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Robin Chandler - Transcript

Robin Chandler
Director of Digital Libraries, UC San Diego
Interviewed 5/10/2012

-- Beginnings --

[Please tell us about your earliest experience with digital materials]

But—so there’s—there’s many places to begin. I guess—but I think maybe a good place to start would be just to set a little context for the library and—and Dr. Glantz and how this whole area of tobacco became such a significant area for the library. It really goes back to some of the early work that was happening in the late 1980s and early, you know, 1990s, where the idea the idea of tobacco—controlling tobacco was really starting in California. There were a lot of efforts to start banning—smoking in public areas like restaurants, and California was one of the leaders in that.

And it led to a proposition, it was a very famous proposition, Prop 99, that was passed I believe in 1993 or ‘94. But that essentially would levy a tax on the sale of tobacco and the idea was that that—that revenue would be spent to help educate the public about the hazards of smoking. So it was—it was a big step and a wonderful sort of step and very much a grassroots movement to get the proposition onto the state ballot. I think—probably many citizens in the United States are aware of the California referendum process so I won’t—I won’t go into that but it’s definitely an idea that came out of the progressive era, an idea that the citizens could—create essentially a process for putting ideas on the ballot that could then become law. And—and this was one of those.

So the—the UC-San Francisco library—is part of—obviously the UC-San Francisco campus, and the campus is a really interesting—campus in the UC system where it’s—it’s really an academic health center. It does not have an undergraduate population, it’s all essentially graduate programs—nursing, dentistry—in medicine and pharmacy. And it —it has a—kind of a very special role in that, that it’s obviously very interested in the public health. So the library is very much committed to that—that mission of public health. And the—the special collections there determined that it would be a really interesting idea to, essentially, sort of document the whole Proposition 99 process. So it became a way of—of reaching out and getting the papers of individuals and organizations that had made this ballot initiative possible. And this whole—again, this sort of—whole grassroots movement around tobacco. So that’s a really—a very good setting I think for the discussions.

So that—that work had been going on, and we had a faculty member, Dr. Stan Glantz, who—was actually in cardiology, but he was actively involved in—in this public health issue in terms of the hazards of smoking. And—we were obviously very interested in collecting Stan’s papers as well. So this is—this is in his role and some of his activities. So that’s really a good sort of segue.

Stan—was very connected around the country and with other individuals involved in anti-smoking efforts. And one day he received in the mail, anonymously, from a Mr. Butts, five cartons of documents that were essentially photocopies of records from the Brown and Williamson tobacco company. And—as you can imagine, I think in some ways for him it was like a kid going into a candy shop. It was like, here’s all this information. And what was particularly interesting about it is that the material was really showing—what—what the tobacco companies knew about the linkages between—essentially smoking and heart disease and lung cancer. The—the information they knew about how tobacco was really addictive, and it was very much in contrast to the—the sort of public message that tobacco companies have been—have been—providing, which was that they knew nothing about these facts.

So Stan began to write about it and to—and to craft articles, and started a book that eventually became The Cigarette Papers. But he—it started getting out into—the world, those people that were interested—that he had these papers. So he asked—he could not respond to the—the requests because, he’s a—you know, he’s a faculty member, he’s a researcher. So he asked the library if we would get involved. And the—the university librarians, of course, and they brought the—brought the cartons into the library. And it seemed like a very natural place to put it in special collections because they were faculty research papers. They were also—we had our Prop 99—effort to document the anti-smoking movement, it’s grassroots movement. So it just was a really logical progression.

And the—the requests for then the copies of the papers continued, and we were a very small staff, to be quite honest. It was a very small, you know, sort of archives. There were only—essentially at that point, there were really only about two and a half staff members. And you’re carrying on the regular activities of a special collections and archives, but then, just to give you a sense—of then suddenly, when you’ve got five cartons of papers, which are about 5,000 individual pieces of paper, and you’re getting asked to, you know, maybe two or three times a week, could you—could you give us complete sets of these documents—you really can’t handle it. I mean, you’re burning out your staff, you’re burning out your photocopy machines—but you just can’t meet the demand. So we began to think about the possibilities of producing a CD-ROM, which, at that point in time, I mean, you’re talking 1995, was actually a fairly interesting and progressive strategy. And it was the idea that we would—we would scan the material and then produce the CD-ROM for sale.

