Reflections from Our Interns: Zachary Greenfield

This post was written by Zachary Greenfield, undergrad in history at George Mason University. He has been a summer processing intern at our Special Collections Research Center since May 2017.

My internship with Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) has been incredibly enjoyable! I have gotten to handle a broad range of materials and collections. I mostly worked on processing various collections. While I only finished three complete collections, I was able to see the various states that they arrive in (for better or worse) and see just how much work goes into each collection. Everything from sorting to labelling and creating inventories as well as creating the finding aid I handled. Of course not every part of processing is enjoyable, newspaper clippings are not fun to work with as I learned and everyone agreed. The first collection I worked on was the Vincent F. Callahan collection, who I learned was a local politician. This was a collection of newspaper clippings about Callahan and his work that came to SCRC mostly unsorted. I spent much of my time organizing the collection into groups based on the publications before foldering them by date and newspaper. This took a surprising amount of time given the apparent size of the collection. After I finished the Callahan collection I also worked on the Hugh Sockett Institution for Educational Transformation (IET) Records. This was primarily composed of the papers and records for IET during Sockett’s tenure at the Institution. This was considerably better organized than the Callahan collection and was able to be completed much faster. My final collection during my internship was the Paul Ceruzzi Papers, which was primarily research for his book, “Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005” and is full of interesting research into the history of the local Fairfax area and the development of technology and the Internet in the Cold War period and beyond.  Previously, I did not distinguish much between archives and museums, but after doing this internship I can better appreciate both the similarities and the differences between the two institutions. In addition to my processing duties I also helped with rewriting the finding aids for previously processed collections. Overall I enjoyed my time at the George Mason University SCRC, and if given the opportunity I would continue working here more regularly.

Documents arranged into acid-free folders.

This internship complements my academic interests because I have always been interested in the writings and documents of people in our past. Both the everyday commoners and the people who are talked about in major history books. Seeing these collections is both like getting to see the creation of history and getting to see the process behind how history is researched and talked about. My academic interests are mostly historical but also range into the sciences, particularly space, biology, and early technology. As a side effect of my internship, particularly when working with the collection donated by Ceruzzi, I have been able to learn more about the Space Race and the feats associated with that. My historical interests are centered around the Viking Age and pre-Columbian Native Americans and Mesoamericans, but I am interested in all things history related. I have always loved visiting museums and recently become interested in working in either a museum or an archive. While I do not yet have a solid goal in mind, my next step after George Mason will be a Master’s degree and a journey into either the world of archives or the world of museums. Prior to doing this internship, I had some exposure to the SCRC from some of my classes that have held workshops there and through my own visits as a researcher. Of course, the convenient location at my university made SCRC seem like an excellent place to intern and I was interested in pursuing the internship because of the experience and guidance it could provide for my future.

The C-SPAN Chronicles: Part IV – Viewer Mail

Hello all! Amanda here with another edition of the C-SPAN Chronicles. As this project has progressed, I have had ample time to re-examine this collection, as well as the unique records it holds. Despite some of the more serious portions of the collection, there are those that are more entertaining (see the C-SPAN Chronicles: Part II for more on this topic.) One such portion is the Viewer Mail Series. Viewer Mail encompasses the many and varied pieces of correspondence sent to C-SPAN’s founder Brian Lamb  – and C-SPAN in general – during much of his tenure at the organization. Though the letters vary in subject and substance, one aspect rings true for each letter: passion. The individuals who wrote these letters, emails, and everything in between were passionate about C-SPAN, the service it provided, and the political process at large. Sometimes this passion translated into a positive interaction, others…not so much. Below is a sampling of some of the more interesting pieces of correspondence from this series. Enjoy! **

A complimentary note from a self-described “C-SPAN Junkie.”

A folder filled with viewer mail. The wide variety of correspondence, ranging from hand written letters, postcards, and greeting cards, to typed letters (both analog and electronic) is evident even in this single file.

Some of the viewer mail errs on the side of eccentric. This folder holds a packet thoroughly examining the effects of Dioxins.

Brian Lamb’s “Booknotes” program produced many viewer letters praising its content and unique style. Unfortunately though, you cannot please them all.

This particular viewer’s complaint does not seem to color their overall view of C-SPAN.

Perhaps my favorite letter of the series.

**The C-SPAN records are currently being processed and therefore do not have specific box and folder numbers. Upon completion, we will update all images with proper citation. The viewer mail materials are part of Series 6: Viewer Mail of the C-SPAN records. 

Follow SCRC on Social Media and look out for future posts on the processing of the C-SPAN Papers on our FacebookInstagram, and Twitter accounts. 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 speccoll@gmu.edu 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 request and view collections.

University Archives Series: Planning, Moving, and Preparing for the Unexpected

This is the second post within the University Archives Series. These posts will be somewhat irregular and depend mostly on my progress with this project.

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First few pages of the inventory with all of the notes I made throughout the moving process.

