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 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 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:

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:

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 (, 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.

COVID-19 Work Continues: A Behind-the-Scenes Perspective

undefinedAs the COVID-19 pandemic continues to effect people across the world, archivists continue to find ways to collect stories and document this unprecedented and historical event. For the past few months, there’s been a lot of public facing outreach work happening at many archival repositories and other cultural heritage organizations and institutions. This public facing work and development of projects would not be possible without all the efforts of many who work tirelessly behind-the-scenes to create and implement documentation, questionnaires, web pages, and collection tools to ensure this pandemic is part of the historical narrative. For this blog post we interviewed Cat Phan, Digital and Media Archivist at the UW-Madison, to learn more about her work related to the UW-Madison Archives’ Documenting COVID-19 Project.

Cat Phan (she/her) has been the Digital and Media Archivist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison University Archives since December 2016. She is responsible for caring for and managing the image and audiovisual collections of the Archives and leading the development of the born-digital archiving program.

How has COVID-19 affected your work and lifestyle?

Like many others, I’ve been at home these several weeks and fortunately, have been able to work from home. It’s been an adjustment for sure, setting up a home office where there is none, creating new routines to manage work and home life in the same space, trying to focus on work while so much uncertainty looms. Lots of my work continues remotely although a lot of projects and general work have been put on pause without access to our physical collections. But I’m grateful for a supportive workplace and colleagues.

Are you able to maintain any level of normalcy related to work or home? If so, what does that look like for you?

One of the best new routines of my “normal” work day is checking in with my co-workers daily at the beginning of the day. It’s been nice to see their faces and chatting — about work or otherwise — to maintain some of that social work environment even if it’s not quite the same as seeing each other face to face.

Can you tell us about what role you see archivists, specifically digital and media archivists/electronic records archivists, etc., playing during this global pandemic?

It’s so unusual to have this shared upending experience that continues on for such a long time and archivists are seeing this opportunity to capture these experiences in the moment. Outside of those with whom we are at home, our interactions with each other are primarily digital. In addition, many of the ways in which we document ourselves, the artifacts we leave behind that say something about us are now digital – video chats, text messaging, social media, digital photographs and videos, etc. The skills that digital archivists have developed to understand and capture digital information and records are definitely being put to use as we work to document the pandemic.

In early April, UW-Madison Archives launched the Documenting COVID-19 Project. What was your role in the early stages of the project?

We were fortunate to have good models out of the gate ahead of us to follow. I can’t give enough credit to Katie Howell at UNC Charlotte and the other archivists who worked quickly to start documenting the COVID-19 experiences in their communities. After reviewing other similar projects, I set up a web page and a Google form to collect submissions, heavily based on models from other institutions. Working with my Archives colleagues and the UW-Madison Libraries communications staff, we then created an outreach plan to announce and continue to spread the word about the project to our university community.

Walk us through the documentation you created, the tools you used, other examples you consulted, and how long everything took to prepare to publicize the project.

In addition to UNC Charlotte’s project website, we did a quick search to see what other institutions — including which of our Big Ten Academic Alliance colleagues — had also launched a project. Along with UNC Charlotte, we also ended up modeling ours on Michigan State University’s project as well. After consulting these early projects, we followed their lead and set up a web page as a home base for the project explaining the goals and how to participate. We then also set up a simple Google Form to collect the submissions. Google has a question option that allows users to upload files as long as they log in with a Google account — a fine option for us as the UW-Madison is a Google Apps campus. The Google Form can create a Google spreadsheet with all responses and the uploaded files get saved to a separate directory that Google creates. I have a student who is downloading submissions to our local network drive on a regular schedule. It took us about two weeks from initial discussion to launch, working on this maybe a couple times a week. Most of this was working through the various options and decision points (e.g. copyright implications, tools to use, etc.). Once we decided on our plan, it was very quick to implement.

What challenges and support did you receive during the creation and development process?

