Local and National Bahá’í Archives Worldwide Improve with Actions of Learners in Introduction to Archives Course
The Wilmette Institute’s Introduction to Archives for Bahá’í Archivists course has proved popular since it was first offered 2005, offering Bahá’ís around the world a unique way to contribute to the advancement of the Cause and to preserve the history of their communities and countries. The recent iteration of the course (September 10–December 10, 2014), with faculty Roger Dahl, Sue Rishworth, and Lois Walker and over forty learners, was no exception. Lead faculty Mr. Dahl shared the following report on fourteen projects undertaken by individuals and three groups. Learners resided at the Bahá’í World Center and in Canada, South Korea, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Two of the projects were in National Bahá’í Archives, one involved a collection of personal papers of a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh at the Bahá’í World Center, one was for a Bahá’í school in the United States, and ten involved local Bahá’í archives in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The archives course introduces local and national Bahá’í archivists to principles that help them to organize and maintain their collections. Registration for the course is open to local and national Bahá’í archivists (and to others only by permission of the U.S. National Archives).—The Editors
To aid you in understanding some archival terminology that the learners use in their reports, here are six basic archival terms:
Surveying: The process of going over material to determine the types in the archives.
Inventorying: The process of listing the types of material discovered in the survey.
Acquisition: The process of an archivist’s contacting institutions or individuals and asking them to donate archival material to the archives.
Accessioning: The process of recording what all newly received material is; where it is being stored; who has donated the material; and whether the donor has placed any restrictions on the material.
Processing: Putting archival material into a shape where the contents and the information contained in the contents can be easily retrieved and also taking steps to preserve the material
Arranging: The process of determining the order in which institutional records and personal papers will be arranged and then describing the order in the inventory or index to the collection.
National Bahá’í Archives
National Bahá’í Archives, South Korea. Romin Khazai chose as his course project a survey of the National Archives in South Korea, which is divided into documents in English and in Korean. His final report included photographs of the cupboards and closets where the boxes holding the Archives are stored. His report did not make many recommendations, but there is clearly a need for a room dedicated to the Archives.
National Bahá’í Archives, Cyprus. For learner Anita Graves, this was the third time she has taken the Introduction to Archives course. She worked primarily on a recently acquired collection of personal papers from Famagusta, Cyprus, and also on issues relating to computer software, accessioning records, and security.
Bahá’í World Center
Bahá’í World Center Archives, Haifa, Israel. Frank Mureithi, from Nairobi, Kenya, and now a staff member of the Bahá’í World Center Archives, in Haifa, Israel, chose to do an initial survey of a collection of personal papers of Knight of Bahá’u’lláh Bertha Dobbins, who pioneered to the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu, where the building built for Bertha to house the Nur School, and now housing the National Center Office, survived 2015’s Cyclone Pam).
Desert Rose Bahá’í Institute, Arizona, USA. Peg Schlesinger, from Chandler, Arizona, USA, selected as her course project, creating inventories for Desert Rose’s collections and developing procedures for processing special material, such as photographs and audiovisual material. She developed a detailed handbook to assist future archivists working on the Desert Rose Institute Archives. She also addressed the question of how to handle confidential material.
Local Bahá’í Archives around the World
Ottawa, Canada. A group of three Bahá’ís—Heather Harvey (from Ontario, Canada); Stephen Thirlwall (a thirty-year member of the Spiritual Assembly of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada); and Monica Weise (from Kanata, Ontario, Canada) conducted a survey of the pre-1968 Spiritual Assembly records in the Ottawa Archives. Then, for the Ottawa Spiritual Assembly, they prepared a report, with photographs, on their findings and proposed future work. Heather wrote that she had “learned a great deal not only about archival work, but also about the history of my community, and, through reading the forums, diverse communities around the world. I have been sharing with family and friends what I have learned and how great this course is, and I think that many Bahá’ís are unaware that this great resource exists. Thank you to the mentors and the Bahá’ís of the United States for making this course available to the Bahá’ís of the world.” Stephen noted that “A major step was achieved in terms of being able to present to the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Ottawa a comprehensive report on the archiving needs of the community, a review of central archiving approaches and challenges, along with a plan to address the needs and advance our archiving practices.” You can read more comments by Stephen in “Other Six-Word Essays and Comments on a Course on Baha’i Archives.”
Wychavon, United Kingdom. Adam Thorne, a former Counselor for Europe and now living in Pershore, Worcestershire, U.K., offered in 2011 to start organizing the National Bahá’í Archives of the United Kingdom, particularly historical material before 1963 (with an eye toward writing a history of the British Isles from 1921). His project for the Introduction to Archives course, which was to survey the records of the Spiritual Assembly of Wychavon, had a bitter sweet side because, due to boundary changes, the Assembly no longer exists. The records are now in Adam’s home and will probably be transferred to the National Bahá’í Archives of the U.K.
