Tagged donors

The BML Videos collection now open to researchers

One of the larger collections that the NHPRC grant has brought to light in the archives is a videotape collection from the now disbanded group BML Videos. Coming in at just over 16 linear feet, this collection contains over 400 VHS and SVHS tapes created mainly during the mid-1980s through the late 1990s, documenting numerous LGBT events, contests, fairs, and performances in the Bay Area, including: Gay Softball League events; the Bare Chest, Cheeks & Chaps, Mr. South of Market, Mr. San Francisco Cowboy, Mr San Francisco Leather, Leather Daddy, International Ms Leather, International Mr. Drummer, and bodybuilding contests; events at the Eagle; Imperial Court coronations and celebrations; the Closet Ball; Folsom, Castro, Dore Alley and Mission Street Fairs; and Pride Parades. There is also video from the 1993 March on Washington and footage from bike and leather clubs and drag shows.

The BML Videos collection was donated to the GLBT Historical Society in 2014 and with it came, thankfully, an inventory of contents created by the collection donor (when a collection comes with any sort of inventory, archivists are generally happy campers). This inventory contains details about individual recordings that only the creator could know: who shot what footage, raw versus edited content, and exact video dates. As a research tool and supplemental guide, this inventory not only reveals valuable contextual information about the collection itself, but it also provides a useful map to help researchers better navigate the details of each recording.

But like many creator-produced collection inventories, the valuable information it contains doesn’t necessarily make practical sense to the public. To address this, an archival finding aid was created that not only contains basic collection information, such as the scope of the collection and how large it is, but also a simplified inventory, or container listing, that one can utilize to better understand the potential research value of the collection. This finding aid container listing is enhanced by viewing the donor’s inventory, making for a robust, multi-faceted collection guide when combined. It is a nice compromise between the MPLP practices we utilize here at the GLBT Historical Society archives and the more detailed item-level description that most archivists simply don’t have the luxury to carry out.

With the collection now fully processed, the BML Videos videotape collection (#2014-10) is open to researchers in the GLBT Historical Society archives. Guides for the collection can be found at the archives search page. To view items from the collection or the donor-created videotape inventory, please contact the archives team.

Tracking Down Deeds of Gift

Thanks to the Visions and Voices grant, I was able to enlist the temporary help of Alex Barrows in tracking down deeds of gift for 110 GLBTHS photographic and AV collections. Within an archival institute like the GLBTHS, why do deeds even matter, and what is involved in obtaining one? Alex eloquently explains their necessity in the post below:

 During the months of April and May, I’ve had the opportunity to work under the GLBT Historical Society Project Archivist, Joanna Black, to track down missing deeds of gift for select collections pertinent to our NHPRC Visions and Voices project. My responsibilities for this include locating contact information for collection donors as well as undertaking provenance research both within and outside of collection files. At times, the simple task of double-checking and serendipitously coming across floating deeds helped the project along.

Signing a deed of gift is an invaluable step in donating materials to archives, as it documents the legal transfer of personal property from an individual or organization to the archives. As an instrument in writing, the deed of gift not only determines the levels of access and copyright status of the items being donated, but it also includes descriptive contextual information like the name of donor(s), their relationship to the records being donated, the date of the transfer of title, details on the materials to be donated, any restrictions of use, disposal criteria and, finally, the signatures of both the donor and the recipient (archives). Written in consistent and unambiguous language, the deed is a document that is in the best interest of both the donor(s) and the archives. While it is inherently formal, it can be customized to reflect any of the donor’s wishes.

For example, if the donor feels that restrictions must be put into place to protect the privacy of individuals named in a collection, it can be specified as such in the deed of gift. If a donor would prefer that any residual materials or items that we cannot keep (ie, duplicates, medical records) be returned to them, we can include the appropriate language to honor such a request in the deed. If a donor wishes to retain copyright for the items they have donated, we can also make this explicitly clear in the document. Overall, the deed is an opportunity for the donor’s needs to be expressed through clear and enduring documentation, which will continue to guide how a collection is maintained on our shelves.

Ideally, a deed of gift is intentionally written up and signed by both a representative of the archives and the donor after a period of consultation and negotiation between both parties. In working on this project, I find it is important to accept the fact that the more formal gestures of archival practice are sometimes put aside during times of crisis and grief—themes that make up the historical context in which the GLBT Historical Society was originally founded. “Informal” archiving is sometimes necessary when histories are in immediate jeopardy and face the perils of destruction or erasure. Retrogressively “formalizing” this paperwork is likewise a complicated endeavor, particularly in locating past donors and in summoning up difficult, if not displaced, memories.

In going over the collections with missing deeds (which started out as 130 collections), we were able to weed out about 20 items. Artificially-created collections, for example, such as our ephemera collections, do not need deeds of gifts. Items that were abandoned, dumped at the archives’ door or that cannot be traced back to their donors do not require deeds.

As of the third week of May: 11 deeds out of the remaining 110 deeds were found. 5 out of the 110 deeds were signed and returned to us.

For me, it has been somewhat exciting to contact people I think of as “collection celebrities”—donors of collections I particularly admire, archivists of GLBT histories and names I have only learnt about in history books. Overall, the Deed of Gift project has been a key tool not only in reaching out to donors of the past and present but in educating ourselves and our patrons of the importance of this kind of paperwork.

– Alex Barrows