Unpaid Internships: A Message from the Editor

Ashley Levine
Archivist/Digital Resource Manager
Artifex Press
Editor, SOLO

There is a looming paradigm shift in archival education and practice–the end of the  unpaid internship. Professionals in various archival settings are increasingly pushing back against this commonplace practice, which overwhelmingly devalues archives work. Archives, libraries, and cultural heritage institutions, however, often operate with limited resources, and cannot afford to pay interns. This issue of SOLO attempts to address the nuances of unpaid labor in archives, highlighting both positives and negatives. These posts should be viewed as an ongoing discussion needing more input from the Lone Arranger community. We welcome more feedback on the issue of unpaid internships,  whether it comes in the form of comments on these individual posts, or entirely new pieces submitted to me (alevine@artifexpress.com).


Thanks for reading this issue of SOLO!




Unpaid Internships: A Multifaceted Problem

Michelle Ganz, MILS CA
Archives Director
700 East Jefferson Street
Charlottesville, VA 22902
434.979.1111 office
434.284.0616 mobile

Internships are an important part of archival education, and often the only way students get real-world experience. My graduate school program only offered 2 elective courses on archives that were offered in alternating years (making it very difficult to take both depending on when you started the program). Obviously two courses cannot cover the breadth of archival education so at that time internships/practicums were the only way to get into an archives as a student. These were courses we signed up for, received credit for, and were graded on (usually on a pass/fail scale). The work done in these internships was appropriate for resumes and counted towards the experience requirement to sit for the ACA certification exam.

Once I moved from student to Lone Arranger I wanted to make sure that interns walked away with practical knowledge and theoretical foundations of archival practice. My internships were structured to maximize what the students got out of the experience. But packing more instruction into an internship still isn’t a replacement for financial compensation. The best I could do for my interns was offer letters of reference, job search help, a couple of lunches throughout the semester, and baked goods. These are poor substitutes for actual money, but the alternative was to offer no internship opportunities for students; this is hardly an appropriate alternative. I never really thought much about their compensation. In hindsight I should have been more aware of how taking an internship could have impacted my interns; I always took interest in how their lives were doing outside of school. It never occured to me to ask if the internship was negatively impacting them. It was my responsibility to ask, and in that sense I failed my interns.

As the landscape of archival education evolves to archives-track MLIS programs the idea of internships has also changed. Internships are no longer a basic part of the educational process. Employers have turned to unpaid internships in lieu of hiring professional archivists or archival assistants; skirting the ethical line of using volunteers or unpaid labor instead of properly compensated professionals. Internships seem to have moved out of the educational sphere and into the working world where entry level jobs have been reclassified as unpaid internships. In addition to being grossly unethical this blurred line has catastrophic and long-reaching implications. Internships, by definition, work on the trade-school model of giving students a chance to apply the theory learned in the classrooms and see if archives is the track for them. Asking MLIS/MIS/MLS holding professionals to accept a job without pay is insulting and cheapens the profession as a whole. To be perfectly honest, it never occured to me that interns should be paid until I started paying attention to what new professionals were saying. As the people administering internships it is our obligation to push for change.

Interns deserve to be paid for the work that they do, and the government is starting to agree. For-profit institutions have moved to a pay model to keep ahead of changing regulations.  Academic institutions need to follow suit. Course credit isn’t acceptable when people are having to choose between taking the unpaid internship or going to a job unrelated to archives, but pays the bills. Many academic institutions provide students with a variety of scholarships and alternative funding options to cover costs while completing an internship. But this places the onus of responsibility on the students, not the archives, where the responsibility actually lies. Supporting and advocating for new professionals is a fundamental part of sustaining our profession. And funding needs to be part of your advocacy agenda and part of your strategic goals.

