While there are many things in an archive like Swem Library’s Special Collections that the archivists and staff know we know, there are also the known unknowns. There are some things we may never know, and a person can accept that, but sometimes there is something that you think must be known by someone and it is just a matter of finding the person who knows it – or a person who is persistent enough to do the research to find the answer.
One of the cornerstones of the Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center is its rare book collection. Contained in this collection of some 50,000 volumes are books representative of human thought and culture, both popular and learned, that range in subject matter from science and medicine to history, literature, travel, and exploration. The collection spans a broad chronological field, from seven examples of beautiful incunabula produced in the fifteenth century before the invention of moveable type to books published by faculty at the College of William & Mary today in the twenty-first century.
Add comment December 1, 2012
If you have ever seen the PBS series Antiques Roadshow, then you can understand what I do here. I started working at Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center in August and was tasked by Jennie Davy, the Burger Archives Specialist, with identifying artifacts that had yet to be cataloged (meaning the artifacts were patiently waiting for an identification number and description so they could be accessible to the public). Some of them were newly acquired, but others had been waiting in a backlog of unprocessed artifacts. After cataloging, the artifacts are entered into the Education Collection, which is now fully accessible on the Special Collections Database. So, what are some of the artifacts that I have been examining?
Add comment November 28, 2012
In addition to an impressive archive of rare books, periodicals, photographs, and other physical documents, Swem Library’s Special Collections manages the W&M Digital Archive that includes both digitized versions of some parts of the physical archive (like the Flat Hat collection) and documents unique to the digital realm. This semester, I have had the privilege to further develop the digital archive by conducting, recording, and uploading oral histories.
Currently, in Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center (Swem SCRC), I have been working on uploading a number of small collections to the From Fights to Rights Transcription Project. Some of the most interesting discussions I come across in these letters are about the various illnesses that permeated 19th century life. It is incredibly eye-opening to read these accounts of illness and disease since they give an otherwise-unknown window into peoples’ lives.
As a graduate assistant in the Special Collections Research Center in Swem Library (Swem SCRC), I have had the opportunity to do a number of exciting things, from exhibit installation to assisting during special events. One of the main things I have done this year, however, is processing collections. Collections come in all shapes and sizes and contain material on a variety of subjects. Many of the collections housed here have to do with the College of William & Mary and Williamsburg. Often, alumni and administrators donate their papers to the College, allowing researchers a hands-on, first person look at the history of William & Mary.
In my current project at Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center (SCRC), I have been working on checking the transcriptions that have been uploaded by our transcription volunteers. Although I am not currently working on a particular collection, checking transcriptions of letters written during the Civil War is an incredibly rewarding experience. As I go through the digital archives, I come across letters from an incredibly large cross-section of Americans. Some documents are written by generals and lieutenants, others are written by doctors and lawyers, and others are written by wives and sisters.
A few weeks ago, I started my first large-scale imaging project here at Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center (Swem SCRC). We recently acquired a large selection of photographs and scrapbooks from the Robb family, which I photographed with our digital camera so that we may upload them to our archival database in the future. Robert Gilchrist Robb was first a student and later a professor of chemistry here at William & Mary. While I knew next to nothing about Robb or his family when I started imaging the collection, I was struck by how well I felt I came to know them as I digitized their photo albums.
The Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center is currently working on a transcription initiative as part of the “From Fights to Rights: The Long Road to a More Perfect Union” project. The transcription work is a massive effort by volunteers to transcribe documents such as diaries and letters and make them available online for current and future researchers. Currently, I am working on uploading scans of pages from John Minson Galt II’s diary. As part of the transcription project, I was asked to come up with a short biography about John Galt that discussed his work at the Eastern Lunatic Asylum, which was renamed Eastern State Hospital later.
Since I began my apprenticeship with Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) in August, I’ve been consistently impressed with the staff’s dedication to actively engaging the student body here on campus. It is clear that undergraduate and non-staff researchers are very welcome here, and the staff members in the SCRC continually do everything in their power to facilitate the research efforts of anyone and everyone who steps through the door. This is not the case everywhere. It seems to me that other academic institutions sometimes use their archives to bolster their academic “street cred,” not as a venue through which students can learn about and engage the archival system. If the contents of the archives themselves and the class schedules of the last few weeks are any indication, students are constantly encouraged to come and explore here in the SCRC at Swem.