Friday, September 29, 2006

Ben Blake wins national recognition

When I last wrote about Ben Blake, he had just been laid off from his position at the Western Reserve Historical Society Library, where he was administering the processing of their huge LTV Steel collection, under the terms of a major NEH grant. Despite doing a conscientious, innovative and masterful job of it, when times got tight he was suddenly let go. Unable to land a satisfactory position with just his masters degree in history from CSU, he enrolled in the library program at the University of Pittsburgh, where he's apparently doing splendidly. In fact, he's won a major prize from the Society of American Archivists for his paper on labor history, which will be published in their American Archivist journal. He has also landed a position with the Hagley Museum, one of American's premier business history institutions. Congratulation Ben!

Here's what the Pittsburgh and SAA sites said about his paper:

"Ben Blake, an MLIS student in the Archival Studies Specialization, will be honored by the Society of American Archivists (SAA) with the 2006 Theodore Calvin Pease Award for his student paper, 'A Call for a New American Labor Archives: History, Theory, Methodology and Practice.' SAA reviewers noted that Ben's paper was 'a thoughtful, well-written study that grounds the development of labor archives in the context of the archival progression.' Interestingly, Blake's work calls for labor archives to create knowledge management partnerships with labor unions. Ben will receive his award at the SAA Awards Ceremony to be held on August 4th in Washington DC. In addition to a certificate and cash prize, Ben's paper will be published in a forthcoming edition of American Archivist, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Society of American Archivists. Ben, who is advised by Richard Cox, recently accepted a position as an archivist at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware. The School of Information Sciences congratulates Ben on this national recognition of his work. [from the University Pittsburgh School of Information Science site, apparently now removed]

"SAA's 2006 Theodore Calvin Pease Award was presented to BEN BLAKE of the University of Pittsburgh for his student paper, 'A Call for a New American Labor Archives: History, Theory, Methodology and Practice.' Established in 1987, the award is named for the first editor of SAA's semi-annual journal, American Archivist, and recognizes superior writing achievement by a student enrolled in archival administration classes or engaged in formal archival internship programs. The award includes a certificate, cash prize, and forthcoming publication of Blake's paper in the American Archivist. Blake wrote 'A Call for a New American Labor Archives' for the course 'Records and Knowledge Management,' for Professor Richard J. Cox of the School of Information Sciences of the University of Pittsburgh. In his nomination form, Professor Cox wrote, 'Blake's paper is a critical assessment of the evolution of labor archives, stressing that, despite considerable success in the area, labor archivists have much yet to do. It is the fullest analysis of labor archives in some years.' Blake is the first student from the University of Pittsburgh to receive the Pease Award. Blake begins, 'The challenge for labor archivists is to prove our worth to the labor movement.' The first step in this process involves examining our own history, theory, and practice to become better labor archivists.' His paper grounds the development of labor archives in the context of the archival profession. Early collections were firmly rooted in the historical manuscripts tradition; later collections were influenced by the public archives tradition. Acknowledging the 'new' labor history, Blake concludes with a call for labor archives to forge a closer relationship with the union movement, especially by establishing records management and knowledge management partnerships with unions. [Society of American Archivists' Theodore Calvin Pease Award page]

It would certainly be nice if Cleveland could find a way to keep people of Ben's caliber in town. It's difficult to retain and promote talented individuals when many of our leading local history institutions have so little turnover in key positions. Like many before him, he has gone on to bigger and better things that he would have found here, but that's our problem and our loss.


At 10:15 AM, Anonymous Michael McCormick said...

Ben's success is entirely due to hard work and talent. I was very pleased to discover Ben in the first place, when he was interning on the CMTI project at WRHS and did a thorough inventory on an accessioned collection in remarkably short time. I was very happy to be able to replace the very talented Chuck Piotrowski with an equally talented successor.

Then, Ben stepped to the fore in sterling fashion when I was taken ill. With little preparation he handled the affairs of the Manuscripts division very well while I was out. I recommended that Ben be my replacement when I left WRHS.

Sadly, that advice was not followed, I suspect because of Ben's intellectual independence and strength of character. And so real talent has moved on to the Hagley Museum, where Ben's interests will fit him well to the collecting mission.

It was an unfortunate decision to not promote Ben, and worse to let him go, but in the end it will prove a personal triumph for a talented professional. I am afraid that WRHS suffered the loss, not Ben, when he was released.

At 6:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike nailed it on the head. Yes, intellectual independence and strength of character are qualities that some members of the leadership at WRHS view with abhorrence. They find it threatening to the point of hysteria. I found that out the hard way.

I knew Ben was headed for an archival program, and that he would excel. The Hagley has gained an outstanding professional, and we will hear more from and about Ben in years to come.

At 9:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite line from the powers-that-be at WRHS was that they could justify paying a mere pittance for salaries and treating people like crap because they viewed the place as an incubator for young talent. Hey folks, that doesn't justify it ... when you have TALENTED people who are DEDICATED, and WANT to be there, you should pay them very well, and try to do whatever it takes to keep them. Kermit Pike always valued the collection highly, and didn't care about the people who took care of it. Look, they have a GREAT collection, but ultimately it's meaningless unless you have great people conserving it, protecting it, and interpreting it. The two, collection and staff, should be intertwined.

Ben was a great archivist there, but he ran into the problem of not towing the party line. He crossed His Holiness, the Supreme Pike one too many times, and when the layoffs came, His Holiness got his revenge. That's why when Ben was laid off, his office was locked, his computer was frozen, and he was greeted at the door by the head of security. None of the other layoffs were done that way. But a petty man did a petty thing, and because of that, Ben's talents are of use elsewhere.

Hmmm, Ben's won a national award ... is finishing up his MLS at Pitt ... is getting his paper published by THE archivist journal ... and getting a job at THE top business/industry archives in the country.

Guess what? He's now more qualified than Kermit Pike!

At 12:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might add that half a dozen police cars were parked in the drive on the appointed day of Ben's lay-off. Just what sort of response from Ben was expected? The police must have been told a wild tale to show up in such numbers to make sure that an employee would be escorted off the grounds without a violent incident.

The emperor both loathes and fears his employees, and he knows that the treatment he dishes out might provoke an angry response. Thus the paranoid and hysterical attitude that prevails. His favorite line was "We don't get paid enough to be miserable, so if you don't like working here, it's time to leave."

His own salary, and that of other top administrators, is probably quite comfortable. But the rank and file, which includes professionals with responsibilities for caring for collections and providing access to them, have had to endure mandatory unpaid leaves that they simply cannot afford. Better to cut executive salaries and tighten their own belts than put employees at risk of bankruptcy, and the collections at risk from a shortage of professionals and necessary supplies and equipment.

To even begin to address their management problems the administrators need to attend courses/workshops at the Case Business School down the street. They should also read the literature on other troubled historical societies and learn from their mistakes. I rather doubt they will, however.

At 11:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, keep up the good work and continue to post topics like this. I am old fan of your blog!


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