Internship Final Thoughts

I am a little bit sad that my internship at Special Collections is over. I wish I was able to spend another semester processing but graduation is coming whether I am ready for it or not. This internship has taught me a lot about what I want in a future career. I would love to become a processing archivist. I love immersing myself in the collections, in the photographs, correspondence, and in the case of literature collections, reading some of the authors writings. But I have learned that sometimes I spend a little too much time looking at the collections when I should be more focused on organizing and arranging the collections.

Two main things I’ve learned from this internship:

  1. Read and follow the manual. Even if you think you’ve done everything you need to do, refer to the manual, because surely there is something you have forgotten.
  2. Processing might take a little longer than first expected. If you give yourself a timeline, add in an extra day or so for leeway.

Overall, my experience as an intern at the special collections library has been amazing. I have learned so much and gained valuable experience which I will take with me wherever I end up after graduation. I have applied to a couple project archivist positions, I am still waiting to hear back. Once finals are over and my regular job at Special Collections has ended, I will have more time to apply for other job positions!

If anyone is interested, I kept a weekly blog throughout my internship. You can access my blog here!

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Thorns, towels, and a farewell

Not so very long ago, I made my first post on Archivist Apprenticeship and shared with you the story of Joe Carithers’ water from beneath the Rainbow Bridge. It’s hard to believe that this post will be my last, and will mark the conclusion of my graduate assistantship at Special Collections.

Anticipating my entry onto the job market, I’ve spent much of the past month preparing for and attending conferences so I can share my recent work with other scholars. At the American Comparative Literature Association annual meeting in late March, I presented my current research into archival things and their relationship to theories of materiality. As part of a panel on “Neglected Lifeforms,” I engaged in conversations with professors and graduate students who write about dust, atmospheric particles, equine disease, fungi, wheat, soil, and the erotics of plants. My presentation, in part, reflected on the physical experience of processing the John W. Murphey records and the ways the oversized ledgers dried my hands and made me sneeze, drawing my attention to the non-textual, non-pictorial elements of the ledgers.  I paired the ledgers with another agent of bodily change, ubiquitous in the Sonoran desert: puncture vine (Tribulus terrestris). An interdisciplinary panel of this kind can be really beneficial to archivists, because it introduces us to theories and ways of thinking about archival things that we might not otherwise engage.

The fruit of Tribulus terrestris. Some people use them as a hormonal supplement; I just get them stuck in my feet. 😦

For conference #2, I traveled back East to an archives conference. Outside of Special Collections, I am a curator for the Pittsburgh Queer History Project – an oral history and media archive focused on gay & lesbian after-hours nightlife, 1960-1990. Along with the lovely Harrison Apple, I demonstrated some of the ways community archives can productively complicate our concepts of ‘archival records’ and ‘linguistic tokens.’ Shifting back to my training in sociolinguistics, I used VHS tapes of 1980s drag queen pageants to consider how we might write a history of Pittsburgh English that can take into account queerness and performance. As always, the video of Pittsburgh sportscaster Myron Cope – often called the ‘voice of Pittsburgh’ – detailing the origins of the Terrible Towel brought more than a few chuckles. It was a delight talking to other presenters and attendees afterward about methods for community engagement.

Though our presentation went well, our conference experience started off on a bad foot with an even worse shoe. As we approached the conference registration table, Harrison asked the volunteer at the table for directions to our conference room. The volunteer looked at us and replied, with undue self-assurance: “This is a conference for archivists, actually,” and suggested we might be at the wrong table. Harrison – with discernible annoyance and a tone as pointed as a freshly-sharpened pencil – assured her that we did in fact know which conference we were attending. Another, somewhat embarrassed volunteer gave us directions. As we made our way towards the meeting rooms, I saw archivists with all manner of dyed hair, plaid bucket hats, tattoos, and casual wear. Looking around, it became clear: to that volunteer, we looked too queer or too trans to be archivists.

Me, after receiving my name badge and conference program.

