Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Week 14: Not for the faint of heart


My first week at the Mayme A. Clayton Museum and library was full of ebbs and flows. I began with a candid conversation about the state of the museum and my role within it with the executive director, Larry Earl. Larry was out of the office for several weeks recovering from his hospital stay and Tuesday (my first day) was his first day back in the office. The thing that struck me most about the museum was how unlike a museum it is. I would call it more of a non-operational archive with rental and exhibit space. Right off the entrance, there is a well designed exhibit space with materials that represent a sample of the collection and signage that explains who Dr. Clayton was and why she collected these items. 

In the back hallway there are movie posters and a television screen that runs clips from old films throughout the day. In the hallway adjacent to that, Cara has fashioned two glass exhibit cases, one with historic Black magazines (50% of which are Johnson Publications), the other case has a third grader’s art project about the museum and a short essay about the life of Dr. Clayton. That is the extent of the exhibit space. The remainder of the building is locked rooms filled with unprocessed collections and processing space for volunteers. There are courtrooms and a holding cell, but outside of fully developed programs for tour groups, these spaces are not very functional. All of my questions about the processing of the collections and improvement of facilities were answered by we are looking for money to finance… fill in the blank. All of this led to my first task which was researching grants that Larry had mentioned and determining which ones were the most feasible and appropriate for our collections.

By Wednesday, I had brought in some books and photographs to personalize my office space. Larry told me that my number one priority was to process the 200 boxes that represented Dr. Clayton’s collection. However, the room was locked and no one had the key for the first two days. I spent the day looking through Alyss’ files, responding to emails and outlining all of the things I expected to get done in the near future. I also worked on my blog and researched ideas for the SAA 2013 participation. On Thursday, the door to my collection was open and I got busy on my initial inventory. Cara explained that the boxes had been packed indiscriminately and she was sure that most of it was not worthy of the archives. The boxes were housed in an old judge’s chamber, so there shelves along the wall and two giant oak desks that boded well for a processing space. I decided to open every box and rough sort based on material type. Most of the collection was banker boxes full of manuscript materials that I need to go through. The second pile was posters/art work, the third clump was awkward or three dimensional materials like her rolodexes and golf trophies. By the time, I condensed boxes, made all of the materials visible, and carved out a work space I was ready to call it a day. 

Alas, there was no such luck, Larry was out of the office and Cara had a prior commitment, so I had to stay late for a group who was renting the space. I watched the doors and made sure that they had everything that they needed, until 9:00 PM. Then I followed Cara’s instructions about turning off the air conditioner and lights, taking out the trash, and setting the security alarm. I’m sure that it will not be the last of my long nights at the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum.   

Patiently waiting for our guests to exit the building
On Friday, I discussed some weeding strategies with Cara and my preliminary ideas about series within the collection. Cara agreed with my suggestions and I began to go through my large stacks of manuscript materials. I thought I had encountered four large plastic bins of photographic materials to deal with, but when I showed them to Cara, she explained that we had another collection dedicated to photos from that photographer. I eagerly wheeled the bins to that room and smiled, realizing that my work had just been reduced by about 2%. 

I also met a substantial amount of volunteers on Friday, they were very diverse and energetic. I spent about 30 minutes talking to Christal who recently started a library science program at the University of North Texas. She wants to work in an academic library. I also met “Fancy Nancy” who has a striking resemblance to Nancy Wilson. Cara allowed me to leave early after yesterday’s long night, and I was able to do some shopping for my new apartment. Saturday was exclusively dedicated to my processing of the Mayme Clayton collection. Although it was the busiest day for volunteers, I exiled myself. I turned the music on and got through four boxes of manuscript materials. 

One highlight of the day was my introduction to Mr. Lloyd Clayton, the youngest son of Mayme Clayton. He has a very kind face and complimented my mother when he heard the origins of my name. He said that he would like to spend some time talking with me as I go through his mother’s papers to make sure that I didn’t overlook anything important. I think that he will be pleased with the amount of care that I am taking with his mother’s collection, and I look forward to explaining any archival principles that have dictated my decisions to weed various items. 

If the first week was any indicator, I will be pulled in a wide variety of directions as I fulfill my residency requirement at this museum. I am choosing to see it as an opportunity to demonstrate my diverse skill set and flexibility in the work place.

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