During the winter 2015 term, McGill Library & Archives welcomed several practicum students from the McGill School of Information Studies (SIS). The SIS website outlines the practicum experience as
a 3 credit academic elective course in which master’s-level students participate in field practice under the guidance of site supervisors. Students benefit from the opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge base and learning in a real-world setting, while gaining experience and practicing professional skills. Site supervisors and their workplaces benefit from the energy, knowledge, and skills of an emerging information professional while providing students with a valuable mentorship experience in a real-world setting.
Library Matters took a practicum pause with these students to talk about their work at the McGill Library & Archives and how their experience may help to inform Library units as they move forward with related projects. The first interview features Kate Rozon. Kate’s practicum at McGill University Archives involved assisting archivists with the appraisal of archival university administrative records and creating file listings for administrative records in question and a private fonds, specifically that of Full Professor and F.R. Scott Professor of Constitutional and Public Law, Roderick A. Macdonald (1948-2014).
Library Matters (LM): Tell us a little about your practicum.
Kate Rozon (KR): In my practicum, I had to do two appraisals. The first was for administrative records for McGill University, the second was a private fond for Roderick A. MacDonald, a McGill law professor who passed away. In class, I learned “original order” when it came to administrative records. In other words, when you receive administrative records, you keep materials the way they are stored in the box – you don’t move anything. However for these particular administrative records, the original order was lost so I had little idea on what to do – I had never covered this before. Sure enough, I asked questions and went through all the records and found the series. I had to go through each one, creating links between records which dated from the 1930s up to today.
LM: What kind of records were they?
KR: I found everything from personal files to invoices, which were not meant to be kept anymore due to their age. I also found procedural manuals and exhibit programs. Since I had not been working in the Archives for very long and I didn’t really know the history of the administration, I was very hesitant to throw things out at first. I triaged everything. Things were far more straight forward with Roderick A. MacDonald fonds. He was far more meticulous and organized so little is being taken out.
LM: Looking at his papers, what were you able to learn about him?
KR: The man never stopped. He was either at a publication or at a conference, or doing both at the same time. It’s just amazing the things that he’s done. He was so meticulous. Somebody once criticized one of his articles and his reply was so diplomatic. It was very telling of his character and the way he conducted himself.
LM: What did you do with the administrative papers once they were organized?
KR: I performed a file listing. I was not able to complete the full file listing for the administrative records. There was so much work to do that and my supervisor wanted to make sure that I had enough time for the Roderick A. MacDonald fonds. Taking this into account, I just did a high level listing for the admin records – which means covering just the series and years. For Roderick A. MacDonald, there was far less work involved since things were in their proper order already. I am currently doing the file listing of the 500 odd files found in 19 boxes. One essentially takes down the box number, the accession number, the series, the file folder name and the basic idea of what’s within, mostly original publications or speech drafts.
LM: What would you have liked to have known prior to starting the practicum?
KR: Having more background on the administrative part of the archives would have been welcomed. I had to spend a lot of time on some files as I was unsure how they related to the archives and whether they should be discarded or not. In my archival class, we had a practical experience on file listing and filing aids so I had little trouble for the Roderick A. MacDonald fonds, yet some more experience with lost original order would have been an asset. In previous work, I would know exactly what I was dealing with, but on this occasion with the administrative records, I would come across things that I had no idea how to approach. I would ask for help and my supervisors would help me by going through a box and telling me their thought process which was really useful and allowed me to make connections.
LM: Were there any skills that you gained as a result of this experience?
KR: Getting quicker at deciphering what’s held within a folder. At first, you could waste a lot of time getting held up on small details, so you have to try to go through it without reading it because it’s really interesting!
LM: Did you find any special materials?
KR: The Declaration of Human Rights’ draft by John Peters Humphrey was a real surprise…I had no idea he went to McGill and so it was a proud moment for me as a fellow Canadian and McGillian. I might have wasted a little too much time reading through that but that’s the danger of it, it’s so interesting that it’s hard to put down. I was also able to find out through a newspaper clipping and correspondence letter that Roderick A. MacDonald not only liked to play the guitar, he once started a conference by singing a song which got a standing ovation, and then casually proceeded with his speech.
LM: Can you share a highlight from the experience with us?
KR: When I was working on the administrative fonds, because I had so much trouble going through it, I felt a great sense of relief and accomplishment once I was able to get through it. Gordon Burr, a senior archivist here at McGill, went through the triage after I had done it simply to take out anything I would have missed. Once he got to the annual reports, I had really cleaned them up and had put them in proper descending order which got me plenty of praise and acknowledgement – it felt great.
LM: What was it about librarianship or information management that got you interested in the School of Information Studies?
KR: This might sound very romantic but when I finished my B.A. in Law, I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer. All the jobs out there didn’t pay very well. I knew I had to continue and specialize in something but I didn’t want to do a thesis. I just happened to find this program by accident and after reading up on it, I thought it was a great fit.
LM: What are your plans after you graduate? Do you want to continue doing archival work?
KR: This is my last semester and I’m very excited. For the past year I have been going back and forth between Montreal and Ottawa. I also have a FSWEP (Federal Student Work Experience Program) position at the Supreme Court of Canada. For the first 8 months, I was an assistant reference librarian. Right now, I’m in the records centre doing file plans as they are implementing a new records management system for the courts. I’m really hoping that I get in with them permanently. I’m open to any of the three fields and that’s why I was so keen to get into the practicum in Archives because I already had library and records management experience.
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