YMCA of Buffalo membership card belonging to Max Cohn, Jr., 1905
by Matthew Oliver, DLIS graduate student
Like so many professionals out there, an archivist’s work is never done, and while the YMCA Buffalo Niagara records obtained new and exciting materials, that was only half of the project. What good is a collection to a researcher if they are unaware of the new materials, added dates, and general rearrangement of records? Thus began my foray into the jungle of the finding aid. The best practice I found was to work in phases, implementing the day’s changes and then print a new paper copy the next day for additional changes. This responsibility was perhaps most crucial to the project, for I was then introduced to ArchivesSpace, the program that Special Collections utilizes to manage and provide access to their finding aids. ArchivesSpace is a relatively new program and not yet widely used by other libraries, archives, or research institutions so I was tasked with editing the EAD finding aid via the Oxygen XML Editor program as well. Perhaps the most difficult task I have yet encountered, XML required editing the raw code of the document. This task acts as a reminder that in this day and age new technologies must be adapted by archival institutions for the purposes of preservation, convenience, and accessibility or risk losing valuable information.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge what this opportunity has provided for me. Students anywhere, in any major, can be taught from books and lectures, yet I find the most rewarding experience comes from practical application. This internship has allowed me to do that, immersing myself in the field and actively developing my knowledge and skills. I doubt I will find anything more fulfilling and wholeheartedly enjoyable than seeing and touching the little windows of history that this internship has provided me. While the meeting minutes of the Buffalo YMCA’s Railroad Department Management Committee may sound boring, the page described in my earlier post is most certainly not. It tells a story. It tells of a very real man writing that message, with paper and ink over 100 years old. I touched history, regardless of how noteworthy or insignificant. I saw pictures from the 1920s of Transit Road, then a dirt road sprawling for miles flanked by nothing more than a fence, a few trees, and wide expanse of grass, now a thriving hub of traffic and commerce. Think of the change! History is full of stories, no matter how large or small, plain or extravagant, and to be able to have a hand in preserving those stories is a privilege I am grateful for and encourages me to continue the practice. What of the future, Mr. Ebenezer? More stories.
*This post is part of an occasional series written by University Archives graduate assistants and practicum students. To prepare students for careers in Special Collections, our graduate assistants survey, process, and describe archival collections, digitize items for online use, and provide reference service to patrons. These posts allow our students to share their experience and impressions of working with primary source material in the Archives.