Monthly Archives: October 2013

Wrap Up American Archives Month with an Armchair Tour of the American Folklife Center

In a way I regret to see American Archives Month (October) come to an end.  There are so many stories to share… Of course there are always intriguing archival resources to be plumbed – it’s just that this month offers such a good reminder to take the time!

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress  ( reigns as the epicenter of this nation’s archives.   Created by Congress in 1976 the Center  continues to collect living traditional culture at the same time it preserves the existing collections in the unique preservation facilities of the Library of Congress.

The American Folklife Center Archive was established in the Library of Congress Music Division in 1928.  Today it stands as one of the largest archives of ethnographic materials from the US and around the globe.  The collection includes millions of items recorded from the 19th Century to the present.  The collections include documentation of traditional arts, cultural expressions and oral histories.

The archives are so robust and so diverse that it’s best to plunge in at some modest level and see where the archival river flows.  There are numerous finding aids to the collection, including a guide to Minnesota collections in the Archive of Folk Culture compiled by Madeline Esposito and Ross S. Gerston.  (  The guide will lead you to disc recordings of North American Indian songs originally recorded on cylinder by Frances Densmore, to the 1954 recording on tape of a public ceremony honoring Albert Woolson, the 107-year-old last surviving Union Army veteran, and on to an amazing collection of recordings of ethnic music, interviews, even a little Bob Dylan from back in the day.

Don’t think you have to go to Washington, DC to experience the treasures of the Folklife Center  Archives.  The American Folklife Center is tackling the challenge to provide online access to select portions of the collections.  Their approach is thorough and thoughtful.  The Center creates its own online presentations on various topics and the American Memory project ( provides additional online access to the selected collections.  The online content may include a wide variety of media including audio samples of music and stories, digital images of rare letters and photographs and video clips.

The Veterans History Project ( ) offers a case in point.  The Project collects first-hand accounts of U.S. veterans for the past century, from World War I through the  Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.   The collection also includes recorded conversations with civilians who were actively involved in war support  efforts, whether as war industry workers, medical volunteers, flight instructors or others.  The founding member of the Veterans History Project is AARP.

Another readily accessible online  treasure that caught my eye and ear is the Lomax Family Collections  ( .  Though one thinks of the Lomax family and folk music, many of the recordings in the Lomax Family Collections are inclusive.  One recording of immense historic value is “After the Day of Infamy, ( , twelve hours of man-on-the-street interviews following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 – all available online.

Closer to home is another perfect example – with a Minnesota spin.  It’s a celebration of native languages that features a program sponsored by Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), “First speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe language.”  For a listing of the online collections and presentations of the American Folklife Center go to

And, just for fun, you might want to wrap up American Archives Month by taking time to enjoy the webcast  “How to find stuff at the largest library in the world” produced by the Library of Congress.  (RealPlayer required.)








All Hallow’s Eve – We have the Irish to thank!

A few years back I tried to get in the spirit of Halloween;  my expressed goal was to escape the materialization of what was once an honored custom.  My strategy was to learn about the traditions that shape the ways we celebrate a day that must have had a life before the advent of flimsy (if fire repellent) costumes and nutritious (if yucky) candy. 

When I asked my young niece, then living in Dublin, if they celebrated Halloween in Ireland, she gently advised me that the Irish “thought it up.”  Her terse rebuttal “changed my life.”  Rather than fret about the excesses of Halloween, specifically the $75.03 per capita Americans will spend on Halloweeniana this year, I vowed to dig into the roots of the ancient myths and customs.

It seems the Irish do have a claim on the ancient Celtic customs which once marked the change of the seasons.  After the harvest, when the light of summer gave way to the dark of winter, Samhain was the time to gather the souls of the year’s dead.  Samhain was also the time for the autumn cleanup and battening down for the winter.  Among other things this meant settling debts, making peace with one’s enemy and extinguishing all fires – thus the pitch darkness of All Hallow’s Eve.  All Hallow’s Eve was a mystical time when the thin spaces between mortal world and the netherworld faded, a time when the borders were open and the spirits flowed unencumbered.

