Summer Adventure: A Curator Attends the Western Archives Institute

WAI2016_GroupPhotoIn July, with support from Hesburgh Libraries, one of our curators attended the 30th annual Western Archives Institute (WAI) held at Santa Clara University (SCU) in Santa Clara, CA. Julie Tanaka was one of 26 participants who came from locations across the United States. Though many were from California, others flew in from Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, and Maine. The group spent over 80 hours in the classroom during the two-week institute learning the fundamentals of archives from Tom Wilsted, former Director of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut and principal faculty member for the 2016 WAI, and 10 other professional archivists from corporations, public libraries, universities, and government agencies.


WAI is an intensive, two-week, residential institute co-sponsored by the California State Archives and the Society of California Archivists. The institute was founded in 1986 to fill an existing gap in archival training on the West Coast. Modeled on the National Archives and Records Administration’s Modern Archives Institute founded in 1945 and the Georgia Archives Institute founded in 1967, WAI distinguished itself by becoming the only program that trains both people who already have appointments as archivists and those who do not consider themselves to be archivists but who manage archival materials as part of their job.


The institute provides participants with intensive instruction in archival theory and practices. Sessions cover more than thirteen major topics including an introduction to the archival profession, managing an archives program, grant funding, and professional ethics. Some of the topics related to practice include records management, arrangement and description, preservation, photographs, and electronic records.

WAI gives participants the opportunity to observe a variety of archives in operation and to gain different perspectives from practicing archivists.

Site tours included the Computer History Museum Archives in Fremont, the Society of California Pioneers at the Presidio, and the Santa Clara University Archives.

Computer History Museum Archives, Fremont, CA
Image of archives
Society of California Pioneers, San Francisco, CA
A Typical Day

Each day began at 8:15 in the morning and ran to around 5:00 in the afternoon and was divided into two sessions. Because of the nature of the institute, many sessions devoted a significant portion to lectures in order to cover the required content. There were ample opportunities, however, to discuss particular questions people had, to seek advice from one another, and to share practices and ideas already in place at participants’ home institutions.

Some of the most memorable parts of the institute were sessions which featured a practicum. One practicum was devoted to arranging and describing a collection that contained correspondence, financial records, disciplinary records of a ship’s crew, and documents about individual crew members. Groups of five surveyed the collection and made decisions about how to arrange the collection before writing a preliminary description of its scope and contents.

Image of Treatment exampleAnother practicum was devoted to conservation. Participants had the opportunity to get hands-on experience doing some minor treatments such as flattening a crumpled document with a mist sprayer. Their finished treatments were then housed in polyester L-sleeves for storage.

After the second session concluded, the majority of participants who were staying on campus for the duration of the WAI had dinner together in the SCU’s dining commons. Conversations about the day’s sessions continued but often steered toward lighter topics and gave everyone the opportunity to decompress before heading back to the dorm to spend another 2-3 hours reading in preparation for the next day.

Take Aways

Two weeks of intensive archival training will not turn a newcomer into an archivist overnight, but this institute provides a solid foundation and the basic skills someone needs to work in and with archives. WAI provides participants first and foremost with an understanding of the profession, from the development of modern archives in France as a by-product of the French Revolution to the code of ethics that governs the profession.

WAI is an invaluable experience. The intensive, residential format encourages attendees to focus their attention on all things archival and to draw connections between policies, procedures, and practices. Participants all agreed that well-defined policies and procedures about the archives’ mission, collecting, access, use of materials, and preservation as well as for processing collections in a timely manner are critical to the professional integrity of an archives and help ensure equitable, high-quality, consistent services.

In addition to gaining knowledge of archival theory and practices, participants at WAI develop new friendships within the community of archivists. These connections form the beginning of a support network that will continue to grow and also serves as points of first contact to which the 2016 WAI participants may turn when questions arise and they need advice.

Summer Archives Workshop in RBSC

Click for PDF.

This intensive workshop targets graduate students interested in conducting archival research. Participants will acquire a solid foundation in archival terminology, how to identify and use archives, and other fundamental skills.

The workshop will introduce best practices and some of the crucial cultural and practical differences between libraries and archives. It will also give attendees hands-on practice reading and transcribing different handwritings from various time periods, identifying important parts of manuscripts, and reading historical maps. We will also cover select participant-requested topics.

Monday-Friday, August 1-5, 2016
9 am-noon
Special Collections Seminar Room
(Hesburgh Library 103)

Register Online

Led by:
Rachel Bohlmann, Ph.D.
U.S. History and American Studies Librarian

Julie Tanaka, Ph.D.
Curator, Special Collections and Western European History Librarian

Questions or requests? Please email either Rachel or Julie.

Making the Most of Your Visit to Special Collections

by James Cachey, Stacks Maintenance and Patron Services

Rare Books and Special Collections is a public research facility that houses over 175,000 volumes of printed books and periodicals, manuscript holdings that range from medieval codices to contemporary collections, and a variety of other formats including printed ephemera, maps, newspapers, and numismatic and philatelic items. All of these materials are available for use upon request. In order to expedite access to using these materials, this post offers some guidelines to our potential patrons.

