Recently in Archives and Special Collections Category

The Importance of Serendipity

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By Kris Kiesling, Director of Archives and Special Collections

You never know when your day-to-day work is going to have some kind of unanticipated impact. As you'll see from Rebecca Wilson's posting on her Exploring Minnesota's Natural History project blog (a project to digitize all of the natural history materials in the University Archives funded by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund), the lantern slides from the Minnesota Seaside Station have been discovered by the Pacheedaht Heritage Project.

One of the best parts of our jobs as archivists is that we never know how our materials are going to be useful or used. Ned Huff was at the Seaside Station to study the botany of the area, not to document the indigenous peoples. But as it turns out, that documentation is now enormously important, perhaps even more important than his primary purpose for being in British Columbia. Serendipity? You bet! How fortunate that the University of Minnesota established the Seaside Station so researchers could work there. How fortunate that Ned Huff was there with his camera and took an interest in things not botanical. And how fortunate we now have the technology to share these slides, which have been part of our collections for decades, with the world.

And, if you're not already following Rebecca's blog, I highly recommend it!

Student Staff Interviews

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By Mary Blissenbach, Student Supervisor

In Archives and Special Collections, we hire a number of student employees to help in many ways. Student staff work in the Reading Room as a Reading Room monitor to assist researchers as needed. They help to communicate questions researchers may have to the Collecting unit staff. Student staff may also work in our Information Registration desk in 219 helping first time researchers. When they are working in these areas they may have projects from any of the ASC Collecting Units. Student staff may also work within one of the ASC Collecting units to help with paging materials from the stack area, shelving materials when researchers are finished, and helping with data entry for the unit. As you can see, our student staff plays a vital role in the functioning of Archives and Special Collections. This spring we will be losing four of our wonderful student staff due to graduation. I took some time to find out more about them and also find out how working in Archives and Special Collections may have impacted their college experience.

Interview with Lindsey Geyer
Lindsey.jpgLindsey is one of our star student staff that will be graduating this spring. I sat down with her for a short interview to find out more about her.

Name and how long you have worked in Archives and Special Collections ASC?
Lindsey Geyer, I have worked here for about three and a half years. I started during my second semester of freshman year, and never looked back!

What ASC units have you worked for in your time here?
I have staffed the Reading Room and Information/Registration desk, as well as work projects for Children's Literature Research Collections CLRC. I have also done projects for various units including SWHA, UMJA, YMCA to name a few.

Do you have a favorite memory of working in ASC?

Video Tour of the Minnesota Library Access Center

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If you have toured Archives and Special Collections, you know that we share an amazing facility with Minitex and the Minnesota Library Access Center. The latest episode of Minitex Minutes features a video tour of the Minnesota Access Center. If you haven't yet taken the tour and wonder what 1.5 million books look like, here is your chance to peek in the cavern!

Archives and Special Collections also has a cavern, filled with tens of millions of pages of material and other items related to our special collections. The ASC webpage is a good starting point to browse our treasures.

Special Collections Cataloger as History Detective

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By Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Manager, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Unit

518px-Washington_1954_Issue2-1c.jpgAnyone familiar with the PBS series History Detectives knows that invariably, the show's investigators searching for the story behind family heirlooms and artifacts will begin their search in a library or archive. As a special collections cataloger, on occasion I've been presented with an item that requires research and investigation beyond the routine in order to provide adequate description and context for the item to be found in the library's catalog and useful for researchers. In the past, I've been presented with a Civil War diary that turned up in a box of donations to the Andersen Horticultural Library, and a guest book that contained the signature of Sinclair Lewis. Neither of these items came accompanied by any provenance information, so correctly identifying the source required extensive detective work.

