Teaching with Primary Sources: The Charlotte Lederer Story

By Carrie Schwier

This blog post is drawn from one case study shared during a talk given at the 2017 SAA annual conference during Session 106 Active Learning for Archival Institutions: From Theory to Practice. Coincidently, as it relates to immigration it also ties in nicely to the last post Meet Your Vice-Chair: Ellen Engseth.

While I’ve been a full-time staff member of the IU Archives for almost 10 years now, in the summer of 2015 I moved into the new position of Outreach and Public Services Archivist and was tasked with developing our instruction program. This year our program served over 1,100 students in 70 separate sessions in 21 departments.

Like most archivists, I received no formal training on instruction during library school. Admittedly, looking back at my very early forays in instruction around 2011 I am a little embarrassed. These were often very passive sessions for the students, with me lecturing and leaving them little opportunity to interact with our collections. Over the years my teaching has been heavily influenced by a couple of professional development opportunities including the 2012 Midwest Archives Conference Symposium – Engaging Students and Teachers: Integrating Primary Sources in Curricula (in particular a session on Primary Sources in the College Classroom with Peter Carini, Dartmouth College), and in 2016 the first Librarians Active Learning Institute for Archives and Special Collections (LALI-ASC) at Dartmouth College. Both emphasized the importance of integrating active-learning techniques into the classroom, and the power that a strong story can have as our brains are built to process information as narrative. Furthermore, learning is enhanced when that story is authentic and relatable to the learners’ life.

COLL-S103 – Becoming “American”: Immigration and American Literature
Immediately following my return from LALI-ASC, a relatively new faculty member who was teaching an Intensive Freshman Seminar (IFS) course at Indiana University contacted me.  IFS classes are two-week 3-credit classes intended to introduce “freshman to the rigors of college life” two weeks prior to the start of fall semester. IFS classes typically enroll about 20 students. While planning the instruction session the professor noted that he anticipated the course would attract a large percentage of international students, and this may be their first time in the United States. Ultimately, we choose to target three learning objectives from the ACRL RBMS – SAA Joint Task Forces – Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy:

  • that students understand that they can “draw on primary sources to generate and refine research questions.” (I. Conceptualize; C.)
  • that students “recognize and understand the policies and procedures that affect access to primary sources” specifically in regards to handling and necessity for usage in a secure reading room (II. Find and Access; E. )
  • that students can “identify and communicate information found in primary sources, including summarizing the content of the source and identifying and reporting key components such as how it was created, by whom, when, and what it is.” (III. Read, Understand, Summarize; B.)


Lederer to Trustees 1940_Page_1
Page 1 of letter used in classroom discussion. Image courtesy the author.

Using a flipped classroom model to free up in-class time at the archives for active-learning activities, prior to their visit to the IU Archives the students were assigned to read this letter written in September 1940, by then IU student Charlotte (Lotte) Lederer, a Viennese Jewish refugee to the IU President and Board of Trustees. In the letter, she thanks the Trustees for supporting her studies, talks about her upbringing and about how her parents wanted an education for her equal to that of her brother, the start of the war, and her father’s support of the ill-fated Austrian government. She also goes on to mention that she recently applied for her first citizenship papers and hopes to always live in Indiana. Today’s readers are left with a LOT of hanging questions, which are perfect for demonstrating the above learning objectives. Prior to class, the students are simply asked to come prepared with a list of questions they have about the letter.

During their 90-minute session at the archives, as a group we first compile a list of questions: Did she graduate? Was she Jewish? What happened to her family? Based upon inflation, what would the cost of tuition be compared to that of today? Etc. I use this letter with multiple classes, and based upon their backgrounds the students ask different things and always add questions that I have yet to consider. I use this as an opportunity to share with students the number of directions that a single primary source can take them.

The students are then divided into 6 groups for a think-pair-share activity featuring other documents that fill in details of Ms. Lederer’s life and answer some of the questions they have generated. Included are a New York passenger ship log found through Ancestry.com, a dormitory scrapbook, newspaper clippings about a student refugee committee on campus, a wedding announcement found in the President’s office records, and a letter to the Alumni Association written while she was working as a classification analyst at the Pentagon. Students are then asked to fill out a simple worksheet answering questions such as What is it? When was it made? Where was it made? Who made it and why? What part of Lotte’s story does your item fill in? And does it raise any new questions? Then as a group, I ask the students to report back in a certain order on their documents so as to continue the suspense of the narrative for a while longer.