Having covered the broad strokes in that earlier post, I’ve moved on to explore the lesser known tales.  My favorite is Queen Maeve of Connacht.  Though Maeve’s association with Halloween may seem trivial there is a link:    Early proponent of women’s equality that she was Maeve was determined to match the possessions of her husband Aillel.  On Sanhaim she staged what became known as the Cattle Raid of Cooley to capture a prize bull of Ulster that would match her husband’s bull.  There she encountered the bold Cu Chulainn, defender of the accursed Ulster. It’s a long amf bloody tale, appropriate to the season. [Note:  English majors may know Maeve from William Butler Yeats’ The Old Age of Queen Maeve (]

Maeve’s husband Ailill appears in another Celtic tale involving Samhain. In this one Nera, a hero from Connaught, is the only one brave enough to face the King’s challenge to loose a dead man from the gallows by tying a twig around his ankle.  On Samhain night the dead man comes to and asks for a cup of water. Nera reigns triumphant. There’s more about burning royal buildings and a fairy who tells Nera that it’s all a dream after which  Nera may or may not have been imprisoned by fairies until the following Samhain,,,

In a word, strange things happen on All Hallow’s Eve.

There’s fun stuff, too. 

Carving pumpkins dates back to 8th Century Celtic lore and to an Irish blacksmith named Jack who colluded with the Devil and was denied entry to heaven.  When Jack was condemned to wander the earth he made a deal with the Devil for some light.  He was given a burning coal which he placed inside a turnip that he had gouged out.  Fearing the wandering blacksmith, Irishmen placed lighted turnips in their windows to scare him away.  Somehow the turnips morphed into pumpkins in the New World.

Halloween costumes can also be traced to Celtic roots.  On Samhain, when the temporal and eternal worlds came together, the Celtic Druids would dress in elaborate costumes to disguise themselves as spirits and devils.  Their hope was that they would avoid being carried away at the end of the night.

There’s more – faeries, known as pookas, who appear as sleek horses and thrive on mischief, bonfires (fires of bones), dunking for apples, even blind dates all have roots in Celtic mythology.  When it comes to Halloween customs, the Irish definitely had a hand in “making it up”.

Then along came the missionaries, bent on converting the Celts to Christianity.  Out went the Druids and the “pagan” rituals, including Samhain.  By the 7th Century AD Pope Gregory determined that the better part of valor was to adapt the pagan customs.  The Gregorian calendar of today is just one example of transforming pagan customs and beliefs into Christian feasts and rituals. Thus Halloween evolved as a sort of compilation of pagan and Christian customs, with Druids keeping apace as All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) made their appearance on the Gregorian calendar.

If you’re really into Halloween lore, check out Jack Santino’s classic piece, “The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows,” spirited from The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Once again this Halloween I plan to evoke the real spirit of All Hallows Eve by keeping this focus on the mythology – the glorious gruesome Celtic roots of the rituals. SpongeBob Square Pants’ plastic bucket will be a cache of precious gold, Angry Birds seem as aggravated devils in disguise, that fairy princess could be Maeve herself.  Then, when the doorbell stops ringing, I’ll listen for the spirits who will inevitably hover just across the thin divide.  It worked for the Celts!

Minnesota writers are World Book Night “tradition”

Organizers of the third World Book Night ( have just announced the list of titles that will be shared round the globe on Wednesday, April 23, 2014.  On World Book Night “reading ambassadors” will reach out in their communities to share a half million books with random, unsuspecting individuals.

Once again Minnesota writers are prominent on the list of 30 selected titles.  IN 2012 it was Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River and Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie that made the list.  At that time, Enger captured the spirit of World Book Night as “a beautiful foolish idea.”

