This was a big week! It started off Monday, which is now my normal day for visiting the archives from 9a-5p. I continued to make a good amount of progress on the AdvantageWest collection, although this time I was left to my own devices for most of the time. This was nice as it allowed me to test what I’ve learned so far. It was also a show of Heather’s confidence in my abilities, something that in itself is a real confidence booster! I managed to make my way through two new subseries—the AOF (Advantage Opportunity Fund) and another one (I can’t quite recall the name for this one). Heather and I also discussed future plans. It is Heather’s intention to have me work on this particular collection until it is complete, that is to say I will continue sorting through each and every box that contains AdvantageWest material and then Heather and I will come up with a way to sort the entire collection into series and subseries, and then I will get to create a finding aid! Heather compared this part to a book. AdvantageWest, the collection itself, would be the book with all the series as chapters and all the subseries as the contents of each chapter. Although I was not with the archives when the AdvantageWest collection came in, I have been part been working with this collection for most of the time, so by the end I will have gotten to see most of its journey from its donation to the archives to its entrance into a finding aid.
On Tuesday I went back to the WRA, this time not to work but to be a part of the tour for the class. I actually got to see some really cool things that I haven’t yet seen, including some of the contents of the time capsule that was taken from Vance Monument last year (over a hundred years old). The amazing contents of the capsule include a copy of The Colored Enterprise—an African American newspaper that people had heard of but never actually seen—and a document from the Civil War era on which men would sign up to enlist in the Confederate Army! As I said, some really amazing stuff. After Heather’s tour we ventured over to the Blue Ridge Parkway Museum with Jackie, the woman in charge of the museum. She gave us a brief yet thorough history of the Parkway, starting at its beginning in the 1930s and extending into current times. She even showed us some drawn out plans for a tea room on the Parkway, which at the time would have been segregated. I also learned that, contrary to what I had thought, the CCC did not in fact build the Parkway! The difference in the materials at the Parkway Museum and the WRA is tremendous! They had various signs that have been displayed along the parkway in the past, musical instruments, World War II era firefighting gear, tools that had been used to build our section of the Parkway and a bug collection that I, personally, let everyone else step up to view as I really don’t like bugs… at all. Lydia asked Kendall and me if we wanted to see the spider collection, which I was perfectly fine without, thank you very much! I was also fine with not viewing the freezer-burnt rabbit that is held in one of the freezers. Lydia showed us a couple of the projects that she had been working on as well. Overall the Parkway Museum was extremely interesting. I can see why Lydia would like it there, but it made me realize how drastically different archives and museums can be from one another and how very happy I am with my own assignment at the WRA!
This week’s intern time at the WRA was spent processing the AdvantageWest collection with Heather, the lead archivist! This was especially useful for me and much needed as we began sorting the CEC (Certified Entrepreneurial Community) program binders and files. The CEC was a special program that AdvantageWest developed to help communities build and support their entrepreneurs. This particular program was, of course, designed to assist the western region of the state; it required each county that wished to obtain the certification to complete a series of requirements.
The CEC information proved to be much trickier than the employee files, financial information, and the newspapers/publicity clippings. The information that I have dealt with previously had a fairly clear system for what to keep, recycle, or shred. The CEC information was much more difficult and had to be gone through carefully lest something important be thrown away. In addition to the plan proposals from each county, there was information on the various changes and incentives that they implemented as well as brochures and pamphlets about each county. Heather, always taking every opportunity to teach, gave me another little nugget of knowledge as she described for me the difference between regular documents that contain basic—albeit important—information such as W-2s and financial information and documents such as brochures, flyers, postcards, etc., also known as ephemera. Ephemera is equally as important to archives as other documents. Many factors such as the company’s choice of visuals, design and layout, and choice of information to include in a brochure or flyer gives the researcher the ability to glean a better understanding about the company and its mission based on the decisions it made for the visuals and information that it wished to provide to the public. When adding ephemera to a collection, archival protocol indicates that, if available, it is preferable to keep two copies of a piece of ephemera—one for public use and one to keep in good condition in the archives.