And in a perfect world this would not be an issue. But the reality of archival budgets is that there is no extra money, or time to apply for money, leaving archivists trying to provide internships without paying for the interns. Cutting funds from other areas like supplies to free up funds for internships is often not possible; either because there isn’t enough money for the things we have to buy or because it’s not possible to move funds from one budget line to another. The SAA has taken the correct position that all interns need to get paid. Use the SAA’s Best Practices for Internships and the current literature as a way to support your proposal to pay interns. It is clear that we are moving to a paid internships standard and we need to start budgeting for interns like any other archival budgetary line item. We need to seek out grant funding, endowments, and alumni-supported funds. We need to include intern funding as part of our advocacy plans.

Clearly there is no simple answer and we certainly can’t find a solution in a blog. Like all of the archival problems we grapple with the real answer is a multifaceted approach. I have spent years mulling this issue and have yet to come up with a blanket solution. Every institution and repository needs to approach this issue with real forethought and a willingness to address this on an institutional and budgetary level. The important thing is to keep the conversation moving forward and continuing to push for funding for interns and internships.

An Unpaid Archives Internship in Late Career

Phyllis Ann K. Bratton
Director, Raugust Library
University of Jamestown
6070 College Lane
Jamestown, ND 58405
(701)252-3467, ext. 5433

I received my library degree in 1978. In 2010, I decided to return to work towards a degree in archives and records management, as my last great project before retirement is to organize our university archives from the ground up and I want to do it properly. My problems and experiences will be different from younger archivists, but reading others’ accounts, it becomes clear that most of the difficulties in each case revolve around trying to keep one’s life in balance.

In the summer of 2013, I proposed completing an unpaid internship at a university archives that is 100 miles from where I live and work. The archivists there graciously accepted me into their space, gave me my own project to work on, were extremely helpful with direction and advice, and accommodated my schedule.

Additional positives included that I lived with one of my daughters, who was a student at the university; since I was paying for her apartment anyhow, I felt no qualms about this! Also, as an assistant professor at my own institution, I was able to apply for and receive a summer sabbatical, so I continued to be paid while absent.

On the negative side were family concerns. Chief among these was trying to monitor and care for my chronically ill husband from a distance. Another was trying to organize my other daughter’s wedding, at an even greater distance and with an otherwise-occupied brain.

The biggest problem, however, is that I did not receive a full sabbatical. As the library director and only degreed librarian at our institution (yes, we are VERY SMALL), I was required to return to the library every Friday to do administrative work, as no one else could do it. This disrupted my project, but as noted above, the archivists were very kind about working with my schedule.

I finished my project, taking 19 huge and disorganized banana boxes full of records and reducing them to 21 organized boxes and a 26 page finding aid. I do not regret the time (which ran past the requirements of the class) or the work; it was well worth the effort. The archivists continue to answer my questions as I work through our collections here, and I feel that meeting them was one of the great benefits of the internship.

Jeanne Lowrey on Unpaid Internships

Jeanne Lowrey
Office of the President
Yale University

I am a bit unusual because the bulk of my pre-professional experience was paid. The few unpaid internships I held were part of school programs and class credit was offered. As a result, the financial burden was essentially equal to that of talking classes without internships.

I was fortunate to have attended an undergraduate institution with a thriving archives and strong program designed to help undergraduates gain practical work experience. I worked full time for two summers (as well as part time during the academic year), learning the foundations of archival practice before I had even decided that this was my career path or learned about abstract theory. Had this not been a paying job, this life-changing opportunity would have been inaccessible to me, and I’d likely have had to settle for a much less in-depth experience.

Additionally, my college job set me up with the skills I needed to find a rare, paid internship after I graduated. True, it was one day a week, and I juggled one to two other jobs simultaneously during that time. But that internship eventually became my first professional job, giving me a solid two years of professional experience prior to my post-grad school job search. These paid experiences enabled me to leave grad school with over five years of invaluable hands-on skills obtained in a variety of organizations.

