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Apr 6 / Christine Illichmann

Alternative Spring Break 2018 – MIT Libraries

Today’s post has been submitted by SIS student Rebecca Roper. Rebecca is sharing her 2018 Alternative Spring Break experience at the Institute Archives and Special Collections, part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries.

SIS Student Rebecca Roper at work, surrounded by VHS and U-Matic tapes

For my alternate spring break, I had the opportunity to go to Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries to work in their Institute Archives and Special Collections (IASC). I was incredibly excited to visit Boston and gain experience at a larger academic library and archives, since these are the areas I’m focusing on in my Master’s program at SIS.

My primary project was creating an inventory of a collection from MIT’s Office of Digital Learning (ODL). The Office had sent over plastic tubs full of a variety of media from early projects at MIT focused on media for instruction and learning. Many of the materials were from programs for foreign

language instruction, where others were filmed lectures on topics from economics to engineering. These dated to the 1980s to the early 2000s, and included a bunch of different media formats, including U-Matic and VHS tapes, videodiscs, open reel tapes, and floppy discs. My job was to figure out what was in the tubs and describe them in an inventory. I entered descriptive information into a spreadsheet as well as assigned an identifying number to each item, which I wrote on the label or exterior packaging of the media items in pencil. I took photographs of each item to create a visual inventory to go along with the spreadsheet. This process was tedious but the end result is very useful when multiple people are working on processing a collection, since it makes it clear which item is which.


A processed tub of open reel tapes and videodiscs.


Alongside my inventory project, I learned a lot about digital preservation from Nancy McGovern. We discussed issues surrounding digital preservation and how it differs from digital archives, and the projects she and MIT Libraries are working on to further digital preservation of their collections. I also worked with Kari Smith and Joe Carrano on digital forensics in the Digital Sustainability Lab. I learned how to use BitCurator and we were able to get information off of floppy discs, something I haven’t done since I was in elementary school! We also talked about web archiving and a few tools to use for that purpose. Throughout the week, I had the opportunity to meet with librarians and archivists from different areas of MIT Libraries to learn about the work they do, which was invaluable.

This was a wonderful experience (even with an unexpected snow day), and it came at the perfect moment as I prepare to graduate from SIS and enter the job market. I was able to gain practical experience working with audio-visual materials, as well as learn about different roles within university library and archives.