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Sep 23 / Matthew Fredericks

My Time at the Walter P. Reuther Library

By Chris Wisswell

Nine weeks ago, I started working in an archives department for the first time as an intern at the Walter P. Reuther Library which is part of Wayne State University.  I had no idea what to expect or what I would and should be doing.  I wasn’t too nervous; I was more excited about the new opportunity. 

The Walter P. Reuther Library is actually an archives.  It houses papers and collections relating to the labor movement in the United States, women’s rights and civil rights.  Wayne State University’s archives are also kept in the building.

I was assigned a collection of items that came from the home and offices of Mildred Jeffrey, a political and social activist who called Detroit her home.  Mildred, commonly known as Millie, died in 2004 and the collection was donated to the archives around the same time period.  The collection consisted of twelve boxes of photos, videos, audio cassettes, negatives, personal papers and various types of ephemera.  The ephemera varied; political campaign buttons, travel movie slides and t-shirts were some of the items.   The collection was given to the archive as is; there was no rhyme or reason to how it was placed in the boxes.  Photos were with photos and tapes were with tapes but they were not in any order and items that didn’t belong were also thrown in.

The first thing that needed to be done was to go through everything and sort it into general groups.   Photos over here, videos over there, etc.   Once we knew what we were dealing with, we had to decide how the collection would be broken down.  What would a series consist of and what level would we describe?  And how much would be described at each level?   It was decided that the contents would be broken down and described as follows:

  1. Photographs
    1. Events – folder level description, each folder holds an event
    1. Individual Shots
      1. Color Photos – one folder for all color photos
      1. Black and White Photos – one folder for all black and white photos
    1. Mildred Jeffrey with One Other Person – Female
      1. Color Photos – one folder for all color photos
      1. Black and White Photos – one folder for all black and white photos
    1. Mildred Jeffrey with One Other Person – Male
      1. Color Photos – one folder for all color photos
      1. Black and White Photos – one folder for all black and white photos
    1. Mildred Jeffrey with Group of People
      1. Color Photos – one folder for all color photos
      1. Black and White Photos – one folder for all black and white photos
    1. Mildred Jeffrey Not in Photos
      1. Color Photos – did not have time to sort these to the folder level, each size was put in a small archive box
        1. 3 ½ inches x 5 inches and smaller
        1. 4 inches x 6 inches and larger
      1. Black and White Photos – did not have time to sort these to the folder level, they were placed in a box
    1. Scrap Books – scrap books created by or given to Millie.  They were placed in a box for further processing
    1. Negatives – placed in box for further processing.
    1. Personal – placed in a box to be returned to family.  If they do not want the items, it will be processed and added to the collection
  2. Audio
    1. Cassettes – individual item description based on title written on cassette by Mille Jeffrey.  Numbers will be added at a later date in order to keep it in order
      1. Cassettes with Title
      1. Cassettes with illegible Title
      1. Cassettes without Title
    1. LP – individual item description based on cover
    1. Magnetic Tape – unsure what is on it, archive is going to review them later
    1. Microcassettes – unsure what is on it, archive is going to review them later
  3. Moving Images
    1. DVD – individual item description based on cover
    1. Reel-to-reel – unsure what is on it, archive is going to review later
    1. VHS – individual item description based on cover
    1. Computer Software – individual item description based on title written on it by Millie
  4. Computer Software
  5. Micro Floppy Disk
  6. Ephemera
    1. Textiles – individual item description
    1. Stickers – individual item description
    1. Buttons and Pins – individual item description
      1. Political Campaign Buttons and Pins
      1. Political Events and Organizations Buttons and Pins
      1. Delegate Identification
      1. Miscellaneous Buttons and Pins
    1. Miscellaneous Ephemera – individual item description

The order that I processed the collection was as follows: ephemera, computer software, moving images, audio and photographs.  Because time was limited, I was not able to process the complete collection like I hoped to do.  However, the archive was happy with what I was able to do and seemed appreciative.    Once the rest of the collection is processed and added to the digital collection, my supervisor at the practicum will email me the link so I can view the finished product.  I cannot wait to see it.

I enjoyed my time at the Walter P. Reuther Library and learned a great deal about archiving as a career.  It is definitely interesting and I can see myself doing it in the future.