Information Update - Fall 2014
Our Thanks to the Man Behind the Camera: Caring for the Terry and Paula Connors Collection
- If you’ve attended an event on The University of Scranton campus lately – say, anytime in the past four decades – there’s a good chance you’ve crossed paths with local photographer Terry Connors. You may not have noticed him (he prides himself on unobtrusiveness), but while you were greeting that former classmate, listening to that faculty lecture, or watching that graduate receive a hard-earned diploma, Connors and his camera were hard at work, capturing moments and memories.
- It is now the Weinberg Memorial Library’s privilege – and challenge – to preserve those memories for future generations. In October 2008, Terry and Paula Connors donated to our McHugh Special Collections their entire collection of negatives and slides, representing approximately 300,000 photographs from freelance assignments between 1966 and 2005. This year, the Connors expanded their gift to the Library, donating hundreds of CDs holding born digital photographs taken between 2005 and 2013.
A Pictorial Witness to University History
- Terry Connors opened his freelance photography business (Photography by Terry Connors) in 1976 and worked in partnership with his wife Paula (who, as Terry puts it, did “everything but take a photo”). From the very beginning, The University of Scranton was one of Terry’s major clients. Indeed, the Connors Collection includes negatives from several fall 1976 assignments at the University, including a handful of club football shoots, the track club’s 24-hour Relay Marathon and a visit by Brigadier General James F. Cochran to the University’s ROTC cadets. Connors has taken public relations photographs for us ever since, documenting the University's major activities and accomplishments while also capturing the “best foot” that we aimed to put forward; the story that we wanted to tell about ourselves to our prospective students, donors, alumni and community members. He has been a ubiquitous presence on campus, welcoming new faculty to campus each fall and saying goodbye to graduates at commencement each spring. Nary has a check been presented nor a reception held without Connors snapping a few shots for posterity and the papers. As a result, the breadth and value of the Connors Collection to the University Archives is astonishing; glancing through his appointment books, one begins to suspect that he may know us better than we know ourselves.
- Connors has now served under five University presidents, all of whom make frequent appearances in the Collection. His best stories, though, almost inevitably involve Rev. Joseph A. Panuska, S.J., who served as University president from 1982 to 1998 and shared with Connors an appreciation for “oddball photos,” casual snapshots of dignitaries or community leaders goofing around after a formal photo shoot. Terry and Paula were honored to have Fr. Panuska perform a ceremony renewing their wedding vows.
A Treasury of Local History
- While he assured us that University of Scranton assignments were his favorites, Connors’ career as a freelance photographer has also involved work for a diverse group of local institutions and organizations. His photographs document the public face not only of The University of Scranton but also of Lackawanna County. With clients such as the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, the Lackawanna Bar Association, Moses Taylor Hospital and the Diocese of Scranton, the Terry and Paula Connors Collection is a treasure trove of local history, a nearly comprehensive photographic survey of important people and events in our community.
- And those important people aren’t only locals. Connors regularly photographed visitors to the region, including politicians (e.g., George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton), religious figures (Mother Teresa, Cardinal John J. O'Connor), actors (Richard Harris, Glenda Jackson), musicians (Liberace, Wynton Marsalis), and many other celebrities, Nobel Prize winners, military officials and international dignitaries.
- When pressed, Connors will share some fantastic stories about some of these celebrity encounters (ask him about Pete Rose!), but he distances himself from the glitz and glamor. As an event photographer, he strives to avoid inserting himself into the event, aiming instead to go unnoticed while he works to get the right shot. “I’m there to blend in,” he told us when we asked him about his work.
- It was only on rare occasions (and only to bring out the best in his subjects), that Connors would risk some gentle interference. He once dared to fix the tie of Gerald Ford during the former president’s 1978 visit to the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce. Later, when a Secret Service agent warned Connors that Ford disliked having so many photographs taken, Ford overheard and intervened, telling the guard, “He’s OK.”
- Despite his efforts to be unobtrusive, Connors is well-known in the community. Local politicians and public figures have called out to him to snap photographs of them at important events. During a September 1996 visit by then-presidential candidate Bob Dole, the many shouts of “Terry, over here!” from attendees wishing to have their photograph taken with Dole prompted Dole himself to exclaim, “I’ve got to take a picture with Terry!” Connors acquiesced, handing his camera over to Scranton Mayor Jim Connors to pose for a photo with Dole and then-Senator Arlen Specter.
