Educational background: I recently graduated from UCLA’s School of Information Studies with an MLIS, specializing in archival studies. As an undergraduate, I studied comparative literature and Spanish at Smith College.
Previous experience: I’ve been working in libraries and archives in different capacities for a number of years now. Most recently, I interned at the University of California, Irvine’s Special Collections & Archives (SCA). This was an enriching opportunity because I was able to build on previous experience processing born-digital materials — a skill set totally absent from my MLIS program’s curriculum. At SCA, I worked closely with the Assistant University Archivist to develop a new workflow for accessioning born-digital material. I also had the chance to help process a really interesting collection of interactive multimedia CD-ROMs by the feminist media artist, Christine Tamblyn. It was my first time thinking about how to best provide access to obsolete digital art.
Why I like archives/Professional interests:
As the daughter of immigrants to this country, I’ve always felt a strong affinity to history and memory so it is no surprise that I was attracted to the profession from very early on. While studying comp lit as an undergrad, I focused on revivals of language and culture in post Franco Spain.Some of my classes ultimately led me to archival research, which inspired me to seek out internships in archives. At the Trisha Brown Dance Archive, I first encountered the challenges of preserving dance and embodied knowledge.
This curiosity really informed my MLIS studies, which led me to think about how dance and performance is captured, usually video, which is itself ephemeral and unstable. I now see the problems facing digital preservation as an extension of the unique challenges with archiving a performance. I want to continue exploring this dilemma as an archivist and hopefully come up with new ideas to contribute to the profession.
Other interests: I love to cook and try new recipes. I’ve recently been cooking a lot from Falistin by the Palestinian chef, Sami Tamimi. I’m also really into running.
Looking forward to working on the following project(s) while at Princeton:
I’m really excited to do some reference work, which is not something I’ve had the chance to do in previous positions. I think it will especially be interesting to see how this is being done in these times. I’m also curious to learn how Special Collections has been approaching digital processing by helping with updating the digital processing guidelines. I’m also looking forward to working on a redescription project with the Inclusive Description Working Group.
The Inclusive Description Working Group was formed in May 2019, and we are one of several working groups within the Archival Description and Processing Team (ADAPT) at Princeton University Library Special Collections. The group currently includes seven archivists in special collections who volunteered with an interest in changing descriptive practices, and include: Kelly Bolding (chair), Valencia Johnson, Faith Charlton, Phoebe Nobles, Chloe Pfendler, Kalliopi Balatsouka, and Armando Suárez.
The inspiration for the creation of this group began in 2016, with a “description audit project,” led by the Manuscripts Division of Special Collections at Princeton University Library, which aimed to identify problematic description and hidden voices in existing finding aids, and then, in 2017, with the formation of the Anti-Racist Description Working Group, part of the Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia, some of whose members are part of our processing team. Other inspirations included Michelle Caswell’s article, “Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in Archives,” and Temple University’s statement on potentially harmful language (see additional resources for more information).
The group’s primary goal is to tackle the complex issue of cultural sensitivity in archival description, and to critically rethink our role as archivists in order to create description that is respectful to the individuals and communities who create, use, and are represented in the archival collections we manage. With this in mind, we created a set of internal processing guidelines and considerations that will help us and our colleagues describe and process collections with a heightened awareness and empathy.
Some general principles listed in the guidelines are: prioritizing language that individuals and communities would use to describe themselves; balancing the preservation of original context with awareness of the problematic language that can come with it; discontinuing the perpetuation of inequalities in finding aids, such as by avoiding writing biographical notes that elevate the accomplishments of white men and suppress the voices of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups; prioritizing writing or using creator or dealer- supplied description in the language of the creator, materials, and users of a particular collection; and being transparent and accountable about our actions, such as preserving evidence of changes and providing mechanisms for users to report problematic description.
One of our accomplishments this year was the publication of a public-facing statement, called “Statement on Language in Archival Description,” that would let our users and researchers know what we hope to do, what we may or may not be able to do, and why. We are now hoping to add the statement to the home page of our finding aids site, in order for users to find it more easily as they browse through the collections.
In order to address crucial gaps and offensive language in Princeton’s finding aids, the group generated a list of case studies, which document ethically-minded approaches in specific contexts. It is important to note that we do not see the changes we have made as perfect or permanent solutions, but as a place to start, and we plan to keep adding to these case studies as a supplement to our internal processing guidelines. Below are some examples from the case studies:
The Francis C. Brown Collection on Slavery in America collection consists largely of plantation and slavery records assembled by a particular collector who bought the materials from various dealers, and contained item-level descriptions of materials that were transcribed from dealer descriptions written in the mid 20th century. These descriptions often referred to people as “negroes,” “slaves,” or “blacks” and included the names of enslavers but not of the enslaved. The finding aid was updated with the description throughout to refer to people as “enslaved,” as well as to include the names of enslaved people when the names of others mentioned in documents were already included.
