Today’s post is from Beth Harris from Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.
Looking at old photos can bring back a lot of memories of the way things “used to be.” It can also be a great way to show younger generations how it was “back in the olden days.” As an archivist, one of the pleasures of my job is locating photographs for researchers. In addition, I am also in the process of scanning and cataloging them. Our collection, ranging from daguerreotypes and tin types through digital color images of today, enables our researchers to admire beautiful fashions from the past and see the faces of people that made Hollins University what it is today.
Part of the cataloging process involves assigning subject terms to each photograph. This is not as easy as it sounds. Should everything in the picture be given a subject term, even the smallest details, or should only the most prominent people and objects be given one? Then deciding the right term: Is it a “comforter” or a “quilt”? A phone or a telephone? Should the general term “jewelry” be used or should the specific term “pearls” be used, or both?
Identifying an object can sometimes prove puzzling. For example, one photograph showed a student holding a small metal device that was about the size of a Nintendo DS game. The photograph, however, was obviously from the 1980s so the game was definitely out of the question. After some speculation, we finally realized that it was a “Walkman.” (That’s a portable audio player, for those of you wondering what that is.) Wow…that really took me back. As a member of that generation, how could I have forgotten? I never owned one, but a large portion of the teenage and college student population did.
Though this experience, I am reminded of the role of archivist is to preserve and make accessible records of the past. Old photographs and yellowed letters may give us a “warm, fuzzy” experience, but they are also important for documenting the past for future generations. For this, I am thankful for past archivists and other individuals who thought these materials were important enough to save for our students and researchers for years to come.
The Hollins University archives, in Roanoke, Virginia, is open to the public. For more information, please contact Beth Harris, Special Collections Librarian and Archivist at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at http://www.hollins.edu/library/speccol/main.shtml.