Slaying An Archivists’ Dragon

For years, I have been on a mission—to wrestle a dragon to his knees—if not to defeat him entirely.

My dragon resides in the N.T. archives, in two shoe boxes and one rather large carton of posed and casual pictures, taken by former members of the Pentagon staff from the 1960s to the 1990s. How little did those students know or care that they were leaving me such a task, when they blithely left behind unidentified, random photos and went on to graduate from N.T.

The task they left me, cataloguing these photos, is brutal and often tedious. My archives files are separated by decade and year. The snapshots have no mention of year, team, or the context of the pictures. So it falls to me to take each photo from the box, where it has been left with all the others, totally mixed up over the years, and try to identify the year and subject.

Some I can easily eliminate because they are poorly focused, exposed, or not worth saving. But many are a marvellous record of life at the old N.T. I can usually spot the decade. Does Mr. Smith have sideburns? It must be the 1970s. Sometimes I can even recognize some of the students to give me a clue.

But do you think I can connect that to the years those students graced the halls of N.T? I am reduced to perusing the appropriate yearbooks, hoping to recognize a face, outfit, or scenario that will help me identify the year and activity recorded in that picture. It is painstaking work. But it is also challenging and even fun to revisit the scenes from the old school; the energy, enthusiasms, humour and routines of the students at NT in the late 20th century.

Once or twice a month I tackle this Herculean task for a couple of hours. It is very slow going, and I am happy if I identify three or four pictures. It is certainly daunting to know that I have hundreds of photos to go! Can it be true that I have been at this task for over 20 years?

Such slow progress has got me thinking about a way to tackle my dragon quest. Although this Covid-19 affair has left both me and my dragon huddling in our lairs, perhaps we could hold an N.T. Archives Open House some evening when we are free to mingle. It will feature a giant Identify the Photo bee.

This would be far more productive, and maybe, just maybe, put the dragon in his place. There would be fewer random photos adrift in the archive boxes, and it could be a lot of fun. Stand by for more details.

—Nancy Baines (Staff), Archivist, NTCI Foundation

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