A blog from Special Collections and University Archives


Posted: February 13, 2020

My name is Darby Freeman. I am a senior at UNCW studying English Literature and Philosophy. I have worked at the Randall Library circulation desk for just over two years and began an internship in the Special Collections department at the beginning of this semester.

I was first introduced to Special Collections by a professor who took our class to the department after assigning a lengthy research paper. We did an activity that involved stringing together events to form a cohesive narrative. I thought it was cool to watch a story reveal itself as we went through all of these different types of literature, written by unaffiliated groups, that came from a variety of locations.

I have always enjoyed my job at the circulation desk because I love being around books and literature. I handle books daily, whether I’m checking them in or out, collecting them for patron holds, or reshelving them. This has led me to discover many fascinating books that I otherwise would’ve never encountered, be it fictional, historical, or theoretical. When I first heard about the internship in Special Collections, it felt perfect for me. It’s like taking the job I already knew I loved and making it more interesting and in-depth. Since beginning work at the library, I’ve been curious about a career as a librarian or archivist, and by working in Special Collections I have an opportunity to try out archival work and see if I enjoy it (spoiler alert: I do).

My job as an intern in Special Collections is to document, process, and arrange collections either purchased by or donated to the department. Processing involves documenting and researching the topics and historical context of the collection. After the initial documentation and research, I arrange the collection, which entails organizing the materials in a way that promotes understanding and accessibility. The arrangement is vitally important to the integrity of the collection; if related materials are separated from each other, it is harder to understand the context of the collection as a whole. Archivists are basically the gatekeepers of history, so it is imperative that they accurately represent the contents of a collection and provide any necessary context to encourage more thorough understanding.

So far, I have worked on The Camera Shop Records, Virginia Harriss Holland World War II Memorabilia, and H.J. Southwell Murder Correspondence. It’s been interesting reading about history that happened only a couple of blocks from where I currently live. Some were easy to research, like the H.J. Southwell Murder Correspondence, which had significant news coverage that spanned nationwide. The Camera Shop Records, however, was more difficult because most of the information about the owner could only be found in his obituary. I enjoyed both collections.

This work requires that the processer be detail-oriented and exercise critical thinking skills in their assessment of the collection. I had some exposure to these skills prior to beginning the internship, but I’ve never had an environment quite like this to test them. Since starting the internship, I have gained a better understanding of what it means to be detail-oriented towards something completely unfamiliar to you. Additionally, my analytical and critical thinking abilities have been tested in ways they previously never were. Normally, I analyze a text, and use critical thinking skills to extract meaning, and then scan for details to support my thoughts. Special Collections processing feels like the reverse. I have to pay attention to every detail so that when I’m thinking critically and analytically, I am able to piece together the fragments of history present in a collection.

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