Summer in the WLA: Quenching the “Thirst for Knowledge”

I am so grateful for my experience at the WLA over the last few months. As a recent undergraduate, this summer has been both a thorough introduction to the day-to-day practices of archival work and an engrossing delve into the history of Mundelein College. 

As a metadata and digitization assistant for the IHDI grant project, I spent a lot of time this summer with the Mundelein College Photograph Collection, writing metadata for photographs I scanned. For context, metadata is often referred to as ‘information about information’; for example, the metadata for a single photograph in a WLA collection includes the date it was taken, its dimensions and format, a description and transcription of what’s happening in the photograph (which often requires outside research), and organizational tags for both the archive’s internal system and external researchers – as well as several other categories.  

Compiling metadata is a slow and repetitive process which requires careful attention to method and detail. It’s a very different way of processing information than academic research or personal interest. Learning to contextualize the details of these individuals’ college lives was honestly more fun than anything, but it came to feel primarily like an act of care – care for the memory of the students who were grateful to have opportunities which they understood as rare and remarkable, and care for the institution they were heartbroken to see disappear. 

Figure 1. Mundelein students sat in on the stairs in their Learning Resource Center (now known as Sullivan Center) in protest of the college’s affiliation with Loyola.  

Outside of photo scanning, there was also the review of Mundelein student publications, which was often “difficult” work, if only because of the constant impulse to stop counting pages or checking for scanning errors and instead read a super weird poem (I say this with so much affection) or reflect on a piece of literary criticism for a novel which I and a student in 1950 apparently had a very similar experience with.  

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Spring and Summer in the Women and Leadership Archives

After several years of voluntary archival work, my first official appointment as a Digitization and Metadata Assistant at the Women and Leadership Archives came at the perfect time. At the tail end of my graduate education in Public History and Library Science, I gained incredibly useful knowledge and experience in a field I wanted so badly to be part of while working with a rich and compelling collection. With only brief and tangential previous archival experience, I felt nervous about my ability to do this kind of work well. Not only did my time at the WLA confirm my ability to do archival work well, but it has also reassured me that my career is absolutely headed in the right direction.  


The digitization process for the Mundelein College Photograph Collection required me to tap into my problem-solving skills. I love this aspect of archival work. As I worked out the idiosyncrasies of digitizing this collection, I was asked to make updates to the written scanning instructions used for this project, a small but concrete contribution I would leave behind.

Karis working on digitization at the WLA.
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