Special Collections practicum student Tess Will - Blog Post #4

While my semester is nearing its end, I still have a few more weeks to squeeze in the last bit of work on the Evans’s letters! When I last checked in, I had just begun my work with the Anchram H. and Elizabeth K. Evans Civil War Letters collection.

As a recap, this collection mostly comprises correspondence between Anchram and Elizabeth Evans during Anchram’s time in the army during the Civil War. The Evans lived in Brunswick County in a small town named Town Creek and were a farming family before and after the war. From what I gathered from the letters and some brief research on Ancestry.com, Elizabeth and Anchram got married in February of 1861 when she was just 16 and he was 22. Marriage at a young age was much more common in the nineteenth century, but it still blows my mind to think about how young Elizabeth was. Anchram enlisted in the army in early 1862, and the couple had their first daughter in October of the same year. From what I could put together from the letters, it seemed like Elizabeth lived with Anchram’s family while he was away.

            I was assigned several tasks for this collection, but I began by reviewing their letters for content related to yellow fever, notable Wilmington families, and information about life at the time. I did this by reviewing the existing transcripts and the letters themselves. Consulting both was necessary because the original transcripts weren’t quite reliable. Reading cursive handwriting on aging and damaged paper is very difficult, especially when dealing with spelling errors, unfamiliar turns of phrases, and references to unfamiliar people and places. By reading every letter, I could put together information for what became the scope and content notes for the finding aid. For this collection, I provided a very brief description of every letter that will hopefully lead researchers to the collection. This is called “Item Level Description,” and it is not performed for every archival collection because it is a very time-consuming task.

            Reading through the collection helped me form a better picture of the Evans family and their lives, and it helped immensely with reorganizing. For the most part, there was not much to be done to reorganize the collection because they would be kept in chronological order, but there were a number that were either undated, partially dated, or even dated incorrectly. By being familiar with the letters' content, I could help ascribe dates to those partially dated or correct those that weren’t quite right. While my practicum is technically just about complete, I should have time to wrap up the collection before the semester ends and I graduate! As I type this blog post, the finding aid is live on Randall Library’s website and can be accessed by researchers. I hope I will have time to digitize the letters in the collection, as they are quite fragile. By providing digital copies online, the collection will be available to a wider range of researchers and reduce the time they have to be pulled for onsite researchers, extending their lives in the archive.

            This semester, I’ve learned a lot and honed many important skills, including my attention to detail. I only spent ten hours a week in Special Collections, so it was important to be organized and leave myself notes on what I completed the week prior and what to start on for the next week. Making mistakes in a workplace that deals with many moving pieces is very easy. I’ve caught mistakes from previous archive staff in my collections and made a few myself, but I catch them when I can and fix them. If I can’t fix them or need assistance, I seek support from my supervisors. I haven't been afraid to ask for help for a long time, and I think I would advise everyone to work on that.

            As for my learning goals for the semester, I think I’ve made substantial progress in them all. I feel more comfortable working with ArchivesSpace and feel that I could use these skills to navigate other types of cataloging software for archives or museums. I’ve also engaged with many professional texts thanks to the readings put together by my supervisors. I read a number of articles and book chapters on all sorts of topics, including climate change, copyright, digitization, outreach, and more! I believe I also made progress in working to identify and eliminate archival silences. For example, while reading the Evans’s letters, I was able to identify a letter that referenced the transfer of three enslaved persons from father to son. While I can’t tell their stories or even record their names, I am happy to bring them to light, even if it's just in the scope notes of my finding aid. I still can’t believe how quickly this semester has gone by but I am proud of what I have accomplished. I hope that my work will be helpful to future researchers and inspires others to join a field that brings me so much joy. 

            Well, I guess this is farewell for now. I’ve got more work to do!

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Special Collections practicum student Tess Will - Blog Post #3

Last week, I said goodbye to Dr. Samuel Mendelsohn and his wonderful collection. Sometimes in life, things do not go to plan, and I can say with certainty that was the case with Dr. Mendelsohn’s collection. I mentioned in my last blog post that attention to detail is critical to the work of an archivist, and MS 058 surely required a careful eye.


Since my last update, I have scanned over 500 pages of Dr. Mendelsohn’s sermons, lectures, addresses, and more. Digitization is something I am quite familiar with, having worked previously under Digital Initiatives here at Randall Library. I find the process of scanning to be meditative in a way! I am performing a function that will create better access to a collection, but I can also listen to music or audiobooks as I do so. As a grad student, I’ll take any peaceful moment I can get! Unfortunately, Scanning MS 058 took me much longer than anticipated because of how the original scans were ordered. From what I was able to piece together, it appears that most of the original scans were organized entirely chronologically rather than in their series groups and then chronologically within their series. This was further complicated because the files were not named in a way that identified them. So, that meant I first had to spend a lot of time noting what digital file corresponded to each physical file in the collection. This became complicated when I realized they were not ordered the same way as their record in ArchivesSpace.


