Sunday, 2 December 2012

Week 24: Not beyond my scope

In my twelfth week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I worked on the book project and assisted with a mailing campaign. This was a short week because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

The book project at MCLM is very tricky for me to get excited about based on the reasons that I chose archives as a profession. To me, the value of a collection resides in the organization and preservation of items that cannot be found anywhere else. The books that we are working with are very valuable and represent a wide sampling of black history and some of the titles are obscure, but they are mostly available in regular public libraries. Our books cannot leave the building, and some of the editions are not in a suitable condition for serious perusing. As a researcher, I would rather check out the book, take it home and spend a few days going through it than making an appointment to sit in our facility. 

After all of my intensely principled thought of what is truly archival at MCLM, I put myself in the shoes of the first people encountering the collection in the garage. Everything was jammed together and difficult to identify, it was probably easy to recognize “books” as a discrete and easy to describe part of the collection. Copy cataloging books applies organization to a significant part of the collection and moves materials out of the way so that we can delve into the other collections that reside in MCLM. At the end of the day, I will give all that I can to the book project so that we can move on to the elements that are more interesting to me. At this point, we have finished identifying and describing the rare book duplicates, and we are tweaking a workflow that will enable us to tackle the duplicates in the general collection.

Working on a very small staff with a very ambitious executive director seems to mean that there is no task beneath my skill set and no task beyond my skill set. The former was demonstrated this week. I spent hours with volunteers, making copies, folding reply cards and letters, and stuffing them into envelopes. I entered address data from all of our sign-in sheets into Excel. I made evening runs to Office Max when we ran out of toner for the printer. I took everyone’s lunch order and drove to the restaurant to pick it up. I learned how to use a ruler to make sharp folds without injuring my thumb. We are hoping that this membership mailing will generate some income for the museum. The volunteers were very enthusiastic about the efforts because they had been pushing the staff to make this happen for years. As I am working in Mayme’s papers, I have 3 boxes full of her mailing lists and contact sheets; it is ironic that MCLM had not continued with her commitment to communicate with her supporters. I believe that it will be a worthwhile project in the future to follow up with Mayme’s contacts and see if they would be interested in getting involved with the current iteration of Dr. Clayton’s vision. At any rate, by Friday afternoon, 800 envelopes were stuffed, addressed and ready to be sent to the post office, we will see what our efforts will yield.

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