Grunt work?

In a recent meeting, a coworker referred to the maintenance of website links and general upkeep of a website as grunt work. That phrase stuck with me, as it has a slight condescending tone, and my ears have been perked up lately to condescension about work that is routine, or normal, or necessary, as opposed to work that is exceptional, or genius. I came across this post about maintenance work in archives, and somehow the term grunt work seems to be a code for work that doesn’t matter as much, or work that is less to celebrate, less prestigious, less notable.

scrapbook
Scrapbook review for digitization planning

After a recent review session of some scrapbooks we may be adding to our digital collections, I was struck by how much work it takes to ‘surface hidden collections’ so to speak. It isn’t that someone single-handedly finds and and magically shares rare materials with the world – the magic is not magic like that of a magician. There is magic in surfacing rare materials in making them available, and it is that of the many hands involved in finding, describing, organizing, negotiating, meeting, clarifying, documenting, coding, and eventually sharing the work of all those involved. 

orra white hitchcock nautilis
Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

This fall, the American Folk Art Museum in New York had an exhibit of Orra White Hitchcock’s classroom drawings. In one review of the exhibit, it was noted that a curator discovered these drawings and shared them with the world. That Orra was somewhat hidden behind the prestige of her husband, the president at Amherst College. I love that these images are out in the world more broadly by this exhibit thanks to the museum curator, as I love the images and the work of Orra. But I am struck at the parallel to Orra’s hidden-ness by the fact that these works weren’t discovered magically by a curator, but were found because archivists and archives staff described and organized them, and the digitization team put them up in our online digital collections portal. None of this “grunt work” was mentioned in the review. And yet, the level of expertise, professionalism, and shared effort involved is worth prestige and notoriety.


“One could easily imagine a future in which Orra’s charts were never discovered, attributed, researched or displayed.” 

from The Story of Orra White Hitchcock and the Women Whose Modesty Hides Their Talent

One might say that the invisible work is so good because no one sees it, it feels like magic. Depending on the situation, this is actually a sign of ignorance, or negligence. If you pay attention, you see that what appears like singular magic is actually the result of the brilliance of many, and that what appears like singular genius is often betraying the work of others, or reveals the lack of ability to maintain and build or related to others.


Exemplary maintenance needs to be recognized, if not at the national level then at least in our local organizations. We need to correct the imbalance of prestige, power and money that favors innovators

Hillel Arnold,  Critical Work: Archivists as Maintainers
Ruby Slippers
Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers By dbking [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

So I guess this is my way of saying that grunt work needs reframing.  Less Wizard of Oz screens and microphones, and more dazzling red slippers putting in the miles.

Wednesday

Today I’m jumping in with the Gutenberg editor in WordPress, because I have very few posts on this blog so far, and I’d like to get comfortable with Gutenberg to help support the WordPress sites we manage in my job. So far the new editor reminds me of using Pagemaker and laying out the high school newspaper on paper in the 90’s, and replicates the experience of combining layout elements manually.

I’ve been thinking about how little time I have to make things, and that my appetite is way bigger than what I can do. I have three or four pants and dresses I want to make for myself. Several patterns for my kids with fabric ready to go. Those things fill up my mind and the dresser in my basement. 

Yet I’m trying to focus on the small accomplishments – spending 20 minutes a night on the painting I’ve been working on for months, which started as a drawing that sat for half a year, which came to me from discussing a dream my seven year old had about dolls and the world. The painting is evolving of course, in bits and moments. 

painting of female with wings
Still more to do, waiting to see what emerges!

I finished a sweater back in June, and wore it several times, but didn’t actually “block” it until last week. It now matches my painting, which tells me that I like these greens and burnt yellow and orange colors. I always wanted to make a sweater that reminded me of Sedona, and now I have it. Because I went to the WEBS sale two years ago, and because I love Madelinetosh, this sweater is a hodegpodge of colors. I love the shift to multicolored knits these days, and I love this pattern because it is one piece, and bit by bit it becomes an entire sweater.