Public services staff brought this one to our attention. A folder in the Office of the President Records in the University Archives was labeled with a male professor’s name, “Drewry, Henry N,” but it contained at least as much information about Cecilia Hodges Drewry, a female professor who was married to Drewry. The archivist added the woman’s name, in brackets, to the man’s name, to make her records discoverable while trying to leave clear how the office originally named the file.
The Selected Correspondence of Margaret Randall includes correspondence relevant to gay and lesbian issues, and Randall is out and married to a woman, but the finding aid did not previously identify Randall as a member of the LGBTQ+ community or include terms to help users find these materials. The archivist added a sentence to Randall’s biographical note mentioning her wife, as well as adding subject terms and keywords in the scope and content note and in the list of subject terms.
In a collection of Western Americana Miscellaneous Manuscripts, the archivist added description to position the creators’ perspective, “The collection consists of miscellaneous source material…pertaining to the history of the American West and Southwest in the 19th century, largely from the perspective of white settlers.”
There are many others, but the last example I will mention is from the Ricardo Piglia Papers. Here the processing archivist used the languages of the original material in the finding aid. The collection- and series- level descriptions do appear in English, but titles and more detailed file- and item- level scope and content notes are written in Spanish.
As we move forward, we are pursuing various goals to be undertaken during this year, including conducting automated audits of EAD files, using XQuery, (1) in order to locate potential problems with description in our finding aids; assessing local subject headings usage and gaps; designing and implementing strategies for generating additional staff and public feedback on descriptive practices; as well as begin to seriously discuss which language to use when writing finding aids for archival collections in which most of the materials are not in English.
We recognize that our efforts to create respectful and inclusive description must be an ongoing process, and it’s just one of the ways that the archival field will evolve to be more inclusive, respectful, and culturally sensitive. If the profession wishes to seriously promote and value the ideals of diversity and inclusion that it often seeks to support and encourage, then we all collectively need to confront the biases in archival description and reconsider the language we use when describing materials.
(1) XQuery is a scripting language for querying large sets of XML data. This method was previously used to search the data in our EAD files as part of a project to survey for born-digital materials.
I started my position as the processing archivist for Latin American Manuscripts Collections in Special Collections about a year ago, and so far, I think it has been quite productive, but not without its challenges. Thankfully, I have the privilege of working with a magnificent, collaborative, and forward-thinking group of colleagues. One of our primary goals as stewards of unique archival collections should be to make as much of this material open and accessible to the user and research community as quickly as possible. Therefore, developing sustainable, efficient, and extensible processing practices requires rethinking traditional archival approaches and taking a more forward-thinking and integrated approach.
Unfortunately, large backlogs are quite common in our profession, as it was the case here when I arrived with regards to the Latin American manuscript collections. Backlogs in archival repositories can be traced to lack of staffing resources, as well as traditional archival processing techniques that have primarily focused on extremely detailed item to folder-level archival processing approaches, resulting in only a handful of collections being processed each year. This level of work, combined with an ever-increasing number of acquisitions, has led to an ever-growing number of unprocessed collections that are hidden from the public. One of the primary reasons why I was hired for this position had to do with my past experience dealing with large backlogs. In my two previous positions, I was able to considerably reduce the backlogs at those institutions in a relatively short amount of time, primarily through the application of efficient processing techniques to cut down on the time spent on each collection.
An article entitled, “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing” (1) written in 2005 by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner, had a profound influence in the archival profession. And aside from the overall misunderstandings behind the principles of “More Product, Less Process,” commonly referred to as MPLP, the fundamental takeaway from this approach is that perfect should not be the enemy of good, and that expediting the access to archival materials should be the main goal of our efforts. The Archival Description and Processing Team (ADAPT) in Special Collections has been working on developing guidelines for processing priorities and levels with this approach in mind, which will also support and enhance user access to materials as part of the recently developed strategic mission for Firestone Library. (2)
It is important to note that applying efficient processing techniques does not diminish the quality of archival processing, which should not be measured by the level of detail that is applied, but instead should be evaluated by how effectively a processed collection serves its users, and how wisely an archivist spent the limited resources of the particular repository. Moreover, one has to realize that a finding aid is a living document, as well as a descriptive surrogate for the materials themselves. We can’t do it all and we’ll never be able to find it all, and if warranted, additions/edits can be done after it has, first and foremost, been made accessible to the public. There have been various studies carried out since the publication of the article by Greene and Meissner, such as the survey of American archivists conducted in 2009, (3) focusing on the implementation of MPLP across archival repositories, which have clearly indicated the positive effect in reducing processing backlogs and improving research access.
