Processing at Shorefront: A Powerful Experience
December 15, 2014

—by Angelique Schuler

Angelique with Students from ETHS
Angelique with Students from ETHS

While completing my Master’s in Library and Information Science from Dominican University, I worked as an archival processing assistant for the University of Chicago’s Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC). At the BMRC, my primary task was to use Archivist Toolkit to create EAD finding aids. However, I was also given the opportunity to process collections at several repositories in Chicago, Illinois.

The Black Metropolis Research Consortium focused the Color Curtain Processing Project to using the ‘More Product, Less Process’ (MPLP) method. This means that as we processed collections we quickly reordered the materials, rehoused them in archival boxes and folders, creating finding aids, and finally had the finding aids encoded to make them accessible to users. Overall, the objectives for processing using the MPLP method is to quickly process so backlogged materials are accessible to users. One of the best experiences I had as a processor was at the Shorefront Legacy Center in Evanston, Illinois. At the Shorefront Legacy center I was able to appraise the new collections process, process them, and make the corresponding finding aids.

This space is powerful!

The Shorefront Legacy Center has amazing archival collections that document Black History in Chicago’s North-Shore communities. One aspect that makes Shorefront unique repositories is the abundance of local histories that are being preserved. At Shorefront I saw how the passion of one person could influence the preservation of historical records. Dino Robinson, the founder of Shorefront, has spent years collecting records with the intention to make them accessible to researchers. I was amazed when I saw the progress of the collections and the continued accession of new materials into the archive.

Between October and December of 2013, I processed a total of eight archival collections for the Shorefront Legacy Center. I was initially assigned to process the papers from the Evanston Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As I began to process the collection, conditional issues with the papers were identified. I discussed the pressing needs with my supervisor, Lisa Calahan and with Dino. We concluded that it would be important to send the papers to be cleaned to eliminate the conditional issues. The boxes were sent to Midwest Freeze Dry to be decontaminated. In the few weeks that this took I focused on processing the other seven unprocessed collections at the repository.

Evanston NAACP files
Evanston NAACP files

The Evanston Branch of the NAACP donated their records to the Shorefront Legacy Center. The collection was more extensive than any other collection I processed at my time with the BMRC and measured at 20.5 linear feet. The branch was founded in 1928 and the organization kept meticulous records of their meeting minutes, annual events, publication, and work with human rights advocacy in the Evanston community. Attempts were made to process the collection in accordance to original order, which means that the records were maintained in chronological order by date and record type. After the processing of the collection was complete, I created a finding aid for the collection and later encoded it using Archivist Toolkit to make it accessible to on-line researchers. An additional link to the other finding aids was competed by the BMRC.

. . .student groups came to visit the facility for tours.

One of the best experiences I had while processing at Shorefront was being able to talk with students and researchers about the collections I was processing. In several instances, student groups came to visit the facility for tours. The students that visited the facility were from Evanston Township High School and many of the students have never seen a research facility. As an archivist, one of my objectives is to make connections with researchers and promote the holdings in the repositories I work at. I have learned that outreach and advocacy in small archives is essential. On the days that I showed the archive I would allow the students to see my workspace and I would set up a table where they could flip through a file. The students were allowed to experience the archive and work with the materials. Moreover, Shorefront allowed students in high school access to the archives. High school students are allowed to present research proposals and use the materials, when a lot of other archival repositories are restrictive to undergraduate and graduate users only.

Overall, processing collection for the Shorefront Legacy Center was one of the best experiences I had while working for the Black Metropolis Research Consortium. It was amazing to see collections be processed and made accessible. The profession relationships I made were amazing and will cherish. Shorefront Legacy Center is constantly collecting new materials and working in the community to preserve black history. If you have not recently visited, I would encourage you to take time to see the collections or attend an event a Shorefront. This space is powerful!

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