Well, that’s—that just kind of gives you a little sense of what was going on and how we were trying to meet our public service demands. But—but in that—in that phase where Stan was doing his writing and he was also hearing documents with other individuals, the Attorney General’s Office in Mississippi actually requested copies. And Stan—I can’t remember now if it was even Stan or the library that provided them—but they—we gave them copies, and they introduced them into a lawsuit that they were bringing against the tobacco companies.

And at that point in time, a lot of the various states were running into the fact that they had very high healthcare costs to take care of individuals that had succumbed to—maladies like lung cancer. And they were tracing it back, they felt, to the cause being tobacco. And so they wanted to essentially sue the tobacco companies to recoup some of their costs to pay for these highly and quickly rising costs of healthcare.

And so you can just imagine the surprise of the attorneys for the Brown and Williamson tobacco company when the Attorney General for the State of Mississippi introduces into court as part of his exhibits, essentially copies of their own internal documents. And it was the—it—it got their attention, I guess you could say, and they were—you know, very curious to find out where the—where the materials were, where they had gotten them from. And of course the Mississippi Attorney General could say, well, I got them from the UC-San Francisco library. So—that—that’s a—I think a sort of important point to make because at that point, they decided to sue the university for return of their stolen property.

It’s—it was a very—you know, very intriguing—place to be, you know, at that point. I’ll step—I’ll just step back for a moment there and just kind of -- perhaps give a little information about me, if I might. Just to—I was a young professional at that time—I had—I was very excited because I had gotten—I’d been working in archives and museums for about—gosh, let’s see, at that point, probably about 12 or 13 years. But this was the first time that I’d gotten a job as the head of a department. And so I was very excited about it, and—you know, you can imagine, sort of, mid-30s and it was wonderful—running a special collections unit within the UC system.

So that in itself was certainly enough of a challenge, but I got hired into this just right in the middle of this. The actual litigation had started in about February of 1995, when the Brown and Williamson company was actually starting the suit against—against UCSF. But I actually started work then at the beginning of April. So I sort of landed right in the middle of this. And what was—again, the first day on the job, essentially, they told me, well, you know, we’ve got these five cartons of documents, and we’d like you to get them scanned, because we want to produce this, you know, CD-ROM. And that was—that was really zero to sixty, you know, in, you know, five seconds. I just had to tell you, okay, all right, great. Well, all right. Let’s figure this out, you know.

It was a very, you know, set of really interesting set of situations because, you know, you’re—you’re—things are going through your mind like—okay, they want this done in a couple of months, all right, these are original documents, you know—what’s it going to—what’s it going to be to think about scanning these things. You know, you’re—all those little zingers are going off in your head about, well, you know, fragility of materials, how are you going to do this in a fast way—lots of really interesting issues, but in some ways, you really had to then sort of step aside and sort of frame it in the—in the context of a lot of how it was different, where, they weren’t really the original documents, and I can speak about that.

They were actually photocopies of the originals. But they were, of course, originals to us, so you have to kind of, you know, work through some of those issues. But—but the—the other piece that was really quite interesting as well is that, you know, archivists are usually thinking very much at a sort of collection level or series level and what was really clear about this particular set of materials is that we were really talking about item level access, and each—each letter or memorandum or report was something of unique interest, so again, you’re kind of, you know, how do you work your archival principles and thoughts about arrangement and description with this—this new challenge? [Top] [Back to Interview Breakdown]

-- Challenges --

[What were some challenges you faced in your early projects?]

What we were able to do was actually to work with Dr. Glantz and some of his graduate students to start looking at how we could essentially create item-level metadata. And of course, you know, even at that point, I have to say, the idea of metadata wasn’t even anything that—you know, that wasn’t really a term. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that you—you had Dublin Core, you know, come to the forefront.

