One Collection Down…

Credit to WAB: City Council of Churches Records, Box 4, Folder 10,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

I started on August 28th, and ended on September 25th – in a little less than a month, I finished processing my first collection from start to finish. It’s incredible how differently it feels than jumping into a collection in medias res, and only helping process a portion of it. I finally got to witness and experience “the bigger picture” of processing archival collections, and all the things (some delightful, others…not so much!) that go with it.

So, did I like it overall? Absolutely! For my first collection, Brigette assigned me the City Council of Churches Records from the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives. The first step was giving the collection a quick survey, or once-over, before I started on my official work plan. After writing down almost every item in the collection in my notebook (apparently I didn’t think of using the computer to do this, for some reason – honestly, it baffles me!), I was ready to put together my work plan. I decided on how I wanted to organize the collection, described its physical state, and contemplated its research potential, among other things.  Once approved, I set off to work!

Now, I’m not going to say that this came easy to me. It didn’t. I have come to learn that archivists need to develop a certain way of thinking about things. Honestly, I never thought I would see the day when I would agonize over whether something is a pamphlet or a brochure, or if that pamphlet would go under a folder titled “Events” instead. Brigette called it “archival anxiety,” and if you had asked me a month ago what that was, I wouldn’t be able to give you an answer. Now? Well, now I know! Throughout the course of my first processing venture I asked many a question of Brigette, and though I thought that I was asking too many, she only said that she would rather I ask now than make mistakes that I would have to go back and fix later. I learned that every archivist organizes things differently and thinks about collections differently – you just have to stick with your gut and be consistent. I won’t lie, though – this was a very hard mindset to wrap my head around. I wonder, does it ever get easier?

Finally, the day came when I finished the physical processing. I went from four tattered, torn and messy boxes of material to six impeccably (if I do say so myself!) neat and ordered record cartons. The sense of accomplishment I felt (and still feel) was huge. I did that! Other people would actually be coming in to research the collection I had worked so hard on.  However, the work wasn’t over yet.

The next step was to work on my finding aid. I tweaked the template made available to me and did research to flesh out the Historical Note detailing the background of the collection. Once I finished the Scope and Content Note (i.e. what kind of materials are in the collection and what topics are covered), I was finished. At least, I thought I was finished.

But wait – there’s more! Fast forward to today. I made a couple of quick edits to the finding aid and affixed the box labels, and it was sent to the Burke archivist for one more look over. Once approved, Brigette gave me a lesson in Digital Asset Management, in how to upload my finding aid to the web, as well as in how to catalogue it. We walked through each process step by step, and they were just as non-intimidating as Brigette said. I have to say, it is one thing to finish processing a collection, but what good is it if it’s not available online? Seeing that active link on the Burke Archives website and in CLIO really brought this entire experience to life and shot my feelings of accomplishment through the roof.

The absolute final touch (I’m telling the truth this time, I promise!) was announcing that the City Council of Churches Records collection was now available for research.  With the help of social media superstars Facebook and Twitter, followers of the Burke Library will know that the collection is finally processed and ready for use.

So would I do it all again? You bet. Despite the bouts of “archival anxiety” (which I’m sure will be making multiple comebacks), I learned an immense amount in the process. Seeing a collection through from beginning to end gave me a better idea of how archivists work and how they train their brains to think. Not only that, but it gave me a sense of accomplishment and confidence, affirming that, yes, I am capable of doing this. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me next!

…and I have a good feeling you’ll all be hearing about it, too.  Stay tuned.

My finding aid can be found here: City Council of Churches Records, 1909-1970, and you can also check out my CLIO entry.

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