Back to Work in the Archives
by Caroline Donadio
Hello, it is a pleasure to be back on-site and safely working in the International House Archives again. In conjunction with the September Spotlight on the Archives, please keep an eye out for several blogs and social media posts directly related to the Archives.
There is no sugarcoating the reality of the present. We are facing a global human crisis, unlike any we have experienced. Speaking to the press at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on March 27, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said,
“This is going to be one of those moments they’re going to write, and they’re going to talk about for generations. This is a moment that is going to change this nation. This is a moment that forges character, forges people, changes people…”
At International House and around the world, this statement continues to ring true. From our professional to personal lives, nothing has escaped the far-reaching impacts of this pandemic— life has changed.
The effects of COVID-19 have been especially challenging for I-House. The very structures that make I-House unique—a physical design to enhance cultural exchange, shared public spaces to promote intimate interpersonal interactions, and a myriad of activities to encourage the residents to share experiences— have left it vulnerable to the impacts of the virus. After four confirmed positive tests and two fatalities within our resident population and staff, there was no choice but to close our historic South Building and relocate 500 residents in March 2020.
I-House Archives, August 2020
Before COVID-19, a significant amount of time and resources were invested in developing the International House Archives. The Archives had recently completed the construction of a customized facility that includes high-density movable shelving, a climate control HVAC system, and a dedicated space for archivists to work and process material (scroll down for video!). I-House also retained A Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) to improve access to digital assets and was working to establish an Oral History program to enhance undocumented areas of the Archives. Inside the institution and out, there was energy, momentum, and excitement for what the Archives could accomplish. However, with the sudden proliferation of the virus and revenue loss from the South Building, the Archives risked losing critical resources to continue.
Six months later, as we navigate this “new normal,” I am happy to share that work is underway to secure the Archive’s infrastructure for the long term. I-House President Calvin Sims, along with senior staff and the Board of Trustees, all agreed the Archives at I-House must continue. Since Archives are not always considered essential during times of financial crisis, this was a huge decision. I-House recognized the value of its Archives as a rich and untapped resource of scholarly content and knew the vital role it will play in the upcoming celebration of our centennial year.
In the process of streamlining, the Archives had to withstand downsizing and cutbacks. What was designed as a team of four is now a team of one (me!). We now lack the resources for basic supplies (boxes, folders, etc.) to catalog and preserve our material and to initiate some of the higher-level projects we anticipated. Though not ideal, I see the metaphorical glass as half-full. A problem-solver by nature, new challenges allow me to think flexibly and strategize creative solutions. Our priorities may have shifted, but there is still a lot of work to be done, and an objective need to stabilize these records. In addition to being on-site, I am collaborating with other departments and working across the institution to deepen the Archive’s relationships. I am reaching out to our dear alumni to help sustain this work and continue operations. My main priority remains to process our collections and make this material accessible to our community. As I am currently elbow-deep in our boxes, I have been finding incredible material that I cannot wait to share with you!
I-House Archives, July 2020
Have a question about the Archives or the historical legacy of our institution? Please email me! When it’s safe, do you want to volunteer an afternoon re-housing material and remove paperclips (warning, I have excellent taste in music and podcasts)? Please email me! Do you want to support the Archives and donate much-needed resources? Click on the button above, or email me! In a lot of ways, I am more than just I-House’s archivist, I am your archivist, helping to secure the institution’s legacy that unites us all together. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I look forward to hearing from you!
For more content, follow the ‘September Spotlight on the Archives’ on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @IHouseNYC