Guest author: Rose Oliveira
MLIS student at Simmons College and Student Liaison for REPS-NEA
On October 17, 2015, the New England Archivists’ (NEA) Roundtable for Early Professionals and Students (REPS) organized our second annual Back to School Day of Service. Over 35 archivists and students volunteered in repositories in Vermont and Central and Eastern Massachusetts. NEA and REPS began hosting its fall service day in 2014 as an opportunity for new students and archivists at all stages of their career to meet and donate their professional expertise to local institutions. The Day of Service would not be possible without the sites who have welcomed us into their archives and NEA and REPS members giving their time to volunteer and coordinate. We thank everyone who has been involved in the past two years and express our deep gratitude for their participation.
2015 Day of Service
In choosing the locations for the Day of Service, we try to select a broad range of institutions across New England that would benefit from the additional help. Over the past two years we had sites in Central and Eastern Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut. This year we had four repositories participate. In the Boston area, there was the History Project and the USS Constitution Museum’s Samuel Eliot Morison Memorial Library. The History Project is a volunteer-run community archive focused exclusively on preserving the history of Boston’s LGBT community. Volunteers worked on the Boston Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Youth (BAGLY) records, weeding and creating box and folder lists. The USS Constitution is a private, non-profit museum with a small staff. Within the museum, the library holds a strong collection of primary documents and secondary works, which are of particular interest to historians, educators and ship modelers. Volunteers helped with a backlog project by processing several boxes of museum records. In Worcester, Massachusetts, volunteers had the opportunity to work with the Worcester Refugee Archive at Clark University’s Kasperson Research Library. This repository collects the materials, knowledge, research and resources related to Worcester’s refugee and forced migrant communities and offers resources for researchers, students and community members to learn about and preserve the rich experiences of both newly arrived and well-established populations from refugee backgrounds. Volunteers helped by entering item level descriptions in their WordPress “catablog” and researching orphan works. Finally, in Hardwick, Vermont, volunteers traveled up to the Hardwick Historical Society, a small, all-volunteer run collecting repository dedicated to preserving the history of Hardwick. Volunteers worked on a variety of projects for the historical society and were treated to a lecture by noted historian Charlie Morrissey on oral history.
The day was a successful in many ways. Good work that would have been difficult for the repositories to finish on their own was accomplished, people got to see a new archival repository and it allowed people in the profession to meet, inspire and learn from each other. Peter Nelson, a volunteer at the Worcester Refugee Archive said, “The Worcester refugee archive is a relatively new initiative, and it was exciting to be contributing to a young, worthwhile project such as this to get it more firmly established and more widely known through archival description. Also, as a mid-career archivist, I personally enjoyed working with all the younger people in graduate programs and feeding off their enthusiasm and energy.” Mehrdad Kermani, a volunteer at the History Project and a new student at Simmons School of Library and Information Science noted, “This was my first venture archiving, and it was great working alongside professionals. I really had a great time and look forward to doing it again.”
Planning the Day of Service
There has been a lot to learn in the two years we have organized the event. Not everything has gone smoothly and there is always room to make the event better. However, we are proud of what we have accomplished and excited to build on it. The event was successful in large part because of the efforts of our steering committee and ex-officio members, past and present. A great deal of enthusiasm is needed to coordinate the many details that make the day run smoothly. We have five steering committee members and five ex-officio members who live in different parts of New England. Having people in various states made finding and coordinating with host sites much easier. It was also helpful to have that many people to divide the work and tasks so that no one person was overwhelmed.
As of now, there are no official guidelines for organizing these events, but we do follow a general timeline. Four to five months before the service event, we decide on the date. It depends on our schedules, but we try to keep it in early fall. It’s a great time of year, where everyone is settling into their post-summer routine and students are returning at their local library programs. Once we select a date, we start looking for organizations that meet our criteria. We seek out archives that would benefit from additional help, that can be open on the weekend, and that have interesting projects to work on. We also make sure to have sites in various locations in New England. Usually, the person who contacts the host site becomes the coordinator.
Two months before the event, we try to have all the locations confirmed. By that time, we have a general sense of the project, and have scheduled a meeting with the host sites to look at the space and discuss the project in more detail. We use Google Docs to keep track of the logistics and details of each site. A single form holds all the information we need to prepare ourself for the event, such as the address of the site, the maximum capacity of people, the type of projects that will be done, lunch options in the area, etc. This helps keep us on track and is useful in creating promotional materials for the event.
About six weeks before the event, we begin to promote. We work with NEA to create a steady PR presence on the local NEA listserv. We also write a blog post on our own websites, make an announcement on the REPS newsletter, and send e-mails over listservs to the library schools in the area. We create another Google Doc sign up sheet, which we monitor as the weeks pass.
Each site has one REPS coordinator who acts as a liaison for information from the host site. The REPS coordinator sends out an e-mail a week before the event to all the participants with details on the specific site. They answer questions from volunteers and adjust the sign-up sheet if people need to drop out. Then the day arrives and all the preparation work and the conversations had with the hosts and the volunteer plays out. We send out evaluations to the participants and host sites after the event ends. All feedback is valuable; it helps us improve.
REPS helps foster relationships between students, early professionals and those already well-established in the field. The Day of Service creates a space for them to communicate with one another outside of the work environment. The long-term benefits of the event are many. It is an opportunity to meet new people, see new places and do the work we love in a new way.