Imagine Dr. Mendelsohn’s collection is physically and digitally organized in ArchivesSpace in the example below:


Sermon A - Box 1, Folder 1

Sermon B - Box 1, Folder 2

Sermon C - Box 1, Folder 3

Sermon D - Box 1, Folder 4


Address A - Box 2, Folder 1

Address B - Box 2, Folder 2

Address C - Box 2, Folder 3



BUT, it turns out that the digital files were organized like this:


Sermon A - Box 1, Folder 1

Sermon B - Box 1, Folder 2

Sermon C - Box 1, Folder 3

Lecture G - Box 3, Folder 24

Lecture H - Box 3, Folder 25

Sermon D - Box 1, Folder 4




Then, imagine that they were not actually named as suggested above but actually look like the following:









Since they didn’t quite follow the order in ArchivesSpace, it required me to open each digital file and compare them with the contents of their physical file to ensure I was rescanning the correct document. If I had not, I would have rescanned the wrong files, and when they were reuploaded into ArchivesSpace, the incorrect scan would have been linked to the digital record.


Did that make sense?... Yeah, it took me a while to wrap my brain around too.


Some other minor organizational issues appeared during my work with Dr. Mendelsohn’s collection, but I believe it has all been resolved. Even if I made an error, I feel better knowing that the collection is now in better shape so that researchers can easily find what they need, even if they don’t physically visit Special Collections. After scanning, the digital files were uploaded and assigned to the correct archival record. I then completed the final details on the finding aid, and 058 was done!


I got right to work on my new collection, MS 254 Anchram and Elizabeth Evans Civil War Letters. I am reviewing this collection for correctness of order, interesting content (related to life in Wilmington, notable figures, and yellow fever), and duplicated transcriptions. After my review, I will work on transferring the transcriptions of the letters, done originally by Evans’s grandson(!), from .html format to .doc and eventually into .pdf. Then I will carefully rescan each delicate document and attach the transcript to the scanned document so all the digital files will be in one place.


I have just begun my initial review of MS 254, and during this process, I am checking that the physical files are in the correct chronological order. At the same time, I am replacing the old plastic protectors that the letters were in with archival-grade sleeves. I’ve already found a few letters that were folded to fit in the letter-size folder, which is definitely not ideal for maintaining their physical condition. Leaving documents folded creates points of weakness and stress on the document, which can adversely affect their life within the archive.


My next blog post will be the final one before the semester ends and I graduate! I look forward to updating you all on my practicum experience then.

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Special Collections practicum student Tess Will - Blog Post #2

Time flies when you're having fun! Over the course of the last month, I have worked closely with MS 058 Rabbi Samuel Mendelsohn Papers. This collection was donated back in 1989 by the Temple of Israel and had been previously processed. Since its merge into ArchiveSpace, some data needed to be reviewed and updated for accuracy. The collection also required new archival-grade folders in order to best preserve the papers within. Because most of the intellectual work was already completed, it has been my duty to pay close attention to the details to ensure everything is in tip-top shape! To be fair, Dr. Mendelsohn made it much easier for us because he labeled each of his manuscripts with a designation (sermon, lecture, address, etc.) that became the series in which the collection is organized.

My first duty was to physically rearrange the collection to make sure it matched the record in ArchiveSpace. While I did that, I typed up brand new labels, which will be attached to the new folders. The document I produced for the labels has also had the added benefit of acting as a quick reference list for the contents of the collections without having to go into ArchiveSpace, which can take a bit longer to peruse. After this, I replaced the old folders with new acid-free folders, which are used broadly across archives and museums to keep documents safe. It is a very simple act but can extend the life and usability of a record by many years. As strange as it may sound, this is typically one of my favorite parts of the process, not just because it helps the object but is one of the only times I will get to engage with every object. I found it so cool that Dr. Mendelsohn wrote on ruled paper in the 1870s, just as we do today!

After replacing the folders, I carefully updated the finding aid to make sure the names were correctly reflected, and then updated the main collection fields in ArchiveSpace to make sure the finding aid was as complete as possible. Much of archival work is detail-oriented, which is certainly a skill I have honed during my internship here. I certainly used this skill as I reviewed scans of the over 200 objects within the collection to check for imperfections and made notes of which ones would need to be rescanned. I will start rescanning the documents soon!

