Meet new Steering Committee member: Liz Scott

Liz Scott (she/her) is an Archivist & Special Collections Librarian and Assistant Professor at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania and has worked at a variety of institutions during her career. Liz is a member of the Society of American Archivists, the American Library Association, and has been a certified archivist through the Academy of Certified Archivists since 2006. Additionally, she is a member of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) where she is a member of the Nominations Committee. She belongs to several local organizations including the Monroe County Historical Association (MCHA) and the Museum and Library Alliance of the Greater Lehigh Valley (MLA). Liz received an MLS from the University at Albany, SUNY and a BA in history and English from Dickinson College. She is currently working toward her second master’s degree in the English department at East Stroudsburg University. Her research interests  include archivists in academia, art and archives, service-learning in libraries and archives and web archiving.

Photo from Liz Scott

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

I feel really lucky to have discovered archives when I was in college. I got a job as a student in Dickinson College’s archives and special collections and from day one I was hooked. I had finally found the perfect career for a history major. After considering teaching and law, the archives job felt like the perfect fit. I was lucky enough to get a paraprofessional job at Lafayette College after graduating from Dickinson and soon realized I wanted to go to graduate school. My boss was a great mentor to me and encouraged me to leave even though she would have to find someone to replace me. I feel very lucky to have been involved with this field now since the age of 20 which is over half of my life.

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

As a lone arranger, it is all about the small things for me! We just launched our university’s institutional repository for which I am partly responsible. We have a librarian who is solely dedicated to the graduate theses and I have been working to populate it with faculty publications, student projects, jazz materials, and records from the archives and special collections. Getting the archives and special collections accessible is one of my biggest priorities so I am excited for the materials to finally be online.

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

I am really excited about getting our art collections online into CollectiveAccess. There is a University Art & Sculpture Collection and then we have another collection dedicated to the local folk artist Sterling Strauser and some of his artist friends. I only have spreadsheets and an Access database as organizational tools. Our state school library network asked if I would be a guinea pig and test out CollectiveAccess and then train other repositories in how to use the software. I am excited to get these works of art and sculpture online so that people can see our collections.

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

I think the biggest challenge is splitting my time as a librarian and an archivist. On the librarian side I teach information literacy sessions, am a liaison to eight departments on campus, and staff the all-virtual reference desk for several hours a week. This takes away time from doing the things archivists need to do like accessions, organizing records, and getting materials digitized and online. In the past, it had gotten so bad that I needed to schedule time into my day just to do archival work. We recently lost a librarian position so there is even more work. I do not want to let my colleagues down so I continue to work on library projects. We work a few weeks in the summer and this is when I get most of my archival work done. Even though I have been in this job for almost five years, I am still finding that balance. I hope that someday the majority of my work will be archives related vs. library related.

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

I am really interested in tenure and promotion for archivists. I have been working with my research group on the subject for several years where we have done three presentations on the subject including an SAA session and an SAA Research Forum topic. We are just about to finish an article on that same topic. When I got my tenure-track job, it was hard to find resources and information about archivists and tenure. There was plenty about librarians and tenure but largely not a lot of scholarship or even just blogs and other resources where I could find information. It may be because so many archivists are lumped in as librarians that they assume the information good for a librarian is good for an archivist. I am going to be working on a Tenure & Promotion Pathways as a Steering project that will work to create resources for those in tenured and tenure-track positions. I will also be leading a few Coffee Chats in October, November and December on various subjects. I am really looking forward to being a contributing member of the C&U Steering.

Meet new Steering Committee member & new Academic Archivist blog editor: Caitlin Colban-Waldron

Caitlin Colban-Waldron (she/her) is a 2020 graduate of Queens College CUNY and received an MLS and certificate in archives and preservation. Since December 2019, she has worked at Queens College in the Special Collections and Archives department and currently serves as an Adjunct Archivist. She grew up on Long Island, NY, and recently moved to Queens. Beginning later this fall, Caitlin will serve as the new blog editor for the Academic Archivist (a role formerly held by Katie Nash, University Archivist and Head of UW Archives, University of Wisconsin-Madison).

Photo provided by Caitlin Colban-Waldron

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

I initially started graduate school with the goal to become a public librarian; my previous career in e-commerce marketing was unfulfilling and increasingly frustrating, and I spent a lot of time thinking about the kind of career that would be motivating and enjoyable. I landed on librarianship, but when I finally enrolled and started coursework, the archives classes in the course catalog intrigued me. I took one class as an elective and immediately changed track. 

