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Alternative Spring Break at Michigan State University Archives

September 26, 2019

By Erin Zimmerman, MLIS Student

Michigan State University Archives, East Lansing

While the assignment itself, a week of doing shelf reads at
the Michigan State University Archives, did not sound particularly glamourous,
it did provide the opportunity to get a feel for the entire archive. We could have spent the entire week with our
clipboards and measuring tape in archival storage, but our internship
supervisor, Ed Busch, took every opportunity to ask us about our interests,
have us join in their regular activities, and sit down with their staff to
observe them at work. I would not have
imagined learning so much while working on a shelf reading / catalog clean-up
project.

The basis of our responsibilities was taking a clipboard
with a paper inventory through storage and noting the presence or lack of items
on the inventory as well as taking the dimensions of the containers. I will forever have a vague knowledge of the
basic dimensions of "standard" archival boxes.
It was also nice to brush up on my basic measurement skills. Of this process, I think the greatest
surprise for me was that it was paper based and not on a laptop or tablet, but it
makes sense to me now because it was easy to divide the list between us, they
have a paper copy to refer to, and it really was easy to look at and make notes
on. I have even decided to do a paper
inventory this year where I work based on how well this seemed to go.

While doing the inventory, I was able to identify some records
that needed correction. Items listed in
the wrong location; different shelf, different range, even different building
once. There were a few things that were
not on the shelf and a couple different items that were on the shelf that
needed records. Then there were the
mysterious things that would have to be further explored after I left. The most useful discovery we unearthed was a
step in their workflow with ASpace they were not aware needed to be taken that was
leaving "ghost" accession records as they had only been using it for a few
months. I found this to be really
rewarding because on a short internship it is hard to see the benefits of your
work. Catching that early on in their
transition process made my time there seem immediately valuable.

Outside of the actual inventory process we were invited to
join a staff article discussion, toured the university library which included a
special section on Turfgrass, had a demonstration from the audiovisual archivist,
explored Archive-It, toured off-site storage to check for water-leaks, and I
also sat and observed the cataloging archivist.
I had discussions about AV software as well as hardware, the transition
from Archivists Toolkit to ASpace and the pros and cons so far, past water
damage, and so many other topics. The
entire staff was welcoming and friendly, so I felt very comfortable going to
them with my questions about the project I was working on, anything they had
shown me regarding their own projects, or just something I was curious about in
the archival field.

Overall, this internship was full of opportunities that kept
popping up to experience something new all throughout the week. Of course, I am the type of person who would
have been content in storage with a clipboard and a measuring tape the whole
week, so everything else was a bonus.