I don’t know if it makes sense to a lot of people (at least outside of the library world) to say that I genuinely love to organize things. I don’t think I’m taking it too far by saying that it’s a form of creative expression for me. I love seeing the “before” and “after” of something – maybe that’s why I love shows like This Old House so much. Nothing is more satisfying to me than to actually be able to see the fruits of my labor in some meaningful, tangible way. And while I guess it would be hard to call a digital collection tangible, it did start out that way. I have been able to organize the physical collection from a relatively large amount of items to the select highlights that will end up in the exhibit. Even as I write this, I’m looking at a cart full of real-life, touchable boxes that holds the entire collection. Although I did not process the initial collection, it has been an invaluable experience to really evaluate the items and understand the thought process behind it. It has also been quite the experience to watch these real world, physical items transformed into their digital counterparts.
For the upcoming classroom portion of my internship, I know I’m going to be asked what I learned this semester. I’ve actually learned quite a bit both from a technical standpoint and a more philosophical one. I’ve learned the value of Google docs and spreadsheets in a work environment, I’ve learned about the functions of command line prompts and writing scripts, batch processing, about new features I was unaware of in Adobe Acrobat and Photoshop, how to digitize with various (mostly cooperative) pieces of scanning equipment, and how to create a digital exhibit – just to name a few.
More important, to me, has been the real world experience in an archival and digital environment. One of my major goals coming into grad school with little direct library work was to get as much hands on experience as possible. I feel very fortunate to have had that so early in my school career. Something else I’ve mentioned more than once is my newfound appreciation for the element of time. This has left quite the impression on me – really having a grasp of the amount of time that goes into digitizing and processing collections and understanding that even though a task may be computerized that does not necessarily mean it will be quick and effortless. In the digital age, we forget this sometimes.
I have also been fortunate to learn some of the standards in archival practice and they have helped me through some of my own struggles. One thing I struggled with earlier in the semester was why we were digitizing entire folders when we may just need one or two items for the exhibit. While I understood the value of the collection as a whole I was concerned (again) about time. What helped me push through this barrier was understanding that it’s not the archivist’s job to make that judgment call. How can I say that what’s unimportant to me will not have some contextual value to a future researcher? I certainly understood this in the theoretical sense before starting working with the collection, but again, it was nice to have theory meet practice during my internship.
As I continue to work with and finalize the Secrest exhibit, I look forward to the lessons that remain!