Author Archives: Elizabeth Beller

Last Day…Final Words…

As I walked through the large heavy double doors of the main entrance to Union Theological Seminary this morning I realized it would be my last time walking down the cool glazed brick paved hallway and wending my way to the Burke Library entrance. The summer of 2013 has flown by and I am sure part of the quick passage of time is due to my relatively brief but highly educational and enjoyable tenure as an Archival Intern at the Burke Archive. Working under the tutelage of Brigette Kamsler I have been exposed to and gained hands on experience in the wild and often times dusty world of a working archive.

Initially fearful I would forget my Columbia UNI every time I needed to log onto the University system, petrified I would somehow mangle fragile, priceless and irreplaceable documents, I found myself looking forward to the two days each week I spent on the fifth floor of the Burke Library. I am pleased to report I did not break anything nor have I had to have my UNI tattooed onto my forearm. In addition, I have learned so much, not only regarding archives and archiving but in personal and professional development. I am saddened by the fact this is my last day at Burke but am grateful for the experience and the knowledge I will take with me out the main entrance of Union Theological Seminary when I leave.

Not only was I allowed to rehouse, access and inventory portions of an incredibly large and disorganized collection the Missionary Research Library Archival Collection, but I was given the responsibility of organizing, re-housing and drafting finding aids for three smaller collections within MRL itself, as well as one from the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives (WAB). Once the finding aids were finished we published them online onto the Burke Archives website, created and updated records in Voyager for the Columbia University Library System’s CLIO OPAC and then announced this fact through a swath of social media platforms! Lest the reader think all an archivist does is wade through boxes of papers and ephemera nobody has seen for long stretches of time – I was also given a chance to learn EAD (Encoded Archival Description) which employs the same ilk of XML tagging the SEC employs in its online filing system EDGAR.

The first collection I worked with was the Kagawa Toyohiko Papers, the subject of my previous post – Happy Camper at Burke. I followed the 15 box Kagawa collection with three smaller collections the Loren E. Noren Papers, the Charles Tudor Leber Travel Correspondence and the Lutheran World Federation Records. Each of these collections provided a unique and distinct glimpse into the past through either personal letters, conference minutes or statistical reports.

Charles Tudor Leber traveled the globe following World War II and the Leber Travel Correspondence collection features missives he sent home to the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. Leber witnessed the social and economic turmoil of four continents and his observations are recorded in his highly detailed letters. Loren E. Noren was a missionary from the American Baptist Church and was stationed first in mainland China and subsequently in Hong Kong during the 1930’s through 1950’s. During his time in China he was incarcerated by the Communists! His collection at Burke consists solely of a statistical and detailed report he made of the churches within Hong Kong, the congregation numbers, financial information and the like. The sheer amount of work Noren poured into his study is incredible. The final collection I worked on was the Lutheran World Federation Papers which include the minutes and documents from the Lutheran World Federation Assembly held in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1957. These documents were housed in a number of different locations and the Burke Archive collection includes three sets: one in English, one in German and one in Norwegian. The fact my work in rehousing, organizing and creating finding aids for these collections will provide access and hopefully use of these collections really makes me proud.

Brigette is an incredible manager and the time she takes to educate and include her bevy of interns in the multitudinous tasks her position as the Luce Grant Project Archivist at the Burke Archive entails was not lost on me. I was introduced through practice and readings to best practices in the field of archiving. More Product, Less Process became a mantra for my summer of 2013. In addition to helping with the work at hand, Brigette made sure to take the time to discuss future career options, job search techniques and the like. She showed myself and fellow interns her online portfolio, encouraged us to make ones for ourselves and discussed best practices in employing social media for future career success. I really cannot say how grateful I am for all the knowledge she imparted to me this summer.

I really cannot believe that this post will be my last on the Burke Archives Blog, that today will be my last day up in the tower and that I will not see the friendly and supportive faces of those I have worked with and around much of the summer. But like most good things in life, this internship too must come to a close. I know I will carry not only the work place skills I have learned and been exposed to but also the intangible benefits from having worked under so skilled a manager and mentor as Brigette.

Happy Camper at Burke

It has been over a month since I began making the trip to the Burke Library Archives at Union Theological Seminary twice a week for my archival internship. Under the guidance of Brigette Kamsler I have learned an immense amount about the art of archiving. My fears from the first day (see 1st Day – New Internship) have been assuaged and allayed. Surrounded by acid free boxes both full and empty, surprises and variety abound.


Most people seem to think the work an archivist does is stuffy and boring – let’s face it – most people have no clue what an archivist does! And I probably did not have much of one either prior to starting at Burke either. Over the course of the past six weeks I have begun to learn and really appreciate the tasks of an archivist: accessing, processing and organizing documents and ephemera into cohesive usable research aids; creating documentation of a collection’s organization and order; providing access to research materials (frequently primary sources) to library patrons through finding aids. Often, a collection is donated by an individual and the precise order in which the collection was donated is in fact part of the archival nature of the materials. Other times the material in a collection may have been amassed over a longer period of time by more than one individual or institution and so the archivist gets to embark on the task of creating order and imposing an organization schema on the materials.


