Archives and Libraries: What I’ve learned so far

by Katie Dennis-Gunnerson, 2nd year

As I come closer to my last semester at SLIS and look forward to the job search, I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of job I will find once I graduate. It is not likely that I’ll find, or even want, a traditional archives job. Knowing this before I started this program, I made the choice early on to diversify my curriculum vitae by foregoing some of the traditional archive classes and taking a broader range of classes from different sub-fields within the information profession. Myself, along with like-minded classmates, often call ourselves “archive and library hybrids.”


The traditional librarian we all obviously aspire to be: the ghost of Eleanor Twitty from Ghostbusters

As I consider the type of job I might find and if my time at SLIS will have prepared me for it, I find myself reflecting on where the archives and libraries intersect and how I can bring together what I’ve learned from both in my future career. Recently, I’ve realized the principles that inform the library profession are much more useful for work in the archives than I previously understood. Librarians focus heavily on usability, access, innovation, freedom of information, outreach and literacy. But what I appreciate the most about the library profession is the awareness that they don’t know everything. Librarians teach us how to “sift and winnow” through the massive amounts of information available and find what we need. They don’t pretend to know everything–but they can find somewhere or someone that does. Who else is drowning in massive amounts of information? Archivists. Boxes and boxes of different formats, sitting on shelf upon shelf on floor upon floor of information. Can one archivist ever be an expert on the content of their entire institution or in handling every possible format? No, that’s ridiculous…

But I know I’m not the only archivist at SLIS who has felt the pressure to be an expert, to learn it all before graduating, to know how to deal with every format, every situation, to cram as much learning and experience into my time in school as possible through jobs, courses, workshops, conferences and extracurricular activities. Most archivists I know have a background in history or a specialized branch of the humanities; archivists pride ourselves on being the authority on what we collect and the preservation of every format in which it could come. I don’t know if that level of expertise is possible to reach in a lifetime, but it’s definitely not realistic after only two years in school. I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea that I don’t know most of what I might need to know in my future job, but guess what?! I can figure it out (thank you librarians!)


The traditional archivist we all aspire to be: Abigal Chase from the National Archives in National Treasure

Recently, SAA-SC had the great pleasure of spending the afternoon with Peter Shrake, the well-known “lone arranger” at Circus World’s Robert L. Parkinson Library and Research Center in Baraboo, WI. Pete, who graduated from SLIS, has taught me something new every time I’ve toured Circus World or heard him speak about his job.

This visit, as he took us through the archive/library at Circus World, where he is the only paid staff member, he mentioned at nearly every stop a different responsibility that fell into his job description. He is an archivist trained in manuscripts, but he also has to be a historian, a curator, a reference archivist, a librarian, a collection manager, a preservationist, a film/audio/artifact/ephemera/textile archivist, librarian and curator. He’s a facilities manager, volunteer manager, cataloger, teacher, speaker, researcher, records manager and a great resource for SLIS students from which to learn a quintessential lesson: You will not know how to do everything and that is okay.


Peter Shrake at Circus World: The archivist, librarian, curator, teacher, historian, researcher, cataloger, reference archivist/librarian, records manager and so much more that we will inevitably have to be if we want jobs.

As I listened to Pete talk about all the things he has to know or learn how to do, I kept thinking “wow, he’s not just a librarian/archivist hybrid, he has to be so much more!” After learning about all the aspects of Pete’s job, as a 21-century archivist, I figured there’s no way he could do what he does at Circus World without having learned a few of the most important lessons I’ve come to learn at SLIS, from both disciplines–libraries and archives:

  • There will always be something you don’t know
  • Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know” and don’t pretend to know things you don’t.
  • You will (within reason) be able to figure it out or learn how. Rely on the expertise of others when you can’t.
  • Learn about or try new technologies, keep up-to-date on what’s happening in the profession.
  • You will forget how to do certain things if you don’t do them often. That is okay. Keep good notes and know where to find them when that knowledge is required.
  • “That’s the way it’s always been” is not a good enough excuse for certain things. But you won’t have the power to change everything that needs changing. Pick your battles.
  • Do not let authority and power make you think your position, time or expertise is more valuable than the work those you manage do.
  • Customer service and communication skills, “soft skills,” are so important. You must invest time in developing them.
  • There will always be more that you can do. Learn to say no. Find balance. Your health, family/friends are more important than your job.

