Worcester Refugee Archive

The New England Archivists Roundtable of Early Professionals and Students (REPS)held it’s second annual day of service yesterday. There were 5 projects volunteers could sign up for.

— History Project: Documenting LGBTQ (Boston, MA)
— USS Constitution Museum (Charlestown, MA)
— Worcester Refugee Archive (Worcester, MA)
— Colchester Historical Society (Colchester, CT)
— Hardwick Historical Society (Hardwick, VT)

I love volunteering and this made it very easy. I signed up for a 4 hour shift with the Worcester Refugee Archive at Clark University. Convenience and curiosity were my main reasons for choosing this site. My sister lives in Worcester, so I was able to visit with her after. The work consisted of adding item level descriptions to a WordPress site to create a catablog for the archive. I’m not sure if the catablog inspiration is from UMass’s UMarmot, or the WordPress plugin (which I just now found out about), but the idea of helping out a DIY archive was very appealing. And in general I was looking forward to working with WordPress and to learn more about the Worcester Refugee Archive.

According to the website the archive “is a repository for materials, knowledge, research, and resources related to Worcester’s refugee and forced migrant communities. It serves to collect published and unpublished materials on the history, resettlement, community health, livelihoods, and material culture–among other things–of individuals, groups, refugee community organizations, and agencies based in and around Worcester.”

I did learn a little more about the archive – which is in a very beginning stage at the moment. It is inspired by a class taught at Clark and the work being done by graduate students and faculty. There is a lot of secondary material in the collections – I worked on adding descriptions of background materials which consisted of articles and reports that are available online through journals or government sites. Other materials there were theses, conference handouts and swag. I think they also have work from Clark students and hope to collect material from community members.

Unfortunately WordPress was not working for us and I was never able to get a back end look at the catalog. This also meant that instead of inputting each item directly into WordPress we had to write out the information in a Word file and then email them to Chris Markman, the coordinator of the event. This was fine, but I was hoping to actually do some work on the site. And I think without being able to see others’ work that there will be a lot of inconsistencies between entries that will need to be cleaned up. But I am looking forward to seeing how the entries are adding to the WordPress site and what else the archive has to offer.

Overall, I hope me spending 4 hours describing 26 journal articles that are in jstor was helpful, because as an archivist it was a little hard to convince myself it was and it was hard to not think of other ways the work could be done. I don’t want to be critical of the project, because I think it’s a fine project and there is a lot of enthusiasm around it and I hope it succeeds but I did find myself grappling with what kind of “archive” it was. I guess as I become more entrenched in archive work I find myself becoming less flexible in ideas and meanings of such words as “collection” vs. “archive”. But I think the main thing to remember is how beneficial is the archive to the people who are creating it, and more importantly, using it. Keeping this in mind is critical when visiting or volunteering with an organization you are not familiar with. When I look at it like that I can see (and I truly do hope!) that the work I did is helpful for the Refugee Archive to fulfill its goals with item level description.

[I have written previously about why I volunteer here.]

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