Libraries Archivist Joins Effort to Clean Flood-Damaged Materials at Appalshop in Whitesburg, KY

University of Louisville Libraries Archivist Heather Fox recently traveled to Whitesburg, KY to assist in cleaning and preserving damaged archives at Appalshop, an arts and education center focused on Appalachian culture. The organization’s building and contents were badly damaged during recent flooding in Eastern Kentucky where rainfall swelled the North Fork of the Kentucky River and inundated Whitesburg’s downtown.

Rectangle sign with white lettering "Appalshop" on a slanted wooden background.
Creative commons: Appalshop Sign. Aaron Vowels. March 14, 2008.

The organization’s archive holds roughly 20,000 items, including oral histories, musical recordings, film, videotape, records and photos. Some of the film and videotape was seen in the streets following the flooding. Efforts to retrieve and clean archives will be slow and painstaking but necessary to preserve the rich historical record of Appalachian culture.

A car and a debris pile blocked off by two orange safety cones in front of a red brick building.
Flooding wreckage in downtown Whitesburg (Photo by Heather Fox).

Fox, who directs Archives and Special Collections’ Oral History Center, joined a number of archivists from around the state who will assist in moving Appalshop’s video and film collection into freezer trucks, among other tasks.

If you need help or have help to give, go to appalshop.org/floodsupport.


Libraries hire new project archivist for Julius Friedman collection

A trove of work by Louisville artist Julius Friedman (1943-2017), including a diverse mix of graphic design, books, commercial art, and photography, was recently donated to University of Louisville’s Archives and Special Collections (ASC), by Friedman’s sister, Louisville philanthropist Carol Abrams.

And now Friedman’s work will soon be preserved, organized, cataloged and available for public viewing thanks to additional funding from Abrams which allows ASC to hire a project archivist.

Poster of images associated with boys, a baseball, model airplane, string, toys, a whistle, junior safety patrol button, etc.
Boys Will Be Boys poster, created for Buckeye Boys Ranch in Grove City, Ohio, a home for troubled boys. Copies of the poster were sold to benefit the ranch. 

“It’s a rich and unique group of materials and there are so many different types,” said Haley-Marie Ellegood, who will serve a one-year term as archivist for the Julius Friedman Collection. “He worked with widely different formats – there is graphic design, posters, photography, and at the end of his career he got into bookmaking. He was moving into video production when he died.”

A recent Indiana University graduate with a Master of Library Science, Ellegood specialized in archives and records management and worked in the IU Archives. In addition to researching, cataloging, and preserving the collection, Ellegood will help select items for an exhibit of Friedman’s works to be held in mid-July in ASC’s gallery.

Image of book with colorful animals, a green fox, gray turtle, orange warthog, purple rabbit and brown chipmunk facing each other in a circle.
The Day the Animals Lost Their True Colors. Published in 2001 by the Brain Injury Association of Kentucky Press, this book was one of many books designed by Friedman. 

“He really loved working for nonprofit groups and he mostly worked for free,” said Ellegood. “He wasn’t really into making money, but he created annual reports for corporations and was able to charge a fair fee for it. That type of payment apparently funded his work for nonprofits.”

Brown Foreman Annual Report 1992
1992 Brown-Forman Corporation Annual Report. Friedman’s first B-F annual report, named a bronze winner for photography by Financial World magazine. 

Friedman was well known for his commercial photography, graphic design, and iconic posters, including “Fresh Paint”; “Ballerina Toe on Egg” for the Louisville Ballet; and “Ice Cream in French Horn” for the Louisville Orchestra.

In addition to many of Friedman’s iconic posters, the collection includes much of his photography, and graphic design for menus, postcards, stationery, event programs, and flyers. Other materials include some of his written work, including a few notebooks and some correspondence. ASC has had a relationship with Friedman going back decades. Although the Filson Historical Society has a small collection of Friedman’s art, ASC holds the largest part of the collection.

Four photographs of flowers at a high resolution and up close.
Photographs of flowers printed on Masonite. Friedman took pictures of everything, but he seems to have especially enjoyed taking pictures of nature. Later in his career he experimented with printing photos on different types of materials such as Masonite and aluminum. 

