Saturday, 26 January 2013

Week 33: Intern Extravaganza

In my 21st week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I received more direction on my exhibit, discussed the collection hierarchy, and took responsibility for another history undergraduate intern.

The Audio Assault exhibit continues to be an exercise in unlocking the curator’s imagination. On the positive side of the equation, my narrative is becoming much more intuitive to me. I can clearly express what I want the visitor to experience at each section of the exhibit. When I came to work on Tuesday, I went about measuring the space to determine if the content that I had selected would be sufficient to populate the walls. I haven’t taken a math class in a decade but my calculations left me feeling like I needed more content. I brought my concern to Larry and he told me that I did not need to crowd the walls to get a message across; 3-4 powerful images or quotes would give the desired effect. The better question was if I was satisfied with the quality of my selections, rather than the quantity. For example, I want the beginning of the exhibit to demonstrate how the tension between the races was mounting in the mid to late 60’s and I currently had some portrait images of Medgar Evers and students picketing. A person would have to know that Medgar Evers was assassinated in his driveway and non-violent protesters were met with fire hoses and attack dogs to get the message, the imagery should make the sentiment more obvious to the viewer. It is my task to consult more items in the collection, and see if someone besides me could understand the perspective that I am trying to illustrate. Other topics that we discussed were the manipulation of images to make people step back and take something in or lean in closer to read something smaller. All of these techniques and strategies will have to be employed to give people a dynamic Black Power experience in the hallway of this de-commissioned courthouse.

On Saturday, two of my favorite museum worker bees, Greta and Eric, came in to talk about the Online Archive of California and how materials were organized within the archive. I like working with Greta and Eric because they both have graduate degrees in library science with a concentration in archives and we tend to speak the same language about the status of the collections. As Greta and Eric have been working through our catalog and trying to determine which collections are ready for upload to OAC, they have come across entries that don’t seem to meet the criteria of a traditional candidate for collection level description (finding aids). For example, there is a woman who donated a cookie jar to the museum, I’m not sure what the historical significance was, but it was accessioned by the staff at MCLM at some point. Should this item have its own finding aid? Greta suggested that we have a general “artifacts” collection and describe these random items from random donors at the item level. Eric mentioned that sometimes one item could warrant its own collection because we would not want to bury something significant like a signed first edition copy of Phyllis Wheatley’s “On Things Religious and Moral” in the list of book materials of a finding aid. Greta countered with the power of EAD and the semantic web; anything that we upload on EAD will be fully searchable. If you are looking for that special book, as long as the <unittitle> tag reads the book’s title, and <objecttype> tag reads book, it will pop up regardless of its status as an item in a series or the title of a collection. I took in everything that they were saying and told them that there were many ways to answer the questions; it was just going to take one person to make a decision and get everyone on board with the reasoning. I’ve never had to generate policies in an archival setting and as many examples as I consult, the decision has to be the option that makes the most sense for MCLM. My work is definitely cut out for me.

Throughout the week, Cara and I had been discussing what to do with Kathy, the second history intern from UCLA. The first one, Susan, is helping me with the Audio Assault exhibit. Kathy has been bounced around at the museum for the past two Saturdays, helping us to greet visitors and answer the phones. I knew that she needed something more substantial to make her internship more valuable. On Friday afternoon, it occurred to me to have her process the six linear feet that compose the Antoinette Culpepper architecture collection. I have been intrigued by this collection ever since I started working at MCLM. I found the six boxes while I was going through Mayme’s papers and based on the art deco style block handwriting contrasted with Mayme’s loopy cursive, and the persistent focus on buildings and drawings, I knew that these materials did not belong with Mayme’s papers. To add to the intrigue, MCLM has a “blueprint” collection that is only composed of drawings from a firm with “Culpepper” in the title. There is very limited information in the finding aid about the blueprint collection, so I think that Antoinette’s files will add more of a context for that collection. Kathy has eight more weeks with us, so I am going to supervise her processing of these architecture records. On Saturday, I gave her a crash course archival methodology and told her that we would go through it one step at a time, starting with a survey. Based on her notes, she has a pretty good idea of how to identify the material types, subjects, dates, and proper names that we might use to arrange and describe the collection in the next step.

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