Tag Archives: special collections archives

Black History Month: Celebrating Black Authors

Black History Month is upon us and it is time to reflect, recognize, and revere the numerous contributions that black authors have made to our society. Therefore, it is our pleasure to highlight some influential black authors (whose works we have in the stacks at Florida State University Special Collections and Archives).

Maya Angelou

  • Occupation: poet, singer, activist
  • Born: April 4, 1928
  • Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
  • Quote: “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”
  • Famous Works: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1969), “And Still I Rise” (1978), “Phenomenal Women: Four Poems Celebrating Women” (1995)
  • In Special Collections: “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” (1993) (Gontarski- PS3551.N464 L54 1993)
Source: Jack Delano

Langston Hughes

  • Occupation: poet, novelist, playwright, activist
  • Born: February 1, 1902
  • Hometown: Joplin, Missouri
  • Quote: “An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.” 
  • Famous Works: “I, Too” (1926), “Montage of a Dream Deferred” (1951), “The Weary Blues”(1926), “Let America be America Again” (1936)
  • In Special Collections: “Shakespeare in Harlem” (1942) (Vault- PS3515.U274 S5), “Black Misery” (1969) (Gontarski- PS3515.U274 B5 1969), “The Dream Keeper and Other Poems” (1994) (Shaw- PS3515.U274 D74 1994), “One-Way Ticket” (1948) (Rare – PS3515.U274 O5), and more.
Source: Tullio Saba on Flickr

James Baldwin

  • Occupation: novelist, playwright, poet, activist
  • Born: August 2, 1924
  • Hometown: Harlem, New York, New York
  • Quote: “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
  • Famous Works: “The Fire Next Time” (1962), “If Beale Street Could Talk” (1974), “Go Tell It on the Mountain” (1953), “Notes of a Native Son” (1955)
  • In Special Collections: “Letter from a Region in my Mind” (1962) (Rare- E185.61.B196), “School Readings by Grades” (1897) (Shaw – PE1117 .B281-B286 1897)
Source: U.S. Coast Guard

Alex Haley

  • Occupation: writer
  • Born: August 11, 1921
  • Hometown: Ithaca, New York
  • Quote: “In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”
  • Famous Works: “Queen: The Story of an American Family” (1993), “Mama Flora’s Family” (1997)
  • In Special Collections: “Roots” (1976) (Rare- E185.97.H24 A33), “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (1965) (Grove- E185.97.L5 A3 1966b)
Source: United States Library of Congress

Zora Neale Hurston

  • Occupation: author, anthropologist, filmmaker
  • Born: January 7, 1891
  • Hometown: Notasulga, Alabama
  • Quote: “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”
  • Famous Works: “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” (1928), “Sweat” (1926), “Mules and Men” (1935)
  • In Special Collections: “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (1937) (Florida- PS3515. U789 T5 1969), “Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography” (1942) (Florida- PS3515.U789 Z5 1971), “Tell My Horse”(1938) (Florida- F1886 .H87 1938), and more.
Source: Christopher Drexel on Flickr

Toni Morrison

  • Occupation: novelist, essayist, book editor, professor
  • Born: February 18, 1931
  • Hometown: Lorain, Ohio
  • Quote: “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”
  • Famous Works: “Beloved” (1987), “Song of Solomon”(1977), “Sula” (1973)
  • In Special Collections: “Five Poems” (2002) (Rare- oversize PS3563.O8749 A6 2002), “The Big Box” (1999) (Gontarski- PZ8.3.M836 Bi 1999), and more.

Pictured above are just a few of the pieces we have in Special Collections by these authors. (Slide 1: “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” by Maya Angelou, Slide 2-3: “Shakespeare in Harlem” by Langston Hughes and signed, Slide 4-6: “Letter from a Region in my Mind” by James Baldwin, Slides 7-9: “Five Poems” by Toni Morrison)

By no means is this an exhaustive list of the amazing black authors whose works we hold on our shelves. Here at SCA, we have a plethora of black literature including novels, poems, children’s books, and historical materials. Black History Month is the perfect time to delve into these works, so head to Special Collections in Strozier and let us know what you want to read. We look forward to seeing you here!

