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.

Meet Your Vice-Chair: Benn Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Your Vice-Chair: Ellen Engseth

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

Ellen_Engseth
Ellen Engseth, Curator, Immigration History Research Center and Head of the Migration and Social Services Collections, University of Minnesota Libraries.

Ellen Engseth is Curator, Immigration History Research Center Archives and Head of the Migration and Social Services Collections within Archives and Special Collections at the University of Minnesota Libraries. The Migration and Social Services Collections are four distinct archives with complementary collections, staff expertise, and patron base. Archives and Special Collections is a department of the University Libraries, with 15 distinct yet collaborative collecting areas, that together create one of the largest archives on an academic campus in the U.S. Previously, she worked as an archivist at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, at North Park University, and at University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign.

Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist?
After a college degree in history, I thought I’d go on to museum work, and I spent some time gaining volunteer and work experience in the heritage sector. I was fortunate to be able to volunteer at the Public Record Office in Kew, England, now the National Archives (UK). I don’t believe I’d ever been in an archive before that point. These colleagues sat me down in front of some 19th century copyright registration ledgers, to look for something in particular, and I was hooked on two things: the information source in its original form (with which I had little experience), and the continuing value and exciting research options these sources provide to us. I did some research and learned of the option to concentrate on archival administration, and attended that program at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.

Can you share a success you have had in your repository of late?
This past year, we’ve had a good experience publishing our sources through a digital academic publisher. I saw this opportunity as one to be both entrepreneurial and contributory; through this project, we’ve increased our digital assets (55,000 pages and 20 hours of transcribed oral history recordings) while improving access of our sources to users we would otherwise not reach. We also had a great time working with campus colleagues, the James Ford Bell Library, and the publishers, building stronger campus relationships, and learning a lot.

What project are you most excited about in your archives?
Finding our next colleague! We have an assistant archivist position available soon, and I really enjoy the process of talking with candidates, finding a good match, and then onboarding and welcoming that new colleague.

As a curator at the Immigration History Research Center Archives, what advice might you give college and university archivists who are considering documenting immigrants on their campus (or the surrounding community)?
This is something I think a lot about, and in the current political and social climates, others are engaged, too. This increase in activity is an opportunity for us to be part of the conversations, learn more about the realities of those on our campuses, and utilize those traditional areas where we often connect with others, such as student groups or in teaching. In our case, at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, a newly-formed Immigration Response Team confirmed that after the presidential proclamation, over 150 international students and scholars are from the eight listed countries, and there are hundreds more faculty, staff, and students with connections to those countries. Did your campus respond in some official capacity? Are more classes discussing immigration, and do you have sources to share with them? Are student groups active and engaged? If so, they are likely cognizant of the historical importance of this moment. Finally, it’s a prime opportunity to practice cultural competence, because the lived realities of recent im/migrants and new Americans on our campuses will be different from others.’ For example, one thing I am now sensitive to is my own use, as an archivist, of the word “document” (and its variants such as documentation and documentary). For many non-archivists, this word carries issues or meanings much stronger than any related to archival activity. In honor of this, I increasingly choose other words, or if I do use “document,” I explain my own usage and set it in the archival context.

You recently received an AASLH Leadership in History Award for your exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the IHRCA. What are your top tips for creating an engaging exhibit in a college and university setting?

mapbyPaulaKeller1
Map created by visitors to illustrate migration journeys. Image courtesy the author.

In this exhibit my colleagues and I worked to create an impactful, energetic exhibit space. We hoped that the visitors would engage with the general topic of im/migration, and then, bring that engagement to the archival material on exhibit and to the topic of our archives. So we utilized bright colors, everyday recognizable items such as suitcases and (traveling) shoes, and provided a large world map where we asked visitors to participate in the exhibit by illustrating any migration journey by simply placing a string onto it. Visitors thus gradually and collectively created an exhibit piece that visualized global migration through time. Students seemed to really enjoy this easy way to participate. We also asked folks to leave their comments — and students did, which is great! Finally, we actively welcomed people via a video, a formal event/invitation, personal outreach to teachers, students and community members, and encouraged visitors to discuss their visit on social media.