It’s such a beautiful foolish idea that the selectors this year wisely turned to three more Minnesota writers, that’s 10% of the 30 chosen titles!  The 2014 selections include Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild, Garrison Keillor’s Pontoon and Peter Geye’s The Lighthouse Road.  For a full listing of the 2014 list of WBN titles, click here.  Reading selections from past years are posted here:

World Book Night is an annual collaboration first organized in the U.K. three years ago.  The intent of the nonprofit organization is to share the love of reading through a one-person-at-a-time distribution of a half million books.   World Book Night visionaries live their vision – it’s more than giving away books; “It’s about people, communities and connections, about reaching out to others and touching lives in the simplest of ways – through the sharing of stories.”

Books for World Book Night are selected by an independent panel of booksellers and librarians.  The selections are based on lists curated by experts in the bookselling and library world.  Each year givers from the previous year’s World Book Night nominate books for the panel to consider.  The criteria used by the selectors is explicit:  Acceptable books of high quality; recently published books or established classics; books available in paperback; published books of any genre, and gender, ethnic and geographical balance.

In years past both individuals and groups – Friends of the Library, reading circles, youth groups and others – have participated in WBN as enthusiastic  — and much appreciated – “book givers.”

World Book Night planners are now accepting applications for book givers.  The “Be a book giver” posting covers the rules, e.g. givers will be asked to think about where  and to whom they intend to share the books.  Applications can be made online and are due January 5, 2014.  Answers to everything you ever wanted to know about WBN are posted at

WBN has all of the characteristics of a “beautiful foolish idea’ whose time has come!


Tracking the William Crooks: An Archival Adventure

Last Friday evening the news program Almanac, TPT’s signature show, offered its weekly Index File challenge – the traditional sign-off Minnesota history question.   As it happened, this particular Friday I was writing about archives, a lay person’s tribute to the lasting contribution of archivists who preserve and facilitate access to the record of humankind.  October is, after all, American Archives Month.

Though the work of archivists is generally structured to meet the scholarly needs of serious researchers, it is a great boon to Almanac viewers who begin their quest for the answer to the Index Question with to realize the usefulness of a structured search strategy.

The question last week had to do with the final resting place of the William Crooks, the historic steam locomotive that played a role in the state’s and nation’s history.  Without leaving the comfort of my cluttered home office it took about thirty seconds to locate the mighty iron horse at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth.  The William Crooks has rested in state there since 1975.

Having located the William Crooks – and because I was thinking archives – I started to think about what else the archives might tell me about the locomotive.

My first discovery told me about William Crooks, the man for whom thelegendary locomotive was named.  Crooks, the man, was the Colonel of the Minnesota Volunteers’ Sixth Regiment during the Civil War.  Returning to civilian life Crooks was later Chief Mechanical Engineer for the St. Paul and Pacific Railroads.

Wikipedia provided more information about William Crooks, the locomotive, information gleaned from archives and from literature based on the archival record of the engineering marvel of its time.    The steam locomotive, the first to operate in Minnesota, was built in 1861 for the Minnesota and Pacific Railroad, a system that eventually evolved into the Great Northern Railway in 1890.  The steam engine weighed in at 55,400 pounds with boiler pressure of 110 psi.  Though the William Crooks was retired in 1897 when the engineering was deemed obsolete. James J. Hill intervened and had the engine rehabbed to pull his private train.

Beginning in 1924 the locomotive went on an exhibition tour. Among other sites the William Crooks participated in the Fair of the Iron Horse in 1927.  At the 1939 New York World’s Fair the venerable locomotive made an appearance in the Railroads on Parade Program.  The program from that event speaks to the preeminence of the railroad in the era:

Into every corner of our social and economic existence, the railroad is tightly interwove.  It is the backbone of the country, no, even more, it is the veritable lifeblood in its 250,000 miles of steel veins, it flows to every far corner of a far-flung land, it binds in its living, throbbing embrace city and town and village, the open country, the first, the mine, the forge, the factory, and the sea.  It is indeed the nation’s lifeblood, the great arm not only of its industry, but of its military defense.  If it were to die, then the nation would die.  (

A search for the visual record of the William Crooks led me immediately to Minnesota Reflections Collection of images.  There I found photos of the train, contributed to the collection by the New Brighton Area Historical Society.