Principles of Astronomy as detailed in an atlas by James Ferguson

Ferguson’s planetary phases diagram.

While combing through the vast amount of science related items we hold in Special Collections & Archives, I came across quite the peculiar book. I decided to scour the stacks for it as astronomy has always interested me and I was hoping for some interesting images. I knew from my initial search in the catalog that this item held images; a total of 25 plates, in fact, however what exactly those were was a mystery.

James Ferguson’s
Atlas of plates illustrative of Ferguson’s principles of astronomy is a book that holds multiple illustrations of astronomy related technology from the 1800’s. Ferguson was a Scottish astronomer best
known as the individual who improved and invented many astronomical and other scientific instruments, many of which can be found imaged in this atlas. Surprisingly, the totality of Ferguson’s formal education was met at a single grammar school at Keith in his younger years. His works within the field of astronomy and other sciences can thus only be attributed to his own self discipline, and an ambition to study the sciences.


Remaining cover of the atlas.

The cover of the atlas was made of a cloth fabric that was designed to look like leather, a cheaper alternative for the time, and only has a few pieces left attached to the bare surface show in the image to the left. It is a delicate artifact that needs support when opened however the pages themselves are mostly intact.

I couldn’t help think the images I found in this atlas were the epitome of aesthetic pleasantries. The amount of suns with faces was something I enjoyed most along with the inclusion of zodiac related constellations. Although this is a nice book to look at, there aren’t very many descriptions to go along with them, save for those found on the Orrery illustration on the first page and that found on the map of the world found in the very back of the atlas (see slideshow below for map). As someone who isn’t versed in this subject, I found it difficult to understand not only what these devices were but what they were used for. Despite this, the appreciation for the work itself is still present as it is clearly a magnificent collection of one man’s journey of discovery and invention.

Although his inventions are used for scientific inquiry, they were an item that caught the eye of a totally different set of individuals. I find it funny when researching Ferguson that many of his creations lean more toward the genre of clock-making than scientific discovery, despite the fact that they go hand-in-hand in this particular case. Many of his books detail designs for astronomical clocks that give time of day as well as day of the month, phases of the moon, and the position of the stars. Sometimes, his clocks would even include the state of the tide. If I had a clock like that, I’d want to show it to everyone and, clearly, this sentiment was not lost on clock-makers as they used his designs to build some of the greatest functioning timepieces of the time.

Fascinatingly enough, I’d never heard of James Ferguson until now. When most people think of the sciences, astronomy in particular, names like Nicolaus Copernicus, Isaac Newton, or Johannes Kepler come to mind and rightly so. These scientists created many works and made many discoveries that have led up to where we are today. Ferguson is not lacking in these works either. He produced a number of books during his life, including The use of a new orrery… (1746), Astronomy explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s principles… (1756), The young gentleman and lady’s astronomy (1768), and The art of drawing in perspective… (1775). 

Regardless of how well-known Ferguson is today, he was widely influential in his own time and has been mentioned by personalities such as Founding Father Thomas Paine and German experimental physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, who is most known for his discovery and study of the Lichtenberg figure which is named after him. Ferguson died in London on November 17, 1776, leaving works like this extraordinarily illustrated atlas as a legacy.


You can explore this item further at the Special Collections Research Center at Strozier Library.

  • Plate 11 of the 17 still present in the atlas.

Sources:

https://blogs.adelaide.edu.au/special-collections/2016/11/28/astronomy-explained-upon-sir-isaac-newtons-principles-james-ferguson-1757/

All image are taken by and credited to the author of the blog.

