Burns Archives: It's a Process...
Perhaps you've heard that there are primary source materials -- archival collections -- available for use at the Burns Library. There are! Many collections are easily discovered using Holmes, the library catalog, but many others are harder to find. Unfortunately, these include both new acquisitions and material we've had for some time. Why the delay between acquisition and availability? Well, it's a process. In fact, preparing archival materials for use is called "processing," and this year the Archives Department at the Burns Library has been given some extra funding to support it.
Processing involves (1) organizing material in a way that facilitates research use while respecting the original order of that material and protecting privacy rights; (2) storing material in a way that will promote long term physical preservation; (3) queuing damaged items for conservation treatment; (4) describing material so that researchers can find what they need quickly and accurately. This may not sound that time consuming, but, when the collections are added up and factors of physical fragility, intellectual complexity, and third-party rights are multiplied across all of our holdings, it is quite a task! Processing collections is the best way we get to know what we have and the only way we can make what we have available to you. After all, why have it if no one can use it?
Just what have we been focusing on while we have extra funding? We have a small team of archivists working on previously unavailable collections, all with some connection to the Boston area. Within this general theme, we've considered a number of factors to build our docket. We have given priority to researcher interest, length of time the material has been unavailable, physical volume, and organizational complexity. So far, one collection is available and four more will be fully described very shortly. Following is a brief description of each of these newly available collections.
John Donnelly & Sons Records
The John Donnelly & Sons records were the first to be processed. The business records of a well-known local outdoor advertising company, this collection serves as a great introduction to the kind of things we have in Burns Archives, and the diverse research interests they can serve. In addition to documenting the firm's business history (did you know the Donnellys made several iconic local neon signs, including the Shell sign in Cambridge and the now-vanished Gulf sign in Kenmore Square?), the records shed light on local history and politics as well as national social trends. A prominent Irish Catholic Boston family, the Donnellys knew the Kennedys - the collection includes a charming photo of Edward C. Donnelly Jr., at the beach with Jack and Joe at the Donnelly's summer place in Cohasset - and Edward C. Donnelly Jr. was a staff member for former Boston mayor James Michael Curley, whose daughter Edward later married. Their wide range of acquaintances, charitable activities, and political interests are recorded in the collection's many scrapbooks, which also detail the fascinating history of advertising.
Howard Belding Gill Papers
The Howard Belding Gill papers, next in line, are the personal and professional papers of noted prison reformer and penologist Howard Belding Gill (1890-1989). Best-known as the first superintendent of the progressive Norfolk Prison Colony from 1927-1934, Gill had a long and distinguished career as a prison administrator and educator in corrections. He served as Superintendent of Prisons in Washington, DC from 1944-1946 (when one of his prisoners was Ezra Pound, with whom he conversed and to whom he gave books), and founded the Institute of Correctional Administration in DC in 1952 to train new generations of guards and administrators. He taught at the University of Wisconsin, George Washington University, and American University, and guest-lectured at Boston College. His papers are a rich resource for those interested in criminology, penology, and progressive politics as they relate to corrections.
Stanbrook Abbey Press and Elizabeth Hayward Ursuline Academy Materials
Two smaller collections, the Stanbrook Abbey Press collection and the Elizabeth Hayward collection of Ursuline Academy materials, were processed more quickly but were equally rewarding. Stanbrook Abbey is an English Benedictine abbey whose fine press created many beautiful items, some of them hand-illuminated. This collection includes a variety of finely printed materials: cards, broadsides, pamphlets, book plates, poems and prayers, prospectuses and specimen pages, as well as correspondence with the head printer, Sister Hildelith Cumming. The bulk of the Stanbrook materials were collected by former Boston Public Library director, Philip McNiff - this is the connection to our Boston processing theme. The Elizabeth Hayward collection of Ursuline Academy materials was compiled by a former student of the convent school in Charlestown that was burned in a spate of anti-Catholic violence in August 1834. In 1878, Hayward organized a reunion of former students and solicited their reminiscences of the event. This collection includes one of the very few firsthand accounts of the burning.
G. William Patten Papers
Available very soon will be the G. (George) William Patten papers. These are the papers of a local memorial designer and artist who worked on the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC and had an unexpected wartime career as a draftsman drawing engineering schematics for Vought aircraft corporation during WWII. Patten was very interested in symbolism and iconography, and the collection includes his extensive notes on those subjects as well as many beautiful works of art.
Other Collections Being Worked on
Up next are a couple of small collections and one voluminous one: the Philip and Mary McNiff papers containing primarily printed material and correspondence regarding Catholicism and fine printing; Bette's Rolls Royce restaurant materials, which document a restaurant located in Boston near Faneuil Hall from 1970-1980 that was advertised by the flamboyant owner's yellow Rolls Royce illegally parked out front; and the Citywide Coordinating Council records documenting the activities of the Council, which was an independent oversight organization created by court order in 1975 to monitor implementation of Boston's School Desegregation Plan.
In addition to all this processing, we are recommending materials for digitization. Look for more about these collections - and others! - on our blog and Flickr, as well as in the news section of the Libraries' website. For more information about conducting research or visiting with classes, see our Library Guide, contact our reference staff, or drop by during our open hours.