“Seduction of the Innocent: How UMBC’s Special Collections found a new audience by opening its little grey boxes” is a project that I presented at three different conferences in 2012 and 2013. It was done as a presentation at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference fall meeting in October 2012 as well as the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Annual Conference in March of 2013. In August of 2013, I presented it as a poster at the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting.
The project is based on my work as an undergraduate student assistant for the Special Collections department at the Albin O. Kuhn Library, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I was given the opportunity to work on a cataloging project that had languished for some time due to lack of resources- re-cataloging the more than 6,000 piece comic book collection. I started at one end, and a co-worker started at the other, and almost a year later we met in the middle.
Originally, the comic books had been cataloged as individual items, with each receiving its own MARC record. Since comic books do not exist in isolation, and are often continuing series, this just didn’t make sense. Our project re-organized the comics according to ANSI/NISO Z39.71-2006 (R2011) standards for serials. This created a single record for each series, providing researchers with a better idea of the scope of the collection. This method sacrifices the ability to apply item-level metadata but made the collection more accessible overall within the constraints of our limited resources.
The next challenge was increasing the visibility of the comics collection. I proposed an exhibit that explored the history of comic book censorship through the 20th century. Despite being seen as a childish art form, comic books were a key battleground for hegemonic values during the 20th century. The ways in which artists and publishers complied with the rules (or skirted them) is a fascinating topic for study. And that was our goal- to increase our foot traffic, but also to open up a new avenue of research for those interested in 20th century culture.
Using the full collection of comic books, magazines, graphic novels and original art, I was able to span the entire period from the 1940s to the present day. The exhibit drew in students, faculty and staff who might have never set foot in special collections otherwise. We held a closing reception where I gave a talk about the exhibit, and an adjunct from the English department spoke about comic book censorship in general. The buzz that was created has lasted to this day, with the comic book collection being accessed more than ever before. A partial finding aid that I wrote as part of the exhibit is now available online to provide researchers with a starting point.
None of this would have been possible without the encouragement and support of the special collections staff. Combining their knowledge of cataloging methods and understanding of exhibit design with my interest in the subject and desire to spread the word resulted in a net gain for everyone. A previously underused collection was given new light, and I gained invaluable practical experience.
Here are some great resources to learn more: