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Apr 26 / Matthew Fredericks

SLIS Alternative Spring Break at the Gerald Ford Presidential Library

By Natalie Piernak, MLIS Student

Though staying close to home for Alternative Spring Break, I had the chance to learn about the National Archives and Records Administration network by interning at the Gerald Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor. Many of my classmates traveled much farther than I, but the snow gave me no less trouble on my first day. A normal 45 minute commute turned into a snowy nightmare! Luckily, this is spring in Michigan so the weather the rest of the week was fairly mild and sunny…until Friday afternoon when it proceeded to think it was winter again.

Our gracious host, archivist Stacey Davis, gave us the chance to help process a variety of collections during the week which let me see first hand the damage rubber bands, staples, and newspaper can do in 40 years. Among those collections was bulk mail addressed to President Ford in opposition to the Nixon pardon, letters to Mrs. Ford supporting her comments to personal questions on 60 Minutes and white house congressional papers. A highlight for me was coming across a letter addressed to Mrs. Ford from Norman Lear, producer of several TV shows of the era including All in the Family. Though familiar with his shows, I did not recognize Mr. Lear’s name. Stacey peeked over my shoulder at exactly the right time to notice it!

Mrs. Ford had created some controversy speaking out on what she might hypothetically do if her teenage daughter had a premarital affair… keep a dialog open and counsel her through it. Most of the letters my fellow interns and I came across were pro. Yet, the occasional con mixed in our bunches seemed to be more upset not on Mrs. Ford’s approach to the possible scenario, but that she said it publicly. The library already has a disapproving letter on display from the real Maria Von Trap. Hopefully, Mr. Lear’s letter can join it as a contrasting view of the time advocating for more openness about real issues in families.

Throughout the week the rest of the archivists were kind enough to share with us about their specialties such as: AV, reference and declassification. A common thread for most of them was that they learned the collection overtime and were able to learn their specialties through the archivists before them. They were very encouraging to us and I appreciate them sharing their stories! Overall, it was a great week and I hope to participate in Alternative Spring Break again!

Natalie Piernak
Social Media Manager/Webmaster
Society of American Archivists- WSU Chapter