 

How have you balanced the demands of the work place with your professional involvement in SAA and elsewhere?
Time or energy for volunteer work service and professional activity can be a struggle for many of us, I know. Yet this kind of work is a great benefit; some people I know in other work environments don’t get such opportunity, and I find that I typically receive as much as I give. I balance by being strategic, choosing to do that which I feel will truly be of use. Also, my experience is that this kind of activity will ebb and flow, depending on opportunity, our other life demands, support from work places, and similar. This will provide some natural balance, as well.

As Vice-Chair and Chair-Elect, what are your priorities for the section for the next two years?
I’d like to maximize the good work of this year’s initiative led by current Chair Rebecca Goldman (details to be announced soon!) by continuing with any work in process. And I am always interested in connecting our section work with SAA’s Goals and Strategies or with other sections, and thus share our campus-based experiences with the wider profession where it can be useful. Finally, as someone with my eye on the international, I will be considering confluences or connections with the Section on University Archives of the International Council on Archives. (Some of you may be interested to know that their 2018 conference will be held in Salamanca, Spain on the topic of “Historical Records in University Archives, a Value Added.”)

I’d love to hear from any of you interested in these areas or others, and work with you on them. Thank you!

Meet Your Steering Committee: Christy Fic

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

Fic_headshot
Christy Fic, University Archivist & Special Collections Librarian at Shippensburg University

Christy Fic is the University Archivist & Special Collections Librarian at Shippensburg University of PA. She received her MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh and her MA in Applied History from Shippensburg University. Prior to joining the faculty at Shippensburg she worked as a contract processing archivist for the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian Institution.

Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist?
I’ve always been interested in history, but never wanted to teach K-12. During undergrad, I worked as a research assistant for a History professor conducting extensive primary and secondary source research for his book project, and I loved it. I had been seriously considering going for my doctorate, but the summer before senior year I decided I wasn’t ready to make that commitment, so I was seeking alternative career paths. I wound up talking to a variety of folks on campus, and got connected with our college archivist. She had me read John Fleckner’s “Dear Mary Jane” and a few other intro to archives articles, and I was hooked. I was drawn to the idea of having a career that would allow me to conduct research, work with interesting collections, and help others with their research. I spoke to a few alums who had pursued their MLS and gone on to work in archives, and that was it for me.

Can you share a success you have had in your repository of late?
We’ve been collaborating more and more with different groups on and off campus, which has brought about some very exciting opportunities. We were recently asked to participate in a collaborative effort to create a documentary series about the railroad in our local community (which used to run right through campus, and there was even a stop for the school). The documentary series is part of a broader initiative that’s underway to bring the community and the campus together through our shared heritage. We look forward to seeing all the pieces fall into place, and are so glad to be supporting our community and campus partners in this endeavor.

What project are you most excited about in your archives?
We’re in the early stages of planning a complete renovation of the archives, and I am extremely excited to see that come to fruition. While the renovation is still a few years away, the planning process has been a wonderful opportunity to talk about the role of the archives with constituents across campus, and to really think about what we want for the future of the archives. This renovation will provide our students, faculty, and community patrons with an amazing place to learn, collaborate, and grow.

You moved from a contract archivist position at the Smithsonian into an academic library position. What advice might you give to individuals making transitions to academic library settings?
There is so much I wish I had known!

1: Learn to set your own agenda! At my university, librarians have full faculty status. We go up for tenure and promotion just like all the other faculty on campus. I never would have imagined that I would have this kind of opportunity at such an early point in my career. I had assumed that I would be working under a more experienced archivist or supervisor for awhile before I was “in charge.” As a faculty librarian, you have a lot of freedom to decide what work you will do, and that can be daunting at first. You need to be able to act strategically for the long haul, and that’s not something you do when you’re working in a contract or temporary position.