Recently, while cataloging items from our rare books backlog, I came upon a postcard. The front of the postcard is a color photograph of the United Nations Secretariat Building. On the back, the postcard is addressed to a Sally Caen in San Francisco, California, and the message is signed "Truman." There are two 1-cent stamps depicting George Washington affixed to the card, and the item is postmarked from Brooklyn, NY, with a date of May 8. Unfortunately, only "19" appears for the year: the final two digits are not visible.

Rare Book Cataloging: A Policy Review

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by Tim Johnson, Curator of Special Collections & Rare Books; E. W. McDiarmid Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections

Much of what we do happens beyond the public eye.  Rarely do students, faculty, or researchers observe us unpacking collections, crafting finding aids, or scanning materials.  However, all of these activities--and more--have a profound impact on how information consumers discover and use archival and special collections.  We constantly scan our own procedures and practices looking for ways to improve service and access.

One example of this "back office" work involves our rare book collections.  These volumes constitute some of the "crown jewels" in the Libraries' catalog and are found in various repositories around (and off) campus.  Primary gatherings of rare books are found in the Charles Babbage Institute, the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine, the James Ford Bell Library, Special Collections & Rare Books, the Riesenfeld Rare Books Research Center in the Law Library, and the Andersen Horticultural Library at the University's Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen.

RBCat_Arboretum.jpgFor the past several months, staff members from these collections have engaged with colleagues from cataloging and metadata services to review the Libraries' rare book cataloging policy.  You, gentle reader, might be tempted at this point to offer a disinterested yawn or plead to be spared a microscopic examination of a rare book catalog record.  Consider your plea heard; the remainder of this post will not dive into the minutia of such a process.  But we do want to share with you a few tidbits from the process and the kind of questions considered from a researcher's perspective.

Archival Emergency Planning and Response

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Tim Johnson, Curator of Special Collections and Rare Books; E. W. McDiarmid Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections

Anyone who has suffered a natural disaster knows the multitude of emotions connected with such an event: feelings of loss, pain, fatigue, frustration, confusion--the list is nearly endless.  Archives and libraries--and their associated staff--are no different.  At least a few of us have endured (and survived) professional lives disrupted by flood, fire, Julie Page_02.jpgearthquake, or other calamity.  Among the many questions that linger after such an event is one of paramount importance to archivists and librarians: how can we be better prepared the next time such an event comes our way.

To that end, the Libraries formed a Collections Emergency Response Team. Led by Mary Miller, the Libraries' Collection Management and Preservation Strategist, this team is engaged in updating and enhancing collections emergency response procedures for the Libraries and the Minnesota Library Access Center (administered by Minitex).  University Librarian Wendy Lougee charged the team "with assessing collections emergency preparedness in the Libraries, overseeing emergency planning, and fostering a culture of preparedness in the Libraries through strategic communication, education, and hands-on training.   In the event of an emergency involving collections, the team will provide leadership, advice, and assistance to the Libraries during the response and recovery phases." I was invited--along with nearly a dozen of my colleagues--to be a member of this team.

Hands-on training is an important part of "fostering a culture of preparedness."  In early September the team, along with other members of staff, participated in two days of exercises designed around collection damage assessment and salvage.  Our sessions were led by Julie Page, a trainer for the Western States and Territories Preservation Assistance Service (WESTPAS). Julie is the former head of the preservation department at the University of California, San Diego and now serves as a preservation consultant. In addition to her work with WESTPAS, she is a trainer for the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (FAIC) Emergency Response for Cultural Institutions program, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and a member of the American Institute for Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team (AIC CERT).

Training Student Staff in the Future

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By: Mary Blissenbach, Archives and Special Collections staff

Handwriting.JPGWhat will training student staff be like in the future? This fall it has been announced that many schools will no longer teach cursive handwriting in schools and instead focus on computer skills, typing, etc. Our current batch of student staff assist with projects such as looking over documents for key items/names, entering data into a spreadsheet that may currently be handwritten, organizing documents in folders and writing on the folder what it contains or giving it a name, such as "Correspondence From John Doe".

