Tales from the Tower: A Summer of Documents and Discovery

By Jon Bogart

IMG_0651During the summer months of 2014 I had the opportunity to serve as an intern at the Pennsylvania State Archives through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) internship program. The internship took place in Harrisburg, within the massive capitol complex, which is home to various state government agencies. The State Archives primarily collects, preserves, and makes available records of the Commonwealth. This mostly encompasses the documents of government agencies, but also includes items that belonged to private companies and citizens. The summer was full of projects, field trips, and experiences, which strengthened my skills as an archivist as well as my desire to one day enter the field.

While at the State Archives I worked within the digital archives record division on a number of projects that varied in size and format. Work primarily revolved around the process of digitizing large format documents, which mostly included maps and railroad schematics. I also had the opportunity to take part in the acquisition process for a set of records from start to finish. The operation began with the initial appraisal run and concluded with placing labels on the cartons and finding a permanent home for them within the tower. The collection was the largest I had ever handled, containing forty-two cubic feet worth of documents.Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 9.05.26 PM

In the time between large-scale projects, I developed the everyday skills archivists must have to properly do their job. This involved fulfilling reference requests for patrons, monitoring the climate of the tower, as well as monitoring the inventory of the tower where the documents were stored. I further honed my skills by participating in training sessions and workshops on preservation, disaster response, and general archival practices. Administrative meetings gave me a complete picture of how the institution functioned from top to bottom. Each assignment and workshop session helped me to better understand how even the smallest job fit into the big picture of the archives and PHMC as a whole.

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Field trips were worked in over the course of the summer to give more examples of real world scenarios and demonstrate the diversity within the field. Outings included tours of the capitol complex buildings as well as historic sites run by the PHMC. The highlight of the summer was the opportunity to visit a federal, state, university, and county archive all within a single day. Each location varied in size, mission, and funding, yet they all had the same core goals in mind when it came to the preservation and presentation of the past.

During the length of the internship I was supervised by one of the state archivists in order to track my progress and designate new projects to work on. Fortunately I was surrounded by staff that always had valuable information to pass on and had a knowledgeable mentor that was also a graduate of IUP from the same degree program I am presently in. This gave me an extra boost of confidence knowing that an IUP alumnus was able to secure a position within an institution like the State Archives. My mentor provided excellent instruction and helped me to strengthen the archival skills I developed at IUP while also teaching me a few new tricks of the trade.

The archival principles course I took at IUP gave me the experience I needed to take part in the internship, which in turn strengthened the skills I learned at IUP. Spending the summer at the State Archives was an excellent investment and I walked away feeling more knowledgeable and confident regarding various aspects of archival theory and practice. The experience I gained not only strengthened my skills as an archivist, but also strengthened my desire to one day enter the field. I am truly grateful to have worked with such a dedicated staff this summer and will take the vast amount of information I learned and apply it this coming semester and beyond.

 

Jon Bogart is a second year graduate student at IUP, working on his MA in Public History with a focus on archival methods.

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