Archives Tell a Story

I'm working on my field study right now, arranging and describing a collection which had previously been kept in piles on shelves and in boxes. One of my favorite parts of going through the materials is putting together stories which emerge in the materials. Sometimes, because I'm describing at the item level, I'm able to convey the story within the finding aid itself. For example, from the documents of the library committee:

  • Letter from Professor [redacted] re: library staff member’s refusal to disclose circulation records, 1987
  • Letter from [library director] to Professor [redacted] re: confidentiality of library circulation records, 1987
  • Letter from [library director] to Dean [redacted] re: confidentiality of library circulation records, 1987
  • “Academic Libraries Must Oppose Federal Surveillance of Their Users” copied from Chronicle of Higher Education, 1988
  • Article “The FBI in the Library,” 1988
  • “Librarians Challenge FBI on Extent of Its Investigation” copied from _News of the Week_¸ probably 1988
  • “Librarians Want FBI to Shelve Requests About Foreign Readers,” 1988
  • Volume 37, number 1, Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, 1988
  • “Talk of the Town” New Yorker,1988 (Note: Concerning the Library Awareness Program)

(I had to mess slightly with my finding aid format to make this blog right, but the point comes across.)

The contents of the letters and then the slew of materials on library confidentiality, albeit primarily FBI investigations, make me imagine that the library director passed these on to the challenging professor and perhaps the rest of the faculty and deans. Am I sure? No. This is the original order of materials as left by that library director and it may simply mean that the director was working to raise library committee awareness of the subject and formulate policies. But it's fun to see a story within in the materials.

Ruth Kitchin Tillman
Cataloging Systems and Linked Data Strategist

Card-carrying quilter. Mennonite. Writer. Worker.