As the caretakers of Special Collections, staff work diligently to preserve the integrity of materials for future researchers. This includes reducing materials’ exposure to light and preventing fluctuations in temperature and humidity within carefully controlled environments. Interaction with collections usually occurs in the Reading Room to ensure these conditions can be regulated. Sometimes, though, materials leave the Special Collections vault in order to venture into the wider world. Class instruction sessions are a way to bring collections directly into the hands of students who might otherwise never know of their existence.
Recently I led an instruction session with the Manuscript Archivist for the course Travel in the Ancient World. The class was held in the Special Collections instruction room where students observed several types of ancient texts, including cuneiform tablets, papyrus fragments, and Greek and Latin ostraka. For many students, this was their first experience with Special Collections materials; as some of the oldest items in the library, the ancient texts arguably offered one of the more dramatic introductions to our holdings. The 2,000 year old papyrus fragments, for instance, were previously used as mummy cartonnage – layers of linen or papyrus covered in plaster as part of Ancient Egyptian funerary masks. Seeing these objects up close allowed students the chance to create tangible, meaningful connections to otherwise distant ideas.
When collaborating with professors about class visits, it’s often helpful to communicate in advance so Special Collections can provide the best supporting materials for the course. In this case, a course on travel meant we wanted to highlight letters and other mobile documents. Preparing for the session involved studying translations of the materials to cultivate a selection that would match this need while also representing the collection as a whole. Class sessions offer the Special Collections instructors just as much opportunity to learn about the collection as the students – and perhaps even more so. In an effort to prepare for any questions that arise, we study the stories and context of our materials as diligently as possible. That way, if a student wants to know how our cuneiform tablets compare to the Flood Tablet, or why some ostraka were written in Latin instead of Greek, we can provide the answer.
So while teaching assistants teach and research assistants research, graduate assistants get the best of both worlds. We not only learn more about our collections every day, but we then get to teach others about the incredible histories behind our objects, hopefully inspiring students to visit us again after class lets out.
Everyone enters a field of work for one reason or another. For me, pursuing a Masters of Library and Information Studies began from a desire to be an archivist, a type of information professional that is largely underrated, misunderstood, or even unheard of by the public. The mystery regarding the profession drew me in initially. Popular culture depicts archives as dark and secluded repositories with strict access restrictions guarded by a gatekeeper, hesitant to divulge any of the archives’ secrets. Think of the less-than-helpful associate in the Jedi Archives who turns Obi-Wan away in Star Wars Episode II; she might as well have shushed him while she was at it!
The reality of archives is quite the opposite. In all of my experiences, archivists are more than happy to help you in your research and want to share the collections as much as possible with the public. That’s why they collect it all. In order to do so, however, they must establish order.
In a job where creating order out of disorder is a top priority, the profession tends to attract many an OCD history buff. There’s something viscerally satisfying about organizing a dusty old mess of papers into a neat collection of documents in acid-free folders, legibly labeled for ready accessibility.
Many steps go into creating this order, however. After gaining legal custody of the documents, the archivist has to “gain intellectual control,” which is a sophisticated way of saying “learn exactly what kind of stuff is in the collection.” In order to do this, one must comb through the contents, which could take a very long time depending on how many linear feet the collection is, and create an inventory. The collection I’ve been “gaining intellectual control” of is called the Douglas and Jeannette Windham Papers, which contains the papers and publications of Douglas and Jeannette Windham, a distinguished FSU alumni couple. I’ve listed the materials that are in the collection, including personal papers, correspondence, academic articles, photographs, and professional reports. Once intellectual control is established, I can work with the archivist to determine a plan for order and begin to folder the contents into acid-free folders. A.K.A. the fun part! The kind of fun that is on par with labeling the shelves of your pantry, or color-coding your closet. (Yes, this is how I live).
The ordering continues when the boxes are stored in the stacks which are kept under strict environmental regulations in order to best preserve the archival materials from accelerated deterioration. The last step of creating order in the archives is to write the online finding aid so potential researchers can get an understanding of what is in the collection. This helps the collections get used more, which is, after all, the whole point in the first place! And there you have it: archives de-mystified.