In that first archives class, a guest speaker was scheduled, Obden Mondesir. He spoke about his work at Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, and how he got to that point–he carved an interesting and fully purposeful path himself through internships, part-time work, fellowships, and volunteer work. It was so impactful for me, because it was that moment that I remember thinking: if this was my career, I’d have to really commit and fully jump in. It was the moment that a stimulating academic topic turned into a potential career path. After that guest lecture I decided to take the leap, quit my e-commerce job, and start trying to gain real-world archives experience. I completed a series of internships and eventually became Obden’s colleague at Queens College (QC)!

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

At QC, we’ve been navigating COVID-19 since the very beginning of the pandemic. The first major American epicenter of the virus was here, in our community. I’m proud to be part of our team for many reasons, including transitioning to working remotely on projects and then cautiously coming back to an empty campus in the last few months, but now the library is opening to students and researchers again. We’ll have our first on-site reference visit this week, which I am counting as a small success that feels huge.

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

I’m so excited to process journals from the Gender, Love, and Sexuality Alliance (GLASA) club on QC’s campus. These journals lived in the club’s office in the student union, where any member could write about how they were feeling, what they were working on, how they moved through the world, or simply to leave notes for one another. The journals range from the late 1980s to the 2000s. The journals are not just supremely cool and important historical artifacts from the college and its students, albeit in a different time and a different plague, but as a lesbian I am deeply invested in writing ethical description for these journals and working with the current iteration of the club to represent them in the archives and the college’s historical record with respect and dignity.

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

Time is the eternal enemy, right? At QC we are up to our eyeballs with exciting, fascinating, and urgent work. But our limited physical capacity to be at work and COVID restrictions pushed us to be creative and expansive when thinking about how we would approach work remotely. The Head of Special Collections and Archives at QC, Annie Tummino, deserves all the credit in the world for keeping us focused and non-despairing. She was proactive in assigning alternative work like an in-depth review of our institution’s controlled vocabulary, a partnership with Queens Public Library’s community archiving program Queens Memory and their own quickly-launched COVID-19 project (check it out here: https://qplnyc.urbanarchive.me/cities/nyc), and the operational rollout of a new platform for digitized materials, JSTOR Community Collections.

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

As the Early Career Member, I’m obviously a little new to the world of SAA and its various sections, but I’m thrilled to be part of the C&U steering committee. I’m more eager to learn how the committee works and communicates with its members and broader networks. I can’t wait to be enthusiastic support to the great initiatives that the C&U steering committee are planning for the coming year.

Meet new Steering Committee member: Tiffany Cole

Tiffany Cole is the archivist at James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia. In her role at JMU, Tiffany manages all aspects of collection processing including new and legacy arrangement and description. Tiffany also assists with collection development, reference, outreach, and instruction. She earned her MA in public history from JMU. She has been a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists since 2018 and earned SAA’s Arrangement & Description certification in March 2020 (just days before the COVID-19 lockdown!). Tiffany also serves as the senior co-chair of MARAC’s Finding Aids Award Committee. Her interests include the role of archives in campus history initiatives, reparative description, and vintage Pyrex.

Photo provided by Tiffany Cole

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

I pursued my graduate degree in history knowing that I absolutely did not want to teach, but instead wanted to engage with history in a more tangible way, outside of the classroom. (Little did I know just how integral instruction is with archival work.) I had a graduate assistantship at the very same repository where I now work and I fell in love with archival processing—each collection was a new adventure with its own story and set of challenges. After graduate school, I worked in the research and curatorial department of a presidential home and then transitioned back to archives in a public services capacity at a local university special collections library. I returned to JMU, my graduate alma mater and where I was first introduced to archives, in 2016.

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

I’m encouraged by recent collaborations with folks in our library’s Metadata Strategies unit. The pandemic provided us the time and space to look closely at our metadata and descriptive practices. Together, we’ve worked to identify opportunities for reparative description, including revising outdated and harmful subject headings as well as remediating gaps in name authorities, particularly for local Black community members and organizations. These efforts will undoubtedly inform future projects related to JMU’s collection of Black poetry specifically as well as all new and legacy description moving forward. Additionally, I am confident that our collective efforts toward better and more equitable description will help researchers find and access materials as we move forward with implementing the ArchivesSpace PUI.

