Monday, September 22, 2014

Moore Papers and More: Reflections on an Internship

My ten-week internship this past summer in the Arrangement and Description unit of the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies has been an incredible experience. I graduated in December 2013 from the University of Maryland at College Park with a Master of Library Science (MLS) with a specialization in archives and, prior to my arrival at the Russell in May, I had completed a number of internships in the archives field. My experience here, however, has been unmatched in many ways. It has been amazing to see the inner workings of this university special collections department. Although the staff is not large in number, it more than makes up for it in the effort, dedication, hard work, and enthusiasm that they bring to the workplace on a daily basis.

My primary task for the internship was to process the papers of Powell A. Moore, a native Georgian with a lengthy career in legislative affairs, public policy and international relations. While staff described it as “not a particularly large collection,” it was nearly fifty linear feet of material, much larger than anything else I had processed thus far in my career.

Early on in my internship, I came to appreciate new ways of doing things when organizing and describing collections. Most of the other places where I interned did not adhere strictly to the “More Product, Less Process” approach, which stresses organizing and describing collections quickly and efficiently to make more collections available faster. The goal at those other places was to capture as much information as possible and provide extremely detailed descriptions for every item. Of course, every repository is different in terms of its resources, mission and users. The Russell Library would not be able to open as many collections in a timely manner if it provided item-level detail for all its collections. Most of its researchers do not require that time-consuming description. The Special Collections Libraries at UGA are also blessed with a climate-controlled high-density storage vault where conditions are kept at an ideal 50 degrees F and 30% humidity year-round.

The Powell A. Moore Papers were the right type of challenge at this stage of my career. I had to balance my desire to put every item in the collection “in its place” with the goal of creating an organizational scheme for the papers that could be generally described to the researcher in a finding aid or guide to the collection. It wasn’t easy!  Occasionally spending extra time processing parts of the collection paid off in terms of discovering content, but it did not always reveal as much about the collection’s structure and organization as I would have liked. I learned to gauge the amount of research value that was added from the time I spent on different parts of the collection and adjusted my efforts accordingly.

The average person who knows anything about archives work often draws the conclusion that the work is a solitary task. I got a taste for the importance of donor relations while working on the Moore Papers when it came time to make decisions about what items should or should not be retained for the collection, what archivists call appraisal. Through emails and phone calls, I had the opportunity to communicate with Mr. Moore about items from his papers that I determined did not have significant research value. It was an invaluable experience to be able to educate the donor on the theory and practice behind these decisions and to make arrangements for these materials to be handled according to his wishes.

Another huge takeaway was the use of electronic tools and technology when processing archival collections. My use of Archivists’ Toolkit made it possible to create the EAD-compliant finding aid for the Moore papers. I was able to accession an addition to the Eleanor Smith Papers and begin to create a process plans for the papers of Georgia State Senator Eric Johnson. I also was involved with processing the electronic records of the Georgia Project, Inc. and accessioning the electronic records of both Moore and Johnson. I expect to see a lot of exciting things occur with electronic records in archives in the near future.

In conclusion, I want to thank the staff at the Russell Library for giving me a top notch experience that I will not forget. Their blend of friendliness, humor, and professionalism that I found there is not something easily duplicated. I feel privileged to have learned so much about the archival profession from such a wonderful and talented group of people.

Post by Mark Walters, Political Papers Processing Intern, Russell Library

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