Local Bahá’í Archives in the United States
San Francisco, California, USA. Barbara Klingsporn, a resident of San Francisco, chose to work in the Bahá’í Archives of the Spiritual Assembly of San Francisco, even though work had been done in the Archives in the past, because the time had come for a new survey of the Archives’ contents. The Archives room had become filled with non-archival material that had to be cleared out so that a ladder could be brought in to reach the upper shelves. The clearing out revealed some water damage on one of the Archives room’s walls, which is being investigated. Barbara’s report to the San Francisco Spiritual Assembly calls for a budget for the Archives and notes that there are still a number of collections of personal papers that need to be processed and arranged.
Santa Paula, California, USA. Anne Sadeghpour (from Santa Monica, California) took the Introduction to Archives course to be able to protect the records from the former Santa Paula, California, Spiritual Assembly, which is now a group. Anne’s class project involved surveying the early records of the Santa Paula community (stored in her home) and the Spiritual Assembly records (stored in the home of her mother, Molly King) and putting them in acid-free boxes and folders.
Larimer County, Colorado, USA. Margie Brown (from Ft. Collins, Colorado) set a goal of surveying the Bahá’í Archives of Larimer County, Colorado, which is stored in her home. She found that the Spiritual Assembly records for 1983–1992 are missing and has instituted a search for them. Margie’s report to the Larimer County Spiritual Assembly included recommendations about processing archival material and disposing of seven boxes of books (which are not kept in an archives unless the archivist is also responsible for the library, too).
Springfield, Illinois, USA. A group of four Bahá’ís—Jeannie Mays (a member of the Spiritual Assembly of Springfield, Illinois); Audrey Diggs (Springfield); Thomas Yale (Springfield); Nancy Flood (Springfield)—took the Introduction to Archives course and set ambitious goals for themselves. Since the Springfield Bahá’í Archives had recently moved from a local home into the Springfield Bahá’í Center, the Archives Committee proposed a multi-phased project to the Springfield Spiritual Assembly. First, they will concentrate on the physical preparation of the Archives Room. Second, they will conduct a survey of the archives, along with inventorying recent acquisitions. Then they will organize the Spiritual Assembly records and process collections of personal papers. Finally, as they stated in their report to the Spiritual Assembly, “The Archives Committee will endeavor to educate the local Bahá’í community about the importance of maintaining an archives and how individuals may assist in its development. This will be done primarily by giving reports at Feast and posting on the local e-mail forum. An Oral History Subcommittee has been organized and will begin taping the older Bahá’ís in the community and others, such as Persian friends, who have compelling personal stories.”
Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA. David Sterling’s reason for taking the Introduction to Archives course was personal. The archives of the Saint Paul, Minnesota, Bahá’í Archives are stored in his home after being left unprotected in a flooded basement (he has not yet evaluated the full extent of the damage). His project was to survey forty-two boxes of archival material and printed matter. By the end of the Archives course, he had surveyed twenty-one boxes and a created a rough inventory, leaving the second half of the boxes still be checked. He will transfer the archival material to acid-free boxes once they are purchased.
Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, USA. Jane McDay (from Villanova, Pennsylvania), took the Archives course because she “was asked to compile the archival material for the Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, Spiritual Assembly. She chose as her course project a survey of the seven boxes of archival material stored in her basement. What began as “I don’t know what’s in there” turned out to be mostly Spiritual Assembly records from 1973 to the present. Jane submitted a report to the Lower Merion Spiritual Assembly with recommendations for future work, including purchasing supplies.
Houston, Texas, USA. Deanna McCollum (from Houston, Texas) and Martha Giani (a member of the Spiritual Assembly of Houston) took the Archives course to enable them, as Martha said, “to help with the Houston community’s archives.” Even though some work had been done on the Houston Bahá’í Archives in the past, Deanna and Martha found much still needed to be done. They chose, as their course project, a survey of the Archives to enable them to make recommendations to the Houston Spiritual Assembly about further work. One of the recommendations involved moving the Archives from two storage rooms in the Houston Bahá’í Center into one central room.
Washington, D.C., USA. Helia Igheni, from Washington, D.C., like several other leaners in the Introduction to Archives course, was working in a local archives in which work had been done in it in the past. Helia’s project was multifaceted. She had first to consolidate all archival material into one central room in the Washington, D.C., Bahá’í Center. She then had to go through dozens of boxes of unprocessed material and put the files in acid-free folders (and to recycle non-archival material). After she completed these tasks, she moved the Archives from an uninsulated, drafty, and moist room into a former office that is more suitable in terms of security and humidity control. Finally, Helia submitted to the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Washington, D.C., a status report on the Washington, D.C., Bahá’í Archives.
Introduction to Archives for Bahá’í Archivists will be offered again this fall, running from September 22 through December 22, 2015.