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

I’m looking forward to the ongoing collaboration between JMU Special Collections and Furious Flower Poetry Center, the nation’s first academic center for Black poetry. We began stewarding their collection in 2016 and it is particularly rich in its audiovisual materials featuring readings and performances by Black poets. Work is underway to adopt a digital platform that suits this and other collections of AV materials which also means creating and capturing lots and lots of metadata. Our main library, where Special Collections is housed, is also slated for an expansion and renovation in the coming years. See also my comment above about adopting the ArchivesSpace PUI. So there are many exciting things on the horizon!

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

The semester started a few weeks ago and we have witnessed an unprecedented level of in-person appointment requests. Our researchers are making up for lost time! While this is definitely a good problem to have, and I am heartened that students in particular are exploring our collections with so much enthusiasm, it magnifies the lack of time and resources that our small staff has to do all the things—reference, outreach, preservation, instruction, processing, etc.

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

I’m really looking forward to continuing the weekly section coffee chats. It’s a great way to stay connected to the section on topics ranging from content management systems, student workers, professional development, and promotion and tenure. Speaking of P&T, the section is just starting a project to explore pathways to promotion and tenure.

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

While part of JMU Special Collections’ collection development strategy is to document the history of the university, we are not an official university archives. This is a precarious position for us and one that I’m hopeful will change in the not too distant future. Until that day happens, I’m excited to connect with others who are working to document the histories of their institution who are in a similar position as well as learn from others who have recently gone through the process of becoming a recognized and official university archives.

Meet Steering Committee Member: Elizabeth James

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

Elizabeth D. James is the current Archivist and Digital Preservation Librarian at Marshall University. She earned her Master of Science in Archives Management at Simmons University. Her work focuses on maximizing access to archival materials through accessible description, processing, and digitizing of materials and making use of non-traditional platforms to encourage access by diverse users. Her research interests vary, but primarily focus on computational approaches to using archival collections for discovery and analysis, the impact of memory organizations on local communities, and scalable approaches to managing digital archives.

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

As an undergraduate history major in search of work, I somehow used my skill at origami to leverage my way into a job in my university’s preservation department building phase boxes for rare books. To my surprise, I enjoyed reading and handling the books much more than I expected. This job led to another position in a special library and archive on campus that exposed me to prints, rare books, exhibit curation, and archival materials–needless to say, thanks to some wonderful supervisors and colleagues, I was hooked! However, I had heard tales of how competitive and difficult life in the archives professional could be, so I worked for a year as an AmeriCorps service member at a house museum before I finally decided to apply to and attend Simmons College (now Simmons University).

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

Like many, even though “digital preservation” composes half of my job title, much of my work involves hefting around and addressing legacy issues with physical material. Digital preservation is something that all too often falls by the wayside, especially in smaller institutions, so I was excited to finally have my proposal to implement a low-resource intensive digital preservation program using open source tools and my own programming knowledge approved.

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

Since learning Python, I have been using it for various projects at my institution related to digital preservation, data visualization, and data cleanup and migration. However, one of the things that I’m most excited about is creating learning resources and conducting instruction on how our collections can be explored and used as data by undergraduate students to expand our traditional instruction program.

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

In addition to my work with digital preservation, I am also responsible for all manuscript collections at my institution. Currently, I’m processing a large, early 20th century collection of business records created by an industrial company that manufactured coal, salt, and chemicals. This means I spend some of my in-person work time covered in coal and other mystery substances. I have never been more thankful for the COVID-19 induced mandated practice of indoor mask wearing at my workplace!

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

One large project the steering committee will be working on is initiating a review of the Guidelines for College and University Archives. I’m excited to work on this project because I feel that it is an opportunity to update the Guidelines to be indicative not only of the current college and university archives field, but the desired future. I’m particularly enthusiastic about providing multiple ways for college and university archivists of all kinds to contribute to this work.

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

As an archivist in Appalachia where the archives community is dispersed at best, I’m a huge fan of collaboration and creating virtual communities within the archives profession. I’m always interested in talking to individuals doing similar work, so please reach out if you’ve read anything here you find interesting!

Meet Steering Committee Member: Angel Diaz

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

Angel Diaz (she/her/hers) is the University Archivist at Penn State University. In this role since 2018, she identifies, acquires, and maintains records of enduring value that chronicle the development and experiences of the Penn State community. She earned her MLIS from the University of California Los Angeles. She served on the 2020 SAA Annual Meeting Program Committee and was Co-Chair of the Archivists and Archivists of Color Section (2016-2018). She is a participating member of Project STAND and is a current fellow in the Association of Research Libraries’ Leadership and Career Development Program (2020-2021).

