Last Thursday, a bunch of local archivists gathered around the table in the APS conference room for a webinar. “Archon™…making it work for you!” was, perhaps, a somewhat giddy title. But it did provide a solid overview of Archon. There were frequent, sensibly-placed pauses in the PowerPointy core of the presentation, which allowed for live demonstrations* and Q&A (by phone and chat). It was a pretty broad subject, with a broad audience: some folks were already using Archon and had specific questions, others were simply aware of its existence. (I’ve never used it, but I’ve read the documentation, so I felt like I had a decent feel for it going in.) As a result, the presentation was neither fish nor fowl, but there was still enough protein that I’m glad I was there.
The first collection I worked with at the APS was Persifor Frazer’s (aka Mss.B.F867). It was a small, gentle, primarily data-entry job that largely served as an introduction to Achivists’ Toolkit. I mainly logged in letters from 1884, almost all of which were from British scientists replying to Frazer’s invitation that they all come down to Philadelphia for an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. The British Association was having a meeting in Montreal, so they’d already be on the right continent.
The Scope and Contents Note for most of these letters was “Plans to attend the meeting” or something similar. A few regrets, and as the date approached some yeses turned into nos. When describing the letters, I often needed to enter the writer’s name: the system has a lot of people in it, but the American Philosophical Society’s focus is, well, American, so many of the British personages were not yet represented. I was introduced to the Library of Congress Authorities: if I could make a likely identification I used the LOC naming convention; otherwise I simply entered the name as deciphered. (Some long-ago processor, back in the days of typewriters, had taken a stab at the signatures.)
Despite the mindless-data-entry components of the task, it was still a useful exercise. AT is straightforward (though I found myself wanting to set up little Perl translations to clean up data, as in my last job; at this point, I haven’t done anything more advanced than add and delete items, so I don’t have a good sense of how useful it is when one wants to make global changes). But I do like learning by osmosis. Proximity to the original material–particularly a large sample of original material–yields information. Not necessarily tremendously useful information, but it still provides an insight into the people and period (and one’s own preconceptions).