Behind the Curtain: Laura Bell, Processor and Assistant to the Curator of Photographs

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

Role: Processor and Assistant to the Curator of Photographs

Educational Background: B.A. in English with a minor in Educational Studies from St. Mary’s College of Maryland; Current MLS graduate student with a specialization in Archives and Records Management.

How she got here: During Laura’s last semester as an undergrad, she worked as a student assistant at the college library.  After graduating, she knew she wanted to pursue Library Science but was unsure what specialization to choose. Laura also wanted to be sure she was picking a path that she would enjoy so she decided to work and gain more experience.

Laura began working full time in the Access Services Department at the main academic library at West Virginia University. The people in that department were amazing and they provided great opportunities to learn skills that led to her current interests. She worked to improve her customer service skills with patrons, and she learned more about library school in general by talking with her supervisor at the time, and IU alum, Hilary Fredette.

After 6 months in Access Services, she began working in the special collections department/archive at WVU.  At the West Virginia & Regional History Center (WVRHC), she managed the historic photographs collection including selecting images to go online in the database, managing student workers, handling image requests and reproductions, and working to help with other projects.  Laura’s position at the WVRHC led her to decide on the archives specialization.  She had supportive mentors who encouraged her when she started applying to schools and making decisions. Their enthusiasm and knowledge showed her how many things archivists get to do and how they can make materials more accessible to patrons. Another alum from the program, Danielle Emerling who works at the WVRHC, coordinated with Carrie Schwier of the IU Archives to set up a time for Laura to visit the Archives when she visited the campus that spring.  After seeing everything that IU and the MLS program had to offer, she decided this would be a good place to gain the experience and knowledge she needed to become an archivist. Now, she gets to work here and she loves it.

Example of a dance card in the IU Archives Collection

Favorite Collection in the IU Archives: The IU Dance Cards Collection. It was one of the first collections that she processed.  Each dance card is unique and it was really interesting to see how many events there were on campus throughout the 1920s-1950s.

Current Project: She is currently processing the Claire Robertson papers and working on other small projects as they come up.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Hard to pick one! She enjoys processing collections the most, but she really enjoyed researching materials and finding images for East Meets Midwest: A History of Chinese Students at Indiana University, an exhibit that was displayed in the Wells Library in March 2017.

What she’s learned from working here: Since Laura is from Maryland, the rivalry between IU and Purdue was news to her!  She also just enjoys getting to learn the general history of the university and what it was like when it first began.

A Sword in the Archives: New Additions to the John D. Alexander papers

John D. Alexander was the oldest living IU graduate from 1929 until his death in 1931

In a Sincerely, Yours post from July 2016, we introduced you to John D. Alexander, an IU alum who rose through the ranks of the 97th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers to ultimately become Acting Assistant Inspector General of the Second Brigade of the Union Army. His collection was donated to the Archives in 2015 and contains dramatic letters written to his parents as he marched with Sherman’s army to the sea. In a letter from Camp Anderson, Georgia on December 18, 1864, he writes, “My Dear Parents, I am still alive, for which, I can thank the Good Lord.” Not only did Alexander survive the Civil War, he lived long enough to become the oldest living graduate of Indiana University from 1929 until his death on February 27, 1931.

Since the collection was first opened to researchers last spring, the collection has been popular with faculty and students for use in history and folklore classes. The collection provides a great local context to a larger national event, the Civil War.

With the rich research value of the collection, you can only imagine how excited we were to learn that the Archives would be acquiring additional materials to add to the collection. Because Alexander and his wife did not have any children to pass along their belongings to, their materials were separated among close family friends and more distant relatives.

In April 2017, the Archives learned that we would be receiving a scrapbook, a pair of Chevalier Paris binoculars, Alexander’s Union Army Captain shoulder strap insignia, and his Captain’s sword.

A pair of Paris Chevalier binoculars owned by Alexander with case
John D. Alexander’s Union Army Captain’s sword
Union Army Captain shoulder strap insignia (post-Civil War regalia)

These new additions provide researchers with a deeper connection to the man behind the Civil War letters. In his post-Civil War life, Alexander served as a prosecuting attorney in Greene, Owen, and Morgan counties in Indiana and was the representative of Greene County in the Indiana General Assembly of 1887. He was also highly active in the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization composed of Union Army veterans, and attended nationally encampments in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, Chattanooga, Toledo, Columbus, Boston, Buffalo, and Atlantic City. He served as State Commander of the Indiana G. A. R. from May 1908 to May 1909.

Alexander’s interest in the G.A.R. and veterans’ issues are reflected in the scrapbook he filled with newspaper clippings about Civil War monuments, G.A.R. encampments, patriotism, and Indiana G.A.R. activities starting in 1907 until the late 1920s. Papers found tucked within the scrapbook also offer a distinct look into Alexander’s life. These pages include correspondence to distant relatives who named their son “John Alexander,” a page from a family Bible detailing birth and death dates, and even Alexander’s personal research regarding George Washington’s potential affairs.

We’ve enjoyed learning more about one of IU’s most distinctive alumni and hope that you will consider a visit to the Archives to see these new additions. The collection is partially digitized and can be viewed here. Please contact the IU Archives if you would like to learn more about the life of John D. Alexander.

Behind the Curtain: Hannah Vaughn, Bicentennial Graduate Assistant

dsc_0467Role: Graduate Assistant at the IU Archives working on the Indiana University Bicentennial

Educational Background: B.A. in History from Purdue University; current M.L.S. student with a specialization in Rare Books and Manuscripts

Previous Experience: Hannah worked in the Archives and Special Collections at Purdue University for two years as an undergraduate assistant for the Barron Hilton Flight and Space Exploration Archives.  In addition, she spent one summer at the Indiana State Library through the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division. This past summer, she worked with the Loan Archives at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Hannah says working in the Purdue Archives was “the highlight of my undergraduate degree program.  The experiences I had and the people I met ultimately helped me decide on my future career path.  As such, I was greatly interested in working in a similar environment that could teach me even more about working in an archive.”