As someone who has been a Lone Arranger for all of my professional career, I know how essential volunteer support is to accomplish institutional objectives. There are only so many hours in a week (especially if you are part time) and having extra hands can be so helpful. But to me, there is a big difference between a volunteer who is just looking to give back or help out, and someone who is serious about developing a professional portfolio. With volunteers, you try to teach them the basics, give them specific parameters so hopefully they will produce an end-product that is useful for your organization. They give what they can give, and you take what you can take. But someone interested in interning wants to go beyond the surface level, to broaden their knowledge of the field and archival work. A good intern will run with what they have learned and be able to do tasks that are essential but usually beyond the capability of a regular volunteer. With any luck, these skills the intern learns will serve them well as they advance in their career. If we do not fairly compensate interns for their work, we are signaling that their work does not have worth. It also is a sign that only people who can afford to work without pay are welcome in our profession.

Sometimes there is a bit of a grey area. Maybe someone interested in the field wants to volunteer just to get a sense of what archives are all about. Perhaps a professional or pre-professional volunteers for an archival organization because they are passionate about it and are willing to donate their time because they care about the cause and can bring a special skill set to the project. But these are either very short term or entirely self-selected projects. In these cases, the worker controls their interactions with archival institutions. If we accept that initiation into the archival profession requires unpaid labor that many people cannot afford, potential archivists no longer have that luxury. When it’s a decision between unpaid field experience and a paying job doing unrelated work to survive, there is really no choice.

Without paying archival work experience, I would not be where I am today. I would have had to postpone grad school for many years due to cost, delaying my ability to earn the degree I’d need to get a better paying job. I would not have been able to pay down my student loans. I would not have had the practical experience that made me stand out to my current employer. Being paid for my work from the start facilitated my entry into the archival world. It also assured me that yes, this is something I could make into a career, something worth investing in. I am beyond grateful that I was able to find employment in places that valued my work and compensated me for it to the best of their ability. But I strongly feel that my experience should not be the exception to the rule.

Unpaid Internships: A Message From The Chair

Deb Schiff
Chair, SAA Lone Arrangers

When SOLO editor Ashley Levine asked me to write about my experience with unpaid internships, I thought about a number of things, including the privilege associated with programs requiring students to have unpaid internships. I also recognize my own great privilege in being someone who, thanks to a variety of circumstances, could afford to take unpaid internships during my MLIS. But first, let’s go back to a time when I was paid for an internship.

In 1989-1990, I was a Communications major at William Paterson University (College, then), studying radio, TV, and film. My internship at the brand new CNBC studios in Fort Lee, NJ paid $75 per day. Interesting historical fact: To equip CNBC, NBC reused the audio and video equipment employed to broadcast the previous Olympics. I could still see some of the mic labels on the audio engineering boards.

I operated a camera during the early morning show (Neil Cavuto was a young unknown and Kathleen Campion was the star) and supported the audio department (think mic-ing folks like Morton Downey and Dick Cavett, and their guests). It was as hands-on an experience as one could have as an intern, and after the internship ended, I was hired part-time until I completed my degree. I was very fortunate to have gotten the internship, importantly to see another woman working as a professional audio engineer. In the NYC area at that time, we were rare.

Fast-forward to 2009-2010, after careers in technical publishing and corporate communications, I sought an MLIS at nearby Rutgers University. I took internships and independent studies primarily because I couldn’t get as much hands-on experience as I wanted in the program. My first unpaid internship was at the Zimmerli Museum, on campus. It’s a great museum with the world’s largest collection of Soviet Nonconformist Art.

Working in the Registrar’s office, I chased down “missing” artworks in administrative offices and learned how to deaccession a collection of works on paper. The collection contained original artworks designed to accompany Bell Telephone bills. They were paired with short blurbs, often about historical information. These works no longer fit the collecting policy of the museum (my first experience with a collecting policy, too!), and were destined for the NJ Historical Society. However, the Society was closed due to budgetary concerns. The materials would stay with the Zimmerli until the Society reopened. In that experience, I also learned a great deal about art handling and preservation techniques, and condition reporting that I still use today.

