Beacon Street Diary
by Sara Trotta, Librarian
I could go by actual age, in which case there are the cuneiform tablets from the Pratt collection, allegedly several millennia old. When someone asks “what’s the oldest thing here?” they are in part making an appeal to authority. They’re asking “what’s the most important thing in your collection?”. This conflation of age and authority is nothing new. I’m reminded of the staff bookclub’s recent reading about the history of the Bible which describes Jerome’s trouble having his new translations accepted as canon for the first few hundred years of their existence, until they’d gained a fine patina of old age. Certainly, when Pratt acquired the tablets, being able to boast something so old lent a certain weight to his collection and his prowess as a collector, but unless you can read them, these tablets can’t be much more than a curiosity.
Sometimes this question is shorthand for “what’s the most valuable thing in your collection?”. This also has no easy answer. First, you have to ask “most valuable to whom?” And “valuable in what sense?” Age is only a small part of the equation. What one researcher considers an unparalleled find may be completely useless to another. Age may generally correlate with monetary value in the sense that the older a book is, the fewer there are likely to be in the world. But if no one is interested in buying a book, it doesn’t matter how old or how scarce it might be.
As someone who has several 300 year old items sitting on my desk at this very moment, I often have to remind myself that old is relative and my perception is quite skewed. Several years ago, a couple came into the library hoping to find the Museum of African American history which used to have its offices in our building. We got to talking about the Granary Burial Ground located right outside our reading room windows and the Boston Massacre and they asked if we had anything in the collection about it that they could see. I brought out The Trial of the British Soldiers, of the 29th Regiment of Foot, for the murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr, on Monday Evening March 5, 1770, originally published in 1807. I sheepishly apologized that I didn’t have something more contemporary on hand to show them, but I don’t think my apology had even registered. They were thrilled with the pamphlet, thrilled that they were able to hold it and read it for themselves, thrilled that they were allowed to handle something so ‘old’. It was a good reminder for me and my lack of enthusiasm for anything printed after 1800 about the capacity the material in our collection has to evoke wonder and how easy it is to invite someone in and make them feel part of the story. It’s good to be reminded that age is just a number, and selfishly, this is just the sort of thing I’m missing most while we wait for things to return to something resembling ‘normal’.
*Note: staff are very careful not to roll bookcarts into anything.
by Tom Clark, Library Directorcannonball.
But this blog is about Gloucester’s Second Parish, formed when members of the First Parish petitioned in 1712 to form their own parish due to geographical constrains of traveling from West Gloucester (the Annisquam River and many adjacent tidal salt marshes made travel difficult to West Gloucester). The Meeting House was built in 1713 and was located near what is today the intersection of Concord Street and Bray Street in West Gloucester. Though it was torn down in 1842, it still lives on for those willing to explore the beautiful woods of the Tompson Street Reservation (named after Rev. Samuel Tompson, the first Pastor of the Second Parish) with a Meeting House clearing and an overgrown, forested burial ground.
Besides the scenic coast of which Cape Ann is most known for, the interiors are full of beautiful, hilly, rocky forests. Shared between Rockport and Gloucester is an area known as Dogtown, an early settlement with a storied past which I will write about in a future blog. In West Gloucester, is the Tompson Street Reservation, with many hiking paths ranging from easy to challenging.
On the northern end of the Concord Street loop is an overgrown entrance with another sign for the “Old Thompson Street Second Parish.” There are stone walls along the old cart path that show territorial usage from years ago. The woods are quite dense, so it would be easy to miss the burial ground unless you keep an eye out for a new formation in the stone walls. When you see the stone walls forming an enclosure, careful inspection reveals slate slabs that turn out to be grave markers (remember…Cape Ann is strewn with rocks everywhere, so it’s not unusual to see rock croppings in the woods).
Entering the burial ground yields several scattered headstones in various states of disrepair, but some are still legible, honoring the departed. Findagrave lists all the stones that have been identified (including several which were removed). The most interesting of these is that of Deacon William Haskell which has survived a tree trunk growing around the headstone.
Information for this blog was gathered from the following material in the Congregational Library Collection:
The Church in the Wilderness 1713 – 1988 by Carl F. Viator, in our West Gloucester Trinitarian Congregational Church collection
Special thanks to Lise Breen, a Researcher, Writer and Gloucester Historian, and Jeff Cooper, New England Hidden Histories Program Director for sharing their historical knowledge of Second Parish.
by William McCarthy, Processing and Reference Archivist
Today’s highlight will be MS4981, the Edward Franklin Williams papers, 1859-1918. The Williams papers were given to us from the Chicago Theological Seminary in 2011 and 2015. The Amistad Research Center in Tulane also has a collection on Williams which you can view by going HERE.
Edward Franklin Williams was born in Uxbridge, Massachusetts on July 22, 1832. He graduated from Yale in 1856 after which he spent three years teaching in Connecticut and Massachusetts. When the Civil War broke out, Williams joined the Christian Commission where he distributed religious literature, medical aid, and various supplies to Union troops. After the war, the Congregational church at Whitinsville, Massachusetts ordained him on October 17, 1866. After Whitinsville, Williams moved to Illinois and served the Tabernacle Congregational Church from 1869-1873. In 1873, he moved on to a pastorate at the South Congregational Church in Chicago, Illinois from until 1891. Afterwards, Williams was a delegate to the International Congregational Council in London, England. He spent several years abroad and studied at the University of Berlin after which he published “Christian Life in Germany” in 1896. Williams served as the Editor of the Congregationalist, Director of the Chicago Missionary Society, and president of the Chicago Tract Society which published and distributed Christian literature. Williams died in Evanston, Illinois on May 26, 1919.
The finding aid for this collection can be found HERE. If you have any interest in viewing this collection once the library reopens, or you have any other CLA related questions, do not hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay safe and have a great day!
Perhaps the most accurate thing one can say about the Salem witch trials is that our modern cultural understanding of them is plagued by inaccuracy. One such misconception is simple seasonality. Salem, both the town itself and the wider cultural concept, is now indelibly associated with Halloween, but the executions of the falsely-accused victims of the hysteria actually occured in the heat of the Massachusetts summer, from June to September, 1692.
An omnipresent darling of American folklore, the witch trials narrative is enjoying a notable resurgence ushered in with the publication of Stacy Schiff's The Witches, and, albeit on a less scholarly note, a plethora of TV shows including WGN's Salem, the Travel Channel's Witches of Salem, and Freeform's Motherland: Fort Salem. The latter features an alternate history in which the "witches" A) were actual witches, and B) shacked up with the local militia to provide supernatural assistance in battle, and seem to have subsequently been conscripted into the U.S. army.
I personally enjoy such whimsical adaptations and artistic license - Disney's Halloween classic Hocus Pocus remains one of my favorite films of all time - and censorship in the name of historical accuracy would be downright, well, Puritanical. However, I frequently find myself wondering how the events of 1692 have become so twisted in the American imagination. Outside of Massachusetts, the witch trials of the North Shore merit only a passing mention in the historical curriculum, high-school theater productions of The Crucible notwithstanding, allowing popular misinformation to flourish.
Sometimes misconception takes the form of conflation with the long-lived European trials, much more severe in both brutality and body count; although torture was also utilized in Salem, the total death toll was "only" 25. At the opposite end of the spectrum, supernatural powers continue to be attributed to the accused, who were in fact hapless victims of religious hysteria and score-settling, and mostly faithful church-goers. Not to mention the more subtle, but no less popular, proliferation of reductivist theories around the hysteria, like blaming the entire thing on moldy rye.
Popular scholarly tomes like Schiff's go some way toward redressing this balance. I am proud to say that the Congregational Library also played its part in advocating for better research and access, as part of the New England's Hidden Histories program. During CLIR-funded project work in 2016-17, we partnered with the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, digitizing and publishing their archival collections related to Congregationalism. Among these were a number of witchcraft trial records, which fall under the same nascent-Congregationalist category as other Puritan sources.