Along the way I found a great poster featuring the Will Crooks.   And there are lots of William Crooks postcards on e-Bay.

I also found a delightful replica of the William Crooks on a YouTube posted on Choo Choo Bob’s Train of the Day.  The down-sized train chugs along a 12-inch wide track in Ham Lake.

Then I found what may be my pick of the search, an article about the William Crooks, published in the Minneapolis Tribune on March 17, 1937.  It was written by Ruth Thompson, local historian and librarian, who, upon her retirement from the Minneapolis Public Library, published a treasure trove of articles published in the Tribune from January 1, 1945-October 9, 1950.  Her snippets of Minnesota lore are all carefully preserved by the archivists at the James K. Hosmer Special Collections Library at the Minneapolis Central Library. (

Getting back to the question as posed:  Eventually the William Crooks settled down in St. Paul where it was completely rebuilt at Great Northern’s Dale Street Shops.  The Great Northern transferred ownership to the Minnesota Historical Society which hosted a display of the mighty engine at the Saint Paul Union Depot until the Depot closed – actually went on sabbatical —  in 1971.  In 1975 the William Crooks was moved to the grand new Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth where it reigns supreme to this day.

In sum, my brief Friday evening exercise was not a scholarly effort to plumb the literature pertaining to the venerable William Crooks, the man, or the locomotive that bears his name.  Instead, my intent was to celebrate American Archives Month by sharing a simple archival experience.  It is both fun and enlightening to look beyond the document or the photo to see the hand of the archivists in the preservation of the record.  Some human being, probably an archivist by profession, had to identify collect, organize and preserve those fragments of the re cord, the photos, the programs, the timetable, the stories.

Each of the digital records I could easily access from my armchair has two stories to tell – one is the story of William Crooks, the man and the locomotive; the other is the story of how that record survived and made its way to my desktop.   Though technology vastly expands the availability of the record, it has taken the work of many to get the words, the image and the story to the researcher – or to anyone in quest of a ready answer to the Index File question.

American Archivists: Essential Links in the Information Chain

Archivists bring the past to the present.  They’re records collectors and protectors, keepers of memory.  They organize unique. historical materials, making them available for current and future researcher.

Archivist Lisa Lewis won an under-28-word Elevator Pitch contest for this pithy description of the meaning of archives.  And Lisa nailed it.

The role of archives and archivists is seldom explicit in today’s cacophonous brouhaha about secrets and secrecy, whistleblowers, privacy and access.  Though October is American Archives Month the media persist in keeping their focus on hot news rather than the complexities of a changing political, social, and technological information environment.   This is ironic since the media, like the legal profession, depend heavily on the work of archivists. – more than those who are neither journalists nor attorneys might realize.

Though the media and legions of attorneys depend heavily on robust archives, as most of us, tend to under-value the work of those professionals who meticulously preserve and make available the historic record of humankind.  Though some love to focus on state secrets and security, archival resources are ubiquitous, accessible, and, once one dips into the records, irresistible.

Just because it’s American Archives Month, consider for a moment, your archival options.  Though these are armchair accessible, take time to think about the process and the people who saw to it that the records were identified, organized, preserved and made accessible when and where you’re looking for it:


  • Are you or do you have a young person in your family who’s working on a History Day Project?  Check the primary resources that the archivists at the Minnesota Historical Society have spotted on the 2014 topic, “Rights and Responsibilities in History.
  • Yearn to re-listen to an interview you heard during the 2012 election?  Minnesota Public Radio doesn’t delete those tapes; then them at
  • Are you a “birder” tracking that elusive rare species?  Archivists at the U of M Natural History archives identify, digitize and describe over 150,000 materials that document the early natural history of the State of Minnesota
  • Maybe you’re an amateur historian looking for a photo of your hometown’s main street, a public building or a typical farmstead in Stearns County. Check out Minnesota Reflections  The collection brings you 135,000+ images, maps and documents from more than 150 of the state’s cultural heritage organizations. The Reflections tutorials offer tips on a range of archives-related topics, including saving a personal collection.
  • Do you want to know more about Ramsey County buildings, churches, businesses, neighborhoods, community leaders?  Visit the Ramsey County Historical Society at the Landmark Center or check their website:

