Explor(ing) Cool Chicago Collections

If you are a history buff, an experienced researcher, or have even a mild interest in Chicago history and culture– drop everything you are doing and go to the Explore Chicago Collections website.

Have you done it yet? I’ll wait.

Now that you are up to speed, let the gushing begin. Explore Chicago Collections is the newly launched digital portal that connects hundreds of collections from various archives, museums, and cultural institutions from all over the city of Chicago. Broken down into general topics such as, ‘Events,’ ‘Government,’ ‘Daily Life,’ etc., anyone with an internet connection can easily find collections of interest to them, or even stumble upon something they did not know existed. The collections are also divided by neighborhoods, so anyone with an interest in their community’s history can easily access related collections. Neighborhoods are listed alphabetically for researchers’ ease and convenience.

Even better, the attractive and user friendly interface of the website allows for students and researchers of all skill levels to interact with the archival material of Chicago. From the main page, you can easily choose a general topic and narrow your research from there. For example, are you interested in learning how Chicago residents spent their recreational time in the old days? Great! By clicking on the “Recreation & Leisure” tab, a viewer can see every member institution’s collections pertaining to that topic in one place. From there, researchers can use various tags to refine their search, or simply use the “search” bar at the top of the page! Did I mention it was all in one place? It is all in one place. Plus, it’s free!!

Picture courtesy of http://chicagocollections.org/. It’s so beautiful. I think I might cry

Picture courtesy of http://chicagocollections.org/. It’s so beautiful. I think I might cry

This excellent website was made possible by a grant awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the University of Illinois at Chicago Library in partnership with Chicago Collections, the partnership organization comprising of all of the member institutions that make up the portal, ‘Explore Chicago Collections.’ Chicago Collections’ proclaims itself to be a “consortium of libraries, museums, and other institutions with archives that collaborate to preserve and share the history of the Chicago region.” To learn more about the initiative, click here.

At the moment, the Chicago Collections “consortium” is still growing. Eighteen members comprise the alliance, including such prominent institutions as the Chicago History Museum, the Art Institute, the Newberry Library, and of course Loyola University Chicago. It should be of no surprise that the Women and Leadership archives’ collections are featured on the Explore Chicago Collections website. Click here to see the WLA’s collections online. The promise of more institutions joining the collective is an exciting prospect for researchers of all ages and Chicago history lovers all over the country. As more institutions partner with Chicago Collections, more and more material will become known and accessed through the website. The age of scouring cities on the search for resource material for various projects is quickly and effectively disappearing.

Dear Chicago Collections, allow me to thank you on behalf of all harried and overly caffeinated graduate students frantically writing term papers and working on their dissertations. You are a lifesaver. I think I might cry.


 

EllenProfilePic
Ellen is a Graduate Assistant at the WLA and is in the first year of her M.A in Public History at Loyola University Chicago. Before moving to Chicago, Ellen was a Kindergarten teacher in Louisiana. She enjoys brunch, procedural dramas, and pugs.

 


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


My Typical Day at the WLA

“What’s a typical day like for you at the WLA?” Several weeks ago, a Masters in Information Science (MIS) student asked me that question. I gave her my usual response:  “That’s a bit tough as there really isn’t a typical.”

I’ve been an archivist for almost 16 years. At my previous workplace, over the course of my 13 years there, at least six library school students interviewed me. It is a popular assignment in graduate archival classes for a student to interview a professional. In every prior instance, and now twice here at Loyola, I’ve been asked something along the lines of “what do you do in a day?”

The first time someone asked me the question, I distinctly remember looking at the student, and slightly panicking. I felt totally thrown by the question and I believe I stared at her for several seconds with my mouth open. I seemed to have no idea how to answer because I’d never really analyzed what I did in a typical day. Sure, I had a job description and specific duties, however, the days were so varied that I had no idea where to start. I remember stammering something, which I later hoped sounded slightly coherent, about how the work days just were not typical.