There continues to be a gap between the language of diversity & inclusion, and the personal commitment by archivists and librarians to doing the deep work: processing (emotionally), alone, outside of work hours, all the biases which inform our actions. Changing methods of description and widening collection policies has to be accompanied by attention to interpersonal interactions. In 2018, it was disturbing to find that someone would presume we couldn’t be archivists because of how we looked, but I know that we – as two white scholars with no visible disabilities – didn’t even experience the worst of this kind of behavior.

My conference experience was a timely reminder of the interpersonal work ahead of me in the archival world. With my experiences here at Special Collections – both with people and archival objects – I feel more prepared to be part of the discourse which shapes the field. How can we keep an eye on theory while engaging in archival practice? How can we spot the gap between discussions of inclusion and openness, and the lingering discomforts and prejudices we harbor internally? How can archivists learn from the researchers we serve as much as they learn from us? After a year at Special Collections, I’m ready to take these questions out into the world and work on them – collaboratively, patiently, looking exactly as I do.

Collection Management in Archives and ArchivesSpace

At the end of last semester, I finally decided to enroll in a course on collection management. Despite the fact that most of my library experience is in archives, throughout the course, I have been reading about collection management in public libraries, academic libraries, and even museums. However, last week, my professor, Dr. Carla Stoffle, invited Lisa Duncan, the Collections Management librarian at Special Collections, to guest lecture.

Up until last week’s class, I had a somewhat hazy understanding of the role of a Collection Management librarian in an archival setting, especially since at a Special Collections library, items are typically donated, not purchased. However, Lisa explained that her role is to manage collections from the moment they arrive at our repository to the moment they are put on the shelf, ready to be accessed. It turns out this is actually a large job, as it requires the overseeing of all processing activities.

One of the things Lisa brought up in her presentation was ArchivesSpace, an open source archives information management application that we use at Special Collections to organize and manage our collections. I have done some tinkering with the website, but now that I am finishing a new collection, the Dr. Laura Lee Cummings Pachuco/Caló Oral History Project Collection, one of my next tasks is to input my finding aid into ArchiveSpace.

I started by finding the accession record in ArchivesSpace associated with my collection and then spawning a resource record from within the accession record. The next step is to fill out the resource record.

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Entering basic information about the collection into ArchivesSpace.

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Inputting date information for the collection in ArchivesSpace.

Following the basic information and dates sections of the resource record, there are a dozen more sections to fill in. Luckily, Lisa has already created a document to aid staff with entering information into resource records. Using the information in my finding aid, I can complete this ArchivesSpace record and it will be available for viewing by other Special Collections staff.

Digital Collections: The Future or a Curse?

Recently, I entered a heated debate with a friend about e-books, via Facebook, of all places! A voracious reader, I have always preferred to hold a book in my hands. I enjoy the way the paper smells, its feel beneath my fingers, and I own a large bookmark collection. Despite having a Kindle and storing books on it, I find it hard to read there. But my friend, and many others, are of the digital age and believe everything is more accessible online.

While working at Special Collections–specifically, examining old movie posters that show 1signs of mildew and mold–I began to wonder if digital collections are becoming the new “norm” for archivists. Adding things to the digital sphere is becoming common everywhere I turn, but would entirely digital archival collections lose something special if I could only view them from a screen? Special Collections currently does host several digital online collections. Most of these collections are not representative of an entire collection, but are instead smaller selections aimed to draw interest.

I decided to explore the Records of the San Rafael Cattle Company (AZ 122). I have a

fondness for ranching and cattle so this collection stood out to me as a researcher. Visiting the digital collection, I was able to start examining the Bylaws for the company. The digital collection has an interface that allows you to look at the collection page-by-page. You can zoom in if you want to look at something in more depth. While meant to be a “quick” way to explore the collection, I personally found that it was harder to navigate the side panel (because it does not title each item in the folder, only gives page numbers) than it would be to sit down with the folder in the Reading Room and search through the collection one document at a time. But… that does not mean that having access to digital collections is not an amazing feature of the digital world.

My primary research focus for my dissertation work is on the Maori. Traveling to New Zealand to visit an archive, as you can imagine, would take a great deal of planning, time, and let’s face it: money. Luckily the National Library has online collections that allow researchers unable to travel long distances access to some of their materials.

