Annotations from the Archives: American Archives Month
Since 2006, the Society of American Archivists and archivists across the United States have celebrated American Archives Month, a collaborative effort by professional organizations and repositories around the nation to highlight the importance of preserving papers of lasting value. Archivists are professionals who assess, organize, preserve, and provide access to these papers—which might include letters, financial or political documents, photos, manuscripts, or publications of many types. The archives at the National Willa Cather Center contain all of these, and more!
Through both electronic columns like this one and our print publications, our archivist provides you with highlights from the archives throughout the year, often centered on broad themes, rather than individual collections. This month, it seems fitting to reflect on the work of the past year and the many individuals who have helped care for our archival collections and made them available for both research and educational programs for our museum visitors.
Our 2023 Humanities Interns—Nolan Bennett and Lucy Koenig—each took on an archives project as part of their internship. Lucy cataloged additions to the Blanche Cather Ray Collection, while Nolan rehoused the physical Southwick Paper Collection and created a finding aid. Though both of these collections had been previously available for research, their finding aids needed an update. More importantly, reformatting the finding aids made them available—and searchable!—on our new website, which will now features all our finding aids, in one handy place, just as quickly as we can make them available. Our summer interns come to us from across the University of Nebraska system, and the internships are made possible through the Nebraska Cather Collaborative, a group comprised of representatives from the NWCC, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Cather Project and Willa Cather Archive. This paid internship gives upper level undergraduates crucial real-world experience in a GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) field, and every summer we stand back amazed at their energy and efforts.
The majority of the National Willa Cather Center's professional staff played a part in the development of our new website. It looks wonderful, and crucially, it's taken a big leap forward in functionality. Our web design team at Unanimous took our concerns—particularly as they related to collections—and found solutions that allow you to explore our archives and museum collections more fully. We hope you've had a chance to search through the online collections already; the initial batch of objects went live on the site in late May, with many more to come. Many thanks to Catherine Pond, Jeniffer Beahm, Rachel Olsen, and Ashley Olson for their help and support—our online collections couldn't exist without their contributions to making the website and the whole organization function.
Another debt of gratitude is owed to our facilities team. Through a year that has been full-up with construction challenges, collection moves, and staffing changes, the team has taken everything in stride. Two new positions were added to our team: Alek Sauceda, our facilities and preservation specialist, helps keep our historic sites and National Willa Cather Center archives weather-tight and air-conditioned, and Josh Reckling, our collections associate, has completed a full collection inventory of one historic site, as well as cleaning every last book, photo, teacup, and doily that had been on display in the Willa Cather Childhood Home. This week, the full team, which also includes Alisa Chiplaski, Emily Dowling, Leah Meyer, and Hannah Rupprecht, will be planning for move-in day at the Willa Cather Childhood Home.
While these folks keep the historic sites looking their best, their work allows our archivist and Director of Collections & Curation Tracy Tucker, to plan, write, and execute major interpretive improvements. Our archives have provided invaluable guidance as we undertook the much-needed restoration of the Childhood Home. Mildred Bennett's record of Cather family memories, her correspondence with early supporters and builders, and her hundreds of photographs helped us understand the Childhood Home as we made some tough decisions about its future.
In addition, the drafting and design phase of our new exhibition in the lower level of the Farmers and Merchants Bank is wrapping up, and fabrication and installation will be underway this month. We're eager to welcome you to Making a Place: A Long History of Red Cloud, which should be completed in 2023. Our earliest archival collections—from the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial days—are featured in this new exhibition. If you've never visited Red Cloud before, we think they will offer wonderful context for your visit; if you've toured our properties before, we think these papers tell some new stories—stories that complicate and enrich the idea of Red Cloud that Cather conveys in her work.
None of our careful and detailed work to preserve these collections can happen without the generosity of our supporters, so we can't let the opportunity pass to thank our researchers, donors, and members, too. We value our roles as stewards of this amazing collection, and we invite you to visit us in the archives. We'd love to share our work with you!