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Happy Archives Month! The month of October is a special time for archivists across the state as we celebrate archival material and the archival profession. Part of this celebration is sharing information about what archivists do, and how we do it. In this case, we’re going to have a little fun with our educational experience. Below you can learn more about the tools and resources we use as archivists to physically care for material, to arrange material, and to make the material accessible. Most importantly, you’ll learn how these tools pair with your astrological sign.

Aries: Binding Tape

Dates: March 20 – April 19
Qualities: Dynamic, Determined, Confident, Eager

Archivists use binding tape for a lot. Broken bindings, bundles of documents, rolled items, all are made stable again by the determination of binding tape. It functions with a confidence that puts all archivists at ease, for unlike the name suggests, binding tape is not tape at all, but is actually woven cotton string so it does not harm the material like metal fasteners, rubber bands, or adhesives.

Binding Tape

A spool of binding tape alongside an Estray Book, whose cover is held in place by binding tape.

Taurus: Document Spacer

Document Spacer

A small archival storage box with a one folder collection is held upright by a document spacer.

Dates: April 19 – May 20
Qualities: Strong, Dependable, Practical, Patient

While it may not be the most glamorous of archival tools, the document spacer is a dependable friend to all archivists. Collection materials very rarely fill every box perfectly, and the document spacer is there for the practical fix. It fills the empty space left in the archival storage box, holding the material upright and in place so it does not warp. Whether for a temporary fix, or long-term solution, the document spacer is there to keep everything stable, giving a new appreciation to the words “lean on me.”

Gemini: Microspatula

Dates: May 20 – June 21
Qualities: Versatile, Gentle, Curious, Vivacious

The microspatula is the most aesthetically charismatic tool in the archivist’s kit. Shiny, professional, cool, it’s no wonder the microspatula’s likeness is the one most likely to be tattooed upon an archivist. Similar to binding tape, the microspatula is a versatile tool. Archivists use it to remove staples and rubber band residue, separate pages, and help unfold crinkled and torn documents. Although essentially a metal stick, it requires a gentle touch. With a steady hand and a curious mind, the microspatula can easily adapt to any situation.


The microspatula is a two-sided tool.

Cancer: Archival Storage Box

Archival Storage Box: View of how material at different levels of processing may be stored together
Archival Storage Box

Material at different levels of processing may be stored together.

Dates: June 21 – July 22
Qualities: Loyal, Protective, Sets boundaries, Takes on others’ problems

One of the oldest and most loyal companions to the archivist is the archival storage box. These protective boxes are the keystone of archival storage. The flip-top makes it easy to open and review the contents without constant disruption to the material. When labeled, these boxes create physical boundaries between and within collections, and allow for clear designation to aid with access. Made from acid-free material, these boxes take on the histories of donors, the work of archivists, and keep it all safe and secure for decades.

Leo: Tacking Iron

Date: July 22 – August 22
Qualities: Outgoing, Fiery, Dramatic, Creativity

Talk about fiery, the tacking iron is the archival tool with the biggest personality.  From zero to 450 degrees in two minutes, these little buddies know how to bring the drama. Archivists generally use the tacking iron to flatten folded or rolled material too stubborn to lay flat. But to be clear, the tacking iron is more than its intense exterior. With the help of heat-set tissue [see Pieces], the tacking iron is also the creative solution to many a conservation quandary.

Tacking Iron

Virgo: Eraser


Date: August 22 – September 21
Qualities: Gentle, Analytical, Has a fix for everything, Hardworking

The sweetie pie of sweetie pies is the eraser. The archivist would be in a tough spot without this overlooked companion. Always on the lookout for issues, the eraser is a natural problem solver. Ever willing to fix the archivist’s mistakes, be it on a folder, box label, or while taking notes, the eraser provides a gentle reminder that no one’s perfect… and that’s ok.

