It’s been about a month since the latest provincial lockdown ended for our region, and about a month that Museum & Archives staff have been back in the building. Working from home feels like a distant memory, and thankfully so – the last month has brought about so many new learning opportunities for me here at the Archives! Since being back, my greatest feat has been finishing arranging and describing my third fonds, an arduous but rewarding task, taking boxes of unorganized materials and establishing a file folder for each item down to the last scrap of paper, making sure that each item is retrievable by researchers.
I have also finished digitizing a collection of oral history tapes, a series of interviews originally recorded on cassette tapes, where students spoke with residents of Amherst Island in the 1980’s about their experiences growing up on the island. These cassette tapes, readable by fleeting technology, are now saved in .mp3 format in the Archives’ digital vault. Along the way, between flipping from side A to B, I have had the chance to listen to some of these unique and heartfelt stories about rural island life throughout the twentieth century.
In addition to completing these two projects, I have gained a number of practical processing skills. I have learned how to digitize glass plate negatives, transforming cloudy inverse images on rugged pieces of glass into lovely black and white photographs of early twentieth century L&A. The task seemed daunting at first, but with careful handling, a scanner equipped with a transparency unit which allows light to penetrate through the negative, and a tad bit of photo editing, the results were a success.
I have also been busy encapsulating fragile textual records, most recently a collection of broadsides. Encapsulation is simply the act (or perhaps art) of smoothly securing a paper item between two sheets of stable plastic with double-sided tape, giving support and rigidity to the paper to avoid potential damage during handling, while protecting the item from dust and other environmental stressors.
I recently learned how to accession, which is just a fancy word for processing new items coming into the collections. Inputting the necessary paperwork into our database and describing the items coming into the Archives’ care to ensure no provenance details or information from the donor is lost in the process. I have had a lot of fun collaborating with the museum too, finding records that support the museum artifacts that will be on exhibit in late spring…
Lastly, one of my recent responsibilities at the Archives, and what I am most excited about, is responding to research requests. I have to say, this is what drives me to work in the archives field! It is so satisfying when someone comes to you, whether it be with vague ponderings about their family’s lineage or something specific like locating a loved one’s obituary in a back issue of a newspaper, and you are able to help bring that researcher one step closer to understanding their family’s history. Questions about land are neat too, people looking for information on a specific home or property, curious about farming or industry that may have taken place in their neighbourhood, looking to history to connect further with the place that they live. Responding to research requests has had me bouncing around the PastPerfect database, the vault, and the reading room – pouring over history books and genealogies, searching for one specific person or piece of history, gaining a deeper knowledge of the Archives’ holdings in the process. I continue to be impressed by the wealth of information that is available to the public just at this one small municipal archives! It is pretty amazing.
My time here at the Archives may be coming to an end soon, but I feel so lucky to have gained so many new skills and to have had such a valuable work experience with incredibly dedicated staff and volunteers that work so hard to maintain this vibrant public institution.