Thursday, June 25, 2015

Day 8

Day 8
Rachel Brune Papers
Making my way further through this collection, I am slowly nearing the bottom of the bin.   Found a folder full of correspondence dating to the time she first enlisted. Her father at this point was writing her once a week, her brother a little more often in addition to letters from her sisters and friends. They talked of her progress in doing push-ups (up to 50 at one point) as well as her marksmanship skills. Amongst the papers also included a printout of her target shooting results, resembling a long grocery store receipt. At this level are papers and such that look a lot like material that was sent to her as part of correspondence but not attached to any specific letter. Some of it seemed so random, I wondered if she went through the material at all before sending it to us. I set these aside in a miscellaneous folder.

Scattered amongst this material, I find two things that raised special questions. One was a bank loan statement. As noted before, this collection is of a person still living and the papers are fairly recent. Something of this sort that has personable identifiable information that could still be active struck me as being problematic. Since it has no real relevance to the scope of the collection, we decided to set it aside to send back to her. Minutes later, I came across a sealed envelope inside a card. The envelope contained two five-dollar bills and had a note on it for Ms. Brune to buy a disposable camera to take pictures and to send back home.

"What do we do when I find actual money?" I asked.

For my supervisor, this was a bit of a first. She had seen military script, or foreign currency, but not regular cash money. In this case, we copied the envelope (since it had a personal note attached) and made a notation that it had the two five dollar bills, paper clipped the copy to the card the money came with, and put the original envelope and money into the folder with the bank statement to be sent back to her.

Of course, I could not help but think that in a hundred years time, those two bills could possibly hold actual historical interest, much as if a Civil War collection contained some bills from both or either side of the conflict. When jokes were made by the archives staff that I passed the "Honesty Test", I also had to ruefully think that the money would have covered for parking in the deck for the day with some change left over.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Day 7

Day 7
Military Uniform Posters
The Government Documents area was weeding their collection and my supervisor retrieved several sets of prints that related to the Women Troops project. As they were already sitting on the work table when I came in, we decided to go ahead and process this collection. My job was to record the original numbers assigned to the sets, the dimensions of the prints in each set, the dates, record the name of the sets, the specific name to prints that featured military women in them and describe the women, and we would assign new identification numbers to those specific prints. Once done with that, I would enter the information into an Excel spreadsheet to make for importing the information as metadata.

Several of the sets contained documents that gave brief information concerning the prints. From there, I discovered that one of the artists was a woman in the military making that information relevant to the Women Troops project as well. Taking this information to my supervisor, we decided to add the artist to the metadata as well. As I researched online the background of one of the sets of other prints, I found another set had two military women as artists as well. I was glad to feel that I added something of real value to the processing of the collection.

I can see that I am going to have to learn Excel more fully. Dr. Chow in my Management and Leadership class extolled the virtues of it, especially when it comes to working with budgets. I also make rudimentary use of the program at work. Creating the spreadsheet for this task was not difficult, but the program obviously has more capability and value than to what I have put it to. I can see being proficient in it will be a valuable skill for continuing to work in a professional environment.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Day 6

Day 6 

Rachel Ann Brune Papers
Returned to the Rachel Brune collection. As I have made some headway in separating materials, I started arranging the materials in the folders as well into chronological order. Relatively easy for the published articles and newspapers. A little more difficult for the correspondence. More than I expected of the latter have actual dates on the letters and cards, some old fashioned letter writers! If the material had envelopes, I was often able to retrieve dates from the postmarks. However, not everything still had the envelopes. Some of those that did were sent as part of a group package, so the individual envelopes themselves would not have any postmarks. This allowed me to at least separate the correspondence divided so far into separate folders: dated and undated.

With the papers, organizing into chronological order also helps in discovering duplicate copies as well as pages that had become separated from others. It also allowed to get a sense of narrative from her journalistic career with two separate deployments and her family and personal life. Early letters from her brother, he was still in school. Later letters would be him discussing his own training in the Air Force and life spent away from home.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Day 5

Day 5
Thelma L. Meyer Petty Papers
Went over my work on this collection with my supervisor. I alerted her to the issues regarding the miss-spelled name on the label, the mysterious telegram, and the lack of corroboration on the date of death and her married name.

"What," she smiled, "you don't think a sticky note is a reliable source of information?"

I told her my idea of an avenue of research. This collection did have one potential source of information not normally available, a Social Security number. Just that in this day and age of identity theft, I was not sure how readily available or accessible that information would be. She gave me the go ahead to see what I could find using that.

