know that that information would last through the future, that there was not a time limit on intellectual value.

To me, nothing could have grounded this need for exploring and preserving more than the passing of my mother last summer. Previously, it had not truly struck me just how much I would come to treasure not only the memories of our life together, but also the physical remnants of everything that I had shared with her. Unfortunately, there is very little of the physical left to remind me of her greatness, perhaps a necklace or other such jewelry, some photos, and myself – the most physical thing I have remaining to remember her by.

Instead of allowing the sense of loss to sadden me, I found a way to foster this need to remember and preserve. I found the key through educating myself and others. It wasn’t long after my enrollment at Pratt Institute that I came to understand the truth of my goal of gaining a Master’s degree. I wanted, and still want, to preserve information and help to disseminate its distilled knowledge to others. It has become a desire to both educate and inform the community of the importance of knowledge and its preservation.

I’ve found that almost all people innately collect. But why? Is it an effort to remember; to retell or to learn? What becomes so special about preserving the past? The value is subjective. It lies in the experience and knowledge gained through the act of preservation. By preserving and caring about our past, we gain insights into how to care for our future. We learn to be advocates of enduring values, both physical and intellectual. It is my hope that, by the end of this program, I will have the skills necessary to aid in the preservation of history, and show people that they can know anything, that they just need to search hard enough and experience the joy of discovery.

Needless to say, I became a recipient of the Archives Certificate program grant at Pratt and had the wonderful opportunity of working with the Othmer Library’s archival materials (see pictures above) housed within the Brooklyn Historical Society building in Brooklyn Heights. It was really an influential time in my budding career and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

And for those interested, here’s the link to the finding aid I helped revised during my work at The Brooklyn Historical Society:

A Need for a Metal Music & Special Collection’s Library in NYC

MetalLibraryPic1

I’ve decided to add the task of starting a Metal Music Library to my list of life goals. As a side effect of all the research I’ve done, nothing feels more professionally fulfilling to me than merging my two loves at the moment – metal and librarianship. Living in New York, it just seems so senseless to me that there isn’t already a physical manifestation of some sort of metal library and collection here. I guess I’m finding it hard to stomach because New York’s history is rich with metal culture and ephemera. We are the birthplace of some of metal’s most notable bands like Anthrax, Dio, Kiss, Life of Agony, Manowar, Nuclear Assault, Tombs, Type O-, etc., Not to mention more extreme metal bands like Brutal Truth, Cannibal Corpse, Demolition Hammer, Immolation, Internal Bleeding, Malignancy. Mortician, Suffocation and on and on. Some of these have spearheaded entire sub-genres of metal.

When I worked at the Met, the Costume Institute Department had a number of music-related exhibitions like, Punk: Chaos to Culture, AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion, and Rock Style. I can easily see these kinds of exhibitions displaying the material culture of heavy metal, perhaps record collections, even the fashion, which believe it or not, there is. Just take a look at how the latest Kardarshian brood is co-opting our style.

Kendall-Jenner-loves-Slayer

Or just celebrities in general:

And I’m not posting these images to make metal-heads angry; on the contrary, it’s says a lot about mainstream culture appropriating and encouraging a heavy metal style, even if its a misinterpretation. Is heavy metal music becoming more acceptable, and if so, why? How are perceptions changing and what is the historical importance? Preserving aspects of “our” popular culture and subcultures are important for a variety of reasons.

Take a look at fellow WordPress blogger and musician/scholar Jason Netherton’s book, “Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground” in which he collects an oral history of death metal music from the musicians and people involved in the early scene. Additionally, he’s been scanning and making available early death metal zines from the 1980’s and on, in his blog Send Back My Stamps! – talk about preservation and accessibility!

As I research and work alongside my metal academic comrades, I see further evidence of the need for preserving metal music and it’s material culture. My colleague and fellow librarian, Brian Hickam, maintains a wonderful online bibliography for the International Society of Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) with categories for searching via books, articles, chapters, etc. It’s been very helpful in my own studies.