I also took an unpaid internship at the Plainfield Public Library (NJ) in the Local History Department. My boss, Sarah Hull, head of Local History, gave me a host of great opportunities to practice everything I had learned, and to learn many new skills as an archivist. I worked with collections that had everything from architectural drawings to wedding gowns. The mentorship I received provided an important foundation for how I approach newer archivists and volunteers today. After I completed that internship, I volunteered at the library for a time. Later, I was written into grants for several years (part-time).

I’m not in favor of unpaid internships. Just because that’s what I experienced, it’s not what I expect others to do. Frankly, if my circumstances were different, I likely would not have been able to afford to stay in this field. At the end of the day, I gained a great deal of experience that I use and teach to others. I can only hope that more funding becomes available for the current generation of student archivists, librarians, and museum professionals to take the internships that will prepare them for their future careers.


Call for Submissions: Unpaid Internship (March 2019) Edition: Deadline 3/15

Unpaid internships typify the archives profession, and are often required for the completion of graduate level degrees. Archivists, librarians, and museum professionals are increasingly challenging this paradigm, while highlighting the barriers to entering these professions (e.g. high costs of tuition paired with the necessity of taking on multiple jobs during grad school, etc.).

In our upcoming (March) edition, we are accepting submissions (1000 word max) on impressions of unpaid internships (both positive and negative), based on your professional and educational experiences. Did you find your unpaid internships particularly valuable for your professional goals? Or more of a burden? As a Lone Arranger, how do you view unpaid internships in the context of working with limited staff/resources?

We will be accepting submissions at alevine@artifexpress.com until 3/15.

I’m grateful for the kind consideration.

Best wishes,

Ashley Levine
Editor, SOLO

Archivists to the Rescue! More Updates and Call for New Web Manager.

Deb Schiff
Chair, SAA Lone Arrangers Section

SAA Archivists to the Rescue Project, Pilot Portion in New Jersey, October Update

Before I launch into the much-anticipated update since our Section meeting in August, I’d like to put out a call for a new Web Manager for the Section. If you’re interested in serving, please let me know. Also, we’re still on the lookout for Local Lone Arranger Representatives: https://lonearrangers.wordpress.com/2017/10/31/seeking-lone-arranger-representatives/. Please let us know if that’s a way that you’d like to serve your local community and Lone Arrangers at large.

Project Update

Just as a refresher, the SAA Archivists to the Rescue! pilot project’s charge is to bring low- and no-cost basic archives workshops to non-professional archivists with the aim of teaching them how to care for their collections, organize them, and make them accessible to researchers. The workshops are well underway, and, as of this writing, four sites have already completed: Trenton (New Jersey State Library), Plainfield (Plainfield Public Library), Atlantic City (Atlantic City Free Public Library), and Chester (Chester Public Library). Co-sponsor University Products supplied to each participant (10 per site) the following items: archival paper and folders, 2 legal-sized document cases, polyester photo sleeves, and a 15% discount for the year of the pilot project. We also received small spatulas for staple removal. We are grateful for their generous support.

Our hosts also were generous. Big thank yous go out to Deborah Mercer and her team at the New Jersey State Library; Laura Poll, Trenton Free Public Library; Sarah Hull, Mary Ellen Rogan, and the IT team at Plainfield Public Library; Stockton University’s Heather Perez and Atlantic City Free Public Library Director Bob Rynkiewicz; and Lesley Karczewski, Chester Public Library Director. We also had co-sponsorship (in terms of refreshments) by the Historical Society of Plainfield and several members of the Atlantic City cohort, as well as the Chester Historical Society.

The presenters for the workshop sites were Gary Saretzky (Monmouth County Archive), Paul Martinez (Montclair State University), Tara Maharjan (Rutgers University), Heather Perez (Stockton University), Ashley Levine (Artifex Press, NY), Annamarie Klose Hrubes (William Paterson University), Alex Plante (Hudson County Community College), Russ Gasero (Archives of the Reformed Church in America), Annie Tummino (Queens College, CUNY), and me (Chester Library).

