by admin | January 19, 2023 5:41 pm
I started graduate school on Tuesday. Prayers are welcomed.
The last time I took a class for credit was in 1986, when I commuted weekly from San Augustine to The University of Texas at Austin. I needed to make up an incomplete so I could write my thesis and get my long-delayed master’s degree. This required asking for an extra year of grace, since I was bumping up against the six-year deadline. I drove 265 miles one way every Wednesday morning after getting out the paper, took the class, usually spent the night with my 50-plus-year friend Frank, got up early and drove back to start working on the next edition of The Rambler. I completed the class, wrote my thesis, and received my master’s in May 1987.
That was more than half a lifetime ago. Jeez. Since then, I have sporadically taught both full-time and part-time college courses, and still do. But this is the first time to take a class, let alone online. Online did not exactly exist the last time I took a graduate class. But it is time to stretch my boundaries. I am quite confident that taking six graduate hours at the University of North Texas in archives management this semester will provide plenty of stretching.
The goal is to earn a Certificate in Archives Management by year’s end by taking — and passing — a total of 15 hours. For the past five years, I have worked 20-30 hours a week in Estes Library at LeTourneau University. Part of my duties involves working on the archives of R.G. LeTourneau, Inc., the earthmoving and munitions company whose massive domes have dominated South Longview’s horizon since the 1950s. When the company was sold (it is now Komatsu), the process of moving the company archives to the university began. Eventually, the library acquired more than 300 banker boxes of material — photographs, invoices, financial information, correspondence and more. The archives also contain the university’s records as well as those of the company and university’s namesake.
The small library staff — two other part-timers and a few student workers — has been chipping away at organizing the archives for the past five years. We had predecessors who worked on it as well. Several thousand items were digitized but not organized in a way where one could find something. I spent my work hours last summer getting the digital files in a more logical order. Much remains to be done.
The library director and I decided to apply for a grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services, based in Washington, D.C. She did the heavy lifting with the budget, timeline and other material required. I contributed a chunk of the grant application narrative. We have applied for grants before with no success. I expected the same result, given the size of IMLS. It is an independent federal agency that awarded $425.7 million in grants in 2021.
To our considerable surprise and delight, we were awarded a sizable grant. Part of that money is paying my tuition at UNT, with hopes I will learn the skills necessary to organize, maintain and make our archive accessible. So now I am back in graduate school. My reading time is now devoted largely to the material assigned in each weekly module. One eats this elephant one bite at a time.
We have signed a partnership agreement with the Portal to Texas History at UNT, which will host the digital material for our archives and provide invaluable assistance along the way. Check out their site if you have not already done so. It contains a wonderful trove of material for researchers, folks doing genealogy, or anyone interested in any aspect of the state’s past.
The coolest aspect of this new adventure is that daughter Abbie is also enrolled at UNT. She is seeking a master’s in library science. Abbie has quickly become a rock star, with perfect grades, scholarships, an article about to be published in an academic journal, a seat on a national board and a graduate student assistantship at the A.M. Willis Library.
The last item made me a bit teary-eyed when she told us the good news. A.M. “Monk” Willis was a friend to my Beautiful Mystery Companion, Abbie, and me. We met him through an acquaintance a few weeks after I moved back to Longview in 2008. Monk was then 92. He was one of the most intelligent and well-read people I have had the good fortune to meet. We all became close in the two years before he passed away. The library is named for him because he served as a regent for 18 years.
Monk loved Abbie, who was 10 when they met, always reaching into his pocket to give her some change. More importantly, he talked to her like an adult. I know he would be thrilled and proud she is working in the library that bears his name. I know that I am.
I just wish Abbie and I were taking the same classes. I might need help with homework.
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