Ellegood says her love of archival work grew out of her love of history, her subject major as an undergraduate. “I love learning about important people in historic places and from historic times. And I enjoy making information accessible to people, so they can appreciate it.”

Image of young woman with dark hair.
Haley-Marie Ellegood

Processing Friedman’s collection is an exciting first professional project after graduate school for Ellegood. “His art really makes you think about what’s going on, it’s not what you would expect. You wouldn’t expect a ballerina to balance on an egg. It challenges your preconceived notions.”


Louisville history of racial oppression and activism revealed in new online resource

By Rebecca Pattillo

University of Louisville’s Archives and Special Collections (ASC) has published a new resource, Uncovering Racial Logics: Louisville’s History of Racial Oppression and Activism, a website that provides access to documents, oral histories, photographs and other materials that tell the story of Louisville’s history of racial oppression and activism.

The site is focused on education, policing and housing, “areas in which we see institutional racism at work, producing unequal access to resources, freedoms, and opportunities as part of ongoing U.S. racial stratification,” according to the site’s introduction. Funded by the Cooperative Consortium for Transdisciplinary Social Justice Research (CCTSJR) and the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research, the collaborative project was created by faculty members across multiple departments for an interdisciplinary look at the “racial logics” of Louisville via primary source materials housed in ASC.

A group of Black and white women standing in front of a bus, 21 July 1966. Source: R_18909, Royal Photo Company Collection, 1982.03, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.
A group of Black and white women standing in front of a bus, 21 July 1966. Source: R_18909, Royal Photo Company Collection, 1982.03, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.

Dr. Carrie Mott, UofL Assistant Professor of Geographic and Environmental Sciences and one of the site’s creators, said the goal of the project was to provide access to useful information to anyone interested in learning about Louisville’s history around racial justice.

“We also wanted to provide a tool that would help people see the amazing archival resources housed at ASC,” said Mott.  “From prior research and teaching with archives at UofL, I knew of the wealth of resources we have here at UofL. But we recognized many people on campus as well as in the larger Louisville community do not understand how to use archival resources, why they might be useful, or know how to access them. The website was an opportunity to provide some resources in terms of actual scanned documents, but also to help people learn that UofL has a lot more where that came from for research on Louisville’s racial history.”

Rebecca Pattillo, ASC Metadata Librarian and site co-creator, said “Working on this project allowed ASC to make some of our materials available digitally. The site also directs visitors to our robust online digital collections, where they can explore some of the materials referenced in greater depth.”

“One misconception about the archives is that they are only available to UofL affiliated people, when actually we are open to anyone in the community,” said Pattillo.

The site features scanned archival documents including pamphlets, newspaper clippings, oral histories, correspondence, and photographs, with contextual and historical information about each document and the larger collection to which it belongs. In addition to scanned documents, the site also highlights oral histories, story maps, and other resources addressing Louisville’s racial history. 

"Office of Black Affairs bulletin 1969-1970", Reference file: Office of Black Affairs, Archives and Special Collections
“Office of Black Affairs bulletin 1969-1970,” Reference file: Office of Black Affairs, Archives and Special Collections

Site users may explore the topic of both secondary and higher education in Louisville to learn about the push for equal pay among Black and white teachers in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the city’s move to desegregate schools via court-ordered busing in the mid-1970s, integration of the University of Louisville in the 1950s, and the founding of the Black Student Union and the Department of Black Affairs in the late 1960s. In addition, learn about Simmons University, one of Kentucky’s two HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), and Louisville Municipal College, the only Black liberal arts college in the state which operated from 1931 through 1951, when it merged with a newly integrated UofL.

Another topic explored is the history of policing and police violence throughout the city. An example is the story of Fred J. Harris, a Black man who lost an eye after being beaten by police in 1979, and the work of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression to seek justice for Harris by demanding accountability from the police force.

Progress in Education (PIE) Records, (Box 3, Folder 3 "Statewide March on Frankfort, July 2, 1976"), 
Archives and Special Collections, University of Louisville.
Progress in Education (PIE) Records, (Box 3, Folder 3 “Statewide March on Frankfort, July 2, 1976”), Archives and Special Collections, University of Louisville.

