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Reflections from Archives Processing Intern Gabriela Lazo

by Chris Daley on 2023-10-25T15:02:00-07:00 in Archives, Library News | 0 Comments

In a stack of archives, a kneeling person hands a box to a person standing above them













Over the summer, thanks to the American Institute of Physics (AIP) Grant for Archives, the Archives hired SJSU MLIS student, Gabriela Lazo, to begin processing the Robert F. Christy Papers. They continued with us through the fall term. In addition to the Christy papers, they were able to experience Archives and Library operations by attending staff meetings, scanning documents, and learning about archival reference. Before moving on to finish their degree, we asked Gabriela some questions about their time at Caltech. We thank Gabriela for helping the Caltech Archives and wish them well on their journey. 

Gabriela Lazo (they/them) worked as Archives Processing Intern for the 2023 summer term and into the fall, and they live in East Los Angeles, where they were raised. Gabriela has a BA in Sociology and Chicanx Studies with specializations in Social Movements/Political Sociology and Equity/Diversity from Cal State Northridge, and they will receive their Master of Library and Information Science from San Jose State by December 2023. Gabriela spends much of their free time visiting local museums and libraries, along with getting involved in their community through mutual aid work and a radical book club! 

1) Hi Gabriela! How have you enjoyed your position as our first Archival Processing Intern?

I've enjoyed my time at Caltech immensely! I've learned not just about the archives field, but also of the history of Caltech and the discoveries made here. My supervisor, Penny, creates an amazing environment for me to learn about what goes into being an archivist. Not only that, but I also enjoyed the events that take place on campus, such as resource fairs and new building ceremonies. It feels as if I've only explored the tip of the iceberg of what Caltech has to offer.

2) Robert F. Christy, who lived from 1916 to 2012, made instrumental contributions to the development of nuclear weapons in the Manhattan Project. After World War II, he went on to study the biological and health effects of radiation and conducted research in astrophysics on cosmic rays and Cepheid variable stars. Christy also served as provost and acting president of Caltech. The Christy Papers consist of correspondence, lab notebooks, photographs and slides, and other documents related to his work on dosimetry, astrophysics, and Caltech administration. Could you tell us a little about your work processing the Christy Papers?

The Christy Papers aided me in understanding the processing of archives. I began by sorting through his correspondence, which includes letters to and from world-renowned scientists. I sorted the correspondence by chronological order and created series and sub-series under the guidance of Penny. I’ve learned a great deal about Christy’s work as Caltech Provost and his involvement in the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. Christy began his work studying theoretical physics and later went on to study astrophysics. Later in life, he studied dosimetry and the effects of atomic bombings on populations impacted by bombings. I added this information to ArchivesSpace (the archives management database), making it discoverable for researchers.

3) What does a day in the life of an Archival Processing Intern look like?

A day in the life of an Archival Processing Intern looks like getting started by checking any emails or any online updates each morning. Then I'd begin processing the Christy papers where I last left off. Much of the materials consist of correspondence between Robert Christy and other Caltech admin dating back to the 1950s. I sort based on the contents of the materials. Additionally, I’ve also delved into work dealing with Amos G. Throop collection and the founding of Caltech. I also had the opportunity to shadow other librarians to understand the important work they do for students and researchers. Besides my archival work, I sometimes have time set out to explore the campus or join in on any events occurring at the time. I got to see something new every day at Caltech!

4) You're enrolled in the Master of Library and Information Science program at San Jose State University. How has it been studying in a fully online program? How has the coursework helped in processing the Christy papers?

San Jose State's MLIS online program has provided me with a better understanding of the responsibilities of an archivist. I’ve taken courses on information communities, digital tools, cataloging, coding, and applied research. I’ve taken skills from both school and this position and utilized them in my assignments in both settings. An online schooling experience has also provided me with flexibility in my schedule for opportunities such as my position at Caltech. I feel that I've achieved a great work-school-life balance due to the program's convenience. I still have time to visit museums and libraries, along with getting involved in my community in my free time.

5) What do you think is the most important function of any archival project?

I believe that the most important function of any archival project is to provide the people with access to history. The archivist's role is to make materials and other resources easily accessible to patrons. This aligns with my principles of making education accessible for all. There is an information gap that primarily impacts marginalized communities, so archival projects must take into account accessibility and reach. Access to quality information is a human right.

6) What do you hope to do when you complete your degree?

I hope to work in the GLAM field (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) when I complete my degree by the end of this year. I have a passion for art and history, which I would like to pursue in my profession as an archivist. My time at Caltech, along with work in other libraries and museums, has taught me that I seek to devote my time to being an information professional.

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