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Katie Nash, MLIS, CA (she/her) is the University Archivist and Head of UW Archives at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In this role, she is responsible for the overall management of the department which includes: stewarding donor relations and collection development; supervising professional and student staff; spearheading the creation of policies, procedures, and workflows; supporting research and public services; leading space and environmental management projects; and supporting processing, as well as the Oral History and Records Management Programs. She became a Certified Archivist in 2011 and is active with various SAA Sections and the Midwest Archives Conference. Katie has worked in the archival profession since 2005 and has been in her current position since 2018.
Can you share a success you’ve had in your repository recently?
We’ve had a lot of successes since I arrived at UW-Madison in 2018, but one major success is an increase in staffing within the University Archives and Records Management unit. From budget reductions to people leaving the profession (retirement or other reasons), increased workloads and demands, and other stressors, we often find ourselves underresourced and staff are unable to focus on their areas of expertise. UW-Madison is an R1 institution in the Midwest and part of the Big Ten Academic Alliance. I’ve worked at much smaller institutions, so I understand the meaning of being understaffed and not having resources similar to larger institutions. However, for years, the UW Archives has fallen behind in keeping up with appropriate staffing levels compared to our peers in the Big Ten. Since 2021, the UW Archives has added five new positions (two temporary) – some funded through the UW-Madison Libraries, and some funded through other departments on campus and/or endowed funds. This is a huge increase in staff in a very short period of time, especially in a post-pandemic ever-changing world. A lot of advocacy since 2018 is behind some of these new positions, being in the right place at the right time with a plan, and other strokes of good luck and perseverance have led to our success in increasing staff within UW Archives.
What current or future project are you most excited about in your archives?
UW-Madison is funding a new Libraries Collections Preservation Facility that is expected to open in 2025. The facility will provide industry-recommended environmental controls to ensure archives, special collections materials, and other library collections are appropriately housed and preserved. Over the next few years, University Archives and Records Management staff will prepare 5,000 linear feet of paper materials and approximately 3,500 linear feet of AV collections to move into the new facility. It’s a major project for us, but also something we currently do on a smaller scale (sending archival collections to an offsite facility). There are many issues to address, questions to ask, decisions to make, documentation to create, and much more. We are working together as a team on this project and it’s very exciting to know we have the support and resources from the Libraries and campus to make our collections discoverable, accessible, and preserved.
What are some of the challenges you face in your position?
While there have been many successes since I started working at UW-Madison, there have been and continue to be just as many challenges. One major challenge I currently face is related to growing pains. UW Archives has been understaffed for decades, but since 2021 we’ve added five new staff positions! That’s a large number of employees to add in a couple of years and with that increase comes transitions and changes that are sometimes difficult to see and address right away. It can be challenging to understand the total impact of changes in staffing – which is why it’s crucial to keep lines of communication open in an effective and meaningful way. Change can happen fast and procedures and ways of doing things are often flipped upside down and the work environment can feel unstable and uncertain at times. I struggle to effectively bring everyone together through changes in a sustainable way and at a pace that resonates with most. There is a lot of change related to how and who makes decisions, revising divisions of labor, integrating remote work policies, and prioritizing goals and projects to accomplish. The UW Archives has been in a state of constant transition since I started in 2018, and through all this I’m slowly learning how to practice delegating and seek feedback and guidance from colleagues along the way. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with in UW Archives, and while these growing pains are present each day – I’m confident we’ll continue to work together as a team and figure out what works best for our new staffing model.
How did you get your start in academic archives and why have you stayed?
Since undergrad, I’ve always held a job in a library on campus and have enjoyed being in an academic environment for my studies and work. After receiving my Master’s degree, I worked two part-time jobs: one was in an Interlibrary Loan office at a university library, and the other was in a local history museum archive. While I enjoyed the variety of work in both jobs, I was also looking for a full-time, permanent position where I could learn and grow as a young professional. Through working in a museum archive, my heart found its way to the archives profession, and to this day I can’t imagine working in a different profession. 2005 was the first year I worked in an academic archives and I had no prior experience in this setting. I spent the next nine years mostly being a solo archivist and utilized that time in my career to network and learn as much as possible. I quickly experienced the phenomenon of working in an academic archives where employees age each year while the crops of new students who enter the institution are the same age year after year! I love the energy students bring to an academic archives and institution, as they are full of new ideas and ways of seeing the world – which helps me stay current and hopefully relevant. Additionally, the scholarship and research that takes place at an academic institution can often directly affect academic archives – helping us all stay abreast of current trends, past practices, and research endeavors by people who are truly making a difference in the world.
What is your favorite way to keep up with the archives field?
In general, I find that there is so much information out there to absorb via so many platforms that it can be overwhelming and exhausting to try and keep up with everything happening on a regular basis. I appreciate the conversations and announcements on the Society of American Archivists listservs, but the most reliable way for me to try and keep up with the archives profession is by reading Archival Outlook. Within this publication, I find the stories and articles fascinating, thought-provoking, diverse in content and types of archival institutions represented, and it’s easy for me to digest in a reasonable period of time. Another way I stay involved with the archives field is through the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) and annual meetings. I make an effort to attend MAC and SAA conferences each year to network with fellow archivists, attend conference presentations, and tour archival repositories.