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Yesterday was supposed to be our last day here at the museum, but we decided to come in today to try and finish up with our Risk Assessment in the Manuscripts collection. We came very close to doing just that, but didn’t get all the way to the end, unfortunately. However, we tackled a few big collections over the past two days, and even some unprocessed collections. Along the way we got to see some pretty interesting collections, including our favorite, Lillian Powers, the Squirrel Lady, one last time.
We began this summer doing a shelf read in the Manuscript collection, comparing the items on the shelves with the catalog spread sheet, and when that was finished we proceeded to the Risk Assessment portion of our project. Both experiences have taught us a great deal. The shelf read introduced us to different types of formats that can be present in a manuscript collection and some of the best practices for describing them. We also gained a little experience with using the Library of Congress authority controls during this process.
While performing risk assessment for this collection, we began learning about what can physically compromise a collection: red rot on leather, acid migration from newspaper, annotations on photographs, and the dastardly metal paper clip! Every now and again we stumbled upon something which really caught our preservation attention, like a very unstable nitrate negative or x-ray. We also got a chance to see the wide variety of formats that can be found in these collections, like specimens, reprints (I never want to see another reprint again), slides, cassette tapes, and giant floppy disks that wouldn’t fit in any computer we’ve ever used.
Otherwise our time was spent counting items of varying formats and then logging them into the LARA Access database, a process which was sometimes slow and required a significant amount of attention to detail and discussion. We were both happy that we didn’t have to go this alone.
In the end, our experience taught us so much about risk assessment and the organization and maintenance of an archive. And it allowed us to encounter images of U.S. presidents, species of fish we’d never heard of, and wonderful squirrel loving New Yorkers. So we leave you with this:
Goodbye, Special Collections. Thanks for everything.
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.
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!
Risk assessment was the name of the game today as we continued to survey the herpetological collections. At first, we didn’t find anything unusual. As we continued, however, the Herndon Dowling Collection caught our attention. Dowling was a curator of reptiles in New York Zoological Park from 1960-1967 and Emeritus Professor of Biology at New York University. During the 1920s, he conducted studies of the black swamp snake and discovered two subspecies. Therefore, it came as no surprise that his collection contained mostly of anatomical drawings of snakes. We were impressed that these drawings were very detailed and done in pencil. Notations on the drawings indicated that they were copied from specimens in the museum. The photos on the left show the precision of the drawings.
On a conservation note, these drawings were not well protected and are left loose in the archival box. Ideally, they should be placed in mylar sleeves and put in archival envelopes or folders.
It is one of the most fascinating aspects of working in archives. Sometimes at first glance, the messy file drawer may not look to be that organized but in essence it may be more so than a file drawer that appears to be more organized- what do we mean?
A golden rule for archivists is to follow the principle of provenance or the respect des fonds. This means to maintain the original order in which the records were created and kept. By keeping the files in their original order in which they were created can be more useful in telling something about the creator of the work.
It is a loss for us who would like to know more about what the creator of the work was really thinking when he/she put those notes in with those photographs. To the outside observer, they may not seem at all related, but they are and if someone who separates out these items and the original order is disrupted, some of the story is lost.
Some archivists are now working with the creator of the work while they are still around to ask questions so not to lose out on some small details. Having access to this information cannot be undervalued.
Today in Herpetology for a change of pace, we decided to take a side trip to the map room. Needless to say we found some maps. Big maps, small maps, old maps, new maps, sketch maps, maps in Spanish, black and white maps, color maps, relief maps and even some hand drawn maps. As you can see by picture above, one map was almost bigger than Marilyn!!
The maps spanned the entire world including every continent as well as countries, states, counties, cities, townships and even some maps of remote locations where the herpetologists found and marked specific specimens.
Most of the maps were in good condition. All are kept in map drawers and many are separated with acid-free paper. Some of the older maps are brittle and ripping. The following map is of Arizona which a herpetologist who happened to pass by estimated it was from the 1930s.
We did find some maps that were laminated. We we wondering if that may be a good solution for the older maps that are falling apart. Are these maps too fragile for the laminating process?
So far we have estimated over 2000 maps in this collection and that does not include a locked cabinet we can not get into yet. Among this collection are also many items that are not maps and should probably not be in this room but more on that later….
Today was Lauren’s first day in the Anthropology Dept. and Kelly’s first day in general working on the Archiving Project. We are starting in the main Archive room, which is very well organized thanks to the archivist there, Kristen. Phase 1 has already been completed in that room, so we are now on to Phase 2, risk assessment.
