from the archive: new collections

It's been a while since I put up a post about the work Hanna and I do during our regular working hours as librarian/archivists at Northeastern, Countway Medical Library, and the Massachusetts Historical Society (we both work independently at Countway and the MHS and then job share a position at Northeastern with one other woman).

Hanna and I have both recently finished processing new collections at Northeastern -- "processing" being the archive-speak term for taking newly-acquired collections, organizing them, doing what we can to preserve them, and then making them accessible to the public. For each collection, Northeastern has a "finding aid" that details the scope and content of the collection, and provides some basic historical background on the person or organization.

One of the things I really like about my job at Northeastern is that we actively collect materials from under-represented communities and social justice organizations in the Boston area -- specifically the queer community, the Latina/Latino community, Chinese and African-American communities.

Hanna recently completed processing 14 boxes of records from Fenway Health, the community health center where she and I both receive our primary care. The staff there are preternaturally awesome and we suspect that they may come from a race of highly advanced alien beings who have made it their mission to provide high-quality healthcare to the human beings on this woeful little planet that can't get their act together to make universal healthcare a human right (Doctors Without Interstellar Borders?) You can check out the press release Hanna put together or the finding guide to the records if you're interested in how these materials are organized and made available for researchers.

My collection was a much more modest two boxes, the papers of Keri Lynn Duran, an AIDS / HIV activist and educator, Keri Duran, who herself was diagnosed with AIDS and died in 1995 at the age of 32, after six years of organizing, protesting and educating. After working with materials that mostly date from the nineteenth-century and earlier at the MHS (although the Historical Society is still actively collecting), it was a little disconcerting to be arranging material from someone whose life and work encompassed such recent events. Her personal journals, I thought, were particularly illuminating in describing her health struggles and her anger about the slow political response as she and her friends were dying. You can read the finding guide online at the NU website.

Even though a lot of the material in both of these collections is widely available to the public now (journal articles on AIDS, public health pamphlets, brochures on artificial insemination, etc.) and may not seem very historically relevant, they are already historical in that they help to document a particular moment in the history of the queer community, in public health care, and activism surrounding AIDS / HIV. And hopefully -- if we archivists do our jobs right! -- these materials will now be around for decades to come, so that 200+ years down the road (when the events of the 1990s are as far behind us as the events of the Revolutionary War are to us today) these documents will still be here for historians of the future to access and recreate our stories from.

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