Repetitive but still kind of fun

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).

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Descriptive demons

I skimmed a letter from Sarah to Helen (niece and wife, I believe), and almost described it as “gossip.” Which is not untrue, but such a dismissive term; using it—especially in what is already an overwhelmingly male-dominated context—would feel like ovarian betrayal. I said “interpersonal news” instead.

Labels and folders are, currently, precious. I resisted the temptation to leave uncorrected a physical label and AT entry dated March 21, 1874. It’s clearly the 31st—clearly written on the page, and clear from the scope and contents note in AT that it’s the same letter. I am sort of proud of myself, but at the same time recognize I’m just being anal because any user would’ve easily been able to find the letter even with the minor discrepancy. But somewhere down the line maybe it means one fewer snarky footnote about misdated materials.

I studiously ignore the semicolons at the end of item titles. This is presumably an artifact of importation from Access. (Although other fields, like date expression, lack deliminiting characters, and you’d really hope they’d pick something a bit less fraught, at least a carrot. I have not yet asked Access to talk to AT.) I cleaned up the Frazer collection manually, because it’s small. LeConte requires either an automated clean up or someone far more anal and masochistic than me. I don’t fret about the persistent “Le Conte” or inconsistent rendering of dates (though I think about both). Nor have I worried my head about accent marks (another presumable side effect of importation), except on the labels I type up myself. “Lacordaire, The#odore” is eminently human readable.