Unsurprisingly, PEM/Phillips holds a substantial portion of the legal documentation produced during the trials, including testimony and court transcripts, since the events occurred in their metaphorical backyard. (Others are held variously by the Boston Public Library, Massachusetts Historical Society, Massachusetts Archives, Essex County Court Archives, Essex Institute, New York Public Library, and Maine Historical Society). Most of the Phillips Library trial records had already been digitized by the University of Virginia in 2002, as part of their comprehensive Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive project - even now the project website remains the "hub" for Salem witch trial research, a treasure trove of original records, transcriptions, and contextual information.
However, subsequent to UVA/PEM's digitization of the records in the early 2000s, several other trial documents were identified within the collections. These were the primary subject of the Hidden Histories digitization and publication scheme. In our Salem Witchcraft Trials collection page, we aligned our newly digitized records with UVA's digital library, filling in occasional gaps, and in some cases providing higher-resolution surrogates of previously digitized records. The resulting collection is the most complete roster of the PEM/Phillips trial documents available online.
I lately found myself returning to the primary-source narratives while listening to the audiobook of Schiff's The Witches, borrowed free-of-charge from my local library via the Libby smartphone app (FYI). For the second time since working with the digitized records, it struck me that the historical details of the trials and their supernatural testimonials are perhaps stranger than any modern re-imagining (yes, even Motherland: Fort Salem). Strolling along the Deer Island waterfront near my home in Winthrop, Mass. I can just glimpse the distant headlands of Salem and Marblehead, often overshadowed by dark pillars of cloud. On these blisteringly hot summer days, the events of 1692 seem very far away indeed. But the more I delve into the real story of Salem, the more I am reminded that these spectres of history are closer than we think, and certainly not relegated to Halloween alone.
The Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP was first published in 1910. It is still available in digital form today where it is described as “a quarterly journal of politics, culture, civil rights and history that seeks to educate and challenge its readers about issues facing African-Americans and other communities of color”. W.E.B. DuBois was already a well-known scholar and spokesman for African Americans and civil rights when he became founding editor of the magazine. He served as editor-in-chief until 1934.
Under DuBois’s leadership, the magazine flourished, growing from 1,000 subscribers in its first year to over 100,000 by 1918. DuBois exerted a tremendous amount of creative control during his tenure and used the magazine as a vehicle to express many of his own political views. He was particularly interested in promoting a progressive, dignified image of African-American people, promoting the rise of African American colleges, and expressing support for the Pan-African movement. He also used the magazine to expose and criticize discrimination and call for action in response to violence and civil rights abuses perpetrated against Black people. In particular, he called attention to lynching, advocated a ban on the White supremacist film, Birth of a Nation, and discrimination faced by African-American military servicemen.
Politics and news was a major topical focus for the magazine, but under literary editor Jessie Redmon Fauset’s leadership, The Crisis became a major showcase for African-American literary and artistic talent during the Harlem Renaissance. She published early works from such luminaries as Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston.
The Congregational Library holds issues from 1911-1926, some of the magazine’s most influential years. This includes Langston Hughes’s first published poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, originally printed in the June 1921 issue. These holdings and the fact that they came to us via a contemporary subscription rather than a donation are reflective of Congregationalists’ historical support for and involvement in civil rights movements. While the library’s reading room remains closed to the public, many of these issues have been digitized and are available for free online. If you have questions or would like a closer look at some of these issues (which I highly recommend--the illustrations and photographs are fantastic!), please email us at email@example.com.
by Zachary Bodnar, Archivist
In the meantime, though, I wanted to use this space to discuss some actions you and your church community can do to setup a records retention program. First though, it is important to note how a church records program is different from a church archive. While both hold your records, only the records program contains what are considered “active” documents. Active documents are living records which are maintained for legal, business, tax, or administrative purposes. These include everything from tax forms to employment records to board reports to policy documents. Anything that is an active record is something which may need to be quickly and readily retrieved as part of your organization’s daily operations. When they become inactive records, and are therefore no longer part of a records program, they are either destroyed or permanently placed into the archive.
