Student Snippets A Window Into The Daily Life & Thoughts of SLIS Students

Interning in the Outer Banks: An Archival Analogy

An analogy for archival work that they don’t teach you in 438 is this: archival processing is cleaning up other peoples’ messes. Without a key, without a blueprint, without any inkling of what, potentially, the original organizational system that the donor, maybe, possibly, hopefully attempted to follow for at least part of their document-generating life. You, the intrepid archivist must venture through boxes, pulling out sheaves of paper that seem to share nothing in common except the rusty paperclip holding them together, dusting your black pants with the glitter of deteriorating fax paper, and puzzling over the names of repeat characters in the documents like a crime scene detective building profiles for each murder suspect.   

Or so I’ve felt these past few weeks processing my first collection. In the midst of the chaos, though, I stumble across little gems that make me forget about the filing conventions my donor seemed to create and then drop on a whim or the fact that desperately-relevant online records for certain local government officials don’t exist. An inspirational quote twining itself across a sheet of graph paper in its silent encouragement, a sassy file title labeling this or that month a “fiasco”, and beautiful sketches of the many hand-carved signs that decorate my drive around town give glimpse of the person behind all of the official and professional paper that comes from a life dedicated to the enrichment of a local community. These moments of human connection vis-a-vis paper don’t make processing the rest of the collection any easier, but they do remind me of the person, of the life that will be remembered, of the importance of archival collections – if only I can first clean up the mess!