Reflecting on Presentations

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about everyone else’s experiences this semester. I noticed that many others experienced difficulties similar to what I experienced, such as issues with the records management of the last owners of a collection. I was horrified when I heard about McKenzie and Julia’s redacting debacle! I can only imagine how disheartening that was to discover so far into a series! Then again there were others who had completely different experiences from my own. I was most amazed by Catherine’s presentation. She and Katherine Calhoun-Cutshall made so much progress over the course of just a short semester, and the website they are making looks like it’s going to be amazing! I thought Natalie’s experience was unique as well, although it was not quite what she had hoped it would be. I also loved Lydia’s presentation on the Cultural Resource Facility that she visited. It never really occurred to me to consider something like goats as history, although I felt she was correct in saying that these goats are a type of preservation of that site’s history. I also thought this kind of consideration reflected her personal internship where she dealt with various plants, animals, and insects as a part of the Parkway’s history, which is really neat as it shows how she internalized what she learned through her experiences. In general it seems that everyone was excited to share knowledge about their internships.

Overall it was interesting to hear about the very different internships that we all had. I’m sure that a few of the factors that made our experiences so diverse are the type of institution, such as a state archive verses a university archive, type of collection one is working on, and the supervisor that one is working with. Heather, for instance, differs from Gene in that she did not require us to read any books on archival technique. She made it well known that these materials are certainly available to us, but personally preferred to teach us through hands-on methods. What the presentations primarily proved for me was that to know one archive is not necessarily to know all archives. There is not one simple method for archiving; archives are all different and have very different information and experiences to provide to their patrons and workers alike.

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Reflecting Back on a Semester of Archiving

I have found it increasingly difficult to reflect back on my entire internship. It is as if this were my final exhibit—how do I properly represent this world that I have found myself happily immersed in? Looking back to the beginning of my internship, it is hard to say when the archiving world began making sense and I started to get the hang of things because Heather and Sarah made the learning process so fun and easy and natural. I do not mean to say that archival work itself is always fun. As Kendall mentioned in her presentation, it led to really dry hands for us both and on days when one is tired it can be very difficult to sort through papers for a few hours straight. It can be equally frustrating when the original owners of a collection had little to no knowledge of records management or when items, such as photographs, are not label as they should be. (Seriously, though, how in the world did photographers expect people to identify a picture of a random tree in all of Western North Carolina??) That said, the environment of the WRA was also very welcoming. It is a place where learning and doing things right is taken very seriously but having fun is important, too. Heather and Sarah both work very hard to make it easy for their researchers have the maximum amount of access to as much information and research materials as possible. This means promptly answering inquiry emails and phone calls, scanning as much information to put on line as they can, and providing thorough descriptions online of the archive’s contents. And when it’s been an especially tough day, what better way to cheer everyone up than an impromptu ice cream party?!

As for my own experience, AdvantageWest was sometimes difficult to work with but I thoroughly enjoyed learning their story and, through their story, learning a piece of Western North Carolina’s economic story. Also, looking back, I am able to appreciate how far I’ve come in the collection! This single collection went from taking up most of the storage room (where collections wait to be processed) to taking up less than a set of shelves along one wall! Along the way I learned plenty of archiving terms like ephemera and became quite familiar with retention schedules (I believe I worked with a federal retention schedule). I also learned much of the technicalities of archiving, such as what types of materials (papers, folders, etc.) are acceptable and good for preserving, how many copies of ephemera to keep (two is the recommended number—one for preservation and one for the public to see and handle). But in addition to all of the archival practices that must be followed, I learned how difficult (but FUN!!) it is to interpret a story. AW’s story was amazing! They did so much to help out this region and would have done plenty more had they not shut down! I had plenty of amazing experiences outside of AW as well. From the Living History day at the Smith-McDowell House to learning to mend old documents with a soldering iron to The Sprinkler Disaster to helping carry an authentic Confederate Flag from the 22nd North Carolina regiment to be transported to the Mountain Gateway Museum, I got to see a few of the many ways in which archivists help to preserve and pass on history to the next generation. On the researcher side of things, I witnessed first-hand how Heather and Sarah interact with and aid researchers as they helped me find resources for an essay that I was writing for my North Carolina History Class… an essay that Heather eventually proof read and enjoyed to the extent that she included it on the Western Regional Archive’s personal blog, an honor for which I am deeply proud of!

My time at the WRA was deeply educational and beyond incredible. However, my knowledge of the archival world is nowhere near complete, so I am very happy that Heather accepted me back for yet another internship next semester! I look forward to finishing the AdvantageWest collection and turning my sights towards the State Parks Celebration exhibit that we will all be working on.

