September 2, 2008 was the beginning of my tenure as Project Archivist at the Connecticut Historical Society (CHS). I interviewed early in August of that year. From the moment I walked into the late 1920s mansion in Hartford’s West End, with its dark wood interior and grand staircase, I wanted to work there. As I learned about the collections held in the archives, which mirrored my local history lessons in the Glastonbury Public Schools, I was convinced it would be a fabulous place for me to continue my archives career.
The project, funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC), was initially two years and renewed for another two. As with all jobs, it was not completely perfect all of the time, but it was a great experience. Our goal (myself and CHS Archivist Barbara Austen) during the first two years was to create online catalog records for 900 manuscripts and account books. We surpassed 2000 records. During the second two years, we succeeded in adding over 3000 more.
Some of the records, particularly the seemingly unending supply of anonymous farmers account books, were nothing short of boring to complete. I tried to be as creative as I could in each of my entries. However, there are only so many ways of saying that a farmer, whose name and location are unknown, sold beef and corn.
Other records were an adventure. The CHS staff and I were, till the very end, laughing over the Stonington Selectmen’s records. Each and every piece of paper in the collection had been folded and bundled together with string. I assume some of the debris I encountered was mouse droppings. Creatures had snacked on the records during storage in a barn or garage. All of it was covered in a layer of black dust. With help, I eventually managed to unfold all of it, give it some semblance of organization, and create the record.
At my farewell gathering on Thursday evening, someone asked what my favorite find was. With so many records created, it is really hard to say. Many of the collections that I found exciting, I was able to write about on the manuscripts blog.
Per the details of the grant, I was only supposed to catalog. But as a still-new-archivist, I knew it would be detrimental to my career if I merely sat and stared at OCLC Connexion for two years at a time. So between farmers account books, I sat at the reference desk. I served on the Web Task Force (for which we avoided using an acronym), the Digital Asset Management committee (for which we enjoyed using the acronym) and the Toilet Renovation committee (no acronym). I brought CHS into the social media era by creating and maintaining Facebook and Twitter accounts. As part of the final project for my Masters degree at Trinity College, I updated the finding aid files, and encoded finding aids previously only in Word documents, to be added to the new CHS website. When we implemented a new library catalog, Barbara and I discussed the structure of the new database and I customized the front end view.
I made friends, too.
From the beginning I knew there was a slim chance they would be able to create a permanent position for me after the grant ended. Nonetheless, I held out hope until mid-June. At that point a schedule was distributed. I was on it for July and August, but not September. I knew then that my half-hearted job search over the previous six months needed to become full-hearted. The economy isn’t great right now, and for archivists it really isn’t great. There are opportunities, though, and I am doing my best to find one that will match my needs.
And so, on August 31, 2012, I handed in my keys and bicycled away from the CHS for the last time as Project Archivist. I am proud of the work I accomplished and the information I have made available to the public. I am grateful for four years of indoor bicycle parking (and some ski parking). But leaving is hard. Very, very, hard. As others who have gone through this know, it is difficult to have done so much, and to just walk away from it.
While some people tell me this is the beginning of my next great adventure, I find myself still reflecting on the end of four, professionally full, years. If I can do so with humor, I will try to write about my unemployment trials and tribulations. First, though, I need to re-orient myself. The first step will be turning off the alarm clock.