As a result of implementing these efficient processing practices, I have been able to process several notable collections which are now available to the public. Some of these collections provide a clear contrast on how the organization (or lack thereof) of archival materials differs upon their arrival in our repositories. On one hand, some of the collections are highly organized upon their arrival, such as being placed in distinctive file groups and arranged chronologically and/or alphabetically, with folders clearly labeled, while others arrive in complete disarray, consisting of various types of materials scattered throughout, mostly unfoldered and unlabeled, and without any type of discernable organization.
One of these collections is the Carlos Fuentes Papers. Fuentes (1928-2012) was a Mexican author, editor, and diplomat, who produced an extensive body of work throughout his life. The papers were acquired back in 2013, after Fuentes’ death, and they represented an addition to an already processed collection. It consists of approximately 200 boxes, and materials include notebooks; numerous drafts of novels, short stories, screenplays, articles and essays, speeches, and translations; subject files; press clippings; audiovisual materials; drawings; and printed material. Since the collection was highly organized, it was arranged, for the most part, as received by the repository. Due to its considerable size, much of the processing time was spent performing data entry, reboxing, refoldering, and labeling. Fortunately, I had the valuable assistance of our summer resident, Alice Griffin, and one of our current student assistants, Alia Wood. And after about six years of being hidden in our stacks, this rich collection is now available to the public. Besides having had the privilege of processing the materials of one of my favorite authors while pursuing my undergraduate studies, I also discovered that Fuentes was a talented caricaturist, as seen below.
On the opposite spectrum, one of the collections I processed when I first arrived here was one of the most disorganized collections that I had worked on during my professional trajectory as a processing archivist. The papers began to arrive in periodic shipments in December 2018. All in all, a total of 15 large cartons were received. As I began to open the boxes, I immediately realized that the materials were in complete disarray. It consisted of various types of materials scattered throughout without any type of discernable organization (see image below). A few files had been foldered and sometimes labeled, but those were the exception. Additionally, a large number of the materials were undated, untitled, unattributed, and in many cases, drafts and fragments mixed together, which were impossible to separate and identify.
Therefore, given the disorganized state of the material upon receipt, a functional processing decision had to be made that required the application of current archival processes and best practices to be as efficient as possible with our limited resources and to expedite getting the collection into the hands of users. After performing an overall collection assessment, an arrangement was devised that reflected the sphere(s) of functions and/or activities deemed most appropriate to represent the overall context of the collection. Materials were arranged in file groups by type of materials, consisting of: Notebooks; Diaries and Journals; Writings; Correspondence; Printed Materials; and Other Materials. Furthermore, the writings were subdivided into the following file groupings: Poetry; Short Stories and Novels; Articles and Essays; Scripts; Translations; Other writings; and Writings by Others.
Another issue was how to proceed with the arrangement of the correspondence (see image below). There were about four large cartons containing correspondence, and after looking at other finding aids in the Latin American literary collections, I saw that arrangement in the past had been primarily done using the traditional processing approach of arranging them alphabetically. That particular arrangement might be feasible if the correspondence had arrived in somewhat discernable groupings, but in this particular situation, alphabetically arranging the correspondence would have taken a significant amount of time and effort. One of the most important things we do as archivists is processing, but it is also one of the most expensive, therefore, it is essential to take into consideration the amount of time and effort that we perform from the outset. If in the future, evidence warrants the re-processing of certain portions of the collection, we can always go back and revisit, but the time spent from the onset can never be regained.
I therefore decided that the correspondence was best arranged chronologically (by decades), which still took a considerable amount of time, almost a month. Only the correspondence that was received in identifiable groupings or was easily identified was separated and arranged by correspondent. Additionally, while separating the correspondence by decades, careful attention was undertaken in order to establish access points for prevalent and particular names found throughout.
Another important consideration in the archival profession is the principle of respect des fonds, which is the basis of archival arrangement and description, and refers to the combined principles of provenance and original order. The latter, as defined by the Society of American Archivists (SAA), “means that the order of the records that was established by the creator should be maintained by physical and/or intellectual means whenever possible to preserve existing relationships between the documents and the evidential value inherent in their order.”(4) Taking this principle into consideration, how much intervention should an archivist perform during processing? As an archivist, one has to be cognizant of how the records were created. The inherent nature of personal papers does not only simply document facts, but also the character, and other aspects of an individual’s inner life. We should not think that all archival materials will be used to simply indicate facts, dates, activities, and functional activities to researchers and historians, but might also shed light on the character of the creator.
Fundamentally, archives are used and archivists are not only guardians of information, we also have to be effective at making that information available for the public. We have to essentially shift our perception of what “processed” looks like and means, in order not to let perfection be the enemy of “good enough,” which has greatly hindered access to the resources that we are committed to. As processing archivists, it is quite gratifying to see the final results of our work being accessible to the public. By making decisions based on the mission, audience, and current resources of the institution, we can better serve our patrons and thus reduce our backlogs and provide access to our valuable collections in a timely manner for the benefit of the people.
(1) Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner (2005) More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing. The American Archivist: Fall/Winter 2005, Vol. 68, No. 2, pp. 208-263.
Princeton University Library’s Department of Special Collections is excited to offer the Archival Residency for Manuscripts Division Collections again this year. The residency provides a summer of paid work experience for a current or recent graduate student interested in pursuing an archival career.
Residency Description: The 2020 Resident will primarily gain experience in technical services, with a focus this year on arrangement and description of manuscript collections, including hybrid collections with born-digital and audiovisual materials. The Resident will also assist with in-person and/or remote reference and other public services related projects. The Fellow will work under the guidance of the team of processing staff responsible for collections within the Manuscripts Division, including the Lead Processing Archivist, Project Archivist for Americana Manuscripts Collections, Processing Archivist for General Collections, and the Latin American Processing Archivist, as well as the Reference Professional for Special Collections.
The Manuscripts Division is located in Firestone Library, Princeton University’s main library, and holds over 14,000 linear feet of materials covering five thousand years of recorded history and all parts of the world, with collecting strengths in Western Europe, the Near East, the United States, and Latin America. The Resident will primarily work with the Division’s expansive literary collections, the papers of former Princeton faculty, and collections relating to the history of the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The ten- to twelve-week residency program, which can begin as early as May, provides a stipend of $950 per week. In addition, travel, registration, and hotel costs to the Society of American Archivists’ annual meeting in August will be covered by Princeton.
Requirements: This residency is open to current graduate students or recent graduates (within one year of graduation). Applicants must have successfully completed at least twelve graduate semester hours (or the equivalent) applied toward an advanced degree in archives, library or information management, literature, American history/studies, or other humanities discipline, public history, or museum studies; a demonstrated interest in the archival profession; good organizational and communication skills; and the ability to manage multiple projects. At least twelve undergraduate semester hours (or the equivalent) in a humanities discipline and/or foreign language skills (particularly Spanish-language reading skills) are preferred.
The Library highly encourages applicants from under-represented communities to apply.
To apply: Submit a cover letter, resume, and two letters of recommendation addressed to the search committee at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Archival Residency.” Applications must be received by Monday, March 9th, 2020. Video interviews will be conducted with the top candidates, and the successful candidate will be notified by April 3rd.
Please note: University housing will not be available to the successful candidate. Interested applicants should consider their housing options carefully and may wish to consult the online campus bulletin board for more information on this topic.
When doing some research on this collection, I found that biographies of d’Eldir present conflicting information and are a bit fuzzy on the details. However, there is a general consensus that she was taken from India when she was young and converted to Christianity. Sources also say she was treated like an adopted daughter by Empress Josephine, Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife. From the mid-1820s on, she provided magnetism treatments from her residence in Paris. While several sources do report these elements of her life, I don’t mean to provide this information as fact, but more as an illustration of what has been written about her. It seems like there are very few contemporary works on her; the most recent publication I have found about d’Eldir was an article in Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts, published in 1894.
Portrait of Alina d’Eldir with some of the unknown handwriting in the collection, undated.
This is a small collection (less than 0.2 linear feet), but do not be fooled! The size of a collection does not necessarily match the complexity of description and processing efforts. Part of the challenge here was sorting through who the creator(s) versus the subject of this collection was. Although the description that arrived with the collection highlighted d’Eldir as the focal point of the collection, it did indicate that Mathieu-Guillaume-Thérèse Villenave (1762-1846) was the main creator and collector of the group of documents. Villenave was involved in the Ordre Asiatique de Morale Universelle, and edited a book about magnetism and Alina d’Eldir (La vérité du magnétisme, prouvée par les faits, 1829). The collection includes documents related to Villenave’s work with d’Eldir: correspondence from Alina d’Eldir (written on her behalf by her husband, and secretary, Charles Mercier) to Villenave, certificates from the Ordre Asiatique de Morale Universelle, and Villenave’s handwritten copies of testimonials describing d’Eldir’s magnetism treatments. However, other documents in the collection (other copies of testimonials, a portrait of d’Eldir) feature different handwriting. In addition, a typewritten bibliography about d’Eldir and her contemporaries includes a book published in 1912, well after the deaths of Villenave and d’Eldir. Two indications of other previous owners include a scrap of paper with the name Léon Féer (possibly Léon Féer, 1830-1902, the French linguist) and a book plate with the name Hans Fellner (possibly Hans Fellner, 1925-1996, the bookseller).
The dealer’s description also created some confusion about the creator versus subject of the collection because of how it concentrates on d’Eldir’s biography. This makes sense, of course, d’Eldir is an influential figure and the focus of the collection, but her voice and work are presented secondhand through materials created by others.
With all of this in mind, my supervisors on the Manuscripts Processing Team and I had several discussions about whether we should include a creator at all. If we put Villenave as the creator, would that not take into account the other creators involved in the collection? And then would that overshadow d’Eldir as the center of the collection? In the end, we decided to include Alina d’Eldir’s name as a subject in the controlled access headings and put Villenave as a creator. This makes it clear that Villenave is the main creator, while also indicating how the materials are about Alina d’Eldir rather than created by her. We also decided that transparency was the best approach to describing how much (or how little) is known about the collection’s history. We provided this information, including more recent creators/collectors of the papers, via the Custodial History note. Although the information I was able to provide was somewhat limited, it should prove useful to researchers, public services, and future processing archivists.
D’Eldir as a subject, as opposed to a creator, does not mean that the collection is less valuable, but I do think it means I should be mindful in my description. I didn’t want to contribute to under-describing d’Eldir, nor did I want to mischaracterize her; and further I didn’t want to perpetuate the descriptions of d’Eldir that exoticize her. When describing d’Eldir in the finding aid, I decided to stick with simple biographical statements, which were supported by materials in the collection (e.g. her position in the Ordre Asiatique de Morale Universelle and her connection to magnetism). In the interest of transparency, I used the Works Cited note to list the sources I consulted when writing Description notes.
As an archivist, it is important to provide description that is useful and as accurate as possible. At the same time, however, exhaustive, infallible description isn’t how researchers generally navigate to a collection. I think this is where keywords, subject headings, and name authorities come in. With thoughtful, accurate subject headings, I feel confident that researchers will find this collection. And those researchers may be able to reveal further details about the collection that we will want to add to the finding aid in the future.
Ultimately, the beauty of processing is that it is iterative; my description is not set in stone and nor should it be. Future archivists can edit and expand as researcher needs and best practices dictate.
Educational Background: I recently graduated from Pratt Institute in New York City with a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science, with a personal focus in archives and information technology. For my undergraduate degree, I studied anthropology and French at Barnard College in New York City.
Previous Experience: During college, I worked in the Barnard College Archives and Special Collections where I developed an intense appreciation of archival collections, archival work, and archivists themselves! For two summers during college I interned in the Archives and Modern Manuscripts Division at the National Library of Medicine.
After college, I taught English in French public schools, then returned to the U.S. and interned at the National Anthropological Archives, working in the reference room and on processing projects. In late 2016, I began working as the Metadata/Digitization Assistant at the Archives of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, where I continued working through graduate school.
Why I like Archives/Professional Interests: I like archives because it’s a field where continual learning and critical inquiry are encouraged. I also enjoy how archival work facilitates new research and scholarship. Generally, I am interested in how archival description can best facilitate access for different communities of users.
Other interests: I love live music in small venues and have a soft spot for good bar trivia.
Looking forward to working on the following project(s) while at Princeton: I’m looking forward to the many projects I’ll be working on this summer! I’ll be starting with processing the Peter Bunnell Papers; then, I’ll be working with some born-digital materials and French language collections. Also looking forward to responding to remote reference with public services.
Princeton University Library’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC) is excited to offer the Archival Fellowship for Manuscripts Division Collectionsagain this year. The fellowship provides a summer of paid work experience for a current or recent graduate student interested in pursuing an archival career.
Fellowship Description: The 2019 Fellow will primarily gain experience in technical services, with a focus this year on arrangement and description of manuscript collections, including hybrid collections with born-digital and audiovisual materials. Additional projects may include assisting with reference and other public services tasks. The Fellow will work under the guidance of the team of processing staff responsible for collections within RBSC’s Manuscripts Division, including the Lead Processing Archivist, Project Archivist for Americana Manuscripts Collections, Processing Archivist for General Collections, and the Latin American Processing Archivist.
The Manuscripts Division of Rare Books and Special Collections is located in Firestone Library, Princeton University’s main library, and holds over 14,000 linear feet of materials covering five thousand years of recorded history and all parts of the world, with collecting strengths in Western Europe, the Near East, the United States, and Latin America. The Fellow will primarily work with the Division’s expansive literary collections, the papers of former Princeton faculty, and collections relating to the history of the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The ten- to twelve-week fellowship program, which can begin as early as May, provides a stipend of $950 per week. In addition, travel, registration, and hotel costs to the Society of American Archivists’ annual meeting in August will be covered by Princeton.
Requirements: This fellowship is open to current graduate students or recent graduates (within one year of graduation). Applicants must have successfully completed at least twelve graduate semester hours (or the equivalent) applied toward an advanced degree in archives, library or information management, literature, American history/studies, or other humanities discipline, public history, or museum studies; a demonstrated interest in the archival profession; good organizational and communication skills; and the ability to manage multiple projects. At least twelve undergraduate semester hours (or the equivalent) in a humanities discipline and/or foreign language skills (particularly Spanish-language reading skills) are preferred.
The Library highly encourages applicants from under-represented communities to apply.
To apply: Applicants should submit a cover letter, resume, and two letters of recommendation addressed to the processing team at email@example.com. Applications must be received by Monday, March 4, 2019. Video interviews will be conducted with the top candidates, and the successful candidate will be notified by April 5th.
Please note: University housing will not be available to the successful candidate. Interested applicants should consider their housing options carefully and may wish to consult the online campus bulletin board for more information on this topic.
Under the supervision of the processing team for Manuscripts Division collections, the summer fellow will be assisting staff with various projects, particularly processing projects that will include working with paper-based, born-digital, and audiovisual content.
Educational background: I just graduated from The University of Texas at Austin where I obtained my Master’s degree in Information Studies at the School of Information. As an undergraduate I studied History and English at the University of Denver.
Previous experience: After graduating from college, I worked for several years in the Records department of a financial institution in Denver, Colorado. While I enjoyed the kind of work I was doing I knew I really wanted to work with special collections and materials that could be shared with the public.
In Austin, I had the opportunity to work for the Briscoe Center for American History as the Archives Intern and as a Graduate Research Assistant at the Alexander Architectural Archives. I also worked on a digitization project for a production company and an audiovisual project for South by Southwest.
Why I like archives/Professional interests: I feel lucky to have been exposed to archives early on. When I first started college I immediately went to the main library on campus to fulfill my lifelong dream of being paid to read books all day. Instead, the hiring manager heard I was planning on studying history and wisely assigned me to work in Special Collections and Archives.
Other interests: I love traveling! I grew up an Army Brat, so I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some amazing opportunities to live and study abroad. However, despite being fairly well traveled, this is my first time spending a significant amount of time on the East Coast. So I’m excited to spend my weekends exploring the area and visiting nearby cities. If anyone has any travel tips/suggestions let me know!
Looking forward to working on the following project(s) while at Princeton: This summer I will be processing legacy collections, testing and documenting born-digital workflows, learning how to use the 3D printer, working with public services and more! While I have spent the past year working with born-digital materials and creating documentation for digital preservation, I am excited to have the opportunity to process paper collections again and to work with public services.
Processing Archivist for Latin American Manuscripts Collections
Department: Rare Books and Special Collections
Requisition #: D-18-LIB-00024
Princeton University Library seeks an energetic, collaborative, forward-thinking archival description professional to create, manage, and enhance data for Manuscripts Division collections. Personal papers of Latin American literary, cultural, and political figures will constitute the majority of the position’s workload, though work in other collection areas may be assigned. Primary duties include processing and cataloging new acquisitions along with revising legacy finding aid data and catalog records as required by current practices and user needs. Management of audio-visual resources and digital assets is included in the position’s responsibilities. This position will supervise student workers. Archivists participate in committee work relating to policies, workflow, and system development and may contribute to digital humanities projects.
This position is available immediately. Applications received within 1 month of posting are guaranteed consideration.
Princeton is especially interested in qualified candidates who can contribute, through their commitment to the Library’s mission and vision, to the diversity and excellence of our academic community.
Master’s degree from an ALA-accredited program, or equivalent combination of other advanced degree and professional-level experience in a research library or archival setting.
Fluent reading knowledge of Spanish, either in connection with modern or contemporary literature, or demonstrated application of the language in a library, archives, or other research setting.
Hands-on manuscripts processing experience with collections varying in size and scope.
Familiarity with current developments in processing procedures.
Application of standards for manuscript and archival description such as DACS, EAD, and MARC and facility with managing the resulting descriptive data
Ability to work both independently and collaboratively in a team setting.
Excellent communication and interpersonal skills.
Ability to work effectively in a dynamic environment and with a diverse group of staff and patrons.
Experience with collection management tools such as Archivists’ Toolkit, Archon, ArchivesSpace, or similar system.
Knowledge of procedures for accessioning and describing born-digital materials and audiovisual media, and understanding of related preservation concerns.
Understanding of EAC-CPF. Processing experience with handwritten materials.
Proficiency with XSLT, XQuery or other such computing tools relevant to the management of archival descriptive data.
Experience with bibliographic MARC-format cataloging using RDA, AMREMM, or AACR2.
Knowledge of non-English languages that are significant to the position’s scope such as French or Portuguese.
The successful candidate will be appointed to an appropriate Librarian rank depending upon qualifications and experience.
Applications will be accepted only from the AHire website: https://puwebp.princeton.edu/AcadHire/position/6081 and must include a resume, cover letter, and a list of three references with full contact information. This position is subject to the University’s background check policy.
Requisition #: D-18-LIB-00024
Princeton University Library is one of the world’s leading research libraries. It employs a dedicated and knowledgeable staff of more than 300 professional and support staff working in a large central library, 9 specialized branches, and 3 storage facilities. The Library supports a diverse community of 5,200 undergraduates, 2,700 graduate students, 1,200 faculty members, and many visiting scholars. Its holdings include more than 10 million printed volumes, 5 million manuscripts, 2 million non-print items, and extensive collections of digital text, data, and images. More information: http://library.princeton.edu/
In technical services we emphasize our ability to query, manage, and transform data. At any given moment one or more of us will be using XSLT, XQuery, Microsoft Access, Open Refine, Python, or some other such tool to analyze or edit data in our various systems. In this post one such project is highlighted: moving data from the Visuals database for graphic arts to the Voyager catalog and the Blacklight discovery system.
The Visuals database was around for a long time. Its scope was ambitious: prints, drawings, photographs, paintings, sculpture, and other non-book objects in the Princeton University Library collections. However, its chief content was records for holdings of the Graphic Arts collection in RBSC. There was no declared descriptive standard, and field content was 100% free text. Inevitably data problems occurred. Only the iron discipline of Vicki Principi of RBSC brought some semblance of order to the data starting in 2004.
Visuals started out as a SPIRES database. Eventually it was migrated to SQL Server. At migration time the inconsistent data could not be normalized as usual for relational databases, so Stan Yates of the Library’s Systems Office (now Information Technology) created a very simple and flexible three-part data structure as shown below. Here is what one of over 750,000 Visuals database entries looked like via Microsoft Access:
Cruikshank, George, 1792-1878 [etcher]
These bits and pieces of data were assembled into complete records in forms and reports for presentation. The public interface, though greatly improved in recent years by Gary Buser of Information Technology, was difficult to use for those not already familiar with the structure and data conventions of Visuals. Also, because of its unorthodox internal structure the Visuals catalog was not connected to Aeon requesting functions. In an innovation, in 2014 Visuals records were added to Primo, then our discovery system. When Blacklight replaced Primo, Visuals records made the transition. The results were easily foreseeable: users could find and request materials in a familiar local searching environment. The transformation for Primo and Blacklight employed a local XML format called “Generic” that mimicked the structure of a MARC record, since Voyager MARC was the model the discovery systems were based on. The Visuals-to-Generic stylesheet became the basis of the one that was used to transform Visuals to MARC.
The decision to retire Visuals in favor of MARC was based on the specific need to facilitate the transition from the original Princeton University Digital Library (PUDL) to Digital PUL, or DPUL. DPUL has 2 “canonical” systems as data sources: Voyager (MARC) and the finding aids XML database (EAD). PUDL data based on Visuals constituted a large block of non-MARC, non-EAD records. Those records would not be migrated in their current custom VRA-encoded state. The simplest and most forward-looking solution is to transform Visuals as a whole to Voyager in MARC. Voyager/MARC is our best system for rich item-level bibliographic descriptions such as those in Visuals. Voyager/MARC provides an easy metadata path for future digitization projects. At the same time the shift to Voyager eliminates the need to maintain an isolated standalone system and provides a more functional and sustainable environment for cataloging and data management in RBSC.