I still have SO much to learn. I look forward to the future, whether in an archive, library or somewhere completely different, and what it will teach me. Admitting that you don’t and can’t know it all is the first step towards the pursuit of lifelong learning. Thanks Pete, SLIS instructors and mentors in libraries and archives for leading by example and teaching us so much.

Copyright Information: Blog content, current and past, belongs to the SAA-SC member credited. Please credit the University of Wisconsin-Madison Society of American Archivists-Student Chapter Archives Month Blog AND the creator if citing. Please contact the individual or for copyright details.

Archives and Mental Health

by Laura Schmidt, 2nd year

I called in sick to work today.

Well, I didn’t call, I emailed. It wasn’t work, it was my practicum (where I am paying to volunteer there). And I’m not sick, I’m sad. I’m sad and scared and anxious and mad and I’ve been sitting on my couch for three hours ready for work, but I can’t move. I’ve struggled with my mental health all my life, but my time in grad school has been particularly difficult.


I was so unbelievably excited when I got into SLIS that I signed up for absolutely everything I could in my first semester, to the point where I had five jobs, three classes (four in my second semester), and was in a countless number of organizations. I was desperately trying to not want to get a PhD and to not want to go into archives or special collections, but for the most part, I thought I was doing okay. Then something personal and traumatic happened to me in my second semester and I’ve been recovering ever since. It’s nice to have this tangible thing I can point to and say, “I’m not okay, because of X,” but it’s really hard to admit I wasn’t okay before, either.

Humble brag, I know I’ve accomplished a lot at SLIS. I’ve done really good work and I have a lot of cool things to show for it. But how did I do these cool things? I said yes to absolutely everything and nearly killed myself. I cannot emphasize enough how stupid that was, because I know we are constantly bombarded with opportunities and it seems like if we are not busy, we don’t care. I’m sure this is the case in other fields as well, but I really feel it in the LIS profession and I really, really feel it within the archives field.

None of us are going to get jobs out of grad school unless we are highly competitive, with lots of tech skills, we can turn two years of school into five years of experience, and are you sure you don’t want a second masters? This is my dream career and I’m sure it’s yours, too, but we can’t keep destroying ourselves and pretending it’s okay.

I think about dropping out all of the time, but I’m trying to make this program work for me. I’m utilizing UW-Madison’s University Health Services (UHS), I’ve talked to all of my professors about academic accommodations, I’ve quit multiple jobs, and I’m trying to admit I need help and can’t do everything.

Of course, I still want to do everything. I like being busy and I like not thinking about myself, but it’s just not sustainable. I’m learning to put myself before my career, or at least somewhere on my radar, and it sucks. It absolutely sucks, but it’s also the most valuable thing I’ve ever done.

While I know this isn’t the case for everyone, both UW-Madison and SLIS have been extremely helpful and accommodating when I have reached out to them and I want everybody in this program to know that it’s okay to not be okay. We’ve picked a pretty understanding program at a pretty understanding school and I’m grateful for that. This has been the best community I’ve ever been a part of and I want to make sure it stays that way. Ask for help. Talk to people. You’re not alone.


Cecily Walker and Kelly McElroy created LIS Mental Health Week in January of 2016 and it’s worth your time to look at both of their sites and go through the #lismentalhealth hashtag.

Hack Library School has a nice roundup of student-specific mental health posts.

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

UW-Madison specific:

University Health Services (UHS)

UHS Mental Health Services

End Violence on Campus (UHS-EVOC)

McBurney Disability Resource Center

Copyright Information: Blog content, current and past, belongs to the SAA-SC member credited. Please credit the University of Wisconsin-Madison Society of American Archivists-Student Chapter Archives Month Blog AND the creator if citing. Please contact the individual or for copyright details.


Play Ball: Baseball and the Archives

by Andy Heckroth, 1st year

There is no sport I enjoy watching and playing more than the game of baseball. It may be boring or too slow for some, but the game has remained a fixture not only in sports history but in American history as well. The American lexicon has always been filled with some of the most famous sports heroes of all time, such as Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Henry “Hank” Aaron, Yogi Berra, Mark McGwire, Reggie Jackson, and George Herman Ruth (You might know him better as “Babe”)


The Cubs last appeared in the World Series in 1945. They haven’t won since 1908

It is so fitting that I write my blog post with one of the best celebrations in sports starts, the World Series. Every year, the series always features something uniquely historical. It could be a certain player’s first appearance in the series after the while or, if you are a Yankees fan, another time to recapture another series win. This year is no exception, as the Chicago Cubs, the so-called “Loveable Losers” by some baseball fans, are in the World Series for the first time since 1945. That’s right, the year Nazi Germany and Hirohito’s Japan fell to the United States in World War II was the last year this team was in the World Series. They are hoping to claim their first World Series title since 1908 against another team with bad luck in October, the Cleveland Indians.


The Cleveland Indians last won the World Series was 1948.

Now unlike the Cubs, I have seen the Indians in the World Series in my lifetime (1995 and 1997) Granted, I was not even four years old and have absolutely no recollection of it all. That said, the last time the Indians won it all was in 1948, just a couple years before the Korean War began. So it is safe to say that these two teams have made history, regardless of which team wins this year’s series.


Jose Canseco bounces the ball off his head and over the top, handing is opponent a home run!

In a strange way, baseball can be similar to that of a Shakespeare play. There have been many different comedic moments in the game, such as the Giants’ Fred Merkle celebrating winning the World Series without touching first base, resulting in a Giants’ loss. This moment has sadly been named, “Merkel’s Boner” by baseball historians and the press. Perhaps the funniest moment in baseball history occurred in Cleveland, believe it or not. A fly ball to deep right-center field was misjudged by powerful slugging right fielder Jose Canseco, resulting in the ball bouncing off his head and over the top for a home-run.

Sadly, with laughter there is also tragedy. Racism and Jim Crow laws prevented African-American baseball players from competing in the Major Leagues until Branch Rickey’s historical signing of Jackie Robinson to the then-Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Many great baseball players lost their lives during their careers, such as Thurman Munson in a 1979 plane crash and most recently Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins in a tragic boating accident this year.


The late Miami Marlins player Jose Fernandez.

Now, how does all of this talk of baseball relate to archives, outside of the World Series falling in with Archives Month? Well, archives collections represent the key to unlocking how history happened. It gives us evidence of what happened at a specific point in time that may or may not have significant impact on history.

Perhaps no event in Major League Baseball history altered the fortunes of two teams. This sale of pitcher George H. Ruth to the “American League Base Ball Club of New York” (New York Yankees) for $25000 dollars is considered one of the more lopsided trades in not only baseball history, but in American professional sports history. Ruth went on to win multiple World Series titles with the Yankees and hit 700+ home runs along the way, while the Boston Red Sox never won another World Series until 2004, suffering many October heart-breaking losses over those years.


Contract for the Red Sox’s sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Image from

So when I watch this year’s World Series, I will not only be thinking about baseball strategy, such as executing a hit-and-run with a runner on 1st or a defensive shift to a left-handed pull hitter. I will be thinking about how and why baseball has changed throughout the decades to what it is now. With the help of archives, we can create a guide to how our National Pastime came to be.

Play Ball!