The Liber de proprietatibus rerum Bartholomei angelici (On the Properties of Things) is a medieval encyclopedia that was written by the 13th century Franciscan scholar Bartholomeus Anglicus, who sought to gather the rapidly expanding corpus of knowledge of the Late Middle Ages into a single volume. As Bartholomeus himself says in the epilogue to De proprietatibus rerum, he wrote his book so that “the simple and the young, who on account of the infinite number of books cannot look into the properties of each single thing about which Scripture deals, can readily find their meaning herein – at least superficially.”¹ A single source for surface-level knowledge about everything? In other words, medieval Wikipedia. De proprietatibus rerum is arranged into nineteen books, moving in order of importance from spiritual beings, to human beings, to the natural world.
Over one hundred manuscript copies of De proprietatibus rerum survive, indicating its popularity and widespread use, and it continued to be printed into the seventeenth century, purportedly being used over the years by the likes of Shakespeare and Dante.² FSU Special Collections & Archives has two printed copies of De proprietatibus rerum – the first edition in English printed in London in 1582 (Vault oversize AE3.B313 1582) and a 1485 imprint from Strassburg (Vault oversize AE2.B27 1485), which is featured here.
The 1485 imprint is a stellar example of an incunabule, a book printed before 1501 in the first half-century after Gutenberg’s invention of movable type. FSU’s copy is in its original binding of alum-tawed pigskin decorated with blind fillets and stamps of popular Gothic imagery such as the griffin and the Agnus Dei (the sacrificial Lamb of God). The cover is also stamped with a small banner tool of Gothic lettering (unfortunately illegible) that could be the name of the bookbinder. The endpapers inside the front and back covers are made from re-purposed medieval manuscripts on vellum. In early printers’ shops, paper was always at a premium, and it is not uncommon to find fragments of older manuscripts used as endpapers, bindings, and sewing supports in newer books. Discoveries like these are one of the great joys of working with rare books in-person. In fact, fragments of yet another medieval manuscript have also been re-purposed on FSU’s copy of De proprietatibus rerum to make tabs, which aid the reader in turning directly to specific sections of the encyclopedia.
The study of incunabula provides a fascinating glimpse into a period of history when the book was adapting to the challenges and demands of new technologies. On the opening page of the 1485 De proprietatibus rerum, the capital letter “C” is sketched in, perhaps in preparation for illumination that was never completed; on early printed books, decoration and rubrication (red lettering) was still done by hand. Throughout the rest of the book, however, the space where a decorative capital would have been drawn is left blank and marked by a small, printed letter. As printing increased the output of new books, forms of decoration that were routine for scribes and illuminators fell to the wayside. This is not to suggest that a total break with the past occurred, however. To the contrary, the very act of printing De proprietatibus rerum is an example of new technology being used to spread old ways of thinking. The presence of manuscript waste and marginalia on FSU’s copy are physical manifestations of the links between the old and the new that can be discovered in early printed books.
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.
1. Quoted in R. J. Long, Bartholomaeus Anglicus On the Properties of Soul and Body, Toronto, 1979, p. 1.
2. R. J. Long, Bartholomaeus Anglicus On the Properties of Soul and Body, Toronto, 1979, p. 2.
One of the most important things I’ve learned as a Library and Information Studies student is how to navigate the lingo of the profession, which includes a dizzying array of acronyms. If it all starts to look like a bowl full of alphabet soup, here’s a (certainly nowhere near exhaustive) list of a few acronyms you can you use next time you want to impress a librarian!
AACR2 – Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd ed. – National standards for cataloging rules first published in 1967 and now succeeded by Resource Description and Access (RDA).
ACRL – Association of College & Research Libraries – The largest division of the American Library Association (ALA), comprised of academic librarians from institutions like Florida State University Libraries.
CCO – Cataloging Cultural Objects – Guidelines for cataloging cultural objects, such as works of art, architecture, and historical artifacts.
DACS – Describing Archives: A Content Standard – The content standard used for describing archival collections, which expands upon AACR2 but provides additional guidelines for describing unpublished materials, such as personal papers and manuscript collections.
DC – Dublin Core – A set of vocabulary terms, originally based on a set of 15 elements (Title, Creator, Subject, Description, Publisher, Contributor, Date, Type, Format Identifier, Source, Language, Relation, Coverage, and Rights), that can be used to describe resources such as webpages and digital images. It is a very simple framework, but it can be combined with other metadata standards to control vocabularies. Dublin Core standards were applied to items in the digital exhibit That I May Remember: the Scrapbooks of Florida State College for Women (1905-1947). Shown at right, an image is described using the Title, Subject, and Description elements.
EAD – Encoded Archival Description – A markup schema which allows us to encode DACS descriptions and make them appear as nice, neat, human-readable web documents on the Finding Aid Database.
FRBR – Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records – A conceptual model that seeks to help users make sense of bibliographic records by defining relationships between entities. For example, if a patron is looking for a signed edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species, FRBR recognizes a hierarchal relationship between the work (the abstract vision of the work created in Darwin’s head), the expression (Darwin’s vision expressed in words), the manifestation (Darwin’s words published in a specific form – a book), and the item (the unique signed edition of Origin of Species held by FSU Special Collections & Archives) that the patron is searching for.
GIS – Geographic Information System – A system for analyzing, manipulating, and displaying geographic data that offers exciting possibilities for aiding access to library collections.
HTML – HyperText Markup Language – the language that provides structure to web pages.
ILS – Integrated Library System – The data management system that seeks to integrate all the different functions of the library.
ISBN – International Standard Book Number – A unique identification number given to every edition of a book.
ISSN – International Standard Serial Number – A unique identification number given to periodical publications.
LCSH – Library of Congress Subject Headings – A controlled vocabulary for subject headings created by the Library of Congress.
MARC – Machine-Readable Cataloging – A standard for encoding metadata that was developed in the 1960s as libraries made the transition from card catalogues to computers. MARC records use a system of data fields with alphanumeric tags, indicators, and subfield codes to create bibliographic descriptions. Seen without the help of the OPAC’s display interface, a MARC record might be mistaken by the untrained eye for the opening credits of a Keanu Reeves movie (as seen above left).
MODS – Metadata Object Description Schema – A metadata schema that is more complex than Dublin Core but simpler than MARC. It uses language-based tags (i.e. titleInfo, language, relatedItem) that are much more intuitive to understand than the MARC data fields seen above.
NLP – Natural Language Processing – a method of computer processing that seeks to improve information retrieval by studying the nuances of language in free text searches. Instead of searching by keywords, NLP seeks to understand the semantics of what a searcher is really asking for.
OCLC – Online Computer Library Center – The largest bibliographic network in the world, which links databases of records from libraries all across the world.
OPAC – Online Public Access Catalog – When you perform a catalog search at lib.fsu.edu, you are harnessing the power of the OPAC.
RDA – Resource Description and Access – As of 2010, the successor of AACR2. A standard for cataloging based on FRBR.
TEI – Text Encoding Intiative – A schema that provides guidelines for encoding texts for use in digital humanities.
XML – eXtensible Markup Language – A markup language used in metadata applications such as MODS.
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:
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.
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.
Overholt, J. (2013). Five theses on the future of special collections. RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, & Cultural Heritage, 14(1), 15-20.
Now on the verge of retirement from Florida State University Libraries after 34 years, and as my contribution to Archives Month, I’d like to reflect on my work experience as an archivist in the Division of Special Collections and Archives. I wanted to share with you not only the unique aspects of my professional career but also describe some of the most interesting collections I’ve processed, my observations on how the field has evolved, and how I’d like to transfer these experiences and skills into my retirement. I am hoping that for my fellow FSU library colleagues and students wishing to enter the archives field that my narrative will provide an insight into not only how diversified archival work can be, but also how projects can be accomplished with limited resources, and how professional practices in archives have changed over time.
AT THE BEGINNING…….SERVING AS A CONGRESSIONAL ARCHIVIST
Because the better part of my tenure at FSU Libraries was serving as the archivist of the Claude Pepper Library, most of this story will be devoted to that work. I arrived in Special Collections in 1981 and was originally hired as the congressional archivist to arrange, describe, and make accessible the Claude Pepper Papers. Because of the enormous size of the collection, the Papers were housed in a separate room in Strozier Library, and I was fortunate to have a library para-professional and two student assistants to process the collection. The first 900 boxes of the collection originally arrived in 1979, but a library para-professional with little or no archival experience began to arrange the collection. Unfortunately, a portion of the collection had to be reprocessed and it took another ten years to acquire additional materials and to make it accessible. By that time, the collection and its staff had moved to at least three different locations in Strozier. Furthermore, in preparation for the opening of the Claude Pepper Library (originally the Mildred and Claude Pepper Library, as a tribute to the Congressman’s late wife) portions of the collection were stored in the old Post Office on Woodward Avenue and the old Dodd Hall Reading Room (now the Florida Heritage Museum) while Dodd Hall was being renovated. I moved into the new Pepper Library facilities at the Claude Pepper Center in 1997.