So—so first off, you’re thinking about that and what was the best way to approach it, and—and Dr. Glantz had been doing abstracts of the individual documents, and he had been also applying what were his—his keywords, you know, sort of in a sense, kind of almost his sort of internal series. So—we decided to adopt that, and that that would give us a way into the information, you know, essentially, that we could organize the materials by his sort of generalized headings, and that his abstracts to the materials would be very, very useful because we knew that the power of the material was going to be in the ability to search the documents. The more possibility that you could mine that material, the better it would be.

Of course, OCR was really—it was really in its infancy at the time. It really was—it was kind of the sort of thing that you—you would scan something and OCR it but then you’d have to spend an awful lot of time going back and fixing it. But time was of the essence, you know, for us, because with this idea of wanting to—to build this CD-ROM product. So we started working—working on the scanning and working on this idea of producing the CD-ROM. You know in the meantime, cutting back—cutting back to our dramatic lawsuit, that is proceeding, and as the library began to meet with the counsel, for—the regents. UC regents has an office of general counsel that then are available to all of the campuses to consult, and we were very lucky to be—be working with a gentleman named Christopher Patti who was a great litigator for the regents.

And what started to happen was that the—the Brown and Williamson company was—was starting to argue that it was property. You know, that it was stolen property. And that’s an interesting factor I think to bring forward in this because—that meant that what they were really trying to assert was that—that copies were stolen property. And in a sense they wanted to control the information.

Well, Chris Patti, you know, came back and was essentially really trying to argue that they were copies, they weren’t the originals, so they really couldn’t use that, you know, sort of argument that—that they had their originals, so how could you argue that you had stolen property? And it quickly then sort of escalated to this really interesting kind of free speech first amendment issue that—could the tobacco companies essentially exercise prior restraint on us to keep us from making the material accessible. And in that, somewhere we then decided that, you know, the CD-ROM was—was one form of publication, but why don’t we use this new technology that has now emerged, which was the Internet, which was the World Wide Web, and let’s just—you know, this is the—this is the way in which information is starting to be shared. So let’s—let’s publish the material on the web.

Well, at that point it really did become an issue of publication because—and that’s really a clear first amendment issue, so—to make a long story short—it is a long story—but to push through the legal process—the case was argued in San Francisco Superior Court in—sort of May/June of ’95, and after considering the arguments, the superior court essentially—judged that it was—it was appropriate that the material be shared with the public. That it was in some ways very much like the Pentagon Papers and that this material should—should go forward.

The—Brown and Williamson lawyers quickly appealed to the California Supreme Court. And the supreme court of California ruled on—I think it was the very end of June, I think it was June 29th that the public had the right to know. And so that day—that day, we actually literally hit the button and released the subset of the documents on the web. And by the beginning of August we had everything scanned and we had all of the—all of the backtracks and all of the—sort of series organization headings—they were able to publish it on the web, and—and in some sense, the rest is history, but we can unpack that as well. But the—but it was a very exciting, shall I say, first four or five months on the job. So it was pretty intense. But wonderful. It was very, very wonderful.

[What was the technology like in your early projects?]

Sure. Well, I’ll go back—I’ll go back, and this is—this is kind of an interesting thing because I’ve thought about some of this—you know, as you can imagine, you sort of reflect on your career a little bit and I started thinking about it after you asked me to participate in this. And, you know, I was really—I was really lucky that before I came to UC-San Francisco, I had worked for five years as the archivist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, which is a—it’s a high energy physics lab—it was then a high energy physics lab—very much connected with Stanford University.

And so the—the really—you look back at things and you think, gosh, you know, it’s amazing that you just happened to be at the right place at the right time, and I literally was. I mean, I literally was. I was hired there, sort of working in the summer of—I think it was the summer of 19—actually it would have been right after I got out of library school, but I got there in October—September-October of 1990.

And the archives was a separate—separate office, but as you can imagine, we were very connected with the library there at the lab. And the lab was really an amazing kind of place to work. I just want to, you know, sort of—give it sort of a little context. You know, physics labs are—are just amazing place, amazing, creative people, and computers have just been always, obviously a part of their lives, you know. Physicists gather data and they analyze the data and—and they’re always sort of on the cutting edge of—sort of computers and the idea of sharing information.

