Provocation through Accessibility at Special Collections at Musselman Library

By Chloe Parrella ’19

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series. 

Gettysburg College Special Collections is a place where the worlds of archiving, preservation, and interpretation intersect. In the climate-controlled stacks, shelves lined with volume after volume attest to the centuries of history that the college has witnessed. It is the role of the current staff and interns to disseminate the seemingly infinite artifacts, manuscripts, and other primary sources that come through the door to those who travel to Special Collections to learn, discover, and enrich themselves. As Freeman Tilden wrote, “Information, as such, is not interpretation. Interpretation is revelation based upon information”. However, interpretation is not something that should be rigidly defined and passed from person to person without question. In places such as Special Collections, we seek to provoke interactions between the sources and those using them; we hope to facilitate an environment where such interpretations can be made.

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Serving the Public First: Archives 2.0

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

By Matt LaRoche ’17

The hallmarks of contemporary archival philosophy, known casually as “Archives 2.0,” have everything to do with making archives open, attractive resources for researchers of all persuasions. These rotate around a few main assertions. First, that archivists should endeavor to make their repositories as attractive as possible to users—this means offering friendly, all-inclusive access, being responsive to user desires, being tech-savvy, and leaving some discovery and processing of collections to the researcher. Secondly, modern archiving stresses accessibility—having a standardized way of organizing collections that will be easily understood by visiting researchers, utilizing language familiar to average people for finding aides, and having the funding necessary to provide visitors the aid, attention, and resources they need.

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Matt LaRoche pins a text panel in the USCT exhibit he’s been curating this summer. Photo courtesy Amy Lucadamo.

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Archives 2.0: Defying the Stereotypes

By Mikki Stacey ‘17

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

Everyone had a picture in mind when I said I’d be doing archival work for the DuPont library at Stratford Hall over the summer. Often, that picture included me amid stacks of dusty books and old documents, sitting in silence and solitude, frantically typing away with my glasses glued to the top of my nose. Each time I got a reaction to this effect, I had to laugh and ask, “Relying a little heavily on a stereotype, aren’t you?” Quickly, I would go into my spiel about why libraries are not at all antiquated, not realizing that there is a term for what I was trying to explain: “Archives 2.0.”

Mikki Stacey defies stereotypes of archival work in her Pohanka internship at Stratford Hall: The Home of the Lees. Photo credit Mikki Stacey.
Mikki Stacey defies stereotypes of archival work in her Pohanka internship at Stratford Hall: The Home of the Lees. Photo credit Mikki Stacey.

Partially out of necessity and partially out of nature, libraries and librarians have evolved, and currently, we are in the period of Archives 2.0, which Kate Theimer distinguishes from other periods of archival work by its “spirit of flexibility and the willingness to experiment and collaborate.” a spirit that has brought interrelated changes to the field. More than gathering information, modern archivists want to disseminate information. This desire has resulted in an (maybe unexpected) embrace of technology to create a more user-friendly experience. Continue reading “Archives 2.0: Defying the Stereotypes”

Pohanka Reflection: Special Collections & Archives, Musselman Library, Gettysburg College

By Bryan Caswell ’15

The reading room of Gettysburg College’s Special Collections is one of those singular spaces where the denizens of academe encounter the uninitiated yet insatiably curious members of that nebulous group known as the public. Indeed, many summer afternoons on the fourth floor of Musselman Library witness researchers diligently pouring over primary source material and rare books while intrigued visitors study the numerous displays of artifacts with equal dedication. While my duties in Special Collections are mostly confined to working with the collections themselves, I have upon occasion received the opportunity to observe our visitors as they interact with the history that is on display.

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The author in his habitat. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, Musselman Library, Gettysburg College

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The Fragility of History: William H. Harris’ West Point 1861 Album

By Logan Tapscott ’14

Musselman Library’s Special Collections & College Archives  at Gettysburg College is a center for undergraduate student and faculty research and houses and maintains several types of primary source materials, including rare books, letters, diaries, maps, works of art, and photographs. Carolyn Sautter, the director of Special Collections, said, “one of the best ways of learning about historical eras is to actually see the images of the time period.” Special Collections provides researchers and visitors opportunities to visually engage with objects through either the exhibit cases in the Collection’s Reading Room or on the GettDigital website, a venue on which poeple can explore the Civil war by seeing peoples’ faces. Especially with fragile materials such as William H. Harris’ West Point 1861 Album, Special Collections’ online resource provides access to objects that would otherwise be inaccessable to students and faculty.

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Stories from the (Gettysburg) Basement

By Rachel Hammer ’15

Last time I interned at the Gettysburg National Military Park, it was January of 2011. And if anyone needs reassurance that not many people visit Gettysburg in the dead of winter…not many people visit Gettysburg in the dead of winter. So, having the opportunity to spend a summer, especially the summer of the 150th, at Gettysburg was quite the culture shock. Not that my primary job involved much interaction with visitors, which personally is how I enjoy working. Five days a week, I worked in museum services in the Visitor Center lower level (aka the basement).

I’ve had an interest in the archival and curatorial side of museums since high school. I now work in Special Collections at Musselman Library at Gettysburg College, and it’s the general direction I hope to go with my life. I greatly respect interpreters for what they do, because they’re passionate enough to go out everyday and hype up visitors with a story that hopefully will stick with the visitor for a long time. For me, I like being able to prepare behind the scenes and let the visitor interpret the object, exhibit, etc. for themselves. This internship allowed me to see more of both archival and curatorial duties, practices, and even problems.

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Mosby’s scarf in the new “Treasures of the Civil War” exhibit.

For the first weeks of the summer, another intern and I had to go through a back log of nearly 1,000 photos from the 1990s, assign them catalog numbers, write the individual catalog number on every single photo, put them in our special archival photo boxes, and label them.  Although the grunt work part of this project was dull at times, it did lead to learning about cold storage (how photos are stored in order to best preserve them). Once the photos were in the archival photo boxes, the box is wrapped in two layers of plastic (making sure everything is sealed as air tight as possible) and put in a fridge. A humidity strip on the box and between the layers of plastic show if there’s air leaking into the box. Continue reading “Stories from the (Gettysburg) Basement”