“Good-bye” to My Summer at Burke

Many of my mornings during my internship at Burke have begun with a few stolen moments of serene beauty and solace in the quad of UTS, one of the most enjoyable perks of working at the Burke Library Archives this summer. When the New York City winter is upon us in a few months, I will recall the comforting warmth of the morning sun, the trees, the  flowers….the tolling of the bell signaling my 10 a.m. start time!

Under the guidance of powerhouse Project Archivist Brigette C. Kamsler, I have assisted in the actual processing of archives of the Missionary Research Library Archives from the basics of weeding to contributing to the creation of two Finding Aids. The first Finding Aid I worked on was Dorothy Pecht 35mm Slides. A simple and small collection, this introduction to creating a Finding Aid was where I began to learn the complexities of the archiving profession. Once I completed the Finding Aid, I better understood the need to provide information not only about the creator of the collection but the organizations the creator was affiliated with in order to assist researchers. It was during the creation of the Finding Aid for the Pecht collection that I began to understand the role of the archivist in relation to the researcher. This awareness helped me with the second collection I processed, International Missionary Union Collection.  

Processing the IMU collection afforded me the opportunity to expand on the basic archival skills I learned processing the Pecht collection. Because the collection contained varied materials, i.e. newspaper clippings, correspondence, photographs and pamphlets among other items, the creation of the finding aid required more extensive research. Consequently, I enhanced my web research skills and learned a great deal about the life of the IMU and one of its generous patron’s, Dr. Henry Foster of Clifton Springs, N.Y.

Although the majority of my time at Burke was directly related to working on the archives, Brigette provided several opportunities to learn and mix things up a bit, for which I am immensely grateful. The first opportunity was an invitation to attend a staff meeting led by Alexis Hagadorn and Jennifer Jarvis of the CU Libraries Conservation Office. Their presentation on the proper handling of rare books utilizing snakes, foam book mounts, and snake weights was informative and interesting as I had no idea how to correctly handle these materials.

In late July, the interns were invited to visit ReCAP, The Research Collections and Preservation Consortium in Princeton, N.J. under the guidance of Zachary Lane, the ReCAP coordinator for Columbia. This field trip was fantastic and future interns, if you are reading this, “Just say yes!” if given the opportunity. It is an enriching experience that afforded me the opportunity to see another facet of the archiving world, one I could not fathom.

The last presentation I attended was a webinar sponsored by NISO, The National Information Standards Organization, entitled Copyright Decisions: Impact of Recent Cases on Libraries and Publishers. The webinar featured three attorneys discussing recent copyright cases, a subject that frequently came up during my classes last semester.  Although their presentation was informative, I struggled to stay awake but was rewarded by a subsequent presentation and Q & A by Columbia Copyright Advisory Office Director Dr. Kenneth Crews. Dr. Crews’ ability to simplify the convoluted language of the attorneys and answer questions directly and succinctly has helped me comprehend this complex issue substantially.

Brigette also included a session doing EAD, which initially seemed extremely overwhelming. With her guidance and patience, we worked on two finding aids, and again I was substantially enriched and my fears allayed.

My internship at Burke included the expected tasks of a summer archives intern. I moved boxes, stamped folders, weeded unprocessed collections and kept my eyes peeled for crawling creepy critters (none appeared, thank goodness!). But it was so much more.  I could never have imagined I would come away from this three month stint with so much experience, insight and awareness of how much I still must learn.

I will close with this observation. My archives professor told us the most important goal we must achieve as archivist is to provide access to collections; he believes this is the archivist’s primary obligation.  Prior to Brigette’s invitation to work at Burke this summer, I had accepted another internship in New York City. The director of the archives was not an archivist but had been trained briefly by an archivist whose services were financed by a small grant. During the lengthy interview, the director expressed the goal of the organization which was to archive the materials and provide restricted and limited access, and when possible, to show researchers photocopies, not originals. I was ignorantly willing to be an accomplice to this intent, not having been exposed to what I now also believe to be if not the archivist’s primary goal, certainly one of her primary responsibilities.  How fortunate I took a chance and said, “What have I got to loose?!” to the possibility of working at Burke. How fortunate to have worked with Brigette.  How fortunate indeed!

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