I feel the need to explain a bit here about the archival field. Some archivists have more specialized archival jobs than I have had in my two jobs in the field. For instance, there are reference archivists that pretty much only answer reference questions, like in a university/ college setting or a state archives. In addition, there are processing archivists and their jobs are to process (organize) collections and archival records. Archives also run the gamut of large staffs, say ten archivists, to smaller staffs of two or three and down to places like the WLA, that employ one professional archivist. In a larger staff archives, the archivists tend to be more specialized, focusing on just several archival tasks.

At my previous job and now at the WLA, I’ve been a generalist and the only professionally trained archivist. That means my job description includes all types of archival activities such as answering reference questions; processing or overseeing processing; supervising students; conducting programming/outreach activities; dealing with website content; and creating/installing exhibits.

Now back to a typical day for me. Two factors affect my work at the WLA. The first occurs because I’m the Director and the only professionally trained archivist, with a staff of graduate students.  I’m the point person for reference requests, some of which can be immediate. It’s not unusual for someone at Loyola, think of the PR department folks, to ask a collection related question and want the answer as soon as possible.

I’m also responsible for administrative details, often time sensitive, involved in running an archive in a university setting. Think now of general paperwork and specific human resource type responses. Plus, I do everything from contacting facilities because a light is burned out in the hallway to dealing with the small amount of water that came into the basement archives after the last heavy rain.

The second factor affecting my work at the WLA is tasks that occur under the category of “duties otherwise not specified,” a term I learned in the 1980s when I worked as a social worker for the state of Iowa. My job description included that phrase and every once in a while my supervisor reminded me of it, particularly when I balked at doing something he wanted me to do. “But it’s not in my job description,” I’d say to him at which time he’d reply back, “Yes it is. It’s under duties otherwise not specified.”

Things come up in the work day that aren’t technically in my job description, however, are still tasks I need or want to do. An example is that every once in a while I run into someone at Piper Hall, where the WLA is located, who wants a tour of the beautiful 1909 mansion. I know pertinent Piper Hall history so I gladly give them tour on the spot. It’s not in my job description to be tour guide, however, I’d have a hard time saying no and besides, it’s fun.

At this point, I’m going to loop back around to the nice MIS student interview several weeks ago and my answer to the usual question. I’ve now done this enough so I didn’t look at her with my mouth open, akin to a deer in the headlights. Instead, I talked about what often happens in a day for me as WLA Director. Before I went into the typical, however, I gave her the caveat of how a planned day’s work can change quickly depending on who e-mails, calls, or walks in the WLA door needing something immediate.

A usual day involves one or two meetings and on average, I have six to eight scheduled meetings per week. The WLA is part of Loyola’s Library system and the Gannon Center for Women, meaning my meeting quotient is higher given my involvement with both entities. Through the Library, I’m on four committees and chair one.  Three of the library committees are monthly and sometimes entail tasks be done between meetings. In addition, I may meet with a professor regarding a WLA collaborative class project, talk with a donor at her home, or plan an event with a community group.

Another part of a typical day involves supervising the work of the WLA’s wonderful Graduate Assistants (GAs), without which the Archives could not function as well as it does. There are three GAs and usually two work per day. Their tasks are processing collections, tracking down answers for reference requests, creating web copy, and in general, doing all sorts of needed archival work. Of course, they also have duties otherwise not specified.

I also usually have some type of donor work during a usual day. Donors are the good folks who give the WLA records that make up our collections. What I call donor work includes: talking with a donor; picking up records; deciding what to keep; and doing the legal paperwork to transfer the records to the WLA. There are all sorts of follow-ups, by phone or e-mail, with donors as they progress through the donation process. Donations have increased over the last year so it is becoming a regular part of almost every day.

Lastly, I can’t forget answering e-mails, some of which contain the aforementioned reference requests and/or administrative tasks. On average I spend a good hour or two daily reading and responding to e-mails.

