Year in the Life: Katie Rojas, Pt. 7

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. If you would like to participate in the series, please email samantharwinn@gmail.com

Happy 2015! I had a very enjoyable holiday break, and I hope everyone else did too. I still feel like I’m on break though because my Spring class hasn’t begun yet. Even though I’ve only been the archivist at my institution since June, I recently had my 1-year anniversary with my organization. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been here for a year. The time certainly does fly.

Like last month, I don’t have as much to talk about. I sort of “paused” on most major projects once I got to a good stopping point before the break. Instead, I’ve been doing some tidying up in my workspace and trying to resolve small things that have been piling up around me. For example, every once in a while my boss will come across items that belong in the archives. I often need time to sit down and look at these things, figure out what they are, and where they might belong. Sometimes it’s a random item that doesn’t have a parent collection, sometimes it’s an orphan. I can get rid of some of these (no enduring value) but others I really can’t. So these odds and ends built up until I had some quiet time around the holidays when many people were using up their extra vacation days. Even after putting away several items in their rightful places, I still had a good handful of oddball items and wasn’t sure what to do with them. After some thought, and a little research (which included a helpful old A&A listserv thread) I decided to create a vertical subject file. The items that I had left weren’t of such great value as to warrant their own “collection” – for example, a newspaper article about the reopening of a local auditorium – but they are still of potential interest. I’m adding content for things like frequently requested research topics as I go along, and hoping that this will be a useful resource as it grows.

Since I have a little less going on at the moment, I’d like to talk about an ongoing project that began before I was even an intern at my organization. In my very first post I briefly mentioned working on a collection of over 2,000 field survey books; they range from 1884-2007. Once a month, I work late and we have volunteer surveyors come in and help us index the books. It’s really just metadata creation, not formal back-of-book indexing, but there’s no way I could do it on my own. First of all, my knowledge of surveying is limited to the little bit I learned in an archaeology course I took several years ago. Second of all, the volume of the collection is pretty large, and my organization prefers a lot of detail in their finding aids, so it’s not sufficient to simply place them in chronological order, perhaps with creator names if applicable, highlight a few points of interest, and call it a day.

Surveyor's field book

Surveyor’s field book from Katie’s project

If you’re not familiar with field surveying, it’s actually one of the older professions of the world. It basically involves using various types of equipment to measure distances and angles in order to determine property lines, identify building corners, and create maps. If you’ve ever seen someone peering through a scope on top of a tripod on a street corner, and they weren’t a photographer, they were probably part of a survey crew. The work they do is the foundation for all construction work and for the buying and selling of property, among other things. It’s pretty neat when you get to learn about lots of different things that you didn’t even know were cool. Part of the reason why I chose to go into archives was because I could never pick just one thing to study or focus on. This line of work lets you learn new stuff forever! It’s great!

However, I’m no surveyor, and I couldn’t go in depth with the collection without the volunteer surveyors’ help. Thankfully, they enjoy reading through old field survey notebooks and can point out the important stuff. While they index, I work on cleaning the metadata and compiling it into finding aids. Yes, there are multiple finding aids for this collection. I read an article in Archival Outlook a few months back that had some great tips for processing large collections, one of which was to have multiple finding aids, and thought it was a great idea. It makes the content so much more manageable!

Finally, I’m attending a two day grant writing workshop next week, and I’m looking forward to learning about the process…sort of. I’ve never had to actually do a grant application, so I’m a little nervous too. I like writing, so I think that part will be enjoyable, if I can get past the budget part. Wish me luck!

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