IU Archives_Folklore and Urban Legend Interactive Class_09222017_01
Students examine a scrapbook during an archives session. Image courtesy the author.

For the second half of the session, in order to reinforce these new skills I pull out another group of items from our collection that are completely unrelated to the Lederer story. For example, oral history interviews from Indiana immigrant communities, records from the Cosmopolitan Club, an early student group formed to support international students, examples of Polish ethnic jokes from the Folklore Institute student papers, and photos and notebooks from our Charles Cushman collection of a Polish Independence Day parade in Chicago in the 1940s. Again in pairs the students work through a similar set of questions as with the Lederer activity (What is it? Who made it? And finally – what’s one question that you have?). The students then come back together as a group to share their findings with their classmates. I also remind them that now they have each generated a research question that they could further develop into a project.

Offered again this fall, a second iteration of this course was expanded into a full sixteen-week course. With each, the professor shared that many of the students expressed that the Charlotte Lederer activity really resonated with them, in particular because she was a college student at Indiana University such as themselves. There is something quite powerful when you can use historical documents which refer to places and spaces intimately familiar to students.

To conclude, I will admit that it took a good amount of time (multiple hours) to develop this activity, most of the time going towards doing the research to find the pieces of Charlotte’s story that were present in our collection. This process actually proves helpful during the instruction session however, as I can share with the students my own research hurdles in an authentic way.

Furthermore, I certainly can’t create a new exercise like this for every instruction session that I teach. This one exercise is quite adaptable for a range of learning objectives and subjects. I use this letter for classes in the History department, Gender Studies, and even recently a School of Education Social Studies for Elementary Schools class. The key is finding an engaging document, which raises a TON of questions. Perhaps it relates to a local mystery, or scandal, or simply something that will draw an emotional response – every archive has that!

Are you wondering how to find engaging documents for use in instruction? Just keep an eye out for ideas while providing reference services, processing new collections, or looking for social media content. My position involves doing a ton of reference so when I run across something interesting that makes me ask questions, I make a quick photocopy and add it to my file of instruction ideas.

If you would like to know more about Charlotte Lederer’s story, see this post at the IU Archives’ Blogging Hoosier History.

Carrie Schwier is the Outreach and Public Services Archivist at the Indiana University Archives. In addition to instruction, she also manages public services, oversees exhibits and outreach initiatives, and supervises lots of graduate students. She holds an M.A. in Art History and M.L.S. with Archives Specialization from Indiana University, and a B.A. from Hanover College.


Meet Your Vice-Chair: Ellen Engseth

This post is the third in a series highlighting our recently-elected section leadership.

Ellen Engseth, Curator, Immigration History Research Center and Head of the Migration and Social Services Collections, University of Minnesota Libraries.

Ellen Engseth is Curator, Immigration History Research Center Archives and Head of the Migration and Social Services Collections within Archives and Special Collections at the University of Minnesota Libraries. The Migration and Social Services Collections are four distinct archives with complementary collections, staff expertise, and patron base. Archives and Special Collections is a department of the University Libraries, with 15 distinct yet collaborative collecting areas, that together create one of the largest archives on an academic campus in the U.S. Previously, she worked as an archivist at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, at North Park University, and at University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign.

Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist?
After a college degree in history, I thought I’d go on to museum work, and I spent some time gaining volunteer and work experience in the heritage sector. I was fortunate to be able to volunteer at the Public Record Office in Kew, England, now the National Archives (UK). I don’t believe I’d ever been in an archive before that point. These colleagues sat me down in front of some 19th century copyright registration ledgers, to look for something in particular, and I was hooked on two things: the information source in its original form (with which I had little experience), and the continuing value and exciting research options these sources provide to us. I did some research and learned of the option to concentrate on archival administration, and attended that program at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.