(re)Introducing the Dime Novels Collection

Subbasement
A view of one of the Special Collections & Archives storage modules in the subbasement

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Bilbo tells his nephew Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business… going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The same might be said for visiting the subbasement of Strozier Library; it’s a dangerous thing, because you never know what new projects you might stumble upon. In this case, it was six boxes of uncatalogued dime novels stuffed unceremoniously into Hollinger boxes. Where did they come from? How long had they been here? Although we seemed to have more questions than answers, we knew we wanted to get these items stored properly and cataloged so that they would be available to researchers. And so, I was given the opportunity to rehouse and process my very first archival collection. Now, I would like to (re)introduce the Dime Novels Collection!

Dime Novels
Different dime novel formats (MSS 2015-003)

“Dime novels” is the term given to mass-market fiction publications from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, which really ranged in price from five to twenty cents. They are essentially the American equivalent of Great Britain’s “penny dreadfuls.” Dime novels revolved around themes of action, adventure, and crime, sometimes drawing on contemporary and historical events like the American Indian Wars and the Revolutionary War. Some come in a magazine-sized format, others as thicker, twenty cent pocket-sized editions. While they were never prized for their literary excellence, dime novels were a widely popular form of entertainment and continued to remain popular among collectors, inspiring periodicals like Dime Novel Roundup, a collector’s guide.

20 cent novels
20 cent thicker-format dime novels stored in boxes, protected by transparent sleeves

Although dime novels can be cataloged as books and given individual call numbers, the FSU Dime Novels Collection has been kept together as a collection. While a single dime novel might be an object of interest to a researchers studying depictions of Native Americans in popular literature or turn-of-the-century graphic design, the collection is also valuable as a whole. Along with the dime novels, I found handwritten note cards with titles and check-marked lists of issues owned, which bear testament to an unnamed collector. These sorts of notes give us a sense of how the dime novels were used and what importance they held. The value of the collection as a whole, as it was developed by its collector, would be lost if the dime novels were separated and cataloged individually.

FullSizeRender
Pocket-sized dime novels stored in a Hollinger box

Because they were designed to be cheap, mass-produced, and temporary, dime novels have often not survived over time or survived in poor condition. The FSU Dime Novels Collection has some serious condition issues. The acidity of the paper has made the novels extremely brittle, and this was exasperated by less-than-ideal storage conditions. Now, each dime novel has been placed in an archival-quality plastic sleeve, grouped according to titles, and stored in acid-free boxes. The smaller, pocket-sized dime novels were stored upright in individual folders separated by dividers in a Hollinger box. Pocket-sized novels with loose or detached covers were given additional protection from a card stock enclosure.

To find out more about this collection, view the Dime Novels Collection finding aid, which includes an additional description of the collection and list of titles included.

Judging Books by Their Covers

bookbindings_leather
Fig 1. Back cover. Leather binding, tooled in blind over wood boards, c. 1450 (BT769 .A56)

When it comes to studying the history of the book, the study of bookbinding presents a unique set of challenges to scholars. While today we might be tempted think of a book as an all-in-one package, whether we buy it in a bookstore or download it to an e-reader, historically the process of creating a book from conception, to publishing, to binding has been anything but neat and tidy. Prior to the mechanization of printing in the early nineteenth century, books were often bound years, even decades, after publication. Some books were bound by binders associated with publishing companies, some were “bespoke” by wealthy patrons according to their personal specifications, and others were shipped as unfolded, uncut sheets to be bound in distant countries. Since a book can be bound and rebound any number of times in its life, associating a bookbinding with a particular place, time, and bindery is at best a game of educated guesswork. Even so, bindings have a lot to tell us about the history of the book, and the FSU Special Collections & Archives rare books collections contain many notable examples of bookbinding materials and techniques.

