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Hello everyone!

Today is my last day in the AMNH Library and Archives. I’ve worked on a number of projects under the CLIR and IMLS grants since February and am truly amazed at the new skills I’ve developed in the process. Together with Claire, Becca and Iris, I’ve risk assessed the contents of a department (including everything from administrative files and library books to accession records and field notebooks), created an original finding aid, learned a good deal about a major donor to the museum, and mastered the difficult process of converting container lists into XML code to be imported into Archivists’ Toolkit.

Each of these tasks certainly had their challenges. My most recent work with AT has at times seemed like what Iris called “a slow and tedious process” in one of her latest blog posts. Thankfully, though, no problem was ever too large to overcome and help was always available when I needed it. I’m proud to say I was part of a museum-wide risk assessment effort, personally sorted through amazing primary source materials and imported four (!!) finding aids into AT (Iris and Oxygen XML Editor were especially invaluable to this last task).

It’s been an incredibly exciting and educational experience interning for these two grant-funded projects. It’s even more gratifying to know that the small piece I contributed over seven months is part of a greater whole that will aid the AMNH and all of its present and future researchers. I wish everyone still working on the project the best of luck. I look forward to celebrating its conclusion and to assisting with new projects in the future!
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This was our last day in Invertebrate Paleontology. We spent our morning with Bushra and Becca on the fifth floor checking that our data matched up with the collections and attaching final labels. It was a good decision to begin the day with a full room review because we realized early on that we had somehow skipped over a bay full of IP treatises and catalog ledger duplicates that required new records in our spreadsheets.

In the afternoon, we went over helpful notes Iris sent us for our spreadsheet. Looking forward to when our work will be transformed into MARC records that will eventually become part of the AMNH online research library, we had to make sure our data was neat and consistent. All of this meant deleting terminal periods and uncapitalizing words previously capitalized in all of our records, but we somehow got it all done!

It was definitely sad but also incredibly satisfying to end our work in IP. Claire and I are really proud of all that we’ve accomplished over the semester. We had fun helping Bushra realize new organization techniques for her department and we were happy to learn a lot more about Invertebrate Paleontology than we ever knew before. While it was sometimes dull work to sort through departmental files, the times when we found amazing things in the collection–photographs of the department’s early curators, beautifully handwritten ledgers and unique specimen drawings–made all of our efforts worthwhile.

Claire and I finished up authority work together today. We focused mainly on making sure our records were consistent, and then we entered topical terms into our spreadsheet to ensure that our data will be useful for researchers. Instead of going through the necessary but boring details of what it’s like to search through the Library of Congress and AMNH OPAC authority websites, I thought it would be interesting to introduce the space we’ve been working in this semester instead. Let’s start our tour!

To get to the Invertebrate Paleontology office, Claire and I leave the library, walk through the exhibits and ascend the two staircases on the fourth floor.

Next, we pass through a set of double doors and find ourselves in the fifth floor hallway where our department is located.

The fifth floor hallway is such an interesting space. On either side are ceiling-high storage units full of specimens. Now that Claire and I have spent so much time working with IP’s catalogs, we understand a good deal of the scientific language mentioned on the labels.

Bushra’s office is a few doors down the hallway, and is a great place to work. The room is large and airy, with wood floors, tall ceilings and large windows.

Meet Bushra Hussaini!

Glass cabinets full of IP’s library books line the left wall of the office. We’ve found rare books from the nineteenth century, as well as more modern, twentieth-century loan and accession ledgers behind the glass doors.

Check out the painting of wolves above the cabinets

Floor-to-ceiling glass cabinets occupy the right side of Bushra’s office. They house cardboard boxes full of a variety of materials including card catalogs, field photographs, specimen labels, departmental research and some curator memoirs.

One Post-It-labeled cabinet in IP

One of the most interesting areas of Bushra’s office is the large desk where Claire and I have sorted through our IP material. Underneath clear blotters are photographs and postcards from departmental travel. A few specimens are usually out on display on this desk as well.

Two trilobites in a specimen box

Next week Claire and I will be back in Bushra’s office to finish up our work in IP. Now you know all about the inspiring place we’ve been working in this past semester.

We’ve been working hard in the Earth and Planetary Science department and have found a lot of really great stuff. In addition to the geologic maps, reports, and photographs, there are a good number of log books from projects relating to geology. One particularly interesting one, dating from 1900, contains notes of the soil and rock compositions encountered while digging the tunnels for one of the subway lines. The photographs shows one small excerpt from this large volume. It describes the composition of the material found at 165th st and Broadway.

The text in the photo reads:

136th st and Broadway. Red sand, from 14ft to 16 ft below the surface, and continuous as greater depths.
November 12th 1900

136th st and Broadway. Yellow sand, overlying the red sand, variable in depth; from 4ft to 2ft below surface, and extending to the surface.
November 12th 1900

This is one of the best examples we have seen of material relating directly to the New York City Geology, as opposed to the development of the museum’s collection or the expeditions undertaken by the museum. It was great to imagine the soil types underneath our feet and the people responsible for documenting it over 100 years ago.

Claire and I are working together in Invertebrate Paleontology, and today was our second day sorting through the Department’s files. After encountering countless loan documents, budgets, annual reports, maintenance schedules, visitor forms and office supply lists, we were ready to move on from filing cabinets full of these necessary but less-exciting departmental records.