Housing and Urban Renewal is another focus of the Uncovering Racial Logics project. Select archival materials highlight the narrative of Louisville’s history of racist housing policies and practices, including the construction of racially segregated federal public housing projects in the aftermath of the destruction of neighborhoods and displacement of communities via Urban Renewal. These materials also reveal resistance to and organizing among the Black community and white allies to fight against racist housing policies and discriminatory practices. One such well known housing project is Beecher Terrace, which is explored via the papers of its long-time manager, Earl Pruitt.

Rounding out the project is an extensive, albeit not exhaustive, list of resources for further research. You can explore interactive maps that detail the history of racism within city planning and zoning, as well as redlining within Louisville. In addition is a list of community resources that highlight local organizations that work to empower and improve life for Louisville’s diverse citizens. Also included is a list of UofL Resourcesthathighlights on-campus organizations and committees that work towards racial and social justice, as well as minority affinity groups.

This project was created by Carrie Mott, Rebecca Pattillo, Melanie Gast, Anna Browne Rebiero, Joy Hart, Kelly Kinahan, and Catherine Fosl, with additional assistance from undergraduate and graduate research assistants Cat Alexander, Elizabeth Frazier, and Ben Harlan. Additional technical assistance was provided by Cassidy Meurer and Terri Holtze. Special thanks goes to UofL’s Cooperative Consortium for Transdisciplinary Social Justice Research (CCTSJR) and Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research (ABI) for funding and supporting this work, as well as our community partners.

Archives and Special Collections collects, organizes, preserves, and makes available for research rare and unique primary and secondary source material, particularly relating to the history and cultural heritage of Louisville, Kentucky and the surrounding region, as well as serving as the official memory of the University of Louisville.


Hilton H. Brown’s Diary: A Young Man’s Chronicle Finds A Permanent Home

By Tom Owen, Archivist, Archives and Special Collections

Almost fifty years ago, a young couple moved into a Victorian home in the Crescent Hill neighborhood and a few years later discovered a set of diaries in their attic that had been written over a half-century earlier by a young man who lived in their old house when it was the manse for St. Marks Episcopal Church.  Leafing through the sixteen small diary notebooks, they determined the diarist was Hilton Brown, son of the rector of that Frankfort Avenue congregation from 1921 to 1934.  Early on, the couple tried unsuccessfully to locate Brown or his kin but continued to lovingly care for their abandoned property throughout the decades even through a downsizing.  Now, getting along in years, they are looking for a permanent home for the diaries, asking their son to bring them to me for evaluation for our Archives and Special Collections.

Before I opened the neat black box containing the diaries, I set out to find out more about Hilton Brown, his life and time.  In a five hour search, l got a goodly number of hits under his name in the Courier-Journal (historical) database, learning that the family had relocated to Louisville for his Dad’s church job when Hilton was around fourteen, that young Brown had played football at both Male High School and at the University of Louisville, and that the diarist later married and remained in the city at least until just after WWII before moving to Chicago.  Then thru Ancestry.com, I determined that Hilton was born in 1907 in Florida and died in the Tampa area at age 69 in 1976.  Expanding on his UofL connection, I turned to our University history holdings where I found in our Digital Collections multiple photos of him in our Thoroughbred yearbooks from the late 1920s and several mentions of him in our online student newspapers from those years: the Cardinal News and the UofL News. Finally, I located in our collections a biographical card file on UofL athletes who earned sports letters in the 1920 to 1950 years where I learned more details about Brown’s football career.  

I was now ready to consider the historical value of the sixteen Brown diaries, spreading them out in chronological order across a table.  The first one was unnumbered and in faded pencil, its entries made over a period of just several months in 1921 by a teen who had just moved to town from Florida.  The other fifteen little notebooks were much more legible in ink and sequenced by a roman numeral on the cover, a few cover containing inscriptions that described how the author thought his life had gone during the period within.  One read: “in which I have many doubts” and another: “containing many reflections and disappointments.” While there were a few gaps—at least one while Brown worked at a summer camp—those volumes spanned the years from late 1924 to late 1930 chronicling in significant detail a final high school year, four years at the University of Louisville, and entry into the workforce.  Several of the volumes contained pages listing the diarist’s male friends with comments about their personality and character or lists of young women and his interest or success in dating them. One entry about date eligibility had “married” written beside many of the names indicating that the list might have been amended retrospectively. 