A records retention program, simply put, is a set of policies which determine what happens to today’s records after they are produced. These are the records your church organization produces daily and may include everything from the Parish Committee’s meeting minutes, to the employee manual, to financial audit forms, to an email from the office admin to the head deaconess. It can be daunting to think about the plethora of documents you make year in and out, but by creating policies now, you can ensure that important records, and memories, are kept forever more. Below is an overview of steps your church can take to begin thinking about, and drafting policies for, your records retention program.
Step 1 – Create a Records Committee:
Establishing a Records Committee will be an important first step. More heads are better than one, especially when it comes to trying to get a handle on your church’s records. The committee should ideally include members of your church organization’s administrative staff, ministerial staff, volunteers, and parishioners. If your church has a history or archives committee, the records committee should include someone from those committees, but should otherwise be a separate entity which works alongside the archival program.
Step 2 – Audit your Records:
This will be the most difficult and time-consuming step. The records committee should, over a period of 1-3 months, establish a protocol to systematically determine the types and volume of records your church organization regularly produces. This audit should also determine how those records are stored, either physically or digitally, and if there are any current policies in place which affect the storage and preservation of those records. It may be best to assign record types to broad categories, such as financial records, administrative records, building records, board records, and activity/social records, to help break down this task into smaller parts and to help further contextualize your records.
Step 3 - Create a Draft Retention Schedule:
One of the most valuable tools for a records management program is a retention schedule, a broad policy document which uses the information from the audit to specify how long each record type is kept and maintained as an active document before either transferring to the archive or being destroyed. Every state will have slightly different rules for employment and financial records, but the MissionBox Global Network has a simple guide for how long most record types should be maintained for non-profit organizations which may be adapted for use by churches: Document Retention for US Nonprofits: A Simple Guide. May records created which do not fall into business, legal, and tax related categories may be able to be retained for short periods of time, less than a year, before transferring to an archive.
Step 4 – Create a Records Storage Policy
With a draft retention policy in place, the next step is to create a singular repository to store those records. This can be as simple as a filing cabinet or as complex as a storage closet, depending on your church’s physical space and resources, but in general, the goal is to create a policy which clearly states where records types should be stored while they remain active documents. This policy should also cover electronic records; one easy method to create a central repository for digital records is to purchase an external hard drive upon which copies of all digital records may be transferred. It is ideal, when handling digital records, to create a policy on how digital files should be named and to create a well-documented file folder structure into which digital files are placed.
Step 5 – Create a Transfer and Destruction Policy
Simply put, not all records, digital or physical, can be kept permanently. Using the audit and retention schedule, the records committee, in dialogue with the archives committee if applicable, should determine which records, after they become inactive, should be preserved, and transferred to a permanent archive, and which should be destroyed. There is not a perfect formula to determine this, and every church community will have different standards and practices that best fit their needs. As a starting point though, I find it helpful to think about which record types tell a story. For example, while board reports tell a story about the happenings of a church at specific moments in time, IRS forms typically say little about a church organization’s daily life that is not documented elsewhere. Another general rule to think about is that records which include personally identifiable information, such as bank account and social security numbers, are generally safer to destroy rather than keep permanently as part of an archive.
These five steps are broad and without much detail, but my hope is that they can become a starting point as you and your church organization think about creating a records retention program. And during this time of remote work and zoom meetings, much of this work can be done remotely. Of course, the CLA is always happy to help too; please always feel free to send us an email. Our goal is the preservation of your memories, regardless if your records are held with us or not. And of course, we look forward to going into more detail with our newly revised booklet in the near future.
by William McCarthy, Processing and Reference Archivist
Today we are going to look at collection RG0069, Dorchester, Mass. Second Church records. This collection originally formed out of a donation in 1963 but was not properly added to the collection until 1989. In 2019, the CLA received a large deposit of material and the collection was re-processed in June 2019. Our collection spans the entire life of the church, including records from before it was established.
