Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Making the Right Choice

The building that I work in is a quarter mile long with two very distinct sides.  After passing through all 22 security checkpoints and the fancy glass doors that separate the staff from everyone else, people either turn to the left or to the right to go towards their cubicles/offices/break rooms. 
The left side of the building is where all the policy and management people work; it’s where our IT staff and HR people sit; it’s where the lawyers do lawyer things; it’s where people who engage in things like “appraisal” and “records management” sit; it’s where a whole team of people working on social media projects work (they've grown on me…without them, the idea for this blog might not have been born); it’s where the AOTUS has an office complete with fancy glass doors and flags that fly when he’s in residence; it’s where that lucky 13 will sit.
The right side of the building is where reference archivists help scholars, genealogists, veterans, and anyone else who wants to do research using the 1-3% of federal records that are permanently retained because of their historical or evidentiary value; it’s where records are transported with lightening fast speed (well, at least when I was doing it!) through the halls on their way to the research complex so the people who need them can use them; it’s where special media archivists preserve photographs by some guy named Matthew Brady and safeguard one of the most important pieces of evidence in any investigation ever, a motion picture sequence filmed on November 22, 1963.
It’s where processing archivists rehouse and describe thousands of cubic feet of records to make them accessible to you, the people; it’s where a lot of those records that are on Ancestry.com come from; it’s where every once in a while, a friend calls you over and says, check out this Lincoln signature!  Or, come look at this Nixon! (just kidding, we never look at the Nixons); it's where the Tet Offensive and the Battle of Hamburger Hill are still being waged in hundreds and hundreds of boxes; it's where Lizzie Borden exists before she picked up that ax (and if you thought Lizzie wouldn't be mentioned, you're silly); it’s where someone explains in a letter from 1881 about a bunch of pesky disturbances in Tombstone, Arizona; it’s where a whiny Walt Whitman has been discovered and where Phoebe Couzins is still waiting to be discovered*; it’s where we do not have the frozen head of JFK (believe me, I looked) but where we do have some desiccated fingers; it’s where every once in a while we complain and whine because there’s not enough time, not enough resources, not enough staff to do right by the records…but we do our best because we believe Records Matter; it’s where I sit. 
You know that lucky 13?  The brass ring 13?  That 13 isn’t my brass ring.
I love going to the right.

* - My astute colleagues know that Lizzie, Walt, Phoebe, and the Earps are, in fact, on the left side of the building, but I didn't design the place.

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