Blog 8: Back to the Seaport Museum

I worked 20 hours at the ACP this week. I continued doing the housecleaning work I described in my last post, and also worked on the next batch of documents to be digitized.

But I though I’d use this journal to talk more about what I’ve been doing at the Independence Seaport Museum. My work there has really gotten more interesting in the past two weeks. I started working with an old intern that came back to help with the online archives for a couple of weeks. Meg has a lot of experience with the ISM’s online database Eloquent, which has proven very difficult to deal with. Since she is only working at the ISM temporarily, we’ve been working to create a series of guides that can help other archivists to understand how to upload new collections online, update information, and generally work within these archives.

Up until last week, I had had no experience with the backside of the Eloquent Archives. So for this project I’ve been acting as a guinea pig of sorts. Using the guides that my boss has created, I’ve been learning how to use the database system while she is there to answer any questions. By learning this way, I’ve been identifying what topics and steps of the process are not addressed within the guides.

So if I’m reading along with the guide and I come to something that doesn’t make sense to me, I tell my boss and we put a new section into the guide so that future users have answers to that problem. Usually, its a step that Meg overlooked explaining, as she’s so familiar with the system she did so without considering that a new user might not make the same conclusion

It’s really exciting to be working on the “infrastructure” side of archival work. Without proving that these guides are foolproof, they won’t be much use to anyone. Now they can help guide new users for years to come.

Blog 7: Cleaning up the archives

I worked 20 hours at the American College of Physicians this week.

So for the entirety of my internship with the ACP, I’ve been working on the singular task of creating the labels for files for the digitization process. And this week, we finished the first stage of the process.

So we scheduled a pickup of the completed materials. In total, it was thirty boxes of archival materials that was loaded onto the van (pictured above). Each box contained about 4 to 6 individual archival boxes. So with loading these materials, my part of the project is now officially completed. The excel spreadsheet that I had been working on (over two thousand line of data) was sent to the third-party company responsible for digitization.

With the main job that I was hired for completed, I was put onto getting other tasks done in the archives. First among these was getting rid of a massive backlog of materials that had built up over years.

This backlog was comprised of tons of documents and files that were dumped into the archives by other departments in the ACP. In the majority of cases, the people that dumped these files here were not archival workers, and the files they brought to the archives had little-to-no archival value, or were duplicates of other documents. So each box of files had to be individually assessed to see if they were a duplicate or if they were actually worth keeping. My boss Eric did the entirety of the accessing process, as I wasn’t familiar enough to categorize the mountain of materials. My job was to handle the manual labor. After it was sorted, I carried each file and box to its appropriate location: either added to the cart of materials to be digitized, placed back into the archival stacks, or disposed of.

So throughout this process I got a good look at the items being thrown away. The vast majority were just more ACP files, agendas, minutes and miscellaneous papers. But there were also some oddities, such as a collection of original illustrations for the ACP’s medical journals.

After asking if it was ok, I had grabbed these out of the trash. There’s about 20 of these in total, I just picked some of my favorites to show here. These illustrations were the original versions commissioned by the ACP to accompany various articles that were published in their journals. And while I think they’re really cool paintings that I now own, the fact that they were going to be thrown away really got me thinking. These are original works of art, shouldn’t that be maintained by the college that commissioned them? So I talked to my boss. According to him, there’s a number of reasons why these paintings were being thrown away. First, keeping them would be somewhat unnecessary, as the images are already digitized and maintained alongside the articles they pertain to. Second, maintaining the originals is very cumbersome, as all of the paintings are larger than any archival box, a sizable burden to drop on a very small archive. And finally, the paintings do not have context. We don’t know which articles they were meant to accompany or when/if they were published. It would take a good amount of effort to track down and mach each of these illustrations to the articles they pertain to.

Despite these reasons for disposing of them, I’m still a bit split. I understand the effort and expense required to maintain these illustrations, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to trash them either. So I want to conclude with an open question; what should I do with them? Am I over inflating the value of these illustrations? Do they belong in the trash, in an archive, or do you agree with this outdated reference?