You know, high energy physicists from the beginning are—they’re all about the pre-print. You know, they’re more interested in actually sharing their information even before it gets published. So it’s just—it’s just this—very much this dissemination kind of culture. And the thing too about high energy physics is that, you know, you only have a few—and again, things have changed in the last—you know, 15 or 20 years, but—but there are only usually a few labs around the world, so you will have maybe, just like, SLAC or CERN or KEK in Japan, but you’ve got—you’ve got physicists from all over the world that want to use those machines, so you might have, you know, 2 to 3 to 400 scientists all working on one experiment, but they’re all very interconnected and they—again, they share their information.

But you can think about them—the physicists are distributed world-wide, and there is—it is no coincidence that Tim Burners-Lee was at CERN and that he invented the Web because of that need to essentially connect physicists. And one of our—one of our scientist, Paul Kunz in—I think that it was—I believe it was 1991, 1992—was over at CERN and he—he was a friend of Tim’s and Tim showed him this software that he had created, this—you know, world wide web software and, you know, Paul was like, oh my God, this is great. And he brought it back and I remember being there and Louise—Louise Addis, who was the—assistant head of the library and if—at the SLAC, and if the truth be told, she’s really a programmer. I mean, she’s this brilliant woman, but she said, she said, Robin, you’ve got to come see this, you know, you’ve got to come see this. So they—they showed it to me.

And Louise had—she had authored this database which was called the High Energy Physics Database and it was built on a language called Spires and Spires was a—was a language that came out of Stanford, and if the truth be told, it actually was the beginning of the what used to be the old RLIN AMC catalogue was actually and the whole RLIN—it was more than archivists—manuscripts—archives and manuscripts, it was obviously bibliographic, but Spires was that database that was the origin of—you know, that’s ancient history as well, you know.

But Louise had created this database and she had, you know, all of those—she would catalogue all of those—the library would catalogue all of the preprints and they would put them into the Spires database. But—but Louise had also organized it so she got the librarians and places like CERN and KEK around the world to also catalogue their preprints. So they really had a—sort of a worldwide database of physics preprints.

Well, in her mind it became really—really obvious that the database should link up with the worldwide web so then it was then searchable by anyone. You know, you didn’t—you could search it around the world. I mean, otherwise the—the Spires database was just a database that was sitting sort of at the library of each—you know—lab, and you had to work on synchronizing those things and sharing—you know, sharing the—the data—but the web then offered this moment where you could have sort of a single database that would then be searchable, you know, by everyone.

So it—if I—my memory serves me correctly, it would have been then sort of in the spring of 1992 that the database was connected with the web and then there was a physicist scientist by the name of Tony Johnson that created a web browser called Midas, and Midas could work with Postscript. Which was a—sort of a software that could allow for the—essentially the printing—the posting and printing of a—of a preprint.

So you could see where this is going pretty quickly, and I was just part of it, and we got—we got—Louise got in touch also with Paul Ginsburg, who was down at Los Alamos, and Dr. Ginsburg had started releasing—preprints on various listservs. And there were listservs for, you know, astrophysics and—geological physics and—astronomy physics, high energy physics and theoretical physics—I think that’s it, I think there were five of them. And so the—the sort of intellectual products of all these scientists around the world were coming on listservs, and it was just—you know, it was just in ASCII, you know, at that point but you could—you could imagine you could have it but you could have it, you could subscribe to the listserv or a scientist and you could read everything every day that someone had published.

Well, it was also then a gentleman down at Stanford, it was this great mathematician whose name was Don Knuth, and he had created these macros that were called /ˈtɛk/ macros that essentially would manage—would manage the display of mathematical formulas correctly because a lot of times when you created something for—you know, an article for publication, it—you couldn’t—it couldn’t render the formulas correctly. So he had invented a—a piece of software that would then essentially make those conversions correctly.