Libra: Library Cart

Date: September 22 – October 23
Qualities: Social, Fair-minded, Indecisive, Cooperative

The library cart is the social butterfly of the archivist toolkit. Whether moving archival material between different archivists or moving material from collection storage to patrons, the library cart sees everyone.  While the library cart is gracious and willing to work with anyone, it may require a little direction and the occasional push. Sometimes metal, sometimes wood, the library cart does a lot of schlepping for the archivist but always has the best attitude.

Library Cart

Scorpio: Map Cabinet

Map Cabinet

Dates: October 23 – November 22
Qualities: Resourceful, Secretive, Brave, Stubborn

The archivist needs a brave friend, one to carry the heavy loads. Luckily there’s the map cabinet. Apart from maps, archivists use map cabinets to store material such as architectural drawings, genealogical charts, prints, and plats, proving their resourceful nature in being able to overcome storage concerns for most oversized material. Once in place, the map cabinet is unmovable, and finds change hard. The map cabinet can also be a bit secretive, as it doesn’t like patrons to see it at work, which is unfortunate because it’s quite the rock star.

Sagittarius: Pencil

Dates: November 22 – December 21
Qualities: Funny, Extroverted, Truthful, Emotional

For archivists, the pencil is the friend with no indoor voice. The pencil will let you know exactly what they are thinking at all times. Used to label folders and boxes, take notes about the collection, fill-out call slips, or to create a doodle in a meeting, the pencil helps to communicate the professional as well as emotional thoughts of the archivist.


Capricorn: MARC Record

MARC Record

The data view of a MARC record showes the field numbers, indicators, and delineators used.

Dates: December 21 – January 20
Qualities: Disciplined, Self-controlled, Compartmentalize, Mature

Of the archivist’s companions, the MARC (MAchine-Readable Cataloging) record is the most grown-up. The MARC record is a tool that allows patrons to search and view information related to archival collections. MARC records contain all the information concerning the who, what, where, when, why, and how of a collection, but in an extremely structured way. In order for these records to be available and searchable in the library catalog and across systems, standardization and controlled vocabulary is key.

The archivists must enter information such as author, date range, title, and general scope of the collection, in the correct fields, with the correct format, making the MARC record disciplined and structured.

[You can always view the MARC data for any LVA catalog item by clicking on the “Display Source Record” option at the top of every record. Try by using this link to Isle of Wight Commonwealth Causes]

Aquarius: Finding Aid

Dates: January 19 – February 18
Qualities: Original, imaginative, uncompromising,

Similar to the MARC record in many ways, the Finding Aid is a different format for patrons to discover and interact with archival collections. Finding Aids are always one-of-a-kind, true originals, and while they are uncompromising in general structure, they allow a more expansive way to imagine the description of an archival collection. Finding aids generally contain more detailed information pertaining to the organization of a collection such as the various sections of a collection, lists of the boxes within a collection, and even descriptions of specific items. The Finding Aid, as the name implies, is really there to help patrons and archivists alike locate the material most relevant to their needs.

Finding Aid

Item level information that can be found in a finding aid available through the Archival Resources of the Virginias

[Please use this link to visit the Archival Resources of the Virginias (previously Virginia Heritage) website to search all LVA Finding Aids, as well as Finding Aids for many other archival repositories in Virginia and West Virginia ]

Pisces: Heat-set Tissue

Heat-set Tissue

A roll of heat-set tissue alongside a document with fragile edges that an archivist stabilized using heat-set tissue

Dates: February 18 – March 20
Qualities: Affectionate, Empathetic, Ethereal, Gentle

Heat-set tissue is the archivist’s gentle buddy. Archivists use heat-set tissue to help mend materials with tears, holes, or worn edges. Although it has an almost ethereal quality due to its tissue paper appearance, when paired with the tacking iron [see Leo], heat-set tissue is a supportive presence. Always empathetic to the material, heat-set tissue is ready to give a little hug and hold the material together for years and years.

Mary Ann Mason, They/Them

Local Records Archivist

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