Saturday, April 5, 2014

More Finds at the Local Historical Society

If an archivist stops to explore the details of every interesting collection in her care, she can get so sidetracked that she gets nothing done. Professionals who care for historical records can sometimes get distracted by our own resources. While our jobs give us access to remarkable and interesting things, our tasks to administer, organize, describe and preserve materials cannot be effectively accomplished if we slow down to take in all the details of all of our artifacts. (Generally, we must leave that to the historians.)  Yet, sometimes when caring for collections, an archivist stumbles across something so remarkable that she is compelled to put aside the "work" aspect of archival work, allowing herself to be pulled into stories of the past - just for fun.

And so I was pulled in when I stumbled across this album at the local historical society. I was recruited by the Society's volunteer curator to use my expertise to help them organize their collections. I work as an information specialist at the high school in the town where the Society resides. I am happy to offer my services to further assist this community. It has supported me in a new career and has allowed me to run with my out-of-the box ideas.  Being an archives volunteer is a new experience for me. As a volunteer at the Society, I get to learn more about this town in which I now spend the better part of my days. I also get to "play" with collections a little more than I ordinarily might as a professional archivist.

Always on the lookout for unique historical records, I was overjoyed to find a fabulous album from the turn of the twentieth century. It highlights the life of a strong local woman. Her photos include images of her school, her job, her native New Hampshire, her pets...Her personality rings through loud and clear. Bonus for me - the artifact was created by a librarian. I identify with her. The album's designer shares her curiosity, sense of world wonder, passion for her home state, a sense of adventure, a sense of fashion, and fortitude. She is a woman on the edge freedom - a young woman who seems to have a fighting spirit of independence and likely interest in women's rights considering the era, her job, and active lifestyle.

The album is a labor of love with beautiful handwritten descriptions. A local man, another person with expertise who serves as a Society volunteer, noted how the album is a specimen of folk art, as lovely for its artistry as it is for the information it contains.

At 5:30 one day this week, working with the local library director on an archival survey -- both of us covered in cob webs, dust and mold -- I called it quits for the day. I declared that my reward for wading through the work would be to clean myself up and look through the remarkable album that we stumbled across on an earlier visit.

Our new librarian friend stared out at us through the camera that captured her one-hundred years ago. She captions her portrait "my new bathing suit." The suit reminds me of my favorite vintage shop, which happens to be posting bathing suits this week in preparation for the warm weather. I imagine that this librarian buried in the sand is in Hampton, a small stretch of seaside between Massachusetts and Maine that we call "our beach." I take my daughter there each summer. I'll remember this lady's bathing suit when I put mine on for the first time this year.

I am hoping to research this new found historical friend. I wonder if much information exists about her in library records. There is a lot to wonder here.

I wonder if we would have gotten along.

I wonder how she would have felt about me looking at her album. (It seems like it was meant to be shared.)

I wonder if her relatives are still in town.

Maybe this isn't all "just for fun"...I wonder if I can help my students feel a connection to this former resident.

Despite all the questions, one thing is clear. This lady had a sense of humor. She ends her album by saying, "Is this the end" Now wouldn't that get your..." and beside the written words is a photo of a goat.

Whether she would have appreciated me or not, I am glad that she reached through time and I am a recipient of her wit and charm.


[I hope to share photos with you soon. One problem with this information age is that it is too easy to pull out your camera to take photos and post them on the Internet. But permission should be sought from institutions' collections and the best photos possible should be used. Also, policies should be in place for the handling and publication of materials before such publication is done. I will talk about all of this in my next blog post.] 


  1. Hi Melissa, I hope you will write on the subject of vintage photo permissions soon. Glad you had fun in the archives.

  2. Hi Terry, Thanks for writing. I obviously didn't talk about permissions in my next blog post as I promised. But I will get to it soon. I promise (again!) I want to give the subject more attention than I have right now. There is a lot to think about and I suspect it may generate many questions as my orphan photos posts did a couple of years back. We are all so fascinated by photographs :)