Along the way, we have been collected data from pre- and post-workshop assessments for each workshop, as well as feedback from the instructors. We also have been recording video interviews with the participants, and email notes on the workshops from everyone involved. Project team member Michelle Ganz (McDonough Innovation, VA) has entered data from the first two workshops, and from the third workshop forward, the instructors will be entering the pre- and post-workshop assessments collected from their participants into Google Forms. We will be analyzing the data after verifying it.

One more set of workshops remain, and will be located at the Dana Library at Rutgers Newark (early November). That set will be co-sponsored by the Institute of Jazz Studies. Special thanks to Elizabeth Surles for her help. After all of the workshops have been completed, we will enjoy a potluck gathering at Gary Saretzky’s home.

In early October, we submitted a report to Council with an update on the project, as well as plans moving forward. We’ll be sharing the new directions moving forward in an update to the list serv soon.

Pin Fundraiser

For those of you following along, we sold all 50 pins at SAA the first day of the conference, raising $760. The funds have been paying the transportation costs of the workshop instructors. Thanks to all who supported the project by purchasing a pin.




Archivists to the Rescue! Project Update

Deb Schiff
2017-2018 Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect of SAA Lone Arrangers

Since Brenda Gunn, our council liaison, and Nancy Beaumont, SAA Executive Director presented our pilot project, Archivists To The Rescue!, to Council earlier this year, the project team has been moving forward at a reasonable pace. We – SAA members and Section leaders Deb Schiff, Alison Stankrauff, Michelle Ganz, Ashley Levine, and Russ Gasero, as well as Dyani Feige of CCAHA – have reviewed the materials submitted from archivists across the country for consideration in the project.

Deb used Google Sheets to organize all of the project contributors in one place, with their contributions and contact information. For the workshop materials (handouts, bibliographies, and presentations) reviews, Deb used a Google Form so that the reviewers would have a standard method of reviewing each set of materials. The responses from the form were recorded on a page within a Google Sheet listing all of the workshop materials, to centralize all of this crucial information.

We obtained permissions to alter, use, and distribute all of the materials submitted. We reached a consensus on which materials to use for the workshops by the end of April, and are in the process of making the workshops ready for instructors to use.

Ashley has developed interview questions for video interviews and participant surveys (part of the measures of success for the project). Michelle has developed forms for the instructors and participants. All will be reviewed by the entire project team during May.

Also, sites have been selected across the state of New Jersey and workshop presenters will be trained in a “train the trainer” workshop Deb will hold later in the year. By the end of May, it is hoped that the workshops will be scheduled with the sites, so we can begin promoting the workshops and selecting the cohort of participants. It is hoped that each participant will be able to attend all of the workshops at their site.

Annie Tummino, of the SAA Lone Arrangers Steering Committee, organized a Lone Arrangers/Archivists to the Rescue Project Meet Up at the April MARAC meeting. There, Deb gave a short report on the project and sold the Archivist pin designed by the Los Angeles Archivists Collective as a fundraiser for the pilot (30 pins were sold!). It is expected that a portion of the proceeds will go toward producing more pins to sell at the annual SAA meeting (Nancy Beaumont said we would have a table at registration for the purposes). The remainder would go to expenses associated with the workshops

Processing the Ginsberg Family Collection

Jill A. Hershorin, MLIS
Jewish Historical Society of NJ

The Ginsberg Family Collection (1956-2013) has been processed and is now available for research at the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey (JHS of NJ). It is our hope to reach a wider audience by detailing the contents and procedure of how the collection was evaluated.

For decades, Pat Sebold, a local politician in Essex County, NJ, has been the keeper of some of her family’s memorabilia. This trove includes hardback and paperback copies of the family’s published writings, letters to and from family members, and newspaper clippings of the Ginsberg family. Finally, after a few years of convincing, Sebold donated the materials to our archive in 2016. We have known of Sebold’s accomplishments in the public and personally, we know that Pat is the first cousin of author, poet and philosopher, Allen Ginsberg.

