Quarantine blog – Manuscript Department 

This week’s blog is written by Robert Weaver, assistant archivist of the Southwest Collection, and provides an update on what the manuscript department has been working on while at home.

Six weeks of working from home, with two weeks to go. Can an archive do real, legitimate work in such an environment? Of course it can, and shame on you for asking. Even without our physical archival materials close at hand, the Southwest Collection has been churning out archival goodies!

Take for example our nearly 1,000 finding aids on Texas Archival Resources Online (http://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/taro/browse/browse_tech1.html). The Southwest Collection curates nearly 500 of these, with our fellow TTU archives (The Sowell Collection in Literature, Community and the Natural World; the Texas Tech University Archives; and the Crossroads of Music Archive) maintaining the remainder. And of the SWC’s 500, 421 required extensive revision in order to ensure that researchers like you can more easily discover them online. And now, after years of having this on our plate, and weeks of work-from-home effort, those changes have been uploaded. You’re welcome!

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Browsing the SWC’s TARO website.

Now, you may not know this, but the Southwest Collection has been around since the founding of Texas Tech University and was officially designated a campus entity in the 1950s. Decades of labor have led to just shy of 2,500 manuscript collections available for public research. “But Robert!” you might exclaim. “You said you only have 500 finding aids!” Calm down! I did say that. But through the efforts of two amazing student employees—Alison Pruitt and JoHanna Haiduk—who worked daily through the Fall and Spring semesters (right up until the campus closed and, fingers crossed, once the University re-opens), we are flying through that backlog. Those two were able to inventory over 600 collections, putting us over a quarter of the way there! Told you they were amazing.

However, making a finding aid isn’t simply a matter of uploading an inventory. From the moment a collection gets dollied into our stacks we document who created it, why they created it, how it relates to other collections, and a wealth of other information. This “metadata” gets organized and input into the XML code of an online finding aid, where its presence ensures that researchers can determine whether the collection is useful to them. The finding aid for the papers of Texas Governor Coke Stevenson are a good example of such metadata done right: http://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/taro/ttusw/00394/tsw-00394.html.

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Governor Coke R. and Marguerite King Heap Stevenson TARO Finding Aid

That part of the job is time consuming. Archival Associate Sarah Stephenson, who recently left us for the urban sprawl of Austin, Texas; Zach Hernandez, added to the staff mere days before TTU closed its doors; and myself have since last October slowly worked one finding aid at a time, piecing together this data. And we’re making progress! Over the work from home weeks, Zach alone has finished up over 200 finding aids that I will absolutely upload as soon as I can get the FTP program to work properly through my home firewall.

And there you have it. A manuscript archive run from the comfort of pajamas, home-ground coffee, and music turned up as loud as we want because we’re not at the office. And always remember, we’re doing this for you, the researcher. If you need something, contact our ever-helpful Reference Staff (https://swco.ttu.edu/refaccess.php) and they’ll get these things into your hands.

Stay safe and healthy out there, y’all!

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