Overall, I have begun to make progress in meeting my learning goals for my practicum. I am becoming more familiar with ArchivesSpace through careful combing of data. I have engaged with many new professional texts that have reinforced basic archival principles, such as provenance and original order, but also have increased my knowledge of current professional discourse within the archival community. This relates to my last goal: to become more aware of archival silences. I recently read "Moving Toward a Reparative Archive: A Roadmap for a Holistic Approach to Disrupting Homogenous Histories in Academic Repositories and Creating Inclusive Spaces for Marginalized Voices" by Lae'l Hughes-Watkins which discussed why archives need to reexamine their collections, collecting practices, and their relationship with their communities. Hughes-Watkins identifies archives (and other institutions of higher learning) as places that have contributed to oppressive archival practices that contributed to archival silences.

Through engaging with that text and others like UNC Chapel Hill's "A Guide to Conscious Editing at Wilson Special Collections Library," I am becoming more aware of how I can help erase silences and strive for a more inclusive archive. This does not just mean changing collecting missions, but also the way we talk and write about collections. In reference to Dr. Mendelsohn's collection, reading "Removing the Invisible Norm of Protestant Christianity" in "A Guide to Conscious Editing" revealed the way that our vocabulary is inherently influenced by Protestant Christianity. Being aware of verbiage and how I describe collections can help me better represent existing collections and start to eliminate silences within the archive.

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Meet Special Collections Practicum Student, Tess Will

Hello! My name is Tess Will, and I am a master's student at UNCW in the Public History Department. For my last year of graduate school, I have been a Processing Intern here in Special Collections at Randall Library, where I am learning archival processing methods, engaging with professional texts in the field, and learning lots of new skills! I have been working in museums, libraries, and archives for over five years, starting when I was an undergraduate student at East Carolina University. As a history major at ECU, I was first introduced to the world of archives and museums through my own historical research, where I became enamored with the "stuff" of history. While I loved the research, I found myself drawn to the care and management of historical archives and artifacts, which led me to pursue a minor in public history. My first public history position was as a tour guide at the Country Doctor Museum in Bailey, North Carolina, where I interpreted medical history to the public and dipped my toes into collections care. Before I graduated, I was lucky enough to work as an intern in the History Collections of Laupus Library and as a State of North Carolina Intern at the Queen Anne's Revenge Conservation Lab.

 I chose to pursue a graduate degree in public history because it encompassed the fields that I love and would prepare me for a variety of different positions. I was thrilled when I was accepted into the program here at UNCW because of Wilmington's rich (though at times difficult) history and the many cultural/historical institutions I could engage with while a master's student. Something I found important in a master's program was an emphasis on practical experience, and UNCW had just that. Students in the public history program are required to complete a practicum as one of their final credits to graduate, and I was lucky enough to do that work here in Special Collections!

During my time here at UNCW and in Wilmington, I have learned a lot about caring for the past, both physically and intellectually. I love my position here in Special Collections because of the skills and competencies I have learned, but I also find the work to be incredibly fulfilling. I enjoy creating order from chaos and making the past accessible to researchers and the public alike through my work. During the course of my practicum, I hope to accomplish the following goals:

  1. ArchivesSpace: As I continue my work here in Special Collections, I would like to become more familiar with our software ArchivesSpace. Data entry and navigating different types of software are incredibly important in the positions I hope to find myself gainfully employed! I would like to become more competent with different aspects of ArchivesSpace because it is a commonly used software in many archives and libraries.
  2. Engage More with Professional Texts: As a public history student, I have become very well-rounded but lack the specialized training that archivists and librarians get while completing degrees in Library Science. As a part of my practicum, I will be reading and discussing texts as assigned by my practicum supervisor (Thank you, Nicole!). I hope that this work, built upon readings I completed last fall, will help me be better prepared for a potential position in an archive.
  3. Be More Aware of Archival Silences: Archives and museum collections to this day are overwhelmingly filled with the voices of the wealthy, white, educated elite. As a public history professional and (hopefully!) future archivist or collections manager, I want to continue the work started by others and become more aware of how to make collections more equitable. I hope to join the good work of erasing the silences within archives.

Upon graduating in May, I hope to gain a full-time position as an Archivist, Collections Manager, or Registrar. In these positions, I would be able to interact with the "stuff" of history daily through careful care and organization. I look forward to spending my last months of graduate school here in Special Collections and can't wait to see what I learn next!

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Document Provides Historical Insight to Wilmington Artists


Lauren Love is an intern working in Special Collections.

While reformatting the finding aid for the collection of St. Andrews Covenant Presbyterian Church (also known as MS 180) an excellent piece of Wilmington art history was spotted. The small booklet from 1943 was created for “An Artistic Banquet” held at the Church of the Covenant just before it was merged with St. Andrews in 1944.

