One of the joys of my job is digging around in collections looking for answers to patrons’ questions. Not only is it a good feeling to know that I am helping someone with their research, but it affords me the opportunity to get to know a collection in some depth.
When I fantasized about my life as an archivist, I imagined plenty of time spent handling collections. I thought that I would know what was in all of the boxes, and that when a patron came with a question, I would know pretty well where to look for the answer. In reality, being a mostly lone-arranger entails much more administrative work, updates to the website, and email. So, on those days when one of the emails in my box is a question about a collection, I jump at the opportunity to go on a sleuthing adventure through an author’s papers.
The question that came early last month (yes, that is how long I’ve been planning on writing this post!) was about the existence of drafts for a particular book that Elisabeth Ogilvie was working on at the time of her death. I had the chance to browse through a box and a half worth of notes and drafts, and had a great time searching, but ultimately did not find what the patron was looking for. The patron found out that the drafts do exist, but are held privately at this time. I hope that some day I might get to see them.
Maybe it is my own writing practice that makes me so interested in the process of other writers, but looking through the folders of Elisabeth Ogilvie’s papers was fascinating. I enjoyed reading the notes she wrote to herself about her characters and plot–“why isn’t this working?”, “what about the baby?”, and other self-reflective conversations on paper. One particularly gripping conversation was with the manuscript for “Fractured Light.” That is where I got roped in by the papers.
Other projects were scattered throughout many folders, and Ogilvie’s notes were written on just about anything she could find. Some wonderful examples were story notes written on the backs of letters that were sent to her. (I wondered if she answered the letters first.) She also used envelopes of all kinds, calendar pages, advertisements, and other ephemera.
She also used legal pads, note books, and memo pads, just like many other authors of her day.
I hope that I have an opportunity to spend more time with Elisabeth Ogilvie’s papers, as they offer real insight into her writing process and the nature of her mind. For me, there is little more satisfying than exploring the amazing, beautiful, and quirky ways that our minds operate. It’s one of the things I love about processing archival collections. Each one offers a glimpse into a very different mind, allowing me to connect with the potential of human beings. No matter whether or not I like the person(s) who created the papers in the end, the view of the magic of thinking is incredible.