Year in the Life: Katie Rojas, Pt. 5

Katie Rojas is the newest participant in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. We will be following Katie for a year. You can read the Katie’s previous posts here.

This month has been better than the last, thankfully. The archives assistant is still being pulled away to help in other areas, and hasn’t spent more than a day’s worth of work in the past two weeks on anything related to archives. It’s basically like not having an assistant at all and working on archival projects alone again. I’m managing just fine, but I do wish she could work on archives more. It kind of goes back and forth – there was a short time just over two weeks ago when she was able to spend more time focused on archives, and it really helped with finishing and installing the exhibit that I mentioned last month.

The exhibit looks really great in our beautiful large display case! We’ve gotten a lot of compliments on it. It was a much bigger job putting it in to the display case than I originally anticipated. It was difficult to determine exactly what would go into the case and how it would be laid out because the display case is located in a different building from ours. I estimated based on the measurements we had, laid out items on a large table, snapped a few photos with my phone, and used those photos to play around with the arrangement in Photoshop. When I was satisfied, I printed out the final mock-up and took it with us as a guide when we went to arrange the pieces in the case. Ultimately, we over-planned on the number of items to include, and some items didn’t make the final cut. This was actually a good thing because I did not want to have any “dead space” and scramble at the last minute to find other items to include. I also spent time making a digital version of the exhibit in power point (nothing too fancy!). I had to take photos of the items before they were put into the display case and do some image editing, which I really enjoyed.

One huge snafu that we ran into with the physical exhibit was with the display case shelving. It sits at an angle in the case, not parallel to the floor. I knew that the shelving was angled, but I was assured that we could simply shift the little pegs that the shelves rest on to lay them down flat in the case. This turned out to be completely wrong and threw a huge wrench in the plans because I had planned for the shelves to be flat. When you have 1/3 of your exhibit content as ceramic plates and have purchased plastic easels upon which to stand said plates and other items, you need flat shelves. We made the angled shelves work, but I’ll be honest. We used 3M adhesive strips to hold some items in place (mostly plates) so they didn’t slide off the shelves. This is definitely not my favorite idea ever. But I felt like our options were slim. I used the smallest pieces possible. I’m not sure how else we would have done this. Really, I’m just happy to have it done at this point. It’s nice to have a completed project under my belt, even if it’s nothing at all like what I originally envisioned!

In terms of other projects, the metadata I was working on for the elected official collection, as well as the collection of meeting minutes, haven’t been touched in a while because of my focus on the exhibit and other miscellaneous tasks. I’ve been asked to start processing the materials of the other elected official that we accessioned back in July. I’m a little afraid because I can’t MPLP it. My supervisor and department head prefer item level or near item level processing, which makes processing kind of a bear. I can understand it for digital collections, but I wrestle with it for collections that we have no plan to digitize. On the upside, this is the first collection I will have processed from the very beginning that wasn’t begun by someone else. In this regard, it’s much easier. I read somewhere recently that it’s more difficult to re-process collections than it is to process them the first time around. I think that same difficulty applies for the partially processed collections I’ve worked with so far. I’m actually excited about processing this collection from the start and having that clean slate. So far I’ve conducted a box level inventory and reviewed a couple other similar finding aids to get a sense of the series groupings, and I’m determining sub-series right now. I’ll probably be revisiting David Carmichael’s and Gregory Hunters’ books on processing just to make sure I’ve got my processing plan together all right and I’m not missing any steps. Even though I’ve taken a class on arrangement and description, it’s always helpful to refresh on core concepts to see how they apply to each collection.

Finally, we had an exciting development in the last couple of weeks. A worker who was cleaning out a storage facility owned by my organization came across some large rolled up murals recently. He was curious about them since there were multiple panels and they were quite large (about 7 feet tall and 175 feet in total length when all the panels are lined up). They were painted on a heavy-duty canvas and they illustrate the history of our geographic area. The worker, instead of sticking them in the dumpster, snapped photos of them and took them to a local museum. After some brief research, they were determined to be murals that had famously gone missing about 30 years ago! Many people have searched for these murals and written to the local paper asking if anyone knew of their whereabouts, but nobody has been able to find them. It’s clear that my organization had no idea we had them. There were some people in my organization that were very upset that the murals had been brought to the museum and not to us, but then again, our organization is not exactly known for keeping cultural heritage items. All the more reason for outreach!

This photograph depicts the damaged portion of a mural recently recovered by Katie's department.

This photograph is of a mural recently recovered by Katie’s department. As she noted below, the mural was damaged as a result of poor storage conditions.

Thankfully, the lead curatorial researcher at the museum got in touch with my organization’s cultural historian, and I was able to work with them to coordinate storage of the murals in our archives. We are still trying to determine the provenance – how the heck did these things end up lost in that storage facility? One of the panels is pretty badly damaged from the poor previous storage conditions, so we had to very carefully slide some unbuffered acid free tissue under it and fold it over the edge before delicately rolling the panel up for transport. We don’t know where the money for conservation will come from yet, nor do we have a solid plan for a permanent public display of the murals yet, but it’s our hope and goal that both of those thing will happen. I have to say, between the exhibit and the murals, I feel a little more like a curator/art handler than an archivist right now, but I’m very happy to do it. I have a very strong fine art and art history background, so this was actually quite exciting and fun!

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