Student Perspective: Digital Interactivity in Archives

One of the first things I remember about working in the Columbia College Archives & Special Collections as an assistant since the start of my college career was being told that I was the first Interactive Arts and Media (IAM) student to work here. Whenever I told people who I was meeting in the Archives for the first time what my major was, I was met with a bit of subtle surprise that left me wondering if it really was such an out of place thing for there to be an IAM student working here. I had to stop and think… What made it so odd to be an IAM student working in an archival setting? After all, archival work and IAM studies aren’t mutually exclusive.

Throughout my relatively brief time at the Archives so far, I’ve done jobs from editing digitizations, photocopying materials for researchers, sorting through boxes upon boxes of material, to digitizing a large amount of mail order violin lessons from 1937 – 1946. Most of my time was spent in Adobe Bridge and Photoshop for hours upon hours, the simplest functions becoming second nature as keyboard shortcuts became ingrained into my being and satisfaction rising with every document marked complete on a spreadsheet. Every action at the College Archives is accurately organized, physical copies and digital backups essential.


View the complete set of digitized Sherwood Music School’s violin lessons from 1937-1946.

Isn’t this what also makes an IAM student? We spend hours in Maya, Unity, Illustrator, Photoshop and/or Visual Studio, store backups on servers, hard drives, clouds, and flash drives so we don’t lose that work, and make sure we name things well and organize them carefully so we can find them again when needed. These are all things an IAM student can relate to, and they are reminiscent of the same care and practice of the Archives. IAM students still start with pencil and paper, and still require a good deal of research. (Could you imagine how out of touch games would be without time spent researching their subject?) It’s certainly not a department as out of touch with the physical (and archival) world as people might first assume.

I don’t think that archives and people working in the interactive arts and media field realize how similar they are to each other. They both have a penchant for organization and making their work available for others for their respective reasons. Columbia’s own archival collection and many like it across the world spend a lot of time digitizing material for researchers and public viewing, and while extremely helpful, a simple PDF can become lackluster. Isn’t there something IAM could do to help make it even more appealing while keeping its integrity?

Could you imagine a fully interactive way to read an old document you can’t go visit yourself? Digitizing a book in a fully rendered 3D way that a user could interact with in a way closest as physically possible to the real thing? Having the archive using it making it happen with the simple upload of a PDF and a bit of light data entry?

It would be amazing for archives to be able to have their digital and physical copies be even closer in comparison in a way like this, and some archives are already making steps to make their digital collections interactive, though not quite to this degree yet. With a bit of increased intermingling and cooperation between the Interactive Arts and Media and archival fields, I’m sure it could happen. I would love to see something like this bloom into the next big thing in digitizing archives across the globe!


Evangeline Piña is an Interactive Arts and Media freshman at Columbia College Chicago. She has worked in the College Archives and Special Collections as an Archives Student Assistant since September 2015.
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Student Perspective: Exploring the Archives

Since I began working at the Columbia College Archives and Special Collections early last semester, my friends and family have asked me what I do here. When I say, “Sort, digitize, and maintain collections,” usually the response I get is an uninterested, “Oh, okay, how much do you get paid?” Without explaining what exactly that entails, it seems like people lose interest pretty quickly. So I figured it might be easier to put everything into perspective and explain what I’ve been doing at the Archives by talking about some of my recent projects.

Material Sorting: In the process of collecting items and records for an archival collection, the first step after accessioning the items is to sort everything into its correct record group. Although most of the material we sorted was fairly recent or uninteresting (meeting minutes, budget plans, emails, and memos), there were a few standouts. Like an admission ticket to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, an obscene amount of printed screenshots of Columbia’s web pages from the 90s, and a course description for an astrology class offered at Columbia in the 70s (and why each of the twelve houses affect you!)

astrology course

“Each of us has all twelve signs of the zodiac within us.” A course description from Introductory Astrology classes at Columbia in the 1970s.

Organizing Collections: While the sweatiest, this was also probably my favorite project. The Archives and Special Collections recently moved to our current office and storage space at 619 S Wabash Ave, and we’re still settling in. Now, I’m talking about moving an entire archival collection, so it’s been quite a long process to get everything organized, even after the initial move itself. A whole bunch of boxes and collections were out of order and we’ve have been putting them back in the right place. I mean boxes weighing anywhere between 2 and 50 pounds. It was tiring, but I really enjoyed it; getting to handle and explore our collections is a cool way to discover interesting material. Especially Book & Paper Arts, where the duck people painting lives.

duck people

An art piece from the Book & Paper Arts collection.

