A Week in the Life of an Archivist

Note: this post originally appeared in Davidson College’s Archives & Special Collections blog.

Astute readers may have noticed a new name join Jan (the College Archivist and Records Management Coordinator) and Sharon (the Special Collections Outreach Librarian) here on Around the D – mine, as a matter of fact! I joined the staff of E.H. Little Library as the Associate Archivist back in October, and inspired by my old graduate school colleague Stephanie Bennett‘s recent post on what archival processing is all about, I decided to write about what I do on a day-to-day basis. So, notes and highlights on what each day of the first week of classes for the Spring 2014 semester held for the Associate Archivist of Davidson College:

MONDAY (January 13)

Generally, the first thing I do when I get into the office each morning is make a cup of tea and catch up with my inbox. On Monday mornings, there’s usually several dozen unread emails – in part because I subscribe to an assortment of professional listservs.

Post-email-checking, I updated the Archives & Special Collections Twitter, and then went to a Discovery Systems departmental meeting on student workers (possible projects, how many summer students, etc.). I spent the rest of the morning preparing for a class visit to the archives later in the day (including selecting documents and setting up their display with Jan), and working on the Around the D entry to post on Wednesday morning. Sharon and I nailed down a few details related the illumination live demonstration event (set for January 28th, from 11 AM to 12 PM).

After taking a late lunch (1:30 PM to 2:30 PM is my standard), I drafted a short news blurb related to the blog topic for the library’s homepage and updated the Archives & Special Collections Facebook. Then Jan and I hosted the first archives class visit of the semester, Dr. Anelise Shrout‘s HIS 458: American Environments to 1893.

HIS 548 students checking out campus maps.
HIS 548 students checking out campus maps.

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Goodbye to All This

When I moved to Boston three years ago, I instantly hated it – every bad day or negative emotion I had, I blamed squarely on the Hub of the Universe. It didn’t help matters that I had just spent the summer in Austin, TX (a city I was madly in love with), or that I had recently been on two amazing cross-country road trips, or that I had grown up in the shadow of NYC (Boston’s natural enemy, as I was repeatedly reminded), or that I was about to suffer through one of the worst/ snowiest winters Boston had had in years. Boston was cold, foreign, and unfriendly, and I spent the little free time that grad school and work allowed making trips down to see my Providence friends.

The Fenway Victory Gardens in winter.

Over time though, I grew to love Boston. The shift was gradual – from outright hatred to ambivalence, and then slowly to a weird sort of love. I knew I had officially crossed over when a friend of a friend asked me where I was from, and I responded “Boston” rather than “New York” (our mutual friend overheard this, and immediately shouted, “NO SHE’S NOT! She’s a New Yorker!” But then so was he).

Front steps of Harvard’s Widener Library.

Two months ago, I left Boston, but I didn’t really leave it – I moved home to NY but split my week between the two cities, usually taking the train east early in the morning on Tuesdays and then the bus or train back to NY on Thursday or Friday evenings. The commute was designed to save me money, not time or convenience – I could crash at my mom’s in NY, and with friends in Boston during my abbreviated work week. The commute was tiring and being technically “homeless” was an annoyance, but I didn’t mind – I love riding the train, and I liked feeling like I was traveling, even when it was only between two cities that I am intimately familiar with. I was able to hang out with my friends from college and eat delicious pizza, bagels, and potato cones, while still keeping my amazing job and getting to see all my Boston friends. I began taking long walks around Cambridge, trekking from Harvard Square to Central nearly every day, hoarding Mike’s Donuts from Roxbury in my bag while I hunted down the best lattes within a two mile radius of Widener Library (FYI, I’m pretty sure Simon’s Too is God’s Gift to Central). I wandered through the North End for no reason other than that I could. I stayed late at my office every night, met new people, read YA novels on the train, and had more fun than I’d had in months, maybe years. I was finished with graduate school, but occupying that post-grad liminal space where you’re not entirely sure what your future is going to be.

View of the Charles River (and Boston and Cambridge) from the Mass Ave Bridge.

