This post is the first in a series highlighting our newly-elected section leadership.
Tracy Jackson is the Head, Center Manuscript Processing Section, at Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. She is the primary processing archivist for the University Archives at Duke and supervises the processing of collections within dedicated collecting centers. She has been at Duke for three years and holds an MSLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist?
I tried out a few jobs before feeling drawn to library school for a combination of reasons: a love of learning and sharing knowledge and a love of organizing things. While in library school I began working in the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives and realized that archival processing was the right fit for me. Getting to work with the materials was so compelling, and completing a rehoused, labeled, described collection was immensely satisfying. Photographs are still my favorite type of materials to work with, but I’m glad I get to work with a wide variety of materials in the University Archives. I was very lucky to find my way into this work and continue to feel lucky that I have made a career of it.
Can you share a success you have had in your repository of late?
We will soon be adding a Records Manager to our team in the University Archives, thanks to tireless effort on the part of the University Archivist. This is very exciting for us, as we haven’t had a Records Manager in years, and adding this position has been a goal for some time.
What project are you most excited about in your archives?
I am really looking forward to working with our new Records Manager to make sure that university records of long-term research value are properly transferred, preserved, and accessible; we will be establishing brand-new workflows and that will be an interesting challenge. In Technical Services, we are also looking to update documentation of many of our practices, which I find both interesting and intimidating. I think good documentation is crucial to good processing, but it requires regular review and updating, and we have quite a lot to review.
You manage the processing work for the University Archives as well as the technical services staff for two other collecting areas. What strategies do you have for maintaining consistency amongst units as well as for managing projects
Consistency of practice and managing projects is an ongoing challenge. We’re a fairly large shop and all of us are juggling many projects and collections, so there is always a lot happening. In addition to my section, which is three people representing three distinct collecting areas (each tending to collect generally different types of materials), there is a General Manuscript Processing Section and other collecting areas and format specialists in our department. Since this makes for a complex set of projects and priorities, I find it helpful to have regular meetings and informal conversations with my staff as well as my counterpart in General Manuscript Processing and our management team, and to keep current on what is going on all over the department. Ultimately I think my most important role is to ensure clear communication between areas and to provide support to my staff. As mentioned above, good documentation is key to ensuring good practice, and can be difficult to maintain, but that’s something I want to continue to improve.
What strategies are you using to manage and process digital records in your repository?
We have a Digital Records Archivist who is the point person for ingesting and handling digital records, and I have worked with him regularly on born-digital components in collections I’ve processed. Thanks to his work, we’re able to preserve electronic records from media found in collections as well as capture websites, email, and some social media. How to handle the processing of large amounts of digital records, particularly email, is still in flux as we try different methods to find what works (or doesn’t) for each collection.
What would you like to see the section concentrate on during your three-year term?
There are a few issues that I think are of immediate importance for many of us. The first is the scariest: how to deal with the legacy of white supremacy in our archives, and how we as archivists are responsible for dealing with the complex repercussions of that echoing into the work we do to preserve what is happening in the US today. This is an issue of special important to this section because of how often these conversations happen on campus, and because colleges and universities are not only the keepers of so much of our historical record, but also integral players in culture, past and present. A second and related issue is about the environmental impact of our work, an issue I have been pleased to see is starting to get more discussion in the profession. We already think of the very long-term in our work, but we should make sure that thoughtfulness includes considering the impact of our choices beyond the materials themselves. A third topic I would love to think more about is discoverability and accessibility of our description, particularly how we can and should rethink the finding aid as the way we present our description. Not one of these issues has any easy answers, and I think this section can play an important role in finding ways to think about and act on these questions as a profession.