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

An Unexpected Archive of the Universe

I hope everyone is having a great Semester so far! Mine has been super busy since I started a new job as a Curatorial Assistant at the Harvard Plate Stacks Collection last fall. The Plate Stacks Collection is stored at the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and includes over 550,000 glass plate negatives and spectral images of the stars, which represent the first full image of the visible Universe. 146 women astronomical computers helped to create, store, and analyze this collection over about a century and many of them, such as Henrietta Leavitt and Annie Jump Cannon, have become famous for their groundbreaking discoveries.

Before starting the archives program, I would have never imagined working at an archive of this type. However, archives come in an amazing range of shapes and sizes. My field placement involved an archive full of historical medical records, equipment, and human remains. My first archives job includes hundreds of thousands of glass plate negatives representing the entire visible universe. Beyond my work experiences, I have learned of thousands of other kinds of archives during my time in the program. This past summer alone I interviewed the head archivist for the Hawaiian Moving Image Archive and learned about the work of the archivist for the Boston Red Sox.

I’m not exactly an astronomer and I was nervous starting out in my new position. However, it quickly became apparent that I didn’t need to be worried. I joined of team of people with diverse backgrounds who all bring different skills and perspectives to the table. The Plate Stacks Team includes archivists, astronomers, photographers, and even a painter. Everyone has welcomed me and we all share a lot of respect for the value of the collection and its history. One of my new team members is actually another current Simmons student and it has been great sharing the experience with her. It’s really been an awesome opportunity to learn new skills and to share my archival knowledge.

Anything can be an archive, which means that archivists can end up doing almost anything. This profession sometimes feels so monumental, a bit like 550,000 glass plate negatives representing the visible Universe. Which, if you were wondering does do public tours and has public exhibitions. You can learn more about the collection and take a virtual tour on the Wolbach Astronomical Library’s website (