Student Reflections

This blog post was written by Vilma Chicas Garcia and Colin McDonald, former SCRC student workers. Congrats on graduating, Vilma and Colin!

My Experience at SCRC by Vilma Chicas Garcia

Vilma Chicas Garcia

I began working at the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) during the 2022 Fall semester, and at the time, I knew next to nothing about the archives field. I was extremely nervous to see how this job would pan out. I could not have foreseen how amazing of an opportunity this position would become. From the beginning, everyone I have worked with at the SCRC has taken their time to help me understand the role and responsibility of an archivist and allowed me to grow with every collection I worked with.

The James M. Buchanan papers was the first collection I assisted with and, really, my introduction to this field. The head processing archivist on the collection, Rebecca Thayer, was the first to show me around the archives. There were many things she introduced me to and helped me understand, but one thing that has always stuck with me has been when she told me, “Processing is just as much of an art as it is a science,” and of course, it’s true! So many questions come up when you work with archival materials, and there are times when you have to think a bit outside the box to describe the materials you’re working with the best. Her advice has helped me tremendously, and I still keep it in mind.

Through Women’s Eyes: Southeast Asian American Women’s Stories records was the second collection I worked on and the first collection I processed by myself with the oversight of my supervisor, Amanda Menjivar. I still needed a lot of assistance with surveying and the actual processing part of the collection, and I am incredibly thankful that Amanda had always been there to help. Through this collection, Amanda walked me through the beginning and end steps of processing a collection, including creating a Processing Plan, a Finding Aid, and uploading everything to ArchivesSpace.

The Art Attack records were the final collection I processed as a student assistant and, by far, the most extensive and complex. Art Attack contained a multitude of mixed media and taught me how to properly store different materials, such as glass negatives and oversized blueprints. I used everything I had learned thus far to process this collection and learned so much throughout it. Amanda and Meghan Glasbrenner assisted and provided great insights when I was unsure how to proceed while working on this collection.

Besides work experience within the field, working at SCRC has also allowed me to be a part of larger archivist organizations, like the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference and the Society of American Archivists. I have been allowed to attend conferences and network with other students and archivists in the field. This position has given me the opportunity to learn from so many amazing people and has been a tremendously wonderful experience.

Colin McDonald

By Colin McDonald

When I first came to SCRC I didn’t really know what archives or archiving were. The word might have made me think of dusty papers hidden away in a dimly lit room. I learned that what archiving actually entails is carefully preserving valuable primary sources, and making them easily findable and accessible to the public. The collection that I was hired to work on were the papers belonging to former GMU economics professor and Nobel laureate James Buchanan. Decades worth of materials, from correspondence to book manuscripts, needed to be sorted, labeled, dated, and cataloged. Processing these papers wasn’t a solo effort either; as part of the self-dubbed “B Team” I was one of several people working together on the collection.

After processing of the Buchanan papers was finished (the collection was opened to the public this past summer) I moved on to a new collection. This past semester I have been working on cataloging student and university publications. These include newsletters, magazines, reports of important university statistics, and creative writing journals published here at George Mason starting in the 1960s. It has been interesting reading what students wrote over the years, and seeing how George Mason changed from a college of University of Virginia with less than 100 students to its own university with over 39,000. I hope people will make use of student publications like the underground student newspaper Expulsion to see what past George Mason students were thinking and doing during their time here. While GMU has evolved over the decades, complaints from previous students about parking shows that some things never change. It was great discussing details of the collection with University Archivist Bob Vay, who has an incredible knowledge of the history of GMU.

Working at SCRC has been a very positive experience, and I will take the skills and lessons that I learned here with me to wherever I go next.

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