Thursday, April 19, 2012

Week of April 16, last week

This was my last week working in my practicum and I hate to leave. I’ve really enjoyed working in the de Grummond collection and while I’m thrilled to be graduating and starting my own position, it’s sad to be finished at the practicum. I only had a few hours left to work, so I only worked two days. Wednesday morning I re-shelved several boxes in the manuscripts, mostly cleaning up from last week with the book festival. With another student I also worked on a research project. A patron had asked about an author whose papers the collection has, looking for information on a specific time period. While the finding aid said that we didn’t have anything about the two specific books and the correspondence didn’t start until later as well, I looked in the correspondence to see if there was anything that referred back to the needed information. I didn’t expect to find anything, and in fact did not, but it was nice to spend some time doing reference work. I haven’t done a lot of that in my practicum, though it’s basically historical research, and that I’ve done a lot of over the years. We also collected several items for bags for a visit from some fourth and fifth graders who came on Thursday. We put together bags with bookmarks, posters, fliers, and other goodies for the students.  

            Thursday was my last day in the practicum. We had a group of elementary students from Bay St. Louis come to visit, so we took them on a tour of the exhibit room and The Circus Mural in Cook Library created by Esphyr Slobodkina. They were really excited to be here (many of them had never been on a college campus before) and were overwhelmed with everything we did for them. I love getting to talk to kids and share my love of something with someone who has never had a chance to experience it. One girl said that she was really glad she got to come because she would never have come on her own or learned the things she did. That makes anything worth it. It’s especially nice knowing how grateful they and their librarian were, when in reality it didn’t take much for us to make up the bags and do the tour. Though we only spent maybe an hour and half, you never know what kind of impact that will have on a child. Their librarian told me that a lot of the kids have really big dreams, but not a lot of opportunity, but giving them a spark could make a life-long difference. Some of them had already asked her could they come to school here if they wanted to be a librarian (!) or a biologist. That’s the amazing thing about kids: they are still incredibly excited about the future and a little bit of encouragement can make a huge impact.

Overall it’s been an incredible learning experience; I’ve learned a lot that we didn’t talk about in class. Most of things we focus on in class are by necessity the basics of the archival profession, but there are a myriad of other activities and duties that come up in the course of the job that there isn’t a way to learn about other than being in an archive. I feel like I have gained a lot from the experience, but I also feel like I helped them a lot as well. I know that one day when I have my own practicum students it will be a different kind of learning experience—teaching others how to do something teaches the teacher as well—and I’m looking forward to being able to pass on my knowledge to the next student.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Week of April 9-13 Book Festival

Last week was the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival. I’m still not sure I’m completely recovered from it after all the tremendous amount of work we did; I spent most of the week running around like crazy and I don’t think I even remember everything. Early in the week we started getting everything ready. I prepared the shirts and notecards which de Grummond sells and took them to the bookstore, where an entire book festival section is created, with the de Grummond items and books for all of the authors who come to the festival. They have signings every day of the festival and patrons have the opportunity to purchase books prior to the signings.

Wednesday we spent the whole morning working on the exhibit area in Cook Library, getting it ready to open back up. We finished the labeling process, which meant we had to figure out which label went with which picture. For the most part this was easy though there was a series of pictures from one book that were labeled by page numbers and we had to determine which one was which. (They weren’t actually hung in strict numerical order.) We also were worried about leaving the doors open to the exhibit area without any security in place, so added the security strips the library uses to the backs of all the paintings. The cases with the realia were locked, but it is possible some of the paintings could be stolen because they are small enough to fit in a bag.

Thursday was the biggest day for de Grummond because this was the first year the Ezra Jack Keats Awards have been at Southern Miss. This is a huge event for the collection and everyone involved is really excited that we have it now. Thursday morning we went to the Medallion session with Jane Yolen. It was really great until the very end when she started talking about her cat dying. There was a great point to the story—that books allow you to express emotion that you might not feel comfortable expressing otherwise—but I hate that the thing that will stay with me was the story about the cat dying. It demonstrated quite well how much of an incredible storyteller she is though. I also helped them prepare for the Awards luncheon. Though I didn’t attend it, I was busy the entire time they were in it anyway. I also discovered that the bookstore was out of many of the sizes of the new EJK shirts, so we went back to the office and got more shirts and put together more boxes of cards. I also got to go to the EJK lecture with Anita Silvey. It was a discussion of the history of the picture book in America and it was really interesting.

