Call for participation

I am pleased to announce that the C&U Section Steering Committee recently voted for the theme of campus and campus-related histories, as this year’s Section focus. We will center on social justice-related work, such as inclusive and evolving historical narratives, contested commemorations, town-gown relations, and privilege within the archival record. 

I welcome your feedback on key questions we might pose, outputs that would be helpful to you in your jobs, or programmatic ideas for working together on this broad topic.

We’ll work as a Steering Committee and as a Section through the spring, and this will be the topic for the Section Meeting at SAA’s Annual Meeting in Austin, TX. Please join in, and feel free to reach out to me or to any member of the Steering Committee

Thank you!

Ellen Engseth
Chair, College and University Archives Section
Society of American Archivists


Development from Negatives

by Christina Zamon

Since the beginning of 2018, my team and I at Georgia State University worked tirelessly to pull together an exhibit featuring our photographic collections while speaking to the challenges of preserving the over 8 million photographs and negatives in our collections. The idea was to build a donor base and reach a broader audience beyond our traditional subject areas while garnering financial support for photographic conservation efforts.

For some background, many of our collecting areas have an archivist that serves as a curator for those collections. Our photographic collections, however, do not have a full-time professional archivist overseeing them and are heavily used by a multitude of constituencies. Our collections also contain the most comprehensive set of photographs documenting 20th century Atlanta including the photo morgue for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Many of the negatives in our collections are in fair-to-poor condition necessitating extensive conservation work. Without an in-house conservator, we must pay to send these out to a qualified conservator and generally spend $5,000 or more per year on approximately 30 negatives. We will all be dead and gone (and many of our negatives as well), if we continue at this rate. (3)
This boomerang showing a damaged negative that has been restored was used in online promotional materials to demonstrate impact. Courtesy George State University.

In order to address our challenges in preserving these negatives, we decided to try many new ideas, maybe too many, all at once. This exhibit was to be only the second regular exhibit opening for the library in its history and we decided to pull out all the stops. My curatorial team worked on creating two physical exhibits, one to be housed in the exhibit gallery on the 8th floor of Library South, and a smaller “satellite” exhibit in our Clarkston Campus library. In addition to the physical exhibits, they produced a complementary online exhibit to allow us to feature as many photographs from our collections as we could. The online exhibit also functioned as a test ground for Omeka Everywhere. After advocating for over a year I was finally able to purchase technology for our gallery and worked with our administration, Digital Scholarship Librarian, and Digital Library Services Unit to purchase a touch screen table top display where we could feature the online exhibit in the gallery alongside our physical exhibit.

As if that weren’t enough, our new Assistant Director of Development for the library wanted to test out some new fundraising ideas: not one, but two! So, we launched the library’s first crowdfunding page to pay for the exhibit and catering for the opening. That campaign ran from July 1 through the exhibit opening on September 23. Besides the crowdfunding campaign, we also decided to have an “adopt-a-negative” fundraising component to raise money to have one or more negatives restored by a professional conservator. The idea was that we could launch the “adopt-a-negative” component with the opening of the physical exhibit (so go from fundraising for the exhibit to fundraising for the collections) by having a room set up with print outs of damaged negatives and examples of negatives that were beyond saving. The adoption process could then be carried on throughout the year through our Omeka exhibit.


Clarkston Exhibit
Satellite exhibit at the Clarkston campus. Courtesy Georgia State University.

As we have difficulty drawing an audience for events on weekday evenings, due to traffic as well as finding the location of Library South, we decided to try something different. We decided to hold the opening on a Sunday afternoon so that folks could go to church and come downtown for the afternoon. We promoted the exhibit opening wherever we could, including the Decatur Book Festival, at tables in the library, in the university calendar and the Atlanta Celebrates Photography booklet, as well as the student newspaper. Our library marketing staff was set to announce it on the Visix displays across all campuses, in community calendars, etc.

Everything was planned out and the hope was to draw new donors and folks who had never stepped foot through our doors. Now, I had been told that “no one comes downtown on the weekends” and that most people were only downtown during the week because they were there for work and school and were gone on the weekends. But the weekends also mean free parking, which was heavily advertised. We also had activities for guests including free green screen photos where you get to put yourself in a historic Atlanta photograph and either get a postcard print or email it to yourself. And of course, you could adopt a negative and get the digital files for your own personal use. What could possibly go wrong!? Almost everything…


One of the green screen photographs created during the exhibit opening. Visitors could have their photo taken against a green screen and inserted into a historic photograph. Courtesy George State University.

There were things we were aware of and didn’t factor in and then there were things that did not even cross our radar. The biggest mistake? Trying to do all these new things at once. Had we thought more carefully, it would have been better to introduce these new ideas gradually. Not only did our exhibit focus on two things, collections and preservation, we decided to move the event from a weeknight to a weekend, and no, free parking did not draw the masses.

Beyond these issues we ran into other problems. Our marketing staff, as it turns out, did not do all the marketing that was discussed or expected. Our crowdfunding raised more than we had expected ($2,000 out of our $5,500 goal), but still fell short and did not cover all expenses incurred by the exhibit, especially the catering, which cost more than anticipated because it took place on a weekend.

Ultimately, 14 people attended the event; all but two of them were friends or family of the two exhibit curators. There were only two people, both graduate students, who made their way up to the exhibit gallery because they saw the directional signage down in the library. Not one person came to the event as a result of any of our social media or marketing. There were more of us working at the event than attendees, so it was a struggle not to have five people attending to each one person who walked into the gallery.

In the end, we had zero adoptions of negatives in person and to date, none online. We did not grow our donor base as hoped and did not use our existing donor base for the library as leverage. There were several lessons learned:

  1. Focus the exhibit on one topic. In this case, it should have been focused solely on preservation.
  2. Pick one fundraising activity per event. We should have focused solely on the “adopt-a-negative” fundraiser and leveraged our existing donor base by sending out promotional materials to those donors.
  3. There were too many people and activities involving a multitude of deadlines. This led to people dropping the ball, missing deadlines, or failing to follow through on assignments. Had we been more focused on one activity, we would not have overburdened staff members.

With these lessons in mind, we are now planning another exhibit launch in the fall of 2019. We will continue with the two physical exhibits and the Omeka exhibit in response to requests from the library administration, but we will likely drop the fundraising component or will pick one fundraiser. We will also hold the opening from 4-6 pm on a weekday and ensure that it is promoted to all of our donors and to the larger Atlanta metro area. Making these changes should ensure a better turnout and return on investment!

Christina Zamon is the Head of Special Collections and University Archives at Georgia State University, a position she has held since September 2016. Prior to that time, she served as Head of Archives and Special Collections at Emerson College. She is the author of The Lone Arranger: Succeeding in a Small Repository. She is currently a member of the College and University Archives Section’s Steering Committee and previously served as chair of the section (2014-2015).

Meet Your Vice-Chair: Benn Joseph

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

Benn Joseph headshot
Benn Joseph, Head of Archival Processing, Northwestern University Libraries.

Benn Joseph is the Head of Archival Processing at Northwestern University Libraries. The Archival Processing unit provides centralized archival description and collection management services for each of the Libraries’ Distinctive Collections, which include University Archives, the McCormick Library of Special Collections, Herskovits Library of African Studies, and the Transportation and Music Libraries. Previously, he worked as Head of University Archives & Special Collections at Illinois Institute of Technology, and in positions at Chicago History Museum and Benedictine University.

Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist?
This was after taking an intro to archives course in the MLS program at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Some of our assignments involved actually going to the Southern Historical Collection and using the materials there. I was hooked! It was way more interesting to me than what we were doing in cataloging, collection development, etc. I ended up with an internship at the Southern Folklife Collection, and a part-time job digitizing slides at the Duke University Medical Center Archives — upon finishing the program it just made sense to keep going!

Can you share a success you have had in your repository of late?
Earlier this year we hired a Digital Archivist, who is based in the Archival Processing unit. This took a number of years to accomplish, and was such a dire need for us that we’re hoping not to overwhelm Kelsey with things to do! Prior to her arrival, we had been required to take more of a DIY approach to born-digital materials in collections, and although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, we’re very happy to have been able to really formalize this aspect of our work over the past year.

What project are you most excited about in your archives?
Recently the Archival Processing unit was tasked with centralizing the archival accessions function for all of Distinctive Collections (5 separate collecting units, including the Northwestern University Archives and the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections), something that has up until now been done in myriad ways over the course of many years. It might not sound that exiting, but good recordkeeping is its own reward!

What are some of the challenges you face as Head of Archival Processing?
Most challenges I perceive are connected in some way with the creation of this new unit, Archival Processing, and our efforts to define our unit’s role in the department where none existed before. To me it’s all about the streamlining and formalizing arrangement and description, but what does that mean exactly?

For one, I think striking a balance between volume and detail in processing is one of our more common challenges. Also, keeping on top of what we’re doing between each of the five repositories. We know well the wonders of MPLP, but the curators who bring in collections might not always share our enthusiasm with it in practice. Plus, even though we in Archival Processing work to determine a collection’s research value through the process of archival appraisal while we process, our appraisal and that of the donor and curator might not always match up. Sometimes the resulting recommendation winds up being item-level description for an acquisition that may only need a collection-level record.

And what about public services? In a department called Archival Processing you can imagine there may not be many opportunities to work with researchers, teach a class, etc. But, after spending months processing a collection, it is the processing archivist that is now the expert in this area … How can we bring this expertise to bear in a way that makes sense and is a good use of everyone’s time?

Lastly, the process of prioritization. For instance, as collections are ranked in priority for descriptive work, we usually assign higher priority to those in need of digitization, or ones that will be used for a class. Sometimes there are circumstances involving donors that require us to work quickly. As we do this, we also want to make sure we’re prioritizing, appraising, and describing in a way that ensures diverse voices are heard. And it’s a balancing act — we don’t want any jobs to seem rushed.

What strategies are you using to manage and process digital records in your repository?
With the Archival Processing unit having taken on the management of born-digital collections materials that come into Distinctive Collections, we’re trying to approach things as being format-agnostic. It’s all here to be used, regardless of format! Still, there’s a very different looking workflow that born-digital materials get shuttled through before being made available via the finding aid (or otherwise), and keeping track of all that really keeps us on our toes. The first phase involves migrating data for preservation and forensically analyzing it to prepare it for processing. We use a dedicated digital archives workstation that we call “Fred” (even though it’s not actually a FRED) to acquire, quarantine, ingest, and bag born-digital collection materials into the Fedora repository used by the library. Once these activities are complete, it can enter a more traditional queue for processing, where the processor analyzes the content itself, its metadata, and makes determinations about how to describe and arrange the material. All files that can be are copied and converted to open formats for access and further determinations are made about accessing proprietary formats that cannot be converted easily on a case-by-case basis.

What projects do you envision the section undertaking under your leadership?
I don’t have any particular agenda — for now, just continue with the work on this year’s initiative led by section chair Ellen Engseth. The steering group has done some brainstorming as to what might be a good project to undertake, and as the group works to expand on those ideas I think some ideas will take shape and carry over to the next year — these are topics like student workers in the archives (led by immediate past chair Rebecca Goldman), accessibility, documenting tragedies, and others. And of course I’m very interested to hear from anyone who wants to explore new ideas! 

Mapping Student Learning in the Archives

by Erin Passehl-Stoddart

This blog post is drawn from presentations at the 2017 SAA Research Forum[1] and the 2016 European Conference on Information Literacy[2].

I was intrigued by a question posted by Rebecca Goldman on the Academic Archivist blog to kick start this year’s focus on student workers: “How can we center student workers in this conversation and highlight their accomplishments?”[3] I believe there are two different perspectives that can help answer this question, and that incorporating both perspectives provides the maximum impact towards highlighting student learning in the archives.

The first perspective is that of the student worker, a voice that can be difficult to capture. With that in mind, I designed a pilot study around semi-structured interviews with student workers who interacted with archival materials at work. The interviews included open-ended questions about working in academic libraries and self-perceptions of how their work aligned with professional standards and how they will use what they learned after graduation. While I won’t dive deep into that here (it will be published in the Fall/Winter 2018 American Archivist), I will address the second perspective to the question how we can highlight student learning and their accomplishments.

The second perspective that is equally important to capture is that of archivists (and supervisors). As the head of special collections and archives at a land grant university, I often considered how I could better communicate the department’s impact in the library, university, community, and beyond. One aspect of this was to look at student learning taking place on the job. How do archivists usually convey student success and learning while on the job? The first ways that came to mind were written (evaluations, annual reports, development newsletters, etc.) and verbal (in meetings, donor conversations, etc.). I also wanted to acknowledge the value that archivists bring to teaching and enhancing the student worker experience. Many times, archivists articulate this through evaluations and statistics for annual reports, considering questions such as:

  • How does the archives/library provide effective learning opportunities for students?
  • How does student learning align with our professional standards?
  • How does the academic library align with university learning standards and strategic planning/mission?

One way to consider how archivists communicate student learning and highlight their successes is through an exercise that maps student job responsibilities to professional standards and literacies. As part of the exercise, I mapped functions found in student job descriptions to a corresponding standard or literacy learning outcome. For example, student positions that were heavily involved with physical or digital exhibits mapped well to visual literacy standards[4]; students heavily involved with processing or digitizing collections mapped well to the new primary source literacy standards[5]. This exercise can be broad or narrow; I decided to map functions to both the overarching standard and when appropriate a learning outcome found underneath it. This mapping exercise provides supervisors with more cohesive language that exemplifies both the student learning experience and the archivists’ role in teaching students in the workplace. Table 1 below shows common job duties that can be found in many archives departments.

Microsoft Word - Document1
Table 1: Student Position Job Duties Mapped to Professional Literacies and Standards

A second mapping exercise that I found helpful to articulate learning occurring while at work in the archives was to connect student job descriptions and functions to campus learning outcomes[6]. I found this exercise was effective in communicating with internal and external stakeholders and that I was better able to advocate for additional student opportunities. Academic courses taught at colleges/universities typically include specific learning outcomes for the course that align to campus learning outcomes. While not quite the same, one way to communicate student learning while at work in the archives is to utilize the same language. By making similar connections between learning in the classroom to campus learning outcomes, archivists can connect what students are learning at work to the same campus goals and speak the same language as other academic departments (see an example in Table 2 below). By placing student learning into broader competencies outside of professional standards and literacies, this information can be used by archives and library administrators to communicate the impact on student learning for annual statistics, reports, and accreditation reviews.

Microsoft Word - Document1
Table 2: Student Position Description Mapped to Campus Learning Outcomes.