How the project began:

Last summer after working as the Interim Research Services Coordinator and planning our first open house, I had realized that something really needed to be done to allow patrons easier access to our University Archives materials. We have about 148 collections and only 26 finding aids with varying levels of description. While not all of the 148 collections are high priority for processing many, such as the University and Student Publications, get pulled often by researchers and would likely get far more usage if there were at least collection level finding aids. I began an inventory of what collections we had, how many boxes were in each collection (processed and unprocessed), and created a list of processing priorities based on my knowledge on what patrons have used or could use and what collections had preservation needs (damaged boxes, loose pictures and other mixed materials, etc.). Not only were there not any finding aids for most of these collections, they were also hard to find. We had moved all of out collections in January 2016 from C-Wing of Fenwick Library to the new addition, which had more space, better climate conditions, an instruction room, and better processing areas for staff.

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Stacks in our old space. We had an inventory sheet which let us know which the row and column for each collection, but they were not in collection order.

Our stacks were somewhat cramped before and our growing collections left us unable to create a well organized area that was easy for staff to retrieve materials. We had spent months before the move labeling all of the materials so they would be easier to manage after the move. We were very fortunate in that nothing really went wrong, as there were plenty of opportunities. However, when later pulling materials, we had discovered that many boxes were out of order, misshelved, and slightly damaged. It was likely the combination of our cramped space before the move, previous processing faults, and moving/labeling miscommunication or mistakes.

When moving the Broadside newspaper boxes from our oversize section to incorporate them into the University Archives, I had to take off some of the shelf dividers off so the boxes would fit.

Planning and Moving:

The first step in a long term project like this was to get an initial inventory and see exactly what we had. This seems like it would be more time consuming but it saves us time in the long run if we can prevent simple mistakes from happening. Almost all of the collections were out of collection order and some were out of box order. I printed out a list of all the collections I found on Archivists Toolkit (AT) and wrote down how many boxes or linear feet each collection had in the accession record and compared that to the collection record since materials from certain collections came in at different times and therefore have multiple accession records. I then looked at the collections in our stacks and wrote on the side of each row exactly which collections the row held. This made it easier when I was moving the boxes so that I could get them somewhat organized on other shelves before moving them back in the correct order. Moving each box took months. From about October until February, I had spent hours off and on in the stacks moving boxes from the original shelving just to move them all back in correct order. During this time I took notes for any collections that I thought should be placed on a processing priority list, anything that did not seem to belong with any other collections, and materials that had no information on them at all.

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Moving all of the collections back in correct collection and box number order. These particular boxes are unprocessed materials, either additions to past collections or new collections altogether.

Preparing for the Unexpected:

When I started this project, I knew it would take a long time. As much as I tried to nail down a timeline and as much planning as I did before moving the boxes, I still expected some things to go wrong. I knew other things would come up that would require my attention.

What I did not account for was human error and that best practices change over time and people in charge of these collections come and go. While we have only been a university for a short amount of time (about 45 years), a lot has changed since we first began collecting materials. Although there is not official documentation of changes to our practices, I have been told that we used to place materials together by office from the early 1980’s until about 2008 when we developed a standard practice of creating collection, box and folder numbers. As a result, many older collections are not numbered or indicate an office or collection number. Additionally, the information from Archivists Toolkit only really involved collections after 2008 when we began using that program. I found quite a few boxes in our stacks that can not be found in AT and do not seem to belong with any other collection. Other boxes have generic numbers on them indicating that boxes coming in were just given a number in order. Some of these were not completely integrated into collections after 2008, though many were. It would have been a tremendous task for someone to have gone back through all of the collections and reprocessed them using what is now a standard practice for us. Past archivists and staff cannot be blamed for this, but it now makes this project way more complicated than I had expected. Knowing that I will be able to make these collections less messy and more accessible to Research Services staff for our patrons is the biggest reward. Having spent this much time already with these materials, I have seen all the potential they could have for researchers in the future and I am glad to be able to contribute to this project. The initial timeline was set to end this August. As always, other projects came up. I have been the Processing Coordinator since January but a few months ago, I was also given the task of coordinating social media, which has taken up more of my time. I am also working to complete the Broadside scans, which is another project that had many unexpected challenges, required far more hours of staff time than planned, and contained far more images than originally estimated. These other projects have pushed the University Archives project back and now I am hoping to complete Broadside soon and move on to the next steps of the University Archives project so I can get closer to finishing by the end of fall semester.

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Post-its indicating which collections were in each row during the move so staff could more easily find materials.

Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu 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 request and view collections.

The C-SPAN Chronicles: Part III – To Rebox or Not to Rebox?

Hello again! Amanda here with another edition of the C-SPAN Chronicles. As processing has progressed, I now find myself with the task of reboxing and finalizing the official inventory of the C-SPAN records. Though a somewhat straightforward task, reboxing and inventorying isn’t without its challenges. But first of all, let’s unpack these simple yet critical processing steps.

