A lot can be done in the archives with a pencil, acid-free folders and a few boxes. However, there are times when different tools are required. In this case a hammer and screwdriver.
My recent work includes sorting through records from the Vice President of Health Sciences office acquired over the past 30-some years. The material consists of well over 100 boxes and spans six administrations of the Academic Health Center.
As part of this review, an intriguing locked metal box surfaced. Without a key to be found, I had to use a different tool set, quite literally a tool set, to open it.
The box was locked for obvious reasons. A label taped to the front read: "VPHS Search 1981-82." Presumably, its contents would include applicant information and search committee materials.
The 1981-1982 search for a new Vice President of Health Sciences was the first open search for the position. Created in 1970 with the reorganization of the health sciences by the Board of Regents, the position's first incumbent was Dr. Lyle French, whom the Regents appointed as acting Vice President in July 1970 and then as full VP in March 1971. Dr. French served for eleven years before stepping down. The successor to the position was Dr. Neal Vanselow in September 1982.
On the Monday before Thanksgiving, I managed to pop the lock and open it in front of a small audience at the project's advisory committee meeting. Luckily, it was not my 'Al Capone's vault' moment. Locked for nearly 27 years, the metal container and its contents were now part of the historical record.
The box contained applicant files as well as notes generated by the search committee. Much of this information is governed by University of Minnesota records management and human resource policies and must follow certain retention schedules to satisfy privacy requirements.
Fortunately, the box also contained material that related directly to the development of the position and documents the search process. This information provides insight into the needs of the University and the health sciences at that particular point in time. These items will be retained as part of the institutional record in the archives.