Thursday, August 27, 2009

Week One (August 19 and August 20)

Day 1

Though there is some advantage to reflecting on things as they happen, I think there is also value in digesting the experience and waiting a little while to put it in a better context. For example, now that I’m actually in the second week of my internship and doing some minimal processing of a collection, the idea of minimal processing is not as abstract as it was when all I had for reference was my textbook and preconceptions. What I’m trying to say is that perhaps my blogs for this practicum will not be raw like the stream of consciousness one might see in a journal, but hopefully a bit more measured, organized, and thoughtful.

The first day of the internship was like the first day in any new environment: lots of information, too many names, and decisions about the future that seem far too important to make with a just a few hours of experience under the belt. The internship began with a tour of the building, which mainly meant getting acquainted with the various professional spaces on the third and fourth floors. I am also doing an internship for Dr. Kyriakoudes at the Center for Oral History this semester, so I have a decent grasp of that area in the bowels of McCain. Professor Ross introduced me to all the staff members and then returned me Cindy to go over the basic rules and procedures of the institution. I spent an hour reading through the manual to reinforce some of the basic principles. I wish I could say I have the guide down pat, but that is never completely the case, so I’m happy that Cindy made me a copy to refer to when I’m in a pinch.

The concluding activity of day one was to select the collection I wanted to process for the semester. Cindy gave me the case files of 4 collections of personal papers and 2 collections that required transcription. I love transcribing old journals and letters because it is challenging and you get to read the contents at the same time. However, I’ve had some experience doing this, so I decided, all else being equal, that my internship would be best spent working on physically processing a collection. Cindy did an excellent job selecting a variety of potential projects, allowing me the option to work on either the papers of a musician, educator, photo-journalist, or family business. I looked at the case files for each one of these subjects and decided that it was the collection of the photo-journalist, Mary Ann Wells, which best suited my interests. With a mix of slides, negatives, photographs, correspondence and newspapers, this was a collection that could provide me with the greatest range of processing and maintain my interest for an entire semester.

Day 2

At the end of day one, I selected the Mary Ann Wells collection to process. Consequently, I spent my second afternoon at the Archives trying to figure out just what I’d gotten myself into. I began by reviewing the case file again. I think (purely speculative) that an archivist, almost like a character actor in Hollywood, can do their best work when they immerse themselves in the details of their subject. I’ll qualify this by saying the archivist, also like the actor, must keep the rules and the objectives of the project foremost in their mind – it just helps to have an idea of with whom or what you must deal. The case file on Mary Ann Wells was definitely not a complete biography, but it did help me begin to get a sense of the woman that I used as I began processing and which I plan to borrow from as I write the finding aid biography.

I think it takes a unique type of person to recognize the body of their work as having an innate value worthy of preservation. Mary Ann Wells’ three gifts to the Archives speak to the importance of her photojournalism and Wells’ dedication to its preservation. One testament of the esteem with which people in Hattiesburg held Wells is evident in an 8 January 1991 letter, where University archivist Terry S. Latour wrote Roger Brinegar that "[Wells’s] articles and photographs provide us with many insights into the culture and history of Southern Mississippi. In particular, her features for the Hattiesburg American highlighted people, often not widely known, who contributed significantly to making the area culturally unique." This was a woman who not only had the pulse of the community in the palm of her hand between 1977 and 1981, but had the foresight and vision to save these records and donate them to the archive almost a decade after the fact. Afforded accolades and acknowledgements by many others, I hope to capture my own glimmer of Mary Ann Wells as I process her collection.

This collection will be a challenge. The most difficult aspect of day two was mapping the scope of the collection and then deciding where to go from there. Wells’s three accessions (1990, 1990, 1997) totaled 32 boxes. On the plus side, the collection was already roughly alphabetical organized by Wells and a previous archivist by medium (there were separate boxes and folders for slides, negatives and prints). However, where to go from there? I was unsure just how much minimal processing entailed. Would I have to identify each slide and photograph individually? Could I change the original order to integrate the three accessions together? I like to complete projects, but at this juncture I also started to realize that perhaps I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I finished day two pondering befuddled, but not disheartened. One of my favorite clich├ęs is that everyone starts somewhere. The first few weeks will be two steps forward, one back, but eventually everything will work itself out.

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