So Louise talked to Don Knuth and we get this perfect storm where we can take that ASCII, we can run it into these—these macros and then turn it into Postscript and then—the Postscript—and then unite the Postscript, give it an identifier, unite it with the database, and then suddenly you’ve got these published resources. Search the database and you bring up the full article and— then print it, again, wherever you are. So you could—you had an incredible information resource at your fingertips. So—you know, I’m always game for an adventure, I guess, you know, so, I got involved with actually supervising the staff that were doing the conversion on the—the listserv documents and then doing the mounting to connect them to the database. So, you know, in addition to my archives work, you couldn’t help but resist getting involved in this. I mean, it was, you know, it was just incredible stuff. And—just amazing to be a part of.

So I—when I got to—you know, UC-San Francisco, I already had a real sort of sense of—of projects that were kind of intense projects where, you know, you’re working really hard and fast to do something and to deliver information and work with a group of people. And while I hadn’t done scanning before I got to San Francisco, I certainly had been part of sort of this—this kind of a model of distributing information, you know, in an electronic format and the idea of, you know, needing to have that item-level information that would go, you know, with it—with the individual item.

I’d also, you know, been working for five years with a lot of pretty powerful, wonderful, creative people that—a lot of great egos, you know, there as well, you know, in the big science. And so it wasn’t—that also wasn’t too much of a downshift—or upshift, I guess you should say, to come and then start working with Stan who is just this really amazing gentleman, I don’t know if you all have ever had the opportunity to hear him speak or read any of his stuff, but he is a—he is a real mover and a shaker.

So I—you know, there were certain elements of my experience that just—I was able to move right into it. I will tell you though, I had never been part of that kind of a litigation effort before, and that was a really interesting thing. I think the—the most interesting things though that—that happened in some ways that were real challenges and the real challenges for someone who—young in their career—happened after the publication, quite frankly. Because we were very excited about it and it really felt that we’d been in part of something that was—a very important public service. You know. Again.

And I remember—I shifted back now to San Francisco -- but I remember then we released the documents on the—on June 29th and then pretty early in July I put out a—sort of a little press release about it on the archives listserv, you know, at the time. And that was—that was pretty exciting times too, to have a—you know, a sort of a place where archivists could share and have these discussions and again, you know, this is all pretty much lingua franca now, but—but at the time it was a really—it was quite something, actually.

And there were—you know, there was a wonderful little term called “flaming” [yes] that you’d have to—people would—you know, amazing—it was pretty interesting that the people that you’d see at the meetings were polite and collegial and then suddenly, you know, something happens when you’re on the web—you suddenly get into these huge arguments, you know, in a sense. I think it’s possibly that the ability to just type away and just be very passionate about it and then, again, send.

But I was—I was pretty amazed that you know, here we are, we’re thinking, oh great, this is really cool, you know, we’ve done this great thing. And then, boy, man, for three or four weeks, we were just the subject of this intense, you know, just intense sort of scrutiny in a sense. And it was a really interesting thing to just sort of watch how—you know, there were our defenders, that really felt that, you know, we had done something fantastic, that it was just like the Pentagon Papers, that it was this great—great step forward to have really put forward all this primary research material. I mean, and that was really what it was. This was making primary research material available on the web. It was a huge thing.

But then, you know, and understandably, the archivists that were working in the corporate sector, were pretty concerned about it. You know, they were pretty concerned about it. They pretty much thought that we had violated—what were archival ethics, you know, at that time to have—to have—you know, essentially violated the trust that an archivist would have with a corporate, you know, organization and that we had—we had done the wrong thing. And you know, again, you’re kind of—you know, I’m in my mid-30’s and, you know, hoping that I could make archives my career—and kind of going, okay. Well. All right. What’s this about?

I went down and I set up an interview with the university librarian and, you know, Richard Lucier and I sort of, laughingly, I said—I said, Richard, I said, you know, I really loved working on this project but you know, I’m hoping that you’ll maybe keep me employed for a few years because I’m not actually sure I’m going to be able to get a job. So anyway. He was—I was sort of half joking and sort of half serious but he was—he said, you know, you’ve done—don’t worry about it, you know, you’ve been part of something that was really important and you know, his thought was that it was a public health issue and that was a really important thing that we had contributed to and that, you know, he really felt that time would tell. And I think that, you know, that was a very wise thing to say.

