Now that you’ve heard from Patrick a couple of times about our work with the William Warder Cadbury and Catharine Jones Cadbury papers, I thought I’d give you an idea of what goes on from my side of the desk. While Patrick’s expertise is East Asian history, mine deals with the more technical aspect of processing a collection and creating a finding aid. I’m pretty sure our pairing for the summer was somewhat orchestrated by the powers that be (i.e. the wonderful staff of Special Collections), whose mysterious ways I have always admired.
The last students to work on this project left us with a Microsoft Word document version of an almost-completed finding aid for the WWC collection. At that point, we were not yet using Archivists’ Toolkit, which is an open-source archival data management program used to create finding aids. It has also been my best friend for the past year, since I’ve been using it to create (from scratch!) a finding aid for the Haverford College History Collection, a daunting yet wildly fascinating task.
In fact, much of what goes on in Special Collections on any given day can be described as “daunting yet wildly fascinating,” but usually it’s more of the latter and less of the former. This holds true for the WWC collection, which, at first glance, looks like an amassing of letters, photographs, and pamphlets. But as you get to know the collection, you realize that, yes, it is many decades’ worth of papers, but it tells a story rife with history, and breathes life back into what most of us only read about in textbooks.
As you might have noticed from Patrick’s blog posts, some of the seemingly most pedestrian details can be of significant importance to a researcher. It is our job to make those details available for potential researchers, giving the pedestrian a chance to become paramount. Less poetically, our job is to use Archivists’ Toolkit to create a finding aid that can be posted online, and easily found by a Google search. This required first that we be trained in AT through a boot camp led by Holly Mengel and Courtney Smertz, who are currently part of the team that is working on the PACSCL’s “Hidden Collections” project. Having worked with AT before, I felt at ease with most of what Holly taught us, but she was still able to teach me a few tricks that make inputting data considerably easier and faster (rapid data entry, anyone?).
We hope to finish processing the last few boxes and be able to complete a finding aid for this collection by the end of the summer. We will continue blogging about our progress along the way, so stay tuned!