By reframing and aligning activities of student workers to professional standards, literacies, and campus learning outcomes, archivists can highlight student accomplishments and the value of archivists in a teaching role. Mapping student worker functions is one way to help archivists strategically communicate impacts on learning while working in the archives to our stakeholders at all levels, whether the position is paid, volunteer, or intern. The mapping exercise serves as a helpful tool for administrators to advocate for how the archives or library contributes to campus-wide learning outcomes, as well as help improve the student worker experience.

Erin Passehl-Stoddart is the Strategic Projects and Grants Development Librarian at the University of Oregon. She previously was Associate Professor and Head of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Idaho. She holds an MSI with a specialization in archives and records management from the University of Michigan and a BA in history and political science from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Erin is a past president of Northwest Archivists and served as SAA key contact for Oregon and Idaho.


[1] Passehl-Stoddart, Erin. “Student Employment Matters: Mapping Literacies and Learning Outcomes in Special and Digital Collections.” Poster presentation at the Society of American Archivists Research Forum, Portland, OR, 2017.

[2] Passehl-Stoddart, Erin. “Information Literacy Contributions From Archives and Special Collections.” Presentation at the European Conference on Information Literacy, Prague, Czech Republic, 2016.

[3] Goldman, Rebecca. “Seeking Input: How Should the Section Act Upon a Theme of Student Workers in the Archives?” Academic Archivist, January 24, 2018:

[4] ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. 2011.

[5] SAA-ACRL/RBMS Joint Task Force on the Development of Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy. 2018.

[6] Stoddart, Rick and Beth Hendrix. “Learning at the Reference Desk: A Pilot Project to Align Reference Transactions with University Learning Outcomes.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 43(1), 3-7.

[7] University of Idaho Learning Outcomes. (accessed October 15, 2018).

Instructional Design: A Very Basic Introduction

Patricia Carroll

By Patricia Carroll

Several colleagues and I proposed a panel presentation for this year’s Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) Annual Meeting in Chicago. Our topic was one-shot interactions in the archives. Our questions were these: Can we teach effectively in these situations? Can we balance hands-on visitor experiences with our commitment to preservation, archival literacy, and historical thinking? Most important, can we foster connections between visitors and collections that will extend beyond a very brief interaction?

Our team consisted of Colleen McFarland Rademaker, Associate Librarian, Special Collections of the Corning Museum of Glass, who explored methodologies used by those who interpret heritage artifacts. Carrie Phillips, Archives and Special Collections Librarian at Bluffton University discussed her experiences using rare books to teach undergraduates. My part was to introduce principles of message design. Anne Thomason, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian at Lake Forest College, served as our able moderator.

From the outset we felt that this phenomenon, the one-shot interaction with archives visitors, deserved focused attention. The feedback we received post-conference confirmed that the discussion was welcomed and that our audience hoped for a more expanded exploration of the topic in our profession going forward.

I should say right now that I am not an academic archivist. My practical knowledge of instructional design is rooted in my experience as a corporate trainer. Because it was my job to support employees in achieving sales goals, I focused on “how-to” skill training. For the MAC presentation I put forward some concepts to help archivists deliver skills training to visitors in a one-shot scenario. Here’s a recap.

1. The Client
In the normal course of events, someone asks us to teach a class, guide a tour or otherwise show off the archives. That someone is our client, the person who turns to us to address a knowledge or skill gap. It is helpful to understand two things about the client. One, that she or he is a partner with a stake in the one-shot outcome and two, that she or he is not always clear on what can reasonably be accomplished within the given parameters. Pre-event discussion will help you understand the gap, and post-event reporting can help build and strengthen a collaborative relationship with the client.

2. The Audience
The actual folks you host in the archives are your audience, known as “learners” in Instructional Design. You may be able to make some educated guesses about the learners before you begin or, better yet, gain insight through discussion with your client.  What is important to bear in mind in your prep and delivery is that adult learners always come equipped with the WIIFM factor: What’s In It For Me? They are not idly curious. They want to get something in exchange for their time and attention. That is particularly true when the audience did not self-select for the archives experience.

3. Lesson Design
Perhaps the most rudimentary framework for lesson design is this one: Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em. Tell ‘em. Then tell ‘em what you told ‘em. And it’s actually a pretty solid approach if you must lecture or do a walk-and-talk tour of the archives.

But remember that WIIFM factor I mentioned? Your learners will be expecting to get something. For that something, you can turn to the Learning Objectives outlined in the ACRL-RBMS-SAA Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy. In five major category headings, this document enumerates “how-to” skills that are the building blocks of Primary Source Literacy. Match the need/knowledge/skill/ability level of the audience to one of the many options, and you have the beginnings of a lesson.

Start at the end. Once you select a learning objective to aim at with your learners, ask yourself this question, “What must the learner know or be able to do before she can do that?” And repeat. And repeat. This process will suggest to you the elements to build into your plan in order to achieve the learning objective.

Don’t overlook the beginning, either. This is where non-professional speakers so often go wrong by failing to jump right in. Greet your audience promptly and briefly. Preview what’s going to happen in the time you spend together. Then, forecast the outcome by saying something like, “Once you have completed the steps of today’s lesson, you will be able to…” It’s the “you will be able to” phrase that tells learners what’s in it for them.

4. Active Learning
Learners will want to actively engage with archival materials. But how?  Demonstration, worksheets and group discussion are some tried and true options to consider. Because the hands-on activity learners experience in the archives is so impactful, I recommend that you do some research on active training to discover what might work best for you, in your setting, with your learners. I would point you to Mel Silberman and Elaine Biech’s Active Training: A Handbook of Techniques, Designs, Case Examples and Tips. This book is now in its fourth edition, is readily available (Amazon, for example) and very approachable.  The case studies and examples it provides are helpful in thinking through sequencing in a learning activity.

5. Follow-Up
At MAC, Colleen McFarland Rademaker used a classic interpretive recitation developed for the National Park Service as an example and Carrie Phillips detailed her daring and successful Traveling Rare Bible Petting Zoo lesson. Both of these great ideas were honed, refined, reworked and reassessed over time. That kind of extensive follow-up is very much a part of designing solid learning experiences. Feedback and commentary on what works, what doesn’t quite work and what missed the target will inform your recalibration efforts, so that you can ultimately get an effective lesson design ‘on the shelf’ and ready to go when you need it.

6. It’s a process
One-shot interactions are by nature limited in terms of time, resources and complexity. Can they be effective learning experiences? I believe they can be. At the same time it must be said that archivists who want to take on the challenge of mastering this art form will need to be tenacious to gain a skill set for which our professional training does not fully prepare us. Supportive clients, a strong outreach orientation and cross-disciplinary exposure to instructional design, museum education and heritage interpretation, for example, are prerequisite to developing and delivering meaty and meaningful one-shot interactions.

Patricia Carroll is an independent archivist specializing in the heritage collections of religious communities. She earned an MA in Human Performance and Training at Governors State University and her MLIS at Dominican University.

