Category: Reading Responses (page 2 of 5)

Behind the Scenes at the Fashion Institute of Technology College Archives & Special Collections

In “Introduction to Archives,” APH students are exposed to important archival themes such as arrangement & description, accessioning/processing collections, preservation, and much more. It is a vital and fundamental course for students planning to pursue a career in archives.

Students listening to archivist at FIT archivesTowards the end of the Fall 2018 semester, students from the “Introduction to Archives” class were lucky enough to get a private tour of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s newly renovated archive. Not only was this behind-the-scenes tour a treat because students would have access to a truly unique and rich archive, but also, this tour allowed APH students to take the knowledge they’ve acquired over the course of the semester and see it applied in an actual archive setting. The tour was led by Karen Trivette, the Associate Professor-Librarian, Head of Special Collections & College Archives at FIT. 

A quick background on FIT. To quote the FIT website, the FIT Special Collections & College Archives is a “highly-specialized repository and rich resource for the fashion industry and scholars of design history, including FIT’s own fashion-centric graduate and undergraduate programs.” FIT’s archive recently completed a 4 million dollar renovation, expanding in size from 3,500 square feet to 6,100 square feet. 

The “Introduction to Archives” students were privileged enough to be given access to FIT’s two climate-controlled storage rooms filled with archival materials, they got to learn about the archival techniques used within FIT’s archive (categorization/organization methods, preservation methods, research, etc..), they learned about the archive’s online database and finding aids, the archive’s protocols with regards to researchers, and they also got to view/handle original Chanel and Dior fashion sketches.

It was an educational class trip and the students had a great time. A big thank you to Karen and the FIT College Archives & Special Collections for hosting us! Karen was so gracious, enthusiastic, and she did a wonderful job answering the students’ questions about the FIT Archives, as well as archiving in general.

Alexa Logush’s Internship at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club Archive

This past spring semester (2018), APH student Alexa Logush worked at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club Archive in New York City. Below you’ll find Alexa’s blog post about her experience.

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Tucked behind props, costumes, and the occasional adorned and bejeweled mannequin, the La MaMa cataloging team resides in a cozy nook of an office, filled with books, photographs, and boxes of show files from the theater’s history. For my internship, I’ve been working at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club to digitize and catalog a series of photographs from the 1980s, all taken by La MaMa’s photographer, Jerry Vezzuso. La MaMa, located in the East Village, is an Off Off-Broadway theater that was founded by Ellen Stewart in 1961 and was recently awarded the 2018 Regional Theater Tony Award.

The La MaMa E.T.C. Archives and Library acquired the photo collection from Vezzuso, himself, a little over two years ago after entering an agreement with the photographer. When I started my internship, I was introduced to the cataloging team, the space, and the catalog, which, like any catalog, is always a work in progress. Rachel Mattson, the Archives’ Digital Archivist and Archives Project Manager, walked me through the workflow for digitizing objects from the paper collection and uploading them to the blog. The online catalog offers detailed records and visuals from La MaMa’s history, which is peppered with stars like Steve Buscemi, Diane Lane, and Harvey Fierstein.

Starting the internship with an introduction to the cataloging process, prior to beginning work on the Jerry Vezzuso photo project, was a great way to learn about the general cataloging process and the challenges it can present. La MaMa celebrates visionary artists, international cultures and languages, and experimental art. Sometimes, the limitations of Library of Congress subject headings and naming authorities can make it difficult to properly catalog and represent a show, its actors and artists, and its story. Throughout my time at La MaMa, I’ve been thinking about working with, around, and against cataloging conventions and online findability. It has provided me with some great reading recommendations, which are shared below.

When I started on the Vezzuso photos, I felt more familiar with and prepared to catalog using La MaMa’s cataloging program, Collective Access. The biggest challenge was efficiency and finding a flow for digitizing and then recording information relating to the records. It took some time, but soon I found a system that worked for me that involved researching and writing while photos were being scanned and transferred to the Archives’ server. In addition to adding to the Vezzuso photo records, I also added supplemental information to existing records related to the shows that were depicted in the photos since I was already doing research for the Vezzuso project.

Overall, my experience as an intern with La MaMa was extremely positive and thought-provoking. The cataloging team is doing great work to ensure that La MaMa’s expansive history and the stories of its artists and performers are being shared. As a dual degree student in Archives and Library and Information Science, I’ve also enjoyed critically thinking about ways cataloging has been conducted and how it can be challenged and changed to better represent people, communities, and events. The Archives and Library, which is nestled underneath La MaMa’s main stage, is open for scheduled tours and visitors every Wednesday and welcomes theatergoers, researchers, and art lovers, alike.

Kate Philipson’s Internship at the Whitney Museum

This past spring semester (2018), APH student Kate Philipson worked at the Whitney Museum in New York City. Below you’ll find Kate’s blog post about her experience.

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As someone who appreciates art, museums, and history, my opportunity to intern in the Archives of the Whitney Museum of American Art was an ideal fit. While had the chance to learn about the larger mechanisms of the Museum and to assist patrons with various research requests, I primarily worked with a collection titled Early Museum History: Administrative Records, 1930–1960. This collection was visible on the website by name and accessible to researchers, but with extremely limited information about what it contained. Although the 14 boxes of documents (consisting of 477 folders) had been organized to some degree in the past, my role was to “re-process” the collection and provide more description.

By gaining better intellectual control over the materials, and by identifying some physical preservation needs, we made the museum’s founding history more accessible. Importantly, the records in this collection open significant windows into not only how the Whitney operated within the first three decades of its existence, but also how it uniquely fit into the larger New York City art world and the “modern art scene” during this part of the 20th century.

The collection seemed to have been compiled in the late 1980s from a variety of different sources, but with little documentation about who initiated or worked on it, what they did and why, or how they organized the records. This drove home one of the biggest take-aways of my archival education so far – as an archivist, you must keep a record of EVERYTHING you do, and explain it! Documenting your accession and processing decisions is key. So, working with this collection proved to be challenging (and interesting!) because it was like a puzzle. There were many question marks and unknowns to resolve, regarding the organization and contents of the series, subseries, and sub-subseries, the folders themselves, and the dates involved. Having a collection that is clearly organized and accurately described makes research easier for everyone moving forward, including the archivist. Much of my work involved identifying inconsistencies between the three series from its initial arrangement, which was structured by decade, as well as making the subseries and folders more standardized.

The Whitney’s Archives are primarily intended to serve internal users at the Museum, such as the Curatorial Department. However, the Reading Room also fields plenty of research requests from all levels of scholars and historians, curators from other museums, and artists. Included in this collection of Early Administrative Records are a vast range of paper materials, from administrative files, board minutes, and correspondence, to financial, legal, and property documents. By having greater access to historic curatorial research and exhibition information, plus significant records on art, artists, the museums’ collections, and notable occurrences within the world of art history, many different types of researchers can now gain a more in-depth understanding of the Museums’ early inner workings and its historical context.

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