Tag Archives: CUL Graduate Student Internship

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.

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.

World Council of Churches Records Available!

We are excited to announce that the World Council of Churches Records, 1893-1975 is officially open for researchers! Thanks to Amy Meverden for her hard work on this during her CUL Primary Sources internship.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Records comprise materials documenting the inception and institutional proceedings of the organization. Established to create dialogue between various Christian expressions of faith through publications, action committees, and assemblies. Collection contains materials such as correspondence, records, pamphlets, and photographs.

Records and documents relating to commissions, committees, conferences, and General Assemblies of the World Council of Churches including pre-Amsterdam, 1948 World Council of Churches in process. Includes various committees and commissions, including Life and Work, Faith and Order, Evangelism, World Council of Churches and International Missionary Council merger, Churches and International Affairs, Laity, Women in the Church, World Christian Youth, Church and Society, Churches Participation in Development, Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service, and History of the Ecumenical Movement.

Look to the finding aid for more information.

The Value of Ecumenical and Missionary Records


Credit to: WAB: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

I had the pleasure of working on the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Foreign Missions Conference of North America (FMCNA) collections this summer and the following highlights the materials that I found to be most interesting and the ways in which these materials enhance my research. The WCC is an organization dedicated to ecumenical dialogue within the Christian tradition (and beyond), and the FMCNA organization is a missionary relief effort that, through various committees, sought to assist the underserved or populations in crisis.

While working on the WCC records, I found an extensive collection of scholarly papers and had the pleasure of looking at correspondence addressed to “My dear Reinie” (Reinhold Niebuhr) regarding papers presented at the WCC general assemblies. Among these papers were discussions of general theological interest, but also papers on ethics and education. I was pleased to see, firsthand, the level of scholarly discourse and intentionality engaged in by the WCC as it met to discuss ecumenism and a vision for the global, unified Christian church. One discovery that made me so proud was the forward-thinking nature of the materials circulated by the WCC on the inclusion of women and a push to discuss race issues long before such discussions were vogue. I know that these papers are published in volumes and circulating in general collections, but holding the hand-typed conference papers, seeing notes in margins, and reading correspondence regarding edits brings to life the work and efforts of the ecumenists.

My absolute favorite part of the WCC collection is the photographs series; I could look at these photos all day long. It was fun to see snapshots from the decennial assemblies, marking the passage of time through ever-enhancing technology and the preferred fashions of the day. From petticoats to bell bottoms, the photographs series documents the growth of the WCC movement, and takes a special look at Union Theological Seminary’s role. I was actually quite surprised at how involved Union’s professors were in WCC efforts, and pleased to see scholars emerging from their ivory towers to engage in ecumenical discussions via the black and white photos depicting hand shakes, scholars robes, and a general Union seminary presence at these assemblies.

The FMCNA collection is a missionary relief organization and the materials here reflect the efforts of the FMCNA to provide assistance to communities suffering from war, famine, natural disaster, and poverty. Going through the FMCNA materials is like reading a world history book that details events of the past century. From accounts documenting accounts of the Gripsholm cruise ship as it braved war zones to trade Japanese citizens for US prisoners of war, to journals documenting Guerrilla Relief efforts in Japanese-occupied China in 1939, the materials depict the many logistics involved in these relief efforts. What these materials convey is less a story of white colonial domination and more an account of assistance in the midst of crisis, as the FMCNA stepped in to care for the most vulnerable individuals.

One of the most disturbing images I saw while working on this collection was a newsletter in the Committee on East Asia materials that had a picture of toddler orphan children from China living among the corpses of the toddlers who did not survive. Starving babies were crawling over their now deceased playmates, crying, emaciated, and alone. For all the commercials of hungry children compelling television viewers to donate to relief organizations, I have never seen an image like this. The FMCNA stepped into many war-torn situations, similar to the one in China, and provided aid via the Orphan Relief network.

That’s the amazing thing that most people do not realize about the missionary records that we keep here at the Burke Archives and about missionary archives in general: some of history’s greatest atrocities are documented and recorded in the accounts of missionaries. Missionaries are on the front lines (and not just in a spiritual sense), in the literal, day-to-day sense of living through various crises, and exchanging correspondence that documents historical accounts and needs from the margins back to the “dominant culture.”

At the end of the day, this is one of the greatest research benefits of the missionary collections housed at Burke and one of the most useful insights I gleaned in working with the WCC and FMCNA records: the value of perspective, location, and presence in the midst of crisis.

A Lay Person’s Love-Hate Relationship with “More Product Less Process”

As a doctoral student, and specifically a student of ancient Near Eastern languages, I have learned to become increasingly detail oriented (read: anal retentive) as the years pass. The longer I study cuneiform, the smaller my handwriting gets and I have noticed certain OCD tendencies related to classification and organization sharpen in my “old age.” I assumed that when I began work in the archives with the CUL Graduate Student Internship, I would be doing detail-oriented processing (my fantasies of archival work being that of handling 16th-century Luther Bibles and other rare/fragile materials, such that opening a box would justify Harrison Ford-esque “That belongs in a museum!” exclamations). I thought I would be working closely with very specific materials and processing on an item level.

As Carrie Hintz, Head of Archives Processing/director of the CUL Graduate Student Internship program and my supervisor, project archivist Brigette Kamsler would explain, the “More Product Less Process” (MPLP) method began around five-years-ago to help libraries house and make available a greater number of collections in a shorter period of time, or with less resources. They explained that no matter what we do in archives, whether processing in tedium or by less detailed methods, we are still making the collections better than they were when we first encountered the materials. Great, right? Making things better, hauling through greater quantities in shorter periods of time, win-win! Everybody wins!

And then the anxiety began to creep in:
“What if researchers begin looking through this collection and see that things are not actually as organized as well as they *could* be?”
“What if, in working on a box level and grouping huge quantities of documents into large folders, I missed something about the original organization of the materials?”
“What if I am actually messing this all up!”

Doubts began to set in as I continued working through the 108 boxes of World Council of Churches materials, and I am sure that Brigette grew tired of my constant questions concerning whether I was actually doing this right or making a big fat mess! Part of this anxiety, from what I can determine, is that:

(1) *I* would never have allowed my papers, personal or otherwise, to be in such an organized state of disarray! (No offense, WCC and the people who were organizing your files in the first place…)
(2) I had a difficult time with the fact that certain papers or boxes did not have a clear “home” in the collection, as some of the materials related to one or more committee or section, or could be housed comfortably in various places
(3) “[Darn] it, Jim, I’m a doctoral student, not an archivist!”—without a degree or years of experience in the field of archival studies, how did I know that I was actually doing this right?

Well, I housed the WCC records—all 108 of those boxes—wrote the finding aid, printed pretty, uniform labels, and hauled those boxes back into their snug corner in the WAB section of the archives, and in two months flat! It really was a sight to behold, looking at the entire collection in its final (for now) resting place. While working on a separate collection after finishing this one, I found more WCC records. I was able to integrate these materials smoothly because of the basic organization that I imposed. Brigette informed me that a researcher had been inquiring into the collection in the spring and was told that he could access it in the next few years, as the time frame for when it would be finished was not then determined. Because of the CUL Graduate Student Internship program and due to the wonderful innovation of MPLP, he can access the collection now! I would say that is a true success story.

So yes, I was a huge ball of nerves for a few days here and there as I gave MPLP the old college try and confronted my disorganization phobias, but now the finding aid will soon be uploaded online, information on the collection can be generally located, and (I think) this collection is easier to access. At the end of the day, I will probably always have a love-hate relationship with MPLP (hate in the midst, love at the end), but the process is a valuable tool and a practical archival trend.