After Covid kept me home for the entirety of my sophomore year, I was finally able to return to campus in fall 2021 and be more involved in campus life. I made a list of organizations and clubs to join, but one of my top priorities was to get a job at the Archives on campus. Over the past three years that I’ve been a student at IU, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in one class a year that visited the Archives (or in the case of my completely online fall 2020 semester, had an Archivist meet on Zoom with us). This was a great experience to connect with IU’s history and learn about the breadth of resources available to students. Since I’m an anthropology/archaeology major, people and culture are at the core of my interests. Furthermore, I am deeply fascinated in history on the individual level, rather than the broad scope we usually learn about in primary school. I love to learn about the day to day life of people and what their community was like at the time they were alive. I thought that working at the Archives would be a great opportunity to learn new skills and gain valuable work experience, while still honing in on my varied interests.
I turned out to be right– there’s a little of everything here! With collections from all across campus that span the past 200 years, I am always reading and sorting through something interesting. My first project was processing a collection from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s. The collection was only two boxes, but a lot of the content was not sorted into folders. My first task was to reorganize the loose papers into categories that would be useful to researchers. While doing this I also discarded any duplicates (if there were more than three). This process of sorting requires a lot of reading, which I’ve found to be the most interesting part of the job! There were emails, letters, forms, invitations, flyers, etc. It’s a time capsule! It was also interesting to get a better understanding of how things operate behind the scenes for planning committees and how much time and effort goes into their work.
Surprisingly, I became attached to these people that I had never met. In one month’s worth of reading, I saw one man’s career of 10 years condensed to a stack of correspondence. He had gotten a promotion at the beginning of the files and by the end of the collection I had found a letter saying that he was retiring. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m an anthropology student or because I’m a sentimental person (yes, even for these boxes of athletic alumni event materials to which I had no relation to when they were actually happening), but I was left feeling connected to the people, collection, and time period I was dealing with. Reading through these files gave me the chance to learn about the time generally (flyers, pamphlets, organizational materials), but also the history of the people involved themselves (emails, letters, hand-written notes). There is just something special about holding an object that people decades ago held before you, even if it was only 2 decades ago. They probably did not know that their notes and doodles on documents would end up preserved and filed away 25 years later.
After organizing the files into something comprehensible, I was taught how to create a “finding aid” for the collection. This is basically a tool that describes the collection so that a researcher can decide whether or not it’s something they want to investigate more. After this, the collection was ready to go – and you can take a look! Indiana University I Association records, 1994-2010.
Overall this process took me a little over a month to complete and I learned a lot along the way. Even during the process as I began to have a better understanding of the materials, I went back and fixed what I had done on the first few days. Although meticulous, I really enjoyed processing and learning so much along the way (about Archives and IU)!