Thursday night we had a reception for the award winners downtown at the train depot. I was technically off those hours, and it was really enjoyable. I felt especially great when the curator thanked the student workers for everything that we’ve done for the reception. Friday we decided since we had barely gotten to sit down the rest of the week to relax. It was nice to get a breather since I was back to work that afternoon doing things for the other office. I was so exhausted at the end of the week that I didn’t want to get out of bed Saturday. My entire body was aching, but I really enjoyed the festival and it was definitely worth the effort.

Link to the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Week of April 2

Last week I finished the project I had been working on—redoing the de Grummond correspondence files. I feel extremely accomplished having finished such a huge task. Hours of work went into changing out the folders, making corrections to files, and sorting through the drawers upon drawers of letters, cards, and inventories. While it was at times tedious, it was very valuable to the collection. There were countless numbers of files that were incorrectly labeled, referred to files that didn’t exist, or contained items more properly filed elsewhere. I also got to see some fascinating files from some of my favorite authors or others that are very famous. Working in the de Grummond collection is a lot like working behind the scenes on a movie or at a television show: you get to see personal correspondence with celebrities that most people never get to see. It makes you feel special and privileged. The two best from this past week were John Green, who has written several young adult novels (my favorite is An Abundance of Katherines) and J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien wrote Dr. de Grummond a letter but forgot to sign it and then sent another with his signature apologizing for the first. I’ve never actually seen a Tolkien signature in person before and it was really exciting.
Product Details The cover of An Abundance of Katherines (

The office has been getting ready for a big event this coming week—the Ezra Jack Keats Awards in conjunction with the Children’s Book Festival. A few weeks ago I helped put together the invitations for a party celebrating the award winners which will take place this coming Thursday evening at the Hattiesburg train depot. Last week we printed up several fliers for the event which will be put inside the bags for the festival attendees, since all CBF participants are also invited to the party. I’m looking forward to the party since it’s something we have been anticipating for weeks.

I also worked in the manuscripts of the Margret and H.A. Rey collection (the authors of the Curious George books). Because the exhibit room has been remodeled and parts of the collection are touring on exhibit through the Jewish Museum of New York, several of the framed pieces are out of proper location. It’s like a puzzle or being a detective trying to put everything back where it belongs and figuring out which piece is which. I’ve noticed that the descriptions for pieces are not always the best and thus it is sometimes difficult to know to which piece the finding aid is referring. I found one piece that wasn’t labeled at all; the catalog listed it as two separate pieces with the same number, neither of which actually described it. We’re still not sure where it belongs. Another piece I only determined proper location for with the aid of the online finding aid. I know that it is really difficult to make sure descriptions match the pieces accurately—for one thing what you may find the salient features when describing it, may not match your thoughts about it later or someone else’s—so I definitely know to be conscientious about this when I go to do it in my work after school.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Week of March 25

Last week we fortunately found more acid-free folders, so I got to continue on my project with the correspondence files. Because the actual work itself is basically the same that I have been doing, I thought I would focus this post on some of the thoughts I’ve had about the practice of retaining correspondence by archives and special collections. Many of the files that I’ve been working with only contain one letter or card, and of these the vast majority are dated from the 1960s. I’ve been through countless files that are responses from authors where I can infer that Dr. de Grummond had requested manuscripts or other material from the authors or illustrators and the letters in the files are negative responses. Authors tend to promise their collections to their alma maters or another school that is significant to them in some way, and they therefore don’t have the ability to promise the material to de Grummond. Other files also contain information that seems somewhat superfluous or unreasonable kept. For instance I found one file that only had an empty envelope in it. I assume it was kept for the address, but this doesn’t seem to be the most efficient use of space.

The thing that makes me curious about this is wondering how you know what to keep. We didn’t really talk about this kind of thing in class, so I’m wondering what the guidelines for this are. I’m not sure how any particular archive or special collection decides what is important for it to keep, and I assume that the decision is made on an individual institution basis, but I don’t know you would go about making that decision. I know there are things in the de Grummond files that I wouldn’t have kept.

