NHPRC Update: New Discoveries

Khrushchev waving

Khrushchev waving to onlookers on campus. [University Photograph Collection, RS 00, Dignitaries and Other Notable Visitors, Boxes 11-15]

The New Year has begun, and the NHPRC grant project to ingest all of the Special Collections and University Archives finding aids continues to move forward. At the end of last year, we hit the milestone of getting every Manuscript Collection with a finding aid entered into our CuadraStar SKCA archival catalog database – nearly 600 finding aids in all. We have now moved on to the University Archives finding aids, and have raised the total to 800. It is exciting to see this number climb every day.

As a result, I have gotten the chance to read many of the finding aids as they go into the database. This has taught me quite a bit about SCUA’s collections, both in terms of how they relate to my own interests and about things that I previously knew nothing about.

I was a Russian major as an undergraduate, and so was interested to come across materials that document Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s Iowa visit in 1959. As part of his visit, Khrushchev toured the Coon Rapids, Iowa farm of Roswell Garst, as well as the Swine Nutrition Research Center on the Iowa State campus.

Garst had previously hosted a Soviet delegation on his farm as part of an agricultural exchange in 1955. The visitors had come to the United States to learn about agricultural technology that would be applied in the Soviet Virgin Lands Campaign to increase agricultural output in the Soviet Union. Garst later traveled to the USSR himself as part of a return delegation, and it was on this trip that he met Khrushchev and personally invited him to visit Iowa.

Typescript of Khrushchev's speech in Des Moines, Sept. 22, 1959

Typescript of a speech given by Khrushchev at a dinner in his honor, held at Hotel Fort Des Moines, Des Moines, Iowa, September 22, 1959. [Garst Family papers, MS 579, box 43, folder 52]

Materials related to Khrushchev’s visit to Iowa can be found in the papers of Roswell Garst (RS 21/7/12), John Chrystal (MS 422), President James H. Hilton (RS 2/10), Damon Von Catron (RS 9/11/55) and the Garst Family (MS 579). The fiftieth anniversary of Chairman Khrushchev’s visit was marked by a 2009 celebration in Des Moines and Coon Rapids, information about which can be found in the Khrushchev Committee 50th Anniversary Event records (MS 615).  Further materials related to agricultural relations between Iowa and the Soviet Union can be found in the Garst Company records (MS 642), the Garst and Thomas Hybrid Corn Company records (MS 173), and the Charles J. Hearst papers (MS 3).

As someone new to the University, and to Iowa in general, this I have enjoyed learning more about local history. I am looking forward to learning more about the SCUA collections as this project continues, as well as to what researchers find once we launch the new archival catalog at the end of this year.

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This project has been generously funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).


NHPRC Update: Getting Started

As you may have read in Laura’s previous post, Special Collections and University Archives was lucky to receive a grant from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration’s National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC). The grant funds a two year project to move our finding aids into a new archives management system – a specialized database for descriptive information about our archival collections. In our case, we are using the CuadraSTAR Knowledge Center for Archives (SKCA).

This system will allow for better access to the collections for researchers, through improved searching capabilities through our website, as well as through converting our finding aids into EAD (Encoded Archival Description) format, an XML standard which will let us share our collections more widely. We will also be able to collect all of the information about each archival collection in one place, connecting accession reports to the finding aid to conservation assessments. Later on in the project we will also be improving the subject headings attached to each finding aid, and linking items in our digital collections directly to the archival collections that they came from. The new system will go live November 1, 2018, and we look forward to sharing more as the project continues.

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Old School: The bookshelves with binders of printed finding aids in our reading room.

I recently moved to Ames from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I have found that moving to a new state has served as a useful analogy for this project. However, rather than moving boxes, we are moving descriptive metadata, which is much more exciting! In my own move, I had about a month in which I needed to create a plan, execute the logistics of how this was going to happen (by which I mean make dozens of phone calls), and then finally, pack.

Although I will fully admit that my own move was in reality less organized than I am portraying here and my packing was motivated by more than one trip to get ice cream, the steps have been relatively the same with the finding aid migration. First, working off of the grant requirements and timeline, I made a schedule with start dates and deadlines. This also included prioritizing which finding aids would be completed first.

Second, the logistics of how the information is going to go from its current state – a word document with structured tables – into the database entry form needed to be determined. Rather than phone calls to the utility company, I created a manual for the student assistant that would be working on the project, as well as a system for assigning and tracking where collections are in the process. I worked with the other archivists to determine possible problems that some of the finding aids might pose, due to content or formatting, and started resolving those issues.

Third, is the figurative packing and just getting the work done. Since the beginning of July, a student assistant and I have been doing the manual labor of entering the finding aids into the database. There are a lot of different approaches to this process depending on the particular system that is being used and the existing format of the finding aids, but the combination of SKCA and our Word document tables means that there is no way around copying and pasting a lot of the information. A major upside of this is that I get to read almost all of the finding aids. I have learned a lot more about rural life and agriculture than I ever expected, which I have really enjoyed (check out the Iowa Cow War of 1931).

At this point we are almost four months in, and have been entering finding aids for about three of them. Two key points have stuck with me:

-Deadlines are helpful, but so are start dates. Pick a go date, and stick with it.
The logistics can be easy to get carried away with, and one thing that I am really glad about looking back is that the student assistant starting on July 5th provided a hard date that the preliminary planning and preparation needed to be done. While certainly some of the more complicated things were not finished by that date, the things he needed to know to get started were. While functionally this was a deadline for me, thinking of it as a start date for one phase of the project was more motivating.

-Plan for getting behind, but also getting ahead.
The timeline for the project was based on educated guesses about how long it would take to move an individual finding aid, and in hindsight the amount that was planned for was overly generous (by several months, oops!). While it is always good to not be behind, getting ahead comes with its own need for contingencies. Luckily with the workflow tracking that was in place, I was able to communicate the progress that had been made to others involved so that there were no surprises, and adjust the schedule to fit the new realistic timeframe. There were also smaller tasks that could be moved from elsewhere in the schedule to allow for more flexibility between the larger tasks.

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This project has been generously funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).