2. Find mentors: inside your department and outside your department. While you might get assigned an official mentor, and that person may be great, they will not be enough. Universities are complex ecosystems and you will need to navigate paths you never even knew existed. Get involved, learn who the players are, and find folks who can teach you to be the faculty member you want to be.

3. Get comfortable with instruction. When I was working on my MLIS, no one ever told me I would have to teach a class. Academic libraries are often looking for archivists and librarians with instruction experience (or at least ability). Find ways to demonstrate you know how to teach.

4. Become involved in the profession. When you’re a contractor, you work your hours and then you go home. In academia, the expectation is that you will be serving professional associations in various capacities, publishing, presenting, etc. You need to show that you’re interested in engaging with the field in a meaningful way.

You teach library instruction classes to undergraduate and graduate students and have coordinated reference for the library. Given this background, what tips might you have for archivists who do instruction?
I teach a lot, and I have both general bibliographic instruction and archival instruction as part of my duties. Regardless of what you are teaching, it is important to remember that while you are very familiar with research, archives, etc. and could do X, Y, or Z in your sleep, your students are students. You need to meet them where they are. Determining how to frame a lesson is a crucial first step and will involve open communication with the course instructor. Do your students even know what archives are? If not, you can’t start off by talking about finding aids. They will be lost, and you will have missed an opportunity to provide them with what they need to be successful. Teaching is a service to your students. If you are new to teaching, or just looking to freshen up your routine, observe others who teach, talk to colleagues, and try different methods until you find something that clicks for you and the students. I have found that it is important to listen. You might have ideas about what you want to get across to your students, but you have to learn what they need from you first. I touch base with students individually to make sure they “got it,” and my door is always open if they want to follow up. This is crucial. While you may not be a course instructor, you play a part in getting students from welcome week to graduation. Last thought: some of your faculty may ask you to do big favors with regard to instruction (e.g., can you teach my class for 2 weeks while I’m away on a research trip?). Your gut might say “no, I don’t have time for this,” but think about the bigger picture. This could be an amazing opportunity for you, the students, and the instructor. My most interesting and creative instruction experiences have come out of these types of requests.

What would you like to see the section concentrate on during your three-year term?
I’m interested to see what we can do as a section to engage our students – those who work for us and those who conduct research in our collections. Many of my students are first-generation college students and I have seen how archival work has made them feel more confident and encouraged them to be more academically ambitious. I would like to see the section develop a set of resources that university archivists can use to assist our under-served populations.

Meet Your Steering Committee: Tracy Jackson

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

jackson1
Tracy Jackson, Head, Center Manuscript Processing Section, at Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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.

Meet Your Vice-Chair: Rebecca Goldman

goldman_small
Rebecca Goldman, Head of Archives and Digital Initiatives, La Salle University

By Michelle Sweetser

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

Rebecca Goldman is the Head of Archives and Digital Initiatives at La Salle University’s Connelly Library,where she supervises the University Archives and oversees digital projects. She holds a MSLIS from Drexel University and is completing a MA in Public History at La Salle. Rebecca is the founder of the SAA’s Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Roundtable and currently serves as the section’s vice-chair / chair-elect.

Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist? And why college and university archives?
I’m a bit of an accidental archivist. I earned my MLS planning to go into metadata or digital libraries, but the only job offer I received was for a paraprofessional position in a university archives. And I loved it! I’ve spent my entire career in academic archives. I enjoy being part of an academic community. I love working with college students as they use primary sources for the first time. I’ve always worked in archives situated within academic libraries, and I’ve learned so much from my librarian colleagues.

What tips and tricks do you have for encouraging individuals to deposit to an IR like the one you manage at La Salle? How do you handle overlaps in collecting with the University Archives?
Like most universities, La Salle does not have a mandate requiring faculty to deposit their research in our IR. As the Library Loon puts it, “For the rest of us [without a mandate], a 1% faculty participation rate would be cause for amazement and rejoicing!” I hope to pass that 1% mark someday! We currently use our IR primarily for sharing digitized University publications.

