Saturday, 30 June 2012

Internship hits Mid-point

Regular readers (if there are any) will know that I am interning at the Syracuse University Archives for the summer as I end my graduate program.  I am processing two institution collections and creating EAD finding aids for uploading to the Archives website.  I am also identifying items for digitisation and conservation where appropriate.  (I feel like I know this paragraph off by heart due to the job applications and the many online class discussions I have).

So, mid-way is now here and I am fairly getting through my materials.  I have been through all of the boxed items and refoldered and reorganised according to what I believe to be a logical structure.  My supervisor and I on occasion discuss whether something belongs in one place or another such as whether items should go in Financial Materials or Administrative Materials.  Mostly, however, I am left to my own devices and good judgement as to their location, which is a lot of responsibility but also quite fun.  It is interesting to take on the role of the patron and consider for what they might be using the collection and how they would find it useful to have the information organised.  Apparently an intern before me organised a collection in terms of the materials' proximity to the creator i.e. his autobiography was first, then photographs of him, then work he had written, then letters he had sent, then letters he had received, then items he had collected etc.  I suppose that there are numerous ways to organise a collection but I am focusing on what the patrons will need and appreciate - a tad more useful I feel!

My custom-made four-flap phase boxes arrived last week and, much to my despair, they were the wrong style but, due to our time constraint (I leave the country in a few months) and the fact that they weren't useless, we have used them.  It just meant that I had to become an even bigger fan of velcro-dots and I don't think that my thumb finger prints will ever be the same again.

Ah the neatness sends shivers down my spine - some clarification as to why the volumes are not in the right order - we are grouping the volumes by height so that we know on which shelves they will fit and which ones we need to shift - this way we will make much more efficient use of space

For the past week, therefore, I have been rehousing the 200 bound volumes in their pretty new boxes and marveling over what now looks like a small boxy skyline on the central desk rather than a sea of red rot.  Now I am trying to slot all of the bound volumes into my collection structure and hoping that it will hold up.  It is mostly looking hopeful.  There are, however, many many 'account books' which need to be identified in greater detail to be of any use to future researchers...copperplate writing and arithmetic scribbles here I come.

A before and after
I am really enjoying this experience and think that it will be invaluable to my career as I progress, especially due to the freedom I am being afforded.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A couple more cities ticked off

The past few weeks have been pretty hectic for me as I try to fit in my internship, class and travel.  Firstly, the internship is going spiffingly well and I am currently elbow deep in daguerreotypes, archival envelopes and velcro.

My desk last week

Class I am finding a tad more challenging but, on reflection, in a good way.  For once, the online class format is being well done by the tutor and he even provided us with a space to negotiate the syllabus - it is refreshing to be treated like an adult by a professor and to alter the course to be of maximum benefit to us.

Two weekends ago, I and a couple of friends drove to Toronto, now affectionately referred to as T-to.  It was a wonderful city full of interesting architecture and public art, that didn't make you want to bulldoze several blocks of buildings.

The weekend we chose happened to be 'Doors Open Toronto', which is basically Open Cambridge, but in Toronto.  We visited the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library at the University of Toronto, with its beautiful shelving and central elevated exhibition area.  This was attached to their main University Library, which also houses the iSchool!  All-in-all a pretty sensible place to put the iSchool.

Last weekend I flew down to DC to stay with a friend and her sister (in Vienna...).  I think that I saw every memorial the city had to offer (The Korean War Memorial closely followed by Martin Luther King Jr. were my favourites in case you were wondering).

We also made a trip to the Library of Congress (obviously) and had a peek at the main reading room, which was jolly nice and full of people on a Saturday morning.  The entrance way was decorated with famous quotations about books, which I thought was a nice touch but probably overlooked by many.  It was a bit like an old version of what Cambridge Central Library has tried with the quotations painted high above the shoppers in Lion Yard.

After a 2 hour wait and 100 obnoxious 8th Grade students crawling through the security gate, I arrived at my professional Medina, the National Archives.  It was all very nice to see the 'special' documents but I was actually more enthralled by the Public Vaults and the exhibition therein.  Of particular interest was a wall with rotating parts answering patrons' questions as to whether the archives held information concerning certain subjects.  So, there was information regarding where you could find information about relatives in Titanic, or relatives who had immigrated to the US or someone who had applied for a passport in the eighteenth century.  This wall pointed patrons towards the various sources that they could use and gave the probability of the answers being held in the Archives.  I thought that this was a great idea to cut down on the number of enquiries that they receive but, in reality, how many people would make the trip to the exhibition before enquiring?

National Archives of the US

The next interesting part that surprised me was a whole corner dedicated to digital archiving.  Questions such as 'How do we archive emails?' etc. were bandied about freely and there was an interactive quiz, part of which I failed.  Now, I am not being big headed, but if I, as an archives intern, can't understand the quiz well enough to pass then there is something a bit wrong with the quiz!  Apart from the rather weird ways of explaining stuff, the quiz did tell you all about metadata and keywords as well as how to tell what to scan and what sort of format to save it in.  I was heartened to see this in the exhibition and, overall, very impressed with the attempts made to get the public to appreciate what archives are for.

Also: we found this gem in the Library of Congress shop - I wish someone had told me before I forked out for a Masters!