It turns out, there is the Social Security Death Index. Strangely, it is more readily available through genealogical websites than the .gov one. As I did not want to create an account for the genealogical websites, the information returned was basic but it did confirm the date of death, the place of death, and her married name of Petty. Unfortunately, the information did not help in finding a copy of her actual obituary, full name of her husband, or post-WWII life.

Afterwards, I was tasked with typing up my collection and biographical notes in a more formal format, using a guide in the archives handbook. We took the WAAC poster in her collection to the digital lab to be scanned and then stored it in an oversize box. I was shown where it and the artifacts such as the badges and medal would be stored. I was struck then that when it comes to the archives, the difference between libraries and museums are blurred. The difference appears to be one mainly of general and primary emphasis of the institution.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Day 3 & 4

The Thelma L. Meyers Petty Papers
This collection was relatively small but had a few interesting things to recommend it. Thelma Meyer was a WAC serving as a driver out of Washington, DC during World War II. In addition to newspaper clippings, and personal correspondence and some related paperwork of her military career, it also had some "artifacts" such as personal items she collected, some of her patches from her uniform, her good conduct badge and ribbons, uniform pins, as well as copies of her discharge papers and social security card. There was also a post-it note that gave her birth date and date of death and her married name of "Petty".

Unlike many other collections, this was part of a group that my supervisor's predecessor had bought off of eBay. Included were copies of the eBay listing.

Much of the scant biography information was on her discharge papers. It had her date of birth, her enlistment date into the WAC as well as listing when she joined the WAAC prior to its dissolution. Part of the collection was also a diary she kept as a driver in the motor pool. A multi-year diary, it was designed that a page would cover the same date over several years which did not leave much room for exposition. She lived up to the challenge as an entry would simply be "stayed home, did laundry." Or, "picked the captain up at 3pm, drove to base." More interesting were the letters. None that she wrote, but letters to her. Mostly from other WAC/WAAC that she had met in training or on the job and now stationed elsewhere. Several were from a young soldier stationed in Italy.

One of the things I picked up pretty quickly as I was trying to make sure I recorded the name correctly in my notes of the contents was that while the name on the collection box is as I typed above, the name on all the materials was actually "Meyer", no "s". Also, nothing in the collection beyond some unemployment papers mentioned her life after service, especially in relation to her married name and date of death recorded on the post-it note. Knowing there were sites that recorded obituaries and this had her death in the year 2000, it was recent enough to have possibly migrated to the web but not recent enough to be almost automatic. I tried various searches using both maiden and married name, with the middle initial, without, with the whole middle name and even as middle name, last name combinations. Her place and date of birth was confirmed by her discharge papers which allowed me to weed out various positive results. I found nothing tied to her. I made note of it to ask my supervisor who was at a conference this week.

Another oddity that stuck out was a telegram addressed to a "Mrs. Thelma G. Meyer" in California. Notice that it as Meyer as her married name as well as the wrong middle initial. It also has her in California when all the other information indicated that Kansas was her permanent home. This raised the question in my mind of how sure we could be of some of the items were from the "right" Thelma Meyer as we did not know where the seller obtained it or how this telegram wound up in the collection.

In wanting to describe the patches more accurately beyond a simple description and hoping that it would correspond to what we knew and possibly gather more biographical information I again went to the internet. Basically typed in the description of the patch and then clicked on "images" to see if the returns matched. I got 2 out of 4 by this method (one of the ones remaining was her sergeant stripes, something I did not need to look up). One, a golden eagle in a golden ring was commonly called the "ruptured duck", a typical military styled slang to call something by a cruder, more derogatory name. The fourth one, I could find similar images, enough to decide it was a "service command" patch but nothing specific. I ended up finding it as part of a group of other patches when looking for something else. They all corresponded to what we knew of her career and where she was stationed from the other materials.

However, what struck me when doing this research was how much easier the internet has made this kind of research. Identifying the badges just 20 years ago would have been much more difficult. As I am working out of a University library, it is possible I could have tracked down some related books that might have had images of uniforms and patches. I am also a decent enough artist that I could quickly sketch reasonable likenesses to arm myself with as I scoured various books on the shelves so as not to cart the actual artifacts around. Failing that, it's possible I could have used the phone to find "expert"authority and possibly fax them copies of the sketches. Either way, what I was able to do in about 30 minutes to an hour could easily have taken hours if not days to retrieve the same information. Possibly, we would have just left the description as "sergeant stripes and three military patches".

