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Behind the Scenes: Arranging and Describing Visual Resources

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The following is an interview with Maya Reid, Technical Services Technician in the Prints & Photographs Division.

Photo by Carmen Gonzalez Reid, 2021.
Photo by Carmen Gonzalez Reid, 2021.

Melissa: Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to work in the Prints & Photographs Division?

Maya: I majored in English as an undergraduate student and didn’t know what I wanted to do post-graduation. My school, the University of Maryland, College Park, had an Intern-for-a-Day program that allowed students to shadow professionals in a wide variety of fields. I applied for the program and matched with Jen Eidson, the labor archivist at UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives. She introduced me to the archives profession and told me about UMD’s library school.

I received my Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2019.  My specialization was in Archives and Digital Curation. I knew that I wanted to work for the government, so while in grad school I had (unpaid) internships at the FCC Library and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Library. My first paid position in the field was as a page in a local public library in 2017. I went on to work as a digitization assistant in a library on campus, then became a student assistant in UMD’s Special Collections & University Archives. I applied to positions on USAJobs in my last year of graduate school and was fortunate enough to receive the job offer to be a technician in the Prints and Photographs division before graduation!

Melissa: What are your primary responsibilities in the division?

Maya: When it comes to processing a collection, the archivists create the processing plans and the technicians carry them out and provide feedback to improve the plans. I work with the collections hands-on. My job involves processing collections, rehousing, describing materials, and (especially since the dawn of telework) minimal level cataloging.

One project I started working on during telework is updating Voyager (catalog) records for untitled negatives in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information collection, which we refer to as FSA for short. The “FSA Untitled” team finds related images for the untitled negatives and then uses information from a related image’s catalog record description to improve the catalog record of the untitled images.

Speaking of FSA, I wanted to share this picture because I like the soldier’s awareness of the camera and that he’s not posing. I found his uniform and direct, candid glance striking.

Untitled photo, possibly related to: Washington, D.C. Christmas rush in the Greyhound bus terminal. Negro soldiers waiting for a bus. Photo by John Collier, Jr., 1941.
Untitled photo, possibly related to: Washington, D.C. Christmas rush in the Greyhound bus terminal. Negro soldiers waiting for a bus. Photo by John Collier, Jr., 1941.

This FSA photograph is adorable and I love the kids’ warm smiles. I also like that the title of the related image has information about who the kids are, rather than just describing them as “negro” children (language provided by the photographers), which was pretty typical in this collection.

Untitled photo, possibly related to: Fourth generation from slavery. Grandfather Biscoe's great grandchildren. Near Ridge, Maryland. Saint Mary's County. Photo by John Collier, Jr., 1941.
Untitled photo, possibly related to: Fourth generation from slavery. Grandfather Biscoe’s great grandchildren. Near Ridge, Maryland. Saint Mary’s County. Photo by John Collier, Jr., 1941.

Melissa: I know that you’ve worked on some really large projects with other colleagues in Technical Services. Would you mind telling us about a couple of these?

Maya: The U.S. Patent Office Trademark Labels collection consists of 83,000 trademarks registered in the years 1869 to 1911. Over 6,000 of these are already available online, and can be seen using the link in the “Learn More” section below. What’s nice about the Trademarks collection is that I’ve been able to transition from working on it on site to working on it virtually during telework. Since the trademarks are being digitized, I’ve been able to work on them using the scans. I record metadata for each trademark. I’ve seen trademarks for Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson and other household name companies and brands. It has been interesting to see what kind of imagery was popular during this time – there are lots of lions, portraits, monograms, and racist caricatures.

I am also part of the Frissell team. Toni Frissell was a photographer who shot for magazines such as Vogue, Sports Illustrated, and Harper’s Bazaar. She was also a socialite and frequently photographed her wealthy friends. I am currently working on Frissell’s black-and-white materials, which contain contact sheets and negatives (post-1955 safety film). As a team, we are currently focusing on processing the contact sheets, but will start working on the negatives soon. We wrapped up processing Frissell’s color materials, which contain color slides and transparencies, last year. Frissell’s color images are set to be digitized later this calendar year. Both collections contain beautiful images that feature lots of timeless fashions, wealth, and privilege.

Another project that I work on is the Stereograph Collection. I create minimal level catalog records for digitized stereograph cards. Before the pandemic, I only cataloged stereographs as overtime work. Now it’s a neat telework project that allows me to look at beautiful scenery from around the world while at home.

I’ve always wanted to visit Venice, so I loved looking at stereographs of the city and its Grand Canal. This is one of my favorite stereograph cards that I cataloged — I think the city looks so beautiful here!

Palaces on Grand Canal, Venice. 1896.
Palaces on Grand Canal, Venice. 1896.

There are many stunning stereographs in India. I chose this one because I really liked the perspective used to photograph the mosque.

The stately marble halls of the beautiful Pearl Mosque, Agra, India . 1907.
The stately marble halls of the beautiful Pearl Mosque, Agra, India. 1907.

Melissa: In addition to all the work you do within the Prints & Photographs Division, you are on the Library’s Archives Forum Steering Committee – could you tell us what this group does, and what your role has been?

Maya: The Archives Forum Steering Committee organizes the monthly Archives Forum sessions for staff at the Library. We have monthly committee meetings to review how previous sessions went, brainstorm and plan topics for future forums, discuss potential speakers, and chat. We shifted to hosting virtual forums since the pandemic began.

I joined the steering committee last year. I co-moderated the October Forum, “A Talk with Technicians,” with Brett Carnell, who introduced me to the committee. I coordinated with technicians in different divisions, including Gillian Mahoney from P&P, to prepare for the forum. Though I spoke to everyone by email, it was still nice to be in touch with people across the library and learn more about their experiences on the job.

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  1. Great job Maya and Melissa.

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