Document Preservation and the Next Step in Processing a Collection

This week was much less hectic yet still productive. I began Monday with a special little project that Heather gave me. In recent weeks Heather had visited Montreat College to help open a time capsule. The documents inside turned out to be in really bad condition, and only about twelve of them survived. Heather used weight to help press the papers as flat as they would go (they had absorbed a lot of water and were very wrinkly) and now the documents, with holes and tears, was in need of repair. Heather set up a work station with a silicone mat (a heat resistant surface to work on), heat-activated adhesive paper, and a soldering iron. My task was to tear the adhesive paper in to small pieces and basically iron them to the fragile documents, thus providing the documents with more support and stabilizing them. This allowed us to safely put the documents into plastic sleeves that would support and protect the documents. The ironed bits of adhesive paper were nearly invisible, but not quite. This was done on purpose so any future archivists looking to conserve the papers could see what steps had already been taken and either build upon or easily undo what has already been done. It is always important in conservation and restoration that the procedures taken can be easily undone. Afterwards I continued my work with AdvantageWest and actually finished my first sort! Heather and I ended the day helping another intern, Kayla, find negatives of pictures that needed a description and photographer credit.

I went back on Thursday for more AdvantageWest, although this time I started back at the very beginning—with the employee records. This time my goal is to condense the records as much as possible and put them in alphabetical order. I was surprised at how many things I was able to get rid of in the records. For this I used a retention schedule. Take, for instance, a document that said the CEO of the company paid for a rental car to use as the company car and needed to be reimbursed. This falls under “equipment maintenance” in the retention schedule, a category that groups gas receipts, car maintenance, and any other receipts that indicate the employee needs to be reimbursed. These records need only be kept for three years. Then again, employee records that prove an employee was indeed hired, what their salary was, their termination date, and so one, must be kept for thirty years. Using this extensive retention schedule I was able to weed the records down quite a bit, and I’m only half done! After I finish with this sort the entire series of “Employee Records” can finally be put away in the archives “stacks,” the storage area where all completed collections are kept.

While this week did not include malfunctioning sprinkler systems or absurd suggestions for movies, it did find me making quite a bit of progress with AdvantageWest and moving on to the next stage of processing a collection.patching papers

(Here is  picture of Heather demonstrating the patching process for me on one of the compromised documents!)


Storycorps and Archival Research

Storycorps’ methods for gathering information are certainly not those of a typical historian, so I can certainly see how the information gathered could be questioned, but I really think that one must have an open mind when considering the usefulness of the information. Perhaps the stories gathered (or even the stories gathered for the Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project) are not exactly useful when the researcher is asking very specific questions, but I do not believe the stories are completely devoid of historic value. If there is anything that my time at the WRA with Heather has taught me, it is that you cannot always estimate how important something may be simply based on your present needs and concerns. As you may recall, I have blogged frequently about the AdvantageWest collection. AdvantageWest was a company that operated in the western region of North Carolina for thirty years and only recently closed. This means the information that I have been working with over the semester, all the meeting minutes and project information and emails, currently has little value to the public, but as I sort it is my job to imagine the historical value that the information that I am holding will have in the future. Therefore, I can certainly see how valuable information from “crowd-sourced” oral history programs can be. After all, it was not until the more recent past that historians veered away from “Big Man” historiography and started paying more attention to the history of the common people. Before this shift in historiographical interest, there was a big portion of the past that that was ignored and the widely held views of time periods and events were biased, one-sided, and not completely informed. For this reason, I believe that something as seemingly insignificant as a single person’s story can prove very important in the future. Take for example Sallie’s story about MS: a future researcher could be interested in the progression of a (hopefully cured) disease and how it affected the patient, or they could simply be investigating the residents of this area and their lives and concerns, their hopes and dreams and struggles. Sallie’s story is only one of many, but it would still be a contribution to such a research.

Now about my recent experiences at the WRA! This week I got to see the research side of archivist duties. As Heather and I sat down to sort through more AdvantageWest information I began telling her about an upcoming project that I had for my North Carolina History class. For this particular paper I will be researching women in the civil War, but with an emphasis on the reversal of gender roles and duties that many women, both willingly and unwillingly, experienced. As I hadn’t yet learned much about the data bases that archivists use, Heather had Sarah introduce me to a few choice resources that they thought may be of use for my project. Heather was also kind enough to pull some books from the archive’s library for me as well as bringing up a letter from the depths of the archive collection from a Confederate soldier to his sister. Heather was also kind enough to elaborate on the system that the WRA has in place for research requests. Heather developed this system herself, complete with a Research Request Form, a system for keeping and logging these requests, and for sending them in to the main state archives at the end of the month. (I have attached an image of the form.) Heather elaborated on how important this part of an archivist’s job is, not to mention how it is their favorite part! It was also a particularly chaotic day as History Day was only a few days away, so I also learned about what exactly History Day is, and how Jeff (Heather’s boss) was in charge of putting together the competition for the western region. I only wish I had known about History Day when I was in high school!