Current project: Recently Hannah has been working to process the Eugene Chen Eoyang papers, who was a Professor of Comparative Literature and East Asian Languages and Cultures at IU. She also just installed an exhibit drawn from his papers. Visit the Office of the Bicentennial in Franklin Hall 200 to see “Reflections on Diversity: Highlights from the Eugene Chen Eoyang papers” through February 1, 2018.

What she’s learned: The first president of IU, Andrew Wylie, died while in office.  He accidentally cut his foot with an ax while out in the woods and then died a couple of days later from pneumonia.

Behind the Curtain: Julia Kilgore, Bicentennial Oral History Intern

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

Role: Bicentennial Oral History Intern

Educational Background: BA in History, BA in Art from Hillsdale College; Current MLS student with a specialization in archives and records management.

How she got here: Julia started working in archives as an undergraduate at Hillsdale College. At the College, she mainly worked in special collections as the caretaker of the campus Library’s coin collection, but she occasionally helped the college Archivist with various projects. One particular project she enjoyed was helping to rearrange documents from the Winston Churchill Project.  She also had the pleasure of working with and organizing an entire archives collection at a local historic house, the Grosvenor House Museum.

When Julia volunteered for the Grosvenor House Museum, she never knew what to expect.  It was like Christmas every day! One afternoon she would be flipping through a pile of graduation announcements from the local schools and the next she would be trying to identify individuals in a stack of nameless photos. There were old maps, rail road tickets, letters, articles on local war heroes…one time she and a friend found a military commission from King George III for a local townsman with its wax seal still intact! Meanwhile at the College, Julia would sift through and rehouse tons of letters between Winston Churchill and his wife, secretary notes from meetings, letters to dignitaries from around the world, and other great documents. After working with these collections, Julia knew that she wanted to work in an environment where she could interact with archives and special collections in some way, whether it be in a library, museum, or a similar institution.

Julia began her dual MLS/Art History degree in the fall of 2015 and found work as a Public Services Assistant in Wells Library. In the spring of 2016, she began processing collections for the IU Archives and transitioned into her current position as Bicentennial Oral History Intern the following semester.

Favorite item in the collection: One of Julia’s favorite items in the archives is Volume 5 of the Sycamore Logbook from 1944-1945 from the IU Women’s Residence Halls scrapbooks (see more info about the scrapbooks in her posts titled “Snippets from Dorm Life” and “Mail Call“). She was reordering all of IU’s women’s dorm scrapbooks when she decided to flip through a few to get an idea of what these ladies were like. As she turned page after page of unidentified photographs, she wondered if she would find anything that would tell her their names or what their lives were like at IU. She turned a page and saw the headline “Mail Call.” She was immediately drawn to it because she knew the book was from around the end of World War II, meaning it had to be something about soldiers during the war.

It turned out to be a really great piece describing a typical morning in Sycamore Hall where the ladies would dash downstairs immediately after waking up to see if there was news from the front lines. It really struck a chord with Julia and reminded her yet again the amazing things you get to discover while working in archives (and purely by accident too!).

Current project: Julia interviews staff and alumni for the Oral History Project about their time here at IU.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Julia loves when she is interviewing someone for the Oral History project and they talk about old student hangouts or past events.  It’s really great because she can research these places and events after the interview and she always finds great things in our collections on them.  Sitting there listening to them talk about these things really helps her to connect with our collections on a different level.  It makes it all the more real to her.

What she’s learned from working here: Restaurants, bookstores, and other places downtown have such a rich and wonderful history that are so interconnected to IU and its students. The best thing about it? Many of them still exist.  It is wonderful to go into places Nick’s or the Gables after hearing about all of these different experiences and think about what it was like then versus now.

Behind the Curtain: Nick Homenda, Digital Initiatives Librarian

dsc_0472Title: Digital Initiatives Librarian for IU Libraries

Role: Nick assists the IU Archives with digital projects and the ongoing use of services and workflows that his department manages.

Educational Background: BA in Clarinet Performance from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University; MA in Clarinet Performance from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington; MSIS with a specialization in Music Librarianship from the University of Texas at Austin

Previous Experience: Nick has worked in libraries and archival repositories since 2001, first as an undergraduate intern, followed by working for the Digital Library Program scanning sheet music while attending IU. When he worked as an orchestral musician in West Virginia, he also worked at a public and an academic library in paraprofessional positions. Nick’s first professional job was as a music librarian at the University of South Carolina.

Favorite item in the collection: Nick loves the Archives Photograph Collection– he notes that it’s really interesting to see how our campus has grown over the past 200 years and he likes photos of familiar places from long ago.

Old Crescent, 1900
Old Crescent, 1900. Archives image no. P0035214

Current project: Lately, he has been working with collections of materials described in different ways- uniquely-formatted spreadsheets, databases, etc., and using XML technologies like XSLT and XQuery to quickly turn them into EAD container lists for Archives staff.

Favorite experience with the IU Archives: Working on the IU Folklore Institute student papers finding aid has been great. Carrie Schwier, Outreach and Public Services Archivist, recently collaborated with Nick to programmatically produce an EAD container list from an Access database, and it was really gratifying to do. With the collection now publicly accessible, it was recently promoted at the American Folklore Society conference.

What he’s learned from working with the IU Archives: Nick has learned how to have a successful social media strategy in a University department. The @IUBArchives twitter presence is really impressive, and other library units and centers on campus should use it as an example of how to reach out to thousands of potential users and share enthusiasm for really fascinating content.