My time at the OJA was brief but fruitful. As a grad student at McGill University’s School of Information Studies, I wanted to gain experience in a professional archive. The OJA was gracious enough to allow me to volunteer there over the summer. “But Karl, what did you do there?” Well, imagined journalist interviewing me, I shall tell you.
My first day at OJA was admittedly nerve wracking, because before that point I had absolutely no experience working in an archive. Of course, I’ve been to archives before, used them for class assignments, and studied the theories and efficacies of being an archivist, but there’s no substitute for hands on experience. Anyway, Michael, my supervisor, (Boss? Manager? Overseer? That was never clear.) told me that he wanted me to experience as much as I could in terms of what a professional archivist would do. And I did. The whole nine yards.
I accessioned records, created finding aids, took part in preservation management, and site visits to pick up donated material. I assisted with research requests, I processed an archival fonds. I processed donated material and digitized photographs. They made sure that as an archive student, I would know exactly what I would be getting into if I continued in this profession. Did this deter me? Naw, but it did give me a gist of what I would enjoy and detest.
For starters, I did not expect to enjoy deframing photos and other material as much as I did. (Of course, that could probably be explained by the fact that it reminded me of old CSI episodes I used to watch.) No doubt deframing is an important part of preservation, without it material damage and storage issues arise, but it was never really mentioned nor highlighted in my studies. But I found a form of dissonant calm as I was ripping nails off the back of an old picture frame. Although I suppose I enjoyed the preservation management aspect as a whole. For me, there is something about interacting with material personally that’s enjoyable. Even if it’s just transferring material to acid free boxes.
But, with all things, not everything was great. I did not like the coffee. This sounds hypocritical coming from someone who mostly drinks instant coffee in the morning, but I avoided it as much as possible. I did not like making the accession records. Or anything that had to do with the computer really. I always did those tasks last. Which was somewhat amusing to me when I learned that Michael held the opposite view on doing computer tasks. The most annoying was the digital scanner; quick enough that you couldn’t really do anything meaningful between scans, but slow enough that you got bored at times. Actually, wait, no, finding space in the vault for processed material. THAT was the most annoying.
Although, side note, the vault was pretty cool. There were a lot of interesting things I saw in there. My favourite, as someone who reads comics sporadically, was an original Joe Shuster sketch. As a person born to Filipino immigrants, it was interesting to see the history of another immigrant group to Toronto collected and preserved.
Final Thoughts: Volunteering at the OJA was great. 9/10 would volunteer again. Needs better coffee.
MISt candidate, School of Information Studies at McGill University