Now, as this collection came off of eBay and was packed and shipped to us, one would expect that dividing the materials would be pretty straight forward, there is going to be little left in the order that would actually be an issue of maintaining original provenance. For the most part, this was true. However, the diary did contain a few small newspaper clippings of some jokes and sayings, and a calendar card with some personal notations. I made a note of these and left them in the diary where I found them.

By the end,  I had the collection well divided up and described. I had made copies of the loose newspaper clippings on "acid-free" paper, and penciled in the date and paper it was from on the one clipping that had that information on the back side. And, I had a few notes/questions to bring attention to: the spelling of "Meyer" on the box, the lack of corroboration on her married name and date of death on the post-it note, and the "wrong" telegram. As I thought about it more later, I had an idea of an avenue that might at least verify the date of death.

Day 4
 The Rachel Ann Brune Papers
After finishing up what was left of of the Petty collection at that point in the process, I started on the Rachel Brune collection. Where the Petty and Woodall collections were already in a simple box to hold folders, this collection fills a plastic bin and another flat box as well. While there is a simple description of the collection, much of it is in the envelopes and folders it was given to us.

What makes this collection so big and a more daunting undertaking than I first realized it would be is two-fold. One, she is a recent veteran. Moved by the events of 09/11, she enlisted and served as an MP and journalist. Because, she is a contemporary, she still has much of the stuff that was gathered, the letters and cards sent to her while serving, etc. Second, as mentioned, she served as a journalist. And, she worked as a journalist before and after her two deployments. There is a book of poetry and thoughts she wrote afterwards. Clippings and papers of the small community papers she wrote and took pictures for beforehand, and clippings of articles that she sent to them while she worked. A yearbook of the MP paper she edited, wrote and took pictures for as well as multiple copies of the loose editions (most of which we probably don't need as it duplicates what's in the book), some other military papers her articles appeared in. The loose box contains even more newspapers which even at this point in the writing, I've yet to look at!

I adopted a top-down method, going through the items at the top and work my way down. I first went through the yearbook and then her community papers and made more detailed notes, noting what pages had her articles as well as where she only had photo credits. I figure this will be an aide to future researchers as describing which parts are particularly relevant to the person of Rachel Brune. One folder already had miscellaneous papers relating to the Hatara Project where she did some aerial photography, though little of her actual work that was brought about.

From her writings and photography, I moved to loose correspondence and papers. I began to separate them out. It is a lot. Her father wrote her almost every week and her brother almost as often. Her new boyfriend and later fiance and other friends and relatives a little less often. She received clippings of various articles, almost at random. She seemed to be a popular choice for school kids and strangers to write, letters beginning I am a friend of the family of General So-and-so. I learned that her father and brother both are writers and all three are musicians.

If the previous collections seemed a bit scarce on information due to the years, here I have almost too much. She is only a little over ten years younger than me and the clippings and events are of things I remember well. The cards from her boyfriend are sparse in total words but intimate in meaning as serious new relationships tend to be. Each letter from her brother and father would be pages and are frank and open with emotions and contents. Even simply scanning through, I begin to know more about her and her family than I do many of my close friends. It almost seems voyeuristic in a way.

Yet, it makes me think of how a half century from now, a future researcher won't have that same sense of immediacy. Reading these bits won't be different than my reading a letter from one of the Woodall sisters lamenting how her marriage didn't work and she wasn't sure about dating again, at least not while she was in the service and the War was going on.

By the end of the day, the correspondence folder is already bulging and I am not even halfway through.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Day 2

Day 2
Rachel Brune Papers.
 I started off my second day typing up the preliminary description of items in the collection of the Rachel Brune Papers and the notes taken from an oral interview. Rachel Brune was an MP and journalist in Iraq. In looking up some of the information to make sure I was getting the spelling and terminology correct, I also discovered that as a civilian she is still writing articles related to the military life and perspective. This is a big collection and I will be working on it further. But, this gives a general overview of what the collection contains and some of the biographical data to be used.

The Woodall Sisters Collection.
This is a collection that the materials had already been sorted. My job was to go through each of the folders and describe the materials that were contained. This would require to use my own judgment on how detailed a description I thought was merited on items. For example, much of the correspondence was from the sisters to family members over general matters and life, not really needing to draw attention to. However, one letter from the sister stationed overseas talked about hearing the news of President Franklin Roosevelt and how it affected those around her, which I felt deserved of mentioning specifically.

From what I can tell about the collections that I will be working on, this collection is also a bit unusual in that it concerns two people instead of one. This made going through the materials a little difficult in remembering which sister was which, especially when referred to by their married names. When it came to their photographs, I could generally not tell them apart unless they were actually in uniform or through context (the two sisters served in different capacities, one as part of the WAAC and the other as a Navy nurse).

