Holiday Break

An update on our holiday hours:

The Special Collections Research Center will be closed Thursday, December 22nd through Wednesday, January 4th, 2017 for the semester break. The Special Collections Research Center will open again on Thursday, January 5th at 10:00 am. Emails sent over the holiday break will not receive a reply until Thursday, January 5th, 2017, at the earliest.

Between January 5, 2017 and the start of the Spring semester on January 23, 2017, our hours will be 10:00 am to 4:30 pm Monday through Friday. You can find our regular hours on our homepage.

We wish everyone a very happy holiday!

-The SCRC Staff

Robert Clark papers and the Process of Processing

Robert (Bob) Clark was born in May 1922 in Omaha, Nebraska. He received a B.S. and M.A. while studying journalism and politics. He went on to become a Washington and White House correspondent for ABC News throughout the 1950’s and 1970’s, but continued to work for ABC until the 1990’s. Most notably, he covered and witnessed the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. Later in his life, around the 1990’s, he was a guest commentator on C-SPAN. Bob Clark passed away in December 2015.

I have been fortunate enough to process this collection in its entirety. This is something I have wanted to do for a little while now. I am currently the Research Services Assistant, which means my main tasks are to assist researchers and answer questions they have along with updating our social media sites. This role is a graduate student position here at GMU and I have worked here since August of 2015. I have been lucky enough to pick up other tasks within my position, and processing is just one of those things that I have wanted to learn more about. Since this was a small donation, it was a great collection to start with. The donors, Douglas and Sandy First, were neighbors of Robert Clark and had organized his papers into five boxes which were then given to us. My first step was to re-folder all of the papers. Some were already in folders but many papers were placed in the boxes. I took papers out of old folders and placed them into new, acid-free folders. Other papers had to be organized into smaller sections based on the subject. There ended up being so many added folders that I had to add another box.


Empty boxes that the Robert Clark papers were in when they were donated.

Once all of the papers were in new folders, I arranged them into Hollinger boxes. Most of the documents were already organized by subject. We typically keep all papers and materials in the same order they were donated in, if we can, so that SCRC staff and researchers can better understand the context and intent of the donor or author.


Folders from all six boxes were then reorganized into these nineteen Hollinger boxes.

All folders have the collection title, “Robert Clark”, on the top left side. The middle of the folder is left for a brief title which explains the content, date, and sometimes the sort of materials that are in each folder. The right side always lists the box number followed by the folder number. In the image below, the folder says 8.1, meaning box 8, folder 1. This makes it easy for researchers to view our finding aid and know where to look for information and which boxes to request. It also helps keep everything in order. At this point, I had a pretty good idea of the contents of these boxes. I knew that I wanted to organize them into six series: JFK assassination, Politics, Foreign relations, Domestic issues, Personal files, and ABC files. But first, an inventory had to be made.

thumbnail_IMG_2320 (1)

The boxes are then organized into series by subject. Folders are labeled with the collection name, a description of what the folder contains, and a number which lists the box and folder.

An inventory is the first step to creating a finding aid which will later be uploaded to the website for people to search. The only information required for this step is box and folder number, title, and date of materials in each folder.


All of the information is placed into Excel to create an inventory of the materials to eventually be used for making the Finding Aid.

We currently use Archivists’ Toolkit for our collections. After the boxes are organized and the Excel inventory was created, I filled in the necessary information such as the description and container summary. I listed the six series that I thought best organized the collection and I added notes about copyright, restrictions, the donation and other details that go on our finding aids. Once that is completed, I hit the “Export EAD” button, which saves the file so it can be opened in Notetab and coded for our website. When all the coding is done, an html file is created and is made available to the public.


Archivists’ Toolkit file for Robert Clark

The final step was to print out labels, place them on the boxes, and shelve them in our stacks with the other collections. Now the Robert Clark papers collection can be searched online, used for research, or used by SCRC staff for social media posts!

Putting labels on the new boxes before shelving.

Putting labels on the new boxes before shelving.


To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to view collections.

Ask An Archivist Day – October 5th


On October 5th, GMU Special Collections Research Center will be on Twitter with archivists around the country to answer any and all archives related questions. Sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, this day long event will give you the opportunity to ask the archivists at the Special Collections Research Center about our work, our collections, or anything archives-related!

As professional experts who do the exciting work of protecting and sharing important historic materials, our archivists have many stories to share about the work we do every day in preserving fascinating documents, photographs, audio and visual materials, and artifacts.

No question is too silly . . .

  • What’s the craziest thing you’ve come across in your collections?
  • If your archives had a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?
  • What do archivists talk about around the water cooler?

. . . and no question is too practical!

  • What should I do to be sure that my emails won’t get lost?
  • I’ve got loads of digital images on my phone. How should I store them so I can access them later on?
  • How do you decide which items to keep and which to weed out from a collection?
  • As a teacher, how can I get my students more interested in using archives for projects?

