Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Great Expectations

My official title at the Russell Library is Assistant Outreach Archivist. I find it a bit misleading. While I certainly do the bulk of my work in “outreach” – developing exhibits, planning public programs, and working with students and researchers to explore our collections – my experience with the duties typically associated with the title “archivist” are more limited. I don’t process collections, write finding aids, or cultivate donors. I still understand archives more from a researcher's perspective. In my life as a graduate student I learned how to navigate finding aids, request boxes, and handle materials. I discovered the importance of investigating secondary literature on a topic before diving into primary documents, and how to budget my time and avoid feeling overwhelmed with an abundance of rich materials once I got into the primary sources (knowing when to say when).

When I’m stationed at the research desk or responding to emails from off-site patrons, I find that perspective useful. Not so long ago I was that nervous student stuffing my belongings into a locker, so I try to make new researchers feel welcome and comfortable in the archives. I remember sending emails when repositories were too far away for me to visit frequently, and try to go the extra mile now in doing legwork for off-site patrons. But customer service aside, there are other important parts to being a good archivist, most notably a good depth of knowledge on the collections and a solid foundation in archival principles and practices. The longer I’m here at the Russell the greater my level of knowledge on our holdings, but my understanding of archival principles has been slower to develop. I learn new things from my colleagues almost every day and have joined some professional archival organizations that host interesting conferences and workshops, but I’m anxious to dive in and really learn the underpinnings of our activities. What are the nuts and bolts of processing a collection? How does archival appraisal work? What are people in the field saying about digitization efforts? Why do we manage the organization of objects differently than museums? Next Monday I will begin a more structured approach to learning about archives as an attendee at the 2010 Georgia Archives Institute (GAI).

Designed for beginning archivists and librarians, GAI is a two week course hosted annually that provides instruction in basic concepts and practices on archival administration and management. In addition to seven days of classroom instruction, attendees participate in a three-day internship at an archival repository in the Atlanta area – which provides a link between classroom theory and real world application. Attendees come from across the state and beyond! Luckily for me, Atlanta is a short trip from Athens and I have a friend’s couch with my name on it. For more specifics on GAI, you can visit their website at

So why this blog post? Well, I thought it might be worthwhile to document my experience in this class as I go through it. This introduction will be the first in a series of posts to come over the next few weeks in which I will discuss what I learn and how this new knowledge can enhance my abilities as an outreach archivist. Also, I’m developing a small case exhibit in the Russell to describe how collections go from acquisition to accessibility (re: a finished product on the shelves that is open to researchers) to be installed in July. Hopefully what I learn will enrich the voice of the display. I’m currently taking suggestions for a clever title for the series – so if you have a suggestion, email it to me at or tweet me @RussellLibrary. Talk to you all next week!

Your Archivist-in-Progress,


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