Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Curse of the Clean Desk

From July 2010

The curse of the clean desk is that once it's cleaned, there will inevitably emerge a pile of interesting, albeit complex, items that will land upon it requiring work of some sort. On the other hand, the joy is in the journey to the clean desk. Why else would I choose to become an archivist if I didn't love the challenge of solving the historical puzzle that is a set of records in heavy disarray? Well, there also is the art of the description, which has been such a big part of this experience at the museum this summer.

From July 2010

The funny-looking tube hanging from the ceiling is a fume vent (very handy for dusty and dirty collections such as the New Park Mining Company records I've been working on lately). It's somewhat loud, but as I've been working at this desk, I have hooked the laptop up to the network, and have been listening to my stations at a loud volume to cover the noise.

I really should have taken a before photo. The desk had been covered with items of varied purposes and origins, as well as oversized boxes with their contents. I also had been using a cart to hold several boxes since I kept having to return to the same 6 or 7 boxes to file more items.

From July 2010

I really like having a workspace shared with museum objects. There's just something about being present with all that history that seems to make me smile from the inside out. From the shelves' perspective, to their right are expandable shelving units where all kinds of interesting objects are held. For example, Wendy and I recently made space for the New Park Collection's oversized items by moving a beautiful, yellow, intricately beaded dress that once belonged to one of Park City's earliest millionaires, the Silver Queen (Susanna Egera Bransford Emery Holmes Delitch Engalitcheff -- she was married a few times).

This room was originally a liquor store. Although you cannot see the doors to the right of the desk, there are Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control stickers still on the glass of the doors.

From July 2010

Here's how I left the general files and oversized items yesterday. We've been hanging slips of paper out of the boxes to keep the subseries easily accessible. Miscellaneous items keep popping up in the vouchers that Jenette and Kate have been processing at the storage facility. Now that I've "finished" (until all the vouchers are done, I won't really consider them done) the box lists in an Excel file, it's much easier to locate which box holds a folder I need.

For example, on Thursday, I had created a file for licenses and registrations since we found a registration for a still, among the other items. (Why the miners would have a still up at the mine is ponderous. These fellow spent a great deal of time blasting in the mines, and had large stores of explosives on site. All safety issues aside, the registration said that as long as the paid registration was posted publicly, there was no issue.)

Late yesterday, in a pile of very unrelated items (a document for a course taught by mine manager Tom P. Costas for a local vocational school, Utah Taxpayers Association flyers, and mining injury reports), I found a purchaser's license. It took just seconds to find where that folder I'd created the day before was now housed.

Tom P. Costas is one of the many frequently occurring names we've found in this collection. He's easily remembered for his gorgeous handwriting and flourished signature. His correspondence with W.H.H. Cranmer, mine president, is well worth the read. Yesterday, Emily found some great photos in Past Perfect of Cranmer, Costas, and the mine itself. They will be key to an exhibition of the collection.

From July 2010

It's not pretty, but it works great for the moment until we can say this portion is no longer "in process." However, I'm looking forward to when the box labels arrive and these can be labeled properly.

I also will be very happy when I've properly installed the Archivists' Toolkit. I've tried quite a few times to make the MySQL and AT programs talk to each other in a kind and loving way, but have been very frustrated at my inability to make that happen. The developers had been very helpful, but I haven't heard back recently. Hopefully, we'll be able to resolve the issues and I can start working on the actual EAD finding aid. Otherwise, I'll have to code it by hand, which is no trivial task.

In either case, I don't have much time left out here in Utah to accomplish the task. If need be, I can always make copies of those Excel files (where I've included detailed descriptions of the materials) and other historic documentation I've been collecting along the way, and write the finding aid back home in NJ to email back to Park City. Until then, I'll just keep plugging away at the New Park Mining Company collection.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Behind the Scenes in the Changing Gallery

While every day arranging and describing the New Park Mining Collection yields fun and riveting surprises, one of the other elements of working at a museum I enjoy is seeing what happens behind the scenes of exhibit preparation.

From July 2010

Two weeks ago, I took this set of photos while one of the museum's many dedicated volunteers, Mary, examined an original uniform of Park City's marching band members. There are quite a few holes in the lower right front of the jacket, possibly from the tuba playing, possibly from moths.