For us, the University Archives and the IR mostly overlap in the area of outreach. If we’re talking to a faculty member about highlighting her research in the IR, we’ll also talk about getting department records and personal papers for the Archives. If the Archives is the initial point of contact, we’ll talk about using the IR to highlight current research and department events.  

What are the top priorities for you in your role right now?

  1. Documenting student life, particularly for groups that are currently underrepresented in the Archives
  2. Growing and formalizing our instruction program
  3. Advocating for systematic retention of historical university records

How have you balanced the demands of the work place with your professional involvement in SAA and elsewhere?
Archives work will never be finished. There are always more collections to process, more reference questions to answer, more outreach projects to take on. My own department has grown and shrunk and reorganized several times in the last five years, and each time I’ve reprioritized the work that we do.

I’ve held several leadership positions in SAA and in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, and I’ve learned to be more selective in volunteering and accepting nominations for professional involvements. If you can, talk to folks who have held similar positions, to get a sense of the responsibilities and time commitments. And if you realize you’ve overcommitted, it really is okay to back out graciously (and ASAP). I did this last summer–I was scheduled to teach a one-credit course in the fall, and organize a Raiders performance at SAA, and discovered I wasn’t going to have the time to do a great job with either commitment.

My biggest commitment over the past few years has been working on my M.A. in public history, and I’ve cut back on my professional involvement to make more time for my classes. If your employer offers tuition remission, I strongly recommend taking advantage. Beyond what I’ve learned in my classes, I’ve built relationships with faculty that have turned into collaborations with the University Archives.

As Vice-Chair and Chair-Elect, what are your priorities for the section for the next two years?
I’m not a new professional anymore, but new professional issues are always close to my heart. I’m interested in ways we can better engage interns and new professionals working in academic archives–for example, publishing their experiences in our Campus Case Studies series. I’d like to see our section take a stand on issues in higher education that affect university archives, and well as issues that affect all archivists. And I hope to foster more interaction with our members, on the blog, on social media, and at the Annual Meeting.

Meet Your Steering Committee: Christina Zamon

By Michelle Sweetser

This post is the second in a series highlighting our recently elected steering committee members.

"                               "
Christina Zamon, Head of Special Collections and University Archives, Georgia State University

Christina Zamon, recently elected to a three-year term on the steering committee, is the Head of Special Collections and University Archives at Georgia State University, a position she has held since September 2016. Prior to that time, she served as Head of Archives and Special Collections at Emerson College. She is the author of The Lone Arranger: Succeeding in a Small Repository and formerly served as chair of the section (2014-2015).

 

Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist?
I became interested in being an archivist while working on my paper for Research and Writing Skills as an undergraduate history major.  I stumbled on a subject where I couldn’t find any good secondary resources so I back tracked through the one secondary source I had (which wasn’t available in any local library) to the National Archives to complete my research.  It was there that I decided that working with the documents would be more interesting than just using them for research, although I loved both sides of the coin.  I then did an internship before my senior year of college at the NARA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional archive and federal records center and decided that special collections and archives was the right path for me.

And why college and university archives?
After working for non-profits and special collections libraries I realized that I liked the culture of the academic environment and particular, teaching other undergraduates how to use primary sources in their research and I hope that some will eventually make their way into the archival profession like I did.

What is your favorite trick to use in the classroom when teaching with primary sources?
I don’t really have any “tricks” per se, but I do like to ask the students questions that force them to think about how the item fits into the larger context of history and how it helps us to interpret a final outcome or a current situation.

Your book, The Lone Arranger: Succeeding in a Small Repository, was published by SAA in February 2012. What tips or advice do you give section members looking to publish?  
If you have a topic you are passionate about or interested in writing, go for it! It isn’t as daunting as you might think. I had a well formulated concept in my mind but  I never thought SAA or the profession, would go for such a “practical” book as opposed to something more theoretical but I was totally wrong. Don’t hold yourself back because you think SAA or another publisher isn’t interested.

