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Sep 26 / Matthew Fredericks

Alternative Spring Break at Michigan State University Archives

By Erin Zimmerman, MLIS Student

Michigan State University Archives, East Lansing

While the assignment itself, a week of doing shelf reads at the Michigan State University Archives, did not sound particularly glamourous, it did provide the opportunity to get a feel for the entire archive.  We could have spent the entire week with our clipboards and measuring tape in archival storage, but our internship supervisor, Ed Busch, took every opportunity to ask us about our interests, have us join in their regular activities, and sit down with their staff to observe them at work.  I would not have imagined learning so much while working on a shelf reading / catalog clean-up project.

The basis of our responsibilities was taking a clipboard with a paper inventory through storage and noting the presence or lack of items on the inventory as well as taking the dimensions of the containers.  I will forever have a vague knowledge of the basic dimensions of “standard” archival boxes.  It was also nice to brush up on my basic measurement skills.  Of this process, I think the greatest surprise for me was that it was paper based and not on a laptop or tablet, but it makes sense to me now because it was easy to divide the list between us, they have a paper copy to refer to, and it really was easy to look at and make notes on.  I have even decided to do a paper inventory this year where I work based on how well this seemed to go.

While doing the inventory, I was able to identify some records that needed correction.  Items listed in the wrong location; different shelf, different range, even different building once.  There were a few things that were not on the shelf and a couple different items that were on the shelf that needed records.  Then there were the mysterious things that would have to be further explored after I left.  The most useful discovery we unearthed was a step in their workflow with ASpace they were not aware needed to be taken that was leaving “ghost” accession records as they had only been using it for a few months.  I found this to be really rewarding because on a short internship it is hard to see the benefits of your work.  Catching that early on in their transition process made my time there seem immediately valuable.

Outside of the actual inventory process we were invited to join a staff article discussion, toured the university library which included a special section on Turfgrass, had a demonstration from the audiovisual archivist, explored Archive-It, toured off-site storage to check for water-leaks, and I also sat and observed the cataloging archivist.  I had discussions about AV software as well as hardware, the transition from Archivists Toolkit to ASpace and the pros and cons so far, past water damage, and so many other topics.  The entire staff was welcoming and friendly, so I felt very comfortable going to them with my questions about the project I was working on, anything they had shown me regarding their own projects, or just something I was curious about in the archival field. 

Overall, this internship was full of opportunities that kept popping up to experience something new all throughout the week.  Of course, I am the type of person who would have been content in storage with a clipboard and a measuring tape the whole week, so everything else was a bonus.