Copyright Information: Blog content, current and past, belongs to the SAA-SC member credited. Please credit the University of Wisconsin-Madison Society of American Archivists-Student Chapter Archives Month Blog AND the creator if citing. Please contact the individual or for copyright details.


Mount Horeb, Wisconsin: The Troll Capital of the World!

By Megan Edgecombe, 2nd year

Last summer, I volunteered with the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society to complete the 120 hour practicum required for graduation at UW-SLIS. MHAHS is located about 20 miles west of the UW-Madison campus in beautiful and quirky Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.


Mt. Horeb Museum and Shop

Along with other Western European immigrants, a large population of Norwegians helped settle the area in the mid-1800s. Today, the town is well known for its troll statues which populate the lawns of local businesses. Trolls are supernatural beings popular in Old Norse and Scandinavian folklore that dwell in mountains or caves. Cave of the Mounds in nearby Blue Mounds, WI would be a perfect hiding place for these ancient and dim-witted creatures.

In 1976, in an effort to celebrate Norwegian heritage and attract customers, a Scandinavian gift shop called Open House Imports began adorning its lawn with troll statues from Norway. Other businesses in Mt. Horeb followed suit, and the town’s main street (also US 151/18) became known as the “trollway.” Jorgen, the town’s “living” troll has been sighted at many Mt. Horeb cultural events and enjoys posing for photos with members of the community.

trollBesides being a veritable hotbed for trolls, Mt. Horeb is also known for its historical museum and archives. The institution boasts an impressive collection of over 15,000 photos and 25,000 museum artifacts related to the history of the Driftless Area. Unfortunately, MHAHS’s museum is closed right now, as they are undergoing a large remodeling project that will result in a “campus-like” facility that will house both the museum and archives called the Driftless Historium. The museum is expected to open in summer 2017. However, the Research Center that currently houses the archival collections is open and available by appointment.

I definitely enjoyed my experience working at the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society. The two curators Johnna and Destinee were delightfully “real” and eager to share advice and stories of how the society has evolved over the years. It was a unique experience to see what decisions had to be made during this transitional, remodeling period. I was allowed to sit in on one of the staff meetings, where accessioning, museum exhibit concerns and other administrative decisions were discussed. As an archives intern, my site supervisor gave me the flexibility to choose the areas I was most interested in working. I chose to focus on archival processing by organizing a large collection, writing finding aids, creating an inventory list for their audio/visual collection, transcribing oral histories, and cataloging archival photographs.


Trolls in front of Open House Imports, image from

If any SLIS students are reading this and still undecided about where to complete the practicum, I highly recommend MHAHS for both archives and museum track students. For anyone else who just wants to get out of the city for a picturesque weekend drive and see unique trolls along the way, Mt. Horeb will not disappoint!

Copyright Information: Blog content, current and past, belongs to the SAA-SC member credited. Please credit the University of Wisconsin-Madison Society of American Archivists-Student Chapter Archives Month Blog AND the creator if citing. Please contact the individual or for copyright details.


Illustrating the Past

by Kelsey Sorenson, 2nd year

I was once told that library school is a group home for English majors. Sounds pretty true to me, so I’d like to present a corollary: the archives track is a group home for history majors, or at least those deeply interested in history. This isn’t a revolutionary statement. Just in going around the table and introducing ourselves at the kickoff meeting each year, you’re bound to hear people say, “I’m interested in archives because I love history,” or “I’ve thought about getting (or already have) an advanced degree in history,” or as already mentioned on this blog that “I love old stuff.”

I fall somewhere in there with the rest of these history lovers, since I love research. My love of research brought me to the collection of papers from the Hoopes sisters at UW’s Department of Special Collections. This summer, after inheriting the project from another student when she graduated, I finished the finding aid for the Hoopes Sisters collection. The biographical note, however, is where I got stuck. We know that Margaret and Florence Hoopes were artists and illustrators of children’s books in the 1930s and 40s, but finding more biographical information about the Hoopes sisters proved to be a challenge. I tried to think of all different places I might find information about the Hoopes sisters, besides their birth and death dates. I discovered someone had even written a blog post about their inability to find info about the two women.


