Meet Your Steering Committee: Katie Nash

Read Time: 6 minutes

The Meet Your Steering Committee Series allows the section membership to better get to know the Committee. For more entries, click here.

Katie Nash, MLIS, CA (she/her) is the University Archivist and Head of UW Archives at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In this role, she is responsible for the overall management of the department which includes: stewarding donor relations and collection development; supervising professional and student staff; spearheading the creation of policies, procedures, and workflows; supporting research and public services; leading space and environmental management projects; and supporting processing, as well as the Oral History and Records Management Programs. She became a Certified Archivist in 2011 and is active with various SAA Sections and the Midwest Archives Conference. Katie has worked in the archival profession since 2005 and has been in her current position since 2018. 

Photo of Katie Nash. She has long blonde hair tucked behind her ear and is wearing a black and white patterned turtleneck sweater. In the background is a small nature canvas print on a white wall.
Photo provided by Katie Nash

I love the energy students bring to an academic archives and institution, as they are full of new ideas and ways of seeing the world – which helps me stay current and hopefully relevant.

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

We’ve had a lot of successes since I arrived at UW-Madison in 2018, but one major success is an increase in staffing within the University Archives and Records Management unit. From budget reductions to people leaving the profession (retirement or other reasons), increased workloads and demands, and other stressors, we often find ourselves underresourced and staff are unable to focus on their areas of expertise. UW-Madison is an R1 institution in the Midwest and part of the Big Ten Academic Alliance. I’ve worked at much smaller institutions, so I understand the meaning of being understaffed and not having resources similar to larger institutions. However, for years, the UW Archives has fallen behind in keeping up with appropriate staffing levels compared to our peers in the Big Ten. Since 2021, the UW Archives has added five new positions (two temporary) – some funded through the UW-Madison Libraries, and some funded through other departments on campus and/or endowed funds. This is a huge increase in staff in a very short period of time, especially in a post-pandemic ever-changing world. A lot of advocacy since 2018 is behind some of these new positions, being in the right place at the right time with a plan, and other strokes of good luck and perseverance have led to our success in increasing staff within UW Archives.  

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

UW-Madison is funding a new Libraries Collections Preservation Facility that is expected to open in 2025. The facility will provide industry-recommended environmental controls to ensure archives, special collections materials, and other library collections are appropriately housed and preserved. Over the next few years, University Archives and Records Management staff will prepare 5,000 linear feet of paper materials and approximately 3,500 linear feet of AV collections to move into the new facility. It’s a major project for us, but also something we currently do on a smaller scale (sending archival collections to an offsite facility). There are many issues to address, questions to ask, decisions to make, documentation to create, and much more. We are working together as a team on this project and it’s very exciting to know we have the support and resources from the Libraries and campus to make our collections discoverable, accessible, and preserved.   

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

While there have been many successes since I started working at UW-Madison, there have been and continue to be just as many challenges. One major challenge I currently face is related to growing pains. UW Archives has been understaffed for decades, but since 2021 we’ve added five new staff positions! That’s a large number of employees to add in a couple of years and with that increase comes transitions and changes that are sometimes difficult to see and address right away. It can be challenging to understand the total impact of changes in staffing – which is why it’s crucial to keep lines of communication open in an effective and meaningful way. Change can happen fast and procedures and ways of doing things are often flipped upside down and the work environment can feel unstable and uncertain at times. I struggle to effectively bring everyone together through changes in a sustainable way and at a pace that resonates with most. There is a lot of change related to how and who makes decisions, revising divisions of labor, integrating remote work policies, and prioritizing goals and projects to accomplish. The UW Archives has been in a state of constant transition since I started in 2018, and through all this I’m slowly learning how to practice delegating and seek feedback and guidance from colleagues along the way. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with in UW Archives, and while these growing pains are present each day – I’m confident we’ll continue to work together as a team and figure out what works best for our new staffing model. 

How did you get your start in academic archives and why have you stayed?

Since undergrad, I’ve always held a job in a library on campus and have enjoyed being in an academic environment for my studies and work. After receiving my Master’s degree, I worked two part-time jobs: one was in an Interlibrary Loan office at a university library, and the other was in a local history museum archive. While I enjoyed the variety of work in both jobs, I was also looking for a full-time, permanent position where I could learn and grow as a young professional. Through working in a museum archive, my heart found its way to the archives profession, and to this day I can’t imagine working in a different profession. 2005 was the first year I worked in an academic archives and I had no prior experience in this setting. I spent the next nine years mostly being a solo archivist and utilized that time in my career to network and learn as much as possible. I quickly experienced the phenomenon of working in an academic archives where employees age each year while the crops of new students who enter the institution are the same age year after year! I love the energy students bring to an academic archives and institution, as they are full of new ideas and ways of seeing the world – which helps me stay current and hopefully relevant. Additionally, the scholarship and research that takes place at an academic institution can often directly affect academic archives – helping us all stay abreast of current trends, past practices, and research endeavors by people who are truly making a difference in the world.  