The majority of our collections are located in our basement storage stacks and need to be retrieved when a patron requests to use them. Because of this, it is helpful for both you and the department if you email your requests at least 24 hours before you plan to visit. However, if you are unable to email in advance, please expect up to a 20 minute wait for us to retrieve your materials. When you email your requests for materials, please include the full location for books found in the Location tab of the catalog record or the manuscript number for manuscripts from our website. This is important because our stacks are separated by type of material (Rare Books, Medium Rare, Manuscripts, and Ephemera) and by size (Jumbo, Oversize, Extra Large, Large, Small and Extra Small).

For example:
Special Collections, Special Coll. Rare Books Small – PT 2473 .G4 R4 1831
Special Collections (MR), Special Coll. – PQ 7797 .B635 A23 1964
Lat. b. 2
MSN/MN 8004
MSSP 2002-1-B

When you arrive at the department and if it’s your first time visiting, you will be asked to read our policy and procedures and to fill out some paperwork. Once you have registered, you will be asked to check your bags and jackets in our locker room. During this time, we will enter your information into our database and set up the items you requested in our reading room.

We hope this information will help you become familiar with how to use our collections and expedite the process of retrieving materials for you in order to maximize your time in our department.


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Digging for Revolutionary Traces in the Rare Books Room

by Julia Douthwaite, Professor of French, University of Notre Dame

This summer I am spending my days in the Department of Special Collections at Notre Dame’s library, systematically making my way through 60-some of the most controversial-sounding titles of French books published during the French Revolution (of the 266 total). I am looking for clues about who read these books, what they liked, and when, as based on underlinings, marginalia, and any clues I can find on provenance; it is also interesting to learn about historical facets of book binding and illustration. The closest thing to being in a European library is being in a Rare Books room in the USA.

I am doing so in anticipation of the colloquium, Collecting the French Revolution, in Greoble and Vizille France, 23-25 September 2015. It will be fun to show how the collection of such materials ended up here, in the hinterlands of north-central Indiana!

So far, I have found some intriguing books. Two are interesting because of their ties to the university’s history: a 1794 book of revolutionary legislation is stamped “Treasure Room”–the former name of Special Collections–and a history of the Church dated 1791 is a living testimony to the ravages of fire and water damage which swept through the library in 1879. It was saved from the fire by a student, from whom it was returned years later.

Title page from a 1795 copy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Du Contrat social.
Title page from a 1795 copy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Du Contrat social.

The most intellectually vibrant example of marginalia has to be the 1795 copy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s incendiary work of political theory, Du Contrat socialwhich contains notions such as general will and popular sovereignty–once owned by a certain Elizabeth Ann Seton. Inside the front cover one finds this inscription: “This copy is curious as an example of the new and foolish computation of time that the Revolutionists, out of hatred for everything Christian, wished to force upon the people. My grandmother (afterwards known as Mother Seton) used this volume at a period of her early married life when she was so unfortunate as to become somewhat enamored of the French infidel literature.” It is signed Robert Seton (a monsignor in the Roman Catholic Church and titular archbishop of Heliopolis, who donated it to Notre Dame). Better than any work by the philosopher Theodor Adorno or the intellectual historian Jonathan Israel, this one book holds within it a cautionary tale on the dialectics of modern thought, and the errors of Enlightenment philosophy , considered as a cause of the French Revolution. It also shines some light on the evolution in Mother Seton’s thinking from a youthful age; she would have been 21 years old in 1795, living the life of a wealthy New Yorker after marrying a successful merchant in the import trade two years earlier. Perhaps he imported new ideas along with the other stock from Europe!

Inscription by Robert Seton in the 1795 copy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Du Contrat social house at Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Library, University of Notre Dame.
Inscription by Robert Seton in the 1795 copy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Du Contrat social house at Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Library, University of Notre Dame.

The closest connection between Indiana and the French Revolution has to be the memoirs of Simon Bruté, born in Rennes in 1779, died in Vincennes, IN, in 1839 after serving as the first bishop of Vincennes. Its subtitle promises: “sketches describing his recollections of scenes connected with the French revolution.” I was initially wondering if the anti-revolutionary views of the clergy would be reflected in the collection and they are. But there are also an abundance of sources representing other political views. Along with several works by the infamous conspiracy theorist Abbé Barruel, there is a gorgeous edition of the Enlightenment’s most radical work of information sharing—the first Wikipedia one might say—L’Encyclopédie (the entire 17 volume set, dated 1765, with the supplement and the plates from later editions). Some say that L’Encyclopédie did more to promote a revolutionary consciousness than any other book of the time, by making trade secrets on industrial processes and artisanal practices accessible to all. This makes Notre Dame a great teaching library: students have a rich archive to explore in the search of learning how people thought long ago, why revolution broke out in 1789, and what it meant to diverse observers after the fact.

I could write more, but this will doubtless suffice to show you how interesting it can be connect a scholarly interest in revolutionary France with the history of the university and the Holy Cross order.


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