Tag Archives: web searching

An Ardent Archives Advocate Is Born

Regular readers of this blog may wonder why so many recent pieces about archives and archivists. The truth is that American Archives Month has presented an opportunity to think about a topic I’ve wanted to ponder for a relatively short while. Though folks may think it’s in the librarian DNA to think about archives, the fact is my interest is fueled not by training or long years of working in the library world but by my more recent dip into writing, particularly writing about the history of my neighborhood.

As a patron of Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library I have had the opportunity, the time and the incentive to dig deep into those archives. It’s in handling the documents and photos, reading the notes left by past archivists and librarians, noting the care with which the records are physically preserved, that I have come to appreciate the commitment of the individuals and of the institution itself to preserving the stories of our community.

Clearly, this is the same attitude and support that have created community library collections, county and local historical societies, the records of state agencies, nonprofits, the papers of individuals and institutions that have been shared, even digitized – and the records that have yet to be discovered.

Though it is my good fortune to be able to explore the archives in the serenity of the James Hosmer Special Collections – and with the generous assistance of extraordinary staff, I have become a ardent advocate for digitization that brings the content, if not the ambiance, to the learner. Whether that learner wants to know about his or her family, town, college, church, business, environment, house or neighborhood, the armchair searcher has exponentially expanding digital access. That means that archivists have not only turned paper photos into machine readable digits; they have cataloged the information so that the finding tools guide the searcher to the range of options or to the precise goal of the information quest.

It is of increasing concern that today’s extreme focus on today blinds the public and the Deciders to the importance – and the delight — of knowing from whence we came – and the beautiful human inclination to share with our descendents the stories of what we were thinking and doing “in the day.”

Something to think about as legislators, lobbyists and football franchise owners covet those Legacy funds that have opened the doors to many of the state’s archives.

Reflections on Reflections – A Digital Archive of Archives

Creating a profile of a single archive seems the best way to celebrate American Archives Month.  The problem is that there are too many, each unique, with its own personality and its own stories to relate.   Some are traditional – print materials and physical objects; others are digital, often based on the traditional.  All are created, tended and shared by archivists who care about preservation of the people’s record.

Minnesota Reflections is a sort of archive of archives, a digital resource to which individual archives of every stripe have contributed their documents and their pictures, with the intent to share the historic record with a broader audience.   Contributors include county historical societies, colleges and universities, state agencies, nonprofits, churches and religious archives, and others.

The photos and the data are not only preserved but cataloged for easy browsing by topic, region and collection (source).  The technical standards are high and the cataloging/organizing standards are the same.  Pick a topic or town or source, search the collection, and see what you find.  Anticipating the season to come, I searched “winter carnival” and found (among many listings) a 1920 photo of the Mankato Winter Carnival parade.  Who knew!

Though the photo collection is perhaps better known, the documents preserved in Minnesota Reflections are incredibly diverse.  Again, a dip into the collection is the best way to appreciate its depth.  For the moment, take a look at a recent installment of “Digital Delights from Minnesota Reflections” that illustrates the range of possibilities. It’s a small sample to be sure, but it will get you started in the right direction.

Happy Archives Month to the archivists and staff at Minnesota Reflections, to the archivists and staff of the contributing organizations, and to the hundreds of Minnesotans who know and value the record left by those individuals and institutions who have gone before, who have adapted to new technologies that extend the reach of those records, and who know full well that some day some one is going to want that exact bit of information – readily accessible and in mint condition.


The following article was originally published in Practical Thinking, the newsletter of the Minnesota Independent Scholars’ Forum. Learning institutions that serve the public good – and those who serve the public through museums, historical societies, libraries, archives and their ilk … Continue reading

Seniors Catch the Surfing Wave

Recognizing that retirees and others “of an age” did not enjoy the advantage of on-the-job computer training a number of state and local agencies are working together and with public agencies including libraries to provide learning opportunities for seniors. Senior Surf Day at the St. Anthony Library is just one example of the opportunities available for seniors who want to know more about the web, search engines, senior-oriented Internet sites and more.

There’s a Senior Surf Day scheduled for 12:30-2:30 p.m. Thursday, October 27, at the St. Anthony Library, 2941 Pentagon Drive in the St. Anthony Village shopping center. This session is sponsored by the library in collaboration with Senior LinkAge Line, the Minnesota Board on Aging and MSMP. There will be another Senior Surf Dday at St. Anthony on November 17. Questions? Call 612 543 6075.