Can you share a success you have had in your repository of late?
This past year, we’ve had a good experience publishing our sources through a digital academic publisher. I saw this opportunity as one to be both entrepreneurial and contributory; through this project, we’ve increased our digital assets (55,000 pages and 20 hours of transcribed oral history recordings) while improving access of our sources to users we would otherwise not reach. We also had a great time working with campus colleagues, the James Ford Bell Library, and the publishers, building stronger campus relationships, and learning a lot.

What project are you most excited about in your archives?
Finding our next colleague! We have an assistant archivist position available soon, and I really enjoy the process of talking with candidates, finding a good match, and then onboarding and welcoming that new colleague.

As a curator at the Immigration History Research Center Archives, what advice might you give college and university archivists who are considering documenting immigrants on their campus (or the surrounding community)?
This is something I think a lot about, and in the current political and social climates, others are engaged, too. This increase in activity is an opportunity for us to be part of the conversations, learn more about the realities of those on our campuses, and utilize those traditional areas where we often connect with others, such as student groups or in teaching. In our case, at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, a newly-formed Immigration Response Team confirmed that after the presidential proclamation, over 150 international students and scholars are from the eight listed countries, and there are hundreds more faculty, staff, and students with connections to those countries. Did your campus respond in some official capacity? Are more classes discussing immigration, and do you have sources to share with them? Are student groups active and engaged? If so, they are likely cognizant of the historical importance of this moment. Finally, it’s a prime opportunity to practice cultural competence, because the lived realities of recent im/migrants and new Americans on our campuses will be different from others.’ For example, one thing I am now sensitive to is my own use, as an archivist, of the word “document” (and its variants such as documentation and documentary). For many non-archivists, this word carries issues or meanings much stronger than any related to archival activity. In honor of this, I increasingly choose other words, or if I do use “document,” I explain my own usage and set it in the archival context.

You recently received an AASLH Leadership in History Award for your exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the IHRCA. What are your top tips for creating an engaging exhibit in a college and university setting?

Map created by visitors to illustrate migration journeys. Image courtesy the author.

In this exhibit my colleagues and I worked to create an impactful, energetic exhibit space. We hoped that the visitors would engage with the general topic of im/migration, and then, bring that engagement to the archival material on exhibit and to the topic of our archives. So we utilized bright colors, everyday recognizable items such as suitcases and (traveling) shoes, and provided a large world map where we asked visitors to participate in the exhibit by illustrating any migration journey by simply placing a string onto it. Visitors thus gradually and collectively created an exhibit piece that visualized global migration through time. Students seemed to really enjoy this easy way to participate. We also asked folks to leave their comments — and students did, which is great! Finally, we actively welcomed people via a video, a formal event/invitation, personal outreach to teachers, students and community members, and encouraged visitors to discuss their visit on social media.


How have you balanced the demands of the work place with your professional involvement in SAA and elsewhere?
Time or energy for volunteer work service and professional activity can be a struggle for many of us, I know. Yet this kind of work is a great benefit; some people I know in other work environments don’t get such opportunity, and I find that I typically receive as much as I give. I balance by being strategic, choosing to do that which I feel will truly be of use. Also, my experience is that this kind of activity will ebb and flow, depending on opportunity, our other life demands, support from work places, and similar. This will provide some natural balance, as well.

As Vice-Chair and Chair-Elect, what are your priorities for the section for the next two years?
I’d like to maximize the good work of this year’s initiative led by current Chair Rebecca Goldman (details to be announced soon!) by continuing with any work in process. And I am always interested in connecting our section work with SAA’s Goals and Strategies or with other sections, and thus share our campus-based experiences with the wider profession where it can be useful. Finally, as someone with my eye on the international, I will be considering confluences or connections with the Section on University Archives of the International Council on Archives. (Some of you may be interested to know that their 2018 conference will be held in Salamanca, Spain on the topic of “Historical Records in University Archives, a Value Added.”)

I’d love to hear from any of you interested in these areas or others, and work with you on them. Thank you!

Documenting Student Activities and Activism on Campus: Bringing Activist Alumni into the Fold

By Bryan Whitledge

AAblog-04CMU Stop Hate Walkout, November 15, 2016. Image courtesy of Steve Jessmore, Central Michigan University.

