Author Archives: Sarah Davis

Saying Goodbye to Burke…For Now

My last day really snuck up on me. One can really get lost in boxes and boxes of unprocessed archival material, it seems. But all good things must come to an end, and for me, that took place today. After a great 7 month internship at Burke, I closed the lid on my last archival box.

I can’t express to you how great this internship has been! I’ve learned the entire archival process, from acquisition to finding aid promotion. I’ve seen great material that paints a picture of the world the missionaries encountered. And I’ve worked with the amazing staff at the Burke Library. Brigette, the project archivist, was an outstanding teacher and mentor. From the very beginning she made sure I knew what we were working on and why. She is incredibly knowledgeable about the collection, knowing where everything is and how the entire collection is connected. The rest of the staff is stellar as well. They are insanely smart, friendly, welcoming, and passionate about the work they are doing at the library. If you ever get a chance to work with them on a research project, I suggest you do.

Though my internship time is done with the Burke library, my professional and personal relationship will continue. I look forward to my next step, knowing that Burke is the reason I’m taking it at all.

Saving the Books

When I arrived the morning of May 20th, I was met with a flurry of activity. Over the previous weekend, a small drip had made a big mess in the reference section of the reading room. Since it was so small and over the weekend, we didn’t notice it until it had reached several books. I immediately headed to the conference room to do damage control.

Good news first: only a few books were beyond saving. The water in its slow creep hadn’t had time to do much damage. Plus most of the books were large, heavy reference books, with hardcovers that actually kept the pages more or less above the flood. Those that had been hit were also easy-to-replace, and the books with wet covers could be rebound. All in all, not a worst-case scenario.

However, there was some work to do. In order to keep the moisture from seeping and staying in the books, thus creating a mold problem and disfiguring the books, we had to dry them out.  To do this, we placed paper towels in between the pages that were damper than others, and set every book standing up facing a fan to dry out the book right down to its spine.

Exactly what it looked like. From

Exactly what it looked like. From

It took 4 of us about 4 hours to collect the books, carefully inspect them, decide which ones needed additional help, set them up, and monitor their improvement. In both my internship and classes we spend a lot of time discussing preservation and techniques used when working to quickly salvage a damaged collection, but it was the first time I had ever put these teachings to practice. I can’t say I enjoyed it – after all these were books on the line, and I would never ever wish them harm – but it was a learning experience. The quick thinking of the Burke library staff, their calm demeanor, and instant evaluation of the situation allowed a lot of books to be saved.

We are currently double-checking the shelves to make sure the leak has been thoroughly sealed and won’t damage any more books. If you see a library staff member, thank them for the work they did to save the reference books you need!

You Say Goodbye, and I Say Hello

This week is the last week of my Spring Internship at the Burke Library. It has been such a great experience! I’ve received hands-on training on the entire archival experience: the initial processing, creating the finding aid, managing it in its digital form, and broadcasting it for all the world to see. In addition, I have seen the ins and outs of running an academic library, including the not-so-glamorous sides, like vermin patrol and how to Macgyver a situation where you must move 80 boxes with only a silver cart, one narrow elevator  that can’t fit you AND boxes, and several mini-stairways (answer: through teamwork and running). The Burke Library has provided me a valuable internship where I was part of the team, given creative freedom, and trained from day 1 on what archiving is and why it matters. Brigette, Liz, Beth, and Matthew have been great coworkers, and I have enjoyed working with them all.

What I've been looking at all semester

What I’ve been looking at all semester

However, it’s not the end! The semester is wrapping up, but I will be staying on during the summer as well, interning for credit from my graduate program at Pratt. I will be doing more archival work, but in a much different capacity. As I referenced in my last blog post, we are wrapping up a 3 year archiving project. My work this summer will be to help finish this project, updating finding aids, more DAM and EAD training, and contributing to evaluation summaries as well. I will also be doing more work with Burke Director Beth Bidlack, learning more about what goes into running a library. Finally, I am attending the American Theological Library Association Annual Conference next month, to see how theological and academic libraries are run across the country, and learn best practices across a wide array of topics.

I’m looking forward to continuing my work at Burke, and know that I will continue to gain valuable skills and connections. Thanks for reading this semester, and I’ll see you in the summer!

Fitting in the Final Pieces of the Puzzle: an Interlinked Collection

This semester is the beginning of the end for a collection that has been meticulously processed, studied, and preserved over the past three years. By the end of 2014, every scrap of paper from the Missionary Research Library Collection – a vast assortment of papers are related in some way to Christian missionary work around the globe since the 1700s – will have a home at the Burke library, and will be available for research purposes. It is very exciting to see a record group through to its end, and to imagine the way these collections that you have spent so much time on will impact academic research in a variety of fields.