The beginnings of Second Church in Dorchester started when it was organized on January 1, 1808 by 64 members of First Church of Dorchester. These 64 members included 27 men and 37 women who had decided to split from the "Mother Church". On January 19, 1810, the group voted to name the new church South Church in Dorchester. This name only lasted two years when on April 3, 1812 they renamed the church "Second Church". The expansion into a new church was mainly meant to tackle the expanding population of the area. The first official pastor for the newly formed Second Church was Dr. John Codman. Rev. Codman was a member of an influential family and graduated from Harvard. His pastorate would be the longest for the church and during this time the church was visited by Daniel Webster and (on occasion) John Adams. The records in our collection continue up until 1991, shortly after the transfer of the church to the Church of the Nazarene. (1)
The finding aid for this collection can be found here. If you have any interest in viewing this collection once the library reopens, or you have any other CLA related questions, do not hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay safe and have a great day!
Bib: "History." Second Church in Dorchester. March 23, 2019. Accessed July 8, 2020. http:// secondchurchdorchester.org/about-us-2/history/.
by Jules Thomson, Assistant Archivist / NEHH Publication
Appropriately enough for a blog called "Beacon Street Diary", today I've compiled a list of diaries and journals within our current New England's Hidden Histories collections. The materials listed below (in alphabetical order by surname) are digitized and made available online via NEHH and our project partners.
All of these diaries are sourced from the rich seam of personal documents which comprise Series 2, and perhaps represent the most intimate voices available within the digitized records. More so even than "relation of faith" documents, diaries provide a relatively unfiltered glimpse into the minds of people living in the 17-19th centuries. That is not to say, however, that they are homogenous in tone or breadth. The writers themselves run the gamut in terms of livelihoods, community standing, and even gender; Mary Cleaveland's diary provides a rare 18th-century women's perspective. Other diarists include farmers, the proprieter of a forge, clergymen, missionaries, and even Cotton Mather himself. The content of the diaries, too, is as diverse as the authors, dealing variously with agricultural concerns, child-rearing, business and finance, churchgoing, and personal spirituality.
It is my opinion that these records constitute one of the most valuable facets of NEHH overall, and are certainly unparalleled as a source of qualitative data about daily life in Colonial New England.
Mary Cleaveland (nee Dodge) was the wife of Rev. John Cleveland, minister to Ipswich Second (Chebacco) Church and wartime chaplain. Her sporatic diary entries detail the birth of her children and the death of relatives and prominent acquaintances, as well as notable events about town.
The diary of this Lynn, Mass., man details a 43-year period of daily life, including agricultural tasks, notations on attendance at religious meetings, visits from his friends, and observations about the weather. The diary is contained within two bound volumes, the first comprising the years 1726-1750, and the second 1750-1769.
Rev. Joseph Green was a celebrated minister of the First Church of Salem. Ordained in 1698, he inherited a divided and traumatized congregation after the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692. He replaced the controversial Rev. Samuel Parris, reuniting the church and facilitating reconciliation between perpetrators and victims of the witchcraft hysteria. His diary of 1700-1715 deals mainly with day-to-day concerns such as religious study, errands and meetings, though it also touches on more monumental events such as Ann Putnam’s public admission that she had falsely accused others of witchcraft.
Rev. Gideon Hawley, a noted missionary, worked for the Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Indians under the supervision of Jonathan Edwards. Hawley accepted a position from the Society to establish a mission among the Six Nations on the Susquehanna; he was ordained in Old South Church, Boston, July 31, 1754 for this position and left for the site, near the contemporary town of Windsor, New York. With the arrival of the French and Indian War, Hawley returned to Boston and accepted a commission as chaplain to Colonel Richard Gridley's regiment. He was later appointed as minister to the Mashpee living in Mashpee, Massachusetts. The NEHH digital collections consist of four consecutive journal volumes spanning 1754-1806. These cover Rev. Hawley's time as a missionary traveling through "the Country of the Six Nations" and his experiences durig the Seven Years War. Also of note are records relating to Hawley’s long-time translator, Rebecca Kellogg Ashley.
Thomas Josselyn of Hanover and Hingham, Mass. was deacon of Hingham First Church and proprietor of a forge. On the first page of his diary, he describes his intent "to keep an account of the affairs of Divine providence, concerning myself and my family and the Church of God…". The volume consists of daily entries in which Josselyn usually devotes a sentence or two to details of his work, meetings, church attendance, visits with friends and family, and travel to Boston and other locales.
