Another Semester Done

Last week I gave lightning talks to visiting elementary school students about what we do here in Towson University’s Special Collections and Archives.  The very first thing I did was explain what archives are (collections of things that represent the history of the University) versus what special collections are (items that may not have anything to do with the history of the University but are worth keeping and preserving.)  Then I talked to them about why we have to safeguard against light and humidity and showed them items that had been damaged and what we do to try and mitigate that damage.

They were polite but more interested in the spinning chairs they were sitting in around the conference table than in the large fanned out book I had that shows what happens if you drop what you’re reading in the tub.

No worries! It’s a remaindered dictionary bought specifically to use as a demonstration piece! Also, don’t read library books in the tub!

The staff here couldn’t do what we do without the help of our awesome student workers.

As this semester draws to a close, I wanted to get some perspective about what working in this department is like for them.

I first asked them what they thought the terms “Special Collections” and “Archives” meant before they started working.  I admit, before I began working in the department I would have gotten that very wrong.  One of our students, Laura Thompson, knew just what it meant because she’s been studying for a minor in museum studies.

This year Laura volunteered with us after serving as an intern during the spring semester in 2012.  Her work has concentrated mostly on artifacts and rare books from the Baltimore Hebrew Institute Collection.  In 2009, just as we were re-settling into our renovated space, we received over 1,000 rare books.  Some of them were labeled with call numbers, some with rare book numbers, some with both, and some with neither. Laura has worked hard this year organizing those books, creating book boxes to serve as extra protection, and finding a space for each one on our shelves.

She’s graduating this semester, so the race to get it all up on the shelves before her time at Towson was done was  nail-bitingly close!

What Laura hath wrough

This semester we had an intern, Sarah Keller.  She began, as all interns do, with reading about archival procedures, and talking through those readings with the staff.  And then she was set to work organizing additional material we’d received for one of our manuscript collections — material that turned out to be a number of books.  This was a bit of a challenge as the books were in foreign languages that none of us could decipher.

She soldiered on, and was rewarded with two other collections to organize, both of which contained ephemera from World War II.  She spent her time placing items in protective sleeves and then enclosing everything in suitable boxes.  That might sound tedious, but Sarah says “Looking at them all neatly arranged and labeled in their own special box is especially gratifying.”

With this handy-dandy guide, you could determine what rank of soldier you were talking to by spinning a wheel on the back and looking at the stripes on their sleeves. The windows between the soldiers tell us that the man on the right is a First Class Private in the Army and the man on the left is a First Class Seaman in the Navy. Thanks, Wonder Bread!

Sarah also wrote finding aids for those last two collections which should be available via our homepage soon.

Our last two students have now completed their second year with us.  Fatima Wirtz and Leanna Gustavsen both started in our department as freshmen and have been put through their paces with as many varied tasks as we could find.  They’ve re-foldered and re-housed collections.  They’ve scanned hundreds of photos.  They’ve transcribed class histories for future digitization efforts.  They’ve done more inventories than you can shake a stick at.  And along they way, they’ve picked up a lot of Towson University history.  They’ve become our very own student ambassadors.  They’ve each told me that when talking to their fellow students or family members they find themselves offering tidbits of TU lore.  (I do it all the time — it’s hard not to when you spend your days immersed in it!)

Neither Leanna nor Fatima is planning to go into a library or archival career, but they’re still interested in the University’s history and proud of the work they do here, which makes us glad that they’re planning to return in the fall.

Until this past fall, our department was tiny — two people sorting through 150 years of history and making it available to all who were interested.  The work our students have done has meant that we’ve been able to do that much more, and often their rewards were little more than some decent chocolate and our eternal gratitude.

Towson University is lucky to have students dedicated to preserving its history.

Today is the last day of classes for the semester.  We wish everyone the best of luck during exams, and congratulate those who are walking at the new Tiger Arena later this month!

One final note: Unfortunately we will not be able to offer an internship for the coming year.

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