While many of us still want to hold things in our hands, there is also the obstacle of getting to archives that are far away from our research. And this is true for researchers using Special Collections’ digital materials, exhibits, and collections. So even though you may never see me holding an e-book…you’ll definitely see me exploring digital archives as a way to begin my research journeys.

If you’ve never browsed the digital collections at Special Collections, I suggest taking a virtual tour to let your mind explore.

Metadata Mamacita

Groupies of this blog might remember that last year in March, Special Collections held a public event called Community Digitization Day where members of the community brought in their treasured archival materials such as photographs and printed documents to be digitized. Attendees were able to take home high-quality scans of their images home on flash drives, which we provided for the event.  We also gave attendees the option of donating the digitized images to Special Collections, so we now have a small collection of over one hundred images from the community showing real life in Tucson and other areas from which community members originate.

Since the event, which I had such a delightful time being a part of, I have been working on organizing the digital collection and preparing it for a digital exhibit. To start with, I did a metadata benchmark, where I looked at how similar digital collections at other institutions were described and organized using Dublin Core. I was then able to come up with the most appropriate DC elements to describe our collection (title, creator, date, etc.), and made a spreadsheet to harvest that metadata from the items themselves.

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Metadata for the Community Digitization Day Digital Collection

I hope to make it through all the steps of processing a digital collection. So far, I have been able to cement my understanding of metadata and become familiar with the various platforms for digital exhibits. I hope that the exhibit will be available for the public to see soon, even if I am not able to finish it before I have to leave Special Collections, because the collection is very rich and has opened my eyes to new parts of Tucson history and daily life.

93F on a Red-Letter Day

“30 June 1970 – Tues. Springfield & Washington. A sort of red-letter day, when I got a Distinguished Service Award from The Department of the Interior […]”

Gale Monson’s journal for May 1970 through April 1971.

Each collection I encounter, at Special Collections or in the archive elsewhere, has its own kind of pattern or signature – a certain set of organizational characteristics or tropes that bring the materials together. In the case of the Gale Monson papers, my current focus at Special Collections, it’s the calendar.

Beginning in the 1920s during his pre-teen years, prior to the invention of the category of ‘pre-teen’ in fact, Gale Monson began making daily observations about animals, plants, and environmental conditions. His journals continued into the early 2000s before his death in 2012. He logged monthly average temperatures, the birth dates of pets, the first saguaro bloom of the year, and bird sighting tallies by species and location. The pages of his journal are punctuated with full-color photographs, postage stamps, cut-out illustrations, and ephemera.

 

 

While I enjoy his notes on plants, I think Gale Monson’s papers also offer insight into the psychology of record keeping. With journals spanning almost 80 years, his entries include reflections on styles of journaling, what is most important to record, and ideas on how to maintain a daily journal in spite of severe disruptions – including college and World War II. He even outlines the reason he journals: to create a place where can confirm his memories, and to preserve his experiences for “posterity.” (Gale Monson’s journal for 1 May 1947 – 20 October 1947) For Monson, seeing a bird or a wildflower was a moment of truth, but it was also an ephemeral moment which could only be later confirmed if it had been written down, photographed, or mapped out.

Monson accumulated his proof in many forms: journals, photographs, slides, correspondence, newsletters, popular press clipping. Each form is organized by its connection to a date on the calendar. With or without meaning to, he assembled sets of objects which help us imagine his experiences in a multi-sensory way. On 30 June 1970, when Monson received a Distinguished Service Award from The Department of the Interior, we know from his monthly weather log that it was a ‘very hot’ day in the Washington, D.C. area – high of 93F and low of 63F. The wind was light and moved southward. Although the sky was mostly clear, with a few cumulus clouds, the overall atmosphere was hazy.

Being from the East Coast, it’s easy for me to imagine this kind of summer weather: stagnant and heavy. Hot in Washington, D.C. is a sticky hot, and your clothes adhere to your body in a way that never seems flattering or tolerable. On 1 July, Monson snapped a few photos of day lilies in his yard. With the weather in mind, the flowers suggest that those of us with allergies would have felt stuffy, maybe with a headache or itchy eyes.