The other interesting thing that would happen though that—not long after that as well—I’ll just sort of say this was sort of a—interesting thing in terms of naïveté of those early days of being on the web and starting to do—sort of public service on the web—is that we had our—you know, we had our staff identities on the web and had our individual phone numbers and emails there. Associated with little pictures of ourselves so that, you know, if you needed—if you needed assistance, we’d be happy to help—you know, with the archives.

And not long after the publication I got—I got some—essentially what was sort of hate mail from an individual who said, you know, you have no right to do this and you better watch your back because the bullets are going to be flying. And I was like, well that’s a—that’s a really interesting thing. That was just kind of one of those, okay, well, all right, great. Just another day at work. So—what was—what was—anyway. I’m just—it was. It was just—it brought it to another level.

So, you know, what I did was to—you know, I called the police department on campus and, you know, they came in and interviewed me and, you know, I don’t know what happened, but I will say that the sad part—the individual who sent the email—had not grasped yet the power of what they were doing because of course, at the bottom of their email was their entire signature. It had their name, their home address, their phone number, their email—so I don’t think it was really much of a problem for the UC-San Francisco police department to get ahold of the individual and ask them to not do that anymore. Anyway. So, anyway. So that’s just kind of what—kind of a fun—kind of a fun thing. It was a little scary, you know, of course, but—you know, but, again, it kind of spoke to the importance of the work that we were doing. [Top] [Back to Interview Breakdown]

-- Hindsight --

[Looking back would you have done things again the way you originally did?]

Oh. Yes, absolutely. I mean, I mean, absolutely. And you know, I think—just fast forward just a couple of years—I—and just to bring for example that a few years later after the—there was a master settlement agreement that got worked out between, you know, sort of Congress and the—because there was a lot of—you know, towards the—in like, ’94, ’95, there was a lot of call for there to be actual legislation by the US government to essentially regulate the tobacco companies much more extremely than they had been in this health issue.

And—but what happened, as so many of these things do work out, is that it was all in response to the fact that many of the state attorney generals, just like the gentleman down in Mississippi, had gotten together and essentially started the—kind of a class action suit against the tobacco companies. And Hubert Humphrey III out of Minnesota, he was Hubert Humphrey’s grandson, was actually the attorney general for Minnesota and was leading that litigation. And we’re—sort of work through this—one of the results of what that settlement agreement was, because it never actually went to trial, they—they brought the suit and then there was the agreement, was the fact that the tobacco companies were going to need to make available to the public a copy of all of their files, you know, that were introduced into the litigation. And this was actually a warehouse full of—I mean, a huge warehouse full of material that was actually stored in Minnesota and was part of the—was under the purview of the Minnesota Historical Society, actually. Because again, with Humphrey being the lead attorney in this class action suit, that was determined where this warehouse of information should go.

What was also in the—in the settlement was the idea that tobacco companies would need to make available an electronic copy of every one of those pieces of paper, and I think that they thought that—that nothing would ever actually come of that, but—but something did. And that’s where about—1995—I left—I’m sorry, in 2000, I beg your pardon, I was confusing my dates, this—this tobacco master settlement agreement happened in ’98, ’99, and we started talking about—at the UCSF library about the idea, well could we take that electronic copy and mount that online. And we were in a lot of conversations with the great and wonderful staff that were at the Minnesota Historical Society, which included Bob—Bob Horton. Because Bob was then having the same problem that we had on that sort of little miniature scale. You know, our little five cartons originally that we were having to make copies of, you know, Bob had a warehouse full of material that suddenly, you know, the world wanted copies of. He was the state archivist of Minnesota, but you know, suddenly again too, he was getting pretty overwhelmed by something that was extremely popular. As an access issue.

But I’m coming back to the point. The primary resource. I haven’t lost sight of it. I’ll tag back to it in a sec. But I strongly advocated in the library at UCSF that we should—we should really work to take those electronic copies and make them available. You know, my university librarian, again, at that time, Richard Lucier, was asking questions that any administrator should ask, which was to say, well, why—why should we do this? You know, is this really going to be useful?

