14 October 2012

Sylvia Plath Archive and the Lilly Library

The Lilly Library at IU Bloomington
The Lilly Library is a great place to conduct research. Many Sylvia Plath scholars will descend upon the library's reading room over the next two weeks. For some, it will be their first time working with Plath's manuscripts, for others it will be a long-overdue return to a great place. I have had the pleasure of conducting Plathian research in more than a dozen repositories and although they are all libraries: they each have different policies and procedures for handling the materials. The Lilly Library is a lot like Fort Knox: they are strict. But they have to be.

Here is a list of some of the things I have learned in my five previous trips to the archive at Indiana University (as well as a few generally applicable things to keep in mind when working in libraries):

1. You'll only be allowed to work with one folder in one box at a time.
2. Ensure that the folder and all the papers with the folder remain fully on the desk at all times. Do not let anything hang over the edge. You will be reprimanded.
3. Keep the papers in the folders that you work with in the order in which you find them. If something's not right, consult with someone on staff.
4. Because of the "Transitions" exhibit in the Lilly Library, something like 70 items will not be available for scruntiny in the reading room. You'll have to visit the exhibition space to see them. These include some of her diaries, books from her personal library and poetry drafts, as well as items such as her extravagant childhood paper dolls, suitcase and unpublished letters from husband Ted Hughes.
5. Photography of materials is limited. Some libraries allow for rampant, free photography of their collections; however, each library is, as I have said, different. Consult with a librarian/archivist to determine what can and cannot be photographed.
6. Transcribe until your fingers blister.
7. It might be chilly in there so bring a sweater. Remember: archives are not about human comfort. They are about making the paper and other holdings last.

Of course, I'm certain there are more things to keep in mind, but these are what I can think of right now!

If you are going to be conducting research before or after the Symposium, I hope you enjoy yourself. If you do not have a blog or some other outlet in which to talk about the experience, please consider this blog as a welcome space to write about your time. I'd love to have guest posts and am sure the blogs readers would love to read your impressions. I think the most important thing to remember is that it is a privilege to work with Plath's papers (or really, any collection within an archive). Enjoy the archive. Respect it. I hope that at any given moment I am not working with something that another researcher is keen to have access to. If you think I might be, just let me know and I'll request something else.

As for my own research plans, in the past I have blogged nightly about my experiences in the archive. See the posts from my January 2012 trip to Smith College and from my January 2010 trip to the Lilly Library. I hope I don't repeat myself in my forthcoming updates (next week!), but I do find that by re-examining certainly materials, new information can be learned because of shifting perspectives. I have a couple of things I need to look at from Plath Mss (the materials they bought during Plath's lifetime!) for one of my papers; but the most effort will likely be spent in Plath Mss II, which is undoubtedly the largest focus for many people.


Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Thank you for this--it will help with my own preparation! It might be worth mentioning that the Lilly Library webpage talks in greater detail about some of the rules: pencils only, leave computers and phones out/off, etc.

Can't wait to meet you and everyone in person!

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thanks Julia, for pointing out about the Lilly's webpage. I totally should have linked to this. So, I have here.

I am looking forward to meeting you too.

BridgetAnna said...

"You will be reprimanded," indeed!

[ma]ríe said...

Hi Peter!
I'm looking for the audio of "Three Women", but I can not find it. Could you help me with it? Do you know a link? I've been searching ar youtube, but there's nothing.

kisses from Argentina!

Peter K Steinberg said...

Hello [ma]rie, No, I am sorry to say that I am unaware of any audio links to Sylvia Plath's "Three Women".


Christoph Irmscher said...

I thought I should point out that the Lilly's rules are pretty user-friendly, compared with other rare books and manuscripts libraries that don't even let you bring in your own paper, for example. There are no real hoops you have to jump through to get access--all the materials in our collections can be seen by everyone; a picture ID is enough. Given that the Plath materials are consulted by hundreds of patrons every year, there have to be certain safeguards in place. Much of the paper Plath used is now brittle; letting it hang over the edge of the (acid-free) folder or allowing it be in contact with the surface of the table (touched by dozens of people every day) will, in the (not so) long term, damage the document. So it's really to the benefit all users--and in order to ensure the continued usefulness of this collection and other collections for readers and researchers all over the world-- that these rules have to be enforced, as uncomfortable as it might seem to be reprimanded.... So do please come back; these rules and regulations are really intended to help us, not to make our work more difficult!217 Ahnith

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