While I did not spend much time with AdvantageWest this week, I enjoyed learning about the other duties of archivists! All the work that archivists put into sorting and putting together collections finally comes together and makes sense in the end when they get to help patrons research the very documents that they arranged into collections!

request form

Disaster at Institution X and the Ducketts


I was determined to get some good quality interning time in this week despite the fact that it was Spring Break. I was rewarded for my determination when, apart from making a good bit of headway in the AdvantageWest collection, I got to witness some interesting events that do not (thankfully) always happen!

On Tuesday Heather was away giving a talk to a group of ladies, so it was just Sarah, the other full-time archivist, and myself at the WRA. I was continuing with the film commission subseries when Sarah got a call from Heather. An intern and a volunteer were working with Institution X (the name has been changed to protect the institution) moving extremely valuable pieces of art from the institution’s vault to their exhibit floor when the newly installed sprinkler system went off! Luckily not too many artifacts were exposed to the water, but the institution crew and the WRA crew needed to act fast. Heather was on her way to pick up some supplies to assist, namely extra fans, tarps, blank newspaper, and a “preservation pail,” which consists of the above in addition to gloves, a large piece of screen, face masks, etc. With preservation pails, the idea is to be prepared for almost any scenario where artifacts are in danger. Having a device like the preservation pails assembled and available enable people like Heather to respond quickly to these types of emergencies. While the purpose of the fans and tarps may be self-explanatory, some may wonder why blank newspaper and a piece of screen would be necessary. The newspaper helps wick moisture away from the documents/artworks/artifacts that have been compromised. If these items were just laid onto a tarp the moisture would simply pool underneath the artifact instead of pulling the moisture away. The newspaper must be blank, however, as any print would leak and bleed upon becoming wet and would further place the items at risk. The screen is used to transport oversized documents and textiles. The specific piece of textile that Heather and I dealt with was weakened by age and further weakened by its exposure to a large amount of water. By placing the item onto the screen and carrying two ends of the screen per person so that the weight was evenly distributed, Heather and I were able to safely transport this cloth to an area where it could dry. This was, of course, a near disaster for the institution, but it gave me a very special, very unique learning opportunity (don’t worry, everything was fine because the institution staff and Heather’s staff worked so quickly)! As a side note, I also got to see some really incredible and beautiful works of art.

On Thursday I managed to finally finish the film commission subseries and move on to another series—the Economic Summit subseries. The Economic Summit collection dealt with the yearly event that AdvantageWest held from 2010-2012. The event brought together many individuals from the community as well as some from outside (some senators were invited and once President Obama was even invited) to discuss economic development in the region. This subseries was much easier to deal with as much of the information (caterers, venue contracts, vendor contracts, etc.) could be recycled. The most important items were the teleconferences, programs, and official notes from the summits. Apart from telling us what kind of questions were asked and the corresponding answers of the panel members that were present, this information provides insight to the type of ideas and goals that AdvantageWest was promoting at the time. However, the Economic Summit series was far from the most exciting thing that I experienced on Thursday! In yet another one-of-a-kind opportunity, I got to witness Heather reframing some very old “solar prints” from the late 1850’s- early 1860’s! These two portraits were of Mr. and Mrs. Duckett. They were made using a negative (or something similar). Since the negative was a very small picture, individuals would use the sun to project the picture onto a large piece of paper. In the process of enlarging the image, much of the detail would be lost, so individuals would go back and fill in detail with a crayon. Let me say that these people were FAR from artists. The hands of Mr. Duckett were particularly curious. The pictures themselves were amazing enough but Heather, always seeking an opportunity to teach, showed me some damage that had been done to the pictures by insects. This damage was caused by improper storing and preservation methods on behalf of the original owners. Heather also showed me (with other artifacts) the damage that roaches and termites can do when thing are not stored properly.

Suffice to say, this week was full of action and opportunity the likes of which a new intern rarely gets! It is gratifying to see the progress that I have made on the AdvantageWest collection, but it was great to see some of the other responsibilities that an archivist must address. For your enjoyment, I have included both a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Duckett as well as some lists pertaining to disaster supplies and air drying compromised artifacts that Heather provided me with.