It’s Complicated: Restrictions in University Archives

By Tracy Jackson

I process University Archives (UA) collections. Here at Duke University, UA collections are popular and frequently used by students, administrators, and community members alike. Processing these collections is satisfying work, making complex materials neat, organized, and accessible. Or at least accessible. But there is one common hitch in providing access to UA materials, one descriptive element that makes simple minimal processing more complicated: Conditions Governing Access, DACS element 4.1, required. The element that “provides information about access restrictions due to the nature of the information in the materials being described, such as those imposed by the donor, by the repository, or by statutory/regulatory requirements.”[1]

Restricted access to materials seems to come up quite a lot for UA records. In recent years, especially, researchers have wanted to explore the university’s complicated history, including incidents of racism and sexism, protests and demonstrations, labor conflicts, and community relationships. The records that document these topics are often the records that have the most access restrictions, making smooth access difficult.

University Archives boxes showing screening dates and stamps used to apply information related to restrictions. Image courtesy Tracy Jackson.

Part of the problem is the number of different restrictions that apply specifically to UA records. The big one is FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a law that governs the availability of student information during and after the student’s lifetime. Duke University also has two explicit restrictions governing access to its own records: Board of Trustees (BoT) records are closed for 50 years from date of creation, and Administrative records are closed for 25 years from date of creation.

In addition to these mandates, UA has noted four additional types of restricted materials for which we ideally want to screen: personnel records, donor information, medical information, and legal documents. While we are not a HIPAA-covered entity (the Duke University Medical Center is a separate entity and their records are held by a separate Medical Center Archives), UA, as part of the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, has decided to screen and protect medical information, as well as the other three types of information listed above, as an ethical practice.

Seven different types of restricted material that may commonly occur in UA records seems like a lot, and feels intimidating. While these seven are specific to Duke, I imagine many other college and university archives, particularly at private institutions, have a similar list.

With so many types of restrictions, restricted materials seem to pop up everywhere. As much as we wish they wouldn’t even come through our doors, they exist throughout collections we’ve already aquired, and can be difficult if not impossible to prevent coming in even with a robust records management program. Our (ideal) policy when screening for these types of records is to keep and restrict Administrative and BoT records, since they are documentation of the University’s functions and history, and shred the materials that fall under the other types of restrictions as we find them.

Only it isn’t even that easy. It would be one thing (one still very time-consuming thing) to simply shred or delete everything that had personnel, student, or donor information in it. But so often this information creeps in to exactly the types of records that we want to keep: the minutes and offer letters that describe how curricula is shaped, the reports and correspondence that discuss student activities and campus life, and the memoranda that discuss the direction of the university’s development through gifts from alumni and friends, among others.

When is it essential to screen for this mixed restricted content? We want to provide as much access to our collections as possible, which means balancing getting as many collections processed at the minimum acceptable level as possible while also ensuring we are restricting at the minimum level that we can be reasonably certain protects the records for which we are responsible. It also means figuring out the best time to screen for restricted materials, whether it is during accessioning, just before a box is delivered to a researcher in the reading room, or somewhere in between.

When we find materials that include restricted content but also include information of historical relevance, we can be paralyzed by it: do I shred this? Is the important information elsewhere? Do I restrict it? Do I restrict this whole folder, this whole box? Do I separate this material and if so how do I maintain original order? Do I redact parts of this? If so, do I keep the original elsewhere or shred it? Which parts, and how much? And so processing or screening slows down, until for some collections it feels like we may as well be processing at the item level, each document a minefield of risk, while the mantra of MPLP sounds in our ears, leading to, for me at least, an underlying feeling of guilt and anxiety I can’t shake.

Folder from the Vice-President for Student Affairs Records, showing a restricted date. Image courtesy Tracy Jackson.

Then, separately but tangled in the issues of time and process, once we have made those decisions, how do we clearly communicate and enforce these restrictions to the user before they ever come into the building, to the staff members who retrieve and serve these materials to users, to future versions of ourselves when the types and terms of restrictions inevitably change? How do we adhere to the law, to university policy, and to ethical guidelines while ensuring we consistently document the people, activities, and history of the university, given our limited time and resources? How do we make our own lives easier?

With all of these factors to consider, there are times it seems prudent to ask the question: how much do we really need to worry about it?

Answers to all of these questions no doubt vary from institution to institution. Considering your own institutional restrictions and policies, how much your collections are requested and used, what the record-keeping practices are and have been for both your creators and your collectors, your staffing capacity, and ultimately, your own and your institution’s level of comfort with risk, your answers and conclusions may be very different.

Here at Duke, we’ve been struggling with these questions for some time, and we’ve made progress. One focus is on how to clearly communicate the status (restricted, open, in need of review) of UA materials to our researchers and to other special collections staff who encounter them. Another focus is on clarifying our policies around the kinds of records we shred or restrict as well as how we go about identifying and treating them.

In many ways, the clarification of policies is the easier task. UA staff have hammered out policies outlining the types of documents that fall under each restriction type and how we prefer to treat them. With these policies in place, some of the burden and anxiety of decision-making when looking at records is eased, as we can see how we’ve already decided how to handle a certain type of record and have something to point to later on if any questions arise.

For new or previously unprocessed collections in the queue, we can identify the likelihood of restricted materials showing up in the collection as well as the anticipated demand for the materials and process accordingly, applying minimal processing to many collections while giving a few collections the more in-depth screening treatment. But of course, not every collection is new, and we are all familiar with the fact that processing practices have changed over time. For previously processed collections, we may need to screen boxes as they are requested.

Generally, I rely on folder titles to indicate whether I should look in a folder for restricted materials. Names and certain topics indicate the likelihood of some types of restricted materials. When I do go through a folder, I try to make a quick decision about whether I should restrict the whole folder according to one of the types above, moving it into a separate restricted box, or whether there is a small enough amount of material I can shred, or less frequently, redact.

Clarifying and communicating the status of materials is more complicated. Analog materials must be physically labeled, while digital materials may need to be stored on separate servers. Restriction information must appear in the collection description as well as circulation systems. At Duke that means three different systems containing different types of information (collection level, descriptive level, container level), as well as a large staff who are not all deeply familiar with the UA restrictions. We have evolved methods combining restriction notes and circulation limits in our systems with stamps and notes on boxes to indicate the accessibility of materials. For newly processed collections, we can achieve some consistency and clarity, while for legacy collections we juggle lists of screening needs and work completed. We try to indicate the date when screening for restricted materials was completed, which I hope will help future versions of ourselves when restriction guidelines change again, to know which standards were in use at the time of screening.

It is impossible to catch every instance of restricted material, as it is impossible to read every single page of every single record that comes into the archives. Researchers must sign a registration agreement that includes language about third party privacy rights, so some onus is put on the researcher for responsible use of information found. We also believe that our written policies and practices as shared above indicate our good faith efforts, which we can point to in the event that information is shared inappropriately in spite of these efforts.

This is the point at which I look at our colleagues in public universities with something akin to envy. But every archival institution has some version of these problems, and different methods of dealing with them. It feels like time for a wider discussion, so how are you handling yours?


Tracy Jackson is the Head of Center Manuscript Processing at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University and processes University Archives collections. She holds an MSLS from UNC-Chapel Hill and has been at Duke for four years. She is currently a member of the College & University Archives Section Steering Committee and previously served on the Description Section Steering Committee and the Theodore Calvin Pease Award Subcommittee.

The Traveling Rare Bible Petting Zoo: a One-Shot Instruction Experience

By Carrie Phillips 

In a perfect world, archivists aspire to partnerships with instructors to promote archival literacy and the beautiful practices of usage with our collections. We strive for best practices, and we dream of measurable outcomes and assessment goals. Even so, there are days when the phone rings, and we’re asked for a “novelty act” – a one-shot instruction interaction, one-off tours, and the dreaded “show and tell.” How should we respond? Rather than relish in disappointment, how can we leverage this experience toward our aspirational pedagogical goals?

Title page of one of the Bibles held by Bluffton’s Special Collections. Image courtesy Carrie Phillips.

For me, one such opportunity surfaced during fall semester 2016 when I was approached by the faculty member teaching two large sections of an Introduction to Biblical Worldview course. This was a required, general education course taken by all Bluffton University students, and all class levels were represented in the class population. She explained that the course examined the Bible through four lenses: biblical studies, ethics, theology, and spirituality. However, the course did not explicitly include content addressing the Bible as an artifact. She wondered, could I create a lesson that would fill this particular curricular gap using Bibles from our Special Collections… AND could I do it on a day when she would be away at a conference and needed a guest speaker.

At first, I briefly hesitated. The instructor had suggested a demonstration approach – the ol’ “show-and-tell” – and I had reservations about that. If I would glovedly remove from the custom-made storage box the giant, centuries-old, folio-size Bible, printed in a language students couldn’t read, show it to them on a table but make them stand back and crane their collective necks to see it, and then put it away after five or ten minutes of me talking at them about it, what significant amount of discovery would really occur?  But if I would turn them loose for 50 minutes to explore freely and turn the pages of a seventeenth century book while the sophomore over here finishes his oatmeal that he brought from the dining hall, then there’s no reverence involved. I wanted to create a guided, carefully prepped and framed experience with just the right amount of fear-mongering and awe-inspiring lead-up to make for a memorable learning experience for all involved. I saw an opportunity to interface with the general education curriculum in a way I’d not yet attempted, and the prospect was compelling. So we met for coffee, like good collaborating scholars should, to review more details and see what could be done.

Teaching with rare materials is admittedly scary. So I asked my communities of practice for their wisdom. I queried colleagues from the Ohio Preservation Council, a group of conservators, preservation librarians, special collections curators, and archivists from across Ohio. I checked in with my parallel counterparts from Bluffton’s sister Mennonite institutions.  I examined my collection – what raw materials did I have to work with?  How was this going to happen in a tiered lecture hall with shallow tabletops? What did I need to bring with me to make this run smoothly? And how could I leverage methods like group work and guided examination and classroom technology?

After considering feedback from a number of colleagues, I chose folio- and quarto- sized Bibles of stable condition which also represented a wide publishing timespan. Since an alternate space was not an option, I considered how best to utilize the tiered classroom space to arrange small groups of students around each Bible. I anticipated needs and props, like pencils, a worksheet to guide the exploration, cradle cushions, and visual aids – bringing everything along so we could isolate the students’ belongings away from the Bibles. I scripted my remarks, and devoted space in the introduction to explicitly emphasize care and handling, demonstrating those techniques (and even so, my colleagues warned me that I should expect some wear). I felt I was aware of potential risks I couldn’t eliminate, and the benefits continued to outweigh those risks. Everything for this roadshow lesson was loaded onto my largest flatbed cart, and I ventured off with the Traveling Rare Bible Petting Zoo to the academic center, where the course met.

To break the ice, of sorts, I’ve employed two different introductory activities to the session. Option A involved asking the students to watch three short, relevant YouTube videos prior to class and using a Kahoot quiz to assess their understanding of those videos. Option B steered the class into a discussion of how a Bible is recognizable by methods other than having the letters BIBLE on the cover, followed by watching a short YouTube video which showed the process of printing and binding a book using methods similar to what created the Bibles the students would examine.

Students engage with their assigned Bible in the classroom. Image courtesy Carrie Phillips.

Then I provided a very deliberate care and handling demonstration, showing exactly how the book should be handled for the activity we were about to begin. Students removed all of their belongings from the desktops to their bags or the floor, excused themselves (if necessary) to wash their hands with soap and water in the restroom, and then formed small groups. Pencils, a worksheet, and a Bible were distributed to each group. Students were encouraged to document interesting features using their smartphone cameras, and some shared those images on Instagram, tagging @blufftonuarchives in their posts so that I could see and comment.

Students began their guided examination by looking at the outside of their Bible.  The worksheet offered a checklist of possible materials used (or not) in the construction of the Bible (e.g. paper, plastic, wood, leather, brass, etc.). Students were asked to note any interesting decorative features of the cover boards or spine. Before moving to Part 2, students were asked to make a guess as to the Bible’s age.

Using the handling techniques I demonstrated at the start, students next located the Bible’s title page. Their task here was to discern when and where the Bible was printed. I hadn’t anticipated that students would struggle to read Roman numerals! Students were also asked to make note of any interesting or surprising findings along the way to the title page – handwritten notes, bookplates, and the like. They were eager to report damage they observed, which sometimes led to interesting tangent discussions.

A worksheet utilized in class provides visual cues related to the session. Image courtesy Carrie Phillips.

Perhaps in homage to all the standardized tests I’ve ever taken, I placed a large red stop sign graphic at the bottom of the worksheet’s front page. A note there reminded the students to catch my attention so that I could come to their workspace and open their Bible for them. The Bibles were supported with homemade stuffed sock tubes – easy to transport, and sized to help cradle the Bibles to protect their spines and joints.

Once the Bibles were opened, students were encouraged to explore the contents using proper handling techniques. Students were asked to guess the language of their Bible, and to make note of any interesting illustrations. We discussed how there are parts of a Bible which may be recognizable to them even if they’re not able to read the language present. Some students discovered clippings or pressed plants and flowers between the pages. All were encouraged to note at least one interesting, surprising, or confusing feature to share with the class.

For the final 10-15 minutes of the class period, I displayed slides of each Bible, and asked the groups to share the printing date, printing place, and their chosen feature for their Bible when it appeared on the screen – so that all in the class could see all of the Bibles. I provided an additional piece of trivia for each Bible.

I’ve repeated the experience each semester since, including for students in our Adult Degree Completion program and in our Honors program. Because of the course size, all but two Honors program course students could work alone with a Bible. The level of curiosity expressed by this particular group of students was really surprising, and this time, the instructor was able to be present, which added a lovely layer of subject-matter expertise to what I could offer.

Heidi Buchanan and Beth McDonough, in their essay, “Right on Time: Best Practice in One-Shot Instruction,” note that, “not only is one-shot instruction what academic communities expect from libraries, but it can be highly effective – nimble, purposeful, integrated across the curriculum, and focused on relationships with teaching faculty and students” (85).

Ellen Swain, in her essay, “Best Practices for Teaching with Primary Sources,” suggests that, “The critical component to a successful instruction program is understanding the goals and objectives for the teaching faculty.” Swain continues by suggesting that, “the most successful collaborations are those in which the instructor has buy-in and will work with the students and the archivist to understand and use primary sources in creative ways” (200). While this strikes me as having been intended for a proactive pursuit of classroom connections between curriculum and archival materials or special collections, Swain’s ideas are also useful when planning the “reactive” response to a request for a one-shot instruction session, such as the one I’ve described.

Students work in a small group to examine a Bible. Image courtesy Carrie Phillips.

