By Michelle Sweetser
This post is the first in a series highlighting our newly elected steering committee members.
Greg Bailey, who just began his three-year term on the steering committee, is the University Archivist and Clements Curator for the Cushing Library at Texas A&M University. He has served in these capacities for two and a half years. As University Archivist he is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the university archives and related collections and serves as the primary spokesperson for Texas A&M history on behalf of the Libraries.
Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist? And why college and university archives?
I received my BA in history from Eastern Illinois University and was looking to go into teaching. During the work toward a teaching certificate I realized it wasn’t for me. I knew I loved history and somehow put together that archives are where primary sources are held, and that I could work with history every day as an archivist. During my time in library school at Indiana University I worked and did my internship at the University Archives. By working at that great school and with some great professionals there, I realized that working in a university archives was what I wanted to do. People who work at a college/university and their alumni are very passionate about their college/university, which means that I would have a very important, yet gratifying job.
I understand you have in your collection 5,000 items left at the site of the 1999 student bonfire, which killed 12 students. How have you handled a sensitive collection like this one?
Discreetly. There is a long story that goes with the collection and how it was handled when it became part the University Archives. After it came into Cushing’s holdings, my predecessor did not allow for many public viewings of the materials. It was emotional for a number of people who were involved shortly after the collapse as both the memorial items were brought to Cushing for cleaning, and all of the open records requests were made available in our reading room. For a long time the memorial items were not made available to the public. All of the lawsuits against the university were finally settled last year, and now there is a call to reevaluate the memorial collection. There has never been an overwhelming request for access to the collection, as I think it is still an emotional subject. In 2014 a researcher accessed the collection as she was working on a documentary (The Story of the Stuff) on spontaneous memorials. We are working with the Student Traditions Council on the possibility of displaying some of the items for the 20th Anniversary in 2019 with the idea that the exhibit would encompass the whole story of bonfire and not just concentrate on the collapse. This is complex collection that we are still trying to figure out how to make available.
What’s your favorite outreach strategy to promote your collections?
I would have to say working with/through the Association of Former Students (Alumni Association). I have a pretty good relationship with a couple of the staff and they have worked with me on not only sharing my tweets and running some stories, but they have also worked with me on other projects like asking for sports memorabilia. I’m lucky to have such a strong alumni base that really is passionate about A&M. The AFS is a great conduit to reach out to this group.
How have you balanced the demands of the work place with your professional involvement in SAA and elsewhere?
Here at A&M I am in a bit of a different situation. I am faculty, but non-tenure track. So my annual review and promotion requirements are based on my librarianship and service. With this I am able to commit more time to service in SAA and other organizations. I try to set some time aside each week to fulfill my commitments to service. I think it is important to get involved with SAA, or even at the regional (Society of Southwest Archivists) or state and local level (Texas World War I Centennial Commission and Brazos County Historical Commission). It helps you to grow professionally but also give back to the profession as well as the community.
What would you like to see the section concentrate on during your three year term?
I would like to help work on strategies that would help to diversify our collections. College and University Archives are similar to many other archives and special collections where there are many under represented populations. With our efforts in SAA to try and be more diverse and inclusive in the profession, I feel that should be mirrored in our collections as well.