The service of a Congressional champion of science and civil rights is being documented at the UCR Library.
In what was formerly the Copy Center in the quiet basement of the Tomás Rivera Library, Jessica Geiser and her student workers process the papers and materials of former U.S. Congressman George E. Brown, Jr. who represented Inland Southern California in Congress for 14 terms. Known as a champion for science and a staunch defender of civil liberties and human rights, Congressman Brown's papers document his life and career from the late 1930s to his passing in 1999.
In 2010, Congressman Brown's widow, Marta Brown, donated 600 boxes of documents, photographs, and other materials that detailed the Congressman's 14 terms to UCR. Included were approximately 7,000 photographs, 114 VHS tapes, 89 audio cassettes, nearly 600 color slides, and a multitude of reels, floppy discs, and CDs. With the gift of this collection, a mission for the purpose of the project was developed: to ensure the preservation and accessibility of George Brown’s extensive collection at UCR for future generations of scholars, reporters, and leaders in science, labor, business, and public service.
The processing of this comprehensive project began when Geiser was hired as a project archivist in September 2014. Her first task was to relocate and reorganize the unopened boxes prior to unpacking. Once moved, she opened each box and created a content list. "This step was probably the most important step of the entire project and needed to be as detailed as possible," Geiser writes. This information would inform the arrangement of materials, the supplies and staff needed, and the processing time required to complete the project.
As Geiser combed through each box, she collected information on the subjects and dates of the materials, their physical extent in inches, the estimated amount of folders, and the condition of the enclosed materials. Consulting other congressional archival collections, she devised an arrangement scheme that mirrored the ways in which Brown and other Congressmen created and stored their records while in use. A high level of detail and close attention were vital to this success. Finally, she developed the plan which dictates the goals, and methodology to meet those goals, for the entirety of the two-year project.
She and her team then began re-foldering the materials in acid-free folders and boxes that allow for better preservation in long-term storage. Ms. Geiser also ensures that other basic preservation activities take place, such as removing metal paperclips and rubber bands which cause damage, and photocopying fragile and acidic materials — such as newsprint and fax paper — to prevent further deterioration. Although some material is confidential and restricted and must be redacted, the goal is to keep as much information accessible to researchers as possible.
The George Brown papers hold clues to key advances of today and major innovations of tomorrow, and a blueprint for bipartisan problem-solving spanning four decades of federal decision-making. This unique trove of knowledge will be accessible to current and future entrepreneurs and students of effective public service.
As she works towards opening the collection at the end of this two-year project, Ms. Geiser maintains a blog in order to connect with any potential researchers or other interested parties.