Our entire archives team helped advise on various decision points, for example our Head of the Oral History Program, Troy Reeves, and the University Records Officer, Sarah Grimm, aided in crafting the release form and putting together our questionnaire prompts. I relied heavily on Katie Nash, our University Archivist, and our Libraries’ communication team, Natasha Veeser and Jari Xiong, to advise and work out the outreach plan and we continue to do so as the pandemic continues to affect our community. Many others across the UW-Madison Libraries and across campus — liaison librarians, our partners in the multicultural centers and more — have been key to helping us spread the word.

Did any past experience prepare you for this moment and type of work involved?

I’ve never put together an open online submission form like this so that’s been exciting. I can see various other ways to use this for archives donations. My work on our standard born-digital acquisitions was helpful in thinking through the agreements we would need to require and the types of files likely to be received. My colleagues’ work for the Oral History Program (release forms!), electronic records management, and working with our copyright expert in our campus legal department on various forms in the past really gave us good grounding for putting this together as well.

Do you have any ideas for other types of documentation archives can create (besides forms, surveys, questionnaires, etc.) to capture COVID-19 experiences and stories?

I’ve been seeing lots of really creative prompts to help people engage in reflection and documentation which doesn’t come too easy for everyone. Two of my recent favorites are from cartoonists with links to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 2017 UW-Madison PhD in Curriculum and Instruction graduate Ebony Flowers’s “My Last Encounter with Pandemic Parenting,” and Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Creativity in the Art Department Lynda Barry’s “Documenting All the Small Things That Are Easily Lost” both appear in the New York Times Diary Project series, “An assignment for all of us to help capture an extraordinary time.” Not that archives should start hiring cartoonists (though wouldn’t that be wonderful) but this type of thing could be useful in archives outreach work that’s about helping the community start to think of themselves as historical subjects and creating documentation about their experiences.

What are some lessons you’ve learned so far? Is there anything you would do differently or recommend for other Archivists/repositories when trying to do something similar?

One of the things I keep thinking about as this experience continues on for all of us is if, how, and when to remind people of the project and encourage participation.  When is it good to say here is a way you have to make your voice heard and your story remembered and when do people just need the space to experience what they’re experiencing?

Anything else you’d like to say? 

Hope everyone takes care and stays well!

Meet Your Vice Chair: Michelle Sweetser

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


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.

COVID-19 Documentation Goes Viral!

Many archivists are faced with figuring out efficient, reliable, and effective ways to capture stories and associated materials related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We want to ensure this time in the world’s history is documented and preserved for today’s knowledge and tomorrow’s discoveries. Katie Howell (she/her/hers), the University Archivist at UNC Charlotte, created early documentation and procedures that many archivists rapidly adopted at their own institutions. We asked Katie a few questions about how things got started at UNC Charlotte, her experiences related to crisis and tragedy, as well as how she’s affected by the global pandemic.

Katie Howell has been the University Archivist at UNC Charlotte since 2016. Prior to holding this position she was the college archivist at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC and the reference archivist for the Austin History Center. She received her MSIS from the University of Texas at Austin.

Katie Howell, University Archivist, UNC-Charlotte

How has COVID-19 affected your lifestyle? What changes were you able to make and what challenges do you face?

So far I feel very fortunate that my biggest changes have been working from home. I know that many, many archivists out there are worried about changes to income and employment status, their health or the health of loved ones, and the general uncertain state of the world. I have been working remotely from home since mid-March while also caring for my three young children. It is certainly challenging and a change from our normal, but the inconveniences we’ve faced and our new routines are manageable so far. My work day looks (and sounds!) a lot different these days, and I’ve had to get used to working in short focused bursts during my kids’ nap times and lunchtime, as well as late at night and on the weekends.

What is something you consider to still be “normal” for you?

I know there are a lot of jokes to be made about having too many meetings, but I have been grateful for the relative normalcy of my standing committee meetings in the past month. Sure, we all had a bit of a learning curve pivoting to conference calls and video chat, but I really value and appreciate a “normal” work conversation with my colleagues.

