Working at the Archives

I’ve been working at the Cuyahoga County Archives over the summer. It’s an important place, as all archives are. Whether it’s a private organization or part of a government, many groups go through hundreds of thousands of documents every single day. Many of them tend to be too important to throw away, but not important enough that they need to be used immediately. The collection of these documents grow as the organization grows older and older. Eventually an archive of some sort has to be built to store all of these documents.

The Cuyahoga County Archives deals with many different documents from the day Cleveland was founded in the late 1800s to the present. It’s a treasure trove of local history where you can find old city directories to documents detailing the history of your own home.

The Archives are an important part of many long-standing organisations, but it fills a niche role. If you want to work at the archives you’re going to have an interest in archival work in the first place. I’ve had an interest in history for years. I like to learn stories – legends, myths, and lore both real and fictional. I’ve done research work before – both in my own time and for schoolwork. I’ve always been interested in archival work, and this seemed like the best way to introduce myself to it.

The actual job was rather simple. The Archives had moved to a new building, and their collection was still getting into place. They gathered a large collection of documents over the years, and felt it was time to get rid of some that weren’t too important. They wanted to open up some space in the new place.

My job was to take inventory. There was a large collection of boxes located near the back of the new place that the archives hadn’t gone through. I had to sift through the boxes and describe their contents – every single document, book, file, and scrap of paper I could find in there. I had a laptop with me with Google Docs open where I would write a quick description of each item.

Going through the box was rather easy. Many of the boxes were already organized – documents covering similar topics were grouped into the same boxes. Trying to learn the context of the box was like figuring out a puzzle. The documents were the pieces and I had to use them to create a complete story.

One box, for instance, was filled with a variety of different scientific journals written by scientists working at a chemical lab at City Hall. And I don’t mean like a professional scientific journal, i mean a personal journal with notes from various experiments. Most of them dated to the late 20s and early 30s, though there were a handful that were from the 1960s.

The other boxes were also varied. One box was filled with many different architectural blueprints and interior designs. Many others were filled with documents relating to various urban improvement projects. Some of it was very interesting. Others not so much.

The process helped me train my research skills in new and interesting ways. While I’ve developed my research skills over the years, I’ve mostly handled secondary sources – information received second hand. This is my first time working with actual ‘artifacts’, instead of just reading about them somewhere. While not the typical type of artifact you’d see in a museum, the general idea of it is still likely the same.

Overall, the entire examination process was rather easy. While I did find enjoyment in it, I found my patience wearing thin many times throughout the process. Luckily I didn’t need to go through every box. There were several other interns working on the same job as I was, and together we swiftly finished most of the boxes in the back.

My boss, Judy Cetina, was very helpful during the internship.  She didn’t really have to do much, given how simple the job was. At my first day there she just had to lead me to the boxes and tell me to go at it. She could’ve left it at that, but she was helpful throughout my entire internship. If I had any questions or concerns she would do her best to help me whether it be by either giving advice or help come up with a solution. I would gladly take the chance to work with her again, if I had the chance.

So after all is said and done, did I enjoy my time in the Archives? Yes. Would I like to be hired for a part or full time job? Certainly. I enjoyed working with all of the documents, I have the skills to handle them, and it was a rather pleasant work environment. While there doesn’t seem to be an opportunity right now, if given the chance I would gladly continue this as a part-time, or even full-time, job.