Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Days in Archives

Sometimes, I really like this researching life. Others, it seems a strange ordeal to put myself through! Cold feet, cold shoulders, no coffee right next to me, a hungry hole in the pit of my belly (no snacks either!). Because what else are you to do in a Rare Books and Manuscripts library but page through folders and of material, hoping for that gem, deciphering handwriting, or worrying about just how much all those photocopies are supposed to cost?

Because certainly, you wouldn't want to spill hot coffee on hundred-year old documents (and you wouldn't want iced coffee given the air conditioning.) Nor would you want to nibble tasty banana bread and get crumbs on those documents for the mice to find! And you certainly couldn't bring in your knitting, because what if you removed a document from the library hidden therein - or punctured a hole in the all-too-fragile paper! (I suppose that's what evenings are for: catching up with the yarn).

Sometimes you find a small, congenial library: the lockers for one's bags are located close to the reading room; there is a small shelf atop the lockers for - you guessed it - coffee storage! Last week, I finally decided to bring my beverage into the locker room, which also held the photocopier. That way, whenever I went in there to make copies, I could take a leisurely sip of coffee. Yum! Or, if the archive is even smaller, there's no pretense: coffee and computer on one table, and on the next table over, the old folders and books and boxes. There's caffeination and a warm beverage to take the chill off, and the air conditioner might even be adjustable! Such, indeed, was my pleasant experience this morning!

Edited to add:The above was written yesterday, when I was indeed freezing (one woman yesterday had on a sweater and two shawls; a man had on a thick wool sweater), under-cafeinated, and hungry (but too engrossed to want to go get lunch). Julia and The Add Knitter are right, though, there's much to enjoy and I do get into a zone, trying to imagine and read and think my way into a life or a movement separated into labels, folders, boxes, finding aids. Someone real touched this paper, someone who fascinates me - and someone else real categorized this same paper, called it X, separated it from all the myriad little things that went into its production. When I'm not dreaming of being covered in wool socks, shawls, and hats it's a lovely world to be a part of, for a little while.

Tomorrow, I need to get back to real life, though, and remind myself that I'm moving in 2 and a half weeks, and haven't started packing!


PHD Knitter said...

I'm fascinated by the kind of research you get to do! I just spent all day copying and pasting references from End Note into a book chapter that my advisor and I are writing ... I guess the plus side is that I could've had coffee at any time I wanted while doing that. Good luck packing!

Julia said...

Yeah, there is sort of an other-worldliness to archival research. Hopefully you'll get so engrossed in the documents that you won't notice the lack of warm beverages! Good luck with the move - hope it all goes smoothly.

The_Add_Knitter said...

Your post reminds me of an incident in a rare book room at Brown where a fellow grad student was banned for life after bringing a gyro sandwich in to a map room and dripping feta dressing on a 19th c. map of Paris--seriously can you believe that?

I love the archives, enjoy your tranquil times there.

Lazuli said...

Add Knitter - I'm not sure which alarms me more, that the person actually did that without thinking it was horribly stupid and incosiderate, or that they were banned for *life*!

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it had been more appropriate if they had drizzled feta onto a map of Athens? ;)