As I reflected on my experiences with this one-shot teaching opportunity using rare books, I culled a list of surprises, adjustments, and successes. The students surprised me with their higher-than-expected levels of engagement and curiosity. They listened and observed attentively my care and handling demonstration, with the exception, surprisingly, of the adult students, who found their pencils to be useful pointing tools – something I had not anticipated and have accounted for since. Classroom management was sometimes difficult; there was only one of me to work the room, opening Bibles when students were ready, and answering questions. This left a fair amount of downtime during which students had to wait patiently, and in larger groups, these students simply tuned out. In the most recent iterations of the course, the instructor was present, and her presence turned out to be more helpful than I anticipated. Lastly, I was relieved and encouraged to see that the wear-and-tear sacrifice of the experience was minimal; I found very few bits of old Bible left behind on the desktops after students finished handling. I remain very conscious of the need to monitor this particular concern, and I have a plan to rotate additional Bibles into the mix to help avoid extensive damage.

To date, I’ve offered the Petting Zoo on eight different occasions, and each instance offers a chance for my remarks, timing, and worksheet to be retooled and honed. The reward is great – students react positively on formal and informal course evaluations – and instructors are beyond pleased. I look forward to bringing the Petting Zoo to Bluffton students in the future – the instructors and I are already planning for Fall 2018!

Carrie Phillips is completing her thirteenth year as archives and special collections librarian for Bluffton University in northwest Ohio. She oversees Bluffton’s diverse special collections, which are grounded in the institution’s Anabaptist – Mennonite tradition, and she enjoys the challenge of developing innovative instruction opportunities with those collections for audiences ranging from first graders to the adult learner. She is the current chair-elect of the Ohio Preservation Council, and some of her favorite days at work are spent at her workbench, protecting and preserving the traces of history in her care. Carrie earned an MLIS from the University of Washington in 2006 and has a bachelor of arts degree from Bluffton University.


A Hair-Raising Experience: The discovery of a lock of George Washington’s hair at Union College goes viral

By India Spartz

While surveying a shelf of materials in the archives in December 2017, project archivist Dan Michelson came across a small red leather-bound almanac perched alone on a shelf. The book, published in 1793, was out of place, so Dan promptly showed it to John Myers, catalog and metadata librarian at the Schaffer Library. Flipping through the first few pages, Myers noticed a small envelope tucked inside the title page with a handwritten note on the front. It read, “Washington’s hair, L.S.S. from James A. Hamilton given him by his mother, August 10, 1871.”

Inside the envelope were strands of whitish/brown hair, gathered together with an old piece of string. Myers would later describe it as an “OMG moment!” Unable to contain his enthusiasm, Myers immediately sent me an email about his discovery.

“It was one of those mind-blowing moments that happen every once in a while in a librarian’s life,” said John Myers, a catalog and metadata librarian at the college. “I thought, that doesn’t mean George Washington, does it?”                                                                                      – The Associated Press, 2018


We later learned that James A. Hamilton was the son of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton and Alexander Hamilton. According to Ron Chernow’s, Washington: A Life, “As a remembrance of her husband, she [Martha Washington] asked Tobias Lear to snip locks of hair from the corpse before it was deposited in the coffin.” The locks of hair were distributed to close family and friends of Washington; the Hamiltons were close friends of George and Martha Washington.


When Union College Librarian Frances Maloy became aware of the finding, she requested more information to include in a report to the campus. One month later, I was contacted by Phil Wajda, campus communications officer, who suggested that we write a press release about the discovery of the hair. Of course, we were delighted to share the story and jumped at the chance to highlight our collections. On February 13, 2018, we released a statement to the press and media outlets.

It would have been impossible to anticipate the ensuing media storm. Less than 24 hours after the release, the Archives and Special Collections department received a flurry of requests for interviews from national and international media outlets, including the Washington Post, CNN, ABC News, CBS Saturday Morning, USA Today, Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. The story also appeared on the cover of the New York Times on Presidents Day. Social media channels included approximately 2,500 posts on Twitter and Facebook.

The College communications office tracked media coverage of the story as shown in the following graphics from a Media Coverage Report:


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Based on our experience, here are some tips, should you as an archivist find yourself in the midst of a media storm:

  • Work with your communications department (if you have one) to craft a standard  response. This will help you plan the two or three pieces of information that you want to convey in all your interviews.
  • Be concise. Your interview will be edited, so highlight short facts about your collection or employer/institution.
  • For video interviews (Skype/Zoom/FaceTime) have a “practice” session beforehand to ensure the connection.
  • Choose a “friendly” location for video interviews; avoid conference rooms or messy spaces (offices/processing rooms).
  • Promote! But be discreet. Media professionals are savvy, so they can spot a shameless plug. Still, this is a valuable (and free) opportunity to publicize your collection or institution.
  • Be prepared. Reporters work on tight deadlines, so some interviews get scheduled quickly. Keep a black blazer in your office to wear during television interviews. (This is also helpful should a donor arrive unannounced.)
  • Be friendly and upbeat. If you’re excited and engaged, the viewer will be excited and engaged.
  • Smile!

Next steps
During the news coverage, we were frequently asked, “What next?” and “When will the hair be on display for the public to see?” I am currently looking into preservation options that will allow the hair and the book to be stored together in a custom-made, acid-free container. This will make it possible to display the hair for the purposes of teaching and exhibition.

The Schaffer Library plans to mount an exhibition to highlight the hair discovery and other aspects of the story. Eliza Hamilton was the daughter of Philip J. Schuyler, a prominent resident of Albany, NY and Major General in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.  The exhibition will feature the hair and related objects around the Schuyler family of Albany, NY. This includes an original letter written in 1795 by General Schuyler promoting the establishment of Union College in the town of Schenectady rather than Albany, NY. It’s hoped the exhibition will coincide with a fall 2019 performance of the musical “Hamilton” at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady, NY.

India Spartz is the Head of Special Collections and Archives at Union College in Schenectady, NY. She holds an B.A. from the University of Alaska (her home state), MLIS from UC Berkeley, and M.A. in Museum Studies from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. She’s a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists and serves on SAA’s College & University Archives Steering Committee.

Developing and Maintaining a Student Assistant Program at Northern Michigan University

By Marcus C. Robyns, CA

I became the archivist of the Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University (NMU) Archives 21 years ago on March 1, 1997. On that fateful morning, ice blocks, towering snow drifts, and frigid temperatures greeted me as I made my way through campus toward the archives. Looking back now, I can see how the classic Upper Peninsula winter setting provided a fitting context and metaphor, since I had inherited an archival program in suspended animation much like the long dead mastodon found frozen in ice.

My predecessor had been gone for nearly a year by the time I arrived. She had fled leaving me with a records management program on life support and a nascent regional historical collection. I was expected to manage and expand both responsibilities without any hope of additional professional staff support. At the same time, I was also a tenure track assistant professor, with all the obligatory service and scholarship demands. Young and naively confident, I brushed aside any worries and brashly galloped off into the fray only to quickly crash into the painful boulder of reality. By the end of my first year, I was an exhausted, broken, and angry lone arranger perched atop a teetering mount, wallowing in self-pity, and nearly in tears. I can vividly remember sitting at a reading room table feeling sorry for myself and wondering if I had made a terrible mistake. At that moment, I looked up through the window into the adjacent hallway and saw scores of students rushing back and forth between classes. For the first time in my life, I suddenly experienced the closest thing to a “religious epiphany.” With a jolt, it dawned on me, “you idiot. There’s the solution to your problem.”

