On the Hank Kaplan Boxing Archive: Part 1, or Initial Impressions of an Archivist-On-Hiatus

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All images are the creations of the author.

Earlier this month, I spent two business days going through files in the Hank Kaplan Boxing Archive, housed in Brooklyn College Library. The collection is absolutely huge and, while my subject was narrow (boxing and wrestling promotion at Madison Square Garden in the early- to mid-twentieth century, with a focus on the intersection of boxing and wrestling promotion — purely for my own interest, as I doubt there are many other geeks interested in such topics) there was a lot of material to slog through, one box at a time.

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The boxes pulled for my research.

Due to time constraints, I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see.

I was unable to duplicate materials due to copyright restrictions, so I transcribed everything and drew upon my old museum cataloging experience to describe materials of visual interest. I also jotted down my impressions, opinions, and reactions to the condition and content of the files in front of me.

But why reflect using words when one can use a poorly drawn stick figure?!

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“What? I get to immerse myself in the history of the squared circle, dive into Madison Square Garden lore, use my sweet archival material handling skills, AND get two whole business days out of the house and away from the kids?!? Huzzah!!”

Yay! Research!!

First…

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Yes. I completely understand that time, staff, and money are a problem in all archives. And, no, I am not the best archivister ever. But…

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Those score marks in the middle of a folder? They’re there to be bent. So that the folder will sit upright in a container (document box) and not bow or bend. There were so many folders and so few bent along the scores. Interns! Clerks! Volunteers! Bend those bottoms! It doesn’t take that much time to do and is better for the records in the long run. It’s also important to number your folders.

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And the vast majority of those folders I saw were unnumbered. Dozens of folders in a dozen boxes and not one was numbered. Box after box. Folders were numbered in the finding aid, but numbers were rarely written on the folders. Numbers make it easier for the researcher to locate materials and allows the archivist to do a quick visual assessment to ensure all folders are present in a box.

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During a brief conversation with the archivist, I asked about the lack of numeration. Students, she said, from a class. Probably a practicum course of some sort. Still, GRRRRR!!!!!!!

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Also, a lot of material retained staples and adhesive tape remnants. Some staples were removed, others were not. In the same folder. It seemed there was no rhyme or reason to it. If I have any one wish for this collection, it is that Brooklyn College wins a massive, massive preservation and conservation grant for its continued upkeep.

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Not going to lie: Seeing all those staples on day one made me miss my microspatula. Just some gentle handy work and — blip!! — no more staples. No, I didn’t bring it and, no, I didn’t bend any folder bottoms because it’s not my collection and I had no right to do so.

I love my microspatula, by the way. Great analog multi-tasker.

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There were some folders that were properly bent and they made me very happy.

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Oh my goodness. You know those “what you should know before you visit” fact sheets that archives, libraries, and special collections sometimes post online? They need to mention a need for comfy shoes and comfy pants –because sitting for six straight hours in tight jeans is. not. cool.

No shirt, no shoes, no service, of course. But please, learn from my mistake and wear a pair of sweats or yoga pants and broken-in sneakers. A good pair you can wiggle your toes in.

Real pants with belts and stiff waistlines were not meant for lengthy research sessions.

Part II of my poorly drawn stick figure adventure to be posted soon.

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