A Day In the Life: A frigid day in January

I start my morning by being late to work. Just a little. Like 10 minutes. At my job, we have two historic house museums but they are on opposite sides of town. Technically, they are in neighboring cities that sit outside of Detroit. On the day that I’m going to the west side location, I realize that I left important paperwork + my laptop charger at the east side location.


I give my boss a heads up and leave ridiculously early to avoid being late.

I end up being late anyway. So, I do what any person who is late does. I don’t rush myself and I pick up coffee for my coworkers at Starbucks.

I get to the historic house. Snow is falling fast. I’m loaded down with stuff: my purse, lunch bag, laptop, and bag full of books. (I promised myself I would read at lunch) Oh yeah, and coffee. I load up my stuff unevenly on my person and start trudging to the house. I have to stop about halfway to reshift everything.

God bless the security person who saw me lumbering toward the house. They opened the door so I wouldn’t have to stop, unload everything, and swipe my key card.

Cut to I’m now settled, warm, and sipping coffee as I have my first meeting of the day.

We’re renovating our storage facility. I have a ton of questions but underneath each question is the building excitement. I’ve been a part of records moves and I know the headache involved but that doesn’t deter me. What excites me is the idea of designing an archival storage space.

Who me? I think to myself: How did I get so luck?

Meeting is over and now I shift gears. Time to tackle the emails. I generally answer the easiest ones first. The harder ones OR the ones I procrastinate on come last. Always.

Check up on the status of my purchase orders. I register for and book travel for the Midwest Archives Conference in Chicago. I go over the conference program again. That excitement builds again. So many helpful sessions on a professional and personal level. I wish, for a moment, that it was already March and I was in Chicago.

But, its January and I’m in Dearborn.

Now I turn my attention to the records. Specifically, the administrative records of the house archives. The process is similar to what is being executed in the house archives of the other house. Pull back together the scattered administrative records. You won’t believe where you find finding aids, donor files, accession records, and other archives-related correspondence.

The challenge at this house is that its changed hands several times over the years. So records are literally scattered all over this small room. I find binders. I find stray folders, I find unfoldered paperwork. It’s a headache and a half, time consuming, and it requires use of my whole brain to troubleshoot, but the collections - what we have & how it came to be at the house - start to make sense.

This project, at this house, comes in fits and starts. Partly because I only come to this location once a week and the archival needs aren’t so pressing. Admittedly, I look forward to this weekly visit because I’m an archivist again. At the other house, my archivist tackles that collection. I juggle multiple hats: administrator, pseudo-librarian and records manager.

At this house, I’m an archivist. Putting the puzzle back together. Opening drawers, cabinets, checking stacks of paper, leaving no stone unturned.

About mid-morning, I have my first archives rant. Not like a crazy person. More of a “what were they doing?,” shakes fist in the air, kind of rant. All archivists have this moment. All of us.

I break for lunch. I grab my lunch bag, my bag o’ books, and turn on the classical music on my iPhone. I alternate between three books I’m reading in 15 minute increments:

Lunch is over and I’m back at it. This time I’ve moved to foldering and/or refoldering the administrative records and placing them in neat little stacks. We’ve (my archivist and I) devised a filing system for these disorganized records. Bringing order to chaos.

I chat with coworkers for a spell. Return to the records only to stop and go more thoroughly though our oral history files. This ends up turning into a mini-side project.

Late afternoon rant. More of a “I’m losing steam and why isn’t this over yet” moment.

My head is hurting from a day spent thinking and trying to make sense of past recordkeeping practices or lack thereof. I take a moment to jot down what needs to be accomplished next time and what supplies to bring or order. Luckily for me, this is a special week. I’ll be back for a second visit.

I check my email again. Respond to a couple.

I glance outside to see the snow is really coming down. Snow + headache = no supermarket visit. Instead, I pick up dinner from my favorite Chinese restaurant and head home.

Thaddeus, aka my fat man, is waiting for me.