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Blog 6

Exciting stuff was happening at the ACP Archives this past week!

We’re getting audited.

So last week the archives received an audit request from our internal financial department. It’s really just a random spot check, it’s not a federal audit, and it doesn’t mean that they suspect anything is wrong. In any case, the auditing team requested all financial record from every committee, board, and group at the ACP for 2015.

Thankfully, the majority of these materials were already recorded digitally, since they were only four years old anyway. This made our job significantly easier. But there were still around thirty boxes of materials that had to be pulled out of storage and sent to the auditors. The materials that we were looking for were not kept in the stacks, but were actually in a separate storage room. I forgot to take a picture of it, but it was a stack of about 300 storage boxes, which had to be individually checked to see if they were a match for the ones we were looking for. And since they were stacked all together in a veritable cube of storage boxes, I had to individually move each one to check if it was a match.

This was the first time I saw the archives being utilized for it’s curatorial purpose; going beyond my time working to get records digitized and made accessible for this reason. This assignment really drove home the point that the ACP Archives serve more as a legal archive than as a cultural or historical archive. While there have been a handful of research requests in my time working here, it’s real function is as a necessary safeguard against legal troubles.

I worked 20 hours at the ACP this week.

Blog 5

This week I worked 19 hours at the ACP. But for this blog, I thought I’d focus on my other internship at the Independence Seaport Museum. I talked about what I do here a little bit at our last meeting, but I thought I’d explain in a little more detail. I’ve been working at the ISM Archives for a couple of weeks now. Unlike my internship with the College of Physicians, the work I’ve been doing here has been much more varied.

The primary job I’ve been assigned to has been running an in-depth analysis of the entirety of the museums’s online collections. The museum is absolutely huge, and they have in their archives more than 300 collections of photographs, letters, financial documents, newspaper clippings and journals. Many of these collections have been uploaded online, providing basic background information on the creator and the documents with the collection. But not all of these digital collections are up to par. This’s what my primary responsibility has been.

So after arriving at the Seaport Museum, usually coming directly from the ACP, I set up my laptop and start going through the digital collections. Working with Craig Bruns, the curator at the ISM, we built a criteria of what makes a digital collection complete. This includes if it contains images, digitized documents, sufficient info on the collection, creator, and subseries, proper organization, and a listing of related subjects.

The chart above is what the completed chart looks like. Hopefully the quality is good enough that you can actually read it. This analysis has been part of a larger effort to make more of the museum’s collection accessible and better organized.

The bag of antique whaling harpoons and tools that sits right next to my desk. I haven’t asked about the significance of them or why they’re not kept down in the museum storage room, I just think they look neat.
An embroidered image of the USS Nashville. Apparently these types of keepsakes were very common with sailors. The collection of embroidery came from Japan, and made custom for sailors when they stopped in port. It’s like an antique version of a keychain that says your name on one side and “Bermuda” on the other.

Blog 4: what’s the impact of my work?

This week I worked 22 hours at the American College of Physicians. The work continued at a steady pace, as I kept on with my task of labeling, boxing, and entering data for the files. I’ve now completed 30 storage boxes of files, or about 150 individual archival boxes. On the spreadsheet I’ve been entering all this data into, I recently finished my 2,000 line of data. It’s been an overwhelming process, but it’s satisfying to see the mountain of documents I’ve already finished.

Recently while I’ve been working on this project, I’ve started thinking about the impact of this work. I’ve spent weeks on this project, so what will the impact of all this work be? And after considering it, this work will have a lot more significance than I had previously considered.

So as I mentioned in previous blog post, after the ACP Archives are digitized, all of the documents that were created after 1950 will be destroyed. Everything prior to this will be maintained just the same, but the archives as a whole will be effectively cut in half. This half of the collection will only exist as a digital archive. So for these files, the organization of them will be critically important, because after they are destroyed, it will be exponentially more difficult to reorganize them.

While it’s not an archive that very many people will end up interacting with, these archives are still incredibly valuable. So as much as I can complain about this work and how tedious it is, the value of being accurate in this internship cannot be understated.

