The Craft of Archival Processing: A Journey through Space and Time with Dr. Mary Olney

Introduction by Polina Ilieva

During the spring semester 2018 the archives team co-taught and facilitated a new History of Health Sciences course, the Anatomy of an Archive. The idea of this course was conceived by the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine (DAHSM) Assistant Professor, Aimee Medeiros and UCSF Head of Archives & Special Collections, Polina Ilieva. Kelsi Evans, Project Archivist, co-facilitated the discussion sessions and Kelsi, Polina and David Uhlich, Access and Collections Archivist, served as mentors for students’ processing projects throughout the duration of the course.

The goal of this course was to provide an overview of archival science with an emphasis on the theory, methodology, technologies and best practices of archival research, arrangement and description. The archivists put together a list of collections requiring processing and also corresponding to students’ research interests and each student selected one that she/he worked on with her/his mentor to arrange and create a finding aid. During this 10 week long assignment students developed competence researching and describing an archival collection, as well as interpreting the historical record. At the conclusion of this course students wrote a story about their experience and collections they researched for the archives blog. In the next three weeks we will be sharing these posts with you.

Our final story comes from Hsinyi Hsieh, PhD student, UCSF Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine.

Post by Hsinyi Hsieh

Building an archival collection is similar to traveling through space and time. Before embarking on this journey, archival practitioners need to possess a diverse set of creative and sensitive abilities—specifically, a knowledge of scientific principles, a familiarity with artful practices, and the ability to think critically. Most significantly, processing a collection requires getting your hands dirty, interacting with various types of historical materials, and building a rapport with future researchers. I am grateful to have worked with Kelsi Evans and Polina Ilieva, archivists at UCSF, who not only taught me the craft of archival work through the Mary Olney collection but also provided me with a golden opportunity to travel with Dr. Olney. [1]

Figure 1: Mary Olney’s contribution on “Sugar Free Summer,” San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle June 5, 1983. Olney papers, MSS 98-64.

My archival journey began by imbibing tacit knowledge about processing archival collections. When we encountered some mold affected materials in the Mary Olney collection, the UCSF archivists taught me how to assess a mold bloom. It was truly a fascinating experience to watch as Kelsi and Polina observed the color and smell of the document and defined whether the mold actively presented a hazard to the unaffected materials. This document was sent for professional treatment at the UC Berkeley Library’s Conservation Treatment Division. This is an example of the tacit knowledge possessed by archivists, which only develops through continuous professional practice and education. The mold situation in the archive is akin to unforeseen circumstances arising during a trip. Thanks to the archivists’ expertise, we successfully prevented the other materials from being affected by the mold and kept our archival journey going.

Family camp, 1976. Olney papers, MSS 98-64.

The adventure had the perfect mixture of historical lessons and archival practice. I had the opportunity to learn about Dr. Olney’s experiences as a female pediatrician, social advocate, and director of the Diabetic Youth Foundation (DYF) and its summer camps for diabetic children. As I learned more about the collection, I was able to arrange its photos, pamphlets, and correspondences for future researchers interested not only in Dr. Olney but also pediatric diabetic patients.. Through this immersive experience, I felt as though I had become a part of her camping staff but in the future. In fact, during the archival arrangement, we also reconstructed the progress of Dr. Olney’s efforts in running the summer camps for decades—notably, her hard work in terms of fundraising, staff training, and building relationships with other relevant organizations. Mary Olney was a pioneering pediatrician who not only operated under the broad vision of improving the lives of diabetic children but also employed a practical outlook, doing everything she could to maintain the summer camp for decades.

Figure 3: The cover of Bear Facts, First issue, Second session, Aug 4, 1985. Olney papers, MSS 98-64.

During archival processing, revealing the mystery of certain folders is much like exploring exotic locations while traveling. For example, I was preoccupied with examining several folders in Dr. Olney’s collection that were labeled “loose papers.” Upon examining the documents inside these folders, I found that most of the materials—specifically Bear Facts and Whitaker Whiz—were from the DYF newsletters, which aimed at improving health communication among young diabetic patients. The DYF newsletter was published since the early 1940s and targeted young patients; the newsletter introduced camping programs, provided health information about diabetes, and featured beautiful artwork and written compositions by these patients.

By relabeling these materials, “loose papers,” the archivists were able to provide researchers with more accurate finding aids and inspiration as well. Imagine that you are visiting a new country and are consulting a number of travel guides; the ones that are written more clearly might contain better suggestions on places to explore; these recommendations might be missed if you followed the relatively unclear guidebooks. Further, information that is more accurate can enable researchers to ask questions that might never occur to them otherwise. Take the DYF newsletters, for example. How do the articles in Bear Facts and Whitaker Whiz communicate medical knowledge about diet to young patients and their families? Thus, clarifying vague folder names might improve the experience of users and researchers when exploring such archives, thereby enabling them to contemplate new historical questions.

Figure 4: Diet suggestion on Whitaker Whiz, August 22, 1951. Olney papers, MSS 98-64.

