Saturday, 19 May 2012

Good Old-Fashioned Letters

I have now completed two weeks of the internship and it is going pretty well.  I have spent most of the time getting my head round the two collections and how the two institutions, Genesee Wesleyan Seminary and Genesee College, relate to each other and to Syracuse University.  I sat down with some University history books on my first day and got some background, which has proved invaluable when leafing through the collections and so I will be sure to write good historical notes for the EAD finding aids to ensure that researchers have a good background before delving into the collections proper!

I started with the correpsondence, which is in the most interesting order I have ever encountered.  Besides the expected correspondence we have a series of financial records in alphabetical order with folders such as Dormitory Lists, Life Annuities etc. (all very nice) but interleaved with these are folders entitled "A", "B" etc. with correspondence with individuals or insitutions regarding financial matters.  Since I am trying to organise the collections with researchers and a logical approach in mind, this made NO sense.  So, I have been elbow-deep in letters, postcards (several with charming children on them smoking toy pipes), photographs (apparently if you applied for a teaching position in the 1920s you had to send a photograph of yourself since a detailed physical description of yourself (and, on occasion, spouse) just didn't cut it) and class lists.

Letters I catalogued in a previous life

It has been such fun to read the letters between the Seminary principal and parents of students, who have been caught smoking or visiting the girls' dorms after lights out or driving off to Rochester before breakfast on, heaven forbid, a motorcycle.  There is a whole set of letters between the principal and a rather ticked off parent, who is distressed by the lack of milk available to pupils - I do believe individual cows were actually discussed - priceless.

One of the things that has really stood out to me is the art of letter-writing.  Sean, a new addition to the Archives staff, pointed this out yesterday and it really hit home last night when I started my new book at the suggestion of my book club: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  This book completely comprises letters written to and from the Society and I am already hooked.  I write more letters now that I am over here and there is nothing like the thrill of opening a letter - so much more thought and care is tied up in a hand written epistle than an e-mail or text.  I sincerely hope that this mode of communication does not die out.

My archival supplies all arrived this week and, after some tense miscommunication, it turns out that I ordered the right things and all is well with the budget.  All I need to wait for now are my custom-made boxes and I pray that they arrive labelled since I have 200 bound volumes with different dimensions and cannot imagine the process of matching them to their boxes if they aren't labelled!  Let's not think about it, I stay saner that way.

Plastiklips...possibly the most exciting piece of stationery EVER.
Indeed the box does boasts '13 exciting colours' and I was not disappointed, let me tell you

Plastiklips are my new friends but a word of warning: bear in mind that staples take up much less space than plastiklips and so, when you calculate how many boxes you need, take into account that folders can be up to three times as large when you exchange staples for plastiklips.  That is something that never occurred to me and is a handy tip to know!

In other news, I bought myself a biciclette and although really, if I am 100% honest with myself, it is a tad too wee, the freedom is has afforded me is exhilarating!

Spike, in honour of Spike the bike man

And since no library blog would be complete without at least one picture of a cat, here is Rita, my summer roommate and distraction.

Don't worry, the plant is not poisonous apparently -
this had never occurred to me and I am, therefore, a neglectful foster Mummy

Sunday, 13 May 2012

And so summer begins

I have been banging on about how weird summer will be for oh, about 4 months, and now it is well and truly upon us (school-wise, not necessarily weather-wise).  What will I be up to over the next 3 months?


On Monday, I started my internship in the Syracuse University Archives and have spent the week getting my grounding in the history of the collections, which I will be processing.  The Genesee Wesleyan Seminary and Genesee College were two predecessor institutions to Syracuse University but SU was not founded from them, as many believe.  These collections are mixed together and need to be separated, processed fully, conserved in the appropriate manner and an EAD finding aid created and posted online.  I will also be identifying suitbale items for digitisation, which will be linked to the finding aid so that researchers can get isntant results on the Archives website.

Some of my boxes

These collections hold records of students, faculty and staff of the two institutions as well as a small number of daguerrotypes and photographs and will be a valuable source to researchers and genaologists when processed fully.  This week I have got my head round most of the correspondence and figured out what there is in prepraration for starting to plan how I will organise the collection in the most accessible and logical manner.

I have also been buying supplies...the Gaylord catalogue is a wonder to behold.  My only qualm is with a map they have for a children's library, which has labels to be stuck on such as the Eiffel Tower, Pyramids and regional animals etc.  There are country labels for the USA, Saudi Arabia, China, Argentina, England...England?  Not the UK?  Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that I have met many individuals here who think that Scotland is in England or indeed have never heard of it at all (yes, I have met someone who didn't know what it was).  A sad state of affairs.