From July 2010

Mary, along with Wendy (the curator of exhibits) and Emily (the archivist), decided the best way to handle displaying the jacket would be to temporarily sew in a black fabric backing and support. It's important that work of this nature (improvements done to an historic object for display purposes) be reversible, so there was a bit of discussion about the type of thread to be used.

From July 2010

Here, Mary is measuring for temporary mending. We're down in the research library, where we keep large copies of Park City maps from the turn of the last century (and before); great photos of the City, it's inhabitants, transportation, and events; historical objects; and some records.

From July 2010

Here's a close-up of the damage to the wool.

From July 2010

Wendy putting the band uniform pants onto her homemade mannequin.

From July 2010

Mary and Wendy made some adjustments to the mannequin when we discovered that its legs wouldn't fit inside the pant legs the way they are hanging in the photo. Velcro was added to the opposite sides of the "thighs" and torso, which made the pants hang "normally."

From July 2010

Last week, the mannequin was moved upstairs to the changing gallery in preparation for the Park City Music exhibit. On the table is a large display of a photo with removable portions that tell the stories of some of the marching band members. The tuba player, whose uniform is on the mannequin, kept playing with the band despite having the lung disease silicosis.

From July 2010

Under this vitrine are pieces that go with the story of the singing cowboys. It's a great little story displayed here:

From July 2010

One of the biggest parts of the exhibit centers around the history of local radio station KPCW and its contributions to Park City. The station, which recently celebrated its 35th birthday, donated some of its equipment (which reminded me of my college radio days) for the exhibit. On the right side of the photo, you can just about see the pink gum stuck to the side of the console. I'm sure there's a story there, but we don't know what it is.

From July 2010

After taking the photos above, I went back downstairs to the library to continue working on the New Park collection. When I came back up, on my way out for the day, I saw that the gallery's preparation was in full swing.

From July 2010

From July 2010

I can only imagine how inviting the exhibit will be on Monday.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Making Progress in the New Park Mining Company Collection

Remember when the New Park Mining Collection looked like this? Well, it's come a long way since then, thanks to the very hard work of a handful of dedicated museum folks.

From July 2010

If I had to do it over again, I probably would have put together some basic archival science instructions and held a short training session for everyone, explaining not just the hows, but the whys of arrangement and description, as well as preservation and conservation. In fact, last week, in an effort to streamline the process, I developed some documentation on how to write a box list, with instructions that described some of that information.

At the same time, I am not the project leader, although I do feel that my input is valued and sought frequently. Next time, though, I'll take the initiative to make everyone's life easier and suggest a short training session and offer to develop accompanying documentation.

My apologies for the less-than-optimal photo quality in these three photos. Back on July 8, when I took these snapshots, the History Chicks (what the awesome ladies of the Park City Museum call themselves) and I had made some serious headway into sorting through a portion of this complex, dirty, and seriously disorganized collection.

From July 2010

Although we still have two-thirds of the records left to rehouse (I'll explain more about that in a bit), we have tackled what seems to be the toughest part of the collection, the so-called "General Files." When Emily, the Park City Museum Archivist, and I sat down to talk about the priorities of the work, we agreed that processing (sorting, imposing order on the files in complete disarray, refoldering, and cleaning the records) the boxes of records called General Files would be the best way to start. (When I say "cleaning," I mean is removing rusty staples, clips, and pins from the pages, as well as gently brushing the dirt and dust from the pages. And, there's a lot of dirt.)

Recently, because we're in a time crunch (I only have 5 weeks left working at the Museum), we decided that we would rehouse the checks and vouchers without focusing on arrangement. Our rationalization is that these items can be arranged later by a few of the many wonderful volunteers who give their time to the Museum. I can put together a general description of each of those series that won't be that intensive. And, they can be updated at a later date if notable documents arise during the rehousing effort.

For those who may not know what rehousing is, it's an efficient way of saying that we'll be taking the checks out of their decaying rubber band bundles and very dirty boxes, and then putting them into oversized boxes with homemade acid-free dividers to provide different sections for different months and years. In the case of the vouchers, we'll take them out of their painfully overstuffed boxes and put them into folders according to month and year. Both series of records seem to be at least 50% in their own type of order, which we'll follow.

In the photo above, the canceled checks are on the left, while the boxes of vouchers are on the right. The boxes on the dolly are a mixture of new, clean boxes that held our very shiny and empty, oversized boxes, and old, dirty boxes that were home to oversized records and letter and legal-sized papers.

