Authors of this post are: Dana Hamlin, Greta Kuriger Suiter, Jessica Venlet , and Chris Tanguay.
In December 2015 a few of my colleagues put together a fun event for our fellow library colleagues called the Archives Roadshow. The goal was to share some information about the work we do and the collections we steward. The first “episode” walked through explaining finding aids and providing examples of what it’s like to process collections from neat and easy to messy and time consuming. This post recaps the second installment (episode two, if you will) of the Archives Roadshow that occurred April 28, 2016 for preservation week.
This was a fun event and I’m grateful to my colleagues for asking me to present. And, yes, the presentation definitely included the Antiques Roadshow theme song. Read on for a recap of our presentations!
As our local Roadshow host, Dana Hamlin, put it:
Our goal for the Roadshow is to share a little bit about the Institute Archives and Special Collections and what we do. I’m going to align the topics for today with the Antiques Roadshow tagline – “part adventure, part history lesson, part treasure hunt.”
First, Greta will give you a peek into what it’s like to pack records from offices and other places that are maybe a little more adventurous than you might expect.
Then, Zach (aka the #mitarchivesintern), will give us a bit of a history lesson as he tells us about the collection he’s been working on this semester.
Finally, Jessica will talk about web archiving and how we’re capturing things of value – kind of like a treasure hunt – to preserve in the archives.
Greta Suiter, Collections Archivist, talked about “Unpacking Packing.” She emphasized the complexities of appraising physical collections during the packing process.
Archival appraisal can happen at any level – collection, series, box, folder, item – and at any time – prior to donation, prior to transfer, at or after accessioning. Appraisal of a collection is not the same at every institution. It is imperative that we take into consideration the collection policy of the local institution when making appraisal decisions. The MIT Collection policy states: that we will collect “the personal and professional papers of the faculty, alumni, and staff of MIT which will include correspondence and other records relating to research, teaching, professional affiliations and personal life.”
Some of the types of material we don’t take are publications by people other than the donor, background files – which often consist of publications by people other than the donor, proprietary materials from other institutions, and detailed financial records. We could add to this list, medical records, student theses (we get these separately) and graded student work. Packing collections can mean making a lot of decisions, in the field and on the fly.
Greta went on to talk about two recent acquisitions to the IASC and the appraisal decisions she made while packing the materials. The first collection she talked about was the Lisa Peattie papers. In regards to her career at MIT, she was a project anthropologist for the Ciudad Guyana Project in Venezula, which was a project in the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies in the 1960s. At the end of that project in 1967 she came to MIT and worked her way up to Professor, she was the first female tenured faculty in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Her work focused on understanding urban society and the social aspects of urbanization and development. In 1985 she retired in order to spend more time on social activism. We displayed some material at the Roadshow from a trip she took to Cuba in the late 1960s and material relating to her arrest at a protest in Nevada.
The second collection was the Howard Brenner papers. These are still being appraised and packed and transferred to the IASC. There are at least 100 boxes of materials and this is a challenging project due to time, space, and staff constraints. Brenner taught in the Chemical Engineering department from 1981 to 2014. He is most known for advancements in the modern understanding of fluid flow at low Reynolds number and transport phenomena of complex media.
Zach Shoven was an intern with us this semester. He is a recent graduate of Simmons College School of Library and and Information Science. He talked about his work creating a processing plan for the Martin Diskin papers (MC 522). He discussed the process of surveying the materials and assessing preservation needs. He also discussed Professor Diskin’s work and the materials in the collection. Diskin was a professor of anthropology in the Department of Humanities at MIT. He studied the agrarian economy of Oaxaca, Mexico for his doctoral thesis (UCLA, 1967) and continued to carry out anthropological field work in Mexico, Columbia, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. The collection dates range from early 1950s to the mid-1990s. The collection includes material from Diskin’s time as a student at UCLA, material pertaining to his career at MIT, his published and unpublished writings, his research in Oaxaca, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, activism materials, as well as many photographs depicting life in Oaxaca and Colombia.
I talked about “Archiving the (MIT) Web” and provided a progress report on our work to create web archiving capabilities over the last several months. My plan for this presentation was to give an overview of the research and planning work I’ve done so far. I’ve blogged about this work a bit in the past. Instead of going through each part of the plan, I decided to highlight two areas. The first area was the question of why we need to collect websites. I emphasized how MIT websites are often a continuation of the types archival records we’ve always collected. The format is new and technology needs for acquisition are new, but the type of informational content isn’t so new. Web archiving also affords us an opportunity to proactively acquire records and capture unfolding campus events in real time. For example, we can better capture content from student organizations or social media related to protests on campus. We also gain the opportunity to capture records that are uniquely web-based like the Admission Office blog. The second area I discussed was the criteria used for evaluating technology options. When the project started we needed to be able to use and manage the tool(s) locally in the archives. Additionally, it was essential to have a tool(s) create WARC files and provide like-live access. Lastly, I touched on how the work done over the course of my fellowship was a sort of Phase One and we’re currently moving ahead into Phase Two. Phase two will involve working on implementing a more robust technology solution, so we can more effectively archive the mit.edu domain.
Following the presentation portion of the Archives Roadshow, audience members had the opportunity to examine a sampling of materials that had been acquired or worked on in the past year. The display was arranged by Chris Tanguay with the input of the presenters. The bulk of the materials came from the papers of faculty members in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. These faculty members were Lisa Peattie, Lloyd Rodwin, and Martin Diskin. Items from the Lisa Redfield Peattie papers (MC 723) included notes from Cuba and a photograph of Peattie with Fidel Castro and a variety of materials documenting Peattie’s involvement with a protest of nuclear weapons in Nevada and subsequent jailing. Items from the Lloyd Rodwin papers (MC 490) included reports and photographs of the Ciudad Guiana Project in Venezuela. A selection of materials from Martin Diskin’s papers (MC 522) helped illustrate collections intern, Zach Shovein’s presentation on creating a processing plan for the collection. Items included political publications from Mexico and the Sandinistas, a draft of his Masters’ thesis, and a box of loose photographs that had been roughly sorted.
Additional materials on display included administrative records and the papers of physicist Rainer Weiss. From the Office of the Provost, Records of Associate Provost Paul Gray (AC 55), two items were on display highlighting student protests of 1969. These items included a collage of articles relating to protest activities and a report on the November Actions. Materials from the Rainer Weiss papers (MC 517) included a two-volume proposal for LIGO, which recently proved the existence of gravitational waves. Rainer Weiss’ papers had previously been discussed at the first Archives Road Show in December 2015.