Processing Project: B.C. Photographs Collections

As the current processing project winds down, the archives department at the Burns Library thought it would be interesting to share some of the other projects we’ve completed in the last year. One of the most exciting projects turned out to be the Boston College photographs processing project that started in February of last year – my first days as a student working at the Burns. With the help of the entire archives department, finding aids were created for athletic photographs, special guests and events photographs, faculty and staff photographs, alumni photographs, and BC buildings and campus images – quite a feat for just over six months’ work! Normally, processing all these collections would have involved detailed research into the photographs themselves – who or what is the subject of the photograph, when and where was it taken? Each photograph would then receive a formal title and a box and folder number. Since these collections had already been partially processed, though, we chose a different route in the interest of time (and sanity!).

John “Snooks” Kelley poses next to a giant celebration cake for his 400th hockey win, Box 3, Boston College Athletic Photographs, BC.1986.019, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

John “Snooks” Kelley poses next to a giant celebration cake for his 400th hockey win, 1966, Box 3, Boston College Athletic Photographs, BC.1986.019, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

I started with the athletic photographs, which, at just over 60 boxes, was clearly the largest photograph collection in the queue. Most of the photographs already had some sort of folder title, so my task for each collection was to create a functional finding aid that would allow users to find specific images without combing through all the boxes. For the athletic photographs, this meant inputting folder titles for coaches and staff, teams and events, and BC athletes. Some collections, like the special guests and events photographs, were more complicated. For these collections, I checked existing folder titles against the Library of Congress name authority database (making sure that the names in our folder titles matched the authorized forms), rehoused and added oversize photographs and architectural drawings, and in some cases reorganized entire collections.

Clifton Church photograph of Devlin Hall under construction with horses and wagons, Box 3, Boston College Building and Campus Images, BC.1987.012, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Clifton Church photograph of Devlin Hall under construction with horses and wagons, 1920, Box 3, Boston College Building and Campus Images, BC.1987.012, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Some of the most challenging collections to process also turned out to be the most widely used, my favorite being the buildings photographs. Now, instead of searching through box after box of images of Devlin Hall, researchers and archives staff need only consult the finding aid for image descriptions and they are able to narrow down their options to specific folders – like one of Devlin Hall under construction by horse and buggy! But one of the most exciting things to come out of this processing project has been the reference image scanning project. Starting with the athletic photographs, selected images have been scanned and linked to their respective folder within the finding aid. So far, researchers can use the athletic photographs finding aid to see reference quality images of, for example, legendary BC hockey coach “Snooks” Kelley or the very first BC football team. Eventually all the photographic collections will include these images, making some of the most requested images available to researchers from the comfort of their own laptops.

Lawn party fundraiser with “Send your boys to Boston College” sign, Box 3, Boston College Special Guests and Events Photographs, BC.1986.032, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Lawn party fundraiser with “Send your boys to Boston College” sign, circa 1908, Box 3, Boston College Special Guests and Events Photographs, BC.1986.032, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

If you’d like to see any of the finding aids mentioned in this post, check out the catalog or contact the Burns Library at burnsref@bc.edu or 617-552-4861.

  • Jessica Meyer, Archives Assistant, 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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