You are quite welcome! I’m so glad you found our response helpful. You are certainly welcome to reference these conversations in your paper. I’m happy to answer a few more of your questions; these answers will all be based on my experience as a graduate assistant, as our usual Tumblr archivist is currently out of the office.
There are a few “varieties” of privacy that we deal with here at the Archives. Like all libraries, the privacy of our patrons is of the utmost importance to us. Patrons are required to register with us to use our materials, so we keep all their information, including what books or collections they consult, private. We also have to respect the privacy of records donors. In some cases, we’ll redact sensitive information such as social security numbers from documents and only allow patrons to use the redacted records. In other cases, we will restrict access to the collection. Some restrictions are flat restrictions, such as those placed on personnel files and student records. Other restrictions are more flexible, allowing the archivist to make a call on a case-by-case basis. In cases like this, an archivist might be able to pull the folder containing sensitive information from the box temporarily, let the patron use the rest of the material in the box, and then replace the folder once the patron is finished.
With copyright, we are primarily concerned with patrons who want to reproduce records in a published format. For some records, we are the copyright holders, so we have the right to give permission for the reproductions of photos, documents, etc. in published works. For other records, we are not the copyright holders, so we would have to get permission from whomever is the copyright holder is to allow such reproductions. We always talk to each patron before allowing them to take photographs or scans of documents in order to determine if we need to have them fill out reproduction rights forms or not so that we can respect copyright.
We use descriptive tools including finding aids and metadata to convey the authenticity of our records to patrons. Our finding aids list the donor of the collection, as well as the archivists who processed the collection. Finding aids are continually updated to reflect any significant changes, such as the addition or removal of materials. This allows patrons and archivists to track the provenance and history of the collection. For digital and digitized objects, this information also is included in the metadata. For example, if you look at our Milwaukee Polonia site, the metadata of each digitized image lists the folder and box where the original image can be found in our physical collection.
Access is a very important issue in the archives world – all archives and archivists are balancing our goals of preserving records and providing access to these records. Sometimes these goals interfere with one another, but we strive to provide as much access to our records as we possibly can. Our collections are open for public use, but all researchers must promise to abide by our reading room rules and regulations and present a photo ID each time they visit the archives. Records are only accessible in our reading room, but for a fee we can make photocopies of certain records and mail them to patrons who cannot come to our reading room. Distance patrons can make use of our digital collections. We also are part of Wisconsin Historical Society’s Area Research Network, which allows us to send our collections to other Area Research Centers across the state of Wisconsin for temporary loans. You can read more about this unique system here. All of these services allow us to provide access to a broad audience beyond Milwaukee.
I hope this helps! Let us know if you have any other questions; feel free to send them here, or if you want to speak directly with one of the archivists, you can send an email to askarch [at] uwm.edu.
Hi there! Thanks for reaching out to us!
The short answer is that there really is no such thing as a typical day when working in archive! The projects and activities that we accomplish in a day vary greatly depending on the number of patrons who come through, what events are happening that day, and the nature of the projects being worked on. Some tasks are routine and generally done every day, including the pulling and reshelving of collections. Beyond that, each day is usually quite different.
A lot of our archivists’ time is spent working with patrons, doing everything from in-depth reference interviews to pulling collections to making photocopies of records to fulfill research requests. In addition to this, the archivists often teach several instruction sessions for various classes each semester, teaching students the basics of archival research. How much time is spent working with patrons can vary widely; we do reference in-person, as well as via telephone, email, and instant messaging. Depending on the number of requests from these sources and how much assistance a patron needs, an archivist here can spend anywhere from ten minutes to several hours doing work with patrons. Some collections here require significant patron assistance, such as our WTMJ reel-to-reel news footage. For patrons to use this material, an archivist is required to be there to run the Steenbeck machine.
When not working with patrons, the archivists are generally working with records at all stages of their life cycle. The archivists are continually working with donors, appraising records, creating inventories for new accessions, processing and refoldering new collections, and creating catalog records and finding aids to enable patrons to find the collections. Some collections that we receive require a lot of processing, while others are so organized, they simply need to be put in acid free folders. Our records manager spends a significant amount of time handling university records, both paper and digital. This requires going to various departments across campus to pick up boxes of records which are then inventoried and put aside for processing. Records also are used for outreach purposes; we routinely put up exhibits of our materials in a display case, as well as pull items for various exhibits and presentations throughout the year as part of our outreach initiative.
In addition to these tasks, our archivists often have long, ongoing projects that they spend a little time devoted to each day. Big projects, such as digitization and outreach efforts, are fit in around more immediate tasks, such as assisting patrons in the reading room. We currently have six student interns who help balance the workload and allow staff to work on these larger projects.
As with most archives, we are working to keep up with continually changing technology. One of the ways we deal with this is to digitize collections that are on older formats before those formats become obsolete and the information is lost. In addition, our records manager uses a variety of programs, including Archivematica, to preserve born-digital files in our holdings.
I hope this answers a few of your questions! If you have any more, please feel free to let us know! If you’re in the area, you are more than welcome to pop in and visit with an archivist here. If not, I’d suggest you visit with a local archivist in your area to get a feel for the kind of work being done in archives.