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

As many people do, I started working with archival materials through an undergraduate internship–at the California Historical Society. I helped organize their extensive California newspaper collection by county. Not only did I love learning about the state, but found myself thinking a lot about why we were keeping and organizing the newspapers in this way. However, even while working there I had no idea one could become an archivist. I started working as a middle and high school humanities teacher. A short time later, my friend took on a job at the Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley), told me she was going to get her MLIS, and invited me to study for the GRE with her. It was an exciting jump to a new profession. In our graduate program, I found my place learning about how archivists can facilitate engagement and learning with historical materials to audiences of all ages and communities.

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

It’s taken some planning and extra work but I have been pleased with some recent collaborative outreach and engagement efforts, including shifting from developing a physical exhibition to a digital exhibition and zine workshops for student organizations. The zine workshops have all taken place on Zoom, but a small group of colleagues and I have been able to prepare physical zine supplies packets that we mailed to the students to have ready for the meeting date. The packets include paper, sample zines, and reproductions of archival materials for the students to cut up and include in the zines they create. We invite specific student organizations and base the theme of the zines on that group’s mission and focus. The workshops provide a space for creative thinking, while highlighting collection materials and making a connection with leaders from student organizations.

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

I am very excited about a student-led oral history initiative currently taking place. It started with a seminar course I was embedded in last spring. Students in this course took on research projects with University Archives materials on their chosen topic around Penn State history. One student conducted research on African American student activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She was eager to learn as much as she could on the topic. I provided archival materials and other resources, and the professor put her in touch with a Penn State alumnus who graduated in 1970 and had been active in various social and political efforts. The student interviewed the alumnus for her research paper and through the conversation learned of additional African American alumni who had also been activists on campus.

At the conclusion of the course, the student reached out to me to share that she wanted to speak to the other alumni in order to bring more resources for our collections. We quickly developed an oral history project she could take on–and I was able to advocate for a paid position for her to do this project. The work would all be done remotely over Zoom because this all started alongside the pandemic. We met regularly to discuss best practices and methodology, utilized her existing research to develop interview questions, and even conducted practice interviews. The interviews will be added to the University Archives collections for research access. This oral history project has been a wonderful initiative to be a part of because it is wholly based on the student’s interests and goals. Watching her interviews are such a positive experience because I see her genuine interest in hearing from each participant and that in turn brings ease and great topics into the conversation.

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

This is not a new challenge to anyone, but there is so much to do as a University Archivist. I work in collaboration with the Office of Records Management to support handling of university records coming in from across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Penn State is one university with 24 campuses) in both physical and digital format, support research and access to materials during the pandemic, am always looking for ways to engage students with archival materials, and am in a tenure-track position so scholarship is an expectation. It’s a balancing act that I have yet to figure out.

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

It seems like this steering committee hit the ground running this year! I’ve been happy to participate in some of the Coffee Chats organized by Karen Trivette. These weekly meetings are a great way to come together as colleagues to share challenges and successes presented to us throughout the COVID work environment and to also just chat about our work generally.

The steering committee is also starting the process of revising and updating the Guidelines for College and University Archives. The last update was in 1999, so we’re due for an update! Lastly, since it looks like our remote work and social distancing will last for some time, we have been looking into providing a series of virtual learning opportunities on a variety of topics for section and organization members.

Meet Steering Committee Member: Sandra Varry

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

Sandra Varry is the Heritage & University Archivist at Florida State University where she collects, manages, and provides access to FSU’s archive and manages its Heritage Museum. She holds an MFA in Photography from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and an MLIS from the University of South Florida. She became a Certified Archivist in 2013 and Digital Archives Specialist in 2014. She is a recent past chair of the Visual Materials Section of SAA, and a past President of the Society of Florida Archivists. She taught traditional and digital photography for 13 years before becoming a full time archivist, specializing in historic photograph collections.

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

As a young photographer I worked with found objects and texts in my personal work, and had a passion for the history of photography, creating exhibits, and teaching. I decided to merge my love of teaching with libraries and made my way into the archives in 2009. It was a great fit, and as a university archivist I immediately began working with a very large photograph collection. Preserving and providing access to image collections and records has become my passion. I regularly give presentations and workshops on preserving scrapbooks and photographs, digitization, and working with digital photography and prints.