Materials

bookbindings_fabric
Fig 2. 18th century embroidered binding with metal clasp (BR1705 .A2 V526 1547)

The most common coverings for books through the nineteenth century were those made out of animal skins, either leather or vellum.¹ One of the oldest leather bindings in our collection is on a fifteenth century Italian manuscript (fig. 1), believed to be in its original binding. Although much of the leather has worn with time, a pattern of knot-work stamps worked in blind around a filleted central panel is still visible. A manuscript like this would have taken considerable time and labor to produce, and its binding reflects its preciousness.

Leather was the material of choice for monastic and university libraries, but books owned by private (i.e. wealthy) collectors were often covered in embroidered fabrics or velvet. It is difficult to determine just how widespread the use of fabric bindings was because so many of them were not made to withstand the test of the time as well as their leather counterparts.² The embroidered binding in fig. 2 is believed to date from the eighteenth century, and it covers a 1547 Italian printed book on the lives of the Saints (Vite de Santi Padri). It is precisely these types of devotional works that were often given special coverings by their owners.

bookbindings_paper
Fig 3. Paper covering on an 18th century almanac (PQ1177 .A6 1767)

On the other end of the spectrum, increased book production after the Renaissance led to a shortage of binding materials, and cheaper methods of binding came into use to meet growing demands. By the eighteenth century, simple paper wrappings had become a common cover for inexpensive pamphlets and small-format books, such as the almanac in fig. 3.³ This copy of the 1767 Almanach des Muses, a serial of French poetry published annually from the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, is comprised of seven quires with untrimmed edges sewn together and wrapped in decorated paper, which is glued to the first and last pages of the volume. The use of blue paper was often characteristic of French paper bindings.³  Unlike modern day book jackets, these paper coverings bear no relation to the text within. Since these bindings were not designed for longevity, they often do not survive intact or are removed when the books are rebound and the pages are trimmed.

The FSU Special Collections & Archives rare book collections run the gamut from medieval manuscripts bound in tooled leather with gilt edges to untrimmed almanacs wrapped in publishers’ scraps. Their value, form, and function may vary, but they all contribute to the same history. Prior to the mechanization of book production in the early 1800s, each book was constructed by hand, and, as such, each can be thought of as a miniature work of art, just waiting to be discovered.

Katherine Hoarn is a graduate assistant in Special Collections & Archives. She is working on her Master of Library and Information Science degree at Florida State University.

Notes

1. D. Pearson, English bookbinding styles 1450-1800, London, 2005, p. 20-21

2. P. Needham, Twelve centuries of bookbindings 400-1600, New York, 1979, p. 107.

3. M. Lock, Bookbinding materials and techniques 1700-1920, Toronto, 2003, p. 48.

A Place of Pilgrimage

While assisting with Special Collections & Archives instruction classes as part of my graduate assistantship, I have found the following quote from Michael Suarez, director of the Rare Book School, full of plenty of food for thought:

Great Bible
Great Bible, 1541 (Vault BS167 1541**)

How is the way that your collections are mediated telling those who are in contact with them about their treasureful-ness? About the power of materiality that’s ritually taken out and placed in someone’s hands (or not)? … If we don’t understand our institutions as places of pilgrimage, as places of material embodiments that have profound effects on community, identity, and the expression of humanities, then we do not understand the vocation of the librarian … a high and noble vocation in which we are the custodians of a materiality that is absolutely intrinsic to the identity of our civilization (as cited in Overholt, 2013, p. 19-20).

If at first this seems like an overly lofty vision, I am happy to report that, as a graduate assistant, I have been lucky enough to catch glimpses of this lofty vision in action. Whether it’s watching students interact with 4,000 year old cuneiform tablets or discussing how a 21st-century artist’s book pushes the boundaries of what we think a “book” should be, I am in a privileged place  to help mediate what are many students’ first interactions with rare books and manuscripts.

Instruction
Katie McCormick, Associate Dean for Special Collections & Archives, discussing printing with Introduction to the History of Text Technologies students.

For FSU Special Collections & Archives, instruction classes are an invaluable means of outreach. By taking materials out of the secured stacks and setting them up in a classroom setting, we are bringing them to students who might not know where we are located, what we have, and what we can offer. Most importantly, we want students to know we exist for them!

