In Observation of the Archive: A Specific Place with Specific Needs

By musing_lis

It all starts at the Georgia Institute of Technology Archive. I was fortunate enough to get an observation with Jody Lloyd Thompson, Dept. Head of Archives and Records Management at the Georgia Tech Library. The Archive department consists of 4 ladies, 2 of which are certified Archivists and the other 2 have an MLIS.

During the first hour of my observation, Jody Lloyd Thompson took me on a tour of the Archive and the Special Collections of Rare Books. As we walked down the compact shelves, I learned that the archive is organized by format – paper (manuscripts and photographs), film, and architectural drawings. With the school’s enormous focus on Architecture, it comes as no surprise that the library acquires 200-400 linear feet of architectural collections yearly. The librarians brought this to my attention, due to the fact that all of the architectural materials require flat and horizontal storage cabinets. During the tour I was made aware of the elaborate climate control system that in the event of fire, locks the doors and eliminates oxygen from the room.

When it came time to explore the Rare Book Collection, we put on archive gloves and went straight for Georgia Tech’s most prized book. The university’s rare book collection began in the 1950’s with the acquisition of Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematicaenglish title: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy – published in 1687. The library owns a copy of each of the first three editions of the Principia Mathematica (1687, 1713, and 1726), all published during Newton’s lifetime. I was privileged to hold such an influential first edition rare book, and paid special attention to the publishers note by Edmund Halley (scientist / astronomer who discovered Halley’s Comet). I had the oportunity to handle all of Newton’s works featured in the university’s rare book archive. In addition to Principia, we thumbed through the first edition of Opticks: A Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions, and Colours of Light (London, 1704), and A Treatise of Arithmetical Composition and Resolution (London, 1720). It makes sense that a university such as the Georgia Institute of Technology would be interested in the history of science and technology. As told from the archivist, the Institution has a “special strength in Newtoniana”. We briefly viewed other Newtoniana include works by such contemporaries of Newton as John Keill, Henry Pemberton, and Colin MacLaurin. Additionally we viewed the archives other treasures such as the nine-volume Dutch language edition of Joan Blaeu’s Grooten Atlas (or Grand Atlas), published in the 1660s.

During my three hour observation, the department head invited me into the Archive weekly meeting. The meeting agenda:

  1. Introductions
  2. Student Assistants
  3. Spring Semester Classes
  4. Annual Reviews
  5. GT Design Archives
  6. ArchivesSpace
  7. Interview Questions for Users (BrightSpot)
  8. LSC/Renewal (Library Service Center)
  9. Weekly Reports

I was introduced to the three other ladies working in the Archive: Christine De Cantanzaro (MLIS, Certified Archivist, PhD Music History), Mandi Johnson (Visual Materials Archivist, M.A. Public History), Wendy Hagenmaier (Digital Archives Specialist, MLIS). The renovation, expected finish in 2016, poses mostly issues in Preservation. The archivists are concerned with storage short-term and temporary, especially with their high valued Rare Books

and providing proper climate control. The proposed temporary storage at the Georgia (Atlanta) Archive brings additional problems to the university. It was proposed that they store the most valuable collections with the city of Atlanta, making them only available by appointment (off-campus), bringing transportation issues with insurance riders on automobiles. Throughout the weekly reports, ongoing projects were discussed with major “highlights” and updates. Currently, the Archivists are working in the Voyageur System to update barcodes on their Science Fiction collection. Georgia Tech has an extensive collection of Science Fiction, from valuable first editions to almost rare “unknowns”. The collection includes 10,000 science fiction and fantasy novels, over 1,000 periodical issues, all dates ranging from the 1950s up to the 1990s. I was told that the collection was started by a Georgia Tech professor and later donated to the university Archive.

Overall, my observation was an enormous learning experience and am grateful to have been invited to observe the Archivists in such a highly regarded institution. The Archive at Georgia Tech has come a long way since the department was reorganized in the early 2000s. I heard many stories the librarians shared with me. Before the re-org, the dean of the university Library “banished” anyone in the library she didn’t favor to the library. For decades, the Archive was operated by Librarians who were “punished” and unqualified. Unfortunately, many documents were lost because of the messy system. When Christine De Cantanzaro arrived over ten years ago, her and Jody Lloyd Thompson, created a plan that shut down the Archive for more than two months to organize the mess. Now, they have outgrown their basement Archive and will be moving into a bigger and better space – big happy news for the Archivists. At the end of the meeting, Christine De Cantanzaro said this;

The Archive is simply just a specific place with specific needs.



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