Our first day started out a little slow…our first collection had field notes, journals, maps, negatives, and photos…a little bit of everything! We were able to pick up the pace a little bit after that, but mixed media was the theme of the day.
One of the collections made us stop and think how to classify the materials. It was an entire collection of data cards of statues. Each card had descriptions and various types of data, but also included black-and-white prints glued to each card. Should these data cards, which we will probably run into again, be classified as a paper collection, a photographic collection, or both? We consulted Becca who informed us that the ‘mixed media’ category was created just for this type of collection.
Today is our last day in the Paleontology archives. We started the morning with another tour with Bob Evander, checking out hidden collections among the specimens. We also came across this awesome giant sloth!
We’ve finished wrapping up all the loose ends for Phase 1 and 2 and have labeled all the collections. At some point, the hidden collections will have to be included but we took pictures of all the locations so that can be finished at a later point. Also the new collections that we created will need to be added to the finding aid. VPA collection numbers also need to be integrated into the existing finding aid. During our risk assessment, we did a basic overview of the map collection, but it’s clear that additional work on this collection would be helpful to the department, there are about 3,000 maps. The intention is for it the maps to be an ongoing project. We also have one collection of totally unprocessed material which we did a basic catalog record for, eventually it will hopefully be processed.
We really enjoyed our summer here at the museum and feel that we have learned a lot about how an archives works, creating new collections, and conducting risk assessment.
Beginning our day with the second round of “Risk Assessment,” we swiftly moved our way back through all of the collections we had processed so far. In general, the slides are all in very good condition and rarely show any signs of preservation concerns. The most significant “risk” from these collections is dissociation by lacking any type of identification (other than the label on the outside of the box), thereby rendering them not-so-useful for research purposes.
With half of the day ahead of us, we moved onto a little spreadsheet data clean up and authority work. Here’s a little elaboration on one authority file we updated…Box 208 is labeled “G. Ekholm Collection, Mayan Photographs, 35 mm color slides, 44 images.” This “G. Ekholm” is actually the late Dr. Gordon F. Ekholm, curator emeritus here at the museum. Earning his master’s and doctoral degrees in anthropology from Harvard, Dr. Ekholm was an expert in the field of pre-Columbian archaeology of Mesoamerica. Many of his studies focused on parallels between southern and eastern Asian cultures and the Mayan civilization. An author search retrieved 17 records from the AMNH research library OPAC, including several books, numerous co-authored publications, and a few films. He served as an AMNH staff member for several decades.
But back to the collection…there are 44 slides, many of which are glass mounted, and all of which contain detailed captions, but no dates. The most eye-catching part of the collection concerns a “Volador Pole.” This group of photographs was taken during an expedition to Mexico, which focuses on a ceremonial ritual called the “Danza de los Volodares,” or “Dance of the Flyers.” Think of it as a merry-go-round for very brave adults. It consists of 5 dancers who climb a 30-meter pole, four of whom launch themselves from the top, tied by their feet with ropes, and swing around in circles, while the fifth remains at the top to play a flute and pray. According to myth, the ritual exists to ask the gods for a reprieve from severe drought. In 2009, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized this ceremony with the Intangible Cultural Heritage distinction. For those interested further, a video clip can be accessed here.
Today we did phase 2 of the Osborn Collection and came across this great book that was made to celebrate his thirty years in the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology. The art and text were all original and still looked amazing even though the book is almost 100 years old.
These are some of the great interior drawings. They seem to had a lot of fun coming up with interesting ideas!
We also came across a box of illustration blocks in the Osborn Collection which included engravings of various specimens. The blocks were made out of metal plates attached to wooden blocks. Another highlight was a copper engraving of Osborn that was among his papers. The engraving was created by Elliot and Fey.
16 collections in 2.5 hours
TagsAinu AMNH library catalog Anthropology Archives Archbold Archival Arrangement archives Authority Names CAT Cataloging CLIR 2010 clir 2012 Correspondence Crocker Land Department of Preparation and Installation Department Records EAC-CPF expeditions Fall 2011 Field Notes Finding Aid finding aids Hayden Planetarium Herpetology Archives hidden connections IMLS LARA linked data Mammalogy Archives Manuscript Collection Museum History Non-Curatorial Field Notes Ornithology Archives Paleontology Archives Phase 2 photographs Photo Print Collection Processing Research Library Risk Assessment Slide Collection Spring 2011 Spring 2012 Summer 2011 Summer 2012 T. Don Carter
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