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.)