As referred to in my previous post, The Power of Volunteering, I’m a strong advocate of volunteering to get experience, to remain current in the field, to network, and to explore other things you’ve always wanted to do but never had the chance. Recently, I’ve started volunteering at the South Carolina State Library where they have a substantial size photographic collection but not quite sure what to do with it.
Here’s where I come in. Over the past couple of months, I’ve become really interested in photographs. As much as I like dealing with paper-based collections, photographs offer what I like to call “eye-candy for the mind.” A veritable visual treat as you get a glimpse into the not-so-distant past and the very distant past.
On this particular day, I was going through several binders of 35mm Kodak slides when I noticed something. Although not grouped together, several of the slides related to the same subject matter. For instance, I came across several slides of a librarian doing story time to kids probably between the ages of 5 and 10. But, not all of these slides were together. One set of 8 slides were in one binder. Then there were 6 additional images in another binder.
Taking a step back and really looking at the slides, I realized that some where numbered followed by a month/year plus a code combo embossed on the slide. It was all part of puzzle to be figured out. But the more I tried to put the puzzle together the more it became distorted. Sometime by putting them in the order on the slide, random pictures would be inserted into an otherwise coherent set of images. For example, a banquet filled with smiling faces abruptly interrupted by exterior shots of a building. Please not, I didn’t actually rearrange the slides. I wrote down the codes and then mentally rearranged them to get a sense of them.
To borrow from Alice in Wonderland, each step down the rabbit hole I went the more confused I became. The only logical step for me to take was to talk to the experts. As a relatively recent member of the Society of American Archivists, I was making my first foray into posing a question to a roundtable in the hopes of getting an answer to my unique problem.
I turned to the visual material archivists of the Visual Materials Cataloging and Access Roundtable (VMCA). I wrote to the Discussion List thinking, “It’ll be nice if someone gets back to me by the end of the day.” Boy, was I surprised. Within 30 minutes, a flood of emails came into my inbox. Archivists were asking questions, providing suggestions, relating stories of their own that they thought would be helpful.
By the end of the day, I had gotten more helpful advice then I could ever dream of getting. And thanks to these super archivists, I figured out what I was going to do about arranging this collection of slides.
Never underestimate the power of others who are willing to help. At SAA, there are archivists that want to help you succeed and do well in whatever you do. Look to them. Use the knowledge and experience they have to help yourself.