Finding Aids, Ice Cream, and Confederate Flags

Thursday was my last day interning with the WRA. The first item on the agenda was picking up where I left on of the final sort for the Grants series. I made some progress, of course, but it was slow work this particular day. Many of the files that I pulled to sort had some very odd names on the labels—if it had any name at all—so I had to do some investigative work. In the case of one particular file I had to just sit it aside to ask Heather about because it was so confusing. I was working on the Grants because Heather was at a meeting, but we had decided to go over finding aids when she came back. The first order of business upon her return, however, was to have me assist Matt from the Mountain Gateway Museum with moving an original Confederate Flag from the 22nd North Carolina Regiment! Personal views and feelings aside, it was fascinating to see a real Confederate Flag, the flag that this regiment carried into battle, preserved so well! It also made me think a little about how archivists and historians have to be impartial when it comes to history and what is preserved. This isn’t a new revelation that I had, but just holding the flag of a group that I so disagree with made the need to remain impartial all the more potent. After all, documents, beliefs, ephemera, and artifacts from all sides of history must be preserved in order to obtain a full story of what life was like at the time.

After the flag was tucked away in the van that it would be transported in, Heather surprised us with a little ice cream party to celebrate our last day (although Kendall and I will both be returning to the WRA)! Following our sweet treats, Heather and I proceeded to the processing room where the majority of the AW records were held. We began thinking about the finding aid and how we wanted it organized. As of yet, our proposed finding aid is beginning to look something like this:

 

Collection: Advantage West Economic Development Group

 

Series:

  1. Employee
  2. Projects
    1. Certified Entrepreneurial Program (CEC)
    2. Advantage Opportunity Fund (AOF)
    3. Certified Industrial Sites
    4. Media Art Project Fund
    5. BREC
    6. BRAIN (I forget the exact words that BREC and BRAIN stand for, but it has something to do with Blue Ridge)
  3. Visual
  4. Grants
  5. Administrative Files
  6. Publicity
    1. Newspaper Clippings
    2. Brochures
    3. Certificates
    4. Magazine Clippings
    5. Press Releases
  7. Film Commission
  8. Minutes
  9. Annual Reports
  10. Financial Records
    1. Tax Records
    2. Annual Fiscal Reports

The numbered sections represent a series while the lettered sections underneath the different numbers represent a sub-series within the overall series. While all finding aids have the same general information and set up, it will be up to me (closely supervised by Heather, of course) to determine what order I want the series to be listed on the website for researchers. For instance, Heather may decide it’s best for the Financial Records and Administrative Records to be listed first because they tell a story about the company itself, whereas I thought the Publicity and Projects records could perhaps come first because they tell more about what the company did during its time in operation.

 

It is nice to see the collection coming together after all this time. In no time it will be ready to put into the repository for good! It would have been a much sadder day, knowing it was the last of the semester, if I wasn’t already set to do another internship with the WRA over the summer and in the fall semester, but as it stands I will be back in just a few short weeks to finish up AW and move on to the next collection!

Also, I have included a picture of the Confederate Flag because that’s just neat.

22ndNCRegiment.jpg

More Progress in the Final Sort

This week began on Monday as I continued working on the final sort for AdvantageWest. I quickly completed the remaining CEC files and moved on to the “Projects” and “Advantage Opportunity Funds” series. As with the CEC series, the “Projects” and “Advantage Opportunity Funds” (AOF) series had already been sorted through, but they still needed another look-through before they were put into proper folders and placed in alphabetical order in an archive-approved box. These two series did not take me as long as the CEC series since I had gotten used to the task and was able to go at a faster speed. These two series were also particularly interesting as they showed many different projects that AW worked with as well as many small local businesses that borrowed money from AW’s AOF to helps start their business. Noble Cider and Buchi (Asheville Kombucha Mamas) were two well-known and still operational businesses that I found in the AOF series!

I went back to the archives on Thursday to get a few hours in for the afternoon. I made quite a bit of headway on my final sorts. Having completed the “Projects” and “AOF” series, I moved on to the “Grants” series. The name of the series is self-explanatory—these were the grants that were awarded to various small businesses through AdvantageWest or a company that AdvantageWest worked with (in which case AW often times wrote a letter of support to the other company for the business in question). These files were quite extensive, containing applications, agendas for meetings, ephemera for the companies, and so on. I inwardly thanked myself for having the wherewithal to sort the information (within the individual files) chronologically during the rough sort that I had done before! It made the final sort so much easier! After I had worked on the Grants for a little bit Heather pulled me aside to show me something new—Librarything.com. The WRA website has a database for researchers to peruse for documents in the repository, but the database does not hold information regarding the library that the WRA has. For these books the WRA has a subscription to Library Thing. Whenever a new book is donated, Heather or Sarah enter the name of the book, author, book description, key words, and publishing information onto Library Thing along with a copy of the book cover (if Library Thing does not already have a designated cover for that book). This way any potential patrons can go onto Library Thing and look at the WRA’s book collection if they are interested in coming by to do any research out of books.