The calendar is a way that we collectively experience time. Most of us would agree that today is March 19th and that the 19th is different from the 18th or 20th, even though we might stay up late and blend the work of the 19th into the 20th and so on. Although Monson’s journals attend mostly to non-human neighbors, it’s not difficult to imagine how other humans felt moving through the city on his “red-letter day” and I suspect many of them felt less exuberant and celebratory.

Monson’s prosaic retelling of the day’s events is often so detailed that I have trouble identifying with him as the ‘main character.’ We don’t have much in common, Gale and I. But his concurrent meteorological notes, maps of Montreal and Washington, D.C., his photographs allow me to imagine bodily experience of living in the same ‘where’ and ‘when’ as Monson – even if we were oblivious to one another, even if his materials could never serve as evidence for my existence.

Additions: when donors and collections keep giving and growing!

A great deal of my work at Special Collections has including processing collections from their infancy. The Jack Sheaffer Photographic Collection was a labor of love that took nearly five years to complete. I was then extremely excited to process the Sam Levitz Photographic Collection. One of my favorite parts of working with Levitz’s photographic material was telling Tucsonans, who know the family for their furniture, about Sam’s interest in photography. After all, it was Levitz who hired and trained Sheaffer, who later became one of the most prominent photographers for the Arizona Daily Star newspaper. I’ve also worked on many smaller collections.

Recently, I’ve been working with additionsI like to think of additions as joyful materials that come to Special Collections with a purpose–they already know which collection they want to be a part of, and they’re not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Additions come in many forms: paper-type documents, ephemera, audio-visual materials, CD/DVDs, etc. In some cases these additions are donated by new donors who, having found a certain collection at Special Collections, realize they have items that would fit perfectly within our existing collection. For example, the below record is a vital addition to the USS Arizona collection and represents music that would otherwise be missing from the discussion and representation of the USS Arizona’s full experience.

 

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Additions can sometimes create unique challenges for an archivist. In many cases, additions can be easily placed within an existing collection. In example, a single black and white photograph will likely fit within an established folder within the collection. When processing a collection, an archivist will leave a little ‘wiggle room’ in each folder and box to (1) make sure the materials are not too cramped and (2) in anticipation of any later additions. My own addition work has included a lot of ‘easy’ additions where materials can be added to existing boxes.

But not all materials are easily added to the collection. I found this to be true when working with some recent Papers of Morris K. Udall additions. While many of these Udall additions were photographs, letters, and other documents that could be added to existing folder and boxes, there were a few unique items that needed a more personal touch. These items include oversized framed photographs that include pens used for legislation signings, a large wooden clock carved in the shape of Arizona, and statues gifted to Morris K. Udall from different individuals and groups.

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A statue by Arturo Montoya. Presented to Morris K. Udall in appreciation from the Pascua Yaqui tribe. This is one of the unique additions to the collection. The statue is very fragile and required special housing to make sure it remains in good condition. (MS 325, Box 782)

Due to the nature of many of these items, I had to decide several things about each piece.

  1. How should this item be housed/stored?
  2. Does this item fit anywhere in the existing collection?
  3. If the item needs its own new box, and does not fit within the collection…where should we add it?

Of course, it takes a lot of time to gather similar materials and group them together to try to keep the flow of the collection intact. It then takes a lot of time to determine how to best house/store each item. For some larger framed items it was decided to move them to an oversized item area and leave them framed, outside of boxes, but give them unique identifiers. Items like statues were housed in boxes if they fit well within standard archival boxes, but there is one large saguaro rib statue that remains wrapper in bubble wrap and it is being stored in the oversized materials area. Because of the fragility of the piece, it made the most sense to leave the item securely wrapped.

Despite all of the work, additions are a labor of love. I am able to take items that have been saved, preserved, and donated to our collections and make

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them available to the public. And sometimes, you may even get compliments and congratulations about your efforts. Yet my passion comes from finding these hidden treasures and reuniting them with the collections they were born to be added to. Every item is special and unique by itself, but now that I’ve seen the USS Arizona record I cannot imagine the collection without it. Now that the Morris K. Udall collection has statues, tokens of appreciation and gratitude from those he helped while in office, I hope that more objects of this nature come to fill the shelves. Even though I love every minute of processing a collection from beginning to end… there is something magical about making small additions.