While the official repository of the Allen Ginsberg papers is housed at Stanford University, the Ginsberg Family Collection resides in our small archive in Whippany, NJ. Our archive’s holdings contain materials that represent Jewish life in the nearby counties of Essex, Morris, Sussex, and Union. Because the Ginsberg family has its roots in Newark, NJ we thought it fitting that the collection should be with us. Convincing Pat Sebold was uncomplicated. Sitting with New Jersey Jewish News reporter Robert Weiner, Sebold says: “It is better it should go someplace where it will be treasured.” She added, “What are they going to do? Sit in a bookcase for the rest of my life?”

Processing the Collection

When the materials arrived, there were six large boxes with no discernable arrangement or order. Three of the boxes held hardbound and paperback books, and the other three contained assorted documents. The boxes of books were set aside and I began to sort through the documents. It was clear that there were items related to Allen Ginsberg, but I soon discovered other family members’ documents as well. There were correspondence and writings penned by Allen’s father, poet Louis Ginsberg; postcards from Allen’s Aunt and Uncle Hanna, and Leo Litzky; letters from Edith Ginsberg; a handwritten family tree, and other treasures.

Throughout the sorting process, I thought about the connections that this family shared – the activism, the appreciation for the written word, and their deep love for one another. After two weeks of sorting the materials, the direction of the collection began to take shape. The collection would be divided into four series: Allen Ginsberg; Ginsberg Family; Press; and Publications. Clearly there was an abundance of materials that belonged within the Allen Ginsberg series, but other materials belonged within series that had not been penned by Allen.

It became clear that the Allen Ginsberg Series had to be further broken down to subseries levels. The correspondence subseries range covers the period from 1956 to 1987, and contains outgoing letters and postcards sent by Allen Ginsberg and his aunt and uncles. The postcards are humorous and tell of Allen’s travels in his unique poetic voice: “Dear Clara and Murray. Happy New Year from Amsterdam – cheese, canals, windmills, bridges, dogshit, Indonesian restaurants, red light district, youth clubs with rock +roll + herb dopes… Love, I think of you fondly. Allen.” Each item was photocopied for researchers’ use, and the originals were placed in mylar enclosures. Other subseries are “Events”; “Photographs”; “Funeral Services”; and “Writings.” It is fascinating to see the silver gelatin photographs of the family members shot and captioned by Allen.

Ginsberg in Amsterdam New Year 1982077
Allen Ginsberg writes to his Aunt Clara from Amsterdam. 12/31/82. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey

The Ginsberg Family Series contain letters and postcards, photographs, flyers, and family trees. The items are from various family members and include some works by Louis Ginsberg. The correspondence is mainly between family members, and there are a few letters from outsiders. A letter penned by Louis titled, “A letter to my son, Allen Ginsberg,” reads more like an editorial than a personal letter. He writes of his displeasure with Allen’s stance on Israeli militarism to which Allen was deeply opposed. Allen felt that the Israelis victimized Palestinians and his suggestion would be to “let back in all the Palestinian Arabs and make it a non-Jewish state, secular state.” Louis responds by writing to Allen: “I read with commingled disappointment and distress, your article on the Arab-Israeli conflict…Allen, you (and your New Left cronies) are ready to help liberate all oppressed groups except your own.” We get a glimpse into the ideals and differences between the two men as they famously held opposing viewpoints on many social and cultural issues, but ultimately they remained close until Louis’ death in 1976.

Ginsberg photo taken in 1967061
(L-R) Edith Ginsberg, Allen Ginsberg who holds his cousin’s baby, Sam Gaidemak, Sam’s mother, Elaine (Baiser) Gaidemak and Louis Ginsberg, ca. 1967. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey.