Then, there is writing. And editing. And remembering the ideas. Some nights I find 1 minute to write. The minutes add up.

Wednesday

Enjoying my coffee in a new tumbler from the Fort Worth Zoo, which I visited last week.

Thinking about sewing projects, especially a dress I just finished using customized fabric with an image from the Orra White Hitchcock digital collection.

Trying different protein supplements. Latest is a hemp powder. I’m worried it is making me sleepy. But probably I’m sleepy because I need more sleep!

Wednesday

trees, some with blazes marking trail
Trail markers in the forest

Overwhelmed. This is the word that I’ve been using for the past two years when I think about social media, all the information online, the news, television shows, books, even sewing patterns. There is so much. More than our brains can handle. It is amazing. Like the biggest candy store ever, and we have unlimited access to it, from a tiny glass screen most often. We manage to get overwhelmed so easily, because we’re multitasking constantly, looking things up, reading what so-and-so posted about whatever is happening in the world, getting distracted by someone’s cute skirt in a status update, trying to remember to respond to that email about something that is lost in the shuffle of messages, picking the perfect emoji to send back to your sister’s text about her vacation.

Another word is distracted. There’s so much. Just doing the dishes sometimes feels like a vacation from my life, because I’m focusing on one thing and not ten. Granted, being a parent and pet owner, there are many eyes on me most days who need stuff and want stuff so that also keeps me overwhelmed, distracted and running around as well. But I also have myself and my technology habit, which is keeping me distracted with the multitasking and candy store atmosphere that is always just a reach away.

I keep hearing that the elite technologists, more often than not on the left coast I’m guessing, are doing away with smart phones. Is this some kind of canary in the coal mine signal to the rest of us? We are lost in the glut of content, so much so that angry trolling is expected on social media almost all the time, and communication is often taken out of context. And we are addicted. I’m definitely addicted. I can see out of it still, though, and this is what makes me pay attention to the fact that some people are going back to dumb phones.

"Pay Attention" sign
Sign above my desk

Attention. This is another word. I have a note on my bulletin board at work that says ‘Pay Attention.’ I got it at a training where we used improvisation to work on our listening skills. I think paying attention is really important in this world. Both in our daily moving through the world: doing dishes, listening to my kids, listening to my coworkers, but also in our digital moving through the world. The digital space is where attention is so tricky. On the one hand, we pay too much attention to our devices and our feeds, to the detriment of the real things in front of us. Our attention is directed at this swarm of voices and ideas always just a reach away.

On the other hand, it is really hard to manage one’s attention online. And this is a big problem. When we try to pay attention, we get lost. There are no trail markers out there, no one is carving the paths – there are just more and more billboards and intersections and we can often never get back to where we want to be.

I remember when I first starting using the internet in earnest. It was for an English class in college in the late 1990’s. It was an awesome class. I learned how to write HTML and read critical commentaries on the nature of networked information in the humanities. I would bring this experience up every day if I could, it had such an impact on me. But even back then, I had a taste of the way the web is now. We sat in the computer lab in the library, our assignment was to search the web. Find interesting things. Link to them on our website. I remember writing in my group discussion board post about how much of a ‘down the rabbit hole’ experience it was, and how two hours of lab time went by in a flash. The nature of hyperlinks, which as so awesome, is also part of what reduces the trail markers. Publications like books and journals and newspapers create the trail markers for us, but out there in the wide world, we are all independent researchers. And while that is fine if we are trying to research, more often we’re just trying to go for a hike and get to the view. But we’re not getting to the view, or we get presented a view and it isn’t the real one. Attention. Distraction. Overwhelmed.

 

Page with text, Alice and Cheshire cat
Screen shot from Alice in Wonderland on the Internet Archive , Gettysburg College book

 

Alice speaks to Cheshire Cat

`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.