To Whomever Much is Given, Of Him Much Will Be Required
- The impressive size and scope of the Connors Collection, which give it such inestimable worth to the University and the community, also presents challenges to the Library’s efforts to effectively and sustainably preserve and provide access to the photographs the Connors have entrusted to us. The digital portion of the gift – the Connors Collection CDs – has proved an especially complex project for the Library’s Digital Services Department to tackle.
- Born digital materials are deceptively difficult to work with. It’s quite tempting to assume that digital files last forever, but in reality, the ones and zeros that make up digital information are frighteningly vulnerable to degradation and loss. One crucial point of failure is physical media; the lifespan of optical media like CDs and DVDs can be as short as two to five years or as long as 25 years, depending on how they were manufactured and how they have been stored and handled. For the Connors’ CDs, then, the clock is ticking – several are already almost 10 years old.
- Therefore, one of our top priorities for this project was to determine the safest and most effective way to copy content from the CDs. As we have worked through the first few boxes of CDs, we have come across some odd errors. For example, several Kodak Picture CDs from 2005 have defied standard imaging processes, allowing Guymager (a CD copying tool widely used in digital forensics) to copy all of the files on the CD…except for the photographs! Luckily, we have been able to rescue 99.8 percent of the photographs stored on the more than 100 CDs we have copied so far.
- Once each CD has been copied, we will transfer selected content into our digital repository for long-term preservation. Already, a few challenges are on the horizon. How do we select the content we want to keep (e.g., the original image files from Connors’ camera, any embedded metadata, and any edits he might have made before sending the photos to the client) and separate it from the files that we don’t want to keep (e.g., small bits of proprietary software, such as the ancillary files stored on all Kodak Picture CDs)? We are currently testing different processes, trying to understand precisely what information each type of CD in the collection stores and how that information is structured.
- Next we’ll tackle description. How can we help users (especially University and local community members) discover, browse, and search the Connors Collection photographs? Fortunately, we have heaps of descriptive information to work with, much of it thanks to Terry and Paula’s diligent record-keeping over the years. Along with the CDs and negatives, the Connors’ donation also included assignment books and worksheets, which generally document the time, date and client for each assignment, as well as the subject or event that was being covered. Digital Services Assistant David Hunisch is currently transforming digitized copies of these worksheets and books into a searchable spreadsheet, attaching controlled vocabulary terms to help us establish relationships with materials in our other collections. We have also found a wealth of digital information stored as embedded metadata in the image files themselves — not only the date the photographs were taken, but also information about the camera and settings Connors used throughout the shoot.
- At the same time, Special Collections staff and students are inventorying the Connors’ negatives, arranging them into series based on client and recording information about the assignments represented. The big challenge for description will be reconciling all of this information efficiently and effectively, and doing so in a way that’s consistent across the digital and physical parts of the collection. Ideally, we’ll be able to merge our streams of information together into a single finding aid, describing negatives, prints, digitized images and born digital images in a unified, user-friendly way.
- Further down the road is the challenge of providing user access to the images. Again, having fantastic donors is a real plus for this project. The Connors were willing to transfer their share of copyright of all images to us, allowing us to take any actions needed to preserve the images and, hopefully, make them publicly available to users. That said, we believe that many of the images may fall under “work for hire” copyright restrictions, and we are currently working through the implications of this. One of our priorities for access, of course, will be University photographs, and – happily – copyright is in our corner for those assignments. At this point, we envision publishing selected images from University assignments via our digital collections (www.scranton.edu/library/digitalcollections), with additional images from each assignment available to users upon request.
The Reason Why
- This work is difficult, but it is a burden that we bear gladly. Our work to preserve and provide access to the Terry and Paula Connors Collection seems the least that we can do to celebrate someone who spent his life celebrating the accomplishments of others. One finds in this increasingly chaotic world that there are no medals for self-effacement, no awards for the art of blending in. For archivists, though, preservation is our highest form of praise, a commitment to care for a collection our most prestigious prize. And so, to Terry, Paula, and the entire Connors family: we give our time, attention and labor in deepest gratitude for yours. Thank you for always making us look so good.
—Kristen Yarmey, digital services librarian (with thanks to David Hunisch, digital services assistant, Michael Knies, special collections librarian, Kay Lopez, special collections and University archives cataloging librarian, and Elizabeth Shomaker, special collections assistant)