Reflections: NYPL Visit

This wasn’t the first time I’ve visited the 42nd street NYPL nor will it be the last. Some key talking points which will frame the rest of my post: the communities we as researchers and scholars are a part of; the macro- and micro-level decision making in creating an archive, and the structures governing an archive.

Last semester, in Intro to Doctoral Studies in English, I attended an NYPL field trip. I met Mary Catherine and Tal Nadan during that trip. Following that I worked up the courage to visit the archive on my own time and peruse rare books and manuscripts. A little exercise like this broke down my apprehensions regarding the archive. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize the fact that Mary Catherine and Tal not only remembered me from back then but were just as interested in what materials I am currently researching and how my projects changed since then. Experiences like these remind me that we belong to a community of scholars and researchers. I’m very thankful to know that we have such helpful, beneficent, and supportive people to whom we can count on when we enter places like the NYPL. Due to the proximity of the GC to the NYPL (8 city blocks away), we possess the opportunity to foster such relationships with archivists and curators.

Mary Catherine’s question “If you were an archive which archive would you be?” got me thinking: what sort of archive would I be? What sort of materials would I collect and what would I not collect? Would my scope be broad or narrow? Which materials would I choose to ignore? These questions brought attention to the macro- and micro- decision making that goes into the collecting of an archive. They also shed a light onto the decision making that goes on to choosing our own research practices. Why do we gravitate towards certain objects more than others?

The flow chart outlining the structure of the archive served as a reminder that it’s also another institution. These curators and archivists have bosses. The NYPL as a public institution relies on government funding. The fact that the library closes early speaks to fluctuating funding practices over the years. But we still get access to the material and can touch material without an archivist hounding over us.