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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Behind-the Scenes Volunteers: Hidden Treasures

What are HIDDEN TREASURES?  Well, let’s break that down.  Something that is HIDDEN can be out of sight, masked, cloaked, or behind something or someone else.  A TREASURE can be something or someone that is a gem, or rare, precious, inspiring, sparkling, or really beautiful.  Take your pick of any combination of words in these two categories and you have defined the SI NMAH Archives Center’s staff of volunteers who work behind the scenes.

The Archives Center has had “Behind- the-Scenes Volunteers” for about two decades, perhaps since its inception.  The group has ebbed and flowed and changed over the years – at one point there were more than 20.  At present, there are the intrepid dozen or so.  These tireless souls come to the Archives Center year in and year out for one, two, or three days per week (sometimes five!), helping the program with the myriads of projects that must be managed by Center staff.  AC volunteers help process collections large (such as the Orange Bowl Collection – 90 ft.) and small (such as the Ramsey Lewis Collection – 3 ft.). They also help field reference requests and sometimes connect the Center with prospective donors of collections.

Archives Center volunteers processing the Pullman Collection with archivist Franklin Robinson, Jr.
Processing collections entails re-housing materials in environmentally safe holders, such as specially made folders, boxes, and enclosures that the volunteers may custom make under the supervision of AC staff. Processing also encompasses the task of describing the collection content.  Questions such as “Can you find the certification for my violin?” or “Can you find more information on my Chickering  piano?” or “Do you have any information on my grandfather who worked for Western Union in 19??” are often fielded by knowledgeable AC volunteers who have been working with the Archives Center collections for a number of years.  We have had the good fortune to find those who have had previous careers as reference professionals to assist in our program.  AC volunteers also have a love of history, and occasionally bring to the attention of the Archives Center staff other lovers of history who have potential collections.

New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad Company pass for C.H. Summers, 1898.
Western Union Telegraph Co. Records, Archives Center
On Friday, September 14, the Archives Center hosted a “Please Come Back” party for volunteers who have worked with the program for the last five years.  As a result of the Museum’s West Wing Renovation, The Archives Center’s reading room, offices, and collections are being moved to temporary spaces to make way for the work that needs to be accomplished.  As these quarters will accommodate little or no processing space, the Center has regretfully put its volunteer program on hiatus for the renovation project’s duration.  The party was attended by a number of volunteers and alumni, Archives Center staff, SI NMAH management, and SI Volunteer Services staff.  Volunteers socialized, were feted, and were roundly thanked by all in attendance.  And they had an opportunity to let us know how much they enjoyed working with the AC staff.
Archives Center volunteers, September 14, 2012.
Front row, left to right: Marian Tatum-Webb, Ramona Williamson, Ronald Fett.
Back row: Nancy Beardsley, Theresa Worden, Cooby Greenway, David Weisz, Doug Stephany, Erin Molloy,
Marcia Rodwin, Anne Jones, Dr. Theodore Hudson, David Peterson.
Not present: Christine Windheuser, Dr. Jeffrey Fearing, Richard Green.

So “What are hidden treasures,” you ask?   I would answer: SI NMAH AC “Behind- the- Scenes” volunteers.  We would do a lot less work without their help and they will be sorely missed during the coming months.

Deborra Richardson, Chair
Archives Center
Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month-long blogathon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.


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