It was exciting to finally be in a permanent location. I found my work at the Pepper Library most enjoyable and satisfying. The collection was fascinating, too. Congressman Pepper served over 40 years combined in the U.S. Senate and House, and his papers truly document all the major events of the 20th Century. I originally met Congressman Pepper and his staff several times when we were planning the original Pepper Library in Dodd Hall, and continued to work with them at the Pepper Center and with the architect who designed and built the adjoining Claude Pepper Museum.
In my earlier years working at Dodd Hall, I joined the Society of American Archivists’ (SAA) Congressional Papers Roundtable, an association that continues to this day. Through my contacts in the early 2000s, I learned that several congressional archives were beginning to digitize their collections. After I visited some of these institutions, and fortunately with the support of the Claude Pepper Foundation and FSU Libraries, John Nemmers, my archivist colleague at Pepper, and I proposed and implemented a digitization project. Over a period of three years (2001-2003), we and several student assistants selected materials to be scanned and made available on our new Claude Pepper website. We also prepared metadata for discovery of the materials and monitored search traffic to the website on a monthly basis. To publicize the project, we also wrote an article for the American Archivist; it served as a case study about how the value of digitization projects and how online finding aids can increase the use of archival collections.
Unfortunately, because Microsoft no longer provided server support for the software client we used for digitization and access, we had to discontinue our project. About that time, the FSU Libraries developed a long-range vision to create a repository of Florida political papers, not just congressional papers but those of Florida governors and senators as well. Subsequently, we began to acquire other papers of Florida statesmen, notably the Reubin Askew Papers, and transferred other Florida political papers from Special Collections & Archives housed in Strozier. In addition, during the early 2000s, the FSU Libraries began developing a disaster preparedness program and created a “disaster plan working group;” I served as its preservation officer. It was a monumental task, but our preservation “team” representing all FSU Libraries contributed to the development of the plan. It has periodically been updated since that time.
Up until the time I began processing this collection, my archival experience had been limited to arranging and describing a collection of 18th Century deeds and other land records between settlers and Indian tribes in Long Island. Before I came to FSU, I lived in Long Island and worked at a local historical society. Once I arrived here, since I was the only archivist in the FSU Libraries (known in professional circles as a “lone archivist”), I had to reach out for help to the staff at the State Archives of Florida and begin attending SAA workshops to gain experience. This really paid off when it came time to reprocess and to add more materials. However, since the concept of “More Product, Less Process” (MPLP) for archival materials hadn’t caught on yet in the 1980s, processing work was more time-intensive because staff had been removing all the original staples from attached documents and were counting all the documents in every folder! Because I was an archival “greenhorn” when I first arrived, I continued this practice but learned from my professional peers that these kinds of tasks weren’t absolutely necessary when working with large congressional papers. So the practice stopped. And by the time MPLP came to light in the early 2000s, we no longer arranged and described these large collections down to the individual document level. Furthermore, as long as the temperature and humidity were fairly stable, we no longer saw the need to remove every staple, either.
BECOMING A MANUSCRIPTS ARCHIVIST AT STROZIER
Because there was a growing need to reduce the backlog of archives and manuscripts that were gathering in Special Collections & Archives, and since additional archivists could not be hired to process university and non-university collections due to limited resources, priorities changed and I was transferred to Strozier in 2006 as the sole Special Collections archivist. Since that time, and with the help of a student assistant, intern, and a graduate assistant, we eliminated this backlog. I supervised the students, interns, and a graduate assistant and it was great experience, because they were fascinated by the work and I enjoyed teaching and training them in archival practices for a variety of individual, family, and organizational collections.
To describe these collections through archival finding aids, many of which were created in HTML, the Digital Library Center’s digital archivist created a template to encode the finding aid using the Encoded Archival Description (EAD) standard, and content was entered in the template from older finding aids and new collections with the text editor NoteTab. After some initial training, the staff created finding aids, through NoteTab, to all of their archives and manuscript holdings (including the Shaw Collection). To present the finding aid on the web, the Digital Library Center exported the EAD content through a stylesheet using DigiTool. I soon learned that it was not a practical tool for creating archival finding aids. There were too many false and irrelevant search results and it was not clear where in the particular collection searched the content could be found.
As more and more Special Collections repositories began using Archon, a platform for archival description and access, Special Collections & Archives decided that Archon provided a more user-friendly way for archival staff to record descriptive information about collections and digital objects and for end-users to view, search, and browse this content through the web.
