Friday, 24 May 2013

Week 47: Preparing for Departure

In my 35th week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I went in on Sunday, and trained two groups of volunteers on collections processing.

As time is ticking for this fellowship, I feel the need to spend as much time as possible working in my processing space for Mayme’s Papers. A couple of weeks ago, I had sorted out the materials that belonged in other series of Mayme’s collection. I came in on Sunday to get a jump on the inventory for these disparate series. Although the material types indicate a need for these items to be integrated into other areas of the collection, finding those inventories and adding these new pieces is proving to be more complicated than one might think. For example, there are five different files titled “complete” magazine inventory. The photographs need more sleeves than we have available right now. The visual art materials are scattered throughout the museum and the inventories mix Mayme’s materials with an art collection that we have on deposit. It would behoove me as well as the museum to sort out these inventories before I put “new” materials in the queue. Just in case I run out of time, I want to have a record of what I found in Mayme’s Papers and where I think it belongs within the collection. At the same time, I am performing some quality control on the container list that is being created for the boxes that represent my work with Mayme’s Papers.

Early in the week, the donor of our Black LGBTQ collection, Jerome, brought in two volunteers to help with the sorting and filing of his materials. Larry had encouraged me to let other people help with the sorting but I was really afraid that they would misinterpret the categories and ruin everything. I have so many other things going on, that I was forced to take his advice and to my surprise, the sky did not fall. The group caught on quickly, and after 2.5 hours, one large full box was completely filed, with small “question” pile that I addressed without any problems. In keeping with the vein of managing projects rather than spending all of my time “in the trenches”, Cara, Larry and I decided to put together a volunteer training program, for Saturday. In our planning meeting, I was asked to talk about our finding aid formats, and how we were going to process collections from now on. My biggest challenge was trying to get my points across without using archival words and acronyms that would be unfamiliar to the audience of volunteers. For my portion of the training, I decided to “begin with the end in mind” and show them the Online Archive of California. I demonstrated how powerful of a tool that this platform could be by searching for primary documents in the entire state of California about “Black Talkies on Parade”, which has been a community staple for over 30 years, and there was only one hit. I searched for female aviators and there was nothing about Marie Coker Dickerson. These are strengths of our collection and no one knows that they are here.

I explained how this service was free and easy to adopt, we just need to generate our content in a format that conforms to industry standards. I showed them our accession chart that has identified all of our collections and explained how the inventories are a great start; but only provide a portion of the necessary information about a collection. I pulled up the new Google Drive account and explained that there should only be two, sometimes three files in each collection’s folder; a finding aid, a container list, and sometimes an organizational schema. I handed out a glossary of finding aid terms and we went around the room reading them aloud while I answered questions and provided context. I used the example of a clothing collection to get them to think about how organizational schemas could be created. A pile of clothes could be separated according to color, season, utility, size, designers, etc. The only requirements were that the organization had to reflect original order, and be as objective as possible; I gave candy to anyone who came up with an idea of how to sort a clothing collection. Larry talked to a group about the best practices for giving tours within the museum. He used my biographical note on Dr. Clayton to give the volunteers a more accurate description of who she was when they were walking visitors through the “Remembering WSBREC” exhibit. He also handed out a biography on Jacob Lawrence and shared some contextual information on the Toussaint L’Overture, Hiroshima, Great Migration, and Genesis series pieces that we currently have on display.

Lastly, Larry had me walk the volunteers through the Audio Assault exhibit in the hallway.  The imagery of the Black Power Movement from the 1965 riots in Watts to the Wattstax concert at the LA Coliseum in 1972 is pretty obvious, but there were a few details that I was able to point out. I explained why Dick Gregory and James Baldwin were included. I shared what the Roses and Revolutions album was about. I also talked about how music was grouped at the end, and the details of the album artwork that represent black power themes of self-determination, pride in heritage and uplifting of community. At the end of the training, most of the volunteers commented on how well organized and informative the training session was; and how they hope that I am able to keep working with the museum after the fellowship. The entire experience was very rewarding for me, because I have worked very hard to show the staff, our volunteers and any visitors that making MCLM a major resource for researchers is not beyond our reach. Dr. Clayton did most of the work for us, we just have to keep working in a consistent and strategic manner and let the technology buoy us to the next level.

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