Phone bills and shipping forms in a filing cabinet

Half-way through our second day, we began to uncover the really interesting materials we sought. One unassuming box contained over a dozen original sketches of the Museum’s most famous curators signed by the artist James Bowen. Another was full of field trip notebooks and journals from the late nineteenth century featuring drawings of fossils and landscapes with incredibly detailed descriptions of localities explored by scientists from the Department. Nearly a whole cabinet houses bound and unbound accession books cataloging hundreds of thousands of invertebrate specimens.

Sketch of R.P. Whitfield, Curator of Geology

We had the chance to work alongside some of those specimens today, and we are definitely looking forward to learning more about Invertebrate Paleontology as we progress through the Department’s files. Bushra Hussaini, the Senior Scientific Assistant, is helping us along the way and has already enriched the preliminary work we have accomplished.

One of our work stations in Invertebrate Paleontology

Next week will hopefully be a continuation of the exciting and engaging endeavors we began today.

Boo hoo, alas, after three months, today was our last day in Herpetology. We spent the day trying to do as much as we can to complete the risk assessment of the processed collection, and the cataloging and risk assessment of the unprocessed collections. As we mentioned in last week’s blog, the unprocessed collections are HUGE. There were many boxes of papers, slides, photographs (both black & white and color), notebooks, and more. To give a perspective, Ernest A. Liner’s collection has over 8,000 slides! Whew! Unfortunately, most of these slides have sustained damage due to being housed in non-archival plastic sleeves. The sleeves are sticking to the emulsion of the slides. We were told that these slides are one of the most important items in his collection. Hopefully, these slides will be preserved somehow.

Near the end of the day, we found boxes of slides that showed the various stages of venomous snake and spider bites including several slides depicting autopsies of fatal bites. These slides are from the Sherman Minton collection. Minton seemed to specialize in studying the effects of venom and anti-venom.

To conclude, while we learned a lot about cataloging and risk assessment of archival collections, we also increased our knowledge of reptiles and amphibians as a side benefit. Jannette’s favorite out of the entire collection was the giant turtles that greeted us everyday as we walked to the archival room. My favorite reptile was Ernest Liner’s smiling pet, Buster, the Mexican beaded lizard.

1890s Bushnell’s copy book ad. A book of thin onion-skin-like linen paper which you would moisten and apply to a freshly written letter or document. The wet paper would absorb the ink of the original and make a perfect copy of same.

Because of the nature of the thin onion-skin-like linen paper and the age of this type of material, most of the edges are brittle and must be handled with extreme care. In addition, some of the images taken off of typewritten pages have faded. Copies made from impressions on pages written in fountain pen ink have held up better over the years.

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In Herpetology, we are nearing the end of the cataloging and risk assessment phases. Today, Rebecca continued with the risk assessment of the processed collections, while I catalogued the unprocessed collections. Adding to the disorganization, there were numerous boxes placed by the filing cabinets that needed to be sorted out. Not all the boxes were labeled, so I had to deduce who the creator was. I was able to do this by deciphering the handwriting on the materials in the unidentified boxes. The result was there were actually three collections (Ernest A. Liner, Roger Conant, and Sherman Minton.) These were labeled accordingly so hopefully, during the next cycle, it will be easy to continue with this project.

On the risk assessment side, things are moving quickly. While the majority of the materials were field notes, Rebecca came across some interesting black and white photos and beautiful etchings of various species. We have to say that we’ve made good progress and hopefully we will finish on the last day of our internship.

In wrapping up our project of a) cataloging, b) performing risk assessment, and c) moving the Invertebrate Zoology departmental archive to the research library, we spent the day sorting out a little bit of a mess. That is, as we were re-housing the materials, most of which were departmental records, we had to reconsider our previous scheme regarding the assignment of unique call numbers. All said and done, there was only marginal reorganization that took place. But for a few minutes there, we were afraid that we had previously erred so badly that it would require a significant amount of backtracking. Luckily, we’ve pretty much been on the right track all along. Although, once in a while—i.e., today—it’s necessary to throw in two parts detective work, one part speculation , and a pinch of “let’s-run-this-by-someone-else-and-see-what-they-think-about-it.”

So with the exception of one small unprocessed collection, our work here is just about done.

p.s. An interesting side note: among one of the collections—personal papers of an IZ staff member—we found an AMNH library book that is 21 YEARS OVERDUE! We will promptly return it to the circulation desk and ask no further questions.

While tackling some of the unprocessed collections in Herpetology, we came across a century 0ld scrapbook of newspaper clippings about toads. The clippings spanned from 1911 to 1936 and the scrapbook was in good condition. One very interesting article that caught our attention was about a hop toad that was found alive in Nantucket after 21 years entombed in cement! We were amazed and intrigued to read about this. Upon further research, we found another article that mentioned of a horn toad that suffered a similar fate. However, he was discovered alive after 31 years in West Texas. The article discussed the findings of a researcher who claimed that certain species of frogs can exist without food or water for a hundred years. Wow, this was truly mind boggling!

Other than our trip through old newspapers, we were able to complete the cataloging and risk assessment of the rest of the unprocessed collections that were mixed in with the maps. These included photographs, negatives, posters, artwork, and other mixed formats, including field notes. We are finding that cataloging these unprocessed collections takes a bit longer due to the vast variety of formats. However, looking through these “treasure troves” makes this project fascinating and enjoyable.

Again, there were many photographs that are in need of correct archival storage and treatment. We found a cool looking enlarged x-ray of a coiled snake that we think almost looks like a chain necklace. Next week, we shall be exploring a different room in Herpetology, who knows what we will discover next!

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