Another part of the job, as I went through the collection, I made notes of dates and significant benchmarks of their lives in order to be made use of when the time comes to write up brief biographies to accompany it.

I also made copies of the few news clippings that were part of the collection.An interesting one was a humorous take on how a husband was being left to fend for himself in the kitchen as his wife was shipping out for the War. Different times.

Overall, this was a good collection to start with. Already separated, it gave me a good idea of how materials are generally divided and grouped. It was good practice at reviewing the items and deciding how they related to the person, the collection, the overall Women Veterans Project and keeping in mind the potential researchers and users. It had a variety of materials but still small enough to pretty much work through in one day.

I am discovering that one of the joys of the job is being able to take the time to actually look at the material and to do further research if needed. Being able to quickly scan something to see if worth reading more fully in order to figure out relevance and if it has information to be used in the biographies is a bit novel. If you're lucky, a sense of the person, a narrative of their lives builds as you go through the material. My prior jobs in publishing as well as being part of the digital lab of the book conservatory, taking the time to read or research the material is generally counter-productive, no matter how tempting a phrase or name that jumps out might prove.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Day 1

For my Practicum, I am working in the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections at UNC-G, specifically for the Women Veterans Historical Project. The project initially started focusing on women with a connection to UNC-G. From 1919 to 1931, the school was known as the North Carolina College for Women, and then from 1932 to 1963, the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina. The project now encompasses women who have served or still serving in the military from all over the United States. Its place on the University website is here:

Day 1.
The first day started off pretty much as the first day on any job: getting familiar with company policies, the handbook, and an introduction to the work area and tasks. As I am not getting paid, I was at least spared the paperwork of filling out various forms.

The readings started off with giving a general history of the University from its founding, to the days as a women's college (reflected by the bust of Minerva/Athena on their logos) to its current incarnation being co-ed and part of the University of North Carolina system. The reading started to bog down when it started covering the important but somewhat tedious legal issues of misconduct ie how it is reported, handled, reviewed, tried, the possible punishments as well as what it all means for those that are victims or perpetrators. Good to know that procedures are in place, but not the most interesting of reading.

Archiving: Concepts and Practices
The reading moved on to getting a grounding in the practices of working in special collections and archives. Some of this had been covered in my classes as well as concepts that I've picked up from working in publishing and more recently the book conservatory. However, there were some practical tips that were good to keep in mind, such as when possible, carefully removing metal staples and paper clips and replacing them with plastic ones. Also a few surprises such as making copies of newspaper clippings and discarding the originals (so far, I've let someone else do the discarding, starting out, I don't feel comfortable throwing anything away).

The concept that really struck me was that in determining the grouping for a set of records, keep the original provenance if at all possible. At times, this may mean to try to discover and re-establish the order already there. Now, much of the stuff that comes in may be jumbled together, or the order they are in is not the one of the person that did the original collecting, but of the people who inherited and donated the collection. But, what also struck me is that on the first day, I came across reading about the ideal and knowing first-hand that it is not always followed, not even by universities and organizations that should know better.

It just so happened that earlier that week at work, I was given the task of arranging in chronological order turn-of-the-20th-Century receipts, bills, and relating correspondence from Lombard College. Some of these had been stapled together and the order from our client was to remove the staples and arrange the individual elements into the "proper" order. However, all of the stapled or paper clipped or pinned pieces were put together for a reason, and one that was usually apparent. Once separated, some of the items no longer had dates on them, and their notations would become meaningless. Others would be a bill and the paid-receipt that had been placed together, but would now be far apart in the order as months between the two could have passed. In a couple of instances, it disrupted what proved to be interesting narratives as the packet would include bills, copies of bills, letters to and from the recipient who was challenging the bill and then letters involving lawyers! This ongoing story lasted over a year and is now scattered among the other various receipts. We had to go out of our way to separate some of the documents as some papers were actually glued together and we had to send those to the restoration department.

Still, the ideal struck me as particularly important and I wrote a half page of notes concerning respecting the provenance and original order as opposed to imposing what may seem to me a logical but is actually an arbitrary order. 

Women in the Military
My last readings were a brief overview of the history of the U.S. military, and the historical and ongoing roles of women in the military forces. Also covered are how the branches are divided and the progression of women's roles in each. As I work through this project, I expect to become more fully versed in this area and to refer back to these readings to decipher some of the military's love of acronyms.