Rev. Cotton Mather (1663-1728), one of the most influential Puritan ministers of Colonial America, needs little introduction. Rev. Mather was ordained in 1684 at Second Church in Boston, also known as "Old North" Church or "the Church of the Mathers". He was a prolific author, publishing some 280 distinct items. He is perhaps best remembered today for his endorsement of inoculation as a means of fighting smallpox, and for his persecutory role in the Salem witchcraft trials. NEHH's digitized material includes a portion of one of his diaries, containing entries starting in February of 1715/16 (Mather uses dual Julian/Gregorian calendar dating) and ending December 1716.
Ebenezer Storer was a Harvard and Yale-educated lay person who went on to become Treasurer of Harvard College in 1777. He was deacon of the Congregational Church in Brattle Square, Cambridge, as well as an early member of the Society for Propagating the Gospel in North America, the American Academy of Arts and Science, and several other organizations. He updated his journal intermittently, with long form entries detailing deaths in his family, spiritual reflections and prayers, and segments of poetry. He also includes occasional genealogical or family information, as well as passing observations on current events. The entry for March 11, 1764, mentions the spread of smallpox and Storer's decision to have his children inoculated.
This collection consists of handwritten journal entries, memoranda, and sermon notes kept occasionally by Rev. Stephen Williams from 1716 to his death in 1782. Rev. Williams’s early life was remarkable; he grew up in Deerfield, Massachusetts and was captured by French and Indigenous allies during their raid on the town in 1704 when he was eleven years old. He was liberated after almost two years in captivity, going on to graduate from Yale College in 1713 and subsequently ministering to the Congregational Church of Longmeadow, Mass. He also served as a chaplain during the French and Indian War. Rev. Williams focuses heavily on ecclesiastical matters in his journal entries. Many entries consist of written prayers and brief meditations on bible verses.
Many people are surprised to learn that bookworms ‘bookworm’ isn’t just a metaphor, even though the most common paper eaters aren’t actually worms. They leave behind tell-tale tunnels wending their way through a text block like those pictured above (18th c. record book of First Church Charlestown), sometimes from end to end or they leave tiny holes in covers and spines. Most often, they are the larvae of a variety of beetles, moths or cockroaches who are attracted to the adhesives, leather, cloth and other organic material commonly used in book production. Some pests, like carpenter ants or furniture beetles will infest wooden shelves and then move on to the books they find there. Booklice eat molds and other fungi that can begin to grow on books and manuscripts kept in warm damp conditions. Silverfish will eat around the perimeter of pieces of paper, leaving jagged edges behind. Mice will gnaw on paper and boxes to keep their teeth sharp or shred it for their nests.
It is practically a rite of passage to reach into a newly acquired box of material and pull out some manner of creepy crawly--I have personally been accosted by silverfish, spiders, and once, a very large moth. Don’t let the cute face above fool you; the damage that bookworms and other collection-eating pests leave behind can be devastating. Bookworm tracks and tunnels can leave text unreadable and significantly weaken the integrity of paper and bindings and cannot be repaired. The best way to prevent damage from bookworms and other pests is to make our collections less hospitable. In addition to thoroughly inspecting new acquisitions for any unwanted stowaways, all of our materials are kept in a climate-controlled environment that keeps things cool and dry. Materials that arrive to us with significant damage are placed in custom housing to provide an extra layer of protection. Fortunately, book production methods have changed, so material from the 20th century and beyond are less at risk.Our ultimate goal is to make sure that when we say our materials are ‘being devoured’ it remains strictly a metaphor.
By Zachary Bodnar, Archivist
Note: Right-click and "view image" will allow you to see the full sized versions of images used within this blog post.
