Caitlin Colban-Waldron (she/her) is a 2020 graduate of Queens College CUNY and received an MLS and certificate in archives and preservation. Since December 2019, she has worked at Queens College in the Special Collections and Archives department and currently serves as an Adjunct Archivist. She grew up on Long Island, NY, and recently moved to Queens. Beginning later this fall, Caitlin will serve as the new blog editor for the Academic Archivist (a role formerly held by Katie Nash, University Archivist and Head of UW Archives, University of Wisconsin-Madison).
Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist?
I initially started graduate school with the goal to become a public librarian; my previous career in e-commerce marketing was unfulfilling and increasingly frustrating, and I spent a lot of time thinking about the kind of career that would be motivating and enjoyable. I landed on librarianship, but when I finally enrolled and started coursework, the archives classes in the course catalog intrigued me. I took one class as an elective and immediately changed track.
In that first archives class, a guest speaker was scheduled, Obden Mondesir. He spoke about his work at Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, and how he got to that point–he carved an interesting and fully purposeful path himself through internships, part-time work, fellowships, and volunteer work. It was so impactful for me, because it was that moment that I remember thinking: if this was my career, I’d have to really commit and fully jump in. It was the moment that a stimulating academic topic turned into a potential career path. After that guest lecture I decided to take the leap, quit my e-commerce job, and start trying to gain real-world archives experience. I completed a series of internships and eventually became Obden’s colleague at Queens College (QC)!
Can you share a success you’ve had in your repository recently?
At QC, we’ve been navigating COVID-19 since the very beginning of the pandemic. The first major American epicenter of the virus was here, in our community. I’m proud to be part of our team for many reasons, including transitioning to working remotely on projects and then cautiously coming back to an empty campus in the last few months, but now the library is opening to students and researchers again. We’ll have our first on-site reference visit this week, which I am counting as a small success that feels huge.
What current or future project are you most excited about in your archives?
I’m so excited to process journals from the Gender, Love, and Sexuality Alliance (GLASA) club on QC’s campus. These journals lived in the club’s office in the student union, where any member could write about how they were feeling, what they were working on, how they moved through the world, or simply to leave notes for one another. The journals range from the late 1980s to the 2000s. The journals are not just supremely cool and important historical artifacts from the college and its students, albeit in a different time and a different plague, but as a lesbian I am deeply invested in writing ethical description for these journals and working with the current iteration of the club to represent them in the archives and the college’s historical record with respect and dignity.
What are some of the challenges you face in your position?
Time is the eternal enemy, right? At QC we are up to our eyeballs with exciting, fascinating, and urgent work. But our limited physical capacity to be at work and COVID restrictions pushed us to be creative and expansive when thinking about how we would approach work remotely. The Head of Special Collections and Archives at QC, Annie Tummino, deserves all the credit in the world for keeping us focused and non-despairing. She was proactive in assigning alternative work like an in-depth review of our institution’s controlled vocabulary, a partnership with Queens Public Library’s community archiving program Queens Memory and their own quickly-launched COVID-19 project (check it out here: https://qplnyc.urbanarchive.me/cities/nyc), and the operational rollout of a new platform for digitized materials, JSTOR Community Collections.
What projects do you envision the section undertaking during your time on the steering committee?
As the Early Career Member, I’m obviously a little new to the world of SAA and its various sections, but I’m thrilled to be part of the C&U steering committee. I’m more eager to learn how the committee works and communicates with its members and broader networks. I can’t wait to be enthusiastic support to the great initiatives that the C&U steering committee are planning for the coming year.