Activism is nothing new among the students on college campuses. As the cycle goes at colleges and universities, those activists will hopefully become degree-holding alumni. With this constant turnover, one hurdle that pops up for archivists is how to document campus activism as people leave for the next chapter in their lives. In the attempt to capture today’s activist movements, there are some benefits to be had by working with other campus activists, even decades after they left the institution. At Central Michigan University (CMU), a fruitful relationship with alumni who participated in a variety of groups and movements during the Vietnam War-era not only helped the archives round out the information about that time of activism at CMU, but has been of use to build a relationship with today’s activist students.

Freedom Hall-1969
Freedom Hall at Central Michigan University, ca. May 6, 1970. Image courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

In 2016, some members of the robust activist community that existed in and around Central Michigan University in the late 1960s and early 1970s decided to get together in what they deemed a “No-Class Reunion.” This was perfect opportunity for the Clarke Historical Library to get involved. While the Clarke has relatively complete holdings of “official” records from that era, documents from the activist movement are far from complete. This No-Class Reunion gave the archivists a chance to speak to the publishers of the underground papers, the organizers of the marches, and those who pushed through the doors to occupy the ROTC building and deem it Freedom Hall.


Out of the 180 or so “No-Classers,” about 20 took the Clarke up on the offer to visit the archives. These alumni were impressed and excited to see the vast amount of materials already collected about their activism, and they were delighted to think of how they could contribute more to the holdings. Some of them also agreed to participate in a recorded discussion about their experiences, which would be added to the historical documents.

“No-Class Reunion” participants, 2016. Image courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

Before turning this relationship into a positive tool for connecting with current activist students, staff at the Clarke learned some interesting facts about the activist alumni that could be true beyond the Mount Pleasant campus. First, the No-Classers did not have much contact with the university in the traditional ways other alumni do. This could possibly be explained though their student life experiences, which did not include what are normally deemed traditional activities like Greek life, athletics, clubs, and such. Regardless, the No-Classers did not arrange the event with the Alumni Association, but they did reach out to the archives. It seems that the archives and, more likely, the chance for activists to document the history of the change-making in which they were involved, may be the best link a University has with activist students.

The second bit of information learned from the No-Class Reunion is about building trust and forming bonds between activists and an official university entity, like the archives. For the No Class-ers, the trust was built easily, most likely because their age and geographic distribution meant there were few to no negative consequences to be had for contributing to the historic record. On the one hand, time and distance make trust-building come easy. On the other, the strong bonds formed with the No-Class-ers gave the archives credibility with some current activist students. The Clarke has since been working with a few very active students to add historic context to their documentary project exploring activism at CMU.

Central Michigan University students during an anti-Vietnam War Rally, ca. 1969. Image courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

In an effort to have as complete a record of campus activism as possible, the Clarke found that working with alumni from decades passed payed off. The benefits were not only found in adding to the historical record and helping forge bonds with today’s activists. There were also lessons learned including the fact that the opportunity to document change-making could make the archives the best point of contact activist students will have with institution as alumni. Even so, it may take time – nearly five decades for the No-Class-ers – before activist alumni are ready to share their stories and part with their records.

Bryan Whitledge is the Archivist for University Digital Records at Central Michigan University. During his time at the Clarke Historical Library, he has worked in multiple reference, access, and outreach capacities.

Exhibiting in the Wake of Tragedy: an Isla Vista Remembrance

By Julia Larson

Putting together exhibits of archival and library material can be fun and a good learning experience for all involved. But what if the topic of the exhibit is tragedy? How do you exhibit materials that affected every member of a campus community? What can you do as staff and faculty to help those who have been affected the most, the students? By working with students, and letting them have a voice in choosing materials and designing some of the exhibition rooms, we tried to create a space for healing and promote compassion.

