Saturday, October 31, 2009

Weeks 10, 11 (October 21, 22, 28, 29)

This post combines two weeks because week 10 was just a continuation of the work began on the oversize newspaper archives at the beginning of the month. I spent the majority of time working on Box 1, Miscellaneous Newspapers and Magazines, 1977-1983. This box consisted of eleven folders with stories and photographs from the The Petal Journal, MFC News, Grit, The Winners BNC, The Weekend Review (Hattiesburg American), The Union Appeal, The Clarion-Ledger, The Richton Dispatch, and The Pearl Press. October 21st I processed 79 entries (folders 1 and 2) and the following day, 85 more (folders 3 through half of 8). The next week, I finished the Miscellaneous Folder on Wednesday, processing 72 entries from folders 8 through 10. One insight I collected from processing this box was how Wells enjoyed writing profiles of Southern Mississippians. For some reason, after processing the Hattiesburg American and seeing her feature “americans,” I didn’t think I would see any more biographical sketches. Instead, Wells continued to excel with character profiles between 1981 and 1983 in The Union Appeal and The Richton Dispatch. If anything, these articles are better than her previous work for the Hattiesburg American because the newspapers featured the stories weekly and focused on a much tighter geographical region and demographic (the memories and stories of senior citizens). For a researcher interested in the early 20th century history (1900-1945) of either Perry (Richton) or Union Counties, these pieces should be considered essential reading.

October 29th was probably my most productive day so far in the internship. It is a great feeling when you can take an idea, conceptualize it, and then bring it to life. For some reason, everything today went as planned when I finished up on Wednesday. I was able to work with a sense of urgency, and did not make any mistakes. The results were:

1. Series Reorganization –
Series I – Newspapers
Series II – Oversize Photos
Series III - Subjects
Series IV - Negatives
Series V - Slides
Series VI – Photos
Series VII – Books

Cindy made a great comment today about how odd it is during processing about how often series organization comes full circle. At various points through this internship, the first series was negatives, subjects, and now newspapers. This time, however, I am confident that this is the final organization. I knew subconsciously all month that it was the newspapers that tied together all the rest of the series, but it was not until today that it became clear.

What got everything in motion was hard thinking about minimal processing. When a future archivist finishes processing this collection, they will replace all the acidic materials that I’m currently leaving in the boxes. This should slim down the number of boxes, and create a relabeling headache. As I thought about what a pain this would, the light bulb went off in my head. The contents of the oversize boxes are not going to change and they contain the most important materials. The newspapers are my Series I and the oversize photographs my Series II.

2. Finding Aid Clarity – It is really easy to lose perspective when you become so intertwined in the details of a project. Minimal processing of the subject files was great. It was quick and efficient and I think the finding aid reflected that. Starting the newspapers, however, was like opening Pandora’s Box. Not only did I start to fully process these four boxes, but I realized that are the fabric which ties the whole collection together. Articles from the newspaper index have corresponding negatives, slides, photographs and drafts from all the other series. Before I started Series I, all this information was a just a jumble. I minimally processed and that was it. Now, although it’s still a jumble, I recognize all the connections. For instance, articles that Wells published in the Hattiesburg American (Box 1, Folder 1) she often republished in the Union Appeal (Box 4, Folder 8). These are connections that would be beneficial for a researcher to know. What I couldn’t get my hands around was a way to make all these links in organized fashion. I found as I worked on the different boxes that I was merging the boxes and folders of my finding aid together into a master table. It occurred to me that I could not just keep adding columns to the newspaper indexes to show more and more connections to materials in other series. Not only would it be too complex, but there was not enough space on a webpage to hold all the information.

3. Finding Aid and Archivist Master Table – To fix this, today I decided to create two tables—one for the finding aid and one as a reference guide to the archivist. First I copied the finding aid into a new Word document. Then I simplified the finding aid, deleting a few columns of information that I thought was better placed in the master table for the archivist. Let me be clear that I don’t expect to finish the archivist’s master table. This will be a working document that the next processor can use to keep making connections between series. The one weakness of this table is its lack of redundancy. Because the matrix is chronological and not subject-organized, a user must have a ballpark date to use it to maximum potential.

4. An unintended consequence of reorganization was that I was able to more or less finish processing boxes 1-4 of Series I. Everything is correctly labeled and re-shelved. To complete this series, I just need to process Box 5, which will contain second copies of newspaper articles pulled from the subject files (Series III). To keep things straight, I also relabeled all of Series III to adjust for the series shift.

4. To top it all off, I also processed 54 oversize photos and almost finished Box 6 from Series II (Oversized Photos).

It was a good day.

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