Week Three | June 11-June 14

Week three ended in a success for team WWPL interns: Ashley and I finished processing the photo collection!

After presenting our various findings from week two to Mark we came up with the plan to just start fresh and leave the collection some padding in the form of numbering the remainder of it from 2800. When we hit our snag we were just past 2700 when we realized there were some duplicates (and triplicates) of some numbers, each folder with a different item.

From that point it was just a matter of finding out which item was already scanned in and leaving it as that number rather than going through the explorer file on the computer trying to renumber everything. What duplicates we had we just scanned in if they weren’t already or marked as a duplicate to then manually renumber from 2800.

It made the most sense to do it like this rather than going back through the entire collection trying to start from zero; some folders were missing in the earlier numbers we had done during week one meaning they could be misnumbered or misplaced or even part of the institutional photo collection. Speaking of which…Ashley will continue the good work of processing those while I move on to…drum roll, please…finding aids!

And archivist’s bread and butter, or so I’ve read and heard. At this point in time I’ve seen them, read them, used them, but have yet to actually experience creating one. I guess you could say they’re the Sasquatch of my archival studies concentration; the clues and sightings are all there, but the actual thing remains cleverly elusive.

I feel quasi-confident going into this week since I just finished my spring semester coming out of a purely metadata based course, but EAD (Encoded Archival Description) was just something we touched on; a brief wave to as we drove past. I’m not too worried since I know Mark will be there for my more than likely numerous questions (apologies in advance!) and I’ve got a bunch of online resources bookmarked I’d like to get printed at some point, so I don’t foresee this going too disastrously.

This week Mark also had Ashley and I slip downstairs for the June “Coffee with the Curator” program which featured the stories of Oscar Dabney and Margarent Cline from the museum’s Soldiers’ Stories: World War I Through American Eyes exhibit. Both were Staunton locals who went to France to serve in the war only to return home and get married; it was a good story, one fortunately with a happy ending, and it was nice to see how the museum utilized local history. We met with the museum curator afterwards to introduce ourselves and ask some questions mostly about how he handled preservation and if he ever pulled from the archives upstairs.

The program’s actually really neat and happens once a month (July will be about Woodrow Wilson and golf) so hopefully we can make the next two before our gigs as interns are up and we have to peace out at the end of the summer.

Bring on week four; I’ll let you know how the hunt for Sasquatch goes!




Week Two | June 4-June 7

So the photo collection processing has hit a speed bump. 

On Thursday, when it looked like the end was in sight as we reached the last three or four folders in the bottom file cabinet drawer, Ashley and I found some rather head-scratching worthy snags. Some of the folders and their contents had already been scanned, but we think just misnumbered. Going through the digital files to double check what was there we found images that weren’t in any of the physical folders in front of us, despite being numbered correctly. So where were those photos? And why were there two WWPL2626’s and some other duplicate folders?

As any confused interns would do we made stacks of what didn’t make sense and what kind of made sense along with notes detailing what was going on in the hopes it would somehow all work out. It didn’t. I’m so excited for tomorrow (no sarcasm intended, seriously, I’m curious to see what Mark has us do).

I’m not excited that things have been mis-foldered or mis-numbered or mis-something-ed, but instead that Ashley and I stumbled upon a real world problem that, up until now, I’ve only read about in textbooks or in other people’s discussion posts in class who already work in an archive. I’ve never really thought of jobs in the LIS field as smooth sailing or easy; there’s too many changing facets to assume there’d never be any mix-ups or technological changes, that the organization of information is just one solid unyielding brick you can toss around. It’s more like a Jenga tower with a few loose sticks; stable for the most part, but filled with all those wonderful “what if?” learning moments such as half a file cabinet drawer of…not organized stuff. So you learn how to fix it, make it better, organize it better, and shove that Jenga stick back into its hole better than it was before.

This internship has definitely been one of Realizations (capitalization fully intended). When I first read about the digitization of records my brain concocted this very convoluted idea of how that goes; it involved lasers and sealed labs and, for some reason, gas masks. Which, in some cases as I’ve found out, there are sometimes labs involved and lasers for scans such as 3D imaging, but no gas masks. Sometimes it’s just you, in a little back room, putting physical photographs into an Epson scanner and making them digital. Rinse, lather, repeat. After getting over my initial wariness of Mac computers and Realizing that I was doing actual record digitization I felt…kind of official. Like, I was actually a quasi-archivist. It was something I actually went to work and bragged about.

I’ve come across some really cool photos, some of which I’ve pulled up online to show coworkers. I think it’d be interesting to put together a mini collection of quirks and curiosities from the WWPL Photo Collection, but I don’t know who, exactly, would be the target audience. Easily distracted and fascinated people like me? One photo in particular reminds me of a textbook my brother had in business school for his critical thinking class; inside were…unusual pictures, like a nun mowing the lawn with a Hawaiian shirt on over her standard nun attire. The purpose was to think critically about the picture; why it was happening, how it was happening, what was going to happen after or what had happened before. 

