Final internship report: collection-level record and finding aid!

Anna Van Someren

Final Internship Report, LIS438-01

I really enjoyed my internship at the Woburn Library’s Glennon Archives. I was able to work with two different collections, and learned a lot from both of them. My experience was really marked by the size of the repository; it’s physically a very small, cramped space with a “lone arranger” as the only employee. The lack of space has a direct effect on the decisions Tom makes about materials – items are more likely to be de-accessioned because of space issues, regardless of collection priorities. It really shocked me at first, the way in which practical issues could so easily sweep aside principles and best practices. The space issue affected the work I did as well – every surface was covered, leaving very little room left to spread out materials while working.

I feel fortunate that I was able to work on two collections: the Foley Papers, for which I completed a collection level record and finding aid, and the Scott Family Collection. The Foley Papers were straightforward in terms of materials: 129 letters from a young soldier to his mother during WWII. The processing questions that came up mostly concerned details, like whether to use postmark dates or letter dates, and the specific formatting of the finding aid. The Scott Family Collection consisted of 6 large boxes of various materials from many members of a family, with little original order intact. This collection presented questions that felt larger to me, like whether or not to separate out artifacts, what items to de-accession, and whether to arrange materials by family member or geographic location.

Something I’m particularly pleased with is my own progress in the way that I look at materials. I felt very hesitant at first, afraid to make mistakes, and unable to mentally grasp a group of materials in its entirety. I have always been very detail-oriented, but by the end of this internship I was able to consider a relatively large amount of material and make arrangement decisions without having to focus in on every item first.

I think some of the most valuable insights that can be gained from internships, or any similar experience where conceptual principles and standards are tested by real-world practice, are in the realm of tacit knowledge. It’s not always easy to point a finger at exactly what is learned in this way, because it’s a subtle process. I noticed the way Tom held photographs and documents, the assured and careful way he physically handled the archival materials. He changed his mind several times about arrangement decisions; this added a new sense of flexibility or malleability to my mental concept of arrangement. I also picked up on some real tensions between the push toward the digital and a resistance to new technologies. Tom described himself as “old school” several times, and expressed many concerns about the profession focusing less on actual materials and their meaning due to an increasing focus on technology. I think my experience was really valuable, both in terms of concrete and more intangible learning.

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One thought on “Final internship report: collection-level record and finding aid!

  1. Until reading this article I never thought about the inherent complexities in cataloging and preserving history.

    I ignorantly assumed everything would fall in to the category of the Foley Papers – organize by date, put them in order, and call it a day. That simplistic approach works well with common items that are, by their nature, dated and organized for you. That doesn’t work so well with something like the Scott Family Collection until reading this.

    This example highlights the importance and responsibility of the archivist to organize the items in an accessible way without altering the story or intent. Something I never considered — thank you for opening my eyes.

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