On May 23, 2014, a young man killed six University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) students and injured 14 others. In the wake of the tragedy, spontaneous memorials sprung up in the seaside college town of Isla Vista, where the rampage took place. A UCSB graduate student, Melissa Barthelemy, was approached by undergraduates who asked her to find a way to save the items so that they would not be discarded. She began taking care of the materials in situ (sleeving paper cards, working with the property managers on removal of dead flowers, leaving notebooks for students and community members to write their thoughts and prayers). Barthelemy, a graduate student in history, then began working with librarians Rebecca Metzger and Annie Platoff to form a committee to deal with the memorial items and work with the Library’s Special Research Collections Department to collect and archive the materials. Their Ad hoc Memorial Preservation Committee worked closely with the university administration and Student Affairs Division, as well as the History Department and property owners to collect and preserve cards, letters, candles, and other ephemera. Barthelemy became the project manager for the entire project, and Platoff was the curator of the collection. They worked with the Public History Department to have undergraduate student interns earn credits to organize and scan hundreds of cards and notes during the fall 2014 quarter. By winter quarter 2015, a plan to exhibit the materials for the one-year anniversary had been decided upon and a history class was offered as an opportunity for students to get hands-on experience handling archive and exhibition materials. The problem was location.

In 2015, the UCSB Library was nearing the final stretch of a 3 year, $80 million renovation and addition, and space was tight in the portions of the library that were not under construction. With so many students affected by the tragedy, the normal library exhibit spaces would not work. The committee did not want students who see the library as a safe and quiet space to study to encounter materials from the tragedy in a hallway exhibit or in the normal Special Collections exhibit areas. The library needed a space that was on campus, public enough to encourage visitation, but private enough for students and family members to visit and grieve in peace. The only space that fit the criteria was overflow office space, where a few library departments had moved temporarily during construction. It was a World War II-era gymnasium building, a holdover from when UCSB was a Marine Air Base, halfway between the History Department and the library, near the center of campus. It consisted of nearly 9000 square feet of office space, with a maze of windowless rooms, a mix of large rooms with long blank walls and smaller rooms, perfect for the university counselors to talk to visitors privately, if needed. The only catch was that library staff were not moving out of their offices until April 30, and the exhibit was to open on May 20, just in time for the one-year anniversary memorial.

A history class, taught by Professors Ann Plane and Randy Bergstrom, divided students up into two main groups: students working on the exhibit, and students working on processing the collection for the archive. Annie Platoff supervised the students processing the items (close to 50 cubic feet, and a couple thousand items) into the collection so that they could be put on display in the exhibit. Melissa Barthelemy supervised the students in the exhibit planning, design, and construction. She recruited me (since I am her spouse) to be the Exhibit Installation Coordinator and work with the students on the layout and construction of the exhibit, since I had worked at a number of museums in the past, though at the time I was working at the UCSB Library. Since this was in addition to my full-time job, I worked with a group of students and volunteers every evening from 7 p.m. until midnight most days during May to construct the exhibit, entitled We Remember Them: Acts of Love and Compassion in Isla Vista.

We Remember Them room. Photo by Tony Mastres; courtesy UCSB Library.

Many in-kind donations of time and resources flowed in—the UCSB Art Museum donated the use of 16 exhibit cases, the Library donated the use of a large video monitor to display the digital images of the memorial sites, Facilities donated their custodial services staff to clean the exhibit space, Associated Students donated materials to be put on display, Office of Student Life organized volunteers to help staff the exhibit, and Counseling Services brought in counselors for emotional support. And even the students in the class brought their friends and partners along to help with the exhibit installation. A student in the class who was an art major created the image for the publicity materials, a recent graduate who had taken many photos of the spontaneous memorial sites became the project photographer, a graduate student in psychology became the exhibit supervisor, and a few students worked both on processing the collection and installing the exhibit—this gave them the opportunity to pick out the items that would work best for each exhibit case.

Floor plan of exhibition rooms with suggested path. Image courtesy of Melissa Barthelemy.