Sherwood Music School Digitization: This is the project I worked on the longest. I worked with my fellow student Evangeline on digitizing the definitive set of Sherwood correspondence violin lessons from 1937-1946. We scanned them, processed them, and turned them into readable PDFs, which were then uploaded to the Digital Commons and made available to the public. Not going to lie, besides an illustration of a man with five arms, it was a pretty uneventful project, but seeing the PDFs online and accessible to anyone was super rewarding. Being able to provide these rare documents to anyone in the world really puts the work we do into perspective.

violin man

“The Correct Positions of the Right Arm in Bowing” a.k.a. The Man with Five Arms, from the Sherwood Music School Violin Lesson Books.

As far as college jobs go, as an Art History major, I think I could’ve done a lot worse. So, yes, when my roommates ask me what I do at the College Archives, scanning old documents and sorting boxes does sound pretty mundane. But really, it’s not so much about what I do; it’s about the cool stuff I can find while I do it. It’s about sharing what I find with the world. To explore our collections and see what we’ve digitized and made available to the public, visit Digital Commons.


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Why are we named Columbia?

The World's Columbian Exposition

As we welcome our new students to campus this week, many might be wondering why we are named Columbia. It must be that we are somehow related to the New York flagship, Columbia University, right?

Wrong. Typical to Columbia College Chicago fashion, we remain unique even within the context of our name.

The beginning of this academic year marks the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Columbia School of Oratory in Chicago by Mary A. Blood and Ida Morey Riley. Both educators of oratory and elocution, Blood and Riley met while teaching alongside each other in Ames, Iowa in 1887. When both had finished their Master’s degrees in Oration at Emerson College (then Monroe College of Oratory) in Boston, they decided to move to Chicago and open their own school.

At that time, studies in public speaking, elocution and oratory were highly valued. As stated in the 1905 Columbia College catalog, “Nowhere can the precept ‘know thyself’ be so fully realized as in a school of true expression.” As part of the larger Lyceum Movement in the United States, many associations, institutes and organizations were formed to help improve the social, intellectual and moral fabric of society through circuits of lectures.

Think of it this way: Today, we have access to immeasurable amounts of information at our fingertips through our mobile devices. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, access to new information was extremely limited. Therefore, attending these lectures or the World’s Fairs were among the most efficient ways to absorb and access information.

But why did Blood and Riley choose Chicago? And why did they name it Columbia?

When Columbia College’s founders were opening their school, learning the art of public speaking and expression had become a highly-demanded skill. Knowing that the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago would draw thousands people to the city, Blood and Riley cleverly situated their school at this location. They opened their school in August 1890, three years before the Chicago World’s Fair, which was to be called the Columbia Exposition. Blood and Riley named their school in honor of this enormous exposition, as did many other businesses at the time. But unlike Columbia College Chicago, many of these businesses only changed their names temporarily or have since gone out of business.

Columbia University in New York, however, was founded in 1754 and originally dubbed King’s College. After the Revolutionary War, the University renamed itself Columbia to embody the “patriotic fervor that had inspired the nation’s quest for independence.”  []

Although Columbia University and Columbia College Chicago share “Columbia” within our titles, we have very different reasons for our choices. “Columbia” to us means expression, creativity, innovation and connections. From its very beginning and through its namesake, Columbia College has woven itself into the fabric of Chicago. Additionally, the original educational purposes and theories of Blood and Riley’s school have continuously informed the evolution of our pedagogies, curricula and student experiences. The art of self-expression is still embedded in nearly all coursework and concentrations at Columbia.

To find out more about the College’s name, view the video, The Many Names of Columbia.

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How to Archive Your Life

Working at an archives is all about keeping organized. Here’s what I’ve learned from my two years of being an archival assistant, researcher and writer at Columbia College Chicago Archives & Special Collections:

1. Discard duplicates and declutter.

If you have one hard copy and a few digital copies backed up on a couple hard drives and clouds in different parts of the country, there’s no reason to keep that second copy of yesterday’s Columbia Chronicle. In other words, if you have at least one form of back-up, you don’t need the extra physical copy that will probably end up lost anyway, unless you plan to frame it and call it art. Why not, right?

