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2023: A Year In Review

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by Rachel Dworkin

When people ask me what I do, I tell them I am an archivist. When they stare at me blankly, I explain that it’s a subspecies of librarian. The job of a librarian is to collect, catalog, and share the information patrons need for their education and entertainment. Keeping these goals in mind, let’s take a look at how well I did this year.

1. Collecting

Here at the Chemung County Historical Society, we collect items specifically related to Chemung County history, people, and organizations. In 2023, we accepted archival material from 93 donors. Some of these donations were just one or two items. For example, on recent donation consisted of the 1918 diary of Elmira Free Academy student, J. Lawrence Kolb. There was another earlier in the year that was just a poster for the Auto Thrill Show at the Chemung County Fair, circa 1970. Other donations were a bit larger. George Farr donated his research material for his book Lincoln’s Banner Regiment which contains over 100 items related to the history of the 107th New York Volunteers. A former employee at Sumirail/ABB Traction in the Heights, donated 500+ photographs documenting both companies and their products. 

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In addition to donated items, I also collect items related to things happening around the community. This includes newsletters from the Elmira City School District, the Foodbank of the Southern Tier, the Friends of the Chemung County Library District, and Congregation Kol Ami. I also collect programs from the plays I attend, fliers for various events, and menus from new restaurants. In this way, I’m able to capture a snapshot of what is happening now for future generations.

I also conduct oral history interviews. This year, I conducted 8 interviews. The topics included Elmira’s LGBTQ+ community; area Polish, Italian, and Finnish communities; COVID-19; and historic weather events.   

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2. Cataloging

It’s all very well and good to collect things, but an archivist must take what my grad school professors called “intellectual control.” In short, an archivist must figure out what they have, wrestle it into some sort of order, and then make that order apparent to everyone else. This is known as “cataloging.” It can be a pretty time consuming process, especially when a single donation may contain hundreds of items. 

To be honest, I’ve been a little behind on the cataloging this year. I’ve only cataloged about one-third of our new items. Part of the reason for the delay is that I’ve been working hard on getting our older finding aids up on EmpireADC (see this blog post for detail).  A finding aid is an index for an archival collection which provides additional context about the creator(s) of the collection and the circumstances under which the collection was created, as well as the collection’s size and organization.We joined EmpireADC this summer. Since then, I have uploaded 111 old finding aids to the site. Check it out here. 

3. Sharing

Collecting and cataloging information is all very well and good, but it is pointless if it isn’t shared. The archives here at the Chemung County Historical Society are open to the public 1pm to 5pm, Monday through Friday. Visitors may come in and request to see anything within our collection. We are also open for researchers to call or write in with questions weekdays from 9 am to 5pm. 

In 2023, we had 84 in-house researchers. This was down from pre-pandemic levels, but up from 2022. We also had 210 write-in research requests. I did not keep track of the number of phone requests, but it was well over 100. Two people requested and received permission to use our photographs in their publications.  

In addition to assisting researchers, I also find other ways to share information with the public. This blog, for instance is a pretty handy tool. This year, I wrote nine blogs. I hope you liked them. I was also interviewed by the press half-a-dozen times about topics ranging from City Hall to Iszard’s to daylight savings time. Earlier this summer, I teamed up with Maggie Young, the genealogy librarian at the Steele Memorial Library, to create a master list of genealogical resources at both our institutions. Next year, we hope to expand it to other places in Chemung County. You can find it here.

We also have several digital collections on the New York Heritage website where researchers can access material for free at any time.  

Our older collections include the records of the Thatcher Glass Manufacturing Company, the records of the Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief, Chemung County high school yearbooks, and the Black Oral History Project. This year, I received a grant to digitize and upload the records of Elmira midwife, Rose Spadaccino. I also began uploading some of our older oral histories to the site as part of a collection called “Voices of Chemung County.”

Looking back, I think I accomplished quite a bit. What do you think? For my next trick, I shall finish cataloging all the items we received in 2023, finish the shelf read, add at least one new finding aid a week to EmpireADC, upload my recent oral history interviews to New York Heritage, and have fun doing it.

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Rachel Dworkin is the archivist at the Chemung Valley Historical Society. For more information about the museum and to see more of their blog, click here

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