What’s in a name?

When dealing with an institution name change it can be a delicate balance especially for an Archive. It is important to embrace the new name and brand in order to move forward, but in the Archives history is just as important as the future. So, we have to find a way to represent the historic name and yet move forward with the rest of the University to embrace the new name. With that in mind we’ve established a guideline to help guide us through the name change.

Archives Guidelines on UMUC/University College Name

The name University of Maryland Global Campus became official on July 1, 2019. The branding and identification for the UMGC Archives website and web-based platforms was updated on September 30, 2019, along with the UMGC Library website. Because the Archives exists to document the history of the institution, any materials created before July 1, 2019, will retain the UMUC/University College name to accurately reflect the historical period in which they were created. Materials added to the Archives and Archives website/repository will be reviewed for their creation date, and only items that were created after July 1, 2019, will be identified as UMGC/Global Campus. The name UMUC/University College will be used in historical context when identifying and describing archival materials on the Archives website, repository, and blog. Postings on the Archives blog created before July 1, 2019, will also be left as-is to reflect the time at which they were created.

Working From Home… Still

Months ago, we gave you a peek into our lives as archivists working remotely. While much of our work has stayed the same (we’re working on some pretty big digitization projects that will likely take years to finish! We’re pretty grateful for this time to work on some projects we would otherwise find little time to complete.), we’ve moved on to a few other projects. Two of our archivists each have a massive scanner at home to scan documents, photos, and slides that will be uploaded to our online archives to be accessed by students, historians, and professors. This means that we also have boxes and boxes of photos and documents that we have to keep safe from direct sunlight and animals, as well as temperature-controlled as possible. We are each running different projects as well. Renee and Rosemary are working on collection development with our Overseas Maryland (OMA) memoir project. Alex is working on sorting and cataloging correspondences from our European collection from home. Much of this is similar to what we can do in our traditional archive, but it’s much more difficult keeping these items safe outside of the archive space. The archives also works with graduate students to upload and store their dissertations.  We organize and upload these items as soon as we get them so they will be available online ASAP. We meet weekly as an archives team to update each other on our projects and biweekly with the wider team to project plan. We expect our work to change slightly in the coming months before we are able to safely return to our beloved archives, but much of the work we are doing will be digitization-based projects.   

Archiving COVID-19 at UMGC

Calling all quarantined individuals! Archives around the world are seeking materials for their digital and physical collections that detail your experiences in the pandemic. Imagine people 50 years from now attempting to understand what COVID-19 brought upon the world – what do they need to know? What stories do they need to hear? What experiences will help them understand our lives in this moment? What is it like to deal with a pandemic for the first time in 100 years? We accept all sorts of materials into our archive – images, video, audio interviews, tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram or Snapchat memes, PDFs, screenshots of news and emails – as long as it pertains to the university. We accept anything that describes how you and your UMGC community were affected by the pandemic. Our goal is to collect as many diverse voices as possible so that future historians and students will be able to understand and learn how our community was affected by COVID-19 and how the world responded. Examples include: 

1. Photos you’ve taken working from home 

2. Stories of essential workers 

3. The first emails you received when the pandemic closed the university 

4. Stories of innovative ways your department has continued success from home 

5. Photos of socially-distanced or virtual events (graduations, town halls, meetings, classes) 

Reach out if you have questions or items you want to donate! Let’s preserve this time in history together!

What is a collection??

So, I had friend ask me about the Archives the other day – and I used a lot of quasi-technical jargon on her.  It did not end well.  She logged off our Zoom call more befuddled than before she asked the question.

A wall of ranges filled with archival boxes and banker's boxes extend into the distance. On top of one of the ranges a sign says "Denise Sokolowski Collection".

So, let me try to explain a little bit here about collections.

Collections are…well, collections of things (photos, memorabilia, papers, tapes, almost anything) that have something that ties them together.  In a museum (the common home of the collection) it can be an artist or a theme, but in an archive it can also be a donator or department.  That makes an archival collection much more confusing.  Example of this: someone might donate something from an artist who also has a collection in the Archives OR a department donates something they got from another department who also has a collection OR a person might donate a bunch of things and a few of them are from a department that already has a collection…the examples go on and on.

BAH!  So many interconnected strings!

Multi-colored push pins with rubber bands connecting and interconnecting them.

So, how do we determine what is a collection?  And which collection gets what?

Well, the easy answer is that EVERYTHING is a collection – but if you think about it, that just makes things worse.  I’d have a million collections if I stuck to that.  So let me break it down a bit…

During our Big Sort we were working on boxes donated by other departments – BUT because we didn’t know which departments or when, we decided to break apart these boxes and disperse them into other collections.  So, Commencement got a ton of stuff (booklets, swag, even a few degree holders) – BUT we are pretty sure those items didn’t come directly from the Commencement Department seeing as most of it was created before there WAS a Commencement Department. STILL, Commencement gets it because it deals with graduation/commencement.

So that one was easy – we found something, we put it in the right department.

