Author Archives: Jazmin Mooney

“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!

My First Month at Burke

On the verge of completing my fourth week as a summer intern at Burke, I find myself substantially enriched in the field of archives. At the same time, I am keenly aware of how much I don’t know. My internship at Burke is part of my triangle approach to learning as much as I can during this summer of 2013: introductory archival course at Queens College, Burke internship, and participation in Archivist Roundtable activities. My experience at Burke thus far has been, without a doubt, the leading contributor to my knowledge base. This is in no small part due to the tutelage of Project Archivist Brigette Kamsler. From the git go, Brigette has been instructing me on the practical aspects of archiving collections; but in addition she has provided me with the opportunity to dialogue about prevailing trends in the profession, explore ideas regarding my current academic projects, and discuss how to build a record of my experiences and accomplishments for future career opportunities.

I have now completed work on two small collections and await the approval of my second finding aid. The first collection, Dorothy Pecht 35mm Slides, was quite simple and straight forward to process. What inhibited me was my inexperience in researching and my ambivalence regarding how much information to include in the finding aid. Once I realized I had to delve deeper into the subject and provide information not only on Ms. Pecht, but the organization she served as a missionary, I started to better comprehend the process of developing a finding aid. It helps to put myself on the other side of the equation as a researcher periodically as well. The completed finding aid is available online.

The second collection I worked on, International Missionary Union, was fraught with new challenges for me. The collection contained multiple items: photos, newspaper clippings, correspondence, pamphlets, records and the odd Syriac journal, 1849. This finding aid required more extensive research which, initially, I was hesitant to undertake because of the time frame, constraints I had put on myself, without any indications from Brigette. We discussed the average processing time for a collection of this size and that gave me the freedom to conduct in depth research and fine tune the properties of the finding aid, an aspect of preparing the finding aid which I agonize over in the hope of getting it 100% correct.

In addition, I had to box the collection appropriately which took a few attempts. I learned how to correctly box this particular collection and use acid free tissue to cushion the folders thereby diminishing the chance of the folders and its contents being damaged. This task also exposed me to the multitude of different size boxes available to preserve archives.

I found myself a bit emotionally invested in this particular collection. Through my research I learned that the International Missionary Union was dissolved in 1932 and I felt a twinge of sadness when reading this. I had researched it from its initial development in 1884, read about its growth, expansion, and the generous contribution of Dr. Henry Foster who selflessly donated his home and sanitarium for the I.M.U.’s annual meetings. It was liking saying goodbye to an old friend. Corny, yes, but true.

Every day at Burke has been an experience of abundant learning. Even writing this blog has helped me reflect on what I have learned and experienced over the past four weeks and feeds my curiosity about the next collection, the next finding aid, the next task.

Summer Adventure: Internship at Burke Library

I was thrilled to be offered the internship at Burke after investigating several opportunities for the summer. Having just completed my first semester at Queens College, where I will pursue the Certificate in Archives and Preservation of Cultural Materials simultaneously with my MLS, I wanted to immerse myself in the field in order to relate what I was learning in the classroom. I also wanted to get a jump start on my summer course, Archives and Manuscripts and the Shapes of Material History.

I am in awe of the library itself; the Gothic architecture, the peaceful atmosphere, the open glass floored stacks! Brigette’s tour was informative and thorough although I know I will need to be reminded of some of the details about the collections she shared with me. I was especially fascinated by a box labeled with the name “Albert Schweitzer.” He was a formidable figure when I was growing up, having been introduced to us as a “medical missionary” bringing modern medicine to remote areas of the Congo (now Gabon).

One of the reasons I accepted the internship at Burke was that I will be gaining first-hand experience from a professional archivist, and  from someone who is extremely organized and focused. Brigette is eager to teach me and encourages questions which is a wonderful environment to be working in.  As a professional organizer, I know the advantages of a structured, well organized work environment and I personally thrive in that setting.

Although my first semester posed some challenges, I enthusiastically welcome the readings Brigette has planned for me during the summer. I look forward to being a contributing member to the Luce archival project and gaining what I know will be invaluable experience for my future career.