This post is the fifth in a series created to introduce you to the people who make the SCRC run. Recently, I met with Brittan Nannenga, Archives and Manuscripts Accessions Coordinator. She told me about her path to accessions and just what, exactly, an accessions coordinator does at SCRC.
Brittan came to archival work from the artistic side of things. She majored in Art and Art History at DePauw University and then pursued a master’s degree in Art History and Museum Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. While there, she worked in the Ryerson and Burnham libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago where she gained experience in special collections and archives. After graduate school, Brittan found a position at the University of Chicago – but not in accessions. “I actually started working here at SCRC in a different position. I was the lead stacks assistant, which at the time was a temporary position to oversee the initial load of all the rare book and archival materials into the new Mansueto Library.”
Interested in staying on at the University of Chicago, Brittan then moved to her current job, accessions coordinator. Here, Brittan, says, “I manage all the acquisition and accessioning of archival and manuscript collections. I work with faculty members, university administrators, and library donors to coordinate the actual transfer of their collections here to Special Collections. Once those collections are here, I oversee all of the accessioning work.” She explains the basics of this process: “A lot of people ask, what does accession mean? During this process our goal is to make a record of the transfer and establish initial physical and intellectual control over the collection. What we do is rehouse everything into archival storage containers and create inventories of all the materials. We look out for any preservation issues, things like mold or pest activity, and we also keep an eye out for access restrictions. Once that process is finished, then the collection is accessible to researchers.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly for the University of Chicago, the accessions work at SCRC goes above and beyond the usual protocol. According to Brittan, SCRC is unique because, “A lot of repositories just create general box-level inventories at the accessions stage, but we create more specific, folder-level inventories, making collections available to researchers in ways they aren’t at other institutions.”
Accessions is not for the faint of heart. Brittan gives me an idea of the massive scope of the work, for which she has eight graduate students assisting her: “Last year we brought in 5,500 linear feet of archival and manuscript collections. To provide some perspective, our total holdings constitute a little over 57,000 linear feet.” The physical work can prove daunting as well. Mostly she transfers traditional paper files to SCRC, but certain collections can require back up. “A lot of times if there’s oversize or especially rare or difficult items to bring over then I’ll hire movers. For instance, we received a large number of architectural plans from facilities services and they were all stored in these giant flat files. These were historical drawings that were on linen and fragile tracing papers, so we didn’t want to remove them from the drawers and roll them up to bring them here. So we actually hired people to move the entire cabinets so that we could keep them flat and in the drawers.”
Brittan’s favorite part of the job happens when she’s on the front lines, collecting materials: “For me the best part is getting to hear people talk about their collections, whether it’s about their own papers that they’re thinking about donating to us or whether it’s family members of a faculty member reminiscing about that person. A lot of times we’ll get collections donated by those who were mentored by that person and they’ve held on to the collection for their own research. Knowing that we’re going to preserve those collections and make them available for researchers – that’s the most rewarding part of the job.” The job has its smaller perks as well. Brittan particularly enjoys when her work leads her to hidden spots around campus. Brittan’s trip to the bowels of Rockefeller Chapel to retrieve a collection has been a particular highlight among her adventures thus far.
Brittan points out that she has a special vantage point for the archival work done here at SCRC: “It’s pretty unique that I get to see collections go from the very beginning stages to the very end stages. From boxing up the materials in basements and attics and bringing them here to unpacking and rehousing them. Then I see researchers use them when accession inventories are completed. Eventually I even get to see processing students and archivists work on those collections to further organize them.”
When I asked Brittan if she had a favorite item to highlight from Special Collections, she replied that it’s too hard to choose just one. “I would find it difficult to choose even my favorite collection, let alone one item in a collection, just because there’s such a variety of things here that would be interesting to different people for different reasons.” But, when pressed for a recent favorite, she couldn’t help but mention the Curly Dog Cutting Board, part of the Alma Lach Papers. (pictured below) The wide variety of holdings in SCRC is precisely the reason why Brittan wants to encourage students to take advantage of the department. “Students don’t have to have a certain project or topic in mind to come here. With our wide collection, we’re bound to have something that interests you!”
On her bookshelf: Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in that House by Meghan Daum
On her iPod: Lots of podcasts including, of course, Serial. Music: Beck, Steely Dan, and Waylon Jennings.
Bonus: Like any good Accessions Coordinator, Brittan wants to encourage readers to contribute to Special Collections! She would welcome donations from students, alumni, and anyone else who might have historical materials related to the University that can be preserved and made available to the students and researchers of the future.
Contact info: email@example.com