CUA & Special Olympics Archiving Project

Posted: September 29, 2017 by emilyhewittcua in News

My name is Emily Hewitt, and I just started pursuing my Master of Science in Library and Information Science (MSLIS) degree at CUA in May 2017. I am enrolled in CUA’s Cultural Heritage Information Management course of study, and my dream job is to work as an archivist at either a university archives or museum. I have a passion for music, American history, and 20th century history, so any libraries, museums, or cultural heritage institutions that have records on those topics are of great interest to me.

Currently I am working in conjunction with CUA as an Archival Assistant for Special Olympics at their Washington, D.C headquarters. For the next two years I will be working with Special Olympics staff members, CUA professor Dr. Jane Zhang, and CUA student Isabelle Murphy to organize all of Special Olympics’ documents, digital records, audiovisual records, photographs, and objects. Dr. Zhang and I have been working on this project since the beginning of June, and Isabelle just recently joined us during the last week of August.

When I first saw the job announcement in May for this Archival Assistant position I was immediately interested in applying. The mission of Special Olympics is “to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.” I loved the idea of working for such an inclusive organization, and I strongly believe that the struggles and achievements of individuals with intellectual disabilities should be preserved and recorded in order to remember and honor all the obstacles they have overcome throughout history. Furthermore, I was aware that Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and since I am very interested in American and 20th century history, I was fascinated with the opportunity to learn more about the Kennedy family’s work and influence on Special Olympics by organizing Special Olympics’ records and historical objects.

Since starting work in June, we have gotten a lot of work done, and I have learned so much about how to begin a large scale archiving project. Essentially, our project has four major phases which will encompass the entirety of the next 2 years. The phases are as follows:

  • Phase One: Evaluate and inventory records and objects stored at Special Olympics Headquarters and at their Iron Mountain off-site storage facilities. This inventory includes semi-active and active records, as well as photo and video assets. At the end of this phase we will have a preliminary inventory list of Special Olympics’ records and historical objects.
  • Phase Two: Conduct analysis and create a records retention schedule. The records retention schedule will outline the proper methods of identifying digital records, audio-visual records, paper records, photographic records, and objects, and how and when to appropriately store or dispose of these materials. Although Special Olympics already has a records retention schedule, most of the records listed only pertain to the Finance, Human Resources, and Legal departments. There are many other Special Olympics departments, such as Sports, Communications & Marketing, and Games & Competition, that produce, maintain, and receive significant records that should also be included in the records retention schedule. We must interview staff members from these additional departments in order to determine which records they would like to keep permanently, and which records they would like to destroy after a certain number of years. Once we gather their input, we will be able to create a new records retention schedule that will include instructions on how to keep or dispose of records from all departments throughout Special Olympics headquarters.
  • Phase Three: Apply the approved records retention schedule and begin building the archival collection. During this phase, we will begin weeding Special Olympics’ records and objects, and we will properly destroy records and objects that have past their disposal date on the approved records retention schedule. We will also organize and re-house records and objects that are considered permanent collections. By the end of this phase, we will have developed archival finding aids for Special Olympics.
  • Phase Four: Digitize selected records as part of the digital archival collection and include best possible metadata. This process will include scanning paper records and photographs and uploading them into a central digital repository as well as organizing born-digital materials. We also plan on digitizing and uploading video footage onto the digital repository as well.

Over the past three months, we have almost completed phase one, and we have just recently started on phase two. We spent most of July taking inventory of all of the records and objects throughout Special Olympics headquarters, and in August we took three all-day trips to an Iron Mountain storage facility to review over 600 boxes there. It seems that every time we think we are done surveying and inventorying, new records and objects that need to be reviewed come into our radar!

Surveying Special Olympics’ records and objects has been very interesting so far, and I truly have learned so much about Special Olympics’ history and workflow just by handling their materials. Some of the materials we have reviewed include paper records from all departments, scrapbooks from Special Olympics games, correspondence from Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver, photographs from the 1960s-2010s, medals and ribbons from World Games, and more VHS tapes than anyone could imagine!

Sometimes while sifting through all of the numerous boxes, drawers, and storage rooms we will find very fascinating and historically significant items, which we have been calling “treasures.”  Some of the “treasures” we have discovered include 1990s Wheaties cereal boxes that feature pictures of Special Olympics athletes, an annotated draft of The Loretta Claiborne Story script, and Special Olympics Games results from the 1970s.

Within the next two months, we will complete our interviews with Special Olympics staff members, and we will start to finalize a records retention schedule that eventually will be approved by all departments. It is a daunting but exciting task knowing that we will develop a records retention schedule that will be utilized by Special Olympics staff long after our initial two year project is finished.

I am very grateful that I have the opportunity to learn how to create a records retention schedule, develop an archival repository, and digitize different types of media all while pursuing my CUA MSLIS degree. Special Olympics is an incredible place to work, and I already feel like I know so much about the history and workflow of the organization. Working under the guidance of Dr. Zhang has also been incredibly beneficial as I am currently enrolled in her Archives Management class for the fall semester. I am greatly looking forward to applying what I will be learning in the classroom to my work here at Special Olympics!

1997 Wheaties cereal box featuring Special Olympics athlete Jennifer Finzel

At the Iron Mountain storage facility with Dr. Zhang and Kate McKenna, Special Olympics’ Editorial and Multimedia Director. We took this picture right after we finished reviewing over 600 boxes of records and objects!

Inventorying boxes of records and objects

A glimpse into Special Olympics’ video library


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