When we bring rare books and manuscripts to the classroom, we want to communicate the “treasureful-ness” of these items, many of which are one-of-a-kind. The value of the items means they must be handled with respect and care, and yes, this means rules (no pens, markers or highlighters, no food and drinks), but perhaps these rules can be thought of as part of the ritual of scholarship rather than an imposition designed to make people stay away. Along with the commitment to preservation comes the commitment to providing access, and one of the most exciting things about working in Special Collections & Archives is learning to find the balance between these seemingly polarized goals.

The description of Special Collections & Archives as a place of pilgrimage is an apt one. Students and scholars come to us from across campus, across the country, and sometimes from across oceans; they come from across disciplines. Sometimes they come in person, sometimes they call us, and sometimes they come digitally. During instruction classes, we get to come to them. No matter how simple or complicated their information needs are, Special Collections & Archives has the awesome privilege of putting our unique and distinctive materials in their hands and on their screens.

Katherine Hoarn is a graduate assistant in Special Collections & Archives. She is working on her Master of Library and Information Science degree at Florida State University.

Sources

Overholt, J. (2013). Five theses on the future of special collections. RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, & Cultural Heritage, 14(1), 15-20.

Introducing Ourselves

The Special Collections & Archives division of Florida State University Libraries includes Special Collections & Archives, Heritage Protocol & University Archives, the Claude Pepper Library, Cataloging & Description and the Digital Library Center. The division advances research by acquiring, preserving and providing access to primary and secondary source materials through our different areas.

Our division is large; over 20 people under five different umbrellas, each with their own focus. Over the next month, we’ll be introducing our different hats to you as we re-launch this blog as a way to share our daily work, our special projects and our events and exhibits with the FSU community and beyond.

We’ll start at the top: Special Collections & Archives.

This is the name for the entire division but it is also the name for the area in the division that holds the rare books, historic maps, photographs and unique manuscripts collected by FSU Libraries since its beginning. We’re located in the Special Collections Reading Room in Strozier Library.

Headed by Associate Dean Katie McCormick, Special Collections & Archives is home base for Burt Altman, Archivist, William Modrow, Rare Books Librarian, Lisa Girard, Collections Manager and Krystal Thomas, Digital Archivist. Many student assistants as well as the faculty and staff in other areas of our division assist us in our daily work and projects.

Students work with Special Collections materials during a class taught by Bill Modrow.
Students work with Special Collections materials during a class taught by Bill Modrow.

In classes, programs and exhibitions, we support active learning and engagement through use of our collections. We conduct class-specific sessions and work with professors to make sure we’re enhancing the curriculum and help students with primary source material-based projects. One example of this is our collaboration each year with the Museum Objects class on campus who take over our exhibit room to get hands on experience with planning, installing and promoting physical and digital exhibits.

The faculty and staff of Special Collections work hard to create and maintain discovery tools for our materials and are constantly re-evaluating and editing our finding aids, library catalog records and digital collection records to make sure our materials are easily findable.

We’re also always on hand when materials are being used in the Reading Room to answer any questions and de-mystify even the most challenging of our collections. We know using our collections is unique for many of our patrons so whether it’s a one on one research consultation with our materials or a short tutorial on navigating our online finding aids, we make sure you can find what you need.

One of our staff talks through what needs to be digitized for a patron.
One of our staff talks through what needs to be digitized for a patron.

We are lucky to have varied collections for patrons to use. We hold one of the largest collections of French Revolution and Napoleonic research materials in the world in order to support the Institute on Napoleon & The French Revolution at FSU. We also have an extensive collection of children’s poetry and literature in the John Mackay Shaw Collection and a large Florida history collection in both books and manuscript materials. Our rare book collection stretches from the earliest cuneiform tablets to the artist books being produced today.

We’re also well aware that we live in the 21st century and we have many avenues open to us to share our materials with those patrons who can’t make it to Tallahassee. The FSU Digital Library (FSUDL) holds many items from Special Collections & Archives and will continue to add more as we work to make our collections more and more accessible, as well as searchable, for our users. In this work, we often digitize materials for patrons who need images for publications or special projects that we can then bring in to the FSUDL.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll introduce the other parts that make up the Special Collections & Archives division at FSU!

Rabindranath Tagore Collection

Tagore picture 2Rabindranath Tagore was an eminent scholar and prolific Indian writer in the latter half of the Nineteenth-Century and first half of the Twentieth-Century.  He was born at Jorasanko, Calcutta, India on May 7, 1861.  At an early age he showed promise as a writer, specifically of poetry. Rabindranath went on to write over 3000 poems, 2000 songs (including the Indian National Anthem), 8 novels, 40 volumes of essays, and 50 plays.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 for his most famous work Gitanjali (Song Offerings), which was published in 1910.

In 1906, Rabindranath sent his son, Rathindranath, to the University of Illinois at Urbana to study agriculture.  In 1912-1913, Rabindranath spent time himself at the University of Illinois where he became friends with Professor Arthur Seymour and his wife Mayce.  Dr. Seymour was the head of the University of Illinois’ International Studies program.  In 1926, Dr. Seymour became a professor of French at the Florida State College for Women and served as Head of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages until 1946.

In 1982, The Tagore Collection was donated to Special Collections by the estate of Marion Jewell Hay.  Marion Hay became a professor of education at Florida State College for Women in 1929 and retired from Florida State University in 1967.

Tagore letter
Letter from Rabindranath Tagore to Mayce Seymour, December 27, 1955. Box 1158, folder 2.

The majority of the correspondence in the collection is between Rabindranath and Professor Seymour and his wife, as well as other friends and family.  Also included in the collection are biographical materials related to Rabindranath’s life in India and the United States, photographs, articles, periodicals, and artwork.  To view the finding aid, click here.

Rabindranath died when he was eighty years old on August 7, 1941, at Jorasanko, Calcutta, India.  He is remembered as a poet, musician, artist, philosopher, mystic, and teacher.

“STRAY birds of summer come to my window to sing and fly away.  And yellow leaves of autumn, which have no songs, flutter and fall there with a sigh.”
Verse 1, Stray Birds by Rabindranath Tagore, translated from Bengali to English by the author,  New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916.

Challenges to a new Digital Archivist

I’m Krystal Thomas, digital archivist with Special Collections at Florida State University. I am new in my position, just starting this past summer. I am not new to the world of digital collections, but as I have learned quickly in my new position, each institution has its own processes and procedures for handling its digital collections over time. As my days are still finding their rhythm, I thought it would be more useful on this the Day of Digital Archives to share some of my lessons learned on starting a new position and learning a new institution’s ups and downs with digital projects.

Florida State University has had active digital collections for a decade and more at this point. During that time, many people and departments have influenced and been involved in the development, publication, and preservation of digital items, which is wonderful and I am happy to see the support these programs have received over time. However, coming in as the new kid on the block, I had a lot of questions about how work had been done, how decisions had been made, and where all of this work was now. As I found during my explorations, these answers weren’t always easy to find. Sometimes, it was simply there was no documentation to look over, while other times it was that the people who could give me the answers had left Florida State long before I was hired. From my research gathering, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned in inheriting a digital collections legacy and what you should be doing and/or thinking about to properly help the people who come after you in the digital archivist role.

Document everything

Why did you choose this collection? Why did you choose only three boxes of that collection? Why did you name the files that way? Why didn’t you use the source field? Where are the TIFF images now? I have a million questions about how digital items were created and cataloged in the past but can’t find the answers anywhere. Document every decision you make for a digital project for your benefit, as well as the benefit of the people you are working with and the people who will come after you. This also helps in understanding partnerships you may establish with other entities. FSU participates in several digital preservation programs, but we currently are working to re-establish our relationships with them as there is little to no documentation about how FSU used them before.