There are other institutions such as The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library & Archives, which, of course, collect under rock-and-roll, but also includes a variety of subgenres, metal being one of them.

Over in the UK, there is The Home of Metal, a project started as collaboration project with the Black Country Arts Partnership, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Wolverhampton Art Gallery to celebrate and preserve the birthplace of heavy metal in the West Midlands.

Gary Shafer, the man behind Heavy Metal Museum, is also catering to heavy metal preservation and offering a platform for sharing and selling metal memorabilia. And if I couldn’t push the case for Metal Music studies and libraries being important, this article from the Wall Street Journal does the job for me.

In my own home library, here’s what I’ve been collecting and hoping to preserve for my daughter…(it’s very much a growing collection)

Home_HeavyMetalLibrary

Metal Music Librarians

MetalMusicLibrariansAs a librarian and metalhead, I’ve often wondered what musical tastes my fellow colleagues had. Recently on the ALA Think Tank page on FB, this same question was asked by another librarian. What ensued in the comments was of course a natural variety of musical tastes, ranging from country, rock, punk, new wave, classical and metal music.

It made me research Facebook to see if there was a group or page for librarians who were also into metal music. To my surprise, nothing showed up.  This inspired me to create a Facebook page for my fellow metalhead librarians, hence the birth of Metal Music Librarians.

https://www.facebook.com/metalmusiclibrarians

It shouldn’t really come as a surprise to folks that there are librarians interested in metal music. I’m sure amongst the music librarians association, there is a plethora of librarians listening to all kinds of things like shape note music or opera or djent!

As I’m constantly researching and writing about metal, I figured this would be another great avenue of disseminating and learning about all things metal. I mean, who better to get metal music information from, than a librarian???

 

Converge

And the worlds collide! The last two weeks I’ve been busier than usual, both with my thesis work and my work-work. Right now in my job we are trying to fulfill a vacant position in my unit, so there’s been a lot of resume reading, vetting, and interviewing. To top it off, I attended a Leadership Symposium for Librarians last week which was extremely interesting to me as it never seems that Leadership comes up as a topic of conversation in my daily library life, but it’s obviously a topic of interest to many other librarians.

The topic of gender was briefly mentioned and it made me happy to see that others felt the way I did in terms of how gender plays a role in negotiating our perception as women in the library field. One example that was brought up was that it seems that in some situations when you are trying to forge through with an innovative idea, that it can be taken in different ways if the idea originates from a man, woman, black woman, gay person, etc. This issue, which didn’t have an easy answer, was at least brought up for discussion in light of all the positive talk that was going on during the symposium.

Interestingly, in the last couple of weeks certain aspects of my life have been complimenting each other. Perhaps its because I’ve managed to write about a thesis topic that really interests me or maybe I really did find a calling as a Librarian, or gender just permeates everything, I don’t know.

With my most recent research, I’ve been discovering a plethora of female musicians in the Extreme metal music category that are impressive in both their creativity and production. It’s been a combination of fascinating and enlightening to me. I think when you hear the line “there’s just not a lot of women in and or producing heavy music“, you almost believe it. And it’s nice to see that what’s happening is what I’m considering sort of  “Third Wave Feminism of Extreme Metal Music.”

Another discovery (wonderful at that!) was finding this Youtube page dedicated to the Women in Extreme Metal Music:
I think the clip below is pt. 45 but they’re up to pt.54 or something now. Each video showcases a variety of female fronted extreme metal bands in the genres of Death, Black, Grind etc. It’s pretty concise and goes to show just how varied in ethnicity some of these bands are.

Another great discovery for me was learning about Thorr’s Hammer. A band from the mid 90’s that was fronted by female vocalist, Runhild Gummelsaeter (say that ten times fast). When the band started she was only 17 and was an exchange student from Norway. I love her story because not only did she sing both clean and death vocals for Thorr’s Hammer, she was a Fullbright student who went on to get her PHD in Cell Physiology at the University of Oslo. She didn’t forget her interests in Metal though and released her own solo album in 2008 and went on as a session musician for Sunn O)). Check her out in the video below singing my favorite song “Norge”: