Objective #1 Reflection

 Archive Electronic & Physical Storage:

 The Pennsylvania State Archives houses its records both electronically/digitally and physically.  Both use a similar system of cataloguing items using a numerical distinction for each collection held in the archives.  Moving from the macro to the micro, in terms of archival organization, I will explain how the Archives stores its records.


Within the Archives, there are two main types of records obtained and stored.  Any collection of records received from a government office, organization, or entity is known as a record group and given the designation of RG.  Collections coming from private individuals or organizations are known as manuscript groups and given the designation of MG.  Over the years, the Archives has collected hundreds of records which fall into one of these two categories.  Within these categories, records are further broken down into groups, subgroups, series, subseries, and etc.  Organization of a particular collection is divided to resemble the original created order as close as possible.  Therefore, if a railroad company, for example, decides to break down its records according to type of record, i.e. drawings, sketches, ledgers, reports, then the Archives attempts to preserve this organization in physical storage.  Once the original organization structure of a collection is understood by the archivist processing it, then the record or manuscript group is broken down accordingly using an easily researchable and distinguishable filing system.  What follows is a hierarchy of organization which consists of five levels of arrangement.  On top is the record or manuscript group itself, that being the name of the collection preceded by the phrase 'Records of the...".  Beneath this are groups and subgroups--the first level of division.  At this level, records are associated with a specific creator, or the person/group who possessed the collection, following the principle of provenance (that of keeping records from a particular creator together).  Groups tend to be bureaus, divisions, departments, offices, and etc. within the collection.  In dividing a collection, anything considered a 'who,' or a person, organization, institution, or entity, has a group classification.  Some instances arise where a group exists, but within that group there are additional division that fall in the 'who' category.  Therefore, they become classified has subgroups.  At the third level are series.  While a group in a collection falls under 'who' classifications, a series is determined by the category 'who.'  Here, archivists follow the principle of original order (that of maintaining the natural groupings established by the creator) where documents relating to similar subjects or functions become grouped together.  For example, in a record group for the Department of Justice (level 1), a group may consist of the Office of the Attorney General (level 2) and the series beneath that may have files on pardons or correspondences (level 3).  Series are generally organized chronologically, alphabetically, by types of material, by types of actions, or through a numerical filing sequence.  A series can also be divided into subseries when it appears a natural division occurs or where a subset of files is nested in a larger set.  The final two levels in the hierarchy are at the file and document division.  Within a series are file folders with the chronological, alphabetical, or numerical order.  In a record group containing government files for a particular county (level 1), for instance, a group may be designated for records pertaining to the office of protonotary (level 2) where series contain documents for birth, death, and marriage certificates (level 3).  File folders within birth records in this example record group may be organized alphabetically by the last name on the birth certificate (level 4).  Finally, within each file folder, documents could further be organized perhaps by a registration number or by complex alphabetical order.

Each record or manuscript group get assigned a particular number.  The Baldwin manuscript group I worked on for example went by the numerical designation of MG 427.  Additionally, each series within the record or manuscript group is assigned a number as well.  In the Baldwin manuscript group, the old card system engineer drawings that I catalogued were given the number 427.37.  These numerical designations appear on the Archives website and in finding aids available in the Archive search room to keep information organized.

When the Archives began collecting records, records and manuscript groups were placed physically together in storage.  As collections were added and became larger, some of the collections were split and placed in available space.  Each carton or box for the records are placed on numbered shelves used in finding requested material.  All material stored in the archives must be contained in boxes, cartons, or folders that are acid free and allow material to stand/sit without bending or folding.


Information about the Archives collection is also stored electronically.  Each record group and manuscript group owned by the Archives is documented in an Access database called the Common Standard Value or CSV.  Due to the fact that the digital world changes constantly and quickly, it has become important for all the information concerning each collection be stored digitally so that it can then be transferred to newer programs and databases.  Within the CSV, each record group and manuscript group is recorded by number, name, and location.  Additionally, all series and groups within the collection are noted with their series descriptions and identifying numbers.  Information is stored in such a way as to allow material to be easily researched by patrons as well as internally by archives staff.

In attempts to become standardized, the archives field has adjusted its notation system to be easily assimilated into the code used by librarians.  The format used to arrange information about each collection into the CSV follows the categories created by librarians in recording information about material electronically.  Currently, there are several archive programs available that store information using this arrangement which the Archives might later have access to.  Therefore, the Archives has a goal of putting its collections in a database it currently has which will easily transfer into such programs.


Productivity Chart:

This chart, attached below, shows the tasks accomplished and processes taught each day during my internship at the State Archives.  The first couple of columns detail each date and the corresponding time I spent at the Archives.  Below, I will explain what each column records:

In the column titled 'Pages,' I have noted the number of items I retrieved for patrons coming into the Archives.  Researchers and history buffs are encouraged to come into the Archives to take advantage of the vast array of knowledge maintained and kept in Archives storage.  Each item retrieved by an archivist, called a Page when on duty to retrieve material, must be recorded.  Every week, I spent several hours 'on call' to be summoned to get patron requests.  The numbers in this column are representative of the familiarity I had to acquire of Archive storage procedures.  I needed to be able to decode the storage filing system  and then retrieve the corresponding items quickly and efficiently.

In the column titled 'Baldwin,' I have noted the number of entries made each day to a spreadsheet used to catalogue individual engineering drawings.  Within the Archives, there is a manuscript group (MG) collection of railroad records for the Baldwin-Hamilton Railroad Company.  My task was to record numerical and other relevant data from each old card system engineer drawing into an Excel spreadsheet.  This information will later be used to assist researchers coming to the Archives in finding the sources they need for study.  The Baldwin manuscript group I worked with, given the number MG 427.37 for archival storage purposes, included a variety of sized drawings each with a complex array of data I first had to decipher, and then record.  Drawings came in flat boxes appropriate to the size of the drawing which I sorted alphabetically (this information being indicated in the last column of the chart).

In the column titled 'CSV,' I have noted my productivity within an electronic storage system known as CSV, or Common Standard Value.  This project required that I transfer descriptions for records within record groups (RG) from the Archives website into an Access database.  Organized in such a way, this information about each record group can be stored electronically for the long-term and be available for potential transfer to other Archive digital storage programs.  Also, I worked with one RG that required in its html-Dreamweaver format, which was then inputted into the CSV database.  The chart shows individual record groups I completely transferred as well as check marks showing days where I worked in the CSV database.

In the column titled 'Videobank,' I have noted any days where I worked with purely electronic and digital records in a system the Archives terms Videobank.  For this project I specifically worked with Governor Rendell's digital photographs given to the Archives by Commonwealth Media Services.  A special database was created to handle such records using Apple computers.  My task in this project was to create metadata, or descriptions/summaries, for groups of photographs of events the Governor attended.  This involved looking at groups of digital photographs and press releases for these events to create the metadata.  The chart indicates a check on days in which I worked with this system.

In the column titled 'Training,' I have noted any instruction I received that day from one of the archivists.  This column shows that I continued to learn new systems and procedures throughout my internship.  On these days, I was introduced to one or more different processes important to archival work.

In the column titled 'Other,' I have noted any additional tasks I completed each day.   These include cleaning Civil War Muster-Out Rolls, any additional work with the Baldwin manuscript group, and other tasks I was assigned throughout my internship. 

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Objective #2 Reflection

Tasks of the Digital Archivist:

Throughout the course of my internship at the State Archives, I had the opportunity to observe my supervisor Kurt Bell, as well as other archivists, doing their daily jobs.  Below I will describe the various tasks I observed Mr. Bell and other archivists doing.

While there were continuing projects that Mr. Bell worked on throughout my time at the Archives, most days involved quite a bit of variety.  As a specialist on material concerning Pennsylvania railroads, Mr. Bell often consulted with researchers looking into topics associated with the Archives extensive railroad collection and answering requests for railroad material.  An archivist, no matter what division they may work in, specializes in a particular area of records that the institution possesses.  There are some archivists where I did my internship whose focus was land records, while others focused on records concerning state governors.  When researchers come in looking at a particular area, an archivist specializing in their research topic will aid them in finding information quickly and effectively.

Each archivist, Mr. Bell included, takes turns greeting visitors to the Archives Search Room.  They register patrons and introduce them to the archive research policies in addition to helping patrons with any issues finding material.  Once a week, Mr. Bell was scheduled to help patrons in the Search Room for a couple of hours.  This involved knowledge of electronic and physical storage of archive collections as well as how to operate microfilm machines.  Since microfilm makes up a large portion of the collections, it being a smaller and more long-term form of storage, all archivists need to have a knowledge of how to operate microfilm.  Seeing this important requirement, Mr. Bell spent one afternoon explaining microfilm operations to me.

If patrons are unable to come into the archives and conduct research themselves, they email an archivist requesting information.  During my internship, Mr. Bell received several emailed requests ranging in complexity.  Helping Mr. Bell with these requests opened my eyes to the difficulty involved in perceiving the needs of researchers.  This process involved open communication with the researcher and ingenuity in finding what patrons need.

As a digital archivist, a majority of Mr. Bell's work involved using some kind of technological device.  This division of the archives is responsible for maintaining records in electronic databases, cataloguing electronic records, and updating information for the website.  Mr. Bell aided with all of these operations at least once during my internship.  Most of this work occurred at a desktop computer utilizing different programs and systems.  An archivist in this position, I came to realize, needs to have a comfortable familiarity with programs like Microsoft Office, Dreamweaver, and several archives specific programs.

Objective #3 Reflection

Preserving the Past:

 For a historian, it is a powerful moment to hold a tangible something from the past in our hands, to understand the story behind it--the struggles and joys.  An even greater 'wow' moment occurs when we have slaved over this article of the past, cared for it and attempted to bring it back as close as possible to its original condition.  While at the archives, I mainly worked with two-dimensional documents, paper that has managed to last the test of time. During this internship, I had the priviledge to clean and preserve Civil War Muster-Out Rolls from units in Pennsylvania.  These documents attest to the bravery and courage of thousands of men who fight for a cause they strongly believed in.  The Muster Rolls, according to the Pennsylvania Heritage Society, contain the official government records for each of the "approximately 362,000 soldiers who comprised the regiments, battalions, colored troops, veterans' reserves, and militia raised by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania between 1861 and 1865."  Over the past 150 years before coming to the archives prior to conservation, the Muster Rolls became severely deteriorated from overuse.  In many of the documents I cleaned, there were several tears and deep folds.  Dirt and grime also accumulated on the surface of these documents often obscuring writing.  As part of a six year on-going project, I have joined several conservators coming to the archives to restore these historic documents.  While at the Archives, I learned the proper procedure for cleaning and preserving the Muster Rolls, but additionally, I learned about the men who fought in the last war to occur on US soil.

Under the instruction of archivist Steve Noel, I began cleaning these fragile documents hesitantly and with utter care.  Cleaning involved the following process:

    1. After first washing my hands to remove the oils from my hands that could damage the documents, I began setting up my work station.  The table to clean the documents needs to be cleaned and covered with reemay and matte (paper that resembles tissue paper).  These provide an acid free surface in which to clean the documents. Then I gathered the supplies I would need to clean.
    2. Having already been removed from their folded and boxed state, I retrieved each document from an appropriately sized cabinet erected to house the Muster Rolls.  Each document is carefully carried to the cleaning tables where it first goes under a close inspection to gain a general idea of the amount of cleaning needed for the document and to take note of especially fragile areas around tears and folds.
    3. Any folded corners or edges need to be flattened.  This is done using a small wedged shaped spatula which is smoothed over these folded areas with the help of reemay paper to protect the document.
    4. Crumbing = Depending on the size of the document (and its subsequent pieces if torn), the document can be divided into sections.  With the Muster Rolls generally measuring 31"X40", dividing each into four sections usually provides an adequately sized space for this step.  Taking one section at a time, weights are applied around the area to be cleaned; weights consisting of reemay paper, plotter paper, a piece of glass, and a weight which help the document stay in place during crumbing.  Once weighted, the section is sprinkled with crumbs (or eraser shavings) with enough to sufficiently cover the surface.  Using an eraser, the crumbs are moved around the document in a circular motion for about 20 minutes.  No apparently visible signs of cleaning will take place, except for very dirty places with which more time is devoted, but the crumbs will gradually become darker as a sign they are absorbing dirt.  During this part of the process, it is important to be careful and aware of tears and snags the eraser may catch on as well as any pencil written on the document.
    5. Crumbs can be moved from section to section using brushes.  Since the documents are two-sided, crumbing must be done on both sides.  Once both sides have been completely crumbed, the crumbs should be removed as completely as possible from the document and surrounding area.
    6. After the document has been crumbed, an eraser can be directly applied to any areas needing additional closer cleaning.  Often folds, creases, and edges tend to have more dirt and require more attention.  Once erased as much as possible (sometimes there are spots that simply will not be removed), the document should be brushed again to remove eraser shavings and crumbs that might have been missed before.
    7. As a final step in cleaning, the document can be gone through with a molecular trap.  Traps take the shape of small bouncy balls that are extremely sticky which are meant as a final dirt removal technique.  This method is mainly applied to edges, folds, creases, and other fragile places in the document.  Using reemay paper, the trap is carefully rolled from the reemay paper to the document and back onto another piece of reemay.  This is done to prevent tearing and to specifically target certain areas.  Despite how carefully this step may be done, the document can tear and pieces can break off the document.  In these cases, proceed with even more caution.  Any pieces that become detached should be saved for the mending process.
    8. A final, thorough brushing should be done to finish off cleaning.  The document should be wrapped carefully in new tissue paper and stored in a drawer designated for documents to be mended.

From here, documents are then mended, deacidified, and encapsulated in mylar plastic.

During the cleaning process, I had multiple opportunities to study these documents, read their contents, and wonder at the stories.  Who were these men?  How many of them survived four years of warfare?  What kind of friendships did they create in a time of utter horror?  Reading each of the names and the comments about them, you can't help but wonder who they were, what their story was, who they left behind.  Most of them, on the documents I cleaned, were young ranging in age between late teens to mid twenties.  When you are holding these documents, it is hard to keep in mind that these Muster Rolls are records of actual people.  Though they passed on long ago, these soldiers lived and breathed an America drastically different from our own today, but in some ways the same.  I wonder, as I look at the names listed, how many of these men's' stories have gone unspoken?  Is there something from their lives we could learn from?

As a historian, the questions are boundless, the curiosity endless.  In some way, I feel that cleaning these documents allows these men a voice, to be seen and heard.  They fought in horrors beyond imagination and they will be remembered through this simple act of preservation.  Every time I took a document out of the cabinet, I did so with the knowledge that I would be giving these men a place in history.  I gave theses men a step into the historical conversation where perhaps their stories could be researched and discoveries could be made.  I felt priviledged to give these men a lasting presence in the future.   

 Objective #4 Reflection

The Digital Archives:

 In the modern age, much of the material we now possess appears somewhere online or in electronic files.  As an act of preservation, the State Archives catalogues each of its collections using some kind of digital database--an ongoing and long process.  I saw a portion of this endeavor during my internship with a couple of the projects I was assigned.

The Baldwin Project: The Archives possesses a manuscript group collection from the Baldwin-Hamilton Railroad Company (otherwise called MG 427) from which several types of records exist.  I worked specifically with the Old Card System Engineer Mechanical Drawings dating from the 1880s to the 1950s.  Organized first by size then alphabetically, I catalogued all relevant numerical data from the drawings into an Excel spreadsheet.  This was done so that researchers looking into the collection could easily research a particular part or pattern number or some other numerical value they know of and then the information they seek could easily be found.  This project taught me how to navigate Excel with more ease and how to examine a document quickly and thoroughly for specific information.  At the beginning of the project, I struggled to decode the various different number types exhibited on each drawing in order to place them in the correct column on the spreadsheet.  I had to learn how to 'read' each drawing, especially when certain engineers displayed information in a different way from others.  By the end of the learning process, I became well versed in railroad vocabulary and could identify what certain numbers indicated on these drawings.

CSV Project: For organization and research purposes, the Archives has established a digital database that records all the record and manuscript groups on site, along with their respective location designations, series numbers, and descriptions.  To begin, all the record and manuscript groups that have been accessioned and processed are put into an Access database.  Under the tutelage of Archivist Sharon Nelson, I put four record groups into the system.  In order to do this, I had a crash course in archives arrangement and library science cataloguing formats.  Since much of the information about each record group can be found on the Archives website, I also learned the basic mechanics of the Dreamweaver program.  With detailed instructions, I was able to complete my portion of this project with relative ease.  It helped that I was able to quickly learn how to use Dreamweaver and Access.  During my internship, this first portion of the project was completed.  In the next steps, each manuscript and record group needed to be edited in its Access form when compared to what the website presents.  This was done to catch any spelling or organizational mistakes made during the data input stage.  Once this is completed, I learned that all the information will be transferred, hopefully with complete success, into a database designed to handle archives data--the one available to the Archives being called Archive Space.  Once in this database, the information is easily and safely stored and accessible.  I saw how much planning had to go into the initial stage of this project in order for the final transfer to go smoothly.  In the next months, all the information will continue to be edited and finally transferred to the database.  I found it rewarding to contribute to this project and to see how what I did added to a larger initiative.

Videobank Project: Any media relating to events involving the Governor of Pennsylvania have begun to appear, in the last couple of years, in digital format through Commonwealth Media Services.  In partnership with the State Archives, a system was created called Videobank in which to store the still images, videos, and other media related to Pennsylvania Governors.  Using an IMac computer and a Digital Services software, these images can be identified individually and also within their groups.  For this project I worked with still images of Governor Edward Rendell.  For each group of photos, detailing events and press conferences, I was instructed to create metadata, or a description of the group.  To do this, I had to take a general survey of all the pictures in the group to get a feel for what was shown.  Then I had to do a little bit of research into news releases and press releases issued about the event in question to figure out what it was generally about, what was said, who spoke and did what.  From this information, I had to create a clear and concise overview of the picture group.  My writing skills were put to the test here, as I had to summarize sometimes large groups of pictures of large events into no more than four sentences.

These various projects taught me how archive documents and information are made available digitally to the public for research and processed using digital programs and databases.  This important aspect to archival work helps researchers and archivists easily navigate among vast numbers of collections to find specific information.  It also offers archives another way to preserve their collections.  Working with the digital archivists at the State Archives gave me a close look into the kind of work involved in storing our nation's treasures.    

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