Reflective writing is always interesting because it forces me to confront how quickly life passes by. If I don’t keep up, one day becomes two, then a week, and in the wink of an eye, a month. Thank goodness that this blog factors into the grading of my internship and forces me to record my thoughts on the experience at somewhat regular intervals (The alternative, otherwise, would be bleak. I still hope to write in my study abroad journal about trips to Kakadu National Park and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, but those were in June 2005 and the pages remain untouched). It is therefore, with surprise and not a little apprehension at the speedy passage of time, that I pick up the metaphoric quill and compose a final entry to this blog.
I wish I could report an astounding breakthrough within the past few months, but the reality is far less exciting. Week 13 (Nov. 11-12), I began pulling the newspapers folded up in the Series III folders and crosschecking them with the inventory of newspapers in Series I (Boxes 1-4). The goal was to remove duplicates and consolidate the number of boxes in Series III. I created a table to cross-reference the entire collection that listed all the newspapers along the left margin and put each Series in a column across the top. This table will be helpful when it is complete because an archivist interested in a particular newspaper article can instantaneously identify the location of related materials in each series. For the purposes of this micro-project, I used the cross-reference table to tell me where and how many copies of each newspaper article there were in the collection. With each newspaper in Series III, I followed this process:
If 2 copies in Series I, than DISCARD (note in table, marker sheet in the Series III folder)
If 1 copy in Series I, than retain ONE copy in Box 7 (note in table, marker sheet in the Series III folder)
If 0 copies in Series I, than retain TWO copies in Box 7 (note in table, marker sheet in the Series III folder)
The results (as noted in Blog #12) were surprising. There was not a second copy for most of the newspapers in Series I and Wells overlooked including at least 30 or 40 of her articles. I made approximately 210 marker sheets and completely filled Box 7 with newspapers. The net result of this work was to cut the size of the series down by three archival boxes. Unfortunately, this was incredibly time consuming, taking nearly the entire month of November (minus Week 15 – Thanksgiving) to accomplish.
It is only now, at the very end, which I return to minimally processing. Today I finished Series IV, the Slides. I am ambitiously hoping to finish minimally processing Series V, the Negatives, and start on Series VI, the Photographs over the course of my final day. This will be the absolute bare bones minimal processing, listing just the title of the folders. Although Series IV, V, and VI need a lot of work, the important thing is that at least something about their contents be accessible to researchers. Depending on my progress tomorrow, I might also swing in for a few hours on Friday to reach a satisfactory ending point.
Series I – Newspapers - (Boxes 1-4) - Processed and incorporated into the cross-referencing table.
Series II – Oversize Photographs - (Boxes 5-6) - Processed and incorporated into the cross-referencing table.
Series III – Subject Files - (Boxes 7-22) - About 50% Processed. This Series is incorporated into the cross-referencing table, but the next archivist still needs to replace and label each of the folders with its archival equivalent, photocopy and remove all acidic materials.
Series IV – Slides - (Boxes 23-29) - About 25% Processed. Compared to Series III, this one is smaller and lower maintenance, so minimal processing accomplished a lot more. The next archivist needs to more completely describe the contents of each folder in the finding aid, replace and label each of the folders with its archival equivalent, replace old slide sleeves, and incorporate the Series into the cross-referencing table. There are also a number of slides in the 2 boxes labeled “Slides and Negatives” that still require processing.
Series V – Negatives (Boxes 29 - ??) - About 25% Processed. The next archivist needs to describe the contents of each folder in the finding aid, replace old negative sleeves, and incorporate the Series into the cross-referencing table. There are a number of negatives in the 2 boxes labeled “Slides and Negatives” that still require processing. Avoid replacing and labeling each of the folders with its archival equivalent until completion of the adjustments to Series IV.
Series VI - Photographs - About 10% Processed. The photographs are labor intensive. Minimal processing does very little to help the next archivist. They must describe the contents of each folder in the finding aid, add each photograph to the photograph log, write the number and short title of the photograph on its verso, and incorporate the Series into the cross-referencing table. Avoid replacing and labeling each of the folders with its archival equivalent until completion of the adjustments to Series IV and V.
Series VII – Later Accessions – 0% Processed. Series I-VI is from accessions AM 90-50 and AM 90-52. I did not get to AM 97-57, AM 98-9, or AM 08-14. These include more newspapers, photographs, slides and negatives, as well as all her books and their associated the research materials.
Photograph Log – Minimally processed 321 photographs and contact sheets from Series I-III. The next archivist must complete the description of each photograph in the log.
It may be trite to repeat the same old platitudes that this experience was fulfilling and that I learned a lot, but such was the case. I came to graduate school with the ambition of becoming an archivist, even though I really didn’t know what duties the profession entailed. Everyday archival work, for most archivists, does not entail handling priceless correspondence between John and Abigail Adams, Robert E. Lee and his generals, or other notable historical persons. The reality, comparatively, is much more mundane. One thing I discovered this semester, however, is that mundane does not equal boring. To the archivist’s mind, which I think I have, every collection has a little magic. There is the joy of discovery; learning the intricacies about times, places, events, and people that were once relevant. I think I take a special delight in this aspect as a new social historian. This also might explain why the photojournalism of Mary Ann Wells enmeshed my imagination. Like her, I revel in the stories and experiences of everyday people. While it was nice to read features on Nicaragua and the Iranian Revolution, Wells’ profiles of Southern Mississippians in her “americans” column really struck a chord. Here were the eccentrics, the artists and bourgeois. Wells contrasted the sage recollections of elders with the raw optimism and hope of immigrants and young people. These vignettes, snippets of life in South Mississippi circa 1900-1980, were the gems I looked forward to processing everyday.