Sunday, February 06, 2011

Project Updates

Lately, I've been working on some pretty interesting projects at the Plainfield Public Library. The Local History Archives hold a very wide range of items related to the town, from police log dating back through the 1800s to scrapbooks from the Muhlenberg Hospital School of Nursing Alumnae Association (and everything in between). I especially enjoy the personal records and the prints made from the glass plates in the collection.

Paul Collier Prints
Lately, I've been cataloging and describing some of those prints by a Plainfield photographer named Paul Collier. The library's collection of Collier materials is quite extensive. Here's a direct quote from the Plainfield Library's site describing his photos:
The Paul R. Collier Photographs are some of Plainfield's most well-known images, containing views of local homes, landmarks, churches, businesses and community activities. Collier was a prolific photographer who documented the Plainfield area for 40 years. He worked for the Plainfield Courier News and did private work for insurance documentation. In the late1990's, the library's collection of 175 Collier images grew sizably with a donation of about 14,000 glass plates and nitrate negatives. All glass plates have been conserved and printed. Prints are generated from the nitrates as funding permits.
Prior to processing this particular group of prints (many others had previously been processed and cataloged), I had the great fun of processing his ephemera. I'm glad that I had a chance to take a good look at those items and describe them first because they helped me frame some of the photo descriptions later. Sometimes, they were just amusing. For example, Collier was known for documenting car accidents and police activities. In the ephemera I processed, I found quite a few receipts for his own car repairs.

Some of my favorite Collier prints are from the "Ice House" series and the "Town Hall" series. The Ice House photos show how laborers cut portions of a frozen lake into large blocks and moved them along a conveyor belt into the ice house. The images are fantastic. The expressions on the laborers' faces and their stances compared to their supervisors say quite a bit.

I love the Town Hall photos because they show how the grounds of Town Hall changed over time, as well as big events that happened at and around the building. Recently, I spoke with an arborist friend who mentioned that he was overseeing an historical arborist in charge of protecting the trees at City Hall in New York during restoration work to the building. As I described the Collier prints of Town Hall in their catalog entries, I realized that these prints can now be used by researchers for the same purpose (among others).

Clubby Clubs of Plainfield
Some of the other fun projects I work on at Plainfield include processing (or in some cases, re-processing) the records of the local social clubs and other organizations. For instance, I've processed the Friends of the Plainfield Library records. That collection covers in detail a very interesting time in the history of the library, the demolition of the original building and the construction of the current building.

The most recent club records I've processed were those of the Cosmopolitan Club. Between all the snow storms and other events, we haven't yet updated the finding aid, but that will come soon. The scrapbooks are priceless! They show photos and clippings of members at their activities, as well as little snippets of fashion magazines and other realia.

One thing I've noticed from these and other clubs I've processed over time is that the record keeping changes dramatically over time. During the 1940s - 1960s, the records are somewhat organized, the minutes are detailed, and generally, things are in pretty good shape. Once the clubs' records move into the 1970s-2000s, the degree of detail diminishes and organization deteriorates rapidly. I'll have to do some research to see if anyone has written any papers on this pattern, but if they haven't, perhaps I ought to think about it since it's pretty consistent in Plainfield, at least.

Next post: Last week, I had a wonderful time visiting the special collections and university archives at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. I'll be showcasing some of the amazing collections and introducing you to the incredibly nice and informative Adam Winger, Head of Special Collections and Digital Initiatives Librarian at the S.C. Williams Library at Stevens.

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