`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

`–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

`Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.’

Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question. `What sort of people live about here?’

`In that direction,’ the Cat said, waving its right paw round, `lives a Hatter: and in that direction,’ waving the other paw, `lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.’

`But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.

`Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: `we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

`How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.

`You must be,’ said the Cat, `or you wouldn’t have come here.’

Wednesday

Today I did my first stand-up report in Slack for the start of our Islandora 7 research sprint. I even used Markdown to format it properly…

Excited to look at the possibilities with Islandora 7, and to think about how we can plan for migration to Islandora CLAW in the process.. we are late to the Islandora game but we are already playing in the linked data game so here’s hoping we can help with learning Islandora and migration paths to CLAW! Especially psyched from talking to my colleague at Vassar and seeing some of these great examples at Vancouver Public Library and Grinnell.

A friend pinged me about a pattern sale from a favorite sewing designer recently, and that has kicked off a number of big plans for me to do some sewing this spring. For my kiddos, and for me! Cheers to the makers in this world 🙂

Thursday

Today I’m trying to burn a song to a CD. I haven’t done this in many years. It is taking forever to get everything in place to do it – shows you how tech changes! Just finding a CD-R was quite a challenge!

I’m learning about insulation in houses, and thinking about the envelope of a house. I am not in the construction business, but I always enjoy conversations with those who are, as there is some alignment with my work in building digital collections and repositories, which are somewhat like building physical structures. Rules, best practices, choices…

I am on day 2 of a new 30 day yoga challenge, my third of this year! This one is by Tim Senesi, who is very good at explaining how to hold the various poses. So far, I’m appreciating his approach.

Pi day

We had a great Pi day in the library, and I’m getting ready for another one at the school tonight. Here is my pie, with homemade pate brisee, which turned out really well!! Yum!

picture of a pecan pie
My pecan π

I’ve been thinking about this post by Trevor Owens on Parsimony and Care in digital curation. It resonates with me and cites several of the authors I read and documented in this post I wrote on Repositories, repair and system migration. I’m still thinking through the concept of elegance in such things. Elegance to me makes sense, but I worry that it is too subjective. Maybe this is part of the curation, we can’t avoid subjectivity, so long as we are up front about it?

RIP Stephen Hawking…

Monday

Daylight savings has wiped me out!

Back to eating my Van’s Power Grain waffles for breakfast – so filling, and perfect for a morning of team-building work with the MBTI.

In other news, I’m starting to plan my trip to Bozeman for Open Repositories, where I will be giving a 5 minute talk on some outlandish ideas with my colleague.

Friday

A Friday Nor’easter today, mostly just rain, thanks to Dave Hayes I am fully aware of what is happening with the weather!

This morning I got to meet with the folks behind the New Books network, which is an incredible compendium of interviews between scholars about new books they’ve written. We got to talking about linked data, the future, the hope for a more open web, and how DOIs factor into that potential. Fingers crossed on the open web stuff…

I’m also happy with the progress on our new blog and webpage for our digital collections work. It is fun to see it turning into a real thing, and helping us in understanding and organizing the work we are doing!

This weekend I’ll be handing off a quilt that I’ve been working on for a while, and I’m excited about it. I used the quilt as you go method, which seems like it could also be a metaphor for a ‘live as you go’ method to being.

Tuesday

Started the day with some electrical repairs at home. It was an old GFCI outlet that was to blame. It was old enough that it needed to be replaced. Like many things in our house, there is a lot of upgrading and replacing going on.

Thinking about Slack and how useful it is, but also how attached we’ve become to it, and in open source communities, how do we maintain transparency and preserve our interactions, especially in open source communities committed to openness and long-term preservation.

I listened to Kevin Kelly on Krista Tippett’s On Being last week, and I can’t stop thinking about the spiritual aspects of technology in our lives. Something to continue pondering… especially that we can ‘parent’ technology, even as it feels like we are being overwhelmed by technology.