End Times: The Processing Project Draws to a Close

An example of a box from an unprocessed collection.

An example of a box from an unprocessed collection.

As of May 31st, the Burns Library processing project has come to an end, and what a fantastic year it’s been! Our goal was to make more unprocessed and uncataloged manuscript collections available to researchers, and we’ve succeeded: over 25 collections totaling over 415 linear feet of material have been fully arranged, described, and made available to the public.

An example of a box in a fully processed collection.

An example of a box in a fully processed collection.

What exactly does it mean to “process” a collection? Well, usually an unprocessed collection looks a lot like the box in the photo above:  a bunch of stuff thrown in the box with no obvious arrangement, not a lot of titles or description that would help you find what you’re looking for, and probably some physical problems that might impede access, like mold, dust, water damage, or worse (we recently opened a box a squirrel had been living in).   Archivists take this box o’ mess and put the contents in nicely labeled acid-free folders and boxes, cleaning the materials if needed and passing along any major physical problems to a conservator.  They then write a detailed guide to the collection called a finding aid and make sure that information about the collection is findable by the public. We do this by creating a record in our online library catalog , which is also included in the worldwide library catalog Worldcat.org and the archives portal Archive Grid , and by posting our finding aids online.  We hope you’ve been following along at home as we’ve shared particularly cool stuff we’ve found on this blog.

Surgical tools in Box 39, New England Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing Records, MS.1989.008, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Surgical tools in Box 39, New England Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing Records, MS.1989.008, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

So what collections are now ready for prime time? We chose to focus on collections with a link to Boston history, such as our most recently processed collection, the New England Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing (NEDH SON) records. The School of Nursing opened in Boston in 1896 and closed in 1989, and the collections include nearly 100 years’ worth of administrative records, photos, scrapbooks, and student materials. Unusually, the collection also includes many artifacts that give a very visceral sense of what practicing medicine used to be like: there are syringes, clamps, medical instruments, and even nurses’ uniforms from several different eras.

A Cadet Nurse Corps advertisement, Box 17, Folder 1, New England Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing Records, MS.1989.008, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

A Cadet Nurse Corps advertisement, Box 17, Folder 1, New England Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing Records, MS.1989.008, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The collection offers many beguiling potential research paths. There are fascinating records about the Cadet Nurse Corps, a WWII government-sponsored training program that offered subsidized tuition in return for wartime service; intriguing arguments in the building records about whether or not male visitors should be allowed in dormitories; and fun glimpses of student life in scrapbooks, poems, and notebooks.

Other collections processed as part of this project include the Citywide Coordinating Council records  and the Louise Bonar and Carol Wolfe collection of Boston education materials, which document the desegregation of the Boston Public Schools, and the Elizabeth Hayward collection of Ursuline Academy materials, which contain a first-person account of the 1834 anti-Catholic burning of the Ursuline convent in what was then Charlestown  and which has recently been fully digitized for you to explore online.  From the fun-loving Theater Programs collection, which holds theater programs for many local theaters from 1850-2005, to the rough and tumble papers of famous boxer John L. Sullivan , many wonderfully rich collections related to Boston history have passed over our processing tables this year. We urge you to browse our offerings in the catalog  and visit the Burns Library (burnsref@bc.edu or 617-552-4861) to see them in person!

  • Adrienne Pruitt, Processing Archivist, Archives & Manuscripts, John J. Burns Library

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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