What is your favorite way to keep up with the archives field?
In general, I find that there is so much information out there to absorb via so many platforms that it can be overwhelming and exhausting to try and keep up with everything happening on a regular basis. I appreciate the conversations and announcements on the Society of American Archivists listservs, but the most reliable way for me to try and keep up with the archives profession is by reading Archival Outlook. Within this publication, I find the stories and articles fascinating, thought-provoking, diverse in content and types of archival institutions represented, and it’s easy for me to digest in a reasonable period of time. Another way I stay involved with the archives field is through the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) and annual meetings. I make an effort to attend MAC and SAA conferences each year to network with fellow archivists, attend conference presentations, and tour archival repositories.


Meet Your Steering Committee: Jane LaBarbara

Read Time: 3 minutes

The Meet Your Steering Committee Series allows the section membership to better get to know the Committee. For more entries, click here.

Jane LaBarbara is the Head of Archives & Manuscripts at the West Virginia & Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries. She earned her M.S.L.S. with a concentration in archives and records management from the University of North Carolina. Previously, she held the positions of Visiting Librarian and Assistant Curator at WVU. Her research interests include archival processing and procedures, and disaster planning. She has served as chair of SAA’s Collection Management section and currently serves on the steering committee for the College & University Archives section.

Portrait of Jane LaBarbara taken in Wise Library at West Virginia University. Jane is seated wearing a white button down a partially filled bookcase is in the background.
Photo provided by Jane LaBarbara

I’m really excited about creating a processing manual. In the past, we’ve had rules, but teaching processing… was more of an oral process. When we get a new grad student, I feel like Homer telling the saga of processing.

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

During my undergrad in History, I didn’t have a car, so when it came time to do a field-experience class, the best option was to work in the university archives on campus. There, I got to work with the Richard Halliburton papers, which I loved. After ruling out the possibility of teaching, I got on the path directly from undergrad to grad school, and I was lucky to land a full-time position at WVU 6 months after graduating from UNC.

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

This success is mostly due to the hard work of a colleague, Grace Musgrave. She worked during and after the pandemic to “backlog” new and old donated collections, which meant adding them to a detailed spreadsheet. Then, she reviewed old backlog collections for which we had insufficient information in the spreadsheet, worked with me to map the sheet’s columns to ArchivesSpace accession record fields, and then she used the ArchivesSpace accession CSV import function to upload our backlog into ArchivesSpace. Now, all our unprocessed collections have joined the processed ones in ONE system. Soon we can implement a tracking system to help me keep tabs on where collections are in the processing lifecycle and who is working on them.

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

I am a big fan of checklists, documentation, consistency, etc., so I’m really excited about creating a processing manual. In the past, we’ve had rules, but teaching processing to new Graduate Assistants and staff was more of an oral process. When we get a new grad student, I feel like Homer telling the saga of processing. Grace and I are crafting this manual for the people doing processing and resource record creation, but also to document instructions for ourselves on the minutiae of acquisitions, steps to be completed once processing is done, etc. If anyone has a glowing example of a processing manual to share, please let me know!

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

I’ve been in my current position for about a year, and we onboarded three new students, one returning student, and two processing staff in the fall semester. I’m learning to balance my time between teaching and supervising processing, getting everything in order on a procedural and policy level (recent turnover means we can revisit our collecting policy, deed of loan, restriction policy, etc.), handling donations, and putting out little fires.

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

I recently helped write an article on the landscape of college and university archives, based on a survey we ran, so I’m looking forward to seeing what more we can do with that data. I’m also looking forward to participating in the study to investigate to what extent impostor phenomenon is present in our profession.

Meet Your Steering Committee: Ellen Holt-Werle

Read Time: 4 minutes

The Meet Your Steering Committee Series allows the section membership to better get to know the Committee. For more entries, click here.

Ellen Holt-Werle is the Institutional Archivist in University Archives at the University of Minnesota. She holds a MLIS from Dominican University by way of St. Catherine University. Ellen’s work with university collections as Institutional Archivist centers surfacing and acknowledging exclusionary institutional histories and the voices and experiences of those impacted by the institution’s settler colonial and racist underpinnings. She is also a member of the Midwest Archives Conference, currently serving on the Ethics and Inclusion Committee. Her current interests are community archives; increasing access to and growing the representation of BIPOC voices and experiences in the archives; the settler colonial roots of collections across the university; and student activism and protest.

Photo of Ellen Holt-Werle standing in front of a window covered by a black and white curtain.
Photo provided by Ellen Holt-Werle

The position I’m in is a newly created one, so there are no paths or precedents to follow. On the one hand, that’s exciting and freeing… However it also means I’m figuring out what my position is, how to grow it, and what I want to do.

How did you get your start in academic archives and why have you stayed?

I’m a wannabe and then accidental archivist. I was unable to take the archives class when I was in my MLIS despite being interested in it. However after receiving my degree, I was encouraged to apply for a part-time, temporary archivist position. That turned into a full-time job, though split 50/50 Reference Librarian and Archivist, and then changed again to 50/50 Special Collections Librarian and Archivist. Now, 17+ years since starting that first temporary job, I’m still in archives, though in a new position and institution as of September 2021 (and finally a 100%-time archivist). Things that immediately come to mind regarding why I’ve stayed: I really like working with tangible collections; I enjoy instruction and interacting with students; and I particularly like that I get to learn a little about a lot of things and go down endless rabbit holes.

