Beacon Street Diary
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a librarian."
This is my standard answer unless I want to try to explain what an archivist is.
So, what is an archivist? In my case, it's someone who has gone to library school and specialized in caring for documents that were created by individuals or organizations. At the Congregational Library, that usually means ministers, charitable groups, churches, and missionaries. I also am responsible for preserving the items in my care. We are still pretty low-tech / low-cost, so our best bet is to house the records in acid-free containers, remove rusted (or potentially rusty) metal fasteners, and maintain a stable storage environment.
I am a department of one, like many in my field, a lone arranger. I'm responsible for answering reference questions, processing new collections, creating guides for those collections, cataloging, preservation, talking to donors, educating / providing outreach for our constituents, collaborating with the rest of the library staff on projects, and other administrivia. It also happens I'm the de-facto web designer and primary IT support.
Interns - One of the perks of being a Boston repository is that I / we have the chance to host Simmons library school (GSLIS) interns. The past 12 months have been fantastic for us and I've managed 2 students every semester. Supervising a student is something I look forward to every spring and fall semesters. I enjoy mentoring new professionals. I was grateful when I was a student to have supportive internship environments and while I am here to teach them, they inevitably help clarify my work and/or catalyze doing a project I may not have thought to do on my own.
Projects: maintaining one's usefulness and sanity means coming up with projects that go beyond the average reference and processing work. My current log includes scanning our Image Collection (800+ photographs, etchings and drawings that do not have a textual collection), assisting the rest of the library staff with the next stage of weeding our collection, and supervising this semester's interns.
I haven't gotten past the Cs in the images: scanning and cataloging is tedious, but the results are fantastic. I'm in the midst of surveying the US history section to determine what books do not fit our needs and/or are so outdated, they do not serve any useful purpose. We have set up a book truck in the library with the fruits of our combined labors -- I saw a Winston Churchill biography yesterday -- and request a donation for those taken away. If anyone has any interest in the list we have, please let us know.
- Cheers, Jess Steytler
Recently a patron sent us articles about and the obituary of Miss Clara Estelle Breed, the daughter of a Congregational minister from Iowa who as a librarian in San Diego made a difference in the lives of Japanese-American children in internment camps during World War II. A new book, Dear Miss Breed by Joanne Oppennheim, tells the story of Miss Breed and her correspondence with the children in the camps. Tetsuzo Hirasaki who was one of these children said, "She lived up to her creed. She lived the true Christian way of life." She was a remarkable librarian and unsung Christian hero.
The Congregational Library is looking for volunteers to help staff with a variety of tasks and special projects in the library. We will be posting descriptions of some of these volunteer positions on this blog and Congregational Library website. Some possible tasks and projects involve shelf reading (checking the books on the shelf to make sure they are in order and have shelf list cards) and coordinating and assembling displays and exhibits. Watch for the postings and descriptions for specific jobs then let us know if you are interested. Be a friend to the Congregational Library.
I have plans to write a bit about my current projects as well as a guide for churches looking to organize their historical material. Stay posted!
- The Esperanto Bible. Click on the image or visit the gallery for a more readable representation.
- Jessica, ze archivist
We are very pleased that Peggy Bendroth, Executive Director of the Library and Beth Nordbeck, Chair of the Library Committee will speak at Old South Church as part of the Lenten Series, "The Church in The World." Peggy is speaking on "Following the Congregational Way: The Pilgrims & Puritans" and "An Open Door: Old South Church in Boston". Beth's lecture is titled "A Radical Experiment in Unity: The United Church of Christ". For complete details, please visit the Old South Church website.
Peggy received an email yesterday from the University of Kentucky about our loan of the Afro-American Mission Herald to the UK's National Digital Newspaper Program project. A brief article is published in the UK Libraries' "Off the Shelf" newsletter on page 3.
We are excited that these rare issues are being preserved.
I thought I spotted something interesting this afternoon and soon learned that it certainly was a unique book. As I was re-shelving, I turned around and sighted a small book with a marbled cover. When I pulled it from the shelf, I saw the title, The Old Librarian's Almanack 1774. I brought it back to my office to examine and was impressed by the title page stating that this was a reprint of "a very rare pamphlet." Now I was curious and thinking in terms of money (was this worth a lot of money?), I searched for it in WorldCat. I was slightly disappointed that there were over 200 copies available in libraries but thought there could be some value in selling our copy. I then check the web site of a used book dealer and the first title that came up was The History of a Hoax, Edmond Lester Pearson, John Cotton Dana, and the Old Librarian's Almanack. Our little find was a hoax, a literary hoax, created by librarians. See further information on Hugo Cunningham's quotations site. Reading this book makes me laugh and I've enjoyed sharing such advice as, "Let no Politician be in your Library, nor no man who Talks overmuch," with other staff members. This book has added humor to our day. (FYI: copies sell in the range of $20-$40.)
My efforts last week were focused on completing the catalog records for a section of Hymn Books. A large part of the collection is comprised mainly of hymn books from the 19th century with a few 17th and 18th century editions included. The books range from miniature books that make you wonder how good the eyesight was of the person using this book to the large and heavy that cause you to wonder about arm strength. Hymnals capture the history of worship, popularity of verses, and family histories. May of the hymnals I handled last week had inscriptions from mothers and fathers to daughter or son, uncles and aunts to nieces and nephews and between cousins. Some of these held further inscriptions to others from the original recipient and a few named churches. Marbled end papers and gilt edges created beautiful books often with leather bindings stamped with the owner's name. The process makes me want to learn more about these old books. In many of these hymn books, I noted a book plate "New England Psalm. Hymn and Tune Books -- Collection of Rev. Collins G. Burnham". Since these were the hymnals without music, I'm looking forward to the wonderful books I may catalog in the section of hymnals with music.
We have three interns from Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science this semester. The archive interns are Kristin and Diana. Kristin continues to organize the Park St. Church collection that she began working on last semester. We are happy to have her back. Diana is working on the manuscript collection of sermons. She started the program at Simmons in January. Michelle is our records management intern. She is reviewing and organizing the local Boston church history materials in the library.