The first step in converting Visuals to MARC was to output data in a workable format, by extract to XML via the Access front end. Queries produced 10 files based on the last digit of the Visuals record numbers. (Division into multiple files was done simply to provide files of manageable size.) Each resulting XML file was over 9 MB. The structure was the very opposite of complex: a <dataroot> element wrapping tens of thousands of elements like this from the file of records with ID numbers ending in 0:
The XSL stylesheet begins transformation by gathering “records” together in variables (by grouping the various Visuals elements that have idRecord in common), and then processes each resulting variable as a unit to produce a MARC XML record. For instance, the Cruikshank “Value” in the database illustration above—a single line of text–turns into the following MARC field 100 with 3 subfields, as part of bibliographic record number 10. The field even gets added punctuation per MARC conventions. If there are additional ARTIST elements they turn into 700 fields.
Of necessity, given the structure and content of Visuals, MARC leader and 008 values are chiefly arbitrary–with the exception of 008/07-10 (Date 1), which in many cases could be parsed out of the Visuals DATE field. Other infelicities exist when Visuals data varied from major patterns that could be coded in XSL, though valuable pointers from Nikitas Tampakis of Information Technology and Joyce Bell of Cataloging and Metadata Services brought the encoding much closer to standard MARC. Joyce’s thoroughgoing review prompted many stylesheet changes to make the records similar to current ones created according to RDA. A great number of the exceptions are being dealt with in bulk during post-processing now that the records have been loaded into Voyager.
Transformation of the Visuals XML output to MARC XML was a matter of minutes. After validation against the MARC XML format, the files were ready for conversion to MARC21 via Terry Reese’s MARCEdit conversion utility. This remarkable tool took only a few seconds to produce records that could easily be handed off for loading to Voyager.
In MARC 21 the field looks like this, as one of many fields in the record with 001 “10” and 003 “Visuals”:
As part of a MARC record it can be validated, indexed, displayed, and communicated in this form.
The MARC files were then bulk-loaded into Voyager by Kambiz Eslami of Information Technology and became available to users of Blacklight. Anyone can see Visuals record #10 at https://pulsearch.princeton.edu/catalog/10634093, identified by its new Voyager bibliographic record ID and with the original Visuals record ID now in an 035 field. If we so choose, the Voyager records can be exported to OCLC for inclusion in WorldCat.
Finished! (Except for the post-processing clean-up.)
The migration from Visuals to MARC is attended by a degree of irony. MARC is on the way out, according to many observers. What will take its place? BIBFRAME, or some other data format based on RDF (Resources Description Framework). What is the key structural feature of RDF? It’s “triples” – a combination of subject and predicate and object, with the predicate being the term that describes the connection between the subject and the object. Seen any triples lately? Why, yes: Visuals!!! Let’s apply RDF terms from Dublin Core (a simpler alternative to BIBFRAME) to our three-part Visuals statement, with a little help from VIAF, the Virtual International Authority file.
Or, as a human would read it: The work described in Princeton Visuals record #10 has creatorCruikshank, George, 1792-1878. “What’s a creator?” you might ask. The namespace prefix “dcterms” tells you that you can find out at the address indicated. (Cruikshank is labelled as an “etcher” in Visuals and in MARC, but Dublin Core does not go into specific function terms like that. Cruikshank is in the MARC 100 field in this record. The closest Dublin Core term representing the 100 “Main Entry” field is “creator” and that will serve to get users to the resource description.) In our Dublin Core statement, everything’s a URI, and life is sweet.
So, just in this brief note the same functional text has been shown encoded in 5 different ways: Visuals database format, XML extract from the database, MARC XML, MARC21, and RDF. Such multiple-identity situations are familiar to us. Many of the technical services staff are adept at understanding, manipulating, and when necessary actually inventing data encoding schemes and at moving data from one to another (and adapting the data as required to the new encoding environment). These skills have grown to be just as significant in our work as creating the data (metadata) in the first place. As the examples show, the significant content lives on no matter what form of coding is wrapped around it, and whether it is represented by text or by a URI. MARC is by no means the end of the road for Visuals or anything else. Conversion of MARC fields to RDF triples would mean a round trip for Visuals data. Was Visuals futuristic, structurally speaking? It’s a question for the historians. For now, we are going to move ahead one step at a time.