This session is one of scores of similar training sessions scheduled for seniors throughout the region and the state. For more information contact any one of the sponsoring organizations.

Who Lived Here – and When? Lots of Help Available for Curious Homeowners

Staffers who work with patrons on a daily basis in the James K. Hosmer Special Collections Library at Minneapolis Central Library report that a large percentage of their patrons are at the library to research the history of their homes, property or neighborhoods or to ask about a specific building or historic or utilitarian value.

I’m one of those patrons, constantly seeking information about the Windom Park neighborhood and surrounding environment so I probably inflate their statistics – and I haven’t even attempted house searching yet

These wise professionals are also quick to point out that the James K Hosmer Special Collections Library is not the sole source for researchers.  They have prepared an extremely useful guide to the resources of Special Collections and to other options within the information community.

The complete guide, available online, covers a wide range of research strategies, tools and resources.  Experienced staffers strongly  advise that that searchers call in advance (612 543 8200) so that staff has time to locate the information needed.  Remember there are miles of shelves packed with 125 years of carefully collected reference data!

These in-house and online resources are accessible at or through the James K. Hosmer .  All of this information is provided by library staff, with the slightest of tweaking on my part – just so I can say I had a hand in sharing the information with potential patrons.

Original building permit index card:  Searchers will start the process by obtaining a photocopy that lists the legal description of the property and every permit pulled. Permits are also available from the Minneapolis Development Review which is searchable online.

The Development Review Office is located in Room 300 of the Public Service Building, 250 South 4th Street, Mpls).  That Office can provide building permits (1884-1973), building, moving and writing permits or house’s architect, if there was one, as well detailed information provided through the 1934 Works Progress Administration (WPA) survey which included the condition of the building and yard, type of heating, availability of water and sewer connections, refrigeration, number and necessity of the occupants.

Architecture:  Check Special Collections for information on a building’s architecture.  This is also available through the Northwest Architectural Archives at the University of Minnesota, a repository that holds the city’s most extensive collection of information about Minnesota architects, contractors, and their projects.

Newspaper clippings.  Special Collections houses the dailies as well as a good collection of Minneapolis neighborhood newspapers.  These provide access to clippings for a particular address, homeowner, architect or neighborhood.  Newspapers are listed on the library’s online catalog or ask a Special Collections librarian (in advance) to access the historic clippings.

Online photo database Special Collections provides access to approximately 10,000 photographs that date back to the 19th Century.  The librarians also suggest other resources including the Hennepin History Museum which “houses a significant collection of Minneapolis home and building photographs.” The Museum photos are not online but searchers may call to see if they have the desired photos.

Special Collections librarians also note that the Minnesota Historical Society supports several online image databases (look for their finding guide online)  while the University of Minnesota’s IMAGES database and Minnesota Reflections offer other search options.

Remember the camera is not a new technology – photos abound!

Minneapolis City Directory (1859-2003)   The Directory lists the previous occupants of a house and often their occupation.  Beginning in 1930 the reverse directory makes it possible to look up an address and find the names of residents.  Available on microfiche on the 4th floor of the Library.

Dual City Blue Book (1885-1924).  Private directory that lists the names of the city’s wealthier residents alphabetically and by address.  Available on microfiche on the 4th floor.

Platbooks.  The Library also has digitized platbooks (1885-1898-1914) online or view paper copies.  There are additional platbooks on the 4th floor next to the information desk;  some platbooks have been digitized.   The University of Minnesota Borchert Map Library also provides access to an online collection of local platbooks.

Historic maps and atlases (1850’s to 1920’s). The collection includes property boundaries, roads, railroad tracks, streetcar lines, names of businesses, and geographical attributes.  The oldest maps of the city are available online through Minnesota Reflections.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Database (1950’s to 1920’)   Property boundaries, roads, railroad tracks and streetcar lines, the names of businesses and geographical features.  These are available in the James K. Hosmer Special Collections as well as at the Borchert Library and the Minnesota Historical Society Library.

Lot Surveys on Microfilm (1916-1965)  Surveys contain original footprint, dimensions and outbuildings of a property or building.  Because surveys are arranged by permit number, not by address, searchers must obtain the home’s original building code permit number to access the lot survey (see above.)  Available on microfilm in the general periodicals department on the 3rd floor.



The Hosmer Special Collections librarians also suggest the following possible avenues to research a house, farmstead, public land, or neighborhood.

