If all else fails…

A few weeks ago I was working on KCB’s letters and notecards when I discovered that a letter in the binder wasn’t on the pink sheet invnetory.

This may seem trivial but I immediately slammed on the brake and started inventorying. A big part of this whole experiment is to systematically transcribe and interpret the letters I have photocopies of.


The pink inventory list has been my master list of letters from the LOC. I think I created it back in 2002 after a trip to Washington. Probably after I discovered I could photocopy the letters. I needed to know what I had and also know what I still needed to get on future trips. For my next trip, I printed it out on pink paper.

So when you visit an archive or other research facility, they limit what you can bring in with you. Each place is different. The Manuscript Reading Room at the Library of Congress requires that you put all your purse or backbag in a locker just inside the door. They allow you to bring a laptop (it has to be pre-certified or at least it used to), some paper to write on and a pencil. No ink pens or highlighters.


You are allowed to bring in printed pages but they have to be stamped with the official LCMSS stamp by the security guard at a desk between the lockers and the actual reading room. All pages must be checked as you go in and as you leave – each time you enter and exit the room. To make the process quicker, I printed these pages on pink paper so they it screamed “I’m not stealing!” Yes, theft from archives is a problem.


Since I rebooted all this and started working on the letters again, the pink inventory list has become my consistent companion. I’ve made notes on it and indicated when I was working on a specific letter. And I assumed that it was a complete list – a list of everything in the binders. So when I discovered a letter in the binders that wasn’t on the list, I wondered how many more letters are in the binders and not on the list.

I have five binders of letters – each letter in a sheet protector. I needed to do a complete inventory. In addition to the photocopied letters, I have dozens of letters that I’ve transcribed and don’t have photocopies of. I need to know not just the container and folder location but if it was photocopied or transcribed or both. Had I scanned it and done cards and blogged about it? What thoughts did I note when I was transcribing? What random thoughts did I have when I was flipping through them earlier last year and what connections did I make that I can’t do anything with right then but might be important later?

I started by creating a spreadsheet. A place I could have all this information. It would be searchable and sortable. I would know what I had photocopied and what I had transcribed. I’d know what dates they were written and from where. I would know who wrote them (not all the letters were written by KCB). I would know how many letters I have.

So right after Thanksgiving I started the inventory. I worked between the photocopies in the binders and the transcribed copies in the container files and the limited list in the finding aid. I finished just the other day. I worked on my inventory during my lunch break at work. I worked on it in the morning before work and at night after work. I worked on it on the weekend. I took the project to Vicksburg and Chattanooga. I was obsessed. But it’s done!

587 letters from 12 different LOC containers. 215 photocopied. 203 transcribed. 113 transcribed and photocopied. 169 noted but not photocopied or transcribed. 

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