So even if less than 100 people interact with these archives every year, my work at this stage is so important. The files need to be as organized as possible. Because after this, trying to reorganize the archives will be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Since the last set of pictures I tried to upload didn’t work I thought I’d try again. Hopefully it’ll work this time. The first pic is my desk how it’s set up on a regular day; I flip through the files with one hand and enter the data in with the other. The second picture was my best attempt to get as much of the archives in one pic.

Week 3

I worked 21 hours at the College of Physicians this week. I continued with the organization/data entry job that I described in my previous blogpost.

This week, the files I was sorting became more difficult to process. For previous documents, the files have been individually divided into separate folders. When they were organized like this it was incredibly easy to quickly enter the data into the spreadsheet. But this week I stated a new section of files. These ones were not organized by each individual document, but were filed together in a single large folder. There was no clear delineation when one document ended and the next began. The files are pretty mundane in topic, mostly agendas and minutes from meetings of the various ACP Committees (there’s like 20-plus committees and subcommittees, including a committee on committees as absurd as that sounds). So to ensure that these documents were organized properly, I had to go through these massive files that are hundreds of pages long, and separate each document into a new folder sorted by the date that the meeting took place.

Working with these documents has really made me consider how important it is to maintain highly-organized archives. It takes so much effort to process and organize these documents, and improper organization just makes it exponentially more difficult to find what you’re looking for. Overall, it can be pretty tedious work. But on the bright side, it’s given me a chance to get better at identifying and pulling relevant info out of lengthy documents. Over the three weeks I’ve worked here I’ve gotten progressively more efficient at the tasks I’ve been assigned. It was a rough start to my internship here, but it’s satisfying to know that I’m improving.

ACP Internship: May 27-31

So this week I continued my work on organizing the ACP Archives for digitization. I thought it would be valuable to detail the process that I am doing on a daily basis for this internship.

This is how the documents are initially organized. A section of document boxes are loaded onto a cart by my Supervisor, Eric. I then go through and enter all the relevant information from each document stored in these boxes into a excel spreadsheet. This includes the title, date of the meeting, the committee or subcommittee that had convened, and any other relevant information. All of these documents are saved from various meetings over the course of the ACP; such as a meeting’s agenda, minutes, handouts, addenda, or anything else.

After I finish uploading all the information from a box (a process that can take anywhere from 15-45 minutes) I then load that box into the larger storage boxes depicted above. Each large storage box holds about 5 or 6 smaller boxes. Overall, it’s a pretty tedious process. Oftentimes the information is poorly organized, so I need to look through a file to figure out how to categorize it properly.

At this point in my internship, the work is incredibly monotonous. But as my progress on this task progresses, the work will shift more from basic data entry to more in-depth archival work.

ACP Internship: May 20-24

During my first week at the American College of Physicians, I worked 20 hours doing archival work. I spent this time doing somewhat tedious work creating labels for archived documents. The ACP Archives are in the process of preparing their collections for digitization that will be done by a third-party service. The new digitized files will require proper labeling so they can be organized in the digital archives. This is what I spent my first week doing; entering information into an excel spreadsheet for the digitized files to be organized by. While it is repetitive work, this data-entry will hopeful transfer into doing more in-depth practice within the archives.

Working in these archives has exposed me to a conflict between idealistic archival theory and actual practice. Eric Greenberg, the Head Archivist at the ACP and my supervisor, has decided that after digitization, only half of the documents will be archived with original, physical versions. Everything prior to 1950 will be preserved, but all documents post-1950 will be digitized and then destroyed. My initial reaction to this practice was of shock. I couldn’t imagine destroying archived records of any type. But after spending days pouring over these documents, I understand why the decision was made. While these archives are valuable resources for legal issues, internal institutional histories and other projects, so many of them have limited application. There’s decades of memos, minutes, agendas, correspondence, and journals. It’s an overwhelming task to sort through it all. It’s really given me reason to consider what is worth saving and what should be archived. I don’t have an answer to this right now, but this issue is something I’ll examine in more detail throughout my time with the ACP.