And, you know, I just felt that, you know, based on what we had done already with Brown and Williamson, and then after that we took on the Joe Camel papers, which was another litigation that we put the materials up, that—that it was just—it was just clear to me that no matter what the size, that it was going to be used. And I thought that no matter what it was going to cost to do it, that in some sense the idea that you would put 30 million electronic documents up online was, yeah, a formidable challenge, but it’s kind of like, how many other times in the history of information are you going to have the technology to make something available and then a really good sense of the fact you’ve really got users—I mean, this is going to be used. This is—this is—you’ve got a mechanism, you’ve got information, and you’ve got users.

And so, you know, I’m not trying to say I influenced it—you know, obviously administrators have to—you know, make decisions like that, but I definitely felt that—and that just tags back to your question to say that I knew that it was really important, you know, both as a—you know, public health issue but also—I sensed it—that this was going to be something momentous for the idea of putting primary resources up on the net. I mean, this was really—by that time there were these little—there were tinier projects happening and people had called them sort of boutique projects where you might, you know, scan a few hundred historic photographs or, you know, a few maps or something and put them up. But—but this was scale. I mean, this was scale. This was revolutionary. And it just felt like something that should get done. So again, I think the people that really need to take the credit for it are the people like Richard Lucier and Karen Butter who was the deputy director of the library. You know, they—they embraced it and we started looking for money, you know, for how to do it.

I left UCSF at that point to go to work for the California Digital Library because I wanted to work on the EAD finding aids project. That was—that was really something that was calling to me. I wanted to get more firmly back into archives writ large but—Karen Butter and her staff had continued to work with Stan Glantz and that—that sort of moment of making that commitment became what is now known, you know, today, as the Tobacco—the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library that UCSF has. And it’s—you know, it all started with those—that first little effort and you know, special collections to think about documenting Prop 99.

So it really was. It was a moment. It was a real moment. And it was—it was—you know, if you didn’t prove, I think, its viability, I don’t know if it would have led to other kinds of projects that have happened since then. [Top] [Back to Interview Breakdown]

-- Advice --

[Do you have any advice for people graduating from a library science program?]

Yes. That’s—I would say—you know, I would say that the—gosh, that’s a really good question. Let me think about it. Deserves a—it deserves a really good worthy answer. I think—I think the great thing is just to seize opportunities. You know, in a sense. I mean—and to seize opportunities really, seriously. To—there are—there are—events that happen around you that—can lead to really important things. And even the—you know, the sort of—you know, the youngest person in the room can actually contribute a great deal to something. And sometimes that’s the way I felt, in that—when I was—again, even though I’d had all that experience with a lot of heavy hitters at SLAC, you know, you’re still—you know, you’re still in pretty outstanding company, you know, in those situations.

And I’d also say—I’d also say to be brave. You know. Don’t be afraid, you know, again. It’s—you can really make a difference. I think—what’s been really gratifying to me—sort of personally is to have been in the last few years, have been a couple of wonderful books that have been written by—you know, by Rand Jimmerson. He wrote Archives Power and Elena Danielson, that’s written—you know, The Ethical Archivist—I believe that’s the right title. But you know, they’re both people I really admire but they—they speak to me about—the real power of records. And the power of what archivists do.

I mean, there’s so many times, you know, it’s like, you know, recently I watched the movie Chinatown and I watched—I’ve loved it forever, but it always cracks me up when he goes to the county records office, you know, and they pull the thing off and it’s just dusty and all this stuff. It’s just like, you know—it just cracks me up that archivists are—archivists are really powerful people. You know, we really are powerful people, and you know—Rand, very, I think, eloquently in the sense of thinking about how, you know, we have very important roles in the creation of history and memory and—we have very important jobs to shape what happens.

And I think the—the really important things are thinking about that balance. Because I’ve thought about it—I’ve thought about that sort of moment because I—you know—it was a very profound thing to know that one was putting—you know, archivists that were corporate archivists in some—in some, you know, kind of jeopardy, you know, by what we had done and—you know, I—I considered that, you know, a lot. And those were very—they were poignant, you know, arguments that they were making.