Currently a star student, Matt, is working on a project of entering a list of handwritten data into a spreadsheet to then be posted on-line as a finding aid to help researchers find items in the collection to use. He is doing a great job, but told us the other day that he needed a break from reading all the cursive handwriting. I asked him what some of his thoughts are on working on a project like this and he has found some tips and tricks along the way to help. He had to spend a little time remembering what some of the cursive letters are to help him read what is on the page. He also noticed that each page seems to be written by a different person and each person has a different writing style. He has to take some time adjusting to how each person writes.

RBMS Web banner.jpgby R. Arvid Nelsen, Archivist, Charles Babbage Institute and Dr. Marguerite Ragnow, Curator, James Ford Bell Library. Arvid and Marguerite served as the 2103 RBMS Preconference Local Arrangements Co-Chairs.

Nearly 400 professionals in rare books, manuscripts, archives, and special collections descended on Minneapolis in June for the annual conference of the Rare Book and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL).. Local arrangements were made by U of M Libraries co-chairs Arvid Nelsen and Marguerite Ragnow, with a host of U of M and other local volunteers (see below). Many of the conference attendees had never been to the Twin Cities. While we know and love the amazing resources that our region has to offer, this is a fact that may often be unknown to our friends and colleagues from other parts of the country. Based on the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from attendees, we believe we accomplished our goal of raising awareness of all that we have to offer here. And we anticipate seeing some of our guests again!

RBMS Tote Bag Stuffing Party.JPGThis was the 54th annual "preconference" of RBMS, which every year gathers prior to the meeting of the American Library Association (of which ACRL is a division) for about three days' worth of informative and professional development programming, networking opportunities, and optional workshops and tours.

The Preconference visits a different city each year. The last time the Preconference was held in the Twin Cities was in 1990, when U of M librarians Martha L. Brogan and Alan Lathrop spearheaded local arrangements. A complete history of the Preconference through its first fifty years (published by ACRL for the 50th anniversary in 2009) can be found on the RBMS website.

Electronic Records and Digital Archives

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What do you do with electronic records? This is a question that staff members in Archives and Special Collections have been receiving at an increasing rate - from donors and researchers alike. It is also a question that we have been asking ourselves and our professional colleagues.  This past year has seen a great deal of activity in ASC and the Libraries as a whole to meet the challenges of born-digital archives.


digital material sources.jpgOur profession has long been good at receiving and preserving physical evidence that documents the lives and activities of individuals and groups - materials that you can hold in your hands. Before books get published, buildings get constructed, and plays get staged, people have traditionally put pen or pencil to paper to conceive, sketch, and outline their ideas. They add and edit and develop concepts through iterative drafts, personal notes, and the minutes of group discussions. They photograph activities and record rehearsals and presentations. Facts and figures, needs, resources, and costs are tabulated. Errors are found and corrected. Ideas are explored and examined in newspaper and magazine articles clipped out, book chapters photocopied - sources then collected or shared with others as attachments in letters.  All of the activity leading up to the realization of an idea can be retraced by poring through the physical evidence left on paper, film, and tape. As professionals we have gotten very good at bringing these things in to the library, preserving and sharing them. Today, much of that activity takes place entirely online with word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and design software. Communication takes place via email, text and instant messages, on blogs and social media. Sometimes it is printed out, but it can exist entirely online - and in any event, that is where the materials originated.


Archives Make The Centerfold!

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The University Libraries are featured in the winter edition of Legacy magazine. Legacy is published four times a year by the University of Minnesota Foundation to give Presidents Club members and other donors and friends an update on how private giving fuels discovery at the University.


Focusing on the University Libraries Archives and Special Collections, the centerfold photo highlights some of the ways supporters have added vitality to the collections with contributions of materials and financial support. The online version has interactive features and video clips with information on the Kerlan Collection, the Sherlock Holmes Collection, the Robert Bly Collection, First Fridays, digitizing the collections and more.


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