Archival Innovators: Rebecca Hankins on the Rich LGTBQ+ Collections Housed in Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A & M University.
This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society.
In this installment, Kristianna Chanda interviewed Rebecca Hankins. Rebecca L. Hankins, FSAA, is the Africana Resources Librarian/Curator at the Cushing Library, Texas A&M University, where her portfolio also includes women’s and gender studies. In this interview, Rebecca reveals the Cushing Library’s extensive LGBTQ+ holdings and her role in working with the LGBTQ+ community to help them preserve their heritage.
KC: Please describe your collection. What are some highlights/interesting features to your collection?
RH: I think the collection is much more diverse than many collections that deal with LGBTQ communities. They are often white collections documenting people most visible in the media and the press. I try to include individuals who are often in the background. Even in the background, they make such an impact on communities.
Our larger collections include the Don Kelly collection and the Judge Phyllis Frye papers. Phyllis Frye, a former Texas A&M student, is the first appointed judge in the city of Houston. She was appointed by the first openly gay mayor of Houston, Annise Parker. Her collection is so rich because one of the unique things I like about Phyllis is that she was always open, honest, and presented herself as “this is who I am.” She married right after graduating A & M, then served in the military as a man. She always felt something was not right. So when she came out as transgender her wife stayed with her and was her biggest cheerleader and supporter. Phyllis was unapologetic, she was in your face, and her collection is the most used of our holdings.
We also preserve the collection of Don Kelly, who still lives in Houston. I have been an archivist for over thirty years and have dealt with a wide range of people, both researchers and celebrities. Don is one of the top, number one kindest, most generous donors that you can ever meet. He was a civil servant for years in Galveston and always lived as a gay man. He collected his entire life and went into overdrive after he retired. He sent out a message to the archives listserv discussing how he would like to donate and sell part of his collection to a repository because it was just getting too large for him. I talked to my colleagues and director at the time and they thought acquiring his collection was a great idea.
I brought in a number of subject faculty in film studies, sociology, history, and other disciplines and told them we need to get this collection! At that time, it may have been 6,000 items. Now it is almost 30,000 items and he continues to add to it. It is one of our largest collections by a single donor.
The thing about the collection that is really great is that it started out with a majority white male focus. However, through discussing with Don the interests of researchers, he will seek and donate materials in those areas. So he’s built a huge collection that, through his efforts, continues to grow and evolve and become more and more inclusive.
Other collections include the papers of Arden Eversmeyer, who started the Old Lesbian Oral History Project that documents lesbians over the ages of 50 or 60; the papers of Professor Harriette Andreadis, who was head of the Women and Gender Studies program at A & M; and documents pertaining to a lawsuit demanding that Texas A&M provide services to LGBTQ students. Students involved in the case received death threats and were treated terribly but would not back down. I tell students that you must understand that sometimes, if you ask nicely they will say yes, but the majority of times they won’t. What are you willing to put on the line for what you believe in? If it is a just cause, you will see some changes.
KC: What inspired you to work with this collection?
RH I’ve been doing this ever since I started my career at the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University in New Orleans. The Amistad case itself was put before the Supreme Court by the American Missionary Association, which evolved into the United Church for Homeland Ministries. It always supported and advocated for minority communities, including LGBTQ+ communities. So when the Amistad Research Center was founded, documenting the LGBTQ+ community was one collecting focus. Part of my job at Amistad was to connect with the LGBTQ+ community and encourage them to save their materials. When I moved to the University Arizona, I continued that work, and did so again when I moved to the Cushing Library. I am definitely an advocate for community archives and for people archiving their own history to ensure it is preserved. That’s why I do it: it is important that we all have our history documented.
KC: When working with this collection, what worked? What didn’t work? Were you surprised by the outcome or any part of your experience?