So, how does it work?

#AskAnArchivist Day is open to everyone–all you need is a Twitter account. To participate, just tweet a question to @gmuscrc between 10 am and 4:00 pm on Wednesday, October 5 and include the hashtag #AskAnArchivist in your tweet. Your question will be seen instantly by archivists here at the Special Collections Research Center and around the country who will be standing by to respond directly to you. So if we’re not sure how to answer, we bet we can find someone who can! We also may not know every answer right away, but we’ll do some digging and get back to you ASAP. Even if you don’t have a question right away, we hope you’ll search Twitter for #AskAnArchivist and follow along as questions and answers are shared to get a better idea not just of what we do here at the Special Collections Research Center but what archivists are doing around the world.

A Tribute to Arena Stage Founder Zelda Fichandler

Zelda Fichandler and another woman standing in front of an audience in the Hippodrome, probably in 1950. Arena Stage records, #C0017, Box 633, Folder 1, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

“The miracle of theater is that it ever happens at all.”
– Zelda Fichandler, in Laurence Maslon’s The Arena Adventure: The First 40 Years

Zelda Fichandler, a powerhouse of the performing arts, passed away Friday, July 29 at the age of 91.  Fichandler was a founder of the Arena Stage which remains, because of her vision, Washington, DC’s preeminent regional theater, a space of imagination and innovation.  Fichandler’s artistic achievements span the length of her storied career, from the founding of Arena in 1950, to pushing for diversity on the stage with her thesis entitled “Towards a Deepening Aesthetic”, to educating future performers at NYU.  Zelda, supported by her husband Thomas Fichandler, gave opportunities to actors, performers, and visionaries who were willing to push the boundaries of theater, who were “trailblazers”, and who were unafraid of to challenge prevailing notions of race, identity, and class.

With her support, programs such as the Living Stage (an Arena venture) brought the theater to less privileged members of society and encouraged them to find deeper meaning in their lives through art.  Fichandler herself broke traditional ideas of gender roles as not only a founder of the largest regional theater on the East Coast, but also as its first Artistic Director, and a director of dozens of productions.  Zelda proved that theater is not the sole property of Broadway, or the ultra-wealthy, but instead belongs to us all.

Please visit our small photo tribute to Zelda at:

This post was written by SCRC Archives Assistant Nick Welsh.

Arena Stage reprocessing project completed by SCRC staff!

After years of work and a combined effort by many archivists and student assistants, we have finished the Arena Stage reprocessing project.   The project culminated in the creation of a brand-new finding aid, including a 739-box inventory, to help researchers access the riches of the collection.  The scope of the collection covers both the administrative and artistic sides of Arena’s work, documenting over 60 years of the life of a ground-breaking theatre institution.

Arena Stage ’s impact on American theatre is hard to overstate.  Since its founding by the indomitable Zelda Fichandler and her drama professor Edward Mangum in 1950, Arena has challenged the racial and political status quo, while pushing artistic boundaries and presenting high-caliber theatre.  One of my favorite discoveries in the collection, one that I posted on Facebook a few months ago, was a simple brochure advertising the 1967 premier of Howard Sackler’s The Great White Hope.  The ad features a photo of James Earl Jones (pre-Darth Vader!) and Jane Alexander, with Alexander’s head resting on Jones’s shoulder (pictured below).   In the context of the time, this image is deeply significant – interracial marriage was illegal in the state of Virginia until the Supreme Court’s Loving v. Virginia decision in 1967, just months before The Great White Hope’s world premiere at Arena.  An advertising image depicting an interracial couple – married or not – was a brave choice in 1967 Washington, DC, just across the Potomac River from Virginia.  Such courage and principle was typical of Arena, however, particularly in those years.


James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander.  Arena Stage Records, Box 143, Folder 27.  Collection #C0017, Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University Libraries.

Aside from documenting Arena’s incredible contributions, the collection is a treasure trove of information on actors, including a number who went on to major careers in film and television.  The collection’s personnel sub-subseries includes  headshots, CVs, and/or correspondence from James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, Sigourney Weaver,  Annette Bening, Ron Perlman, Henry Winkler, Edward Hermann, and many others.  Particularly entertaining is a series of letters, headshots, and a CV from John Lithgow (also posted on Facebook), who very much wanted to act and possibly direct at Arena Stage as a young man in the early 1970s, decades before he was on Third Rock from the Sun and voicing Lord Farquaad in Shrek.

Reprocessing the Arena Stage collection has been an adventure – the sheer scale of the task was monumental, but it was also a source of constant discovery and surprises.   We hope that the reprocessed collection and the finding aid that accompanies it allow researchers to experience the incredible history of Arena Stage and make discoveries of their own.