Internship Update: the Dwight C. Steele Papers at Bancroft Library

My internship at U.C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library‘s Regatta Storage Facility has continued in Richmond, CA, along with the three other interns working at the same site. Each of us is processing a different collection. Mine is the Dwight C. Steele Papers, which is comprised of 7 cartons, and two oversized boxes. Mr. Steele was a labor lawyer turned environmental lobbyist/activist. He was involved deeply in Bay Area and Lake Tahoe Region environmental causes (most activity is from the 1960s – 2000), through personal lobbying and work with groups such as the Save San Francisco Bay Association (also known as Save the Bay), the San Francisco Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), Citizens for the Eastshore State Park, the Sierra Club, the Sierra Nevada Alliance, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the Tahoe-Baikal Institute and others.

The initial part of my internship was involved in surveying the collection and developing a processing plan based on the survey, and according to strict guidelines developed as a result of institutional priorities–the idea is More Product, Less Process or MPLP, an approach devised by Greene and Meissner to help assure access is prioritized when institutional backlogs are dominating holdings.

The next phase–and I am still working on this part–is the actual arranging and processing of the collection. Unfortunately, strict deadlines weren’t given to us, and the processing plan form indicated I had much more time to work on this, as it was using non-MPLP time frames. Last Thursday, we were given a soft deadline to complete work on the collection by October 21, 2010. Technically that left only 16 hours of work. Yikes. I’m only 1/2 done now, and still have to produce a finding aid! Fortunately, I discussed my dilemma with my supervisor and was given another full day to complete my work on the collection. As a result, I am spending some time reviewing all of my survey notes and researching Mr. Steele’s connections and involvement so I can develop a revised strategy for completing the collection within the new time frame.

While the deadline is imminent, I recognize that a changing environment is a realistic situation. Communication sometimes breaks down, and plans have to be revised to meet the new criteria. Asking questions, checking in, and staying flexible are key. The internship’s first learning outcome specifically focuses on institutional priorities when creating processing timelines, and I have to balance my natural inclination for in depth work with the need for timely access to the collection. What a learning opportunity. I’ve shifted into high gear in order to get back on track. A review of my progress in meeting each learning outcome to date follows.

  1. Develop arrangement schema and formulate processing timelines for archival collections while considering institutional resources and priorities.
    • Series and minimal sub-series were identified and included in my approved processing plan.
    • A flexible approach has been necessary as I’ve altered my processing timeline according to the deadlines prescribed by my supervisors.
  2. Apply archival survey and arrangement methods to unprocessed manuscript collections.
    • I’ve surveyed the manuscript collection, determining series and sub-series for arrangement as follows: Correspondence, Professional Activities (sub series A: Environmental Organizations; sub series B: Legal Activities), Subject Files, Personal Files.
    • I am processing the collection according to a modified Green and Meissner approach.
    • This includes refoldering carton contents, and minimal sorting, using original order as much as possible.
  3. Compare, select and employ appropriate conservation methods and materials for archival objects.
    • Fortunately the collection is in relatively good shape.
    • Basic conservation activities have been employed removing rusty paper clips, staples, separating newspapers and materials with acidity levels that will leach.
    • I may need to reevaluate the degree to which I am doing this based on the MPLP approach.
  4. Appraise collection materials for retention and disposition based on institutional policies, research needs and archival standards/guidelines.
    • I have removed materials as specified by ethical and legal considerations.
    • Bancroft Library policy and any deed of gift requirements have guided my decisions.
    • MPLP only allows for minimum time spent on identifying and discarding duplicate materials, so this aspect has not been a priority, although there are many instances of duplication throughout the collection.
  5. Facilitate information management and retrieval by designing and constructing descriptive finding aids and accurate electronic records using archival methodologies.
    • Still to come….
      • Extended MARC record
      • Finding Aid
    • I’ll work on some of the research for these from home in order to maximize time spent actually processing the collection while at the library’s processing center.

Well, that is my status update for now. My organizational instinct to carefully, methodically arrange the collection in a very detailed fashion has to be put on the back burner in order to stay true to the Bancroft’s priorities and to meet the access needs of researchers of environmental activism in the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe regions.

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2 thoughts on “Internship Update: the Dwight C. Steele Papers at Bancroft Library

  1. Sounds like an interesting internship. I’m sure you are gaining (gained) a lot of great experience. I definitely agree with the More Product, Less Process approach. There are so many collections and so little time. I think it’s a shame that so many things sit in storage with no way for anyone to know they’re there, simply because nobody has the time to “fully” process them. I think the minimalist approach of MPLP is a good compromise, so that researchers can at least find and use your materials even if it requires a bit more digging in the boxes by researcher or librarian/archivist.

  2. Thanks for the comment Lisa!
    Access, ultimately, is the goal, and if the collections sit unprocessed, this just can’t happen. I was lucky to experience the reality of the backlog dilemma during my internship and to take a proactive approach. It is one thing to read about Greene and Meissner’s MPLP approach, and another to work in the midst of it… in a living, breathing institution experiencing growing pains, including lack of resources and budget cuts, etc. I felt like I was able to see the larger picture, rather than just the minutiae of the two collections I ended up processing. Further, I felt I was able to begin to help solve a problem. It was a valuable internship!

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