  • Minnesota Historical Society which provides an excellent guide to Building and House History resources including its new Placeography wiki.  It’s an information-backed start for exploring the incredible resources of MHS.  [Because of the State Shutdown it has impossible to get access, much less plumb the depths, of the MHS – perhaps later when the doors and website are open again.]
  • Aerial photographs from the 1930’s to present show in detail the evolution of neighborhoods over time, physical and social features of the land including road maps, land use maps and demographic maps.  A wide selection is available at the John R. Borchert Map Library at the University of Minnesota,
  • Public Land Survey System (1848-1907).  Information about the land which a property is sited with original public land survey maps.  Handwritten notes recorded by public land surveyors are available on microfilm and index in the periodicals department at Wilson Library at the University of Minnesota.  Surveys are available online.
  • Social Explorer.  Information about the demographic characteristics of a neighborhood and how they changed over time in a fun format.  Based on census information 1790 through 2010.  Everything you wanted to know about the Census, the American Community Survey, religious persuasion, population and housing characteristics for redistricting, carbon emissions and a whole lot more!
  • Northwest Architectural Archives.  The Archives include  records of architects, engineers, contractors, landscape architects and interior designers from Minnesota, western Wisconsin, northern Iowa and the eastern Dakotas.  There is a partial list of building plans created by Minneapolis architects and builders (1909-1993) online.

This post is based entirely on the work of the library staff at the James K. Hosmer Special Collections Library and to their forebeaerrs to whom I am eternally grateful – for their spirit of service, their care of the collection and their commitment to preserving the story of this city. MT





Inbox Influence – New Tool for Tracking Influence

Sunlight Foundation http://sunlightfoundation.com/ has just introduced a new tool, Inbox Influence, that allows the viewer to learn at the teachable moment about the political contributions of the people and organizations that are mentioned in incoming emails.  (Sarah Palin, eat your heart out!)  According to Sunlight Foundation “the easy-to-use tool can be used for researching influence background on corporate correspondence, adding context to newspaper headlines or discovering who is behind political fundraising solicitations.”

In a word, Inbox Influence sends the text of the email and the sender information to Sunlight Foundation servers.  Again according to the Foundation “this information is used only to process the request and is not stored in any way.”  (There have been charges without attribution to the contrary)

Click here for a quick video introduction to Inbox Influence.

Easy Listening — to the Minnesota Legislature

We never know just which snippet of information we might need to make a case, track an idea, or check up on an elected official’s record.  We just want it to be there when we need it.  We seldom think about what it takes to collect, organize and package the information so it’s at our fingertips – literally – on demand (or request if we are properly restrained Minnesotans.)

A recent project sponsored by the Legislative Reference Library and funded by a Legacy grant, offers a glimpse into the ways in which state agencies are collaborating and innovating to assure access to legislative information.  For just a minute, consider this microcosm of what it takes to make access happen.

For many years the Minnesota Legislature has faithfully recorded daily deliberations.  In recent years the audio record of the House since 2004 has been available online.   Because the Senate record for 2004 was available in audiocassette format only anyone wishing to track a legislative proposal’s path through the legislative maze needed to go to the Legislative Reference Library or the Minnesota History Center to listen.  You may wonder why anyone would want to do that, but hold that thought for the moment.  Trust me, this matters to lots of advocates, lobbyists, the media, concerned citizens and researchers of every stripe.

Because they cared about the frustrated searchers, thinking librarians at the Legislative Reference Library applied for Legacy funds to convert the audiocassettes on their shelves to digital format so it would be available online.  Sounds simple but it is a labor intensive, time-consuming process – but they did it.  Now issue trackers, including legislative staffers, lobbyists, advocates and the general public, will find the record of both houses 2004-present online – at their fingertips.  And now the Library has a better idea of just what it will take to make their vast audio archives available online.

Investment in the process is more than outweighed by the fact that essential information is available whenever, to whomever, wherever and for whatever reason.  The goal of access demands vision, focus, commitment, support, hard work and oversight.  Consider that eternal vigilance is indeed the price of liberty.  21st Century technology changes the means, but  not the end envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

For a quick introduction to this finite but significant project check this two-minute video.


To delve more deeply into the process of how to track the evolution of Minnesota laws,  check the legislative history on the LRL website, a digital treasure trove that will walk you through the links and stories of Minnesota’s law, lawmakers and the impact of both.