Not too much out of the ordinary happened this week, but I did get a lot of work done on the AdvantageWest collection and I am glad to see my past work paying off big time as I move into the final stages of processing!

Fun at the Smith-McDowell House

(This entry is to make up for the long overdue entry from last week.)

Last Tuesday I spent my typical time sorting the AdvantageWest collection, only this time I began working on another series for the final sort! This particular series was the Community Entrepreneurial Certification (CEC) project that AdvantageWest (AW) had started up to get counties more interested in making their areas friendlier for entrepreneurial business. I had previously sorted these files before, so there was not too much to do besides doing another quick sort and putting them in appropriate folders and boxes to be filed. Still, the process took quite a while as there were many binders to go through. I managed to get rid of some unnecessary papers, but the majority of the information was retained as it described the process that each county went through in order to become a CEC county. I processed quite a large portion of the series, but I did not manage to finish the entire series by the end of the day—this project would have to be continued the following week as Heather had a special event for me to attend on Friday!

On Thursday and Friday there was a special event held at the Smith-McDowell house on the AB-Tech campus for all the fourth grade children in this area. The event highlighted North Carolina history and life and included butter churning, washing clothes in a tub and hanging them to dry, lace-making, turning wool into thread to use for clothing, World War I reenactments, and so on. Our booth was, of course, archiving. Heather has worked this even for the past few years now so she had it all worked out! She brought certain documents—a list (written in cursive) of the contents of Blackbeard’s cargo hold in the Queen Anne, a copy of a four hundred year old German rhebus and a much new rhebus (a document in which some words are replaced with pictures), and old photographs. Together we, along with another intern named Kayla, taught the children about being “history detectives” and how archivists use context clues to learn more about the documents and photographs that they are given. Then the kids were given old books (about eighty-five to one hundred years old) to “clean” with soft bristle paint brushes while Heather taught them about cleaning dirt and oils and other harmful substances from books before putting them into the “vault.” We even had a few kids that were really interested in history, including one talkative group of girls! It was a great chance to not only teach the next generation about archives, but also to network and get the word out about the WRA as there were a lot of teachers and parents there as well!

The week ended on a great albeit tiring note. Spending all day surrounded by children is surely exhausting, but it was nice to see some of them have genuine interest in the archives. I also got to learn a little about lace-making, which was the station that I was looking forward to the most!

Organizing the Repository

At long last my work has paid off—I completed the Employee file series of the AdvantageWest collection and it can now be put away for good! I still have plenty of other series to work on, but I am now progressing into the final stages of processing a collection!

After finishing up with the employee files Heather gave me a break from AdvantageWest. The WRA currently has a researcher visiting from out of town to study up on the Black Mountain College. Thankfully, this particular researcher is organized and sent a list of her desired topics to Heather ahead of time, allowing Heather to prepare her research materials. After I finished up with AdvantageWest for the day, Heather had me go with her into the repository so she could explain their organizational system, which is connected with the main state archive’s system. Each row of shelves in the repository is numbered beginning at one and going to twenty-four. Within each row there are three sections. These sections are labeled, from left to right, A, B, and C, and each section has seven shelves. The boxes on the shelves are further labeled depending on what kind of collection it is. This can either be an Accession number or a Call number. To use AdvantageWest as an example, its Accession number will be 2015.06.01. 2015 is the year that the archive received it, “06” is the month that it came in, and “01” indicates the collection’s position in regards to the other collections that came in that month (AdvantageWest was the first collection that was received by the archive in the month of June). Collections can also be given a Call number, which is used to determine what kind of collection one is dealing with. For instance, PC stands for Private collection, MLC is short for Military Collection, and so on. In addition to the collection type, each collection that is given to the archives is given a unique number. For example, within row four, section C, shelf 3, I may find boxes labeled PC 1790.03. “PC” indicates that this is a private collection while 1790 is a number assigned by the system that links up with the state archives. This number tells us that this collection is the 1,790th Private Collection that the state owns. “03” tells us that this is the third box in this particular collection. To practice, Heather had me go to row one to pick out the last few boxes that the researcher would be needing for the next day. She called out the row, section, and number to me and then had me look inside the boxes to double check that the desired information was, in fact, in the box. Then we put the boxes on a rolling cart for the researcher to use tomorrow.

As exciting as it was to move onto the next stage of processing AdvantageWest, it was really nice to take a break and learn about some of the inner workings of the archives. I have been focusing so much on the small picture (of just the AdvantageWest collection) that I hadn’t quite thought about where my project would fit in within the rest of the archives! This gives me more incentive to finish up with all the various series within AdvantageWest so it can finally take its place in the repository!