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The YMCA Buffalo Niagara records, pt. 1

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Meeting minutes of the Railroad Department’s Management Committee, YMCA Buffalo Niagara, December 1899


by Matthew Oliver, UB DLIS graduate student

Who can say for sure what this Ebenezer fellow was thinking as he wrote this unique and puzzling passage, concluding the Railroad Department’s Management Committee meeting minutes in December 1899. What is clear though is his message on the passage of time and the emergence of a new era, and whether eager or hesitant he reveals a rather solid understanding of the importance of leaving behind a record. What is to become of the speeches and deeds of peoples long gone, or yet to go? Are they to be remembered or simply fade from memory?

Enter the archivist, stage left. I am of like mind with Mr. Ebenezer, for I have been fortunate to have been endowed with that very same respect and understanding for the need to preserve history, no matter how provided or by whom. As an archivist-in-training I was afforded the opportunity to partake in the reorganization of the YMCA Buffalo Niagara Records, housed in the University Archives of the University at Buffalo. Since February the responsibilities associated with this project have been many, diverse, exceptionally educational, and wonderfully exciting. Upon initiation, I was tasked with adding three boxes of new materials into the pre-existing collection.  These accessions included records of various forms, from 19th century minutes books to photographs to banners and even a baseball cap. After completion of the initial survey I was instructed in how to create enclosures for those records (in this case mostly bound books) that were quite fragile and in need of extra protection. Similarly, loose photographs found throughout the collection were in need of proper housing as well, providing each with archival polyester casing. While there was a considerable amount of work involved, the appropriate housing is essential for the continued preservation of the records, else the very purpose of an archive is for naught. New materials necessitated new folders and/or boxes with appropriate labeling, which in turn required a relabeling of previous materials, if needed, to reflect new locations or dates, etc. I’d be hard pressed to say that every day spent on this stage of the project was not intellectually stimulating and most enjoyable. It is not every day that an individual has the ability or capacity to see and touch moments that comprise a historical record, and I believe I was provided with a great opportunity to be involved in the project. The process described above, the incorporation, is only half of the story however.  The technical organization of the materials for research purposes is just as imperative a task, and one to be described shortly in a follow-up blog post.

*This post is part of an occasional series written by University Archives graduate assistants and practicum students.  To prepare students for careers in Special Collections, our graduate assistants survey, process, and describe archival collections, digitize items for online use, and provide reference service to patrons.  These posts allow our students to share their experience and impressions of working with primary source material in the Archives.

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