Meet Steering Committee Member: David McCartney

This post is the first in a series highlighting our recently-elected Section leadership.

David McCartney (he/him/his) is the University of Iowa archivist, a position he has held since 2001. He received the MA in history and MLS in library and information science in 1998, both from the University of Maryland at College Park. He is immediate past president of the Midwest Archives Conference and has been a member of the Section since his first year on the job at Iowa. Before entering the archives field, David was a reporter for radio stations in Alaska and the Midwest; his undergraduate degree in journalism is from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist?

In the summer of 1992, when I was between warehouse jobs, I drove around the Midwest to repositories that held papers on Carrie Chapman Catt, the woman suffrage leader and founder of the League of Women Voters. Catt grew up near my Iowa hometown, and the idea was to prepare a bibliography or some kind of catalog of her papers for visitors to consult at her to-be-restored 1866 farm home. I visited a half-dozen archives in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa, and by the end of that summer, I was hooked, thinking, Hey, this is pretty cool work they’re doing. The resulting catalog, such as it was, was my pre-Web introduction to collection-level description. In fall 1994 I began graduate studies at College Park. My mother should take the credit (or blame) for my entering the field, as she founded the non-profit that restored the historic house, a project that really sparked my interest in public history. Check out the museum’s web site at http://catt.org for more information.

Can you share a success you’ve had in your repository recently?

While not purely recent, it has been a continuing effort since 2012 to document the life of a former student, Stephen Lynn Smith (1944-2009), a white man from a small Iowa town who was a civil rights volunteer in Mississippi in 1964 and, later, an outspoken opponent of the war in Vietnam. Steve burned his draft card in our campus union in 1965, the second in the nation to do so after such protest became a federal crime, and the first to do so on a college campus. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but over the last eight years I have reached out to individuals who did, including his widow, their children, and his brother. As recently as last month, I conducted an oral history interview related to his time on our campus; to date, we have 20 interviews. There is more about this project – a deeply-moving personal as well as professional experience – in this article that appeared in Archival Outlook in 2017: https://www.bluetoad.com/publication/?i=376049

What current or future project are you most excited about in your archives?

We are looking forward to collaborating with Iowa Freedom Riders (IFR), a group that formed following the death of George Floyd while he was in police custody in Minneapolis. IFR organized protests, both on campus and throughout Iowa City, during the summer, and we look forward to documenting their activity. My unit is also working with staff from the Old Capitol Museum and the university’s Office of Strategic Communication in documenting spray painted messages left on campus and downtown buildings. The Old Capitol – Iowa City was the state’s first capital, from 1846 to 1857 – is our campus’ central landmark and a traditional site for protest. It was here that IFR held its first protest in late May. A recent article in Library Journal describes our effort to document their work: https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=university-of-iowa-to-create-archive-of-black-lives-matter-protesters-spray-painting

What are some of the challenges you face in your position?

Capturing and preserving university-affiliated web sites was a challenge that we were able to address to some degree thanks to support from the Internet Archive. But once that challenge was met, the expanding and evolving social media environment took its place. In essence, preserving and managing born-digital content is a challenge for all of us. I am fortunate that my colleague, Daniel Johnson, our digital preservation librarian, is looking into protocols to support this initiative.

More fundamentally, though, I believe our profession’s worth and legitimacy are being challenged. Too many individuals in our field are not sufficiently compensated for their professional services – unpaid internships undermine all of us – and often the value of our work goes unrecognized. Institutions and corporations must understand that it is in their legal and cultural interest to maintain a robust archives and records management program. Our challenge is to continually advocate for our profession to ensure its rightful place in commerce and culture.

What projects do you envision the Section undertaking during your time on the steering committee?

The committee is planning a series of free webinars for our members touching on a variety of topics, such as creating institutional histories and how to offer instruction using primary sources. These sessions will be especially useful as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. We are also looking forward to updating the Guidelines for College and University Archives (https://www2.archivists.org/book/export/html/14800), reflecting changes in our profession over the last 20 years since the last review. More from the Section on these initiatives very soon!

Anything else you want the membership to know about you or your work?

The steering committee is always open to ideas and suggestions. Please don’t hesitate to contact one of us, and we’ll share with the group at our next meeting. Plus, we always look forward to hearing from and meeting our members!

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