2. The scanner is your friend.

Scanners are your friend

A paperless organization system is easier to navigate through than piles of loose bills, tax information and school work.With a scanner, you can turn paper into PDFs and … Poof! Like magic, you can access the contents of your junk drawer in a simple search if you should need to. The scanner is to thank for the vast majority of our digital collections. I’ll personally be asking for one of these babies for graduation:

3. There’s no such thing as over organizing.archives posterboard

Our team recently covered five poster boards with sticky notes in order to re-organize our storage spaces. We made a master spread sheet to keep track of the 1,500 boxes in our possession and spent days moving and arranging the shelves until they were organized by collection. My biceps have never looked better.

This is only one poster board of five, so I’d probably only need half a poster board to organize my studio apartment.

4. Twitter is the best for networking.

Since creating our twitter profile last year, we’ve garnered over 500 followers. Sure, a fourth of them are spam-bots but another fourth are students and the remaining half are archivists! Being on twitter, we are able to engage with other archives and support each-other’s work. On the internet, we’ve found a valuable and supportive community that we are happy to be a part of. Who said social media was a bad thing?

5. Library databases are everything (not to mention, free).

School and public libraries are absolutely invaluable to studying any trade or skill. There are so many free resources you can access online just by using your library card. I’ve used OverDrive to borrow e-books, the Chicago Public Library’s subscription of Mango to brush up on my French, and Lynda through Columbia Columbia College Chicago to learn more about SEO & Marketing. And of course, the Archives has its own online database to peruse to your heart’s content.





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Student Perspective: On Being A Professional Eavesdropper


A Professional Eavesdropper

Have you ever caught yourself listening in on a stranger’s conversation? If we are being honest, the answer is yes. We occasionally find ourselves pretending to toil on our phones while the guy across the coffee shop implores his friend to sit through just one more story about his obnoxious roommate. The point is that eavesdropping is a habitual practice fused with our human need to feel empathy. When you are hearing about the coffee shop guy’s horrible roommate trouble, you are gaining a little insight into his world, however minute that insight may be.

The reason I bring all this up is because for a month or so I have basically been a professional eavesdropper. As a student assistant at Columbia College Chicago’s Archives and Special Collections, it has been my job to listen to and digitize the audio tapes of a 1950s radio personality named Uncle Jim Christie, otherwise known as Clyde Caswell.

Uncle Jim was a good ole boy from the Midwest, born in Minnesota. He got his broadcasting start in Miami, and went on to host radio shows in Indiana, Illinois, Texas, and Minnesota. He became the host of the radio show called Uncle Jim’s Jamboree, which became one of the largest country music radio programs in the nation at that time. Uncle Jim later went on to become Columbia’s Dean of Students while working in the radio department, which is how we came to inherit this collection of tapes.

Uncle Jim Preparing for a broadcast

Uncle Jim preparing for a broadcast.

Now, I know that listening to audio tapes that were originally broadcasted to thousands of people isn’t exactly eavesdropping, however, there were times when Uncle Jim seemed to get along with his guests so well that the exchanges seemed less like interviews and more like down-home conversations between two friends.

There was a particular instance in which country music legend Red Foley flipped the script and started interviewing Uncle Jim because he claimed that the audience had to be tired of hearing about him and would benefit from hearing more about the beloved host of the show. These kinds of exchanges, along with the occasional reading of original poetry, truly humanized Uncle Jim in a way that made me feel like I was tuning into an intimate conversation every time I played one of his tapes.

Uncle Jim conducting an interview.

Uncle Jim conducting an interview.

In the modern age of celebrity hero worship, it could be argued that intimacy is a quality that is overlooked in the vast realms of broadcast and entertainment. It seems like today’s interviewers are only concerned with scandalous and sensational material that will satisfy the lowest common denominator. I think that somewhere along the way, something changed in what people wanted to see and hear when it came to other peoples lives. With TV channels like E! reducing celebrities to either narcissistic whack jobs, or raising them up to the level of untouchable idols, it is clear that what we value as a society has changed. It has been fascinating to me to see what used to matter to people and how that compares to the values of society today. It has been a refreshing change of pace to be treated to a number of real conversations as an unmolested fly on the wall, a stranger greeted as a longtime friend, and a welcomed eavesdropper on a public, yet private conversation.