The solution was to hire more student assistants and train them to work as paraprofessionals capable of completing all the basic archival management tasks, such as arrangement and description, reference and reading room assistance, and public outreach programming. To be honest, I wasn’t quite yet thinking of student assistants as paraprofessionals in those early days. That thought came much later after I had read a definition of the term and realized it fit my creation. In essence, a paraprofessional is defined as a trained aid who assists a professional person. The aid is not licensed or credentialed through professional training or a college / university degree.

My idea to use student assistants as paraprofessionals was not unique. In 1992, Barbara L. Floyd and Richard W. Oram conducted a study on the use of undergraduate students in college and university archives.[1] They surveyed 132 archives and found that 72 percent used student assistants extensively in multiple archival tasks with varying degrees of complexity, and 37.3 percent stated that student assistants performed “professional tasks.” Given the demanding nature of archival work, Floyd and Oram made a number of recommendations designed to facilitate recruitment and retention of high quality student assistants. They urged archivists to write position descriptions that reflected graduated levels of specialization and higher levels of pay. They also encouraged archivists to develop appropriate training manuals and commit themselves to intensive training of student assistants. Short of actually using the term, Floyd’s and Oram’s report confirmed that many university and college archival programs were using undergraduate student assistants as paraprofessionals.

At the time of my “epiphany” twenty years ago, I had two student assistants working a few hours each week doing little more than answering the phone, monitoring the reading room, and re-shelving boxes. Today, seven undergraduates work in the NMU Archives on a variety of specialized tasks. They work 10-20 hours per week and are paid according to a wage scale described by each position classification. Each student assistant starts at the entry-level Archives Student Assistant I. Following successful completion of their first year, they are promoted to Archives Student Assistant II. The archives normally hosts 1-2 student interns completing a field experience requirement of the Department of History’s Public History minor. These interns work only one semester and are focused on very specific, “small” projects, such as processing a collection of letters or developing an online exhibit. Currently, the archives has two volunteers; one is the library’s retired cataloger and the other is an expert in genealogical research.

Number One
Number One, Stefan Nelson, at his desk. Stefan is a senior majoring in Wildlife Management. Image courtesy Marcus Robyns.

The key to the archives’ student assistant program is the position of senior student assistant (student assistant III), known affectionately as Number One. Number Ones generally work 15-20 hours per week. Candidates for the position must demonstrate a proven record of exceptional maturity, responsibility, professional deportment, interpersonal relationship skills, and the ability to manage increasingly complex tasks. The candidate is normally a veteran staff member, having served at least two years as a student assistant I and II. Number One is the “lead” student assistant and is primarily responsible for basic office management and the recruitment and training of new student assistants. Number One also assists the archivist in supervision and performance evaluations. They also chair the archives’ biweekly staff meetings, including the preparation of agendas and minutes. Most Number Ones serve for one to two years until they graduate.

I do not hire archives student assistants. They hire themselves in a process modeled after professional staff recruitment and hiring at NMU. Generally, the archives hires one or two new student assistants at the beginning of each academic year, depending upon how many graduated or left service the previous spring. Number One forms a “Search Committee,” comprised of Number One as chair and usually two other student assistants. The search committee writes the position announcements (based on the position descriptions), conducts publicity, manages the incoming applications, and conducts interviews. Number One submits to me a written recommendation ranking the applicants. Unless I see something glaringly wrong, I generally “rubber stamp” the search committee’s recommendation.

The search committee makes every effort to recruit a diverse workforce but struggles because of the small number of students of color at NMU. For example, NMU currently has only 150 students identified as African-American, barely 2 percent of the undergraduate population. Regardless, the current staff does include one African-American student assistant, Kyleigh Sapp, who recently gave an outstanding Evening at the Archives presentation on the history of black student protest on campus for Black History Month.

Once hired, new student assistants begin a six month “probationary period.” Number One conducts basic training in reading room procedures and file management. I introduce and train the new assistants in basic reference, accessioning, and arrangement and description work. The training includes an initial presentation, selected readings, one-on-one guidance, and practical exercises that culminate in a final project.

Lydia Henning working on book mending project. Lydia is a senior majoring in Spanish with a minor in Art and Design. Lydia is also responsible for maintain the Archives’ web site, designing online exhibitions, educational outreach publicity flyers. Image courtesy Marcus Robyns.

During new student assistant training, I develop a better understanding of each student’s personal and professional goals and abilities. This knowledge helps me identify the area of archival work best suited to them. I assign each student assistant a “specialization” in accessioning, arrangement and description, reference/reading room, or digitization and web site design. Each student assistant receives a formal title, such as arrangement and description specialist, reference and reading room coordinator, or digitization specialist. These titles look much more impressive on a resume than the simple and colorless, “Archives Student Assistant.” Number One adds each student assistant’s picture, title, and a very brief biographical statement to the staff page on the Archives web site.

As paraprofessionals, the student assistants are fully integrated into the management and operations of the archives. Aside from their area of specialization, each student assistant participates in bi-weekly staff meetings, where they report on the progress of their assignments and contribute to decisions on policies and procedures. Student assistants also participate in public outreach by contributing to social media posts, writing blog posts (The Northern Tradition), creating online exhibitions, and giving public presentations. If a student assistant has an idea for improving a policy or procedure, nine times out of ten I will try the idea. Sometimes the idea fails, but we always review what went wrong and try to learn from the experience.

NMU Archives student assistants receive a formal, in-person and written evaluation at the end of each semester. If serious difficulties develop, I may call for a mid-semester evaluation or initiate the established Disciplinary Actions Procedure. At the end of each semester, each student assistant has the opportunity to submit to Number One a confidential written evaluation of myself. They may also submit to me a confidential written evaluation of Number One. Number One and I review my evaluations, and Number One responds with an email summarizing how I will do my best to address any problems. I want the student assistants to know that I have honestly read and considered their evaluations of me. Over the years, I have found the student assistants’ evaluations of me to be extremely helpful and include them in my professional annual evaluations.

Lucas Knapp working on a reference query. Lucas is a junior majoring in Mathematics and Environmental Studies. Image courtesy Marcus Robyns.

A carefully defined and structured evaluation process is essential for a successful student assistant, paraprofessional program. Archivists lacking in supervisory training and experience may find it difficult to work with student paraprofessionals. For the most part, undergraduates require a heightened level of supervision and guidance that can be a time-consuming distraction for a lone arranger facing multiple demands and responsibilities. In general, an undergraduate’s developing maturity and emerging self-confidence can result in frequent mistakes and difficulties dealing with challenging patrons or overbearing faculty. Undergraduates are still developing their problem-solving skills. Sometimes, their earnestness to please and do well will cause them to make decisions or take actions “beyond their paygrade” that can cause real havoc. In my experience, fortunately, I have found these problems to be manageable and infrequent. In fact, I have only implemented the Archives’ disciplinary procedure twice in my career at NMU.

The advantages of a paraprofessional, student assistant program far outweigh the disadvantages, and these advantages accrue to the students as well as to the archives. As college and university archivists, we have a responsibility to support and enhance our undergraduates’ education. The NMU Archives provides each student assistant with a unique experiential learning opportunity and the experience necessary to compete for post-graduate professional jobs and graduate school applications. NMU Archives student assistants have conducted digitization projects and created the digital object metadata for ArchivesSpace; they have designed and created web sites and online exhibitions; conducted public presentations; and created DACS-compliant collection finding aids. Although NMU does not have a graduate archival program, five former student assistants are now professional archivists and records managers. Two others have completed their PhDs in history; one is a PhD microbiologist; one is ABD in linguistic anthropology; and another is ABD in Medieval literature. The remainder have gone on to successful professional careers related to their major degree program.