Because of the numerous events, articles, and interviews with the Ginsberg family, The Press Series contains flyers, newspaper clippings, and press releases, and have been arranged into subseries based on theme or topic. All clippings have been photocopied for researchers to use.

The Publications Series contain books (many of which are first editions) and have been inscribed by the author(s). They are housed in three full-sized record storage boxes. Allen would personalize his books to his family and friends by drawing and inscribing on many editions using a wide range of motifs, symbols, messages, and settings. Allen’s drawings include a cross-legged Buddha, willowy flowers, Stars of David, the often inscribed “AH” and “OHM”, snakes, skeletons, and dreamlike cityscapes. For long term conservation, it was decided that these books would be stored, and the inscriptions were to be scanned and saved in our digital library. In addition, the book covers and inscriptions have been photocopied, and access to the originals is restricted.

Ginsberg, Allen - Verbatim, 1974 - inscription
Allen’s inscription to his cousin Pat Sebold. 12/10/74. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey
Ginsberg, Allen - White Shroud, Poems 1980-1985, 1986 - inscription 1
Allen’s inscription to Aunt Clara. 1/24/87. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey

After making entries into Past Perfect, the series description and finding aid were written, and the information was sent to the NUCMC cataloguer in Washington D.C, who created the OCLC record for the collection. We then contacted The Allen Ginsberg Estate and Stanford University to let them know about our collection.

Ginsberg gift of typewriter 1987056
Edith Ginsberg’s letter to Clara (written as Claire). 2/28/87. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey

Family History

It is 1985 and another postcard arrives at what would be Abe Ginsberg’s final residence – an assisted living facility in West Orange, NJ. He is well into his 80s, and his body may be slowed and his eyesight weakened, but what he can count on is the constant communication from members of his tight-knit family, seeking advice and sharing memories of their lives together. This postcard reads: 11-25-85: Dear Abe – Here we are in Minsk, Belarus where it all started! Big wide avenues, blank faces, ordinary eyes, circus tigers + lions + acrobats…” This postcard is another from his nephew, poet Allen Ginsberg.


When Allen Ginsberg sent his elderly uncle Abe Ginsberg the postcard from Minsk, Allen was already a well-established cultural icon. Allen was born in Newark, NJ in 1926 to poet and educator Louis Ginsberg and wife Naomi, a dedicated Marxist. His brother, Eugene was a lawyer and poet as well and penned under the name Eugene Brooks. Allen began keeping a journal when he was a pre-teen and discovered the poetry of Walt Whitman who remained a major influence throughout Allen’s life. Allen graduated from Paterson’s Eastside High School in 1943, and then Montclair State College. He received a scholarship from the Young Men’s Hebrew Association to attend Columbia University, where he wrote for the Columbia Review and the humor magazine Jester. As a freshman at Columbia University, Allen “met undergraduate Lucien Carr, who introduced him to William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, part of a diverse (and now legendary) circle of friends that grew to include Herbert Huncke, the young novelist John Clellon Holmes, and Neal Cassady… These friends became the nucleus of a group that named themselves the “Beat Generation” writers.”[1]

Allen soon dedicated his life to poetry, and Allen and Eugene watched as their mother Naomi suffered from paranoia, often being admitted to mental hospitals. Louis divorced Naomi while she was institutionalized and married Edith Cohen in 1950. In 1956 Naomi died after undergoing a lobotomy. Three years after her death, Allen penned what some consider his finest poem, the infamous elegy for his mother titled, Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956).

Allen was the perfect representative of the counterculture movement of the 1960s as he was vocal in anti- war efforts and was a key figure at the protests at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968. In the 1970s, he and poet Anne Waldman created a poetry school, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Ginsberg continued voicing his social/political stances throughout his life, until his death in 1997. He is buried in Newark’s Gomel Chesed Cemetery.