Illustrations in an Alice and Jerry book, courtesy of the Medina County District Library

So, what about these sisters made them so tough to research? It could be any number of factors, but it probably boils down to this: first, neither sister married or had any direct descendants; second, they were freelance illustrators, so their work is scattered among multiple publishers; they weren’t considered content creators the same way as an author would be. Eventually, through persistence and exploring any resource that had even the slightest chance of producing information, I found out where they attended art school, the approximate dates of their move from the suburbs into Philadelphia proper, and a little about their social lives. Still, I’m disappointed I couldn’t find more. Hopefully now that their collection is described, researcher can more easily learn more about the Hoopes sisters and their work.

What was most frustrating for me was the lack of information readily available about the sisters. Their brother, Penrose Robinson Hoopes, had an obituary written for him and published by the American Antiquarian Society after his passing, that is essentially a complete biography. The more than four-page obituary only mentions that he has a surviving sister, not even her name—it was Florence, by the way. It’s difficult to not get upset when the successes of women aren’t as well documented as they deserve to be. (Not that Penrose doesn’t deserve the recognition–he was an engineer and historian of early American technology. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has a collection of his papers.)


Illustration by the Hoopes sisters from Through the Green Gate, image from Illustration Station

While his sisters’ published works greatly outnumbers his (dozens to his two books) and were ubiquitous (many Midwestern children, including my dad, read Alice and Jerry books as a child, but how many of us have read Connecticut Clockmakers of the Eighteenth Century?), readily available information about the sisters does not. And that is where the job of the archivist becomes important. While historians might become interested in a topic and research it further than the archivist, no one will know just how interesting the collection is unless you do its finding aid justice.



A goat in costume. Image from Illustration Station

As much fun as it is to research about creators of a collection and their work to help others learn about them, it reminds me of one of the important tasks archivists face: to bring attention to collections that might not get much notice from researchers. The duty of highlighting overlooked collections can feel overwhelming at times, the work it takes to make known collections other than those created by straight, cisgendered white men, which are often already well documented, is challenging. The best we can do is tackle the problem of representation in archives one collection at a time.

Copyright Information: Blog content, current and past, belongs to the SAA-SC member credited. Please credit the University of Wisconsin-Madison Society of American Archivists-Student Chapter Archives Month Blog AND the creator if citing. Please contact the individual or for copyright details.

On Not Giving Up Everything; Or Ways to Keep Your Day Job

by Crystal Willer, 1st year

I quit bartending about two months ago when I started the SLIS masters program at UW-Madison. Now, as the weather cools, and whiskey cocktails make their way onto menus, I find myself really missing the work. It’s Archives Month, and since it was recently Cocktail Week here in Madison, I thought I’d share a little bit of how my interest in drink history connect with my interest in library and archival studies.


Don’t get me wrong, I still buy plenty of books to have at home

When I began working as a bartender I was really nervous that people would ask for drinks that I didn’t know, and so I did what I always do — I researched. I read all the books I could find about cocktails, and discovered just how interested I was in the history of it all. There are so many great books about cocktails and cocktail history out there — older books are being reprinted and new books come out every day, but it’s still hard to track down a lot of the older, pre-Prohibition era books, and they are rarely found in public or academic libraries. So, long before I knew I would attend a LIS masters program I became a user of digital libraries and archives.

The best collection I’ve found is the free digital library at EUVS, or, Exposition Universelle des Vins et Spiritueux. A museum created by Paul Ricard in Bendor Island in the south of France, EUVS is dedicated to the History of Wines and Spirits. Their online collection includes much more than books, and includes objects such as rhum packaged in a toothpaste-like tube. The vintage cocktail library includes over 340 cocktail books from around the world (naturally they are not all in English) and it’s a great array of book covers. Just click on any book in this display and you can view its full contents, page by page.


