Guest Post: The Ronald Raven Annual Award, Winter 2015

The Ronald Raven Annual Award provides a tuition stipend and semester-long internship in the Wayne State University Archives to Wayne State University graduate students in the fall and winter semester. The details of the award are located on the Reuther Library Scholarships page.

Kristin Kniffen was the sixth recipient of the Ronald Raven Annual Award, completing her University Archives internship in May 2015. The following is a summary of the internship in her own words.

From my very first day at Wayne State University as a master’s student in the joint History and Library Science degree programs, my professors have encouraged me to seek hands-on experience in the archival field. During earlier semesters I sought this experience through volunteer projects at the Charles H. Wright Museum, but by the time the Winter 2015 semester had rolled around I was still sadly without any formal processing experience. I finally gained that experience thanks to the Ronald Raven Annual Award. The work proved to be not only wonderfully educational, but deeply enjoyable as well.

When I first began this internship, my knowledge of Wayne State University was extremely limited. All that I really knew about the school were my own reasons for attending: the joint masters’ program and the generous tuition discounts offered to residents of Ontario. Since delving into the University Archives collections, I have had the wonderful experience of expanding that knowledge considerably. Though many of the collections I have worked with may have seemed dull on the face of things, they all revealed something valuable about the school’s development, the development of Detroit, and this school’s place in the wider nation and world. The College of Nursing Records is a fine example, being a collection that tells not just the story of a graduate program offered at Wayne University in the 1940s, but of a nation struggling to cope with the demands placed on it by World War II. Similarly, the Lawrence H. Seltzer Papers reveal not only the work of a world-renowned economics professor, but also the centrality of the university and Detroit in negotiating automotive industry standards with the National Recovery Administration during the Great Depression.

During my time at the Reuther Library I processed 16 small collections, ranging in size from a single manuscript box to ten linear feet. For most of these collections I was followed the “More Product, Less Process” guidelines recently embraced by the archival profession. I had the opportunity, however, to process one larger collection – the Kresge Eye Institute Records – in greater depth, arranging the material within series and conducting more extensive research on its history. In addition to my processing experience, I was also given the opportunity to attend the Metro Detroit Archivists League Spring 2015 Preconference Symposium, at which local archives professionals shared early versions of presentations that they later delivered at regional conferences.

My time at the Reuther has been an extremely rewarding one. While I may have known the theories and standards of archival processing going in, this internship has given me the hands-on experience that I was sorely lacking. As a result I have newfound confidence in my knowledge and abilities, and that the career I have chosen is right for me. My time here has also given me an excellent chance to learn more about Wayne State’s history, to learn both minimal and in-depth processing techniques, to get a glimpse of the kinds of research presented at conferences, and to work with some wonderful people. I will forever be grateful to Mr. Ronald Raven for making this experience possible for both myself and my peers, and to University Archivist Casey Westerman for his patient and thoughtful oversight during my first steps into the archival world.