Carlos Lemus, Application Programmer, UNLV Libraries Special Collections. (Next to Carlos is a cutout of Carmella Rickman from the Carmella Rickman Papers, MS-00541)
In our Secrets from Special Collections series, UNLV Libraries Special Collections staff members reveal a few lesser-known aspects about the archives and offer up personal insight into research and discovery, sharing answers, based on their own experiences, to six intriguing questions. Here, Carlos Lemus, Application Programmer, gives us a glimpse into life working among the rare treasures of the library and the system that stores the maps to these treasures.
When you first began working in Special Collections, what was the one item or collection that made your jaw drop, and why?
Though I do not get too hands-on with the materials in Special Collections, I do get to see all the information that gets stored about them. When I first began working around the collections, I ran into the Howard Hughes Public Relations Records once kept by his PR director, Dick Hannah (MS-00380). There are over 100 archival boxes in this particular collection! After reading about Hughes, I learned he was essentially the Tony Stark of his time and, as an engineer, I was amazed by his vision, work, and extravagant lifestyle.
What do you think may be the single most overlooked part of Special Collections?
Coming from a digital background, I expect everything to be found online, however, there are many resources that are not online. Also, working in Special Collections I’ve noticed that there can be different details within a letter or a painting that might be hard to analyze through a digital image. Sometimes it’s essential to the research to be able to see documents and ephemera in person.
What is the one question you are asked most about your work, or elements that fall within the scope of your job description?
“What does that mean?” gets asked a lot, because not everyone has the technical skills to understand what I do, and it’s important for me to explain it in a way that they can relate to and understand. I work with a platform called ArchivesSpace, which is used to describe manuscripts, archives, and digital objects in a way that allows web access to researchers and patrons. More and more of our analog and born-digital materials are discoverable online for research because of the work I am doing.
Carlos Lemus, Application Programmer, UNLV Libraries Special Collections, shows Archivist Joyce Moore how to use new functionalities in ArchivesSpace.
What is the most fascinating or positive aspect of your job? What is the most difficult aspect of your work?
The most positive aspect of my job is knowing that small changes can have a huge impact for Special Collections. I am constantly modifying and extending ArchivesSpace, the system our archivists use, to improve its functionality and make sure our users get all the information they need. The most difficult aspect of my work is having to do extensive research and exploring innovative solutions, knowing that some explorations might not accomplish even a tiny change.
What are you working on right now? How will it contribute to Special Collections?
Right now I’m working on creating a cubic/linear foot calculator that our Special Collections and other libraries can use to measure collections--the calculator provides a standardized way to report the volume of our holdings and gives researchers an idea of how much material there is in each collection. I’m also working on a way to match local records to the Library of Congress, checking to see if there are any changes in a name or date so that our data is always consistent with the Library of Congress.
What advice would you give students seeking to isolate a topic in Special Collections using primary source materials?
Use the catalog. Google can give you a general idea of a topic, but if you want specific details, look in the library’s catalog and website. Our online databases can help you to find letters and photographs that tell the entire story about your topic.