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

As with a lot of institutions, moving ourselves online has been a major undertaking. I feel we made quick work of creating a framework for communication, expectations, and how to manage staff and researcher needs while staying safe. We are very fortunate to have the resources we need to do this well. We are now able to begin accepting collections again building on the basis of these new procedures and processes.

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

We have a lot of digitization projects in our queue, but I am really interested in giving better access to our negatives that don’t have accompanying prints – we often have requests that require us to review them. There are many engaging bodies of work in those negatives that could be more easily used and shared.

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

We are extremely busy – all of the time, so there are a lot of projects that end up down the list of to do’s. The challenge is to constantly leverage our resources (time/staff, etc.) to stay on top of things and not allow too many  to become “someday” projects.

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

I am very excited that we are taking on updating the section’s standard for College & University Archives. It’s a good resource and the updates will allow for broader adoption and support for all types of institutions. I also look forward to our online webinar series and continued coffee chats.

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

I’ve been in academia for twenty years, with almost ten in archives. I am always learning something new from those around me and the collections I work with. It’s one of the things about our profession that I love.

Meet Steering Committee Member: David McCartney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Steering Committee Member: Krista Oldham

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

Krista Oldham is the University Archivist at Clemson University, where her responsibilities include overseeing the acquisition, description, and preservation of University records, as well as supporting and promoting their use. Additionally, Krista is responsible for assisting in developing and managing a comprehensive, institution-wide records management program. She earned a M.I.S. from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and earned both a M.A. in History and a B.A. in History from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Prior to starting her position at Clemson, Krista worked at Haverford College as the College Archivist/Records Manager for Quaker and Special Collections and at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville Special Collections as the Senior Archivist and the Senior Archives Manager. In addition to her archival work, Krista served as Co-Director of the Arkansas Delta Oral History Project, an initiative led by the endowed Brown Chair in English Literacy. She is a co-author of The Arkansas Delta Oral History Project: Culture, Place, and Authenticity, which was published in 2016 by Syracuse University Press.

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

I believe my path to becoming an archivist will be familiar to many. I think that I had always wanted to be an educator of some sort. I had a love for history and when it came time for college I had it in my mind that I was going to become a professor of history.  I earned both a B.A. and M.A. in History from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. I was enrolled in the Ph.D. program in History and after I wrapped up a good bit of my coursework, I came to the realization that I did not enjoy it anymore, that the career path to become a professor no longer interested me, and that I really loved working in the archives. At that point I had been working at the University of Arkansas Special Collections, first as a reading room assistant and then as an assistant archivist, for about six or seven years, and decided that being an archivist was what I wanted to do. I then enrolled at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where I earned my M.I.S.

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

In the year that I have been at Clemson, the archives have prioritized building relationships with different groups (institutional and student-led) on campus. We are now beginning to see the payoff for our efforts, as those relationships are deepening into partnerships. This translates to our seeing an influx of records being transferred/donated to the archives; we are becoming the “go-to” people to provide content for events and exhibits; and we are now becoming collaborators on a variety of research initiatives. Essentially, people are recognizing the value of the archives and how it can help them do their day-to-day work and help advance scholarly conversations. I believe that relationships and trust take a lot of time to cultivate and it is really important for us, as a unit, to continue in this vein.

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

Our Digital and Preservation Archivist started in early May, and in filling this new position we are poised to begin laying the groundwork for a robust digital preservation program. Over the course of the next few months we will begin drafting digital preservation policies and procedures, identifying tools and technologies needed, as well as what storage infrastructure will work best for Clemson. It will be very exciting to see our piecemeal approach to digital preservation be coordinated into a more holistic one.

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

I think the biggest challenge that I face is one that we are all familiar with, and that is that there are so many records that I am responsible for and there is only one me. Fortunately, I have great colleagues in the archives and in the libraries who help acquire some of the records and/or connect me with records creators. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier I have spent a lot of time building relationships and part of the payoff is having a network of folks to keep me in the loop of what is going on so I can make sure I am making the connections that I need to ensure records are finding their way into the archives.

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

I am very excited to work with our section chair Benn Joseph and the rest of the Steering Committee. I think the committee has identified a couple of different projects to undertake, but COVID-19 has really shaken things up for everyone and it will/has had an impact on our Section’s priorities. I am extremely proud of the way that our Steering Committee has responded to COVID-19. The weekly C&U Coffee Chats where individuals can discuss strategies for carrying out their core duties from home, can learn new ideas and approaches, and can simply connect with others has been hugely successful in responding to the needs of our Section. While this pandemic has devastating and disruptive in so many ways, I think it has provided us an opportunity to connect more deeply with our Section than ever before, and I think the conversations that have come out of the discussions have given the Steering Committee some ideas on new priorities or new directions in which to take the Section.

