Processing is for the most part complete on the UJA-Federation of New York collection and we have moved on to everything else that has to be finished before the finding aid is completed, with just Marvin left to complete the last reboxing, refoldering, and folder listing.
In cleaning up my processing area I am finding things I stashed away during processing, not to integrate into the collection but because they represent a very ephemeral part of what archivists do, and I had a hard time throwing them out. Perhaps a later blog post will illustrate some of the beautiful and weird paper clips that Federation used at different times between 1917 and whenever paperclips became more standardized.
But first I scanned a few of the empty folders and tabs I couldn’t bear to throw out without noting them in some way. The contents of these folders were transferred a couple of years ago to new acid-free folders and probably relabeled. Or possibly the titles were retained. Once all the folder lists are combined into a single final container list, I’ll be able to search for “CRANKS” and see if that folder title merited permanent retention. In fact at that point, with the finding aid and container list online, anyone will be able to search for any folder title or strange word they like and see if it exists among the tens of thousands of folder titles in this collection.
I know that we came across a number of folders over the past four years that made reference to mail that had been received that was either troubling, or from a troubled soul not seeking help from Federation but on an opposite side of some philosophical or political issue, real or otherwise. These other folders would have been called “White Mail” or “Unsolicited Correspondence” or hidden within a series of correspondence folders, making a title like “CRANKS” really stand out. Being handwritten, probably the only handwritten folder title in a box of folders with neatly typed titles also made it stand out. I assume it was handwritten because it was not a formal folder title; the executive who was dealing with its contents just scribbled a title himself and left it on his desk to work on, rather than handing it to his secretary to integrate into the departmental files.
This next image is a folder tab from a very brittle and dusty folder from about 1920. “VI Eliminated Societies” is also handwritten, but one of an entire years’ worth of handwritten folder titles, definitely a formal folder title and labeled very formally and neatly. It is also numbered as if it were an official category, which at that time in the ‘teens or 1920s it must have been, until Federation settled into a more stable and comfortable relationship with their affiliated agencies.
As the project slowly winds down, we have been discussing the things we’ve learned from and noticed about this collection. One of the most ephemeral things is simply how folders are labeled, what that says about the institution, and what it says about the time and place a particular person wrote a particular title on a folder in a particular way. One thing I’ve been very aware of is how the documents and other materials in this collection reflect that time and that person and that institution, and how all of that affects the content itself. Our hope is that we are presenting the collection so it is easily accessible, but also as an intriguing series of snapshots of an ordinary office over time, vanished except for the records a lot of people so carefully kept.