Obviously, this is an appetizer.  These are but a few of the archival collections of particular interest to Minnesotans.  Though the National Archives ( can be overwhelming as starting point, they will soon entice you to explore paths, places and people you had never imagined.  Drink deep or taste not of the archival stream.

And, if what you want is to sense the spirit of archives and the work of archivists, you might want to spend a few winter evenings immersed in Une affaire d’amour and dust”, the memoir of Arlette Farge, recently translated as The Allure of the Archives.   Farge’s words speak for many archivists:

The first illusion that must be cast aside is that of the definitive truthful narrative.  A historical narrative is a construction, not a truthful discourse that can be verified on all of its points.  The narrative must combine scholarship with arguments that can introduce the criteria of truthfulness and plausibility.  The poet creates, the historian argues.

Bottom line, there are hundreds of archival treasures in counties and cities, historical societies, corporations, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, museums, the media, churches and more.  The work of the archivist may be invisible – until you want to dredge up a record or a fact.  Whether your information need is to write a book, trace your family history, learn about the history of your house or settle a bar bet, chances an archivist has had a hand in preserving the record.  If there was no archivist involved, you probably won’t find the information you so desperately need.






The TTIP Talks – What’s OUR stake?


The first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind. Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world.” Norman Borlaug

World Food Day 2013 was yesterday, October 16.  Sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations the day sheds light on the global status and issues related
to hunger. The World Food Day website ( serves as an excellent resource on the facts – statistics, organizations involved in reducing world hunger, events, background materials readily accessible to those who want to know more or to teach others. Focus of the day is on progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals to which 189 nations around the world agreed after the 2000 Millennium Summit. First among the eight agreed-upon goals was to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.”(

There is good and bad news. This month the annual State of Food Security in the World was issued by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme. The report determined that “some 842 million people, or roughly one in eight, suffered from chronic hunger in 2011-2013. Chronic hunger is defined to mean that these 842 million people are “not getting enough food to lead active and healthy lives.”

Most of those hungry people live in developing regions (Southern Asia (295 million), sub-Saharan
Africa (223 million) and Eastern Asia (267 million). At the same time, 15.7 % live in developing nations, including the U.S, including Minnesota, including northern Dakota County.  Each day I see those people arrive to obtain their quota from the food shelf at the nonprofit where I volunteer.

Efforts to alleviate world hunger do seem to be having an effect. As of this month 62 countries have reached the MDG target of reducing the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015. An additional six countries are on track to meet the 2015 goal. There are signs of collaboration including the Food Assistance Convention ( which commits signatories to a more efficient and effective response to food and nutrition insecurity. The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement ( involves more than forty developing countries, together with donors, civil society, the private sector and UN organizations, in a collaborative effort to end food insecurity.

“Calling for quality, not just quantity” appears to be a growing focus of these individual and combined efforts. The issue of quality standards – in particular who sets those standards – is being hotly contested at the  second session of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership TTIP) talks soon to be resumed in Brussels. As described in yesterday’s post, competing Minnesota interests are on the table in those negotiations – more on that in a separate post.

The real challenge for mere mortals is to pay attention!  The talks do make a difference to anyone who depends on a healthy food chain.  It may take some digging to learn what’s happening – to sort out the players and their ultimate goal, consider the implications on the farm economy, the food business, the environment, and the safety, price and nutritional quality of the food that reaches our grocery store or food shelf.  Though we may not have time or inclination  to master the regulatory details of food standards, it behooves us to pay attention what’s going on in Brussels. Whether we know it or not, we have a stake in the TTIP talks.


