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.
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.Continue reading