Kate McManus is a graduate student at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN, where she is an officer for the SAA Student Chapter. This chapter has just completed an outreach project for the Red Wing Pottery Museum, and Kate has agreed to share the experience with us in her post. You can follow the St. Catherine SAA Student Chapter on Twitter @StKatesSAA.
As an undergraduate, I didn’t really take student organizations very seriously. Even when I initially started graduate school at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN, I wasn’t thinking about student organizations. We were encouraged to join professional organizations, and many of them, including the American Library Association (ALA), had chapters on campus. But I remained hesitant; “Who has time for this? We’re all adults, I work full time (so do many of my classmates), some of us have kids….” And none of the student groups appealed to me. However, I was intrigued when our current chapter president Andrea Hoff, endeavored to create a student chapter for the Society of American Archivists (SAA). I went to the first meetings (because they were after my archives classes anyway, and there was usually pizza), and was suddenly excited about the prospect of the student organization. I joined SAA and we laid the groundwork for our first year. After elections, I found myself one of the co-secretaries.
We had panels and discussions. We had happy hours and small parties. A group of us went to the SAA convention in Washington DC. While I was there, I met with other student chapters, and they addressed concerns for their student chapters that we hadn’t yet faced. Our memberships and attendance are strong, and the funding that we have access to is sufficient. And we have faculty buy in.
Perhaps one of the reasons we are so popular (if I may say so) is because of our faculty advisor. Mollie Hazelton is an adjunct in the program, and she has strong professional connections in our community and in the community of archives. She is still a practicing project manager, and as fledgling professionals ourselves, we all are excited by her experience and guidance.
This led us to our goal of community outreach projects.
Almost from the beginning, we were interested in practical experience in the archives world, and in the fall of 2014, Mollie was approached by Michelle Weisen, who is the archivist of the Red Wing Pottery Museum. The collection had never been properly processed, and though it is a small collection, it is a very important one to the community of Red Wing, Minnesota. As a student chapter, we unanimously agreed to help. Michelle came to our monthly meetings, and on October 26th, they invited us down to Red Wing (about 35 miles south of St Paul) to tour the museum and meet the Board.
We could not have been more welcome, and the members of the Red Wing Collectors Society are passionate about their town’s history and the legacy of the Red Wing Pottery.
We agreed to process the collection in January, during our break between semesters. On Sunday, January 11th, all the members that were interested in being involved met with Michelle in Mollie’s office, and we broke down project assignments, mostly based on who could attend the next three meetings. Two members were unable to make the one on the 18th, so they wrote a collection policy that Michelle would be able to edit to suit the needs of the museum. We signed a release promising not to reveal redacted information (including glaze recipes, something unique to Red Wing pottery). When we were not processing the collection, it was stored in Mollie’s office. Thanks, Mollie!
On the 18th, Michelle brought us about 8 boxes which we split up to do a rough inventory. After all of us had completed the inventory, we compared notes. Keeping the items in original order would not have made sense, as the collections had been rehoused many times, and as we compared notes, natural groups across the boxes became readily apparent.
On January 25th, we met again, and after assigning ourselves chunks, we rehoused the materials in Hollinger boxes and archival folders. This took the better part of three hours.
On February 1st, we met again, this time to organize the materials into three collections (Business, Publications, and Oversize), further organized into several different series. We then described the collection on a finding aid before packing everything up for the last time. Unfortunately, Michelle wasn’t able to make this meeting. The items remained stored in Mollie’s office until Michelle picked them up the following week.
Because St. Kate’s does not start the Spring Semester until February, we had a very convenient block of time between Christmas and then to work on this project. Doing it concurrently with our coursework might have proved to be too much work. Even so, not everyone in our student chapter participated in the project (it was completely voluntary).
I can’t speak for everyone, but I think the project was successful. We completely processed the collection in the time we allowed ourselves. The museum paid for all of the materials that we needed. We all had different levels of experience with processing- the only processing I had ever done was minimal and rushed- but by the fourth week, I felt really confident about the results.
Michelle came to our first meeting of the semester on February 7th. She reported that the Board of Directors was pleased and grateful for our work. It was wonderful to get that feedback so quickly! We are glad that the Red Wing Pottery Museum has benefited from our project. It was also great for our members, many of us got something new out of it, such as forming community connections, gaining experience processing, it is something we can put on our resumes, and, most importantly, it was fun!
Unfortunately, many of us are graduating in the spring, so it is up to those who remain to decide if a community outreach program is something they want to do again. Mollie has already identified another project for us to tackle, perhaps over the summer. If I were to be in graduate school for another year, I would absolutely be interested in doing it again. I think this project reinforced my positive experience with our student chapter of SAA. If I had not joined when I did, I would not have gone to D.C. this summer, I would not have known about SNAP, and ultimately, I would have missed out on this experience.