Adventures in the Social Law Library Archives
posted July 8, 2012 3:54 PM by Elise Dunham
My unplanned foray into the world of law librarianship has taken yet another unexpected turn: I’m working in an archives at a law library!
A few weeks ago, my supervisor at the Social Law Library told me that, if I wanted to, I could spend a couple of hours each workweek in the Archives. Of course, I said “yes” with no hesitation. As I’ve articulated in a previous post, I’ve found a great deal of professional value in my circulation job at Social Law, even as an archivist-to-be. But I would be a fool if I didn’t jump at this opportunity to squeeze some more relevance out of my pre-professional job.
I have quite a task ahead of me when it comes to the Social Law Archives. Due to budget/staff shortages, there is no professional librarian or archivist tasked with managing the Archives. To make matters even more interesting, the Library moved in the early 2000s, and whatever order that had been established in the previous Archives got jumbled up when it moved to the new building. Concepts like “provenance” and “original order” certainly become a lot more difficult to work with in a situation like this!
My job is, more or less, to figure out what’s down there and get a large-scale sense of intellectual control over the place. Something I’m noticing right away is there are really two high-level groups at work: the Social Law Archives proper and a Special Collections component. The “Archives” themselves are composed of the materials Social Law has created over the course of its history as an institution, and the Special Collections are a compilation of various groups of materials that have been donated to the Library over the years, such as judges’ and legal institutions’ papers. It may seem like a minor distinction to people outside of the archives world, but to us archivists it’s a big one!
My ultimate goal is for this currently unorganized place to become a resource for researchers--there’s a lot of cool stuff in the Social Law Archives (& Special Collections), and no one knows about it! We have a long way to go before we can get to that point, but if I can do something during my time here to push Social Law closer toward this goal, I will consider it time well spent.
I’m finding myself coming up with project ideas for a “future intern,” and I’m starting to think that I’m going to be that intern. There’s a 130-140hr internship component to the GSLIS Archives Concentration, and if I can get the formalities figured out then I believe I will spend that time working in the Social Law Archives. It’s official--Social Law has sucked me in!