Organizing the Organizers: SVREP Processing Update
In our last update, Leah shared the progress we’d made inventorying the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project collection and beginning to flatten some of the 900 maps acquired from the organization. Since then, we’ve spent the last month continuing to organize just over 400 boxes of documents into searchable categories, perfecting our map flattening skills, and even getting the chance to learn a little more about the collection outside of the stacks.
What was once a storage unit filled with boxes is slowly becoming a collection of recognizable series. Leah is currently organizing correspondence “To” and “From” SVREP staff and Karina is sorting and organizing records from Latino voting conferences held all across the Southwest. As each box’s contents are sorted, titled, and dated, the same information is being collected digitally so that eventually its location in the collection can be searched online. Each set of records is given a brand new acid free folder and then stored in a new box for long term use. Seeing the boxes go from working chaos to neatly housed, discoverable content is extremely satisfying and I can’t wait to get to the heart of the collection, the voter registration series.
We are expecting the process of foldering the collection to last us quite a bit of time, and there are days when endlessly looking through financial or statistical data can be monotonous. Thankfully we get a break in our week to head to The Institute of Texan Cultures to check on the maps. Were they humid enough to lay flat after their time in the tank? Did we leave enough weight on them as they dried? Permanently flattening a large, stubbornly furled, often crispy map using only approved archival methods is a challenge that I had no idea I would have to someday overcome. But luckily we’ve received the last shipment of supplies we need to finally get a routine going. Leah drilled holes in our containers, and (2) half inch thick pieces of glass we’d been waiting on are now busy distributing their weight on Texas county and precinct boundaries. With each passing week we’re getting better at guesstimating the time it takes, and getting closer (421) to our goal of flattening 500 SVREP maps.
Ordinarily, this would be the end of the update: we’re working diligently and our maps are succumbing nicely to weight and gravity, but last week we got to be part of something really special. KLRN and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center screened a documentary called Willie Velasquez: Su Voto Es Su Voz, and the Special Collections team were able to attend! For months now, we’ve known that Hector Galan was making a documentary for PBS and that he hoped to have it released before this year’s Presidential Election. In fact, in June, the producer contacted UTSA Special Collections inquiring about any material we might have to be used in the film. They were specifically looking for an IRS document that solidified SVREP’s status as a 501(c)3. After checking document titles and dates in the original inventory, Archivist Katie Rojas found it. I have never been so giddy to see an IRS form on the big screen.
Leah, Karina, Amy and I all had a chance to check in with SVREP staff in attendance and talk a little bit about our progress with the collection. I spoke with a volunteer whose name I saw on a SVREP sign in sheet from 1982. She was so proud to be a part of an organization that had influenced so many communities and she wasn’t alone; so many of the people in attendance took part in voter registration drives, made calls and knocked on doors to help SVREP reach it’s initial goal of registering 1 million Latinos to vote. Before the Q & A came to a close, former SVREP President Andy Hernandez asked anyone who had ever worked for or volunteered with SVREP to stand, and you couldn’t help but feel the pride. As we were leaving Leah mentioned that it really felt like a family reunion.
Willie Velasquez: Su Voto Es Su Voz will air on PBS Oct 3, then will stream on pbs.org immediately after. Check it out, and keep an eye out for the most exciting IRS document I’ve ever seen. Then see if you catch a glimpse of any of the other artifacts (floppy disks, “state of the art” IBM computer manuals, canvassing scripts) mentioned in the film. We’re keeping them safe until you can come in and see them for yourself.
**This project is generously funded by the NHPRC**