After leafing through several pages in each small volume, I concluded that Archives and Special Collections should accept the couple’s offer to donate the Hilton Brown Diary largely because of their connection to our university.  Brown arrived at UofL at a pivotal time, just months after undergraduate students were moved to Belknap Campus following the renovation of the old buildings of the city’s Louisville Industrial School of Reform, an orphanage/reform school, for collegiate use.  The bulk of the diary entries cover those four years in which Brown was deeply involved in UofL’s student life on the new campus. The daily notations record the personal introspection and sometimes poignant discomforts as well as the mundane activities of a privileged late-adolescent white male student who spent substantial energy arranging his next dates with multiple young women while longing for a more permanent relationship with an elusive coed named “Gert.”  Finally, my appreciation for this window into youthful life in the 1920s was heightened by the seeming ease that Brown and his friends had in acquiring alcohol during national Prohibition. The Hilton Brown Diary finds a permanent home among hundreds of other collections that shed light on the history of the Louisville region and the University of Louisville; clearly, rescuing from obscurity one young man’s 1920s diary does not a history make but, viewed alongside other documentation, a fuller and increasingly more accurate story of our community and university’s past emerges.


Archives and Special Collections launches Student Newspaper Digital Collection

Student journalists have narrated the evolving story of UofL’s cultural life for decades through its student newspaper, The Louisville Cardinal. Looking up these stories is much easier now that Archives and Special Collections has made historic issues of the newspaper available online.

Landing page for Louisville Cardinal digital archive

A gift from David A. Jones, Jr. and Mary Gwen Wheeler covered the cost of digitizing The Cardinal’s 1926-2013 issues. The work was labor-intensive, including scanning aging issues of the paper, indexing each page and describing it for the online archive. Issues from 2014 on are available through the Cardinal’s issuu.com profile.

Archives and Special Collections has been preserving paper and microfilm copies of the paper since the founding of University Archives and Records Center in 1974.  But printed newspapers grow brittle with age. Digitizing the newspaper reduces the burden on fragile originals, and because the archive is full-text searchable, relevant stories are much easier to find.

The University of Louisville’s student newspaper has been published, under a variety of names, since September 24, 1926. Sometimes called the University of Louisville’s Cardinal or simply Cardinal, it became The Louisville Cardinal in 1966, a title it retains today. The Cardinal – as it is more generally known – currently produces both print and web editions, providing a training ground for student-journalists.

While it has always served as an important news source for the University community, past issues are used by researchers – including students and alumni/ae – to investigate the history of the University, the nature of student life, and the impact of local, national, and global events on our community. It is also a wonderful place to stroll down memory lane.

 

 


The Accidental Archivist

By Katherine Burger Johnson

How in the world did I end up in the field of archives and historical collections? It was an interesting journey and like many others in this profession I did not grow up with the dream of being an archivist. In fact, I had only a vague idea of what an archivist was or that there were people trained and working in this area.

I grew up as kind of a nerdy kid, always reading and basically liking school. I spend many Saturdays at the Minnesota Historical Society and a nearby museum, but I never imagined that I could work in a place like that. In my family, college was one thing but graduate school was not even a consideration. The cultural message of the 1960s was that women could be teachers, secretaries, nurses or librarians. I knew that nursing and secretarial work were out, and the librarians I saw were usually rather severe and unfriendly. (I have found to be untrue of librarians today!)

I started college as a music education major (I did and still do love music.) I soon found out that I had no talent for working with large groups of children, so there went the teaching profession. My other favorite subject was history, but this was the 1960s and females were told by advisors and professors that women could not get jobs in the field. Thus I remained unfocused, taking classes that I liked but with no clear career path. I was lucky enough to attend a university at which one could create her own degree program and I did just that, graduating with a Bachelor of Liberal Studies.