Metadata, or information about an object, is the bread and butter of the library and archives professions. The title of a book, name of an author, and publication date are all examples of descriptive metadata. Librarians and archivists gather and document this metadata entirely for the sake of our users. By documenting this metadata, we make an object, whether it be a published book or an unpublished volume of church meeting minutes, findable by the various systems employed in our professions, such as an online catalog. On the archival side, this purveyor of easily digestible and browsable metadata is the finding aid, though you might be surprised by how many different versions of a finding aid exist side-by-side.
For most users, the finding aid is the piece of paper they look at when deciding which boxes and folders within a collection they are interested in leafing through. But in fact, the CLA’s archivists produces four different versions of the finding aid. One version of the finding aid exists in a cloud-based platform which serves as the single source of knowledge for every single archival collection held by the CLA. One version serves as the user’s browsable version and is indexed by google. Another is placed within the CLA’s online catalog. And a final version of the finding aid is uploaded to GitHub for external data harvesting. While each version of the finding aid is distinct, each furthers our goal of increasing the visibility of our materials and ensuring the widest possible audience can find our collections.ArchivesSpace. ArchivesSpace is, in effect, the standard archival management tool used by archivists in the United States today. Through the ArchivesSpace backend interface, staff can record nearly endless amounts of information about a collection. But more practically, it is the tool that allows the archival staff to describe and arrange a collection. Description refers to the process of assigning descriptive metadata to the collection while arrangement refers to the process of assigning an intellectual order to the physical materials within a collection. By processing a collection and inputting all of our gathered data into ArchivesSpace, we create the single source of truth (an Orwellian sounding term, drawn from the information sciences fields, that simply means the single source of editable data from which all other instances of the same data are derived) from which we create all the other versions of the finding aid.
The next version of the finding aid is the one most recognizable by our users. It is the paper version of the finding aid that can be found at the reference desk. This is the version intended for human eyes and is therefore the easiest to read and understand. Before it is printed though, this finding aid exists as a PDF derivative of every piece of public metadata that is input into ArchivesSpace. The PDF is uploaded to the CLA’s website and is searchable from there under the “Electronic Finding Aids” header. Uploading the PDF also allows for the PDF to become indexed by google which vastly improves a collection’s visibility to the wider internet world.MARC record which is ingested into the CLA’s online catalog. MARC is one of the oldest metadata standards used by librarians and the basis upon which nearly every library catalog is built upon. The MARC version of the finding aid is actually a stripped down version that focuses solely on the top level metadata associated with the whole collection, such as the title of the collection, the collection’s creator(s), and subject headings associated with the collection. Fortunately, you never see the raw MARC metadata; the catalog interprets that MARC file and displays it in a way that is familiar to all our users. We produce this version of the finding aid so that archival collections may be found alongside print materials within the catalog. This makes the online catalog the CLA’s single destination to search everything the CLA holds. This also ensures that our archival collections are automatically linked to related resources through linked metadata, such as subject headings. CLA’s GitHub. EAD is an XML based international archival metadata standard. Like MARC, EAD is not actually intended for human eyes; EAD is intended to be read by machine systems that interpret the data stored within the XML file. The CLA stores these files in GitHub so that they may be harvested by archival aggregators such as ArchivesGrid. These aggregator sites are another way for the CLA to vastly improve the findability of our materials by placing it within systems with vastly wider user bases.
Which brings me all the way back to my metadata cleanup project. In 2019 the CLA converted from producing EAD2 documents to EAD3 documents. Collections processed prior to that were therefore instantly left out of our EAD3 offerings on GitHub which means that harvesters such as ArchivesGrid would never see these older collections. Over time we have been able to go back and convert some of them, but prior to the pandemic, there were still more than 80 collections that needed the necessary metadata cleanup to ready these collections for the eventual creation of EAD3 finding aids. While the pandemic has halted our ability to process new archival collections, it has given me the time to shed even more light on these collections processed prior to 2019 and I can now say that the number of collections needing cleanup is in the single digits.
The library and archival fields are always trying to improve access to collections. Most visibly this happens when we archivists describe a collection and produce a finding aid for it. But as I hope this blog post has shown, there are significantly less visible ways in which we create access. And we are always looking towards the future for new ways to increase access and findability and ensure that everyone who might wish to look at our materials can find our materials.