It turns out that my future includes leaving both of these cities that I have a complicated love-hate relationship with – after a lot of thought, I accepted a job in North Carolina. I’m moving to a whole new region in a little over a week, and it feels both exciting and incredibly sad to be leaving behind both the place that I’m from and the place that I’ve grown to love over these last three years.

Pilgrim Beach in Truro, MA.Pilgrim Beach in Truro, MA.

Every College Campus Needs a Henry Moore


Two Henry Moore sculptures spotted in two days –  on the left, “Four Piece Reclining Figure” (1972-73) at Harvard, my current place of employment; and on the right, “Two Large Forms” (1966-69) at SUNY Purchase, my dearly loved alma mater. On Monday, I decided to swing by the ol’ college while I was in Westchester county so that I could finally touch the sculpture – frankly, it’s surprising I didn’t do it when I was at school there since everyone seemed to have climbed all over it, but I was always a white-gloves-while-touching-art kind of person (probably comes with the whole archivist/ librarian thing). In fact, our student ID’s featured a background of the Henry Moore being clambered on by several students:

So This Is Commencement

I finished graduate school two months ago, and sometimes it’s still hard to remember that I’m not going back in the fall – to be honest, I already miss going to classes and writing papers! Some commencement-grams, including silly-sleeved gown, and brag-y photo of the thesis award I won:

Can you tell that my Dad made me pose immediately after leaving commencement?
Silly as it is, getting nominated for and then receiving this award is probably my most proud moment thus far in my life. My advisor and readers are amazing women who really pushed me to do better.

But now that graduate school is well and truly over, I’ve set some summer/ fall goals – some things I wanted to do during school but never had the time, things I want to accomplish in general, and some things that I just think would improve the quality of my life. In no particular order:

  1. Re-read all of the books I was assigned in class and thought were really interesting, but had to skim a bit. The top of this list is Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, followed closely by Ross Harvey’s Digital Curation: A How-to-do-it Manual.
  2. Speaking of reading, maybe finish all of the titles I haven’t gotten to yet on the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels list?
  3. Learn to play that ukulele I bought 2 years ago and promptly put away in a closet.
  4. Update this blog more regularly!
  5. Learn to ride a bike, finally.
  6. Present at a conference.
  7. Publish – in professional organizations newsletters, journals, on my work’s blog, wherever!
  8. Pare down closet and bookcase to essentials – I own way too much stuff…
  9. Make sure to keep in touch with everyone who’s moved away and I miss, with my favorite old professors, with my cousins, with former coworkers and bosses. It’s so easy for me to get busy and forget to do this.

The Desert of the Thesis, or How I Learned to Live on Coffee Alone

Writing a thesis is designed to drive one mad, I think – this is my second experience with The Thesis, having written one in undergrad as well. My undergrad thesis similarly made me do crazy things (I once took a 3 hour long nature walk in the woods in the middle of the night, as a break from editing, and let’s just say I’m not normally an outdoors person), but the bar has really been raised with this master’s thesis. Here’s a list of things I catch myself doing that make me feel like a loon:

1. Whispering “tell me what your ultimate point is” to books while at various different libraries. One of my secondary source texts has a remarkably forthright passage that starts with something like, “The ultimate point of this book is to: 1. blah blah, 2. &c.” Ever since reading that, I began wishing that all these authors would just tell me what their most pertinent thoughts are, in one sentence preferably, so I can determine whether to spend my valuable reading time on that resource.

2. Napping in my carrel at Widener Library – I always thought it was weird that people left pillows in their carrels, especially since it’s not a 24 hour library and you can check out books directly to your carrel so it’s not a matter of not being able to fit all your sources into a backpack or something. Why not just go home to nap? But now, as I get closer to my full draft due date, I find myself thinking that the pillow-people are geniuses, and I’ve started thinking about borrowing my carrel-mate’s pillow to doze off. It just feels more productive to nap in the library, y’know?


