Around 5 pm Monday I finished the Underground Newspapers project I've been whining about since last May. I was so happy, I almost whipped of my shirt and ran around the office, a la Brandi Chastain.
Now that I’m done, I can look back and pick out some of the highlights and oddities. Well, no, face it Vee, the whole collection is one big oddity. But I digress:
Favorite titles (Based solely on the title of the publication. I didn't stop to read most of these):
The Anemic Traveler: the newsletter with poor circulation; Bandersnatch; Bi-Weekly Blah-Blah; Borrowed Times; Come Unity (which sounds like "community" if spoken aloud); The Buddhist 3rd Class Junk Mail Oracle (also known as The Barking Rabbit) -- which later changed its name to: Great Swamp Erie Da Da Boom; The Distant Drummer; Fertilizer; A Four-Year Bummer; Good Morning Teaspoon; Great Speckled Bird; High Times; In Arcane Logos; Kompost; Kudzu; Lux Verite; Mile High Underground; Oscar's Underground Ghetto Press; Protean Radish; River Courant; The Son of Jabberwock; Twentieth Century Anonymous; Witzend
Something in the water?
California likes oracles: From 1966-1968, groups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Larkspur, California all decided to produce newspapers called "The Oracle."
And the midwest likes kaleidoscopes: During the seventies, groups in
Proof that "anarchy" and "chaos" aren't necessarily synonyms:
Freedom: the anarchist weekly -- published weekly from 1947-1960, had a little bobble from 1961-1963 where they went to three times a month, and then weekly again until 1975. Wow. And I can't remember to call my Mom once a week.
Any title in this set that was in a foreign language (be it Spanish, Greek, Hawaiian, Navajo, Finnish, Dutch…) was destined to have incorrect index entries.
The moment when I knew this thing had taken over my life and warped my thinking:
The title was "Broken Barriers," out of New Orleans. The index listed the issues thusly:
Volume 1 in 1975, vol. 7 in 1976, vol. 11 in 1977, vol. 3 in 1978? What? I stared at the entry for a little while, and a scene played out in my head.
First, let me explain. This collection was organized by year, then alphabetically by title, and then photographed. What's that mean? Well, look at the entry. Issues for this one title are scattered throughout the collection. The whole index is like this, all 1000+ titles in it. I think there were two reasons things were done like this: 1) newspaper degrades fast; and 2) these were publications of independent presses, and might not be printed with any regularity. They could (and did) sometimes go years between publishing issues. Waiting for a "complete" volume was not a good idea.
Since the issues were filmed in different years, I think it's safe to assume that filming wasn't always done by the same person. I also suspect that the photographer filled out a chart as he/she went along, reporting titles, volume and issue information, and dates. This chart was then transcribed into the index by a typist somewhere else in the building. The typist had no contact with the photographers whatsoever, and had to believe that what was on the chart was correct. With me so far?
Okay, now here's how I saw it happening:
My guess was that volume numbers for this title uses roman numerals, and the issue numbers are regular ones. Photographers for reels 178 and 200 recognize this, and write "1" and "2" in whatever place on the chart they need to. Unfortunately, the photographer for #2 has crappy handwriting, and his/her "2" looks like a "7" to the typist. Photographer for reel 229 either needs glasses or doesn't know roman numerals, and he/she records II as "11," so that's what gets transcribed into the index. Photographer for reel 261 recognizes "III" as "3," writes that. Typist sees that on chart, shakes head at the vagaries of independent/alternative presses (1,7,11,3?), and dutifully enters "3" into the index.
I go to the film reels, sure that each issue for volumes "7" and "11" are going to be "Volume II." I am right. I am momentarily triumphant; and then very, very frightened of myself.
The Parting Shot:
All the way at the end of the title portion of the index (three pages from the end, to be exact), there's an entry for Xex Graphix:
This looked like trouble, so I saved it ‘til last. It turns out the Xex Graphix is a publisher of comic books, and these entries were each titles in their own right. I needed to make 12 records just for this entry.
Cataloging microfilmed versions of comic books. Never thought I'd be doing that.
But now I’m done. I have yet to decide how to celebrate. I think I’m going to bring in some baked goodies as a thank-you to my coworkers for putting up with the muttering, weeping, and shouts of outrage that leaked out over my cubicle walls. Not to mention the occasional conversational bludgeoning they’d take as I’d corner one of 'em and jabber on and on about my horrible project until their eyes glazed over.
I wonder what I'm going to be given next. There is a project around here somewhere with my name on it, I'm sure of that. As it was pointed out to me yesterday, the reward for a job well done is usually more work. I hope they come up with something soon. I've been wandering around since Tuesday morning, time hanging heavy on my hands. It's weird not having "that #@$! microfilm project" around, driving me crazy. It's been the bane of my existence for ten months. Now I almost miss it.