As of today, the empty boxes are gone, and another rack is in their place, waiting to be filled with the boxes of records we've processed this week.

One box of oversized records (stockholders' stock transfers recorded by the Irving Trust Company for the New Park Mining Company during the 1940s and 1950s) took me an entire afternoon to clean and sort. Thankfully, two or three months were clipped together, albeit covered in a thick layer of dirt and dust. I probably should have worn a respirator.

See that stack of 4 oversized boxes on the top right of the chrome rack? Those are the Irving Trust boxes. As of today, the entire top shelf is covered, 4 boxes deep in oversized items. We're still waiting for even bigger boxes for some very large items. But we're nearly finished with rehousing the very dusty and dirty oversized records.

That box on the lower left with the crooked sheet sticking out of it shows one of our systems of dealing with half-full boxes or boxes we continue to populate over and over as we continue finding items that fit within its folders. We started hanging signs on the boxes with general descriptions so we'd know where to find things since I'm the only one with a laptop for quick access to the box lists. Speaking of box lists, because the boxes are works in process, so are the box lists. I'm looking forward to finalizing the boxes in the General Files series and numbering the folders. I know, it sounds like a weird thing to look forward to, but there will be a big sense of accomplishment after all we've finished rehousing, arranging, and describing this collection.

From July 2010

Having been so immersed in the collection in the past month, it's heartening to see how much work has been done in just a few weeks. It's almost like watching a growth spurt in a plant right after it goes from being a seemingly inert seed to a sprout 1 inch above the soil.

For the past two weeks (and moving forward), my focus has become less processing and more description. One of the discoveries I made yesterday was that in the beginning of this process, we really didn't know what we had (although we thought we did). Now that we have a greater understanding of the records from spending so much time sorting them, it has become clear that even more sorting needs to be done.

I find as I flip through the records to describe them, the folders that were previously titled as one thing actually hold a variety of different items that now fall much more neatly into folders within other boxes. This is one of the hazards of having multiple people work on a large collection without looking at each others' boxes to see if there are subjects in common (at least in the beginning).

Because we received so many of these records simply as stacks of wildly unordered pages, some not even boxed, we don't feel badly rearranging by subject and chronological order those that weren't deliberately ordered. Earlier this week, I chatted with a coworker about choices in rearranging. When we think about original order, we struggle with the amount of ordering (or rather re-ordering) we find ourselves doing at times. However, some decisions are easily made for us. A good portion of the records were clipped into folders or clipped together with these types of clips. It wasn't difficult to decide not to re-order those records, especially when someone had taken the time to clip them together in that order (even if it seems haphazard to us).

On the other hand, in the case of the folder that held the proceedings of a union contract negotiation, it was necessary to rearrange the correspondence and legal documents so that they were in chronological order. Let's say a researcher wanted to know more about union negotiations. If she examined this folder in its original state, without rearranging it herself, it would be quite arduous for her to glean the nuances of this particular negotiation (which are important because this mining company handled union negotiations in a pretty unique way -- and you'll just have to visit the collection to find out why!). All that to say, why make it hard on the researcher? If there's a story to tell, let the records tell the story in the way it happened.

Speaking of stories, some of the folders I've described have revealed more history of New Park Mining Company and its predecessors. For instance, more of the relationships between recurring names are becoming clearer. Today, I uncovered a year-long conversation (taking place via typewritten correspondence) between the president of New Park (W.H.H. Cranmer) and a member of the board of directors, who appears to have been a close friend of his. Such intimate letters! Well worth having to dig through piles of stockholders' dividend inquiries to find them. (By the way, today I also was rewarded with the discovery of exactly what W.H.H. stands for: William Henry Harrison.)

Additionally, the deeper we go into the papers, the more mysteries we solve by putting "missing pieces" into folders that may have held 10 items that didn't seem to fit together, but now do. One trend I continue to see are the missing pages of mining claim disputes showing up in the strangest places. Then, there are the legal documents that appear between other items. And smelting settlements among correspondence (and everything else, for some reason).

We have 6 boxes of industry newsletters that we might not keep, if we can locate copies elsewhere. I'm hoping to speak to an archivist at the Utah State Archives to find out if a. they have these publications, and b. they would like them, if they don't already have them. Oh, and if they have a job for me when I finish at the Park City Museum. Well, one can hope.