Meet Your Vice Chair: Michelle Sweetser

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

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Michelle Sweetser is the Head Librarian at the Center for Archival Collections (CAC) at Bowling Green State University (BGSU). Before joining BGSU in 2016, she served as the University Archivist at Marquette University (2004-2016). Sweetser has been involved with the C&U Section since 2011, first serving as the newsletter editor and then managing the newsletter’s transition to its current blog format. She was elected to serve in the role of Vice Chair / Chair Elect in the summer of 2019.

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

I went to college planning to become an archaeologist. A research project with one of my anthropology professors took me into the college archives on a regular basis to access and transcribe records from the town’s poor farm, where she was planning to conduct a dig. I developed a deep sense of connection to the past by handling those records and the sense of discovery and wonder in learning to read and interpret writings from the 18th century. At the same time, I had an internship with my school’s alumni magazine and I conducted a lot of photo research and fact-checking for them in the archives. These two activities introduced me to archives as a researcher; the college archivist, Anne Ostendarp, spent time with me to help me understand that archival work could be a career path, and the rest, as they say, is history. I like to say that instead of digging through dirt, I now help people dig through records.

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

We are currently engaged in a NEH Common Heritage grant that has allowed us to partner with the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo (ICGT), about 20 minutes up the interstate from us. Through a community scan day, we digitized historical materials for community members and presented a selection of them in an exhibit we launched at the ICGT last fall. We reinstalled that exhibit on our campus and had planned a series of events for the spring semester that are aimed at bringing together our communities, but we’ve had to postpone them due to the COVID-19 situation. But I’m really excited about the relationships that we’ve built with members of that community and the opportunities we will have moving forward to collaborate with and learn from one another.

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

We are in the midst of a huge project to convert all of our finding aids from Omeka as a delivery platform and into ArchivesSpace; we are moving our collection management data in there as well. It’s not a flashy project at all, but will allow us to have much better intellectual and physical control over our collections than we’ve had in the past. As a relatively new staff (all of us with less than 5 years of experience), it’s been a good way for us to get to know our holdings too. But once we’re finished with the project, we’ll be able to much more responsibly collect new material because we have basic intellectual control of our existing holdings. And who isn’t excited about active collecting?

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

As I mentioned above, all of us have less than 5 years of experience at BGSU (I joined the institution 3.5 years ago). This is both freeing because we can establish a culture and processes for ourselves as well as a challenge because we simply do not have someone that we can call upon to help us understand past institutional decisions or to help provide context about donors or other matters. We are devoting a lot of time to addressing technological issues within our area – our finding aids and collection management projects, establishing digitization processes and standards, and working on digital preservation, for example – which are exceedingly important projects and focus a lot of our time inwardly. It’s difficult to find or make time, then, to also develop external relationships and do the public-facing work that is also vital to archival work. I’m trying hard to keep staff members from overextending themselves while continuing to make progress on these important projects.

How long have you been involved with SAA and what interests you the most about the College and University Section?

I’ve been involved with SAA since I was in graduate school, which is approaching twenty years at this point (how in the world did that happen?!?). I’ve been in academic archival settings in some form since my undergraduate career and there are so many varied aspects to work in these settings, including instruction, exhibits, and outreach; processing, description, and access; digitization and electronic records management. Just about anything within the archival profession relates to our work in some way and so the section is a place that allows you to specialize in a way with a focus on your institution, but also to be a generalist, to support people with passions and experiences across the range of archival work. We have really interesting and ever-changing conversations, as a result, and I’m a person who enjoys supporting that variety in work and conversations.

What projects do you envision the section undertaking under your leadership?

I am hopeful that our section’s SAA Foundation grant application will be funded, allowing us to complete a survey of College & University archivists that will establish a baseline understanding of the landscape at this moment in time. This information will help us better understand the needs and priorities of C&U archivists so that we can establish goals and priorities moving forward. If the grant application is not selected for funding, I believe there are some more limited ways in which we might go about collecting data. I believe that the section will continue to be responsive to emerging topics and changes in our environment and create spaces for conversations about those topics, be it discussions of difficult campus histories or how we are responding to pandemics, distance learning, and remote work.

Meet Your Steering Committee: Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez

This post is part of a series highlighting our section leadership.

