September 2014 Archives

Archivist Toolkit

Hello everyone! I am happy to report that my efforts to process Special Collections' Dead Sea Scroll files are going very well. I accomplished a lot this week, especially in terms of creating records for this series in a program called Archivist Toolkit (AT). 

AT is an open source data management tool. As the AT website explains, it was developed by the "University of California San Diego Libraries, the New York University Libraries and the Five Colleges, Inc. Libraries, and is generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation" (

So you can get a sense of what using AT is like, I've included some screenshots here. The first thing I do when opening the program is go to the "Resources" section. There, I find the collection where the Dead Sea Scroll files "live;" in this case, that means I go to the James M. Robinson Collection. 

A little historical background is useful here in understanding why we organize things this way. As you may know, Dr. Robinson is Professor Emeritus in Claremont Graduate University's Department of Religion. With Dr. Robert Eisenman (Cal State Long Beach), he helped publish A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1991. The publication of this book, along with the Huntington Library's decision to make thousands of photographic negatives of the Scrolls available to researchers, made these texts available to the entire scholarly community for the first time. Prior to these events, access to the Scrolls was controlled for decades by a small in-group of scholars who kept these ancient documents to themselves. The twists and turns of this story, as well as the involvement of Dr. Robinson and Dr. Eisenman in breaking this "scholarly monopoly," make a fascinating tale. I highly recommend you explore their work - and maybe even read through Special Collection's series of Dead Sea Scroll files when they're ready! They contain all sorts of intriguing details about what Dr. Robinson and his colleagues had to go through in order to publish these texts.

All of this is to say: when Dr. Robinson retired, he graciously donated his personal papers - including the Dead Sea Scroll files - to Special Collections, so that the scholarly community could continue to be enriched by his work. This is why you'll see that I go to the "James M. Robinson" collection in AT when I want to work on digitally organizing the Dead Sea Scroll series:

James M. Robinson_resources screenshot_blog ready.pngOnce I'm inside the series, I organize it on the subseries and folder levels. I can also add notes to help researchers get a sense of what's inside a particular file. For example, in "Subseries 1.1: Project papers for A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1991), edited by Dr. Robert H. Eisenman and Dr. James M. Robinson," I have a folder entitled, "News related to release of Dead Sea Scrolls." And inside of that record, I have a further record - a note which explains that this file:

"Contains both popular and serious news articles related to the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Also includes information related to political conditions during the time period surrounding their release, and a copy of the Society for Biblical Literature's 'Statement on Access' to ancient materials."

When I'm working to describe the collection on a folder level, the AT screen often looks something like this:

AT Instance_blog ready.bmpTo sum up, AT is a great piece of archival technology, and I'm happy I'm getting the opportunity to learn how to use it - especially since it will make it so much easier for researchers to find what they need in the Dead Sea Scroll files once I'm done recording everything! If you're interested in learning more about this program, or downloading a copy of AT for personal or institutional use, I encourage you to go to the AT website. And if that's not enough to quench your archival curiosity, you can even follow AT on Twitter (!

The Week of Fantastic Photocopying!

I've enjoyed another fascinating week here as a CCEPS Fellow! 

This week I finished arranging Honnold/Mudd Special Collections' Dead Sea Scrolls files. During this process, I spent the majority of my time carefully going through each file and putting everything in chronological order. 

After concluding this process, I attended to the necessity of photocopying all fragile documents on acid-free paper. After making these xeroxes, I discarded the original records - which were falling apart! This allowed me to rescue content without keeping a crumbling document in the collection - one which could very well end up illegible down the road, and perhaps even damage other documents as it decayed. To illustrate: I recently encountered a decrepit newspaper clipping which seemed intent on self-destruction - and had already stained the record next to it a nasty yellow! Fortunately, we had an unharmed duplicate of the stained document, so no long-term harm was done. However, this is a good example of what can happen when cheap paper products are allowed to sit for years on end, unpreserved.

Among the materials in this collection that necessitated photocopying were any periodicals printed on inexpensive paper (particularly newsprint), carbon paper, carbonless copy paper, and thermal paper. This last item was commonly used in earlier fax machine models. As it turns out, Dr. James M. Robinson - who donated the Dead Sea Scrolls collection to us - communicated extensively by fax. This meant there was a plethora of thermal paper to be dealt with over the last week! I'm so glad Special Collections received these documents when it did, because records printed on thermal paper can fade rapidly with time, handling, and exposure to light - and the ones in this collection were doing so. Thermal paper is a highly unstable medium.

In case you're hankering for a look, here's an image of the oh-so-hardy photocopier on which I made many dozens of xeroxes for this collection:

Photocopier_blog ready.bmp

And here's Special Collections' well-stocked, acid-free paper bank - a corner I came to know well while I worked!

Acid Free Paper Bank_blog ready.bmp
As I hope you've seen this week, the world of archival preservation and paper chemistry is really pretty fascinating. If you're interested in reading more, I recommend you check out Michigan State University Libraries' piece on deacidification ( Australia's National Archives also have some clear and helpful guidelines on paper preservation as well (

In the Process of Processing

Hello! I am very happy to report that Week 2 of my CCEPS Fellowship has allowed me to make a solid contribution to processing Honnold/Mudd Special Collections' Dead Sea Scroll Files! 

I love "before and after" photos - they seem like a cathartic way to celebrate progress - so why don't we have a look at how the collection has transformed over the last week? Here's what it looked like when it was originally delivered to our library:

close-up, DSS original file box_blog ready.jpg

And here's what it looks like after about 20 hours worth of work:

more empty box_blog ready.jpg

Even though it's a lot more empty than last week, 20 hours seems like a lot of time to go through just half a file box, doesn't it? Well, it is - but archivists do a lot more than just put papers in new file folders when they're "processing" a collection! In fact, when an archivist processes a repository of papers, s/he needs to move deliberately and meticulously to make sure it's arranged just right.

In the case of the Dead Sea Scroll papers, this means I've been spending a great deal of time organizing every file chronologically, flagging items which will require special preservation attention and/or may need to be refiled for the sake of researcher access, and taking careful notes as to details which might be helpful to include in the finding aid which I'll eventually create.

For example, every time I see a paperclip in the collection, I need to stop and remove that sucker - it will eventually damage the papers it's holding together (and we don't want that to happen!).

paperclip_blog ready.jpg
"Just say no to paperclips!"

For the purposes of preservation, archivists instead group papers together in cute little folders they make out of acid-free, white paper:

paper folder_blog ready.jpg

"When it comes to choosing between paperclips and acid-free folders, there's no choice!

In closing, I'll leave you with a shot of the papers I've finished arranging thus far. It will be very exciting when they're all processed and researchers can use them!

Organized files_blog ready.jpg

The Dead Sea Scroll Files Rise Again!

Hello! This is my first week on the job as a CCEPS Fellow, and I couldn't be more excited about my new project: archiving the Dead Sea Files held by Honnold/Mudd Library's Special Collections! Although this endeavor is "small" by archival standards - only 1 linear foot - it's a foot which has high historic value for researchers interested in the story of how scholars sought to bring the Scrolls back to life.

For your viewing pleasure, here's a shot of the Files' current "tomb." This is how they looked when they originally were given to Special Collections, by a special Deed of Gift from Dr. James and Mrs. Anne Robinson:

exterior shot, DSS original file box_blog ready.jpgUpon receiving the box, my first task was to survey its contents. This is important, because it helps an archivist get a sense of how the series should be arranged. As can be seen from the below picture, the contents of a collection may not arrive in an order that's conducive to helping researchers easily figure out which of the files might be useful to their project.

close-up, DSS original file box_blog ready.jpg

The second purpose of the survey is to aid the archivist in understanding what the preservation issues in a given collection might be. On that note, the following picture shows a professional archivist toolkit. Believe me, it can get a lot more complicated than this little kit might suggest to try and preserve photos, records, and assorted ephemera for future generations....but this at least gets us off to a good start! The most serious issues I've encountered thus far with these records are fragile materials (such as aging carbon paper), and documents which have been seriously bent due to improper storage practices. However, Special Collections will be working hard to restore these materials so that they can be easily used by researchers.

archivist toolkit_blog ready.jpgI look forward to writing more next week, and will keep you all posted as to our progress in processing this amazing collection. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions about our work here. I'll do my best to answer them!