The Archivist’s Nook: A Few of My Favorite Things

World’s smallest mariachi band, discovered in the museum collection.

As part of the Graduate Library Preprofessional (GLP) program, for the past two years I worked full time in the Archives here at CUA while pursuing my Masters in Library and Information Science. This has been an amazing opportunity to get real world experience and on the job training. During my time here, I conducted an inventory of the museum objects on campus, learned how to encode EAD finding aids, oversaw several digitization projects, and participated in social media outreach efforts like this blog and the Archives’ Instagram account. The success of my experience here resulted from the freedom to be involved in so many different aspects of archival work and pursue projects that developed my skill set as an information professional.

President William Taft with “Billy Possum.”

Developing professional competencies aside, my favorite part of my job here at the Archives was the joyful glee of discovering interesting and/or bizarre items in the course of my normal workday. There is something priceless about opening an acid free box, finding something that makes you laugh aloud, and calling over a coworker to share the moment with. Like the time I decided to investigate a box labeled “Lizard” in the museum collection. I hypothetically understood this lizard was already cataloged, labeled, and housed long before my time here… but there is nothing quite like opening the box for yourself and finding a foot and a half long desiccated monitor lizard inside.

Testing to see if an old slide projector works using slides of UFOs.

On the other hand, there are the quieter discoveries that make you smile alone in the stacks. Looking for something itty bitty to post on social media for #TinyTuesday, I stumbled across the smallest mariachi band in existence in the James Magner museum collection. As I lined up these miniscule figures for their photo, I fondly remembered the mariachi band that played at my own grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. While on the subject of James Magner, I must also give a shout out to his personal collection of Christmas cards, which are always good for a smile come holiday season.

Bookplate from the Cardinal yearbook of 1932.

Then there are the multipart discoveries that build over weeks or months. A chance encounter here, another there. Such was the case when I came across a seemingly random picture of a possum in our digital collection of labor leader Terence Vincent Powderly’s photographs. This would be odd enough in itself, but weeks later I found the same photo cut out and pasted below an image of President William H. Taft in one of Powderly’s old albums. Apparently, Powderly was making a bit of a joke about “Billy Possum,” Taft supporters’ spinoff of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Teddy Bear.” These are the sorts of things archivists share a laugh over.

My time in the Archives has been filled with more entertaining discoveries than can be listed here. The beautiful typewriter hiding among our audiovisual equipment, the old stamps and seals of CUA’s logo throughout the years, the Physics Department slides of UFOs, and the “Ex Libris” bookplates in the early Cardinal yearbooks all come to mind as a few of my personal favorites. While I loved learning the ropes of working in an archive, I will remember my time here most vividly through the lens of these special encounters and the people I had the privilege to share them with.