It was a gray spring day in 1983 on Park Lane and although she didn’t know it yet, Association of American Library Schools (now the Association for Library and Information Science Education) Executive Secretary Janet Phillips had immortalized Tour Guide and Mascot “Prissy”.
Thirty-three years later, I, an Archives Assistant, was filing a recent accession of A.L.I.S.E. subject files when Prissy sprang from the plastic blue binder and gave me a tour of A.A.L.S. Headquarters. As we walked through the building, it seemed to me that Prissy’s hair was not consistently bright or vibrant. What had happened was her images were stored in falsely-labeled “archival quality” photo sleeves. (In the images, you can see the thirty-year-old plastic pages warping–before I preserved them.) Being true and faithful to my new friend, I transferred the photographs to better quality photo sleeves that would keep Prissy’s colors alive.
Common plastic binders usually do not last long in archives, libraries, or museums. These materials are synthesized to be cheap and strong; but these containers chemically decay over time and such changes risk damaging materials therein. At the A.L.A. Archives, we rehouse donated items into safer, less damaging, containers, and we store those containers in comparatively safe, climate-controlled storage spaces under our supervision.
As I learned from Prissy, Janet Phillips performed administrative functions of A.A.L.S. and the Journal of Education for Librarianship (1960-84). In a pink-walled, second-floor office, current J.E.L. documents were arranged by subject, size, and date. I followed Prissy upstairs. From Janet’s desk window, the large large, front yard tree stretched into the March sun. During working hours, Prissy could be found in the office under the shelf of J.E.L. issues.
We hurried downstairs into the kitchen. There was where mailings were folded, stuffed, and sent, from a table bedecked with a green cloth. Further down another flight of stairs, Statistics Reports and yet unidentified “Latin American books” were stored, on gray basement shelves, between crates of J.E.L. back issues and a frozen food freezer. Nearing the tour’s end, we returned upstairs and went outside to the front yard once more. When my gaze drifted to the station wagon, I was informed that current and future J.E.L. publications were delivered to the post office or printer by that very same vehicle and sometimes with the help of Prissy.
As an archivist, it is important for me to know how records were originally stored by the donor. Supplemental photographs or drawings are a lasting gift to future records users too. When we receive donations from all sorts of interesting places like the Headquarters building that we toured with Prissy, it helps me file these records as close to the original order as possible. Maintaining the original order of donated materials helps archivists and users understand how the documents were accessed or used by the last-known users. When an organization is as large and old as A.L.I.S.E. or the A.L.A., maintaining a sense of how many generations of professionals have ordered their files becomes exponentially challenging and fun.
At the end of our tour, with Prissy, her work, and her home rehoused and safely filed away, I said not ‘goodbye’ but ‘see you soon’, and I offered to invite all of you to visit us at the A.L.A. Archives (and Prissy) soon.
All photographs (and more) can be viewed at the A.L.A. Archives in Record Series 85/2/6, Box 21, Folder “A Bird’s Eye View of AALS Headquarters — in Pictures! Photograph Album, 1983”.