Nora Katz with interns Mimi Brown & Rose Steptoe

The Life-Changing Magic of Creating an Institutional Archive in a Small Fire Closet

Welcome to the RoMimi Method

Today’s blog post is from our 2019 summer interns, Mimi Brown and Rose Steptoe.

Our major project this summer as History and Heritage interns at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) was to lay the foundation of an institutional archive. As the ISJL approaches its 20th anniversary, we want to ensure that the history of the institution is preserved and accessible for future staff, scholars and researchers, and anyone in our community who may be curious about what the ISJL has been up to for the last couple decades. 

Guided by our fearless leader, Nora Katz, Director of Heritage and Interpretation, we set out to create an archive in the fire closet at the ISJL office in Jackson, Mississippi. Inspired by Marie Kondo, this is how we did it:

In order to spark joy at the ISJL when Creating an Institutional Archive in a Small Fire Closet (CAIAIASFC), we created and utilized the “RoMimi Method.”

The Six Basic Rules of the RoMimi Method:

 

  • Commit yourself to creating the archive. Schlep items to and from various spaces around the office to ISJL library. Marvel at the enormous number of items we will accession.* Accept that this process may not be completed in the short ten weeks we will be at the ISJL. Commit to the process anyway.
  • Imagine your ideal archive. This may be tricky when the archive will be housed in a fire closet, but imagine nonetheless.
  • Finishing discarding garbage from the archive first. Determine what items do not belong in the archive and discard of them properly. Always recycle when possible. Items that do not belong may include: a half-used watercolor kit, home videos that belong to former ISJL staff, a box of old light bulbs, and a plastic bag full of door knobs.
  • Accession items by category, not by location. The RoMimi method is unique because we organize by category rather than by location. In the RoMimi method, we accession by five categories in a specific order:
  1. Copies of the same unlabeled VHS tape.
  2. Low-exposure photographs of someone’s furniture.
  3. Items we found in a box of unrelated items.
  4. Items we forgot to accession.
  5. Items that no longer spark joy but contribute to the historical narrative of the ISJL. Items may include but are not limited to: a box of white pantaloons of mysterious origin, 500 extra Alsace to America exhibit commemorative medals, an Oreck Vacuum cleaner manual from 1993, and rusty paper clips.

Beyond these essential categories, we divide the various items based on material or medium: VHS tapes, cassette tapes, paper documents and files, photo slides, photograph negatives and film, photographs, binders, museum panels, posters and signage, and physical artifacts such as Judaica.

  • Follow the right order when accessioning items into the archive. We utilize a Google form that emulates Dublin Core, a program used by many archives and institutions. The Google form filters into a Google spreadsheet. Each item is assigned an accession number and is entered into the Google form with all relevant information such as creator, publisher, date created, coverage, description, and any preservation concerns. In the future, we hope this spreadsheet can be connected to a searchable online database. For now, it’s an easily accessible and searchable spreadsheet.
  • Ask yourself if the archive sparks joy. Yes. Yes it does.

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Thank you, Rose and Mimi, for a phenomenal summer! Y’all come back and see us.

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*accession: to formally incorporate an artifact into a collection

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