You can now visit our department’s Digital Commons to listen to the full radio show.

“It requires character and wisdom in this life to lift the spoon of kindness, and put away the knife”. -Uncle Jim Christie

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Honoring Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy at Columbia College Chicago

To honor the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the actor famous for his role as Mr. Spock on Star Trek, the Archives searched for the footage of his visit to Columbia College Chicago in 1980.  Some of the video skips in parts, but most of Nimoy’s presentation is still discernible through the blur and hiccups in the footage recorded 35 years ago. Nimoy filmed in Chicago for the first time in this particular Columbia College Q&A, which happened to be on his 48th birthday. “So… where’s the cake?” he asked the audience.

He sat on a wooden and leather chair on the small stage, with a voice mic around his neck. He tried taking it off after brief technical difficulties, but the camera man told him that he was filming, and put it back on.

A mural painting of Chicago hung behind Nimroy’s tall frame and gaunt features, donned with a distinguishable red sweater and mustache. Throughout his presentation, he gesticulated wildly, and even jumped off stage at one point to shake a kid in order to demonstrate the natural emotion behind improvisation that can be used to heighten film.

Nimoy took another stage that night in Aurora for his one-man show, “Vincent”, a play about the artist Vincent VanGogh. Student admission was two dollars and Nimoy asked the audience who had a car in an attempt to organize a car pool.

Most of his speech was conversational like this and the crowd intermittently erupted in laughter.

A student asked Nimoy what work of his he was the most proud of, and if any of his previous endeavors embarrassed him.

“I’ve done a lot of work that I’m really very pleased with for various reasons, not necessarily because any one of them I think is the best work I’ve done, but for example when I did “Equus” on Broadway for 16 weeks, I was the happiest actor in the country, I’m sure because I was right where I wanted to be,” Nimoy replied. “When I saw “Equus” a month after it opened in New York going back about four years ago, I was just thrilled, just really excited about the production and that play, and when two years later they called me and asked me to go into that production on Broadway I just went because I really wanted to do that and it was everything that I hoped for… but Vincent is more mine than anything I’ve done before.”

“As far as embarrassment is concerned? Oh I don’t know, I have a sense of humor about those things. I did a project in 1951, one of the very first jobs I ever had in film, that was a Saturday afternoon serial thing… Well I worked in one of those, I guess I was in about five or six episodes of that thing, it was a brilliant piece of work called “Zombies of the Stratosphere”… I think I made about 125 dollars and I needed the money… You have to laugh, it’s a story about another guy and myself from another planet who bring a ray gun and a pick up truck and we’re going to take over earth.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Nimoy…Live Long and Prosper.

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We’ve changed our name!

Columbia College Chicago Archives

Our department’s name has changed from Columbia College Chicago Archives to College Archives & Special Collections (CASPC)

Since we acquired new collections and a new name, we’ve decided to update our mission statement to better fit our work and philosophy.

College Archives & Special Collections (CASPC) serves as the designated repository for records of Columbia College Chicago and collections of select rare books, publications, and manuscripts in order to:

  • support College curricula in a student-centered environment
  • document and disseminate the narrative legacy of the College
  • weave Columbia College Chicago into the culture of the city and the world
  • Create innovative and open pathways to resources.
  • Provide educational opportunities to stimulate research and creativity.
  • Inspire collaboration on a global scale.
  • Encourage freedom of inquiry while honoring creators’ rights.
  • Comply with professional best practices and technical standards.
  • Preserve collection holdings in stable formats for future generations

For a list of our collections, visit:

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Nena Ivon: 16-year-old gets first job at the Magnificent Mile Saks Fifth Avenue, becomes assistant fashion director one year later

Nena 1-2

With the recent opening of the Chicago Styled exhibit at the Chicago History Museum, we are reminded of the impact that The Magnificent Mile and Nena Ivon had on the fashion industry.Nena Ivon, the head curator of the exhibit, is responsible for executing and showcasing the development of North Michigan Avenue as a mecca for high-end fashion. The Magnificent Mile has been known for its luxury retail and department stores since the 1920s and is frequented by over 20 million people every year. Nena Ivon had an invaluable part in shaping the Magnificent Mile and Saks Fifth Avenue into what it is today.