I have a varied work day which is what I like. I’m afraid I’d be bored if I my job entailed just several archival tasks. Instead, I never quite know what will happen in a day at the WLA!


 

IMG_0021-149x110Nancy Freeman became Director of the WLA in spring, 2013. Prior to that, Nancy was an archivist and records manager at a wildlife research facility for the USDA in Colorado. Nancy has worked in the archival field since 1999. When not at the WLA, Nancy enjoys spending time with her family and knitting.

 


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


Decades of Travel: A Personal Look at the Mollie West Collection

The Polish born immigrant, Mollie Lieber West, came to the United States in 1929 at the age of 13. After graduating from high school, Mollie went on to work for the Farm Equipment Workers of American, an early CIO union. She was a member of the Communist Party from 1935 to 1962. Mollie initially joined the Young Communist League working as a labor organizer. After several years of being forced into underground hiding in the 1950s, she broke ties with the Communist Party in 1962.

Mollie surpassed gender barriers as a member of the Typographical Union. She was the first woman elected to a union office in the Chicago typographical Union, Local 16. In her sixties, Mollie earned a Bachelor’s degree in labor education from Mundelein’s Weekend College. After her retirement from the printing trade in 1987, Mollie worked at the Illinois Labor History Society as the administrative secretary and volunteer. Her time there allowed her to continue to promote education and recognition for labor leaders.

Most of what I knew about Mollie West related to her work for the union. I had read through her biographical information on her finding aid and had also been told a little bit about her. Mollie’s life was rather fascinating but what truly caught my attention were all of the items in her collection at the Women and Leadership Archives that pertained more to her personal life. I came across some of Mollie’s personal items when I was looking for photos to scan for her memorial. What a delightful feeling it was to discover that her collection contains a plethora of information unrelated to the union. Pictures, letters, school papers, and greeting cards are just a few of the materials highlighting Mollie’s personal life. In particular, I relished my time spent sifting through her travel photos. Mollie spent most of her life in Chicago but her photos indicate that she traveled far beyond the borders of the windy city.

As someone who has been fortunate enough to travel abroad, I was instantly interested in Mollie’s travels. She traveled to places decades before I ever set foot on a plane and I only wish I could swap stories with her. I am sure there would have been many things to compare and contrast about our trips. Her photos gave me a glimpse into travel in the Soviet Union in 1940s, Israel in the 1950s, Mexico in the 1960s, England 1970s, China in the 1980s, and Switzerland in the 1990s. From the hairstyles to the clothes to the breathtaking scenery, Mollie’s photos are a visual treat to look through.

Mollie West on the Great Wall of China

Mollie West on the Great Wall of China

Her photo collection raises some broader questions about the history of travel. How easy or difficult was it to travel abroad in the latter half of the twentieth century? How is travel similar and how has it changed over the years? How has tourism changed over the years? These are all questions that at first glance at Mollie’s collection may not seem as though they could be answered. In fact, a researcher may not even look at Mollie’s collection if the researcher is not focused on labor unions. Archives are full of hidden gems of information and resources. Researchers may study the same collection but may use their research in very different ways. Mollie’s collection is full of material relating to her work with the labor movement, however she was a very active individual and her collection reflects that. Pictures, letters, papers, and cards show just how many people Mollie knew and all the activities she was involved with.

Me in Egypt in 2011.

Me in Egypt in 2011

 

 

 

Mollie West in Egypt in 1983

Mollie West in Egypt in 1983

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking through Mollie’s collection, I thought about how I had tried to capture my time traveling abroad. Mollie’s photos seem to indicate that she often traveled with friends and family. There are numerous pictures of her by herself as well as her with the people she presumably traveled with. I on the other hand, took several solo trips so a majority of those photos consist of the landscape, buildings, and other people. I am envious of the plethora of candid photos of Mollie and her traveling companions. These photos are very natural and they give me a better look at how Mollie interacted with the environment and other people when she was not posing for a planned picture.