What Do Trade, Investment & Regulation Have To Do With Dinner?

The answer is:  Lots!

With all of the news and comment devoted to what’s happening in Washington we may tend to forget that today, October 16, is also World Food Day.  We probably didn’t forget to eat though….

Though World Food Day is truly global in reach, one prism through which to view the what’s happening on the global sphere is to focus on at the second session of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the all-important trade negotiations between the EU and the US.  Actually the negotiators are on hold in Brussels – the US negotiators are stalled by the furlough of government employees.

While the Deciders cool their heels and gird their loins it gives armchair observers a chance to catch up on what’s happening across The Pond.

The intent of TTIP, nee TAFTA, talks is to fashion a trade agreement that removes trade barriers that inhibit trade between the EU and the US.  The trade relationship between the US and the US is by far the biggest in the world, together accounting for about half the entire world GDP and for nearly a third of world trade.  As such, EU and US investments are the real driver of the transatlantic relationship, contributing to growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.  An estimated third of the trade across the Atlantic consists of intra-company transfers.

Topping the agenda for TTIP talks is the issue of differences in technical regulations, standards and procedures.  Commissioner Karel De Gucht, member of the EC in charge of trade, outlines the agenda for the TTIP negotiations in a talk presented October 10 at the annual Aspen Institute Conference in Prague; the theme of the Aspen Institute conference was “Overcoming barriers to growth:  The full video is online

The term “regulatory convergence” as used by TTIP observers and participants refers to a range of considerations that critics maintain would lower or remove “the rules and standards that govern what kind of food is being produced and how.”  Critics see “regulatory convergence” as a pell-mell descent to the lower common denominator – a potential outright threat to our food supply and safety.

For their part the agribusiness industry has “been very vocal about the special objectives.”  Biotech companies want the EU to relax the restrictions on on-authorized GM crop imports, speed up GM authorizations, weaken safety tests for GM crops, and replace mandatory labeling of GM food and feed with voluntary rules.”

This and other goals supported by the agribusiness block are anathema to many critics, academics, environmentalists, and a host of public interest groups.  The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) at the University of Minnesota and Friends of the Earth Europe have published a major paper outlining those organizations’ severe objections to the overt goal of U.S. agribusiness interests.  An excerpt from the conclusions gives the flavor of the report:

Friends of the Earth Europe and IATP call on the European Commission, the European Parliament, the EU’s member states and the US government to prioritise the interests of people and the environment.  To this end they should not pursue transatlantic trade negotiations that compromise democracy, safety, or environmental well-being.

Full text of the position paper, “EU-US trade deal: A bumper crop for ‘big food’? is available at (

The negotiators in Brussels will soon be back at the table.  The forces with an ax to grind will be close at hand.  The reason: Because the TTIP talks do make a difference.  The talks will not garner much media coverage.  Nor will the impact be dramatic or immediate.  The ramifications can be truly catastrophic for those of us who naively assume that the food we eat is safe.

Keeping informed about what’s happening at TTIP — the players, the forces, the issues and potential impact – may require some armchair surfing.  There’s no better starting point than IATP ( and no clearer goal than that enunciated by Friends of the Earth Europe and IATP who “call for a real trade deal that builds a better future for people and the planet through supporting local food economics agro-ecological farming and vibrant rural communities.”

Such a deal, the partnering organizations say, should aim at the following:

  • Building new economies and improving lives
  • Improving life for future generations
  • Promoting trading conditions in favour of people and environment
  • Bringing transparency and accountability

John Parker, IATP intern, is a bit more blunt when he writes, “We need to begin the work of reclaiming authentic participation in democratic decision-making.  Otherwise we will continue to watch agribusiness steal the game and tell us all to shut up”  (


Open Government vs Security – A Question of Balance

Never since Agent Max Smart and his Cone of Silence have Americans been so enthralled with the complex world of secrecy.  Snowden and Mnaning’s disgorging of NSA secrets has spawned a techie battle of the wits and a market flooded with encryption tools and snoop-repellent tricks.  Just this week the HuffPost tells the market impact story.  ( Assuming that the records of these troubled times are made public in time, Snowden and Manning will go down as espionage trendsetters.