At 16, Nena was hired in Saks Fifth Avenue’s sports wear department. Having no prior work experience, Nena found herself in the middle of a nightmare.All of the clothes were tagged, but Nena didn’t know the color-coding system. Even if she knew how to help her customers pick out the right size, she couldn’t write a receipt. Nena wouldn’t describe herself as someone who cries easily, but she ended up bawling behind the counter that day. She decided then that she would never go back to Saks again. But, not being a quitter, she returned to her next shift and the shifts that followed.

Nena 1-1

A year later at the age of 17, Nena was promoted to assistant fashion director. Eight years later she became the director of fashion and special events, a position which she held until 2009. During her employment at Saks, Nena brushed elbows with the who’s who in fashion, establishing household names for many designers through in-house shows. Today, Nena is the president of the Chicago History Museum Costume Council and a professor at Columbia College Chicago where she assists in documenting the history of clothing while inspiring others to make it.


To learn more about Nena Ivon and Chicago’s role in the fashion industry, visit Chicago Styled at the Chicago History Museum, Monday through Saturday 9:30 am – 4:30 pm and Sunday from noon – 5pm. Adults are $14; Seniors and Students are $12. Kids under 12 are free. For information about the exhibit, visit

Columbia College Chicago Archives holds Nena Ivon’s Manuscript Collection which includes photographs of her with famous designers and newspaper clips featuring her shows. The archives also stores Nena’s personal collection of over 100 perfume bottles. Here is a link to our finding aid if you are interested in learning more about her first hand.


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Columbia College and The G.I. Bill

Veteran's Day GI Bill

Since Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill in 1944, Columbia College Chicago has assisted thousands of US Veterans in attaining occupations in their fields of choice. Today, we would like to honor our veterans by highlighting our digital exhibit, Columbia The G.I. Bill.

What is the G.I. Bill?

The G.I. Bill is essentially the Veteran’s Bill of Rights. It was created in 1944 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Congress, and various veterans groups. Over 16.3 million men and women received education, home loans, and health services that were once difficult for the American middle class to obtain. Columbia was an institution that was involved in this change.

GI Bill

The Veterans Guidance Research Center

From 1945-1950, the Veterans Guidance Research Center operated at Columbia College as a center for assistance for returning WWII veterans. The center helped over 20,000 people with its educational, occupational, and psychological assistance. The center, though situated in Columbia’s 410 S Michigan building, was not a part of Columbia- it was an allied organization created by Norman Alexandroff, Columbia’s president at the time.

Columbia GI Bill Education

A Columbia College Education

Columbia trained veterans for specific jobs separate of the Veterans Guidance Research Center. Radio, television, journalism, advertising, business, film, and theatre majors were a few of the possible career paths for WWII veterans that Columbia provided.

Out of this movement, Columbia produced notable alumni including

  • Al Hernandez (Captain, US Army) – Class of 1951, Television Advertising
  • Jack Hickey (US Air Force) – Class of 1950, BA, Speech Drama
  • Howard Mendelsohn – Class of 1949, BA, Speech

For more information regarding Columbia The G.I. Bill, visit our digital exhibit here. Happy Veterans Day!

Al Hernandez

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Letter from the editor

Lately I’ve been eager to uncover and curate collections beyond college. I’ve recently considered applying for masters programs upon graduation in the spring, and I am beyond excited to look into furthering my education. My experience at Columbia College Chicago Archives has influenced me to seriously think of library sciences as a possible career path with the mindset of continuing to work in archival collections.

As of this month, I have worked at Columbia College Chicago Archives for a little over a year, and I can confidentially say that it has been an invaluable experience for my career and my personal growth. I was picked up by the department at a job fair, and when they asked about my experience, I gave them a few of my writing samples from my personal blog. My writing was well received, and they hired me to assist in generating content for the department’s website. I was able to add the management of their blog and social media to my writing resume, and suddenly new freelancing opportunities opened up for me. Now I’m at a place where I can say that I write professionally, which had been my goal all along.

That being said, there is something intrinsically satisfying about opening a worn suitcase to find it brimming with yellowing letters and leaflets. Working in an archives, you’re able to break into these time capsules of the past, restore them, digitize them and preserve them for others to discover. Being a student worker at my archives, I’m personally tied to many of the collections I work with. I learn about the people who were at the college before me, their accomplishments and missteps. Working with archives, you are constantly researching, constantly learning about the past and how it applies to current times.

Thank you for reading!

Calley Nelson
old brief case 2014-06-05 14.28.36

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