Elvia Arroyo Ramirez
Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez, Assistant University Archivist, University of California, Irvine.

Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez is the Assistant University Archivist at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). She earned her Master’s in Library and Information Science with specialization in Archives, Preservation, and Records Management from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011. She served on the 2017-2018 SAA Nominating Committee and is a contributing member of Project STAND. She is co-editor of an upcoming issue of Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies (JCLIS) on “Radical Empathy in Archival Practice.”

Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist?
I applied to UCLA’s Performing Arts Special Collections (now part of Library Special Collections) as an undergraduate in the work-study program simply because the title had the word “art” in it. As a student studying art history, I was searching for what I could logistically do with an art history background (beside getting a Ph.D). At the time, I had no idea what archives or what primary sources were. My boss, Lauren Buisson, had a deep influence on me. I admired how she took care of patrons who came into the reading room. I also admired the patience visiting researchers exhibited in the archival research process. My relationship to archives is continuously evolving. What archives are, how they are used, whose stories are preserved, are all questions that keep me curious and in this field.

Can you share a success you have had in your repository of late?
I am fairly new in my role here at UC Irvine; all of my experience prior to being Assistant University Archivist is in personal papers and manuscripts. I have largely focused on getting oriented and being patient with myself about the differences and challenges that are unique to university archives. My draw to university archives was to challenge myself to be a better advocate for archives and have more public facing responsibility to the university community.

One early success I can share was collaborating on a “Time Capsule and Treats” event at the end of the 2017-2018 academic year. The event (and title; I assure everyone reading that were was no time capsule making involved) was organized by one of our partners on campus and the purpose was to encourage students to donate their student organization records to the University Archives. One way to encourage students to stop by our booth was offering free pastries and milk tea from 85C, a local favorite coffee, tea, and bake shop. The ruse worked: a lot of students went wild for the free 85C. Some students did express an interest in transferring their organizations’ records, but I was unsure whether we would get any new transfers out of the event.

Fast forward to August and I received two new transfers from the LGBT Resource Center and the Asian Pacific Student Association. It turns out some of the students who attended the “Time Capsule and Treats” event took flyers and brought them back to their place of employment (LGBT Resource Center) and their student organization (APSA). I am so glad those 85C treats really did pay off!

What project are you most excited about in your archives?
Starting this winter quarter (most of the University of California campuses are on the quarter schedule), I will be the UC Irvine Cross Cultural Center’s Archivist-in-Residence. I am partnering up with the Cross Cultural Center on campus to host open office hours in their space so I can be readily available to assist student leaders in transferring their student organizations’ records to the University Archives. The Cross already has a couple of residencies (Faculty-in-Residence and a Counselor-in-Residence), so the idea to be the Archivist-in-Residence really comes from the culture the Cross has cultivated to make faculty and staff accessible to students outside of the usual office hours. The Cross Cultural Center has long been home for many student umbrella organizations; in fact, many organizations host their weekly meetings there. So it is my hope that this will help strengthen the Library’s relationships with present student leadership and help students become more familiar with archives and how they can transfer their organizational records.

You’ve moved from grant-funded positions into full-time permanent positions. What advice do you have for archivists who find themselves in term appointments?
I had a difficult time working through this question because there are the grant-funded positions that have a specific project and timeline, and there are the term-positions that are articulated like project positions but in reality are responsible for work that is ongoing and permanent. In either case, contract employment can negatively affect your psychological worth and value. I really dislike the expectation to do term-labor in our profession and the systemic culture that perpetuates it. But I am glad there’s been recent movement to acknowledge this and strategize for ways to move away from it thanks to folks like Ruth Kitchin Tillman, Sandy Rodriguez, and colleagues at UCLA who are speaking out against temporary contract work. Some of us stay in yearly contracts for years and even entire careers, which impacts quality of life in ways that are not immediately clear. For example, when I was working at Center for the Study of Political Graphics, I was on a two-year NHPRC grant-funded position. I wanted to co-sign a mortgage loan for a home my parents were buying. I was rejected because I was contingently employed, despite a decent credit score and low debt. It was so painful to be told that I was not a trustworthy borrower because of my employment status and that I could not help my parents in that way.