The exhibit space was defined as seven interconnected rooms, with auxiliary space left over for a volunteer kitchen, office, exhibit prep room, and two small rooms designated as ‘counseling rooms’ for the counseling staff to use. Long hallways extended around the center rooms, which provided space for the large chalkboards from a spontaneous memorial site (with messages written by community members and sealed for preservation), and new cork boards for visitors to hang notes and messages on. The first portion of the exhibit honored the lives of the victims, and contained biographies approved by their family members. An exhibit case showed items left at the memorial sites that had specific messages for each victim. The next two rooms showed the outpouring of support and condolence materials from the sites of spontaneous memorials. Exhibit cases highlighted each of the spontaneous memorial sites at four of the sites of violence, with cards, mementos, origami cranes, candles, and graduation leis. Photos of the memorial service held in the UCSB stadium which was attended by 23,000 people, a photo panorama of the paddle out (1000 surfers on a calm ocean), the memorial candlelight vigil, and a video message of condolence from Vice President Joseph Biden filled the next rooms. One room also highlighted how those affected had channeled their energy into gun reform, mental health awareness, and a feminist response to violence.  Two more rooms showed how the community has come together, with a Memorial Garden, scholarships in the name of each victim, messages of support for the first responders, and a space for visitors to write their own thoughts in comment books. We chose digital photographs from student photographers, local and university newspapers, and a few images from international news sources for display in the exhibit. A local printing business worked a few late nights as we sent them high resolution images for them to print onto 16×20 foam core, with another piece of foam core attached to the back, so that all we had to do was put nail into the wall and hang the photos from the strip of foam. Another local frame shop devised plexi-glass holders for some of the cards and hand-colored paper hearts from local school children, which allowed for quick, easy, and cost-effective display. The fragile and simple display of materials in frameless plexi emphasized the spontaneous nature of the materials on display. As a flexible overflow space, most of the walls were fairly sturdy drywall, however others were plastic, and still others were cubicle walls that hid various electrical or plumbing features in certain rooms. Two rooms had very old track lighting, but most were the standard office fluorescent lights; some rooms had standard office carpet, but two other rooms and the hallways had the bare, original 1942 basketball floor.

Come Together/ Continuing events room. Photo by Tony Mastres; courtesy UCSB Library.

A room apart from the main flow of the exhibit was the Reflection Room—it was largely designed by the students and featured comfortable couches, mood lighting, colorful posters, and was designed as a place for them to ‘chill’ and relax. It became the place where families and friends of the victims could sit and talk and grieve together. In total, there was about 6000 square feet of exhibition space, spanning nine rooms. Since the exhibit was dependent upon students and volunteers for staffing, we planned to be open only five hours each day for four weeks, ending just after graduation in late June. After faculty, students with their parents, staff, and even the Chancellor visited the exhibit over graduation weekend, the exhibit was extended another six weeks. In total, over 1800 visitors came through the exhibit, some only once, and some returned multiple times.

Reflection Room. Photo by Tony Mastres; courtesy of UCSB Library.

There are a few takeaways from this experience. Not all communities grieve in the same way after events like this. While the tragedy did not take place on campus, it was just two blocks away – in the center of the Isla Vista community, where the students go to hang out, eat, work, and where most of them live, in one of the most densely populated unincorporated areas in the western U.S. The students working on the exhibit wanted to reclaim that seaside town through the Reflection Room, they needed to remind themselves of the Isla Vista before the tragedy. And the staff and faculty needed to remind themselves that we are all one community, both town and gown. The effort to get all of the various departments and units to work together and contribute to this exhibit is not to be underestimated; bureaucracy does not disappear, but can sometimes be ignored if necessary.  In the end, the success of the exhibit was not based on numbers of visitors, or length of time it was open. But it was in the ability of the students to come together and create something out of tragedy, to find ways to grieve collectively, and heal as a community.

Julia Larson is the Reference Archivist for the Architecture and Design Collection at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 2015, she was working at the UCSB Library when she was asked to be the Exhibit Installation Coordinator for the We Remember Them: Acts of Love and Compassion in Isla Vista memorial exhibit. She is currently working on an upcoming exhibit, UCSB Campus Architecture: Design and Social Change, which opens in January 2018.

Meet Your Steering Committee: Christy Fic

This post is the second in a series highlighting our recently-elected section leadership.

Christy Fic, University Archivist & Special Collections Librarian at Shippensburg University

Christy Fic is the University Archivist & Special Collections Librarian at Shippensburg University of PA. She received her MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh and her MA in Applied History from Shippensburg University. Prior to joining the faculty at Shippensburg she worked as a contract processing archivist for the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian Institution.

Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist?
I’ve always been interested in history, but never wanted to teach K-12. During undergrad, I worked as a research assistant for a History professor conducting extensive primary and secondary source research for his book project, and I loved it. I had been seriously considering going for my doctorate, but the summer before senior year I decided I wasn’t ready to make that commitment, so I was seeking alternative career paths. I wound up talking to a variety of folks on campus, and got connected with our college archivist. She had me read John Fleckner’s “Dear Mary Jane” and a few other intro to archives articles, and I was hooked. I was drawn to the idea of having a career that would allow me to conduct research, work with interesting collections, and help others with their research. I spoke to a few alums who had pursued their MLS and gone on to work in archives, and that was it for me.

Can you share a success you have had in your repository of late?
We’ve been collaborating more and more with different groups on and off campus, which has brought about some very exciting opportunities. We were recently asked to participate in a collaborative effort to create a documentary series about the railroad in our local community (which used to run right through campus, and there was even a stop for the school). The documentary series is part of a broader initiative that’s underway to bring the community and the campus together through our shared heritage. We look forward to seeing all the pieces fall into place, and are so glad to be supporting our community and campus partners in this endeavor.

What project are you most excited about in your archives?
We’re in the early stages of planning a complete renovation of the archives, and I am extremely excited to see that come to fruition. While the renovation is still a few years away, the planning process has been a wonderful opportunity to talk about the role of the archives with constituents across campus, and to really think about what we want for the future of the archives. This renovation will provide our students, faculty, and community patrons with an amazing place to learn, collaborate, and grow.

You moved from a contract archivist position at the Smithsonian into an academic library position. What advice might you give to individuals making transitions to academic library settings?
There is so much I wish I had known!

1: Learn to set your own agenda! At my university, librarians have full faculty status. We go up for tenure and promotion just like all the other faculty on campus. I never would have imagined that I would have this kind of opportunity at such an early point in my career. I had assumed that I would be working under a more experienced archivist or supervisor for awhile before I was “in charge.” As a faculty librarian, you have a lot of freedom to decide what work you will do, and that can be daunting at first. You need to be able to act strategically for the long haul, and that’s not something you do when you’re working in a contract or temporary position.

2. Find mentors: inside your department and outside your department. While you might get assigned an official mentor, and that person may be great, they will not be enough. Universities are complex ecosystems and you will need to navigate paths you never even knew existed. Get involved, learn who the players are, and find folks who can teach you to be the faculty member you want to be.

3. Get comfortable with instruction. When I was working on my MLIS, no one ever told me I would have to teach a class. Academic libraries are often looking for archivists and librarians with instruction experience (or at least ability). Find ways to demonstrate you know how to teach.

4. Become involved in the profession. When you’re a contractor, you work your hours and then you go home. In academia, the expectation is that you will be serving professional associations in various capacities, publishing, presenting, etc. You need to show that you’re interested in engaging with the field in a meaningful way.

You teach library instruction classes to undergraduate and graduate students and have coordinated reference for the library. Given this background, what tips might you have for archivists who do instruction?
I teach a lot, and I have both general bibliographic instruction and archival instruction as part of my duties. Regardless of what you are teaching, it is important to remember that while you are very familiar with research, archives, etc. and could do X, Y, or Z in your sleep, your students are students. You need to meet them where they are. Determining how to frame a lesson is a crucial first step and will involve open communication with the course instructor. Do your students even know what archives are? If not, you can’t start off by talking about finding aids. They will be lost, and you will have missed an opportunity to provide them with what they need to be successful. Teaching is a service to your students. If you are new to teaching, or just looking to freshen up your routine, observe others who teach, talk to colleagues, and try different methods until you find something that clicks for you and the students. I have found that it is important to listen. You might have ideas about what you want to get across to your students, but you have to learn what they need from you first. I touch base with students individually to make sure they “got it,” and my door is always open if they want to follow up. This is crucial. While you may not be a course instructor, you play a part in getting students from welcome week to graduation. Last thought: some of your faculty may ask you to do big favors with regard to instruction (e.g., can you teach my class for 2 weeks while I’m away on a research trip?). Your gut might say “no, I don’t have time for this,” but think about the bigger picture. This could be an amazing opportunity for you, the students, and the instructor. My most interesting and creative instruction experiences have come out of these types of requests.