When Mollie traveled, film was still used, as the numerous negatives in her collection prove. In this day and age there are digital cameras and cameras on phones. Any archival collection of my life in the future would consist of CDs, memory cards, and external hard drives because I rarely print out my photos. I have well intentioned plans to print them out and put them in scrapbooks or albums but the need to do that is not there because I can easily view my photos on my computer. There is something very exciting about holding the actual photograph rather than viewing a scanned image. These were photos Mollie or those she traveled with printed off, looked through, put in albums, or hung up. While the photos I took while traveling are reminiscent of those by Mollie, how we displayed and used them afterwards does differ. Mollie’s collection is the inspiration I need to dedicate some time to printing out physical copies of my travel photographs.

Mollie West handling coins during the Monte Carlo leg of her European trip in 1970.

Mollie West handling coins during the Monte Carlo leg of her European trip in 1970

I admire Mollie’s work in the labor movement but what I find most interesting are the parts of her collection that are strongly connected to her personal life. Mollie was such an influential public figure for the labor movement, that it is nice to see what she was involved in outside of that work. Her pictures show time spent with family and friends and traveling. One of the most fascinating things about Mollie is that she traveled the world well into her older age. I only hope that I have the great fortune to travel far and wide, just like Mollie.

 

Mollie West in Israel in 1959.

Mollie West in Israel in 1959

 


 

Megan Bordewyk

 

Megan is a Graduate Assistant at the WLA and is in the first year of her M.A in Public History at Loyola University Chicago. She is an avid movie-goer and enjoys arts and crafts, live sporting events, and small Midwestern towns.

 


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


Archival Practice: An Intro to Textiles

Last spring, the WLA Director informed the Graduate Assistants that we would be receiving a lesson in folding textiles. Great, I thought, someone will finally give me the secret to folding a fitted sheet! Unfortunately, a neat linen closet still eludes me. However, I did gain an important skill for archivists and public historians working with collections. While archives are mainly thought of as repositories for historic papers, several of our collections include various fabric objects. It is important to know how to care for these textiles so that they can be preserved for researchers for as long as possible.

So, I would like to pass on to you the basics of caring for textiles in the archives.

A Peace ribbon embroidered by Rose Bagley

A Peace ribbon embroidered by Rose Bagley

The textiles we were working with were donations from Rose Bagley, whose collection has not yet been processed. Rose participated in organizing for the Peace Ribbon event on August 4, 1985. On that day, an estimated 15,000 people carried a 15 mile long ribbon that wrapped around the Pentagon, the Washington Monument, and Capitol Hill to protest nuclear weapons. The ribbon was made up of 36×18 inch segments decorated with paint, embroidery, and sewing and sent to Washington from all over the country. Our collection includes just some of the over 1,300 segments that were sent from Illinois.

Garments and other textiles with more complex construction would require more careful consideration. While I will be focusing on flat storage of textiles, some items may require a different form of storage. However, these simple, rectangular banners can help us get a feel for the techniques of textile conservation.

Wait, why do I even care?

Imagine it’s laundry day and you’re folding up your t-shirts and putting them into a drawer. When you pull a t-shirt out a week or two later to wear it, there are creases where the folds were that you try to shake out or iron away. Now imagine if that t-shirt sat in the drawer for 25 years, 50 years, a hundred years. The fabric at those folds has been stretched and pressed for that length of time, causing damage and breakage to the fibers.

Because of the perils of sharp folds, the method of storing historic textiles revolves around creating as few folds as possible. Where folds must be made, we try to reduce the strain that creases put on the fibers.

Supplies needed:

  • Acid free, lignin-free archival boxes
  • Acid-free, lignin-free, unbuffered tissue paper (lots of it)
  • Cotton gloves
  • A large work space

Step One: Every box has a tissue lining.

Prepare the box in which your textiles will live by lining it with tissue paper. The goal is to have the artifacts only touching tissue paper, not any part of the box or other objects.