My next stop was law school. By this time it was the early 1980s, I had a more liberated mind and was challenged by some of my instructors to use it in the legal profession. I took one year of classes and knew this was not going to be the place for me to land. I decided then and there to pursue what I was passionate about and see where it led me. Frustrated, I spoke with several graduate school advisors, but I felt most comfortable with the one in the History Department and thus I began my time in graduate school. Learning that I could use some financial support, one professor recommended that I apply for an assistantship in the University Archives. After just a few days my future was set. My supervisor (who is now a friend) taught me, guided me and advised me, and I fell in love with the work. Handling primary source documents, learning how to care for them, writing up the finding aid to a collection, helping researchers find what they need, were all things I thoroughly enjoyed. Even so, I worried about finding a position in the local area, for with a spouse and 3 kids I could not just pick up and move.

One of my advisors directed me toward some free-lance opportunities which in turn brought me others. Then within a year after I finished my M.A. my mentor took another job and lo and behold, I was offered a position at the University Archives, at first part-time and temporary, then permanent part-time, and eventually full-time with faculty status. So here I am 25 years after I first set foot in the archives and 20 years after I began working there, a tenured associate professor working as the Archivist and Curator of the History Collections of the Kornhauser Health Sciences Library at the University of Louisville. I am an “accidental” archivist, not because I do not have the necessary education and training, but because the whole concept of archives, records management, and preserving the materials needed by scholars was not even in my brain until I was an adult working toward a graduate degree. Today, more and more young people go to college with the goal of pursuing this line of work, but I do believe there are still many “accidental” archivists whose stories parallel mine and are so happy that someone pointed them to an archival facility at some point where they fell in love!

I need to send a big thank you to Lee Shai Weissbach, Nancy Theriot, Carl Ryant (deceased), all of the University of Louisville History Department and Sherrill Redmon, Bill Morison, Diane Nichols, Gary Freiburger, and Neal Nixon of the UofL Libraries for your roles in my educational and professional journey. I am eternally in your debt.


Inspiring Views

by Katherine Johnson

interior shot of Empire State Building

Interior artwork at the Empire State Building. Photo by vagueonthehow

I was recently on a trip to New York City and of course, we had to tour the Empire State Building.  If you have not yet been there, I will describe the environment for you.  As you might imagine, certain times of the year are very busy and the lines can get very long, much like DisneyWorld. To keep the visitors entertained, the staff has created a history museum about this landmark that you read as you snake around the velvet ropes awaiting your turn for an elevator to the higher floors, which during peak hours can be a very long time.

Why is this pertinent? Well, with my professional hat on, I stood amazed at the amount of material that had been preserved on the planning, designing, and building of this amazing structure.  Reproduced for the public’s viewing are design documents, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and photographs.  Artifacts and recorded interviews also tell some of the story.  During the construction a log was kept detailing the exact work done and amount of materials used each day.  The work on the building was well documented in photographs and there was a great deal of press coverage before, during, and after the construction. Even my husband, who is not always gung-ho on museums, was thrilled with the images and information provided about the actual building process. Since the goal was to build the tallest building in the world (which it was from 1931-1967) one can understand the mission to record every detail for posterity.  But someone had to have the foresight and the determination to properly preserve all of these materials (storing them properly and organizing them for future use). This can be a costly endeavor.

After that, someone with a creative design sense had to work with the archivist or curator to create the exhibit and determine what to use in it.  I do not possess that creative streak so exhibits that are well done always astound me.  But, as an archivist and curator I do have insight into the work and the funding that must have gone into the preservation of the records of this immense construction project from the 1930s.  Too many of these types of endeavors have no such written records to illustrate the background and day-to-day work that went into them. If the Empire State Building had been destroyed by terrorists, natural disaster or just due to age and we had no written or photographic history of it, the knowledge about it as well as some images of it would disappear after one generation.  Although this is a structure and many may say “so what” to the preservation of its records, its importance to our culture can be demonstrated by 4 million people who visit there each year and the fact that it was voted America’s favorite architecture in a poll by the American Institute of Architects in 2007.