As a lone arranger, how have you balanced the demands of the work place with your professional involvement in SAA and the NEA?
It has been no easy feat!  I credit my organizational skills and my interest in advancing the profession. If I weren’t passionate about what I do I think it would be very difficult to motivate myself to do much beyond my day-to-day work.

What would you like to see the section concentrate on during your three year term?
I would like to see the section collaborate more with some of the Roundtables, particularly the Issues and Advocacy and Archives and Archivists of Color.

Meet Your Steering Committee: Greg Bailey

By Michelle Sweetser

This post is the first in a series highlighting our newly elected steering committee members.

greg-bailey
Greg Bailey, University Archivist and Clements Curator

Greg Bailey, who just began his three-year term on the steering committee, is the University Archivist and Clements Curator for the Cushing Library at Texas A&M University. He has served in these capacities for two and a half years. As University Archivist he is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the university archives and related collections and serves as the primary spokesperson for Texas A&M history on behalf of the Libraries.

Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist? And why college and university archives?
I received my BA in history from Eastern Illinois University and was looking to go into teaching. During the work toward a teaching certificate I realized it wasn’t for me. I knew I loved history and somehow put together that archives are where primary sources are held, and that I could work with history every day as an archivist. During my time in library school at Indiana University I worked and did my internship at the University Archives. By working at that great school and with some great professionals there, I realized that working in a university archives was what I wanted to do. People who work at a college/university and their alumni are very passionate about their college/university, which means that I would have a very important, yet gratifying job.

I understand you have in your collection 5,000 items left at the site of the 1999 student bonfire, which killed 12 students. How have you handled a sensitive collection like this one?
Discreetly.  There is a long story that goes with the collection and how it was handled when it became part the University Archives. After it came into Cushing’s holdings, my predecessor did not allow for many public viewings of the materials. It was emotional for a number of people who were involved shortly after the collapse as both the memorial items were brought to Cushing for cleaning, and all of the open records requests were made available in our reading room. For a long time the memorial items were not made available to the public. All of the lawsuits against the university were finally settled last year, and now there is a call to reevaluate the memorial collection. There has never been an overwhelming request for access to the collection, as I think it is still an emotional subject. In 2014 a researcher accessed the collection as she was working on a documentary (The Story of the Stuff) on spontaneous memorials. We are working with the Student Traditions Council on the possibility of displaying some of the items for the 20th Anniversary in 2019 with the idea that the exhibit would encompass the whole story of bonfire and not just concentrate on the collapse. This is complex collection that we are still trying to figure out how to make available.

What’s your favorite outreach strategy to promote your collections?
I would have to say working with/through the Association of Former Students (Alumni Association). I have a pretty good relationship with a couple of the staff and they have worked with me on not only sharing my tweets and running some stories, but they have also worked with me on other projects like asking for sports memorabilia. I’m lucky to have such a strong alumni base that really is passionate about A&M. The AFS is a great conduit to reach out to this group.

How have you balanced the demands of the work place with your professional involvement in SAA and elsewhere?
Here at A&M I am in a bit of a different situation. I am faculty, but non-tenure track. So my annual review and promotion requirements are based on my librarianship and service.  With this I am able to commit more time to service in SAA and other organizations. I try to set some time aside each week to fulfill my commitments to service. I think it is important to get involved with SAA, or even at the regional (Society of Southwest Archivists) or state and local level (Texas World War I Centennial Commission and Brazos County Historical Commission). It helps you to grow professionally but also give back to the profession as well as the community.

What would you like to see the section concentrate on during your three year term?
I would like to help work on strategies that would help to diversify our collections. College and University Archives are similar to many other archives and special collections where there are many under represented populations. With our efforts in SAA to try and be more diverse and inclusive in the profession, I feel that should be mirrored in our collections as well.