Step Two: Best laid plans

Wearing your gloves, lay the first textile flat on a clean surface. When moving textiles, be sure to lift carefully from both ends in a way that does not put strain on any part of the fabric. Use a cloth underneath as support or get help from a colleague for large, heavy objects. Your textiles may not be delicate now, but we still want to treat them carefully.

With your object flat and your box nearby, plan out the best way to fold the textile. Remember, you want the item to fit into the box with as few folds as possible.

Step Three: Time to make sausage

Once you know how you will fold your textile, you must pad these folds in order to reduce strain on the fibers. The formal archival term for this padding is a sausage.

To begin making your sausage, take two or three rectangular pieces of tissue paper and crinkle them up like a kid opening a birthday present. Well, maybe not that violently. Next, pull the now messy paper back out into rectangles. Here, you may choose between two methods. You can roughly pleat your paper like an accordion, or you can loosely roll the paper. Either way, you should end up with a sausage-shaped roll of tissue paper. You may want to slightly twist the ends to keep your sausage from coming apart. Delicious.

The goal in sausage making is to make the tissue paper full and crush-resistant.

The goal in sausage-making is to make the tissue paper full and crush-resistant.

Step Four: Know when to fold ‘em

An accordion sausage in place

An accordion-style  sausage in place

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A rolled sausage

Place your sausage where it is needed on the textile and fold the fabric over. Gently push the sausage into the fold so that there are no sharp creases. Depending on the width of your textile, you may need to add another sausage or two to insure that the fold is padded all the way to the edges. Maybe you’ll need some mini sausages.

 

For garments, you will also need to use tissue paper to puff out bodices, sleeves and ruffles. Some sources also suggest that you use cardboard tubes, covered in tissue paper, to support folds in heavier fabrics.

 

 

 

Step Five: Think inside the box

Carefully move your textile into the box and readjust your sausages as needed. Cover the textile with a layer of tissue paper.

Surrounded by tissue paper, the final peace ribbon banner goes into the box.

Surrounded by tissue paper, the final peace ribbon banner goes into the box.

For the sake of space, it is likely that you will need to put multiple items in a box. Avoid stacking heavy fabrics that will crush the folds of items underneath. Never crush your sausages. Because our peace ribbons were fairly light and only had one fold, we found that we could put five in each box without putting too much weight on the folded banners.

Be sure to put tissue paper in between each item in the box.

When you have placed the last textile in the box, cover it with, you guessed it, more tissue paper, and fold any overhanging paper over the textiles. Be sure that you have not overfilled the box and that your carefully puffed textiles will not be crushed as you put the top on the box.

It is recommended that textiles be repacked and refolded regularly, perhaps annually. This gives you an opportunity to put new fluffy sausages and change where the folds are located so that no area of the textile is under perpetual stress.

Committing to Textiles

Recently, another donor asked the WLA if it would like to take a donation of over 100 more peace ribbon segments. When packed as described above, with five to a box, this donation would take up a considerable amount of shelf space (as well as a parade float’s worth of tissue paper). Archives often face the decision of whether they can take donations like this and properly care for them. Will these objects be more valuable to researchers than potential future donations that could fill this space? Archivist job requirement: predicting the future.

This basic lesson on caring for textiles does not cover all of the procedures that may be needed with different types of textiles. However, my practice with the peace ribbons gave me an understanding of the problems that must be considered for this type of artifact.

For more information on textile conservation, see this in-depth guide from the National Park Service.

For guides on caring for textiles at home, take a look at the links below.

Guide to storing antique textiles from the Smithsonian Encyclopedia
Textile Care guide from the International Quilt Study Center and Museum
Caring for Your Heirloom Textiles is a thorough article from Marjorie M. Baker at the University of Kentucky

 


 

Caroline blog photo
Caroline Lynd Giannakopoulos is a Graduate Assistant at the WLA and is working on her Master’s in Public History at Loyola University Chicago. When not scrapbooking, she spends her spare time exploring Chicago, interpreting dreams and watching cheesy movies with her husband.

 


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.