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Field Trip Report: Delta Flight Museum and Archive

2016-7-31; 23.54.12-GPR

by Ernie Evangelista, 2016 SLA Georgia Past-President

On Friday, June 24, 22 members of SLA Georgia and the Society of Georgia Archivists (SGA) toured the Delta Flight Museum and Archive. Since the museum charges a $12 admission fee, not only did program participants enter for free, but we also got a behind-the-scene tour of an archives space, built as part of a $6 million renovation of two airplane hangars, built in 1941, located in Delta Airlines’ corporate headquarters campus.

Archives Director Marie Force and Archives and Donor Relations Associate Tina Seetoo hosted our group and shared stories, insights and best practices. With support from assistant Austin Coleman, Marie and Tina operate the archive, collect items and respond to archives-related research requests. For example, they’re gathering materials to be used for filming an airplane safety video with a 1980s look and feel. Their vast collection, which does not include food, runs the gamut from flight schedules (very handy for ready reference) to uniforms and blankets to airplane models to “first flight” merchandise. They use compact shelving, several custom cabinets (for dishware, blankets and uniforms for example) and even a refrigerator (for film) to house archive holdings and they monitor the Internet to identify any possible items of interest to add to their collection.

After our tour, Tina spoke about Delta’s beginnings at the Flight Museum which, on that day, was hosting a late afternoon reception for supporters.

Thank you to SGA President-Elect Wendy Hagenmaier for organizing this field trip. Even though four SLA Georgians attended, Kim Distel, Irene McMorland and Stephen Sherman left with several key lessons learned:

Kim Distel:

  • In tours of other archives I have taken in the past, the emphasis typically focused on how archivists sort the variety of items donated to or acquired by the archives and focused on archivists’ decisions on how best to catalog the selected items. Through the recent tour at Delta, I learned so much new to me about how to effectively preserve, organize, and store items in an archives collection. I was impressed by hearing how the Delta archives staff consult with others inside and outside their profession to make their decisions about the right processes and conditions for preserving their collections.
  • Until I took the tour at Delta, I had not considered how easy it can be for important history and historical materials to be lost when companies or other organizations merge or end operations. The archives staff at Delta have conscientiously maintained collections from other airlines that Delta has acquired over time. I was particularly struck by learning how staff sometimes have to seek out and gather key items from across multiple departments of a newly acquired company to form and preserve a collection to document that company’s history.

Irene McMorland:

  • Marie Force stressed that a supportive corporate culture is important to a flourishing archives. In terms of content, there are many long-term loyal employees who pass along objects and papers they have accumulated over their careers, and there is also a formal records management program.
  • On the museum side, the most visually obvious challenge was the display and care of museum objects ranging size from a paper napkin to a Boeing 767.

Stephen Sherman:

  • Improvisation and experimentation are key to a functional special library or archives. The airplane hangar was not the ideal location for an archives, but the staff have worked with Delta to use the space in the best way possible. That includes finding storage space for the film in refrigerators in the back room and relocating the plumbing and vents during their renovation. It could also encompass the reuse of materials, such as the china cabinets.
  • Organization and preparation are the keys to a successful move or renovation. As information professionals, we have to be able to track our collections accurately at all times, even when those collections are off-site or in transit. The Delta Archives staff used a color coding system to track items by type or shelving location to ensure that the contents of boxes were not lost in the renovation.

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