The Archives student assistant program did not spring to life overnight according to a well-defined blueprint. It was a collaborative effort between me and the student assistants that, for the most part, was a halting, piecemeal process of trial and error.

Libby Serra digitizing a collection of oral histories and creating ArchivesSpace digital object metadata. Libby is a junior majoring in Digital Cinema. Image courtesy Marcus Robyns.

Naturally, all archival programs should be fully staffed by professionally trained archivists. One should not misconstrue the NMU Archives’ student assistant program as evidence to support staffing cutbacks, or as an excuse for administrations to continue their exploitation of adjunct faculty and part-time staff. For the struggling college or university lone arranger, however, the program’s success provides a possible solution to the problem of meager budgets and burgeoning demand for archival resources and services. Archivists in higher education are fortunate to have at their disposal a ready crop of inexpensive, smart, skillful, and highly motivated undergraduate students. To reap the benefits of this harvest, all we have to do is acknowledge and treat our student assistants with the respect they deserve as paraprofessionals. With just a bit of effort, an enterprising lone arranger can identify and mold these young people into effective and productive staff members.

[1] Barbara L. Floyd and Richard W. Oram, “Learning by Doing: Undergraduates as Employees in Archives,” The American Archivist 55 (Summer, 1992): 440-452.

Marcus Robyns is professor and University Archivist at Northern Michigan University.  He worked professionally in Texas and Oregon before landing at NMU in 1997.  Marcus is the author of numerous publications, including Functional Analysis in Archival Appraisal: A Practical and Effective Alternative to Traditional Appraisal Methodologies (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014) and is a former Regent for Exam Administration, Academy of Certified Archivists.

Project STAND: Documenting Student Activism from the Margins

By Lae’l Hughes-Watkins 

Students gather together outside in protest, 197?
Students gather together outside in protest, 1970. Image 01621 courtesy Case Western Reserve University Archives.

In 2014 a die-in happened at Kent State University. Black students laid outside of the university’s Student Center, in chalk outlines, some bearing signs “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” to draw attention to the national protest and discourse surrounding the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. On November 9, 2015, university president Tim Wolfe resigned from Missouri University, in the aftermath of pleas to address growing racial tensions that resulted in a hunger strike by a graduate student and the threat of another strike by the university’s football team. In December 2016, a group of demonstrators was arrested at Michigan State University as they expressed opposition to the arrival of Milo Yiannopoulos, an author, who is widely known for his controversial views on a range of topics from social justice, to feminism, to the LGBTQIA community. More than a year later, on September 5, 2017, nearly one hundred students at Case Western Reserve University banded together to amplify their concerns on the repeal of the Dreamer’s Act (Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals), impacting hundreds of thousands of immigrants. These social movements stem from a long, storied tradition of activism on college and university campuses around the country that can be traced back hundreds of years in some instances. But are these narratives of student protests about marginalized and often oppressed communities being routinely archived as part of the responsibilities of university archivists in the tradition of capturing and preserving the entire narrative of our academic institutions?

In the fall of 2016, I contacted Tamar Chute, the university archivist at Ohio State University.  The goal was to make sure this idea wasn’t crazy and to flesh out an effort to centralize access to these narratives taking place throughout our nation’s academic organizations. One objective was to learn what types of challenges and successes academic repositories were facing in archiving the voices of students who remain in the margins, from Chicano/a, African American, Native American, differently abled, LGBTQIA, ethnic minorities, Latino/a, etc., and other historically marginalized groups. Chute and I discussed the potential benefit of a collaborative tool that could help fellow professionals build relationships with student organizations where none existed, as student organizations are often the custodians of such records. We also acknowledged that creating a tool to bring together resources held at institutions across geographical regions will elevate our resources and potentially drive more traffic to digital and analog collections that may currently be underutilized.  In June of 2017, Project STAND (Student Activism Now Documented) was officially launched to address these questions and create a collaborative of folks ready to highlight their work, interrogate archival practices, pose ethical issues, and build a resource illuminating projects and collections on the frontlines.

Members of the Gay Illini student organization at the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, 1987. (RS 41/2/46, Courtesy University of Illinois Archives.)

Project STAND is an online clearinghouse where academic institutions can provide researchers a centralized access point to historical and archival documentation on the development and on-going occurrences of student dissent. Project STAND focuses on digital and analog primary sources that document the activities of student groups that represent the concerns of historically marginalized communities (e.g., African American, Chicano/a, LGBTQ, religious minorities, disabled, etc.). STAND will also highlight the work of others (e.g., faculty, staff, and administrators) who advocate for or support the interests of those communities.

The project was initially Ohio-based and partially inspired by the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC) due to its data collection tools, but quickly began to incorporate institutions outside the state. This initiative now includes 40 participating institutions including Arizona State, AUC Woodruff Library, Chicago State, Cincinnati, Bowling Green, Jackson State, Kent State, Miami University, Michigan State, Purdue, University of Iowa, South Carolina State, Wright State, University of Akron, University of California San Diego, and University of Rhode Island.

Participants complete a collection assessment sharing information on holdings that meet STAND’s objectives. So far, close to 200 surveys have been completed, and the early data shows 20 percent of the responses represent collections from 2000-present, while records that center on the LGBTQ community, religious minorities, Native Americans, and Disabled Rights are underrepresented. The project aims to continue building partnerships throughout 2018 with symposia and updates through STAND’s website. As we continue to drill down into the data submitted by participants, we seek to get a stronger image of student activism surrounding historically oppressed communities across geographical locations, and to not only interrogate our practices as archivists documenting more contemporary narratives, but also to ensure we have captured the social movements of our past.

Admin Building Takeover
Black United Students (BUS) take over administration building , April 27, 1970. Courtesy of Lafayette Tolliver Collection. Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives.

This effort is emerging at a time when many organizations and scholars are making efforts to do a deep-dive into this area through expanding the scope of their collection development areas, digital initiatives, and exhibits, like Kent State’s Black Campus Movement Project, a collection development initiative to engage in outreach with alumni and current students to capture the history of black student activism, and eventually serve as a model to acquire records pertaining to other disenfranchised student populations, Princeton’s ASAP project capturing the activism of Princetonians on and off-campus, to UC San Diego’s How UC It: Living Archive, “an alternative way to highlight awareness, provide a space for dialogue, preserve and document events that have affected the UCSD campus climate socially and/or incidents that have targeted specific underrepresented group.” Groups such as the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) even hosted an online forum in January entitled A History of Student Activism.

STAND is providing a platform that will elevate collections addressing the growing needs of faculty, students, researchers, community members, and various stakeholders interested in the complex and richly diverse voices of their academic institutions. We are also creating a network of professionals who acknowledge and accept the challenge and rewards of documenting communities that are often forgotten but critical to unpacking and understanding our institutions and communities in which they reside. If you are interested in these issues, we would love to have you join us. Please send inquiries to

Lae’l Hughes-Watkins is the University Archivist, Assistant Professor at Kent State University. She is the founder of Project STAND and holds a position on SAA’s Appointments Committee.  She holds an M.A in English from Youngstown State University and an MLIS from Kent State.