RH: Because I am not a part of the community, it’s understandable that people might be suspicious. Have we been the best of allies? Have we been concerned? Is this a part of our history? I understand that it may take time for people to see me as an ally. I am willing to be patient and prove myself. That’s fine, I don’t have a problem with that. I understand being an archivist doing this work gives me a certain privilege. I have to acknowledge that and say “okay, I’m going to let you lead on this. I am going to let this be from your point of view. You tell me. We’ll see how that works.” I think that is important. It’s not my point of view that is important, mine is the least important.
You must be an ally, and you must understand that as an archivist, you are approaching this from a position of power, and you must be ready to remove your own power and pass it to the people you are trying to document.
KC: What would you do differently?
RH: I don’t think I would do things differently. I wish I had more money. Don Kelly has the most expertise when it comes to acquiring gay materials, so I give him part of my acquisitions budget to work with. I wish I could do that with all of my people.
KC: What tips do you have for archivists who want to promote inclusivity through their collections?
RH: Do it. If you want to do it, do it. Sometimes it is just about being brave. It shouldn’t be a matter about being brave. It should be about this is the right thing to do but sometimes in situations you just have to be brave enough to say this is where I am planting my flag.
I think more than anything, archivists need to be more forceful and brave in the work that we do. You won’t get accolades and you may get pushback but do the things that are important to you. I am going to do the work that I enjoy doing because I have to live with myself. So do it. Do what you think is the right thing. Most of the time it will work out and sometimes it won’t, but you will feel better about yourself.
KC: Did you get media attention? How did that happen?
RH: I understand the importance of publicity. I give presentations, I talk about my collections, I publish, and I try to get the message out any way I can. Last year something extraordinary happened when the Journal of African American History profiled my collections. I was like “Where did that come from?” The College of Liberal Arts did a profile on the Don Kelly collection, which was wonderful, and we also have a Don Kelly Fellowship. It’s about letting people know how amazing these collections are for research, learning, and education.
KC: Do you have collaborators? If so, how did you find them?
RH: Michael Jackson, an A&M cataloger, was my biggest collaborator. My good friend Dr. Miguel Juarez has written about our holdings. Dr. Francesca Marini is our outreach person and she and I have talked about the collection across the country. Francesca and I are partnering with the University of Houston on an LGBTQ exhibit.
KC: Did you have institutional, administrative, or financial support for your project? How did you go about securing that support?
RH: Yes we do. The College of Liberal Arts partners with us on the Don Kelly Fellowship. We have also started an endowment for the LGBTQ materials because we need to hire someone paid through this endowment to work with the collections.
KC: What’s next? Either for this project or a new development?
RH: We still have the Fellowship, but because of Covid we had to push it back. The 2020 Fellow will hopefully become the 2021 Fellow. Also, raising the funding for the endowment will be a priority.
KC: What barriers or challenges did you face?
RH: Most important is making people understand that I am an ally. I am here to let you take the lead.
This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. In this article, Mott Linn talks about his role leading one of the world’s larger scientific research archives.
Mott, thanks for talking with us. Please tell us a little about yourself.
ML: My BA is from the University of Delaware, I have master’s degrees in history (University of Wisconsin – Madison), librarianship (Drexel University), and nonprofit management (Clark University), and my doctorate in library management is from Simmons College. I am also a Certified Archivist.
My first archives job was with the Philadelphia Flyers and after that I created the NHL’s video library. I spent 10 years at Clark University in charge of their archives before 10 years leading the collection services half of their library. I am now the Chief Librarian of the National Security Research Center (NSRC) at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
How did you get into archives?
ML: By replying to a blind ad in a newspaper (how times have changed!).
Today, the archival profession’s biggest problem is having too many archival education programs training far too many people to be archivists, who then have great difficulty finding jobs; this is our profession’s great tragedy. When I started my career, the opposite was true: there were very few education programs. The good news is that over those decades the quality of archivists has improved; back in the 1970s a major goal of SAA was to do just that. Because of that, SAA started offering workshops, began publishing manuals and books, established the standards process, and created the Academy of Certified Archivists.