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

I’m collaborating with a faculty member in our Anthropology Department to bring together staff and faculty from across the university who work with collections—whether archival, in our natural history and art museums, teaching collections of biological specimens or material culture, etc.—to discuss the colonial and settler colonial roots of many of these collections and the linkages that exist between them, sometimes even unbeknownst to us. Thus far, archivists, curators, faculty, and staff have been really interested and engaged, and we hope to be able to plan some more formal programming for next year.

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

In addition to the Colonial Collections collaborative mentioned above, I will be co-teaching a Honors seminar in the Spring of 2024 with a History faculty member on “The Histories of Student Activism.” I’m excited to dig into student activism and protest here at the University of Minnesota, as well as broader national contexts, in preparation for this course, and to see how the students engage. 

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

The position I’m in is a newly created one, so there are no paths or precedents to follow. On the one hand, that’s exciting and freeing and part of what attracted me to this job. However it also means I’m figuring out what my position is, how to grow it, and what I want to do. I was a solo archivist before, and continually struggled with how to find balance—admittedly not very successfully. I’m still figuring out balance, but in a new way that’s positive. I can think about prioritizing work that feels the most impactful, versus I used to stress about how to move forward so that I didn’t feel like I was failing at all parts of my job. The other challenge has been moving from a very small liberal arts college to a huge R1 university, and all the additional systems, people, layers of bureaucracy—and especially acronyms—that I’m going to be trying to figure out for years to come.

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

It has been great to meet new people and see some of the workings of SAA. One thing I’d like to see is more opportunities for different sections to work together. We already do this some through co-sponsored talks, etc., but I think there’s always room for more and new ways. I also think there’s a role for the College & University Archives section to play with so many of our institutions tackling institutional histories and legacies of racism. What that looks like, I’m not sure yet, but I’m open to ideas if anyone ever wants to chat:

Meet Your Steering Committee: Amanda Avery

Read Time: 4 minutes

The Meet Your Steering Committee Series allows the section membership to better get to know the Committee. For more entries, click here.

Amanda Avery (she/her) is the Learning Technologies & Collections Librarian at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois. This position includes acting as the College Archivist, the part of librarianship she loves the most. Amanda graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2019 and held a summer internship at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Library & Archives the following summer. Although a full-time archives position hasn’t been in the cards, she finds community college librarianship to be a good challenge and is grateful for the opportunity to manage the College Archives while there.

Photo of Amanda Avery wearing a purple sweater with a brick wall in the background.
Photo provided by Amanda Avery

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

I have always loved local and genealogical history as well as collecting and keeping items that share my own story, but I had no idea it was a profession until I started looking at grad school. Finding out about Archives as a profession sealed my decision to earn my MSLIS. 

The road to archivist has been, and continues to be, a series of knowing the right people and being open to opportunities. I was able to volunteer at two campus museums during grad school as well as a local community archives which led the way to completing a practicum and my internship. Since graduation, it has been difficult to land a full-time archives position due to limitations for relocation, but I have found opportunities at community colleges to put my knowledge and skills to use. Most community colleges do not have a full-time archivist and the responsibilities often lie with a librarian who has other duties. In my experience, these librarians are very willing to let someone who is excited about archives care for the collections, so I jumped right in. I am now one of those librarians, but I am happy to be able to continue archival work and stay involved with the community.

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

My biggest success to date is receiving a grant to digitize the college’s student newspaper and making it available and searchable to the public. I wrote the grant proposal with a colleague, and it is the first successful application for either of us. With funding we are able to pay my colleague extra hours to inventory the newspaper collection, purchase boxes for rehousing, pay a vendor to digitize the issues, and pay a grad student to upload the files into our institutional repository. We will also be sharing the files with the University of Illinois for inclusion into the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection which allows the articles in each issue to be keyword searchable. This is a huge step in making our archives collection accessible.

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

I am currently working with two colleagues on getting our finding aids into ArchivesSpace. Our finding aids are currently Word documents and are very difficult to search when we have a research question. Typically, we look through several different finding aids to find out where related materials might be located. ArchivesSpace will let us, and our users, keyword search the collection which makes it more accessible than ever. We have been working for several months to make sure the finding aids are up to date and accurately reflect the collection’s contents, so this is a very exciting step for us.

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

One significant challenge is the nature of my role which is the Learning Technologies and Collections Librarian. This means I have my hand in e-resources, archives, the institutional repository, technical services, instructional technologies including the LMS, and the television station. I have just started in this position a few months ago and due to many transitions already, it has been difficult to find the right balance. I am lucky to work with two part-time librarians who also love archives, so I am able to push forward projects with their help.

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

I am interested in access to resources for archivists who do not have a large budget or a lot of time to dedicate to their collections. I hope to spend time on the Archival Horizon’s Toolkit and increase the resources available there.

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, 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?

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.

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.

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

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.