By Allison Campbell-Jensen
First Fridays have been in-person gatherings once a month at noon to hear presentations by U of M archivists. This October, they return in an online format. The goal for the series remains the same, says Kate Dietrick: “to share the amazing resources we have in Archives and Special Collections.”
“We are lucky to host a lot of researchers who surface materials that we have in the collection that we may not have known about,” she adds. “But we as archivists are researchers, too. We stumble across stories and collections that fascinate us.”
Dietrick and Caitlin Marineau co-chair the First Fridays planning committee. Dietrick is Archivist for the Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives and Marineau is Assistant Curator for the Children’s Literature Research Collection.
Making the transition to online
A presentation that had to be postponed in April leads off the new season. On October 2, Kathy Allen, Andersen Horticultural Library Librarian, presents “Collies and Toucans and Bugs, Oh My!” She will share exquisite bird portraits and images of a variety of animals from vintage seed catalogs.
“We really want our first year of online presentations to be smooth and seamless and easy for people to view.”
Formerly, scans of documents, photographs, and other images would be projected on a big screen. The new online format may benefit viewers, Dietrick says, who can see the images close up on their computer screens. No more squinting from the back row of the room! As in the past, there will be time for questions and answers following the presentations.
“We really want our first year of online presentations to be smooth and seamless and easy for people to view,” she says. And the online presentations potentially open the way for more people to access First Fridays. “People who weren’t able to come into the building can now watch — and people who are not local can watch,” Dietrick says. “Hopefully we will have a larger audience.”
Challenges to creating a new season have included time and access to the collections. “We’ve been working from home, and a lot of these presentations take a lot of time to research,” she says. “If you’re not working in the building, that changes our ability to research.”
As a result, the new season showcases digital collections, which can be accessed by the presenters and by the public.
Seeking the spark
Dietrick hopes the presentations spark curiosity.
“A lot of the materials that we have in the Archives can be perceived as boring: a beige piece of paper; a black and white photograph,” Dietrick says. “What First Fridays does is to elevate those materials, put them in context, and explain the story behind them.”
First Fridays also introduces people to collections they may have never heard of. Those who are familiar with the Children’s Literature Research Collection may not think they are interested in the Northwest Architectural Archives — but once they are exposed to it, they find that they are.
Coming soon: 20th season of First Fridays
The following season, 2021-2022, will be the 20th season of First Fridays, which Dietrick hopes can be in person again.
“We’ll celebrate First Fridays, celebrate 20 years, celebrate the collections. Hopefully, we are going to come back with a real big bang.”