And, in a way, isn’t that what archives are meant to do? Preserve the past to see where we, as humans, have been and gone? To keep track of what all we’ve done and how we’ve done it and how we’ve hopefully learned and changed from it? To think critically not only about ourselves as individuals, but how we’ve fit into the world as communities and societies throughout history? I probably won’t lobby to make my mini collection idea a reality because of its many faults and more than likely lack of appeal, but it’s something I might unofficially try to keep track of as I come across more critical thinking textbook worthy pictures.

Week One | May 29-June 1

In a 1914 speech to the National Press Club, Woodrow Wilson expressed “I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow…I am listening, I am diligently trying to collect all the brains that are borrowable in order that I may not make more blunders than it is inevitable that a man should make who has great limitations of knowledge and capacity.”

I admittedly don’t know that much about the man himself, but I look forward to getting to know him over the next couple of weeks. World War I as a whole is a time period I’m more familiar with having studied the literature produced during and after the Great War, so I’m definitely looking forward to returning to the early 1900’s, learning about Wilson’s presidency and handling of the war on a more personal level, and also how the war affected the city of Staunton, if at all.

Similarly, I don’t have a lot of hands on experience in an actual archive. I’ve done some volunteering at a local heritage center staffed purely by other volunteers where I observed and helped in that awkward peripheral kind of way, but couldn’t quite get my hands dirty. So this week was exciting for me in that Mark let us hit the ground running; I never knew I’d get so excited over giant folders with lots of smaller folders inside at 10 o’clock in the morning.

About half of the archive’s photo collection, having previously been digitized by another intern, was publicly available online. The other half was still private, lonely digitized images waiting for more bits and pieces to be added to them in order to be published for public viewing. Through Omeka, a web-based publishing platform mostly used in libraries, museums, and archives, Mark had us inputting data for the title, creator, data, source, and contributor Dublin Core fields in addition to each image’s physical dimensions.

Honestly, I was kind of relieved to see the Dublin Core fields since I just finished a whole spring semester’s worth of studying metadata where DC was basically all we practiced with in addition to MODS and VRA Core 4.0, the latter of which I did not get along with. At all. Ironically, our class didn’t really touch on encoded archival description (EAD) beyond the basic reading about it, knowing about it, and moving on. Because of this I’m hoping to actually try it out, to maybe make a finding aid or something since I feel like I’m going to need it later down the line. I won’t complain about Dublin Core though; it’s so user friendly and easy to follow along and Omeka’s interface is actually really nice and fun to use.

I want to say that in just a week I’ve gotten through maybe…200 items? Honestly, the best part of each day is finding out what’s in each folder, so lots of super small moments that add up in three and a half hours. There’s a small label tag with a very brief description such as “World War I” or “Versailles Peace Conference”, but sometimes what’s inside is so much more than that. Something described as just “World War I” could actually be a field full of soldiers on horseback or with a group of cannons so then you have to think of what to actually title the digitized image to best convey what it’s about. I’m not generally someone who likes surprises, but I like these. I try not to ‘ohh’ and ‘ahh’ too much, but sometimes it’s hard not to, especially when you’re holding actual photographs from 1912 that someone’s physically written a note on the back of. It’s the little things.

I actually like what I’m doing and I like working with Mark. I’ve yet to be bored — slightly unnerved by the creaky silence of the Library and Research Center building — but I’m actually motivated to get up in the morning, to drive 45 minutes to get to WWPL, and to open folders and find out what’s inside; to piece together the life of man born in Staunton as told through photographs. To use my brain to the best of its ability and to put all the things I’ve been studying for the past two years to use, to borrow  Mark’s brain to find out what all he knows that he can teach to me.

I’m excited to find out what comes after we finish up with the photo collection, but I already know I’m going to miss it.

Who I Am & How I Got Here

Hello WWPL Volunteer Diaries, nice to meet you!

Before getting into the good stuff I figured I’d at least introduce myself so I’m not a complete online stranger, kind of explain who I am and how I got here to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum (trust me, it’s a story). I’m Bri, a local grad student from Harrisonburg, only 40-45 minutes north of Staunton, who commutes every day to both intern and work five days a week; the drive’s not too bad with the right kind of music.

After completing my undergrad at James Madison University I was conflicted for about a year as to what to do with my life; I really thought editing and publishing was the route for me, had filled out a graduate program application and everything, but chickened out at the last minute after talking to someone already in the industry. They had nothing but horror stories and while you shouldn’t always believe what you hear or read, their stories had some merit after further research, so there I was: kind of directionless and dog sitting for a family friend.