What would you like to see the section concentrate on during your three-year term?
I’m interested to see what we can do as a section to engage our students – those who work for us and those who conduct research in our collections. Many of my students are first-generation college students and I have seen how archival work has made them feel more confident and encouraged them to be more academically ambitious. I would like to see the section develop a set of resources that university archivists can use to assist our under-served populations.

Meet Your Steering Committee: Tracy Jackson

This post is the first in a series highlighting our newly-elected section leadership.

Tracy Jackson, Head, Center Manuscript Processing Section, at Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Tracy Jackson is the Head, Center Manuscript Processing Section, at Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. She is the primary processing archivist for the University Archives at Duke and supervises the processing of collections within dedicated collecting centers. She has been at Duke for three years and holds an MSLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist?
I tried out a few jobs before feeling drawn to library school for a combination of reasons: a love of learning and sharing knowledge and a love of organizing things. While in library school I began working in the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives and realized that archival processing was the right fit for me. Getting to work with the materials was so compelling, and completing a rehoused, labeled, described collection was immensely satisfying. Photographs are still my favorite type of materials to work with, but I’m glad I get to work with a wide variety of materials in the University Archives. I was very lucky to find my way into this work and continue to feel lucky that I have made a career of it.

Can you share a success you have had in your repository of late?
We will soon be adding a Records Manager to our team in the University Archives, thanks to tireless effort on the part of the University Archivist. This is very exciting for us, as we haven’t had a Records Manager in years, and adding this position has been a goal for some time.

What project are you most excited about in your archives?
I am really looking forward to working with our new Records Manager to make sure that university records of long-term research value are properly transferred, preserved, and accessible; we will be establishing brand-new workflows and that will be an interesting challenge. In Technical Services, we are also looking to update documentation of many of our practices, which I find both interesting and intimidating. I think good documentation is crucial to good processing, but it requires regular review and updating, and we have quite a lot to review.

You manage the processing work for the University Archives as well as the technical services staff for two other collecting areas. What strategies do you have for maintaining consistency amongst units as well as for managing projects
Consistency of practice and managing projects is an ongoing challenge. We’re a fairly large shop and all of us are juggling many projects and collections, so there is always a lot happening. In addition to my section, which is three people representing three distinct collecting areas (each tending to collect generally different types of materials), there is a General Manuscript Processing Section and other collecting areas and format specialists in our department. Since this makes for a complex set of projects and priorities, I find it helpful to have regular meetings and informal conversations with my staff as well as my counterpart in General Manuscript Processing and our management team, and to keep current on what is going on all over the department. Ultimately I think my most important role is to ensure clear communication between areas and to provide support to my staff. As mentioned above, good documentation is key to ensuring good practice, and can be difficult to maintain, but that’s something I want to continue to improve.

What strategies are you using to manage and process digital records in your repository?
We have a Digital Records Archivist who is the point person for ingesting and handling digital records, and I have worked with him regularly on born-digital components in collections I’ve processed. Thanks to his work, we’re able to preserve electronic records from media found in collections as well as capture websites, email, and some social media. How to handle the processing of large amounts of digital records, particularly email, is still in flux as we try different methods to find what works (or doesn’t) for each collection.

What would you like to see the section concentrate on during your three-year term?
There are a few issues that I think are of immediate importance for many of us. The first is the scariest: how to deal with the legacy of white supremacy in our archives, and how we as archivists are responsible for dealing with the complex repercussions of that echoing into the work we do to preserve what is happening in the US today. This is an issue of special important to this section because of how often these conversations happen on campus, and because colleges and universities are not only the keepers of so much of our historical record, but also integral players in culture, past and present. A second and related issue is about the environmental impact of our work, an issue I have been pleased to see is starting to get more discussion in the profession. We already think of the very long-term in our work, but we should make sure that thoughtfulness includes considering the impact of our choices beyond the materials themselves. A third topic I would love to think more about is discoverability and accessibility of our description, particularly how we can and should rethink the finding aid as the way we present our description. Not one of these issues has any easy answers, and I think this section can play an important role in finding ways to think about and act on these questions as a profession.