Here’s a more convoluted one. 

We were going through the boxes left behind by Chancellor Ray Ehrensberger (our 1st UMGC President) – and we found and old course catalog.  We have a collection for those!!  So where does it go?  Well, it depends.  IF the item was unaltered and had no connection to anything around it (say it was in a box that had just random papers) AND we needed that Catalog to complete our collection we would remove that catalog.  We would then leave behind a form that says EXACTLY what was removed and where it was moved (right down to the box it was put in).   IF it was altered by Ehrensberger in some significant way OR if we had 3 copies of that catalog already, we’d leave it where it was to preserve the Ehrensberger Collection.  IF we didn’t have a copy of the catalog in the Catalog Collection (which is likely our most important collection in the Archives), we’d make a copy of said catalog.  We’d leave the original in the Ehrensberger Collection and move the copy to the Catalog Collection with a form that tells us where the copy came from (just in case we need the original).

Yeah, it is confusing and there are a lot of decisions that have to be made on the fly. 

So, I guess the simple answer to the question is – We don’t really know what a collection is until we get to it.

I hope this helps give you a peek into what is it like to work in an Archive – and I hope I haven’t left you more confused than when you arrived.

Remember the Archives During your Spring Cleaning!

It’s that time of year…the weather is getting warmer, the flowers are blooming, and the bug to clean up and clear out has struck!

A hand, in a yellow dish glove, pulls the trigger of a green and yellow spray bottle.  Cartoon flowers of yellow, green, blue, and purple erupt from the spray bottle nozzle.

This is just a quick reminder, if you are cleaning out things that relate to UMGC in any way, would you take a moment to pack it away and (when we are open again) consider dropping it off or mailing it to the Archives?

Don’t worry about what it is – if it has to do with UMGC just throw it in that box!  Once we get it, we can decide what we do and don’t want.  (Wanna know a secret?  We keep MOST of what we are given.)

Memorabilia, meeting minutes, old photos, old logo items (like stationary, envelopes, etc.), invitations, mailers, fliers – anything with UMGC’s (or UMUC’s) name on it is wanted! 

So take a second, make a box for us, and let us deal with the rest.  And hey, if it turns out to be multiple boxes – the more the better!


Reprocessing and My Kitchen Sink

Often in life, no matter how many times you do something – there is always more to do!

Like dishes.  I swear, no matter how many times I fill the dishwasher, when I walk into the kitchen SOMEHOW the sink is full again.  It doesn’t matter if I was in there five minutes ago, there is always something in the sink (usually a few things). 

So, what do I do?  I put them in the dishwasher again – and again – and again.

A sink full of dirty dishes shown from above.  (c) Rachel Zack
Just rinse it and put it in the dishwasher! Is that so hard???? (c)Rachel Zack

Well, it’s tough to say this, but the Archives and my sink have a lot in common.

Reprocessing is a bad word in Archival circles – we all want to think of our projects as “one and done” – but they so often aren’t.

Before the pandemic hit, the staff in the UMGC Archives decided to do a bit of reprocessing.  We had a huge collection (about 60 boxes) that was just boxes that had been donated from other departments and never sorted – this had been established before the current Archivist’s time, but with the lack of staff there was just no way she could fix it.

Then more staff was hired, and “The Big Sort” was born. 

We spent 2 hours every Monday morning from August of 2019-January 2019 sorting through boxes that had no rhyme or reason.  That’s 60 hours of sorting – 60 hours of just looking in boxes and determining where every single item belonged.

60 hours for 60 boxes – that is how time intensive reprocessing can be.

At the end of it all, we had a better idea of what we had in the Archives, a better guide to our collections, and more access for you!

Next step, processing those items into the collections they belong in (I’ll talk about that in two weeks).

Yeah, archives work is full of tiny steps that eventually lead to a great and powerful Archive, which gives us more donations that leads back to the tiny steps to make it even more great and powerful – but it is a labor of love!

Strange Things Found in Archives Around the World

I came upon an article that highlighted an odd collection of photos from archives around the world which led me on a search of some other weird, wonderful, and fascinating items found in archives. Some of my favorites include:  

Ivan Unger, a member of the “Flying Black Nats” and Gladys Roy are shown playing tennis on the wings of an airplane in flight.

Original caption: April 17, 1928—A novel hour of entertainment was recently presented to the radio audience of the nation with the inauguration of the Michelin Hour, presented by the rubber tire manufacturing concern. The orchestra’s members are attired in grotesque fashion, as shown above.

A barely-bigger-than-a-quarter book about birds, published during the deadliest year of the Civil War, stored at the University of Maryland Archives.
A folding chair used by Barack Obama during his Rutgers commencement address.

Queen Elizabeth at a University of Maryland football game.

A memo warning campus police about an upcoming Ozzy Osborne concert on the UMD campus, citing the singer’s involvement with “abuse of animals” and “alleged satanic groups.”