If there is good news in this unprecedented attention to the game of secrecy it is that people are paying attention to the power and elusive nature of information, especially information hidden from the public in the name of national security and/or patriotism.  The long-term impact of their disclosures may never be measured.  In the short term, we know that their whistle-blowing                                                 has made a difference.  It has raised dormant questions about the fundamental tension between the need for secrecy and need for transparency —  about what, how and who strikes the balance.

It is no secret that the secrecy ball is in the air.

When Barack Obama came into office access advocates cheered his promise that “we will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration.” In 2010 the President signed H.R. 553, The Reducing Over-Classification Act.

Among the requirements of H.R. 553 are these: a) a requirement that the Department of Homeland Security designate a Classified Information Advisory Office to disseminate educational materials and administer training programs to assist state, local, tribal, and private sector entities.”  b) a requirement that the Director of National Intelligence establish guidance to standardize formats for intelligence products; c) annual training for employees with original classification authority, and d)  requirement that federal Inspectors General  assess the effectiveness of agency classification policies.

By Sunshine Week 2012 the federal Information Security Oversight Office could report a sharp decline in expenditures for secrecy.  Stil,l veteran open government advocate Steven Aftergood was cautious, advising that “many classification decisions are still excluded from critical security and instances of over-classification are not hard to find.”

And then Manning and Snowden threw open Pandora’s Box of Secrets!

Alerted to issues, the public is demanding to know more about the balance between open government vs. security.  Last month the Justice Department’s inspector general issued the results of a study to determine if the government’s tendency to over-classify documents actually hurts the very national security it purports to protect.

The DOJ inspector general concluded that the study “did not find indications of widespread misclassification.”  Still, the report “did identify deficiencies with the implementation of the Department of Justice’s classification program, including persistent misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of certain classification processes by officials within Justice Department components.”

Open government advocates find some hope in the report.  For starts, they hope that the report may help to alleviate the burden of backlogged FOIA requests.  In spite of increased staff the FOIA backlog increased in one year (2010-2011) from 70,000 to 83,000.

A closer look at the internal bureaucratic processes that hinder or facilitate the flow of information by and about the government points out some basic facts:  The mechanisms are not mechanical at all, but human.  Humans not only set the policy, they interpret the policy and implement the process; they make the decisions about classification, interpret the rules, handle the requests, and deal with the public.  Right now they are probably furloughed, even as the influx of FOIA requests mounts.

At the same time, information itself is at its core a human resource, produced, recorded, organized and made accessible by humans for use by humans.

Possibly that helps to explain why determining information policy is so intriguing and yet so troublesome.

Note:  Steven Aftergood, Director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, provides a thoughtful and timely overview of the issue of government secrecy in his paper  “An Inquiry into the Dynamic of Government Secrecy” (







University of Minnesota Press: Positioning the Press in an evolving “megacosm”

Not only has the world changed – universities presses are used to that – but the cosmos has shifted, calling into question the place of presses not just in the university – again, a familiar dilemma – but in a far more diverse, fast-moving, and increasingly decentered system of scholarly communications.  The issue at hand isn’t simply print vs. electronic nor even “Open” vs proprietary, copy-left vs. copy-right.  These are economic and thus solvable problems.  It is, to my mind, the emergence of more informal, iterative, and collaborative scholarly communications vs. formal, fixed, and author centered-literally: authorized-scholarly publishing. ~~ Doug Armato, Director of U of M Press.

