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.