Friday, June 2, 2017

University History Through the Lens of a Secretary


Candies circa 1980 anyone? How about stenographer foot pedals or maybe an electronic address book?

We often know from our personal spaces that we put off picking up stuff until a week or more later and often only when it has become out of hand.  In a university setting "putting it off"can mean ignoring the problem area for the next decade. In the meantime, people retire and before we know it, procrastination has caused the task to be totally forgotten - as was the case when we discovered a hidden records room last summer.

This summer I'm working in a records room that wasn't totally abandoned because it continues to be accessed regularly.  However, much like my pile of mail at home, the stuff on the bottom gets ignored.  I have come to learn that this is the making of an archivist's worst nightmare or an early Christmas and sometimes it's both.

The nightmare exists in the fact that just about every university secretary ever has left behind personal artifacts that make this task about cleaning and not preserving. On the other hand, the "forgotten" nature of the room means that rewards await at the bottom of the pile. Intertwined with handwritten secretarial notes and miscellaneous purchase forms are historic admissions brochures, student handbooks, course catalogs, board of trustee minutes, presidential travel logs, and so much more. 

I am discovering a new-found appreciation for the work of secretaries. While they are not traditionally active participants in the university's decision making processes, I am finding that their presence on the fringes makes them possessors of a information-rich documents. Not only this, but the "original order" and organization they imposed on the records makes my job easier.

As I dive into the chaos, it is my hope that new discoveries are ahead.  I hope that the archives will greatly benefit from new materials and the points of view that accompany them.