As we near the end, the archival process takes a slightly different road. We are taking the final, unprocessed boxes and attempting to find the best home for them, and would hope that their new home would be in a currently processed collection. This means having an extensive understanding of what is already out there, and knowing how best these previously unrecorded materials can be inserted into a pre-existing collection and help bolster the information contained in that collection. Get it? You get it.

So let’s say you have some random letters about education initiatives in China in 1905, written by Dr. Edwin Bliss. These letters are currently not part of a collection, but are related to the materials throughout MRL: 6 (which is Mission Research Library section 6, the China Section). However, they are also related to materials in MRL 12: Ecumenical/World Mission, since Dr. Bliss was instrumental in founding and running the Bureau of Missions during this time. The letters could provide insight into the inner workings of that organization. What do you as the archivist do?

These are the kind of questions that are facing us as we wind down an extraordinary collection. Personally, I find it to be an exciting time, one that allows the archivist to explore the collection thoroughly, whether for the first time (as most of it is in my case), or as a revisit (as it is for project archivist Brigette, who has been here since the beginning). It also highlights how the collection should be seen as a whole entity, instead of many boxes that happened to be housed together. If you haven’t had a chance to see what the MRL collection currently holds, take a look! And check back often as we update, reorganize, and make the collection more accessible and understandable to use.

One Month In to my Burke Internship

I’m about a month into my internship at Burke, and have already learned so much, including how to navigate to Columbia from Brooklyn when the 1 train isn’t work and it’s once again snowing (answer: any way you can, and be ready to walk).  I’ve also learned so much about archiving, preservation, collections, and Union Theological Seminary as a whole.

For the past month I’ve been working on a collection involving the founding of the Bureau of Missions in 1902. The letters of the original secretary Dr. Edwin Bliss and his predecessor Dr. Henry Otis Dwight have provided great insight into the origin and original mission of this organization, and its impact on missionaries around the world. I hope that after I am done with this collection, researchers will be able to use the material to establish a better understanding of the Bureau of Missions.

I’ve also taken part in a conference on digital preservation, which was useful to understanding the process and the meaning behind archiving in a technological age. It goes much further than backing up on an off-site computer. It involves understanding the file you’re working with, attributing metadata and other information to it, storing multiple copies, and allowing access in a way that won’t corrupt originals. Thanks to JTS for letting me attend this interesting conference, one that has already carried into my work at Burke and my studies at Pratt.

Finally I’ve learned about the inner workings of both Burke and UTS. They both serve the same purpose: to educate the students who walk their halls. Yet they do it in such different ways. The education in UTS is supplemented and bolstered by the staff, books, archives, and collections at Burke. UTS provides the groundwork for ideas, Burke gives the tools to bring them to reality. I have enjoyed walking around both the library and seminary and seeing what they have to offer. Now I can’t wait until it’s warm to check out the garden areas!

I can’t believe how fast time is going by; it’s been a great ride so far. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you about the collections, what I’m learning, and the seminary at large!

What I Look Forward To In My Burke Internship

When I told my friends and family I was getting my masters in library and information sciences, no one was surprised. It seemed like a natural fit for someone who was such an avid reader who loves to get others to read. Now, after my first semester at Pratt Institute, I have learned a lot, one of them being that a degree in library sciences leads to so much more than a chance to talk to people about books. It’s a way to engage in information on every level, from cataloging and archiving, to disseminating and researching. To me, libraries and librarians are both the classical holders of knowledge, and the future of how we will interact with information and learning.
Simultaneously, I’m also pursuing a master’s in Jewish-Christian Relations at Seton Hall University. It’s certainly a specific concentration, but one that is interesting, challenging, and exciting. Classes have included topics like studies of the First and Second Temples, Judeo-Christian prayer, and philosophical perspectives on the Holocaust. The professors are a mixture of priests and rabbis who have devoted their lives to reconciliation and understanding, and it has been a rewarding experience to study under them.
Therefore it is pretty exciting for me to join Brigette and the entire Burke Library faculty to work on the Missionary Research Library Archives and the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives project. The work I will be doing in these collections combines my two degrees perfectly. I’ll be interacting with the works and letters of missionaries and organizations who lived religious relationships in a theologically meaningful way. I’ll also be taking the technical skills about interacting with information that I’m getting at Pratt and applying them, learning both in the classroom and on the job. It’s a perfect combination!
I am so looking forward to working on these different collections, and sharing what I learn with you here on the blog. It’s going to be a journey, and I’m happy to have you join me on it.