The other thought that I’ve had in regards to the correspondence files is to feel sad that the current staff doesn’t have the time to focus on correspondence like the staff did in the past. This is mostly due to the increasing number of commitments which the staff has to focus on, rather than seeking out new donors and correspondents. It seems like the heavy time periods of correspondence were at the beginning of the collection when Grummond heavily sought after contributors and the 1990s when one of the previous curators sent out a lot of correspondence. A lot of these are Christmas cards or personal letters. (This is another example of something that might should be kept in perhaps another format or perhaps a set of files together denoted by the curator’s name.)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Week of March 18

This past week I finished enough hours to be officially two-thirds of the way through my practicum. It doesn’t seem like I’ve worked 100 hours this semester, but working small shifts really adds up over time. I think I have three weeks left barring any unforeseen circumstances because I’ve been working every day for at least a few hours. (I really hope I haven’t just jinxed myself.) Since I’ve hit a milestone in my hours I thought I would reflect on the overall experience so far. I’ve been really enjoying working in the de Grummond Collection this semester. I think I’m learning a lot about the more mundane tasks archivists do, while at the same time I have been learning hands-on with the more interesting tasks like processing collections and creating exhibits. Overall so far it has been a great experience and I’m looking forward to finishing my hours; I’m sure there will be plenty of things to do before the Children’s Book Festival and the Ezra Jack Keats Awards.

Last week I mostly worked on the correspondence files. I had hoped to be able to finish the entire project, but I’m almost to the end of my supply of acid-free folders. Apparently they only order supplies annually, so while they know they need more, I probably won’t be there to finish the project. They had had some of the student workers working on them as time permitted, so they will have to finish the project. I’ve gotten them pretty far though, and of the 22 drawers of files, there will probably only be about 5 left when I complete my part. I think it’s unfortunate that I won’t be able to finish transferring the files to the new folders. While the student workers are helpful, because of my archival and library training, I’m more likely to catch mistakes in the files. There have been several instances when I noticed something was wrong with a file or that something was missing or incorrectly placed/labeled and it is difficult to know whether the undergraduate workers would have caught them. Like the previous posting described, the files are very interesting. I’m learning a lot about the day to day operations of an archive or special collection by reading the files. Most of the time we don’t think about the practical side of archival practices such as maintaining relationships with donors and contributors, but reading the files has reminded me of the many tasks for which the archivist is responsible that we didn’t learn about in class. Here is a picture of the correspondence files.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Break Week and Previous Weeks

I haven’t written on my blog for some time because I’ve had two separate bad illnesses in a row, and I feel like I’ve hardly worked in de Grummond at all. I spent the whole week before spring break on doctor-ordered bed rest feeling terribly, and only worked a few hours the week before that. Fortunately I have started feeling better and managed to work four days the week of spring break. It feels nice to be able to be back in my practicum. The following is a description of the activities I did in the few days I worked before spring break and then the project I started last week over spring break.

The de Grummond collection is spread out right now across several floors of the McCain building and Cook Library pending some construction and rearrangement of the collections in McCain. I believe the plan is to move all the de Grummond collection to one floor, all of the archives and manuscripts to one floor and so on. Right now the most used part of the collection, the PZ7s, are inside the de Grummond offices so they are easy to get to, but the rest of the collection is spread out. There is a system set up right now of checking back in books that have been used in the Millennium system—both item and copy use—and then moved to a series of shelves and sorted by call number. Because the shelves are spread across two buildings, it is really complicated to put back the books which go in Cook Library. They are also not entirely in order anymore, therefore we haven’t been reshelving those books. I’ve worked out a plan to shift the sorting shelves so that it is easier to handle the overflow, but I got sick before I had a chance to work on it. Hopefully I can work on that some later in the semester.

While I was working on a project with the books, we discovered that the laptop wouldn’t let us log on. I volunteered to take it to the help desk in Cook Library so ITECH could fix it. I actually ended up being over there for over an hour. Apparently the computer had been kicked off the network and they had to mess with it a lot to get it back on. The funny thing though was that this seemed to be a more common problem than you would think and it was happening to a lot of computers. I really think the computer needs to be replaced, since it’s one of the old IBM Thinkpads. Fortunately it isn’t used frequently so it isn’t as big of a deal as it could be.

The de Grummond collection co-sponsors the annual Children’s Book Festival and this year is the first year that USM is going to be hosting the Ezra Jack Keats Awards for best new author and best new illustrator. We’ve been working on putting together a lot of activities related to the EJK Awards, most notably a party at the Train Depot in downtown Hattiesburg to celebrate the winners. The party will be held the Thursday evening of the Book Festival. I’ve been working on the invitations for it, though the student workers finished up the project while I moved onto something else. I think it will be a pretty nice party, though we were concerned about it for a while because the venue lost our reservation for the night of the party and then they were concerned that we wouldn’t have enough room for all the people that are being invited.

