Stephanie Fong, Zachary Fazio, Landis Masnor, and Renee Meschi are Shimer students participating in the Shimer Summer Internship Program. They regularly post updates about their internship experiences.
This post is from Stephanie Fong who is interning with the Women and Leadership Archives.
So, you might be wondering what I've been up to. What is an archives, and what does one do there?
Well, let me tell you.
At the most basic level, an archives is a place where historical records are located. The Women and Leadership Archives (WLA) where I work collects and maintains the records of organizations and papers of individuals that relate to feminism and women's leadership (you can see the inventory of collections here and browse by subject here).
In addition to accepting materials from donor-initiated gifts, the Director actively solicits records and papers in the interest of preserving valuable historical documents that might otherwise be thrown away or lost. It is the mission of the WLA to provide academic researchers and the public with the kinds of materials that are underrepresented elsewhere, like the records of a grassroots feminist group or the papers of a local business owner. Many of the collections housed in our archives connect directly to Mundelein College, the last all-women's college in Illinois that Loyola absorbed in 1991, and the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), the religious community that conducted the college from its founding to its close. The papers of activists, artists, and educators also make up a large part of the collection, as well as the records of organizations dedicated to serving women.
The WLA is small, but growing, which is one of the reasons I like interning there. Since I started mid-May, I've had the opportunity to work on many different kinds of projects, from processing small collections to building online exhibits, to rearranging office furniture.
What follows is a summary of what I've done so far, in roughly chronological order:
- Dealt with the madonnas. One of the very first projects I tackled was a discards issue. The WLA a while back received boxes of displaced madonnas that had been cleaned out of a building on campus during a remodelling project. As interesting as some of the statues were, they were not appropriate for the WLA collection so we needed to find a new home for them. They eventually found a place at the Gannon Center (the second floor of the building I work in) and in a different, non-archives storage room.
- Assisted with a donation pick-up. The Director and I went to Lincoln Park to pick up a gift from a Mundelein alumna. The donation turned out to be a scrapbook with photographs and other souvenirs from her school days (I believe she attended Mundelein in the 60s). We talked with her for a while and she shared some of her memories with us. It was great.
- Processed my first collection! I received a banker box filled with the organizational records of Women & Children First, a feminist bookstore in Chicago, and, after sorting through the papers for sensitive, duplicate, or potentially hazardous materials, I took the basic steps to preserve documents (unfolding things, removing staples, etc.), rehoused papers and photographs into their respective types of folders (their pH levels differ to prevent deterioration of the different materials), placed oversized materials like posters into an oversized box, prepared digital materials for research access, organized everything, and now it's researcher-ready! I enjoy processing, but I'm happy to be working in an archives where I can do other things because typically, processing is all that archives interns ever do.
- Added photographs to the ever-growing Mundelein College Photograph Collection. I scanned dozens of photos, mostly of College-sponsored visitor events, and learned how to use a digital management software called CONTENTdm to upload the images with descriptions, copyright, and other information. The photo below is an example of the photos I added which you will soon be able to view online.
- Helped curate a book collection. There is a small case in the Gannon Center with books, much of which would be classified as women's studies literature, that might be donated to charity at the end of the summer. For a short period of time, I did research using WorldCat Local to identify rare and out of print editions within that collection that are not currently circulating in the Loyola library system. In the next few weeks, the identified books might be added to the WLA monograph collection.
- Shifted and assessed the entire collection. This project demanded the participation of everyone on staff for more than a week and was a much more physical project than you might expect. The literal archives on the lower level had been (unauthorizedly) reorganized about a year ago and wasn't meeting the needs of the collection very well, so it was time for something new. The week of June 6-10, we closed the reading room and spent our days in the stacks on the lower level, first moving everything around and then cross-checking each collection's content against the collection's finding aid in order to identify potential issues. All archives carry out assessments on parts of their collections periodically, but because of our small size, we were able to assess everything. During this process, I learned about the different approaches to collection management. At first I was surprised by how certain approaches to organization can differ so much, but it makes a lot of sense; the overall collection's uniqueness should inform how it's organized, the same as an individual collection. After we completed the shift and the collection assessment, we updated the master inventory location guide and started fixing the collection problems identified (e.g. reboxing materials, fixing labels, removing broken material, reprocessing poorly organized collections, etc.). Yes it was tedious at times, and yes, it will be a long time, long after I complete my internship, before all the collection problems will be addressed in full, but it's good to know about the existing issues so they can be resolved and the overall health of the collection can be improved.
- Rearranged the third floor furniture. In the spirit of the collection shift, we decided to rearrange the furniture to improve work flow and reading room ambiance. It worked!
- Redesigned templates and wrote technical instructions. So, after processing a collection, one of the last things we do at the WLA is create folder and box labels. Some archives have an adhesive-free policy and instead label directly on folders and boxes with pencil, but because we don't own anything extremely old or delicate--the very oldest objects in the collection are less than 150 years old--we use foil-backed labels, the least corrosive kind, to keep our collections organized. The process for creating labels using the Microsoft Office Suite can get complicated, so years ago someone at the WLA created templates and wrote up accompanying instructions. However, the documents were difficult to use and full of attitude, so I created new templates and significantly edited the instructions to make them clearer. Making labels, a process that used to take 20 minutes or more, now takes less than 10.
- Processed another small collection. I processed the papers of Lindsay Obermeyer, an artist and educator who lives in Chicago. I really enjoyed working with these materials, which included slides and exhibit cards, and finished this collection so much faster than my first!
- I am currently working on building an online exhibit from scratch that will join these once complete. I have been carefully selecting, scanning and uploading photographs, programs, playbills, yearbooks, prayer cards, newspaper clippings, and many other objects from the Immaculata High School collection into CONTENTdm. Immaculata was a Catholic, all-girls high school in operation under the direction of the BVMs from 1921-1981. You can still visit the campus buildings, which belong to the American Islamic College, at Irving Park and Marine Drive in Chicago. I'll post the link when the exhibit goes up!