The Empire State Building still stands, no longer the tallest structure in the country but definitely etched into our cultural heritage, and has become a tourist attraction as well as continuing to be an office building for many businesses housing thousands of workers.  People from around the world flock to it and although some may not pay much attention to the historical detail, there are many who crave learning about such places in depth.    


New University Libraries Faculty: January – March 2013

By Melissa Laning and the new faculty

Melissa Laning is an Associate Dean at the University of Louisville Libraries.

Sarah-Jane Poindexter

Sarah-Jane Poindexter

Sarah-Jane Poindexter

Sarah-Jane Poindexter joined the libraries’ faculty as Archivist for Manuscript Collections/Co-director of the Oral History Center on January 2, 2013.  Prior to joining the University of Louisville Libraries, Sarah-Jane was Associate Curator of Special Collections at the Filson Historical Society where she was responsible for arranging and describing document collections related to local history and assisting researchers with using the collections.  Sarah-Jane has also held positions at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky, and Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections, and internships at the Tufts University Digital Collections & Archives and the Boston Athenaeum.  She holds a M.S. in Library and Information Science with an Archives Management Concentration from Simmons College in Boston, MA.   Her B.A. in Anthropology is from the University of Louisville. 

In her current position, Sarah-Jane preserves the cultural memory of UofL and the greater Louisville area by organizing, preserving, and providing access to items of enduring historic value.  These archival items include letters, journals, photographs, oral histories, maps, and architectural drawings.   She is planning an oral history project to document and preserve the history of Louisville’s LGBTQ community.

Before working in archives, Sarah-Jane was an archaeologist at the Public Archaeological Laboratory (Pawtucket, RI) and AMEC Earth & Environmental (Louisville, KY).  She also served as a groundskeeper for Katherine Hepburn. 

Heather Fox

Heather Fox

Heather Fox

Heather Fox was appointed to the faculty on February 4, 2013 as Archivist for Digital Collections.  Her prior professional experience includes serving as Associate Curator of Special Collections at the Filson Historical Society, Project Archivist at the Kentucky Oral History Commission and at the Speed Art Museum, Archival Consultant at Appalshop, Inc., and Data Wrangler at UofL Archives and Records Center.  In each of these positions, Heather was responsible for arranging and describing historical collections in all formats including a born digital collection of the August 2009 Louisville Flood.  In most of these positions, Heather’s work focused on making collections accessible to a broader audience through web technologies. She holds a M.S. in Library Science with a concentration in Archives Management from the University of Kentucky and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Louisville. 

Heather works with the Digital Initiatives Librarian to provide web-based access to digital versions of archival collections and faculty research.  She is currently working on describing and adding images to the Caufield and Shook photograph collection which contains images of Louisville from 1875-1939.    http://digital.library.louisville.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/cs/

Heather plays in a (mostly) girl garage rock band and co-hosts a weekly garage rock radio show on ArtXFm.com with UL photo curator Elizabeth Reilly.

Maurini Strub

Maurini Strub

Maurini Strub

Maurini Strub joined the libraries faculty on March 11, 2013.  She previously served as a Reserves Specialist at the Oakland University Library in Rochester, MI and as an Adult Specialist at the Oxford (MI) Public Library.  In addition, Maurini worked on a multi-institutional Sakai Interaction Design Project at the University of Michigan.   Her M.S. in Information is from the University of Michigan and her B.A. in Biology is from Oakland University. 

User Experience and Assessment are relatively new areas for libraries.  As our User Experience Librarian, she will study our how users interact with library tools, spaces and services.   The information she collects will help libraries make user-research based decisions and changes.  Maurini will use qualitative and ethnographic assessment methods to measure the usability, desirability, adoptability, and value of library programs and services.  As the Assessment librarian, she will plan, design, and implement initiatives to measure the effectiveness of the University Libraries in meeting its strategic goals.  It is also her goal to promote the integration of assessment into all phases of planning and services.

Maurini is currently working on analyzing the qualitative responses from the 2012 Benchmark Survey.  This survey was conducted to evaluate how the U of L community uses the library and understand more about their needs.

Maurini was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, where she travels regularly to visit family.   


What do archivists actually do?

Today’s guest blogger is Kathie Johnson, Curator of the History Collection for Kornhauser Health Sciences Library.

