Archive Blogging: The First Day is Always a Throwaway

I’m doing some research at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland this week.  It started off horribly, as is always the case for the first day at an archive.  The journey itself was so horrible as to be laughable, if only because I was delirious from exhaustion.  A bumpy red-eye flight from the west coast; no breakfast; a 45-minute wait for a shuttle from the airport to the hotel; a 30-minute wait for a shuttle from the hotel to the archive; a 30-minute drive to cover 3 miles.  You get the picture.  But I finally arrived, my computer full of references and all ginned up to do some research.

[whump]  That’s how I imagine it sounded when my enthusiasm and my exhaustion hit the wall.  Turns out my references were not at all useful; the full professor at Harvard who wrote the citations (and got them published in a paper!) fucked them up as to be totally unusable.  Just so you know, writing down the record group and the box number is not, in fact, sufficient, when a record group includes hundreds of separate programs, each with their own number sequence.  So fuck you anyway, Harvard prof.

Anyway, I spent about an hour flipping through binders of incomprehensible accession numbers, put together a records request for who-knows-what, and then just stopped.  I stared at my computer and felt like I was going to pass out.  I was about to give up and leave, then decided, what the hell–I walked up to the reference librarians and said, “Guys, you gotta help me figure out how to game this.  I’m exhausted, I’m only going to be here until Friday, and I have no idea how to proceed.  Help.”

And they did.  The two of them (Eugene and David in civilian records, second floor) came up with some great ideas, and now I’ve got a set of record requests ready to go when I get to the archives this morning.  Really–those guys came through for me.

Which is usually how these things go.  The first day at an archives, in my experience, is almost totally worthless.  You’re tired, you have no idea what you’re doing, the staff sees you as an increase in their workload.  And just when you’re about to break, things start to click.  You don’t get much work done–but you get just enough of a sense of how things work that it’s worth coming back.  So I’m off, ready to tackle the largest archive in the world.

Also: any suggestions on the best way to get from NARA II to the Lincoln Memorial?  I’ve never been to DC, and I’d like to at least see the old man.

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3 thoughts on “Archive Blogging: The First Day is Always a Throwaway

  1. If you’re staying in College Park, you can take the Green Line Metro right into DC. The station is just a few easily walkable blocks east of Route 1 (the main drag through town). The Archives I stop on the metro is just north of the National Mall.

  2. Pingback: Librarians, Archivists, and Researchers of the World Unite « The Academy's Bench Warmer

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