Last week I started work on a special project: the correspondence files. The files contain all of the correspondence the collection has had with donors and contributors, and vary between preliminary inventories of contributions to Christmas cards. They are currently in 22 drawers alphabetically, but they are in a mix of the old brown folders and the newer acid-free folders. I am updating them and shifting them all into the newer acid-free folders. I am also removing the paper clips and staples from the old folders, like we learned in our classes. Having these files moved into the acid-free folders is very important for preservation purposes. These letters are archival materials and are therefore irreplaceable. Many of them are dated from the early 1960s when Dr. Lena de Grummond started the children’s collection; for instance there are nmany letters which are responses to Dr. de Grummond’s requests for materials to include in the collection or invitations to the early book festivals. The above is a picture of the two kinds of folders: the old brown and the new acid-free on the bottom.

The correspondence files are really interesting to work with and I have enjoyed getting to go through them. I’ve gotten to see the files for Charles Schulz, Maurice Sendak, and Richard Scarry. The files also tell the story of the early part of the collection, through the early requests for material, the changes in the staff of the collection, and the name change of the collection itself. (At its inception, the collection was called the Special Children’s Collection; only later did its name change in honor of the founder.) I don’t think they’ve been gone through in a long time, maybe ever. A big part of what I’ve been doing besides switching out the folders is fixing mistakes. There have been several typos on the names which would make it more difficult to find what you are looking for—one file was even labeled with the last name Ran, and filed accordingly, but the last name listed in the contents was Rankin. It would have been impossible to find it as it was before I fixed it. The picture below is a letter from Charles Schulz to Lena de Grummond.

While many people would find working with the correspondence files to be boring, I’m finding it fascinating. I’m learning a lot about the workings of an archive. Most of the things we learn in class focus on the practices of archival or library work, rather than the day to day basics of work that is the inevitable part of working in any archive or library, like correspondence with the people who support the library. It’s important to remember that the library or archive does not occupy a vacuum and one must cultivate relationships with patrons and contributors. I’ve also found the letters and files themselves to be interesting. I love learning new names and have found some interesting ones, like Harlow Rockwell, Owenita, and Elbsworth (which was the poor woman’s first name). There was also a series of letters from an author’s lawyer regarding a missing illustration. There seemed to be a discrepancy regarding who lost the illustration, de Grummond or UPS, and the lawyer was threatening to take action against the school to recoup the author’s losses.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Weeks Two and Three

Last week I didn’t work as many hours as I normally would because I had a doctor’s appointment. The time I did spend in de Grummond was mainly spent finishing the letters they send every year to thank the donors and provide inventory lists for tax purposes. I helped print, copy, and mail the letters. The hardest part was getting all of the addresses; they were in several different places, though they are in the process of creating an updated database of all the donors. Thanking the donors is an important part of cultivating a collection, and though we didn’t really talk about it a lot in class, I think it is one of the most important aspects of archival work, particularly for smaller archives or others not associated with universities. Oftentimes these kinds of archives depend on donors just to operate; properly thanking them gives donors an opportunity to really feel like part of the organization.

This past week I worked a lot of hours in my practicum making up for missing hours the week before. On Monday I went through the certification process to work in the stacks with the books. I had to take an almost two hour computer training program with quizzes on the Library of Congress Classification system. The program was cute (it starred a wizard librarian), but ultimately frustrating. I had to get a 100 on all four quizzes, which doesn’t sound that hard given my A in cataloging, but the program was a little complicated to use. I would think I had moved a book in arranging them in order and it wouldn’t have moved, and would thus get marked wrong. I also had to take a paper quiz. While this may seem like a lot of work just to be able to touch the books, it is very important that the people working with them know what they’re doing.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to work in the stacks this week. Along with the student workers, I have been working on a shelf read, which is going through the shelves and putting them in order. On the first day I found one that was correct number wise, at least it would have been if it had been a PZ 7 like the rest of the wall. It was actually a PZ 5, which are located in Cook Library right now, so it wasn’t even in the right building. I also found almost an entire shelf that was, while in order internally, several shelves past where they should have been. We pulled them off the shelf and put them on a book cart because putting them where they belong is going to be pretty complicated and involve moving several shelves worth of books to find room for them.

While working in the stacks isn’t traditional archival work, I’m enjoying the experience with them. It is more typically library or special collections work, and I think the broader the experiences I have in my practicum, the better off I will be when I have a real job. Even typical archives have to work with books, and the varied tasks I have been given so far have been very enjoyable.