I think my favorite part of our time at the Schomburg was listening to the archivist talk about her experience working there. I was very interested to learn what I could on the business side of archiving. Listening to her talk about the donors and the various places she receives materials from was very interesting to me. The monetary value of some of these items was very shocking. It really made me realize how special of a place the Schomburg is and how lucky we all are to have it in our community, as it tells the story of the black experience in a way I have never seen before. What’s more was listening to the archivist discuss her process while working. She said it looks more like a sloppy librarian than an organized archivist, and I would imagine you would have to be with all the materials that need a home.
When I asked her about what the process looked like when people wanted to donate materials, she was very thorough in explaining. Often times, if people are in New York, she would travel to their homes and look through what they have. She said that it wouldn’t take her long to know if something was a fit or not. Often times, the archive would be lacking in say photos of a certain event in history, as opposed to maybe letters written about that event. So, before she would even see the materials, she knew what she was looking and/or hoping to find. Items are donated from around the world and some are purchased while others donated. It was also inspiring to hear how the Schomburg keeps one eye open on current events to look for possible source materials from what’s happening around us. The archivist was less robust in explaining, but she said they do and are, especially related to #blacklivesmatter.
I was deeply moved by all of the photos we saw that day. There was an especially fascinating one of a black soldier in uniform. He was cropped into a different image with his partner, and their physical sizes did not match, which was very obvious. Makes one realize how technology really gives us a great deal of agency to manipulate the past in ways that weren’t afforded to those in history. The man presenting these images was a wealth of information about the Schomburg and its many processes, and also of the stories of the photos he was showing.
The building space is very impressive. I was in awe of the photo exhibit of Martin Luther King Jr. One could tell that this institution has a very notable place for the people that spend time there. It is certainly one of the many highlights of Harlem and noting that I asked the archivist if the author Nella Larsen ever had any connection to the Schomburg, being as she wrote so vividly of Harlem. Unfortunately, she didn’t know but I’d be interested in knowing if and how the two paths crossed.