The task of processing the archival collection took me on a journey to Northern California with Dr. Olney and the DYF foundation during the twentieth century. It took me back to when and where the materials originated and how they would go on to influence researchers in the future. During her lifetime, Dr. Olney continued with her efforts to translate her expertise and knowledge into useful information for young diabetic patients. It takes the invisible labor of archivists to make these accomplishments visible and highlight all aspects of her persona: a female pediatrician, a camp organizer, a Northern California resident, a daughter, and a woman. This has been possible only through processing this archival collection. Thus, the work of archival practitioners plays a crucial role in enabling future researchers to embark on a journey with Dr. Mary Olney. Let me tell you, it is a fun and interesting ride!

[1] On the life history of Mary Olney, please see Sharon R. Kaufman, 1994. The Healer’s Tale: Transforming Medicine and Culture. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. Kelsi Evans, 2015. “Celebrating Food Day: Recipes from the Archives.” Source: https://blogs.library.ucsf.edu/broughttolight/2015/10/23/celebrating-food-day-recipes-from-the-archives/.

Lecture: 50 Years of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics

Date: Friday, October 6, 2017
Time: 12 pm – 1:15 pm
Lecturer: David E. Smith, MD
Location: Lange Room, 5th Floor, UCSF Library – Parnassus
530 Parnassus Ave, SF, CA 94143

This event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.
REGISTRATION REQUIRED: http://calendars.library.ucsf.edu/event/3555516

 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Born in the Summer of Love, the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, founded by UCSF alumni David E. Smith, MD, and staffed by volunteer medical providers from UCSF, celebrated its 50th anniversary on June 7, 2017.

Join Dr. Smith as he tells the story of the clinic’s founding and the 1960’s Haight-Ashbury luminaries who kept the clinic alive in its early days. He will discuss the clinic’s role in the birth of addiction medicine as a specialty, and the lessons the free clinic movement holds for healthcare reform efforts in the 21st century.

David E. Smith, MD, founder of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics

David E. Smith, MD, is a medical doctor specializing in addiction medicine, the psycho-pharmacology of drugs, new research strategies in the management of drug abuse problems, and proper prescribing practices for physicians. He is the Founder of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics of San Francisco.

About the UCSF Archives & Special Collections Lecture Series
UCSF Archives & Special Collections launched this lecture series to introduce a wider community to treasures and collections from its holdings, to provide an opportunity for researchers to discuss how they use this material, and to celebrate clinicians, scientists, and health care professionals who donated their papers to the archives.

Introducing “A Century of Health”

This is a guest post by Zach Bleemer. Zach is a Research Associate at UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education, where he directs the University of California Cliometric History Project, and a Graduate Intern in Institutional Research and Academic Planning at the UC Office of the President. 

A few months ago, I gave a lecture entitled “A History of Higher Education in California: A Big Data Approach” at the UCSF Archives. The lecture presented a large trove of newly-collected UC student records from the first half of the 20th century, including a complete register of University of California undergraduate and graduate students—their names, home towns, degrees, and years of graduation—from 1893 to 1946. These records enable descriptive analysis like Figure 1, which extends well-documented trends in college major selection back to the late 19th century (for UC Berkeley).

A recent Topic Brief published by the Institutional Research and Academic Planning Group (IRAP) at the UC Office of the President integrated this historical data with contemporary records of UC-trained medical professionals. Figure 2 uses California state medical license records from 1920 and 2016 to map the towns in which UC-trained doctors practice medicine, color-coding the towns by the doctors’ gender. Between 10 and 15 percent of UC medical students in the first decade of the 20th century were women, but women accounted for more than half of UC medical students in the first decade of the 21st century.

We also published an interactive map feature displaying the more than 850 cities and towns in which health professionals—doctors, dentists, optometrists, and veterinarians—trained by the University of California since 1999 currently practice, including both former graduate students as well as former residents (constructed by merging student and employment records with 2016 state licensing records). Toggles allow the viewer to restrict the map by UC campus, professional discipline, ethnicity, and level of training, and the map is color-coded by the professionals’ gender. The map displays both the demographic and geographic diversity of UC’s health-oriented graduates, who work in more than 60 percent of California towns with any health professionals. The interactive display also includes bar charts showing the number of health professionals who graduated UC each year (by campus and demographic group).

Both of these projects are part of a new initiative, A Century of Health, which aims to visualize and analyze the long-run contributions of UC’s health-oriented graduate schools to the state of California and beyond. Future components of this initiative will extend to pharmacists, nurses, physicians assistants, and more, and will leverage both new and very old sources of data, partly thanks to the UCSF Archives. The most exciting and comprehensive source of data is historical student transcripts housed in the UCSF Registrar, which we have recently concluded digitizing. A Century of Health aims to provide new insight into the University of California’s role in fostering wellness, economic mobility, and gender/ethnic equality across California by expanding, deepening, and repackaging information detailing the ubiquity of the University of California’s health-oriented graduate schools. To keep up with new developments, check the UC ClioMetric History Project’s website, or contact zachary.bleemer@ucop.edu.