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May 10 / Matthew Fredericks

Alternative Spring Break 2017 – The Benson Ford Research Center

By Mark Prindiville, MLIS student

SLIS students Xander Geisser, Dereck Cram, Mark Prindiville and Laura Kennedy (from left).

For my Alternative Spring Break internship, I was selected to work amongst the Benson Ford Research Center’s finest information professionals. The project was advertised as an volunteering opportunity to work with the Watts Campbell Company record collection and to take an inventory of what may be housed within the boxes. Our team of four volunteers were tasked to record box and volume contents, with the goal of creating a box-level inventory for the collection in the mode of MPLP and extensible processing.

Housed among the stacks of the Benson Ford Research Center was a collection of corporate records that seemed like an endless span of storage boxes, filled with unadulterated history of the Watts Campbell Company. The volunteer team from Wayne State’s School of Library & Information Science, consisting of Laura Kennedy, Dereck Cram, Xander Geisser, and myself, were tasked with obtaining as much information as they could about the 500+ box collection. After becoming acquainted with the stacks and with the research center itself, we promptly began work on finding information that could help organize the collection in terms of series and the date range of the material that they were working with. One employee informed the group that fax records dated as late as 2004 were found, which heavily differed from the correspondence from the mid 1800s I stumbled upon.

Among the records contained several series the Benson categorized ahead of time, including Incoming and Outgoing Correspondence, Invoices, and Shop Orders, just to name a few. Numerous boxes were filled with letters to and from Watts Campbell, including a plethora of documents containing beautiful letter headings from companies no longer known to the naked eye. Occasionally, the team would stumble across materials with some humor, including back-and-forths between Watts and clientele, or curious purchases from family members of Watts Campbell. Other times the team would stumble into well-known history, including letters from Thomas Edison himself, or inquiries into draft exemptions.

In short, my experience working with the staff and fellow volunteers at the Benson was, I would argue, a success. I was able to obtain experience in working not only at a well-known institution for a week, but also with a rather sizable collection. I am very grateful for the experience and for learning so much about the work done at the Benson Research Center at the Henry Ford.