By the end of the day I was exhausted and slightly overwhelmed by the intensity of all the new information I had learned, but grateful to have learned new things and made so much progress on the collection. Heather sometimes acknowledges that what we are doing at the current moment may not be the most fun aspect of archiving, but I thoroughly enjoy it (even the not-so-fun stuff!) as I feel like I am getting a well-rounded view of exactly what it is like to be an archivist. It’s not always fun and games, but it is instantly gratifying to see a big collection like AdvantageWest coming together.
t’s hard to even know where to begin as I was able to make a few trips out to the WRA this week and was rewarded with a flood of new knowledge!
On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Heather and I continued sorting the AdvantageWest collection, but we managed to finish up with the publicity series and made our way through the employee files. Those were quickly finished however and we moved on to tax returns and audits, project information, and other things. What I got to witness here is what it is like to process an entire collection. Although we are nowhere near done, it’s easier to see now exactly how a collection develops, and to get some idea of how we want to arrange it and make it available to the public. I also got a taste of one of the many, many ways that archival collections can be used! The WRA has already received two calls requesting copies of important documentation to be used for various legal reasons.
While processing and “weeding” out collections is the biggest part of what I’ve done so far, learning about the politics of archiving is a necessity. Whether it be between patrons and employees, employees and other employees, interdepartmental, or branch-to-branch (the WRA is part of the main state archives that operates out of Raleigh, North Carolina and so it must work with the main branch), there are many political niceties that must be observed. It was really interesting to witness these small exchanges. If processing a collection before it is put into the system is behind-the-scenes work, then these political interactions like behind-the-behind-the-scenes work!
Also—equally as important—are the retention schedules that must be followed. There are different types of retention schedules, such as corporate and federal, but entire concept of a retention schedule is that it breaks up documents into different categories and provides a timetable indicating how long each type should be kept. For example, W2’s must be kept indefinitely while financial documents may be discarded after a certain number of years. When processing collections such as these one must also be mindful of important personal information that could be on documents, such as Social Security Numbers. There are measures set in place that instruct one on the legal ways to safely handle information such as this.
It was most certainly a busy week that has left me with a lot of information to process and reflect upon. I got to see what a collection looks like as it slowly develops, was intrigued by seeing the political side of archiving, and got a taste of the legal rules that are associated with archiving such as how to handle sensitive information. I look forward to going back on Monday to put some of these ideas into practice!
It was back to the AdvantageWest collection on Thursday as I tried to finish up sorting the publicity series. I am happy to say that I am almost finished and then I can begin learning how to create a finding aid! However, while Kendall and I worked on our respective projects, we were given a special treat—we were asked to help curate a Cherokee Language exhibit! We were given artifacts from the Cherokee gift shop that highlighted the native language of the Cherokees. This included books, pottery, a (clay?) slab with the Cherokee syllabary, replicas of old newspapers, a shirt, a neck tie, and more. Heather took this time to teach us about materials and exhibits. She explained how artifacts (especially older pieces) like documents and cultural artifacts can be damaged by UV rays. For this reason, the WRA has purchased UV protectors to put on the florescent light bulbs in the building. Also available for purchase are protectors to put on windows. To aid in protecting the artifacts from natural light outside, the WRA keeps the window shades in the display room at least half way down.
Learning how to actually arrange the items was also important; making sure that things are arranged so that colors complement each other and nothing blends in or clashes, that some things are raised and not everything is lying flat (a bunch of flat pieces of paper lying on a flat surface isn’t very enticing to the public), and even, if possible, using available materials as a sort of back drop in a display case to draw the attention of your patrons (as we did with the red shirt in the photo) are all things to consider when arranging a display for the public to view. When curating an exhibit, it is always important to consider what will be most attractive as well as educational for the viewer. This also gave Kendall and I an opportunity to get better acquainted with the space that we will be using for our state parks display later this semester.
I have set aside a few days next week to go back which should allow me plenty of time to finish up with AdvantageWest and move on to my next project and to knew facets of archiving. Until then I have been given plenty of information to reflect on!