Alexandra Bower

Archives Student Assistant

Support Your Local Archives

Have you ever had questions about how to preserve old family photos? Want to know the history of your town’s oldest buildings? Do you need help finding old marriage records? Do you want to help your community document a particular time, maybe the COVID-19 quarantine? Your local Archive is just the place you need! As we know, Archives provide us firsthand information about the past. Many Archives are run by volunteers or a single archivist. This means that it can often be hard for the Archive to complete necessary work for the community it serves. That’s where we come in! Donating money to the Archives means they can buy photo scanners to upload photos and preserve them forever. They can buy acid free boxes, folders, and other tools that can be costly. They can pay for the website to publish their collection to better serve the community. Maybe you don’t have money to donate though. Donate your time! Volunteer with the Archives! They need help tagging, transcribing, and editing articles. They could use your help uploading and sharing photos. They may need help sorting and searching maps or other documents. This is time consuming, and archivists often do not have time and would love your help doing this meaningful work! Maybe you don’t have the time to volunteer though. Donate your old books, paperwork, art, and information! Do you have an old map of town? Do you have letters from the mayor to your grandfather? Have you been studying the town and want to share the information that you have gathered? The Archives would love to hear from you! Whatever you can do to support your local Archives, take the time to do so! They can only do their work with help from their patrons.

Alexandra Bower

Archives Student Assistant

Pencils Only!

There are many rules in the Archives – wear gloves when you’re handling sensitive items. Do not add or erase items from records. No food in the Archives! But did you know we don’t use pens in the Archives? That’s right – pencils only! For one, pens are unforgiving. Mistakes are irreversible and edits cannot be made. Conservators frown upon the non-reversible nature! Additionally, pens are made up of oils that can bleed, smear, or otherwise ruin or contaminate the item you are writing on. So, we stick to pencils! We have special pencils specifically for plastic-coated surfaces (i.e. the backs of photographs), but your average #2 pencil is our go-to for everything else! So, if you ever visit the Archives, leave your pens at home.

Alexandra Bower

Archives Student Assistant

The Perils of Working from Home

Working from home has a lot of challenges – keeping to your schedule, distractions from family, not to mention the general malaise that comes from all the bad news out there. 

BUT for archivists there is an added challenge.

Most of the time archivists work in a controlled environment.  A typical archive maintains a low temperature and low humidity, sealed doors (to reduce dust and help maintain the temperature), and no food or drink is allowed (save water in closed containers – and even those are kept on the floor and not near any archival materials). 

Most especially – no animals.

In working from home all that has gone by the wayside.  I’m in a room with windows that get sun in the morning and is on the 3rd floor.  That means humidity and temperature are not stable at all.

I’ve had to open windows, I’ve got carpeting (dust’s best friend) and my office door doesn’t close properly.  I’ve also had family members come into my office when I’m working – WHILE HOLDING FOOD. 

BUT none of this is as bad as my pets. 

I’ve got 2 cats and one dog, and they love me (and I love them) – but they refuse to leave me alone to work.  They MUST check on me.  Most of the time they bump my office door, it pops right open and in they come to beg for pets on top of my desk.  The few times I’ve actually gotten the door closed correctly they stand outside it and meow or stick little paws under the door.  And THAT is much more distracting than just having them in the room.

All this to say, the other day when I was scanning slides I found this…

A photo slide with a large cat hair across the middle of it.
A slide from the Ehrensberger Collection

No, that is not a crack in the slide.

Yes, that IS a cat hair.

Welcome to working from home.

Remote Efficiency

When schools, companies, and organizations began to shut their doors due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, archivists were prepared! The steering committee of the Society of American Archivists’ Accessibility and Disability Section quickly jumped into their Archivists at Home document to brainstorm some more ideas for archivists to continue their work remotely. This document already existed from a previous grassroots push for a collection of practices for archivists with disabilities who have to do their work from home part or full time, but they added to the document given our current state of the affairs. Amongst their lengthy list of ideas, they have drafted a set of suggested steps for closing an archive for any given amount of time, a list of activities archivists cannot do remotely, a list of things they can do from home, professional development ideas, and work and advocacy ideas for student workers. The list is extensive and I advise you all to check it out for future or current work! Some of the ideas that I had yet to consider include:

  • Reaching out to smaller archives to offer to share your knowledge, especially those still figuring out digital archiving (alternatively, reach out to different archives for advice or suggestions on how to improve your own practices!)
  • Designing a virtual tour of your collections that can be completed upon return to the archives
  • Starting a virtual book club or study group for archivists – this is an effective way to develop professionally and communicate with colleagues

UMGC will be remote through the end of 2020, which means I will be scanning, editing metadata, and writing blog posts until winter! But for those archives that are reopening, the SAA Accessibility and Disability team also compiled resources to quell the spread of the virus and guidance for reopening effectively.

From researching this document, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that archivists are resilient! And I am grateful that they are willing to share their wisdom, ideas, and expertise with the rest of the community. It reminds me that we are in this together, no matter where in the world you are.