Louis Ginsberg was born in Newark, NJ in 1895. He married his classmate, Naomi, who later became a grammar school instructor while Louis taught English and literature (a career he would keep for the next 40 years). He continued writing poetry and ran a weekly column of puns in Newark’s Star Ledger. His writings appeared in the New York Times and the New York Herald as well as many anthologies. He was the author of three books: The Attic of the Past, The Everlasting Minute and Morning in Spring.


Eugene became an attorney specializing in international law and remained a poet. He wrote throughout his service in World War II, and these poems were published as Rites of Passage. He often collaborated with his brother and father as all three men (Louis, Eugene and Allen) presented many public readings together.


Louis’ sister, Hannah “Honey” Litzky was an educator. She was outspoken about the rights of the working class and connected political issues with educational concerns. She was very involved in forming the Newark Teachers Union with Bob Lowenstein and was involved with other local unions and organizations that helped the city’s needy population of the 1930s and 40s. She taught at Newark’s famed Weequahic High School. She was married to South Side High School Principal, Leo Litzky.

Louis Ginsberg died in 1976, Allen in 1997, Hannah in 1999, Edith in 2000, and Eugene in 2001

To date, we have not had any requests from researchers to examine The Ginsberg Family Collection. The Society promotes its archival holdings through our website (jhs-nj.org), bi-annual newsletters, stories and highlights in our local newspaper, press releases, Facebook posts, and catalogue entries to OCLC (Online Computer Library Center.) Within this small but dense and diverse collection of writings lies a deeper insight into the connection that this family had with each other.


[1] Source: http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-03394.html American National Biography Online June 2000 Update. Access Date: October 29, 2015 Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press.

A Practical Response to The Archivist (2015)

Sarah Chilton
Senior Research Librarian
Brookings Institution

Unlike Nathan Mathers in the short film, The Archivist, I do go home every evening and I don’t see myself in videos I process. I will admit to occasional dreams (or nightmares) about boxes, cloud storage, files, tape cassettes and photos. I do find myself trying to finish one more box or file, but there is so much else to do, I don’t let a collection processing take over my life. As a research librarian at the Brookings Institution and a lone arranger of the Brookings Archives, processing happens in the time around requests for library or archival reference.

The Brookings Archives was established in the early 1980s with grant funding from the National Endowment for Humanities and the Cafritz Foundation. A project archivist was hired to collect and process the records of the Institution, a public policy research organization founded in 1916. A finding aid to the collection was published in 1987. Plans called for a librarian to accession material after the archivist left. I took over that role around 1993. My training consisted of a new MLIS degree with a concentration in reference services and participation in training at the Modern Archives Institute. Since then I’ve received lots of on the job training and I’ve counted on the advice of colleagues including those on the Lone Arranger listserv. The bulk of our 750 box paper collection was moved to and offsite storage facility. With real estate prices around Washington, DC so high, the storage facility changed hands and the collection was move further away from the city four times. I was finally able to bring the collection back to Brookings. I’ve spent the past year reorganizing and rehousing the collection in the building basement. I started scanning paper archival files program 15 years ago. I didn’t have all the answers for a digitization project, but I started with two scanners, (one flatbed and the other with an automatic document feeder) scanning software, and storage on the Institution’s drive. Funding for a content management system and optical character recognition software were deferred for several years. Now, with an OCLC ContentDM management system in place, I’m busy loading digitized paper and born digital documents into our repository. Board of trustees, presidential files and photographs have been the priority so far. Our scanning project continues with help from library assistants. I’m also investigating ways to collect more digital content including email and process some paper files from a retiring president and vice president. I get about 10 questions a month for archival information. The requests range from questions from our Executive Officers about former policies and programs to graduate students from around the world studying past Brookings research projects. In the coming year, I hope to establish digital rights so customers can use our ContentDM database to do their own research. Of course, I will continue to process more content for the archives.

Jackson Place NW, Brookings Sign
Brookings building at 722 Jackson Place in 1932. Photo courtesy Brookings Institution.
Brookings building at 1775 Massachusetts Avenue, 2018. Photo courtesy Brookings Institution.