Dispatches from a Distance: My Mom, Project Archivist

This is the seventh of our Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts intended as a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas which, on any other day, you might have discussed with your deskmate or a co-worker during lunch. These don’t have to be directly in response to the Covid-19 outbreak (although they can be). Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.

Katrina Wood

As a part-time government employee, I was left wondering if I could continue historical research and archives inventory tasks once a stay-at-home order was a reality. When that came to pass in North Carolina, I joined the ranks of cultural heritage specialists who were sheltering in place to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile in Georgia, my Mom slowly altered her public and other activities. She told me that she had to go out to buy a television since one of her aging devices had lost picture by late March. Then she limited herself to going to the plant nursery and the grocery store. My mother is indeed among the vulnerable population, but she hasn’t spent a moment longing for the life she’s had to put aside. Instead, she continued to clean out the attic.

Both of my parents had long careers in academia, and like me, they felt the need to keep several years’ worth of papers, binders, notes, and memorabilia. I’m marveling at my Mom’s archivist tendencies—she set up a sorting station in the garage and has inspired my Dad to work through decades of his own papers. I’ve received texts with pictures that harken back to memories made before I was born. The most intriguing attic project in my view is the collection of Time magazines, however. 

Gwen Wood has pared down the ‘attic archives’ in stages, seeming to have begun with my school papers. I’m not sure I could speak to a processing schedule, but she has since employed a neighborhood teen to help comb through the magazines. Tokumo normally assists Gwen with yard work and like me, he is of a quiet sort. I asked if I could write about their (still ongoing) experience since one of the issues they’ve set aside is an issue from April 25, 1983—a somber Senator Claude Pepper graces the cover.

I worked on a collection at the Claude Pepper Library and Museum at Florida State University and will likely reach out to Special Collections to see if they would like the issue. Further connections to existing collections might reveal themselves, yet I’m all too aware of the scenario in which donors are overconfident that their back issues will fulfill each prong of an archive’s collection policy. The Time issues appear to begin in 1968 and neither Gwen nor Tokumo are sure when the collection ends. I heard about this sorting in early April, about the time that my Mom switched to solo yard work and attic archives with Tokumo when he wasn’t going to school online. 

Included above is a photo of the space, cheerfully adorned with a string of lights and series of boxes and cartons. And I’m aware that this archive may too be shuttered as we all enter into the scorching summer months. Until then, my parents’ attic issues of Time and Newsweek will see their first finding aids and the light of day after a prolonged retirement.

One thought on “Dispatches from a Distance: My Mom, Project Archivist

  1. Susan K. Rishworth July 6, 2020 / 3:53 pm

    Love it, Katrina! And I can identify with your mom, finding no excuse anymore not to tackle the filing cabinets of academic and professional papers and shrink wrapped packages of family records. Also finally getting back to the records of my Baha’i community that were entrusted to me 4 years ago. I’m having to learn about the procesing and preservation of electronic records that I didn’t have to do when I was employed as an archivist. And I love that she’s enlisted the assistance of a “junior archivist” neighbor who might get bitten by the archives bug during this project. Thanks for a day brightener!


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