3. Eating while walking. I’ve long been a fan of portable foods, and would often eat a Nutella waffle while walking to my bus stop when I lived in DC. Now that my time is at such a premium, I’ve really stepped up my eating-while-walking game and have added hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and burritos into my rotation. I don’t think this is particularly crazy (although some of the looks I’ve been getting say otherwise), but there is this weird downside of occasionally finding rice in my coat pockets. Now, what would be crazy is trying to eat a delicious Darwin’s sandwich while mobile:


I’m sure I’ll have more to add to the list before May 1st…

Belfast to Dublin to Cork, OH MY!

Yesterday, I took the 6:50 AM train from Belfast to Dublin Connolly station, and then the 4:00 PM train from Dublin Heuston to Cork. Normally, riding the train longer distances (each leg was about two and half hours long) is a perfect time to reflect – much like highway driving, listening to music while a landscape rolls by usually prompts a ton of thought, and often some writing as well. But I spent yesterday morning’s journey napping by design (to rest up for the roughly seven hours I spent in Dublin), and while I meant to stay awake and absorb all of the Irish countryside I could handle on the evening’s journey, I passed out five minutes in and didn’t stir until a teenage girl in a Slipknot hoodie shook my shoulder and told me we’d reached the last stop.

It’s not that I didn’t have anything to internally reflect on – BOY, I had tons – but I’ve also been sleeping very little since leaving the U.S. nine days ago. I spend my days packing in as much archival research or museum touring as I possibly can, and as soon as my work-related sites close for the day, I run off to see as much of these cities as I can squeeze in. For the most part, this has been a solo adventure – I met up with a few friends and a cousin who live in London, and last night I had dinner and an amazing walking tour of Cork city centre with the parents of an old friend. I’ve traveled alone before of course, but by “travel” I mean taken solo road trips from New York to DC or Richmond to visit friends and family, or taken the Amtrak between various east coast cities. Mostly, I’ve traveled with friends or family, and the idea of being alone in two foreign countries for nearly two weeks was a little intimidating. But (and no offense to friends and family I’ve gone on trips with!), I am really loving the experience – not only am I finding exactly the sort of material I came here to seek out, but getting to set my own schedule and do whatever I want to do in a series of cities feels very liberating.

It’s winter here, and my research schedule doesn’t allow as much nature and famous monument viewing as my last trip to Ireland, when my family traveled together for a wedding and sightseeing in 2008. But I’m absorbing every experience I can get in, and discovering so much more about my surroundings. Fortunately, paying attention to surroundings and culture is ideal when researching a thesis about public, collective memories of historic events…

Belfast, in a Few Quick Pictures

So busy I hardly have a moment! So just a few quick pictures of some of my favorite Belfast things…

Titanic wall mural, off of Newtwonards Road.
Exterior of Titanic Belfast, world’s largest Titanic museum.
Me, standing in the absolutely massive Titanic Dry Dock – the last place the ship touched dry land, according to my tour guide.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the banoffee pie…

The Grand Tour of Titanic-Related Sites, or How CCL Went to Europe and Learned a Ton, pt. 1

When I was proposing my thesis topic to my history department, I wrote a paragraph about how going on a research trip to the U.K. and Ireland would be incredibly helpful, but I honestly didn’t think I would have the time or money to do so. Well, the head of the department suggested I apply for funding from my school, and two months later, here I am in Belfast.

My topic is the collective memory of the Titanic, particularly as seen through pop culture, but also through public history, so Belfast makes total sense – I thought the tagline “Titanic Town” might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but it turns out to be pretty on the nose from what I’ve seen. BUT before I describe what I’ve been seeing and doing in Belfast, I should take a step back and mention my whole itinerary for this trip – Belfast is my second stop, and I have at least 2-ish more I have back to the States.

I started off in London (4 days), with a day trip down to Southampton, before flying over here. I’ve been in Belfast for a day and half, and I have about another 30 hours left before I catch an early morning train to Dublin. I’ll get 7 hours in Dublin, and then on another train down to Cork, where I’ll spend a day and half (and probably most of that day in Cobh, less than an hour away by commuter rail). Then back to London for two more days, although I’m thinking of trying to fit in a quick stop in Liverpool…

Right, I should get to sleep – I have a long day of walking tours and murals and talking to people nicknamed “Mr. Titanic” planned, so I had better write more about my research over here tomorrow!