During my time at Burke I have had the opportunity to work on a sizeable collection – the Kagawa Toyohiko Papers. Kagawa was an early 20th century Japanese Evangelical preacher who traveled to the United States on speaking tours four times between the 1930’s and the 1960’s. The collection has undergone numerous rounds of processing and continues to grow as new materials are donated and further materials keep popping up in the Missionary Research Library collection. The most recent additions included correspondence with an American preacher Stanley Armstrong Hunter which were donated by a descendant of Mr. Hunter as well as extensive correspondences regarding Kagawa’s 1954 tour of the United States. The latter set of materials was unearthed in the unprocessed papers of the Missionary Research Library.


While the nature of the material may seem dry or bizarre to many, the fact there was a world famous Japanese Evangelical preacher whose American National Committee headquarters were in Brooklyn, NY has been one of my most exciting factoids for the summer of 2013. Part of the job of an archivist is, as I mentioned earlier, to draft a collection finding aid. This finding aid lists not only what is in the collection box by box and folder by folder but provides background material on the subject matter, individual or organization the collection focuses on. Reading about Kagawa I found myself going down a highly enjoyable rabbit hole – I have read numerous slightly varied accounts of his childhood, his adolescence, his introduction to Christianity, his early years preaching in the slums of Japan. I have also been able to ever so slightly glean an idea of Kagawa’s changing beliefs and doctrine. The man lived in heady times not only in Japanese history but world history – he witnessed both World War’s, Japanese colonialism and the rise of Communism. His particular brand of Christianity took much of these events going on in the world into account. I have also found collections relating to Kagawa in other archives around the world. There is an archive and research center dedicated to the man in Tokyo, Japan. There are other small collections of papers of his followers in places like the archives at Southern Illinois University. For an individual who has always been curious about just about anything you put in front of her, the opportunity to chase down information and learn about an obscure former nominee for a Nobel Prize in Literature has been fascinating and dare I say exciting.


Another project the interns working under Brigette Kamsler have been working on this summer is the extensive Missionary Research Library project. We are all taking bits and pieces of this large seemingly unwieldy collection of papers and beginning to create order and sense out of it. Brigette runs an incredibly well oiled machine with interns working collectively and individually on the massive MRL collection. Currently I am separating MRL administrative papers from the larger collection of archival materials and housing these in archival acid free boxes. While perhaps not the most exciting sounding task, I know my efforts are part of a larger project and I enjoy my work knowing it is part of a larger effort. Once the Missionary Research Library papers are completely available to the public, I will know I had a small part to play in that project.

1st Day – New Intern Posting

Today is my first day at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary as an archival intern. First days are always exciting and nerve racking. What will the new desk I am working at look like? What if my new boss doesn’t like my outfit? What if I trip on that spiral staircase mentioned in the internship posting I responded to? These and many other random, rather frenetic thoughts began racing through my head pretty much as soon as I woke up this morning.

I applied for the position because the posting on the Pratt Institute School of Library and Information Science list serve specifically mentioned Japanese language skills as being a benefit to the internship experience. In my time at Pratt Institute no internship posting has advertised a need for Japanese language – a skill I had the luck and experience to acquire as a young child and pursue throughout my first academic stint in undergraduate and graduate studies. I am eager to pursue a project that melds my current academic pursuit of working within a library or archive with my previous academic field East Asian Studies with a focus on Japanese studies.

My first half day at Burke has consisted of a tour of the facilities past a mind boggling assorted of acronym labeled archival boxes, a fantastic gothic inspired glass floored set of stacks and a small taste of the kind of work I will be engaging in this summer under the guidance of Brigette Kamsler an archivist at the Burke Library.  I have to admit that just like when I applied to the Library and Information Science program at Pratt Institute, my expectations and ideas about what is possible are always far below the water mark of what the actual experience will bring into my life.

Through the completion of a variety of other internship experiences I have discovered my affinity for tackling projects of organization and re-housing of materials. There is quite a lot of material here at Burke! I have been given a brief outline of the initial project I will be working on with a fellow intern which is really exciting – group work- the bane of many graduate students – is something I really enjoy. I understand that once the initial group project is completed I will be delving into working on a collection of materials concerning the American speaking tours and engagements of a Japanese evangelical preacher and social activist Kagawa Toyohiko.

Each experience and internship opportunity I have pursued while studying at Pratt has allowed me great growth both personally and professionally. I am eager to see how my time at Burke affects me and how I am able to affect the ongoing efforts of the archivists at the Burke Library.