Tiffany Cole is the archivist at James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia. In her role at JMU, Tiffany manages all aspects of collection processing including new and legacy arrangement and description. Tiffany also assists with collection development, reference, outreach, and instruction. She earned her MA in public history from JMU. She has been a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists since 2018 and earned SAA’s Arrangement & Description certification in March 2020 (just days before the COVID-19 lockdown!). Tiffany also serves as the senior co-chair of MARAC’s Finding Aids Award Committee. Her interests include the role of archives in campus history initiatives, reparative description, and vintage Pyrex.
Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist?
I pursued my graduate degree in history knowing that I absolutely did not want to teach, but instead wanted to engage with history in a more tangible way, outside of the classroom. (Little did I know just how integral instruction is with archival work.) I had a graduate assistantship at the very same repository where I now work and I fell in love with archival processing—each collection was a new adventure with its own story and set of challenges. After graduate school, I worked in the research and curatorial department of a presidential home and then transitioned back to archives in a public services capacity at a local university special collections library. I returned to JMU, my graduate alma mater and where I was first introduced to archives, in 2016.
Can you share a success you’ve had in your repository recently?
I’m encouraged by recent collaborations with folks in our library’s Metadata Strategies unit. The pandemic provided us the time and space to look closely at our metadata and descriptive practices. Together, we’ve worked to identify opportunities for reparative description, including revising outdated and harmful subject headings as well as remediating gaps in name authorities, particularly for local Black community members and organizations. These efforts will undoubtedly inform future projects related to JMU’s collection of Black poetry specifically as well as all new and legacy description moving forward. Additionally, I am confident that our collective efforts toward better and more equitable description will help researchers find and access materials as we move forward with implementing the ArchivesSpace PUI.
What current or future project are you most excited about in your archives?
I’m looking forward to the ongoing collaboration between JMU Special Collections and Furious Flower Poetry Center, the nation’s first academic center for Black poetry. We began stewarding their collection in 2016 and it is particularly rich in its audiovisual materials featuring readings and performances by Black poets. Work is underway to adopt a digital platform that suits this and other collections of AV materials which also means creating and capturing lots and lots of metadata. Our main library, where Special Collections is housed, is also slated for an expansion and renovation in the coming years. See also my comment above about adopting the ArchivesSpace PUI. So there are many exciting things on the horizon!
What are some of the challenges you face in your position?
The semester started a few weeks ago and we have witnessed an unprecedented level of in-person appointment requests. Our researchers are making up for lost time! While this is definitely a good problem to have, and I am heartened that students in particular are exploring our collections with so much enthusiasm, it magnifies the lack of time and resources that our small staff has to do all the things—reference, outreach, preservation, instruction, processing, etc.
What projects do you envision the section undertaking during your time on the steering committee?
I’m really looking forward to continuing the weekly section coffee chats. It’s a great way to stay connected to the section on topics ranging from content management systems, student workers, professional development, and promotion and tenure. Speaking of P&T, the section is just starting a project to explore pathways to promotion and tenure.
Anything else you want the membership to know about you or your work?
While part of JMU Special Collections’ collection development strategy is to document the history of the university, we are not an official university archives. This is a precarious position for us and one that I’m hopeful will change in the not too distant future. Until that day happens, I’m excited to connect with others who are working to document the histories of their institution who are in a similar position as well as learn from others who have recently gone through the process of becoming a recognized and official university archives.