Can you tell us a little bit about what role you see the archives profession playing during this pandemic?

I tend to see the role of the archivist as one who works to help communities, institutions, and individuals capture, preserve, and share their historical record. Given how fragile and fast-moving digital recordkeeping can be, the knowledge and experience of archivists can be highly valuable in helping to capture first-person accounts and other primary sources of current and contemporary events before they are lost. Archiving responses to traumatic experiences is unfortunately a skill that too many archivists have had to learn in recent years, but there are great resources out there to help those who are currently feeling that they are in the midst of tragedy response efforts in their own communities.

The documentation you created for capturing COVID-19 related stories at UNC Charlotte quickly became the standard most archival repositories are using to set up their own outreach efforts. Can you walk us through when and how this evolved at UNC Charlotte?

In the days leading up to our campus beginning remote work and online instruction on March 16, the library staff started brainstorming projects that student workers could do to continue to work their normal hours and receive their normal pay. We didn’t know what kind of administrative changes might take place that could affect their employment status or pay, and library supervisors wanted to be prepared. I had seen several conversations on Twitter and elsewhere with archivists sharing ideas for work from home projects. This idea came out of those conversations. I thought it would be of interest to our library student workers as a way to work from home, perhaps as a break from data entry or webinars. Over time, we expanded the scope and pushed it out campus-wide so that anyone with interest could participate if they wanted.

Did any past experience(s) help you prepare for this moment?

Unfortunately, we were pretty well prepared to start this project so quickly because we had dealt with a traumatic event on our campus just a year ago. On April 30, 2019 two students were killed and four others were injured in a shooting on our campus. As part of efforts to document that event, we had created an online submission form and agreement for students, staff, and faculty to submit their reflections to the archives. So to start the COVID-19 documentation effort we repurposed that form and just made some small adjustments to certain fields and the introductory text. Some of the conversations we had about the potential for self-documentation to be re-traumatizing or cathartic informed my decision to include mental health and other support resources for participants. I think the past traumatic experience our unit went through prepared us well to check in with and support each other emotionally, a practice which has been so important in this time of social distancing, distressing current events, and extreme uncertainty.

What/Who else have you relied on through this process? What support are you receiving (from UNC Charlotte, colleagues, archivists, etc.)

I’ve worked very closely with Tyler Cline, UNC Charlotte’s digital archivist and Dawn Schmitz, Associate Dean of Special Collections to construct our form and spread the word on the project. I also relied on Kate Dickson, our law and copyright librarian, to assist with the wording of our submission agreements, especially regarding any potential personal health information that might be revealed by a participant and to ensure we were in compliance with FERPA policies on our campus. Many others in Special Collections & University Archives helped me fine tune the submission form and spread the word on our campus.

What are some lessons you’ve learned so far? Is there anything you would do differently or recommend for other archivists/institutions when trying to do something similar?

One of the first adjustments we did was to modify the original agreement I’d included on our form to be a revocable license for use. I felt that it was important to be clear that participants could come back at any time and revoke the permissions for us to use their content. I have often wondered that it might have been advantageous to include a series of questions to get participants started thinking about their response. Ultimately, I decided to keep a more open-ended approach. 

I think the biggest challenge has been getting the word out, but given that our students are dealing with a tremendous amount of stress and uncertainty at the moment, I think a quieter approach is just fine for now. It’s possible that when the university community eventually returns to campus that we will push out the project again more broadly. With my previous experience in tragedy response documentation it was centered around a single traumatic event on a single day. And though people continue to be affected in ways both large and small a year later, it was easier to ask people to reflect on that single day in the weeks and months that followed. The COVID-19 crisis has no clear end in sight, and so I understand it may be quite some time before people feel they are fully ready to reflect on their experiences.

Anything else you’d like to say?

I just hope that everyone reading is able to stay safe and healthy!