But—you know, by the same token, you know, I was an archivist working in an academic health center and I had my institutional responsibilities. And in the bigger picture, you know, you can—you can serve to balance the information where—you know, there’s a certain level of information that’s being put out about a tobacco industry. That is one side. But then, you know, when you have other information, you have I think some responsibility to help balance that—what the knowledge is.

I think a lot of times, you know, Rand in his discussions, he’s talking about—on a little bit on a micro level where you’re managing a department and you’re—you know, bringing in different records, you know, that—that could tell a complete story and it’s sort of more like do you bring in this collection into your archives. But I think there’s sort of a—you know, there’s even kind of a larger dialog that we’re a part of, and it’s especially prevalent now with the interconnectedness of the web that sometimes you need to—help participate in a—in a debate that would end up in a reasoned discussion and hopefully a reasonable way forward. So, you know. Understand how powerful you are. You know, don’t doubt it. Don’t doubt it at all. It’s a very powerful, powerful job, definitely.

I mean, I can’t—geez. I wouldn’t change a thing. Again, I just—I just—I do marvel at, you know, what—what things I’ve gotten to participate in.

It’s funny too—if I can just—I’ll just say one more goofy thing if I may—but it’s just kind of—it’s kind of a crack up too, because now I’m working on the Grateful Dead Archive here at UC-Santa Cruz and working to digitize that and put it up on the web. And you know, it’s interesting, there were—it’s another one of those things where I remember when I took the job, you know, there were a few people that said, gosh, would you put that on your resume? And I’m like, well—sure. And it’s—you know, that’s just—of course.

And, what’s—again, it’s one of those things too, there’s a Senator Conyers from Oklahoma who—we’ve made his list—we got funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to work on the project to build a website and digitize and also do work on—copyright—sort of clearance because the material has all been made pretty much between the years of 1965 and 1995, and so it’s in copyright and how do you—how do you work with that to—you know, put that material on the web, and how would you clear copyright. So we’ve been doing a lot of work in that and then working with Omeka software to push its envelope a little bit, which is a lot of fun.

Well it’s—yeah. Well, it’s really fun. It’s really—really fun. And we’re of course now in this kind of interesting situation. You know, we’re using both CONTENTdm and Omeka—you’re sort of, you know, hashing out these issues of synchronization and all these kinds of things—the challenges never end.

But anyway, just to go back to Senator Conyers, you know, we’ve made his list for the last couple of years of, like, wasteful spending and you know, we’ve been in the top—of that and you know, it’s just, you know. And there are people that—you know, they—they—you know, dismiss the Grateful Dead for certain associations with cultures of the 1960s, and , you know, of course that’s all true, but at the same time, it’s clear to me that historically, in another 100 years, you know, that period of time will be looked on like any romantic period. You know, you go back, look at anything, like the 19th century, mid-19th century and you know, romantic movements that were happening that were—sort of, in a sense rebelling against the industrialization and these things happen all the time. You know, they just happen all the time. It’s just part of—it’s part of youth, it’s part of history, to re-envision the world. And in that sense, you know, that’s what the Grateful Dead was part of.

What’s interesting just as an historian is also to look at just how the band changed over those thirty years. And that’s very interesting because you don’t really see—you don’t necessarily have an archival record for something—a group like that. And that has its own set of interesting things but—but—you know, that period of time deserves to be documented as well, and it should be documented and I think it’s—again, it’s just—it’s part of what we do and what you need to do, so, you know.

I mean, I’d say go for it. You know, when it comes, just go for it. Don’t let the naysayers stop you. You do have to make sure that it fits with your own moral compass. I mean, that’s the most important thing, that it’s something that—morally that you feel comfortable with, you know. And that’s really important because, you know, whatever you do decide to do, you know, you’ll need to live with it. But, you know, if you’ve got that—if you’ve got that, then you’ve got everything so, you know, you’re fine. Go forth and prosper, so. [Top] [Back to Interview Breakdown]

 

July 2012

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