Reboxing is both exactly as it sounds and deceptively simple: it involved removing archival materials from either non-archival quality or archival quality boxes, and placing them in other archival quality boxes. There are three groups of boxes that I generally encounter in processing: records boxes, document boxes, and everything else. Now you might be asking yourself, a box is just a box – what can make these three kinds so different? Well, below are some important criteria when selecting boxes to house your records, manuscripts, or whatever you may have in your archives.

  • The box must be acid-free
  • The box must hold your records comfortably without damaging them
  • The box must be in a condition that is accessible to researchers (not too large or too heavy – this is a much more malleable criterion depending on your institution.)

A typical Hollinger records box.

The two boxes that fit these criteria are records boxes and document boxes. Records boxes fit more materials, and can fit legal and letter sized folders. Document boxes can do the same, but come in legal, letter, and oversize so your records fit snugly and securely. The most popular and reliable source of these boxes is the company Hollinger Metal Edge, and as a result the larger records boxes are colloquially known as “Hollinger Boxes.” One records box equals about two and half legal-size document boxes, and this must be taken into consideration when ordering enough document boxes to house your collection. A box that does not fit the above three criteria is not an archival-quality box and should never be used for long-term preservation.

Hollinger boxes are expensive – thus it is common practice to reuse them indefinitely in an archives.

Though your records or manuscript collections will be safe in either records or document boxes, I prefer document boxes. Not only are they easier to handle during processing, but more importantly, they are easier to handle for the researcher. Access is of the utmost importance in an archives or special collections, and if your researchers find the boxes which house your records unwieldy, you’re in for some trouble. In my opinion, document boxes also make inventorying easier, as I don’t have to count to larger numbers, thus keep the sub-inventories (so to speak) much more manageable and easy to correct. For example, if you incorrectly label a file within a large records box, you might potentially have to relabel the entire box, which could house 100 files or more depending on the materials within. With a document box, however, mistakes like this can easily be caught and fixed.

Document boxes holding the C-SPAN records.

When it comes to inventorying, I prefer to have a system of checks to ensure that the inventory is as accurate as possible (yet again, ensuring ease of use for potential researchers.) During my initial baseline processing, I take a rough inventory of the entire collection – or in other words, inventorying everything as-is, unarranged. Once the final processing stages have begun and I am reboxing the collection, I will create my final inventory by copying and pasting from the first, and doing so after each box has been completed. Pacing myself like this ensures that I am not missing any files, helps find and correct spelling errors or double entries, and doubly ensures that the correct file, labeled the correct way, is in the correct box. At times this stage can be painstaking, but it is critical to ensuring the collection you are processing is accurately represented in your finding aid.

That’s all for now folks! Thank you for taking this processing journey with me – as always!

Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment of the C-SPAN Chronicles in June!

Follow SCRC on Social Media and look out for future posts on the processing of the C-SPAN Papers on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. 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 speccoll@gmu.edu 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 request and view collections

The C-SPAN Chronicles: Part II – Unique Finds – Processing is Like A Box of Chocolates: You Never Know What You’re Gonna Get

Hello there! Amanda here again with another edition of the C-SPAN Chronicles. This week I will be exploring unique items found in the C-SPAN records – some straightforward, some, well…not so much.

As a processor, I have spent many an hour surveying collections, and usually this task is fairly clear-cut. But despite knowing the majority of the contents of a collection, occasionally I have been surprised, and scratched my head in wonder at the materials hidden away in boxes.

Talking to archival processors, you would be hard-pressed to find somebody who did not have a story of a strange object uncovered during processing. Not only can these objects be entertaining, they oftentimes can be baffling. What do you do with these objects? Do they belong to the series of the surrounding materials? Will it need its own unique container? Is this object considered of enduring archival value? How does this object work with the rest of the collection? I personally find it a fun challenge to figure out the arrangement of these unique processing finds, and to stretch my intellectual and physical arrangement abilities. 

Moreover, processors occasionally come across objects or documents that are just plain cool. These are the moments archivists live for, whether it be a document with the signature of a famous historical figure, an original Playbill from a Broadway musical (in my case, this is equivalent to the Holy Grail), or a rare book made over 500 years ago – much like the ubiquitous “Forrest Gump” quote – processing is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get!

In processing the C-SPAN records, I have come across some unique objects leading me to ask the above questions. Needless to say this has kept me both busy and entertained. Below is a sampling of my finds. Enjoy!

The C-SPAN records contain hundreds of viewer letters – this one stuck out to me due to its unique format and the writer’s interesting handwriting.

 

Letter from President George W. Bush congratulating Lamb on C-SPAN receiving the Records of Achievement Award from the Foundation for the National Archives.

 

A “Celebrating C-SPAN’s 20th Anniversary” Frame containing an interesting drawing, Artist Unknown.

 

This shirt was coveted by most of SCRC staff- luckily it will be preserved indefinitely to the joy of all.

 

From a series of original mixed media paintings on board of various authors – this particular one features the writer Zora Neale Hurston.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment of the C-SPAN Chronicles later in May!

Follow SCRC on Social Media and look out for future posts on the processing of the C-SPAN Papers on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. 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 speccoll@gmu.edu 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 request and view collections.