We all have our non-negotiables with regard to career opportunities and it usually goes: location, compensation, and growth. In our profession one of these usually has to give. Early in my career I knew I had to give up my number one non-negotiable (location) so that I can get the other two, and back to my number one. I went to parts of the country where I had no direct or established community and was far from my support system. While I was growing professionally and getting paid a living wage, I was emotionally starved from the people and places that I needed to feel healthy. So ultimately, my advice to folks who are on term appointments is to constantly re-evaluate what is the most important to you. If you are in a term position but feel like it is going to open new doors to get you to that permanent, better compensated, dream job location: get what you want out of it and go when you can. Do not stay if you can help it. You deserve permanence; you deserve growth; and you deserve exactly what you want.

What have you learned through your experience as a founding member of the LIS Microaggressions collective?
I learned about the power of telling your truth and how storytelling is one of the most effective methods to get folks to pay attention to a perceptively invisible issue that affects so many. Microaggressions are difficult to talk about because they come as small slights that may or may not be consciously intended. On the individual level, one microaggression doesn’t hold too much weight. Repeat incidences of microaggressions, however, begin to have a cumulative effect on employee well-being. Just like gaslighting, folks at the receiving end of microaggressions feel like it is in their head, that they are being too sensitive. Fear of retaliation and defensiveness from the folks who perpetuate such behaviors are all real barriers to have honest conversations about racism and sexism in the workforce as well. With the LIS Microaggressions project we (all early career women of color LIS professionals) wanted to remove the stigma and fear of sharing the scars we carry with us by allowing folks to anonymously post about their experiences with microaggressions in the workplace. I also learned about the power of zines and zinemaking and how they empower folks who usually do not see themselves or issues that affect them in commercial print publications.

You’re working to edit a special issue of the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies on how an archival ethics of care can be enacted in real world environments (based on Caswell and Cifor’s notions of radical empathy). What are some ways in which individuals in a university archives might engage in acts of radical empathy?
Caswell and Cifor apply a feminist ethic of care to their concept of radical empathy to ultimately define four key relationships that affect the work of practicing archivists. Thus, “[i]n a feminist ethics approach, archivists are seen as caregivers, bound to records creators, subjects, users, and communities through a web of mutual affective responsibility.” An additional fifth relationship (archivist-archivist) was proposed by folks in the 2017 SAA session. Because university archives are mandated to preserve the history of the university, it is perhaps easy to lose sight of what is at the root of what we do as archivists. We are here to document the relationships people (faculty, administration, students, the greater communities) have with the campus, as well as be the repository for all of the official publications the university produces about itself.

A very real struggle I am experiencing right now is how to move forward with archival collections that involve individuals who have been involved in sexual harassment allegations. I’ve had to reckon with this scenario more than once in the near year I’ve been working at UCI, with the renaming of the Science Library as one of the more public instances. How should Special Collections & Archives respond to sexual harassment cases that involve their record creators? What inclusive description should be employed to acknowledge the fullness of this person’s relationship with the university? Radical empathy has helped me ground my feelings of helplessness in cases like these to think thoughtfully about how to move forward.

Can you talk about how you balance your research projects with the day-to-day responsibilities of your job?
Balance feels aspirational at times! I feel like I haven’t yet gotten to a point in my career where I feel comfortable saying “no” to professional opportunities – that might be my new year’s resolution. I know my partner at home has to reel me in at times when I start to bring “work stuff” home. I like to work; and I like to listen and be a part of a movement that is rethinking the way archives are collected, preserved, and accessible.

I am very fortunate to have a boss that not only shares these values, but is also deeply professionally involved, and she understands and allows folks in the department to build in time during their working hours to write or work on other professional projects. She invited me to her Friday morning writing sessions where we get out of the office and go somewhere else on campus to write or do other professional commitments. In previous places of employment, I never felt encouraged or supported to be professionally involved and I never felt like I was allowed to work on presentations during work hours. I always felt guilty and paranoid that someone was going to walk in on me while I was putting a slide deck together.

What projects do you envision the section undertaking during your 3-year term on the steering committee?
I am excited to work with Ellen and the rest of the Steering Committee on identifying our next priorities for the year. This year, I’d like to take more of the back burner approach and let other more seasoned members lead so I can learn from them. Ultimately, something I would like to pitch is designing some infographic materials relating to university archives. I would really like to see if we could put one together about FERPA – what kind of records constitute FERPA-protected records. As someone who is relatively new to university archives records, I constantly have to double, triple check my notes about the nuances of FERPA as I come across records that are in a gray area. It would be helpful to have a poster at my office to remind me of what records fall under FERPA. Another potential poster idea is an infographic for public colleges and universities who are legally mandated to observe state public records laws.