mrduckettmrsduckettAir Drying Preferred

sample disaster supplies

Geodes, Movie Projects, and Historical Structures

It was yet another busy week as I visited three more museums and interned a day at the WRA! The first museum I visited was on Friday. The Colburn Science Museum occasionally has an event called Beer City Science Pub. This event involves serving a locally brewed beer and refreshments, opening the museum up for patrons to view, and having a lecture (this week the lecture was on climate change and the beer was from Twin Leaf Brewing). Upon discovering this event, I immediately considered how the museum was being very clever in curating an event that would be sure to attract a healthy sized crowd, especially in Asheville! The curators certainly did a great job of appealing to the public and getting their attention. Sure enough, the museum filled up quickly. The artifacts were arranged in certain groups—the minerals section, a section about the earth’s layers and volcanic activity, a section on mining (the history of mining as well as equipment used and the technique), and a display on minerals and stones found in this area of the state and how these raw materials were used. Seeing as my geology is the only science that I’ve ever enjoyed, the mineral section was naturally my favorite! I enjoyed pointing out to my fiancé which stones were igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks. I even remembered what a conglomerate rock was and pointed that out as well. His response was to promptly poke fun at me, saying that I was acting like a kid in a candy store. That was ok, though, I got my chance to return the jesting when he became fascinated with a DVD playing in the earth-layers room about spelunking and refused to listen to me talk about the metamorphic rock display. The setup of the exhibits themselves was quite inviting, having an appropriate amount of displays in cases, brief yet thorough descriptions of all the items, and plenty of hands-on activities and minerals and stones to touch. There was even an interactive mining activity in which one could “activate” the explosives outside of a cavern and then walk in to learn about the various materials that had been uncovered. We also bought our very own geode to bust open at home. We didn’t get to stay for the lecture, but I am certain that we will be going again.

The other two museums I had the pleasure of visiting were the Swannanoa Valley Museum and the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center. This was a very different experience from the museums that I had visited before. The Swannanoa Valley Museum afforded me a great opportunity to see what exactly goes into not only building a museum, but restoring a historical building and preserving the integrity of the original structure to incorporate it as a part of the museum. I thought it was really neat how the crew managed to keep the original pipe leading down from the second floor, and thought they did a beautiful job restoring the outside face of the building! I thought that, after the Swannanoa Valley Museum is finished, it would complement the property adjacent to it, the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center. The Arts Center took what was an old structure that had been used to serve multiple needs in the community (a jail, library, town hall, etc.), and repurposed it so that it is now a wonderful community center that offers various different types of classes such as art, dance, and yoga, so as to help the community come together and grow. Overall the two museums served as a wonderful example of how older buildings that had long been part of a town could be reused to serve the community again while still preserving much of the integrity of the structure.

Monday saw me back at the WRA and on to a new subseries in AdvantageWest. Heather and another intern, Kayla, helped me as I weeded through binders and binders of movie/TV proposals and ideas. We were specifically looking for information on any projects that actually came to fruition and were produced in western North Carolina. As a result, much of what we found was not kept because no footage was ever shot here for many of the projects. As tedious as it became, we kept ourselves amused by finding hilarious project descriptions and requests for landscape/settings that were needed. I pulled aside some of my favorites to include in this post with my own commentary in parenthesis:

  • Lots of prisons were needed for various films
  • Project description for a movie about venison eaters (a movie about… really?)
  • “Nerd Camp” (Title of a project)
  • Lots of commercials and photo shoots for catalogs and magazines
  • PBS pilot for a mini-series about a Civil War Hospital during the late 1700s-early 1800s (I kid you not. I could not make this up. This was hands down one of our favorites, although it made us a little sad.)
  • “Attack of the 50 foot Cheerleader” (another project title)
  • “Bitter Coffee” (this little gem was about an unlikely trio of survivors who had only their wit and bitter coffee to survive a post-apocalyptic phenomenon… yes, my thoughts exactly.)
  • Request for a piece of property to portray a Texas ranch (… here… in the mountains… where it looks nothing like Texas.)
  • Request for a “town resembling Washington, D.C. in around 1860” (…. Yes, this was a real request.)
  • “Rock the Mic” (what would have been a hip-hop version of “High School the Musical,” although I dare say it might have been better than a movie about a 50 foot cheerleader.)
  • Request for a place to shoot a scene, but here’s the hitch—no mountains could be visible.

And Lastly…

  • Five ideas that were considered for a reality TV show: Lazoom, Sunburst Trout Farms, The Blue Ride Parkway (following officers along the parkway), Pisgah Forest (same idea as the parkway, but with forest rangers), and Rosetta’s kitchen

I really have no idea how a trout farm or a vegetarian restaurant made it on to a list of potential reality TV ideas, and can you imagine a show about Lazoom?! Anyway, this was just an example of a few ideas that we ran across in the six to eight huge binders that we went through. We did have good laugh, though! And, after a few hours of work, we made it all the way through this series, which is really saying something since, due to the nature of the information that these documents contained, each paper had to be looked at and read to ensure that it did not contain important information. It was a busy day and an even busier week, but I am looking forward to getting some extra interning time in during spring break!