Twenty Fifth Anniversary Celebration booklet published 1943

                                                    The Church of the Covenant

Before I continue, allow me to introduce myself: my name is Lauren Love and this summer I am interning in the Special Collections department of UNCW Randall Library. So far I have been buried, nose first, in MS 180 only briefly coming up for air to help move furniture and prepare for spring cleaning project which has taken over our domain (more on that in the future!).

Front cover of An Artistic BanquetBack page of An Artistic Banquet pamphlet

Initially I was struck by the hand painted illustration on the cover of the booklet whose colors contrasted so sharply with the stale yellow of ageing paper. To satisfy my curiosity, I brought the find to my supervisor, Rebecca Baugnon. “Claude Howell!” she said excitedly after flipping through to the last page; “Claude Howell?!” came the voice of Jerry Parnell, the Special Collections Coordinator from across the hall. One can imagine how my interest peeked at such reactions. Upon further inspection we found that the pamphlet was an itinerary of sorts for an educational art program where lessons in painting, watercolor, drawing and much more were offered to attendees. The investigation became an eye opening revelation about the history of Art culture in Wilmington and how, unbeknownst to me, I held in my hands a small booklet which contained the names of some local art heroes.

                   Irene Price 1930s, photograph from Two Centuries of Art in New Hanover County
by Crockette W. Hewlett

Unassumingly printed are the names of Peggy Hall, Claude Howell, Rosalie Oliver and Winona Gration. The details of how these artists contributed to the booklet is unknown but further research proved that they were students together under Irene Price and Delbert Palmer. Price was a friend of Elisabeth Augusta Chant who is partially responsible for encouraging and cultivating the art scene in Wilmington. Chant and Price both taught art classes in downtown Wilmington during the 1930s and went on to found and direct various programs and institutions while maintaining connections with some of the artists listed above. Simple though it may appear, the booklet shows the efforts of these budding artists to work with the community to foster a love of arts which we still see in our port city today.

Peggy Hall and students Claude Howell

                                                Peggy Hall with students 1941 (left), and Claude Howell (right)
                               Photographs from Two Centuries of Art in New Hanover County by Crockette W. Hewlett

Peggy Hall studied under Price and Chant and went on to become the director of the Wilmington Museum of Art, a museum which opened in 1940 and before World War II came to a close. She exhibited her work around the country and possessed a passion for art throughout her life.

Claude Howell would become a very influential artist who taught at UNCW and played a large role in the establishment of the Art Department. Some of his paintings are located on the first floor of the library near Port City Java and a beautiful collection of illustrated holiday cards are housed in the Special Collections Library upstairs.

Rosalie Oliver taught and spoke at the Wilmington Museum of Art.

Unfortunately I could not find any information on Winona Gration.

For more information come ask us about the following collections:
MS 063 – A Balkan Sketchbook by Claude Howell
MS 076 – Claude Howell – Classification of Art Prints
MS 326 – Claude Howell Christmas Cards

For a truly enlightening exploration of art in Wilmington read Two Centuries of Art in New Hanover County by Crockette W. Hewlett, both the pictures used in this blog post as well as the biographical information are from this thorough and entertaining book. 

Sources can be accessed by visiting Randall Library and the Special Collections Library therein:

  • An Artistic Banquet. Wilmington:  Church of the Covenant, 1943. Print. Box 10, Folder 3. St. Andrews Covenant Presbyterian Church Collection. Randall Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, NC. May 21, 2014.
  • Hewlett, Crockette W.. Two Centuries of Art in New Hanover County. Durham: Moore Publishing Company, 1976. Print.
  • Twenty Fifth Anniversary Celebration. Wilmington: Church of the Covenant, 1943. Print. Box 10, Folder 3. St. Andrews Covenant Presbyterian Church Collection. Randall Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, NC. May 21, 2014. 



University library celebrates 100,000th book, November 30, 1973

In 1973, the book collection of the William M. Randall Library of the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) reached 100,000 volumes. To celebrate, the library acquired a first edition Huck Finn by Mark Twain (published in 1885) and held a special ceremony. This first edition is in Special Collections.

An announcement for the Nov. 30 ceremony was in the Seahawk student newspaper.

For comparison, according to 2012/2013 statistics, Randall Library has 481,134 books

A couple notes from the library's history:

*Wilmington College Library moved from a few rooms in Alderman Hall to its own building during winter break of 1968. It opened in January of 1969 and the official dedication was March 30.

*Randall Libray began planning an expansion in 1985, which was completed in 1987. 



This model of Randall Library, circa 1985, is in University Archives in Randall Library at UNCW.
Randall Library Model 1985











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Updates from Special Collections and University Archives