The P&S Journal: Spring 1998, Vol.18, No.2
A Day in Special Collections
Intellectual and Physical Control
For his first year on staff, Mr. Vietrogoski spent most of his time getting acquainted with the collection. From the looks of things, the files might fill a warehouse, if not a football field. Mr. Novak joined the library in the spring of 1997 and for the first several months he worked at getting “intellectual control” of the materials. He, Mr. Vietrogoski, and the staff spent considerable time just reorganizing the shelves, looking through boxes, cleaning, ordering repairs of leaky ceilings, and doing an overall inventory of the holdings. Many days, Mr. Novak would go home physically exhausted after a day of moving boxes and rebuilding shelves. “My predecessor said this was the most physical job she’d ever had,” he says of the person who filled his post for less than a year. “That’s what I like about archival work, though. It’s a nice combination of intellectual work and hard labor.”
By December 1997, Mr. Novak was satisfied with the basic organization the group had achieved. “Before, we had boxes stacked on shelves all the way to the ceiling,” he says. “Not only was that nearly impossible for people to access, but it was a fire hazard.” That basic element of housekeeping complete, he assigned the first major organizing project to Mr. Vietrogoski, who has worked in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress. This first collection is the personal papers of June Lyday and Samuel T. Orton, made up of their correspondence, patient case histories, research notes, and publications relative to the Ortons’ extensive work in dyslexia and specific learning disorders.
Although Columbia first acquired the Orton papers in 1989, it has yet to properly organize them. Samuel T. Orton, who was professor of neurology at P&S and a neuropathologist at the New York Neurological Institute during the late 1920s and early 1930s, is considered a pioneer in dyslexia studies. Dr. Orton and June Lyday, a psychiatric social worker, were married in 1928 and the two worked as a research team until his death in 1948. The Orton Dyslexia Society, formed in 1949, is still active, under the name of the International Dyslexia Association, as a non-profit, scientific, and educational organization dedicated to the study and treatment of dyslexia.
Mr. Vietrogoski first reviewed all the documents, which are held in 30 document boxes, getting an idea of what was there. After that, he made a rough outline charting the contents of the boxes—correspondence, publications, notes, patient records—and began to sort items into those series. “You gain a unique perspective reading someone’s mail all day,” he says. Mr. Vietrogoski believes the Orton collection will be a valuable resource for scholars researching the progression of treatment for learning disabilities and for the Dyslexia Association itself, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. “It’s a really rich collection. Steve and I want to do it right and we want to offer the Dyslexia Association and scholars a well-organized scholarly resource.”