Your decisions might not be as obvious as you think

This advice goes back to the “document everything” mantra but deserves its own line: no one is a mind reader, and no one coming after you will be faced with the same set of challenges, resources, and expectations again. There were probably very good, logical reasons why you made the decisions you did when it comes to a digital collection you are working on, but if you don’t record those somewhere, no one–not your supervisor, intern, or even you ten years down the road–will know that and be able to explain that to others moving forward.

Hindsight is 20/20

As an institution moves forward with digital collections, it will learn a little more with each project undertaken. It will gain expertise, and its last project should be better organized and better presented than its first. Hindsight is, after all, 20/20, but if there isn’t an active plan to be recording and sharing the information learned on each project with those involved, how will we learn? Project Management literature says once a project is completed, whether it was a success or not, a team should look back over it and see what they learned and then record that information. Digital projects should be handled the same way. Whether you completed all 2,000 items or ran into a glitch halfway through so the project was never completed, you still learned something of value and that hindsight should be put to good use.

Some times what everyone else is doing won’t work as well for you

When digital projects were started, everyone was looking at everyone else for how to do things which was great and is one of the best ways to learn, but there still has to be a thought process involved. Just because one institution does their digital projects one way does not mean that way will work for us. Each institution has its own set of factors determining how its digital projects are going to work; it is not a one size fits all, and that’s OK. Look around and borrow one process here or one standard there until you’ve developed the right digital process for your institution’s goals and culture.

Don’t make the same mistakes all over again

All of the above leads up to the fact you don’t have to make all the mistakes all over again. A lot of those challenges wouldn’t exist if more of the people and departments involved in the digitization process had communicated more effectively with each other as they worked on projects. A better communication structure would have meant a lot more of what had been done before would have been recorded, creating a self-sustaining institutional memory for this type of work at FSU.

Think outside the box

Keep in mind that you don’t have to do it the same way as before and if you want to help improve the systems and create new ones, get creative and think about how to solve the problems in ways people haven’t before. One of the best things about working in the digital world is creative solutions are always there if you just take the time to think through how they will work and fit into the long-term strategy.

Moving forward in my position, I want to make sure we are documenting our work and learning from our mistakes to create a strong digital collections program moving forward. It will be a challenge but I’m looking forward to it!

A Day in the Life of a Special Collections Archivist

Burt Altman, Certified Archivist

As this is American Archives Month, I feel compelled to share my long, active, and fascinating career as a Special Collections archivist and archival manager with those just starting out in the profession and students exploring archives work as a career. Here at Florida State University’s Division of Special Collections and Archives, I’ve had many opportunities to utilize my training and experience in a variety of situations. To give you an idea of what an archivist actually does in a special collections environment, here’s a description of what was an unusually active but rewarding day for me.

After sipping my morning coffee and checking voluminous emails from my professional associations, notably the Society of Florida Archivists (SFA), Society of American Archivists (SAA), and the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress (my specialization is political collections), I examined the progress of our graduate assistant (GA) who has been conscientiously arranging, describing, and preserving the collection of a renowned, retired Florida State University (FSU) faculty member whose papers he gave to Special Collections document his rich professional life as a researchers, instructor, and book collector. Our GA has performed her professional tasks well, and with my guidance, she’s learned how to research everything she needs to know about the faculty member/donor to write a biographical sketch and synopsis of the collection. Also I’ve found that the materials have been arranged in a manner that they can be clearly described to researchers and they’ve been placed in the proper archival containers for long-term preservation and use. Several items have been flagged for digitization because I know these items are frequently requested by our users.

By late morning, our GA has arrived, and after an hour’s orientation, I’ve trained her how to use Archon, our archival information system, to create a finding aid or descriptive guide to the faculty member’s collection. I know it will take her several days to complete this, but I have all the confidence that she can.