One who happened to be a librarian at JMU. An untapped source of inspiration. Not to be cliche, but actually sitting down and asking her about her job, her experiences in the LIS field, is what changed my life. I applied for the online MLIS program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee shortly after, got accepted, and fell in love with archival studies my third semester in. So here I am.

Back in January of this year I emailed my graduate school advisor to make sure I was still in line to graduate in the spring of 2019; I had just had her for a class the previous semester and had expressed interest in taking more of her courses if or when she offered for the rest of 2018. For two months I didn’t hear anything back and automatically assumed the worse: Was she fired? Did something happen to her? Did she just up and quit without notice? Or, on a more positive note, did she just quietly retire without any fanfare?

Not really knowing who to contact at the university, I sent out some feeler emails only to find out nothing on the whereabouts or status of the woman who had so enthusiastically welcomed me to the MLIS program with what was essentially a glitter bomb version of an email; I’d never seen so many glitter GIFS in one place. Add in the factor of being a completely online long distance learner and I had myself quite a doozy of a situation — I’ve never even been to Milwaukee to see the campus let alone meet any of my actual instructors or advisor. I’ve thought about it, have loosely made plans for it, but will it ever happen? Maybe.

So there I was: advisor-less and hopefully where I needed to be credit schedule wise. I just really wanted someone to look over my color coded Excel spreadsheet and tell me I did the math right and had completed what I needed in order to graduate when I wanted to.

And then I was adopted. Kind of. My archival studies concentration coordinator was really the only faculty person to reply to any of my email inquiries about whether or not someone could at least look at my file and tell me I was going in the right direction. Having previously had him for all of my archival based courses I knew he was a pretty laid back guy who really liked interacting with his students — physically present or not — and that his patience for my millions of questions knew no bounds.

The very first thing he told me was to send him a copy of my resume and to sit tight, that he’d look both it and my unofficial transcript over. Couple days later I’m staring at an email telling me I can graduate this fall and that I also need some fieldwork experience — some volunteering or an internship or anything, really — and I needed it now. ASAP. Like, five minutes ago.

The first part was great, totally doable and unexpected, but the second? I’d like to say I didn’t panic but, well, that’s what it was. At this point it was already the first week of March, which seems random and irrelevant, but not when all the paperwork and applications required by the UWM School of Information Studies required everything filled out and submitted by March 31st. I had less than a month to somehow scrape up an internship, something you usually have to apply for well in advance.

And there was also all the logistics to figure out too: Was I going to have to quit my job? Was I going to have to move? Who did I know that I could pay in food to let me crash with them for twelve weeks? How long would it take for an application to go through? Was I even qualified enough for an internship? How long could I conceivably live in my car if I had to?

And then it happened. I saw it. The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum. A shining beacon of hope.

This isn’t to say I had no knowledge of its existence before all this happened; I vaguely remembered visiting here for an elementary school field trip and I’ve looked up its hours, number, and directions for people at work. It wasn’t until I physically drove by while joyriding after work one day that I fully realized what it was: a library, a museum, and an archive. It was the holy triumvirate of all my interests smashed into one geographically convenient location that didn’t require me to quit my job, move, or live in my car.

I just had to worm my way in…which actually wasn’t all that bad compared to some horror stories you hear where landing an internship is equated to winning the academic Hunger Games. Yikes. 

I can honestly say my interaction with WWPL in terms of inquiring about and eventually setting up an internship was painless and uneventful in the best possible way. There was really no confusion to anything; the paperwork and application were easy to understand and fill out and I liked that it asked for my specific interests and past experience which, honestly, wasn’t a lot. Karen, the Administrative Officer, got me the information I needed, I gave her what she needed, my unofficial advisor got what he needed, it was #winning all around. I was in, officially an intern.

Then I met Mark. Or I guess I was shuffled onto him, but hopefully he didn’t mind too much. He had me come in to talk scheduling and honestly I was amazed he was willing to work with my kind of weird hours of working Monday thru Friday, 1-5, right smack dab in the middle of the day. There wasn’t a lot of wiggle room and I’m not exactly known for being a morning person, but we got it hashed out and I’m not complaining; I really didn’t want to have to live in my car.

When or if anyone reads this it’s already been a week and I’m honestly still amazed I even managed to get an internship here; to actually be working in an archive in any kind of capacity beyond basic observation or interviewing someone. I’m excited to stretch my legs so to speak — my brain’s legs? — and finally put some of my textbook knowledge to practical use; to see if I do, actually, know what I’m doing. Plus, I’m just really excited to touch some old things, sue me.

Oh, and I almost forgot! For anyone still curious about my advisor situation…at the beginning of April my adoption with my unofficial advisor became official! I opened my email one day to find an invite celebrating the retirement of my previous advisor at some boathouse in Milwaukee and a list of faculty to pick a new advisor from. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I was already being Guerilla-advised under the radar, so I just made it seem like I was surprised my concentration coordinator was listed and asked if he was available (I won’t tell if you don’t!)