Drexel University College of Medicine

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3.5 weeks down, 100.5 more to go…

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Three and a half weeks down and FINALLY I have some time to write my first blog post—I initially hoped to write every week since September 28, my first day as Project Archivist!  That I did not write (or could not) is perhaps the best evidence of what can only be described as a total whirlwind since day one.  I dove right into a pile of student resumes; site visits at the Rosenbach Museum, Presbyterian Historical Society and Temple University; and editing manuals and training materials that Holly wrote over the summer and obviously put a lot of time and effort in to.

I also prepared a processing plan for our training collection, what became the George A. Hay Collection of Administrative Records of the Woman’s College of Medicine, which Drexel University College of Medicine Archives graciously provided.  That afternoon, I experienced the first of what I am sure will be many panic attacks about minimal processing and the work we have before us.  To put it bluntly, the Hay collection was messy and a great example of why maintaining good accession files and surveying collections are very important.  In this case, it was the accession file that enabled me to identify and retain some important but not immediately apparent provenance and is what made minimal processing possible in the end.  Even so, this collection required way more than our target two hours per linear foot and was a good lesson in planning for some things to take longer than they are supposed to!  It’s too complicated to get into here; you will just have to check out the finding aid when it’s mounted on Drexel’s website to see what I mean…

I’d say the biggest accomplishment of the past month was hiring our team of student processors.  We received the top 50 applicants—yep, that’s right, the TOP 50—from human resources.  We talked to a lot of impressive candidates.  In the end, we selected four who came with good experience and expressed genuine interest in the project as well as the archives profession.  I am looking forward to working with them!

Believe it or not, that all transpired during weeks one and two!

Weeks three and four, in my opinion, marked the real beginning of the project.  On October 13, 14 and 15, we held our first “boot camp,” providing instruction on minimal processing and Archivist’s Toolkit.  We were quite pleased with how everything went, though I’d bet that Holly and I learned more about providing effective training than the students learned about processing (and I think they learned A LOT)!  I’ll let Holly tell you more about that—let’s just say that our next training is going to be even better!

So here we are, in the middle of my fourth week on the job and the middle of the first week of official processing.  My team, Laurie and Eric, are doing great!  I am pleased to say that by Friday I expect Drexel University College of Medicine Archives will have three or four more processed collections complete with EAD finding aids and ready for research!

BOOT CAMP!

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Unknown size: small.

We trained our first group of student processors October 13-15, and we can only hope that the students learned as much as Courtney Smerz, project archivist, and I did! Our students, all bright and enthusiastic Drexel University iSchool students, are Leslie O’Neill, Laurie Rizzo, Eric Rosenzweig and Forrest Wright. The energy and interest they exhibited during this week reassured me that this project CAN be a success!

In training, we covered an overview of the project, basic processing theory, minimal processing theory, pre-20th century paleography, biographical and historical notes, scope and content notes and abstracts, the Archivists’ Toolkit, and hands-on processing. This seemed like a lot to accomplish in a three day period.

We planned for two days in the electronic classroom and one day for hands-on processing, but we quickly found that the two days in the electronic classroom was too much. So, on Tuesday evening, I placed a call to the remarkably flexible Drexel University crew and asked if we could start hands-on processing Wednesday afternoon instead of Thursday morning. Already, we learned that the hands-on work is where the real learning happens—across the board: photographs, writing notes, deciphering handwriting, and the Archivists’ Toolkit. ESPECIALLY the Archivists’ Toolkit! Because we finished the other training earlier than I anticipated, I attempted an explanation of the Archivists’ Toolkit without examples, and it was a dismal failure. The next day, however, our processors entered faux container lists into the Archivists’ Toolkit and every topic I had tried to explain the day before was made obvious.

The same thing happened with hands-on processing at Drexel’s off-site storage facility. The environment is terrific for group processing: a huge table on which to spread out a collection, chairs all around, and not a soul to disturb with conversation about the best way to process. With Drexel University College of Medicine’s George Hay collection before them, our student processors started asking all the right questions and, with a little guidance, answered them. The collection was not processed at the rate of two hours per linear foot, but we talked about issues and made certain that our processors are prepared for working next week!

The “Hidden Collections” Project has processed its first collection! A sincere thank you to Drexel University’s wonderful staff, Rob Sieczkiewicz of Drexel University Archives and Margaret Graham and Lisa Grimm of Drexel University College of Medicine, for helping to make our first hands-on training session possible and successful!

Anny Elston–the Test Collection

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

I wrote manuals, I am writing manuals, I will be writing manuals! Last week, it suddenly became obvious to me that I needed to try out the manuals before continuing with my work. The Drexel University College of Medicine folk kindly offered the Anny Elston papers, a collection created by Anny Elston, a New York City doctor during the mid 20th century.

Not only was I excited to try out the manuals and discover their workability, I was also excited to get my hands on some papers. I strongly believe that archivists go into withdrawal if they do not get to breathe in a little dust and carefully maneuver through a folder of often brittle papers–at least I do!

So, I got busy–the collection is two linear feet and it appeared that someone had worked on it at some point. I began the actual processing, with a timer in hand, and applied all the minimal processing strategies laid out in the project’s manual which was largely guided by the work of Matthew Lyons and Cary Majewicz of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. And … minimal processing worked! The collection was physically processed and the container list was entered into the Archivists’ Toolkit in three hours and fifteen minutes. “Excellent,” I thought, “now I have forty-five minutes to write the bio and scope and content notes … plenty of time!” Okay, maybe not. Despite the fact that the collection contained a fair amount of biographical information (some of which was in German), it took me closer to two and a half hours to create these two notes.

While this was disappointing, I learned a lot–physically processing a collection in 2 hours per linear foot MAY be possible, and probably, quite frequently, IS possible. What does not seem possible is physically processing AND writing thorough descriptive notes in that time frame. With the number of linear feet to be processed (approximately 4600 linear feet) and the number of student processor hours allotted in the grant (8865 hours), it is going to be virtually impossible to do the project, even without adding a couple of extra hours per collections for description.

Thus, I decided that the project archivist and I would have to create really helpful processing plans and write up a rough bio. Then the students could quickly gain an idea of who or what the collection was about and what was in the collection. The students could begin physically processing the collection fairly quickly and therefore, take full advantage of the two hours per linear foot allotted to each collection. Their experience with the collection, combined with the supplied bio note and processing plan, could then be applied to enhancing the bio note and writing the scope and contents note–hopefully requiring significantly less time than it took me to write from scratch.

Unknown size: small.

A quick note on Dr. Anny Elston, whose collection provided me all the above information and allowed me to get my papery fix: Dr. Anny Elston (1895-1975) was a German born and trained pediatrician who immigrated to the United States in 1941 due to the “Racial Laws” in Nazi Germany. Despite being a member of the Lutheran Church and considering herself a “racial Jew,” Elston was prohibited from practicing medicine in Germany. Upon her arrival in the United States, with her husband and later her children, she obtained her New York State Medical License in 1942 and practiced medicine in New York City until retiring in 1972. The Anny Elston papers include information regarding Dr. Elston’s medical credentials and continuing education, her medical practice in New York City, and patient records. The collection is quite amazing–it is not just the records of a New York City doctor, but also a story of adapting to a new country and contributing to the American medical community.