Shakespeare plays

Anyway, back on topic.

Independent Study

I decided to undertake an independent study in order that I could achieve the correct number of credits and because the manner in which it is taught more closely resembles what I was used to in Oxford.  Prof. Lavender is my faculty supervisor and I have been lucky enough to wangle my way into a very exciting and important project for the Karen Community in the North of Syracuse.  Over the past 8 years, around 3,000 members of this community, having fled Burma, have arrived in the city and there is now a concerted effort to document their culture before the younger generations become 'Americanised.'  I will be writing a documentation strategy for collecting oral histories of members of this community concerning their journey from Burma to Syracuse and what they think in their culture has helped them to survive their ordeals.

This documentation strategy will form a large part of a grant application being made on the behalf of the Karen Community from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  As you can tell, this is a very important project and I am excited to be part of something that will hopefully create a lasting legacy for this community.

Firstly though, I need to find out about documentation strategies and grant writing!


I am also taking my last class online, Policy.  So, it looks to be a busy summer but hopefully I will find time to fit in plenty of fun.  I intend to post frequently about my internship and interesting things I discover.  To give you a snippet, here is a quote from a reference letter from 1917 for a young man applying to the Seminary to be a teacher:

"There is only one serious fault with [him] and that is that he is inclined to be what the boys would call a "sissy."  This fault, I feel, could be corrected with careful treatment."

Poor chap.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Term Two Tackled

As my second semester as a grad student comes to a close, I think it is time for some reflection on the past few months.  This term has definitely been busier and more taxing but that has been no surprise and a welcome challenge. 


613 - Planning, Managing and Assessing a Library Project

This class promised to offer some hands-on experience of working with a library on an actual, tanglible, project.  I must say that this was a challenging class but not in the ways I was hoping.  The difficulties lay more in tailoring our project to the syllabus and the teachers' ideas rather than in the actual project itself.  In the end, instead of having to choose between good grades and being helpful to the library, we decided to provide the host library with extra work that we had completed, which was more what they were looking for in the hope that they would gain something useful out of our project.

Project poster at the poster session with host libraries
(please note the matching vine)

614 - Management Principles for Information Professionals

There has been much discussion about this class this term and how it is taught and whether it should be more tailored for the library kids.  I did not feel the benefit of being in a class with students from other programs but I did find the course interesting since management is so far removed from anything I have studied before.  It would have helped, however, to have more dicussion of library and archive specific examples.  I enjoyed researching the final case study since I chose to compare UPS and FedEx and I just love all things mail (not male) related.

Not me!

624 - Preservation of Library and Archival Collections

This was a fantastic class with brilliant hands-on experience of book repair.  We all had to buy a toolkit and I have used several tools around the house and archives!  We also had a look at disaster planning, preservation planning and the role of conservators in libraries and archives.  There were also trips to Belfer Audio Archive and Bird.  If anyone hasn't had a look at the Belfer website then I advise that you do since they are involved in some great projects such as SoundBeats.  This also gave me an excuse to knock out a paper and presentation on the request for the repatriation of the Elgin Marbles.

Toolkit and 'repaired' book
(fair to say that it is in worse condition than when I started but it is a learning curve, right?!)

677 - Creating Digital Assets

This was the other online course that I took and it was quite thought-provoking.  It was interesting how much this class overlapped with 624 since one is digital libraries and the other cultural heritage.  We studied copyright, outsouring, metadata and many other topics related to digitisation.


It has been another term chockablock with fun outings and events with my friends and visiting family including trips to Ithaca, Michigan, Niagra Falls, York, Heid's, snow tubing, skiing and much much more.  A couple of important people will be leaving this term and Syracuse will be a very different place without them.


A look ahead

I have about three and a half months left in the US and will be filling it with a full-time internship at the Syracuse University Archives.  I will be working on a grant-funded project to process the records of the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary, create an EAD finding aid and identify items for conservation and digitisation.  I have already measured all of the bound volumes ready for their specially made enclosures (I just hope the boxes fit!). This will hopefully become a well-used geneaological resource and I am looking forward to getting my teeth into the project.

Bonafide Genesee Wesleyan Seminary books - you saw them here first!

I will also be undertaking one more core class and an independent study on archival documentation strategy (keep your eyes peeled for an update).  As ever, job applications will continue.  But, never fear, I have some trips up my sleeve to ensure that my time in the US is lived to the max (or as much as it can be for a full-time student, who is working full-time!).