These are the thoughtful words of the head of the University of Minnesota Press, a one of the state’s rich resources known by academics but beyond the ken of most Minnesotans. University Press Week, November 10-16, 2013, offers a rare opportunity to take a close look at one feature of what Governor Rudy Perpich dubbed “the brainpower state.”  The University of Minnesota Press deserves to take its rightful place in the state’s and nation’s academic and publishing circles.

Since its founding in 1925 the U of M Press has published tomes that could stock a healthy library.  At the rate of approximately ten books each year (culled from the 2000 submitted manuscripts) the Press now boasts 2,270 titles in print.  The yearly sale of books is 345,000 titles of which 5% are published in e-book or similar digital format. The Press also publishes five journals.  The test division which publishes the renowned MMPI in its various manifestations, began publishing in 1943; today it publishes the tests in 29 languages.

The first book off the presses was Cyrus Northrop: A memoir, by Oscar W. Firkins.  (yes, that Northrup, President of the University).  The first Press catalog for 1927-29 included The Marketing of Farm Products, The Attitudes of Mothers Toward Education, The Development of the Twin Cities as a Metropolitan Market and Prunes or Pancakes, a “popular guide to the science of eating…[and] dietetic reform” by the Dean of the College of Dentistry.  Today approximately 75% of Press authors are academic faculty; the rest include “journalists, critics and a broad range of individuals with varying expertise, from chefs to composers to wilderness guides.”

In case you wondered, the all-time best seller from the U of M Press is Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An introduction; the text has sold more than 250,000 copies since its first publication thirty years ago.

The economics of the Press may come as a surprise to legislators and students alike.  Approximately 92% of the Press’s operations are funded by sales and other income from the mix of publications. Two percent of the budget comes from grants, gifts and endowments.  University support comprises the remaining 6% of the total annual Press budget; adjusted for fees paid by the University, the net support from the University is less than 1% of its costs.

U of M Press points to a number of highlights in their decades of publishing.  For example, in the 1980’s the Press was the first university press to define its editorial program by critical method and perspective rather than by traditional scholarly disciplines.  The policy defined the priorities as works that feature “social and cultural theory and interdisciplinary inquiry”.  Those priorities still guide the Press that has evolved to include other areas of inquiry including race and ethnic studies, urbanism, feminist criticism, and media studies. In addition, “the Press is among the most active publishers of translations of significant works of European and Latin American thought and scholarship.” Minnesota also publishes works on the cultural and natural heritage of the state and the upper Midwest region.

The Press heralded another recent innovation with the decision to publish all of its past publications as reprints or e-books.  The Quadrant initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundations, explores new collaborative approaches to scholarly research and publication through a partnership with the Institute for Advanced Study at the U of M.

Director Armato envisions “the emergence of a new cosmology of scholarly communication….more akin to the emergence of a new cosmology of scholarly communication – a time not so much of economic reallocation or technological transformation…as much as a dramatic expansion and realignment of the megacosm.”

Take note as the U of M Press takes its place in the realignment of that evolving megacosm.



Travel with the Joads during the Grapes of Wrath 75th Anniversary Celebration

It’s not (quite) too late to hop on board for the Grapes of Wrath 75th Anniversary trek. ( The tour tracing the Joad family’s travels started ten days ago and ends Monday, October 14, at the Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff.  The re-creation of the trek is the kick-off to a year-long celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the publication of Grapes of Wrath.

 Stops along the way the Steinbeck Center hosted discussions about Grapes of Wrath.  Stops included the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and the Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff.

The tour features story telling, music, and a traveling team of artists who will collect oral histories.  Artists include playwright Octavio Solis, visual artist Patricia Wakida and filmmaker P.J. Palmer.

If you missed the day-by-day experiences and historic interludes, you’ll find the daily posts on the official journal blog   Celebration of the Grapes of Wrath 75th Anniversary continues through 2014.  Check the official website to follow all the action (  The story of the Joads is a poignant portrayal of a time to be revisited by an author whose work deserves re-examination in these troubled times.  The website offers a rich and enticing chance to follow the Joads and their story.