However, it soon became evident that since finding aids existed in a variety of formats (Paper, HTML, DigiTool, Archon), it was difficult to discover what we really owned. Therefore, shortly after these backlogged collections were processed, I found myself part of a team headed by our Associate Dean of Special Collections, and consisting of the digital archivist, three professionals, and our library associate. We became engaged in a major project to locate missing collections, classify collections properly as to whether they were university or non-university materials, and consolidate smaller collections into parent collections, since they were all part of one collection. Fortunately, we have now assessed what needs to be done and are in the process of parceling out projects to complete one major goal: enable discovery of our archives and manuscripts through one venue: Archon.
The Gontarski materials were used by Dr. Gontarski to research his forthcoming book about Barney Grove Press, and Barney Rosset, founder of Grove Press. What I found particularly intriguing, and which formed a major part of this collection, were the intelligence files Gontarski obtained from Rosset’s personal papers, compiled by various branches of American intelligence (FBI, CIA, U.S. Army Intelligence) under the Freedom of Information Act. For example, there were U.S. Department of Justice and CIA memoranda regarding pornography, offensive material, and actions taken against Grove Press for importation of the film “I Am Curious Yellow” and other films deemed offensive.
The Cinema Corporation of America Collection documents film director Cecil B. De Mille’s role in the founding of the company – based in South Florida — and its film distribution activities in later years under Vice President Alan F. Martin. Through the work of this company and Martin’s activities, DeMille’s most enduring film, “The King of Kings,” has been in constant theatrical and non-theatrical distribution since 1927. The collection is a real treasure trove for documenting American motion picture history and will have great research value for students in FSU’s College of Motion Pictures Arts. In this collection can be found such unique items as a publicity photo for the original 1927 silent “King of Kings” movie, as shown below.
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE FUTURE
Now that my career in the Division of Special Collections and Archives is coming to a close in a few short months, when I reflect on my professional work, experience in processing collections, supervising projects, and training potential archivists in this field, I intend after I retire to continue my involvement in the profession by keeping abreast of developments and technology, attending conferences, and networking with colleagues in Florida and across the nation. But more than this, my real passion is to share these insights with students through teaching archival courses, and would like to contribute towards creating an archival studies program at FSU.
As Special Collections staff, next Wednesday, May 1st is our opportunity to truly become aware of our role in preserving our unique collections and protecting the environment in which they’re stored.
Named by the Society of American Archivists after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma struck the Gulf Coast, “MayDay” – this year and every year – is a nationwide effort whose goal is to save our archival materials, no matter which type of cultural institution in which we work.
Here are a few things we can do that day that will make a difference when and if an emergency occurs, tasks that we can accomplish in a short period of time:
Quickly survey collections areas to insure that nothing is stored directly on the floor, where they would be vulnerable to water damage.
Note the location of fire exits and fire extinguishers.
Review basic emergency procedures – currently being updated – in our Reading Room behind the service desk.
Familiarize ourselves with the evacuation plan and where emergency supplies are stored – a good chance to check that flashlights are working!
Update the contact information in our department staff list
These are just a few suggestions; there’s probably more we can think of. And it’s important that we sustain this effort, not just on MayDay.
Ruby Diamond was born in Tallahassee on September 1, 1886. She was one of thirteen members of the Florida State College’s 1905 graduating class and received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Chemistry. Ms. Diamond preferred that her wealth help those in need, and she contributed to many charities in Tallahassee and across Florida and was a generous donor to more than thirty-seven organizations.
Ms. Diamond was also a political activist and fought for lower taxes and racial equality. She and her brother Sydney, along with other members of the Jewish community, founded Temple Israel in 1937.
Ms. Diamond was a generous benefactor to Florida State University and established two scholarships for disadvantaged scholars. She supported the Alumni Association and the Department of Educational Research, Development, and Foundations.
In 1970, for her contributions to the university, Florida State University expressed its appreciation to Ms. Diamond by naming its largest auditorium, located inside the Westcott Building, in her honor. In 1971, she donated property in Tallahassee worth $100,000 to the university, and at age 95 in 1981, she donated downtown property assessed at more than $100,000 to partially fund an endowed chair of “national excellence” in the College of Education. In 2010, the Ruby Diamond Concert Hall was reopened after a $38 million renovation.
The Ruby Diamond Family Papers in our collection include family photographs, correspondence between Ms. Diamond and her friends and cousins, genealogical materials, news clippings about the Diamond family, and her eulogy. The materials in the collection also contain information about the history of Tallahassee and Florida State University.