After returning from lunch, I check in with my GA to be sure that she’s on the right track with Archon or has any questions.  She’s well on her way, but no sooner do I return from lunch than I receive a call from our Music Library that they’ve discovered some mold on their books and have no idea how to treat this problem. So I don my preservation adviser’s hat and head out the door. When I arrive at the Music Library, their mold situation seems to be a fairly simple one, only affecting a few books, and there’s no need to call in any professional companies.  I suggested that the books be brought outside, the dried mold brushed off, the books put into the freezer for about a week at the Claude Pepper Library, and the shelves they lived on sprayed with Lysol. This seems to do the trick because the problem hasn’t re-occurred.

When I returned to my office in Special Collections, our GA pointed out some neatly-drawn over-sized plastic transparencies, supported by cardboard frames that could only fit on an overhead projector.  From my knowledge about the donor and his professional activities, it was evident that these were teaching materials he used in the classroom. I found this particularly interesting in light of today’s use of PowerPoint software, a computer, and a projector for presentations. While considered “low tech” for that time, it was clear to me and to potential researchers what purpose the instructor had in mind – notably to illustrate different European battlefield military strategies employed well over 200 years ago. We decided that since the transparencies were so large, it would be best to archivally store them in larger document boxes rather than the standard “Hollinger Box”.

I finished up the day revising and updating our archival processing training manual, because I found that a large portion of the collection we were arranging and describing could be processed using “More Product, Less Process” (MPLP) procedures.  They were contemporary papers, but a large portion of the collection was already in order and folders could be re-used.

By the time I was ready to leave at 5:00, I felt it had been a productive day in the life of a Special Collections archivist!

Florida State College for Women Scrapbooks in the Archives

Mary Cobb Nelson.

Compiling scrapbooks was a popular pastime for those who attended the Florida State College for Women.    These students filled their scrapbooks with the miscellaneous items that they thought significant and representative of their day to day lives. Working in the archives, we specifically look for these ephemeral objects that people often threw away. These items, when compiled together in the form of a scrapbook, paint a historic picture of what life was like in previous years.

One of my favorites that I have had the opportunity to process was created by Mary Cobb Nelson during the mid to late 1920s. Filled with photographs, newspaper clippings, invitations, and even bridge game score cards, she kept a detailed record of what it was like to participate in groups and student events at the college. Most of the students at FSCW led active social lives and were very involved in athletics, sororities, and other types of extracurricular activities.

KD page from the 1926 Flastacowo.

Mary Cobb Nelson took great pride in being a sister in Kappa Delta sorority, and that aspect of her college life defined her more than anything else and is reflected throughout her collection. She and her sorority sisters frequently traveled to Camp Flastacowo and attended bridge games, luncheons, and even fraternity events and football games at the University of Florida.

The collection also includes photographs from her college years.  Some of her classmates had their own cameras which resulted in numerous candid photographs. These are some of the best items we can receive because they give life to the people who we are studying while processing their collections. It is, in fact, much like getting to know them personally.

Another interesting item in her collection is her 1926 Flastocowo yearbook, generously signed to her by sorority sisters on the Kappa Delta page. Affectionate inscriptions from her friends wish her “loads of love” and exemplify the type of sisterhood that surrounded Mary during her college years.

Mary Cobb Nelson and her friends at FSCW.

While this scrapbook and other items that we have provide valuable insight into her life at FSCW, Mary Cobb Nelson still remains a mysterious figure to us at the archives.  Although she was popular among her fellow students and sorority sisters and obviously made her mark on the college, we are still unable to determine if or when she graduated. We believe she had a twin sister, Rebekah, and a best friend, Winnifred Neeld, but information beyond her social involvement at the college in the 1920s is still missing from our records. Through donations and contributions, we can often recover missing pieces regarding the people who make up our archives.  It is hoped that, in time, we will learn more about the popular — but mysterious — Mary Cobb Nelson.