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.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-552-4861) to see them in person!
- Adrienne Pruitt, Processing Archivist, Archives & Manuscripts, John J. Burns Library