Just a few of the cocktail books available at EUVS, I particularly love “Giggle Water” from 1928


Fortunately, some of these books have been reprinted — including the 1917 The Ideal Bartender, by Tom Bullock, the first African-American bartender to publish a bar manual — but most haven’t, and so digital collections such as this provide some of the only access to these unique titles. The Library of Congress also has a collection of early cocktail books, and the National Archives Catalog lists this wonderful “Cocktail Construction Chart” in an Engineering and Technical Drawings, 1934-2004 series.


A section of the Cocktail Construction Chart from the National Archives Catalog

Resources such as these allow me to continue to explore what I loved best about bartending: its connection to history and creativity. I encourage anyone who might be similarly inclined to read and research in excess, and drink responsibly.

Copyright Information: Blog content, current and past, belongs to the SAA-SC member credited. Please credit the University of Wisconsin-Madison Society of American Archivists-Student Chapter Archives Month Blog AND the creator if citing. Please contact the individual or for copyright details.


Media Archives and the Digital Humanities

by Jamie Marie Wagner, 1st year

In the first few weeks of the SLIS program, we in the archives track spent a good deal of time describing our previous experiences and our interest in the field. The consensus seemed be that we “like old stuff.” Admittedly, the three years I spent as a grad student in Film Studies had me happily hunkered down in front of microfilm newspapers and trade journals, or buried for hours behind boxes of industry documents in the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. I imagined a perfect career for myself shuffling dusty papers in a quiet marble palace like the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Surprisingly, I am finding myself most drawn to, and invigorated by, the ideas of the new, new, new, within historical archives. Particularly, I am drawn to the idea of active and creative collection projects that serve to fill gaps in existing archives. The archivist isn’t a passive receiver of whatever documents happen to be left behind by history. Instead, there are oral history projects. There is the type of participatory documentary work advocated by the Kit Hughes in her SAA-Award Winning article in 2014. And, increasingly, there are endless new possibilities for creative access and research by projects in the Digital Humanities.

One series of DH projects, led in part by a team in the UW-Madison Department of Communication Arts, can serve as an illustration of the exciting directions that might be possible for digital archival access.

The Media History Digital Library is a digitization project founded in 2011 by film archivist David Pierce, digital archivist Wendy Hagenmaier, and media scholar Eric Hoyt, who is now a professor in Communication Arts at UW-Madison. The open-access library includes digital copies of popular and trade magazines on radio, television, and film from 1904 through the 1960s. All journals included are in the public domain, and the high resolution scans themselves are hosted by the Internet Archive.

universal-weeklyUniversal Weekly 34.9 (1934)

Since the library’s going live in 2013, Eric Hoyt and a group of grad students in UW-Communication Arts have taken the project in a new and unprecedented direction, developing both Lantern, a full text-search and access tool, and Arclight, an online application that mines data from the library based on user commands and creates visualizations to reflect the frequency of searched terms over time.  The goals of the search are not only to generate data as historical evidence but to guide researchers toward appropriate sources and to generate new research questions.

graph.jpg (2015)

Last, in Summer 2016, Project Arclight released a free ebook, The Arclight Guidebook to Media History and the Digital Humanities, a collection of seventeen articles that describe ways researchers have used and developed tools for extracting and analyzing data to answer media history questions. Topics include Derek Long’s “Excavating Film History with Metadata Analysis: Building and Searching the ECHO Early Cinema Credits Database,” which involved developing a collaborative and adaptive search tool for American Film Index credits metadata on films from 1908-1920.

For my part, I am very interested in learning more about the ways archivists might partner with researchers to make the increasing digital and digitized collections accessible for both traditional close-reading and new methods of data mining and visualization.

Copyright Information: Blog content, current and past, belongs to the SAA-SC member credited. Please credit the University of Wisconsin-Madison Society of American Archivists-Student Chapter Archives Month Blog AND the creator if citing. Please contact the individual or for copyright details.