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.

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