A Farewell to Archives


By: TJ Szafranksi (BMRC Processing Intern)

In March, I will start a new career as a public librarian, meaning my career as an archivist has come to an end. It was a glorious run: 14 months of heart stoppin', document preservin', finding aid writin', subseries arrangin', container list listin', folder labellin', MPLP-in', archival exhilaration.  

Let's take a look back...

My favorite collection is the first collection I processed. The Captain Harry Dean papers at DuSable Museum of African American History. You can read more about Captain Harry Dean right here.

My least favorite thing about processing was not being able to title a folder “Junk That We Can’t Figure Out Why It Was Kept.”

When I interviewed for this position, I was asked how I became interested in archives. I said that I loved collecting baseball cards when I was younger. I loved organizing them into different arrangements—all my White Sox players over here, all my Bulls players in this binder, all my Dan Marino’s in protective sheets. I linked the preservation and organization associated with card collecting to archives. I think I also rambled my way through an analogy about the sacredness of the object, and how I treasured some of my favorite cards (my Dan Marino rookie card), and how that was similar to working with archival records. It may not be the greatest interview answer ever, but I did find myself thinking about card collecting on a few occasions while processing. Opening a folder is a lot like opening a pack of baseball cards, and completing a container list is a lot like completing a set of cards.

My favorite thing about processing was feeling like I had become friends with people that I knew I’d never meet.  

Despite handling over 10,000 pieces of paper and creasing over 5,000 folders (unscientific estimates), I've only suffered one paper cut. #magicfingers

At times, working as an archivist has made me want to save every single thing I own. At other times, it's made me want to throw away every single piece of paper gathering dust inside my desk.

Toward the beginning of my experience, I attended a conference where Richard A. Courage spoke. He talked about a newspaper clipping he had found in an archive, and how a single sentence at the end of the article gave him insight into the personality of Gwendolyn Brooks. I remember thinking that if I had come across that particular document while processing, I would have had no idea of its potential significance. It made me think about the disconnect between those who process archival collections and those who use archival collection. It made me think about effective ways to reconcile. I still think about it.  

My supervisors, Bergis and Lisa, have been SUPERvisors.

My processing comrades, Elise and Dominique, have been comRADes.  

When I think back on this experience in ten years, there are a few things I’ll remember. I’ll remember that it was dusty. This made me sneeze a lot. I’ll remember processing in a temperature controlled room. This made me cold a lot. And I’ll remember that my work, somewhere, sometime, made a difference for someone. This made the sneezes and chills not matter.   

I wanted my last blog post to be a concise, poignant metaphor for my experience at the BMRC. I wanted to draw analogies between what archives are, and what working as an archivist has taught me. Turns out, all I could come up with was a collection of scattered thoughts, with some overarching connection, but no clear cut arrangement or structure.

(Hey, wait a second...)