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!

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.

Entering basic information about the collection into ArchivesSpace.
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

AZ 122, Box 1, Folder 3

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.