Federal Funding Impact Story #9

Project: Collections and Facility Assessment and Planning


“The Price We Paid: An Anthology of the Desegregation of Mississippi State College for Women” was created in 2016 as part of the Those Who Dared event series commemorating the 50th anniversary of desegregation. This project is the product of a significant collaboration between the MUW Archives and the History, Political Science, and Geography Department at MUW.

Granting Agency: Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
Grant Program: Collections Assessment for Preservation Program
Institution: Mississippi University for Women
State: Mississippi
Congressional District: 1st Mississippi Congressional District
Grant Period: April 2013-March 2014
Award Amount: $7,190

Project Description
The Conservation Assessment Program funds a collections conservator and a facility conservator to visit a repository or 2-3 days, identify problem areas, and develop an action plan for the institution.

What was the need for the grant?
The archives had been dormant for several decades before hiring an archivist in 2012. It was in very poor shape, with extensive water and mold damage to the records, poor facility conditions (it was left in a vacant building with no climate or pest control), and little access for potential researchers. We were hoping to bring in some professionals to give us a sense of where to start and what to prioritize in bringing the archives back online.

What has been the primary impact of this project?
This project ultimately allowed us to preserve and provide access to our collections on the first publicly-funded women’s college in the United States. Subsequent research by students in our collections has revealed insights into subjects like racial integration at southern institutions, and early women’s education in the United States, which has led to public programming and discussion in the community.

The grant allowed us to bring two conservators to campus for several days. The priorities they developed with us served as a road map to saving the materials in the archives, which is now in a better facility, with better conditions, and is used by students every semester for class research projects.

Submission by: Derek Webb, Special Collections Librarian/University Archivist, Mississippi University for Women
Image credit to Mississippi University for Women.

Escape the Room… With Archives!

Solve the puzzles and celebrate your victory! Stay locked in and seethe (you were this close)!

If you’ve ever tried your luck at an escape room, you know the thrill of working to make sense of clues that will let you unlock the door and make your escape. But the one thing that might have made your escape experience even better? Archives! What if you could bring this special thrill to your archives’ patrons,  while introducing them to your collections and resources?  How would you go about it?

Laura Weakly

Laura Weakly, Metadata and Encoding Specialist at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, combined archives and escape rooms by organizing an event for students in Fall 2017 using clues rooted in Nebraska history. In the following interview with COPA member Caryn Radick, Digital Archivist at Rutgers University Libraries, Weakly discusses how the event was organized and offers tips for would-be room designers.

CR: Why did you decide to do an escape room?

LW: The escape room was part of a campus wide welcome event for new and returning students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for Fall semester 2017. The room was located in C. Y. Thompson Library on UNL’s East Campus. The idea was to draw students into the library and familiarize them with library resources in a fun way. The escape room was the brainchild of librarians Jennifer Thoegersen and Erica DeFrain. In 2015, Jenny and her husband Rasmus Thoegersen, who was then director of libraries in Nebraska City, had created an escape room as a children’s event at the Morton-James Public Library.

CR: Who was involved and how did it work?

LW: Besides Erica and Jenny, the project team consisted of 10 employees of the UNL Libraries who created games and set up the room. The team split into groups to create a storyline, come up with the puzzles, develop graphics, and devise the rules for gameplay. Thirteen others tested the room once it was set up to ensure that the puzzles were set up properly, explained well, and solvable. After testing, some of the games were modified to make them easier and to give more detailed instructions before the students began playing. The game consisted of three puzzles which had to be solved in the allotted 20 minute time period. The answers to the puzzles led to a code that then needed to be entered into a “Time Machine” — a skinned Raspberry Pi computer.


CR: How did you choose which stories you wanted to feature?

Newspaper column featuring cattle brands

LW: The storyline we created was a time machine that would take the players back in the history of the campus to events that did or could have occurred on the campus. Players would then need to use library resources strategically placed in the room to help them solve the puzzles and return to the present time. UNL’s East Campus is home to the International Quilt Study Center and so one puzzle focused on using print resources to solve a quilt-based riddle. Another puzzle centered on the Larsen Tractor Test Museum and photographs of historic tractors found in our Image and Multimedia Collections. The puzzle that my group created was focused on historic Nebraska newspapers digitized as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program and found on Chronicling America and Nebraska Newspapers. I remembered from when we were performing collation that one of the papers, the Valentine Democrat, featured pages and pages of cattle brands. Our puzzle then centered on a supposed  escape of cattle on East Campus, which is home to the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. We planted some “Fake News” about the escape in an edition of our campus newspaper The Daily Nebraskan. Players then had to read the story,  find the relevant brands in the Valentine Democrat, and then find the brands on tiny plastic toy cows. The toy cows had the brand on one side and a number on the other. The numbers were the answer to the puzzle.

Toy cows help solve the puzzle

CR: What was the response (how many students and what were their reactions)? Also, what was the fastest time the mystery was solved in?

LW: Ten teams of 3-6 students played the room. Six teams successfully escaped. The fastest time, recorded by the only team with just 3 players, escaped in the time of 11:33. Even the teams that didn’t escape said that is was really fun and that they enjoyed playing it.

CR:  What advice would you give to others thinking about setting up an escape room? Will you do another one?

LW: Having a good storyline and creating puzzles that go along with the story make a really great escape room. Testing and leaving enough time between groups to reset the room are also important. But mostly the room was about giving students an opportunity to go to the library just to have fun. We have already been talking about another escape room or rooms for the upcoming academic year, including possibly one in our new Learning Commons.

Asserting the Archivist, No. 2

This post was authored by guest contributor Samantha Norling, Digital Collections Manager at Newfields and member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA).  This the second post in our “Asserting the Archivist” series on the importance of highlighting archivists and archival work in outreach efforts, rather than just focusing on the collections themselves.

Too often, archivists and archival repositories can get stuck in the loop of sharing only THE STUFF, especially as those posts get a positive response and many interactions. But those collection-centric posts that help to extend our reach to every conceivable interest group on the web provide us with a valuable opportunity to highlight the work, knowledge, and skills of archivists to a nearly unlimited variety of audiences–“Asserting the Archivist” in outreach for our institutions.

In 2014, The Huntington Library created a series of 5 videos–published on Vimeo and shared on their social platforms—that took viewers behind-the-scenes to learn about the work of five staff members who filled different roles in the library. Included in these videos was the archivist, Li Wei.

In less than 3 minutes, Wei communicates multiple key points about what makes archivists unique from librarians and curators, emphasizing the complexity of archival collections and the skills needed to not just organize and catalog large archival collections, but to do so with the aim of facilitating access and discovery.

Do you have a favorite example of archival repositories or organizations/businesses that “assert the archivist” in their outreach efforts? Or would you like to share your experience incorporating archival work into your outreach? Please share in the comments below or contact archivesaware@archivists.org to be a guest contributor to ArchivesAWARE!