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People often ask me what an archivist does – that is after they ask me if I am an archeologist, an architect, or an anarchist.  Even a history professor once asked, “What is it that you do, exactly?”  I right then figured out that if a history professor did not understand this, then there were probably few people who did.

Archivists are dedicated to preserving the historical record, whether the format be paper, artifact, film, audio, analog, digital, or any future medium.  This means one must: 1) work with donors [which includes appraising the collection]; 2) accession the collection and do all the necessary paperwork; 3) if needed, sort through the collection; 4) make sure the materials are properly stored for long-term preservation; 5) create some kind of inventory or aid for researchers to use to find things; 6) assist researchers when they come to an archives. With records that are electronic one must be aware that the technology will change and there must be a plan for transferring the information unto a new useable format on a regular basis. I am going to address 1-5 above in this blog and deal with #6 at a later time.

1) Working with donors can involve talking on the phone, visiting them in their home or workplace, meeting them in our space, or even going out for coffee or a meal.  This can be very delicate if we are asking an individual donor to trust us with items which may have personal or private family information, or special meaning to him or her. Representatives of businesses or organizations often worry about files that may show the group in a non-positive light. All types of donors frequently want the Archives to save every scrap of paper, which we could do if we had unlimited funds and an unlimited number of archivists. In today’s world, individuals, families, businesses, organizations all produce much more in the way of records than is necessary to preserve for future researchers.  It is the job of the archivist to figure out what should be kept and what can be disposed of.  This is where we do an appraisal – not a financial one, but one that hints as to whether the collection fits in with the other collections we hold and which items are important to preserve and what items really have no historic value.

2) Accessioning a collection means completing all the paperwork to take possession of it and record its legal transfer, volume, donor information, restrictions on use, condition, and temporary or permanent location.  Luckily, most repositories have developed a form or template to use for this purpose.  Donors must sign a “certificate of gift” giving legal ownership to the institution. In turn, the archivist also signs this document promising to care for the items. Filling out the accession form insures that all the necessary information is gathered in one place. (Usually this form is vetted by the organization’s legal counsel.)

3) What follows is a sorting through the collection – once if the volume is small, more than once for a large amount of papers.  We try to keep materials arranged the same way that the donor had done, but that is not always possible.  Many collections of personal papers arrive in a complete state of chaos.  Organizational and business records are usually in better order, but that order might have changed every time the person in charge of filing changed – that also must be determined.  After an initial or preliminary sorting, the Archivist can then tell if the order can be left as is, or if a new order needs to be imposed on the collection. Then the fun begins, determining the categories to assign (called series in the archival world), sorting the papers into these categories, determining what items can be discarded (advertisements, greeting cards with no message, blank calendars, cancelled checks are just a few examples of items with little or no research value), and 4) foldering and boxing the materials for the best long-term preservation.  Some items may require specialized treatment or care which requires even more hands-on work with the materials.

5) When all the papers are foldered and boxed (in acid-free containers), a listing is completed, along with a series description, a processing note and a short biography (of a person) or history (of a business or organization).  This work – called a finding aid or inventory – helps the researcher determine if a collection contains items that he/she wants to see.  It also tells the archivist exactly where those items are located, so that they can be pulled for the researcher.

As I hope is obvious from this outline, the work of preparing collections for use by researchers is time-intensive, which in turn equals costly.  Even if one uses newer processing methods which do not require as much time spent with each individual piece of a collection, the time commitment for all the other steps – working with donors, accessioning paperwork, preserving and properly storing materials, and creating a finding aid – is usually still about the same.  I also hope that this has helped you understand what we do, and why we do it.

As one of my colleagues often says, “How do we know what is written in the Declaration of Independence or what was said at Gettysburg by President Lincoln?” No one photocopied the Declaration and no one filmed or taped that speech (and even if they had, it would still have to have been preserved somehow.)  Someone had to preserve (see #4 above) the actual paper on which our Declaration was printed and someone had to record in writing and save the physical evidence which now serves as the historical record of the “Gettysburg Address.” What archivists do is not only helpful to students, genealogists, and scholars; what we do is one of the basic necessities to preserve a democratic republic such as ours.