So, it was not unusual back when I was first hired that I had no training to work in an archives. However, I did have considerable experience doing research in archives. Furthermore, I had played, refereed, and coached ice hockey, which meant I had the desired subject expertise for my first job.
How did you get your current job?
ML: A headhunter contacted me. They hired me because not many archivists also have the managerial experience that I have; for example, at the time I was overseeing a $2 million dollar budget. It also helped that I had overseen the collection of a famous scientist, Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry.
Tell us about your organization.
ML: LANL is a United States Department of Energy laboratory. It was created during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project to design the first nuclear weapons. Los Alamos is now one of the largest science and technology institutions in the world and conducts research in a wide array of scientific fields. It is located in the beautiful mountains of northern New Mexico, which is a wonderful location for outdoor activities.
Could you describe your collections?
ML: The NSRC collects scientific research materials related to the nation’s defense. I dare say that we have one of the largest archives in the US. For comparison, we have a larger collection than most, if not every one, of the presidential libraries.
We house both a large number and a wide array of materials. For example, we have over 3 million radiographs, almost a million aperture cards, and a half million engineering drawings.
Despite our size, the NSRC is only a couple of years old. Previously, the materials that make up our collection were either in records management or being held by the various LANL lab buildings. Since we are a new archives, we are still expanding our collections and have been growing our staff.
Although our collections are used for historical research, they are more heavily used by the lab’s scientists to further their research. For example, a scientist recently found the results of a series of experiments from years ago that their lab was planning to conduct. Because we found the previous results, we saved the lab millions of dollars since they did not have to conduct the experiments again. It is great to both save the US taxpayers money and find the data that our scientists want.
What are some of the challenges unique to your collections?
ML: Depending on where our acquisitions are coming from, they might have to be tested for hazardous materials. Another facility that had created an environmental disaster recently sent us hundreds of boxes. Those boxes were tested.
In addition, there is the red tape dealing with security and safety regulations. For example, because of national security reasons, every person on my staff and each of our customers need to have security clearance.
What is the favorite part of your job?
ML: I was hired to turn the NSRC into a properly functioning archives. Additionally, I really like recruiting new archivists to add to my team and helping my staff improve themselves with professional development activities.
What advice do you have for aspiring archivists?
ML: First, since too many people are being trained to be archivists, I would ask if they are up to doing the needed training with the possibility of not being able to find a job afterwards. As I said, there are too many archival education programs training too many archivists; that so many of them cannot find jobs is tragic.
Second, if they still want to be archivists, when earning your master’s degree, create a backup plan via your choice of classes. For example, somebody getting a library degree could also take a few cataloging and metadata classes, thereby creating the possibility of getting cataloging jobs.
Third, expect to continue to grow professionally after graduation because professionals are expected to keep up with improvements in their field. This is all the more true because of the stiff competition for archives jobs. You could earn a second master’s degree, go to conferences, and/or take some workshops in an area that you want or need to know more about.
The most important part of that is becoming a Certified Archivist. Most professions, such as doctors, lawyers, appraisers, records managers, and accountants, have a way of both certifying who is competent to practice that profession and a method of recertifying who continues to have that competence as that profession evolves. The Certified Archivist designation serves that purpose in the archives profession. So, prove your competence to yourself and others, including employers, by becoming a Certified Archivist.
On December 16, 2020 Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachael Woody sat down (virtually) with Deborah S. Davis to interview Davis on her remarkable success in building an Archives & Special Collections program at Valdosta State University. Davis is a Full Professor and the Director of the Archives & Special Collections at Valdosta, a program she’s been building since 1998. During Davis’ tenure, she has turned a closet (literally) archives collection into a thriving teaching lab, and has earned multiple awards for her and her team’s work.Davis shares with us her advocacy strategies and her secrets for how she’s built her program through outreach, innovation, fundraising, good customer service, and pure grit.In order to deliver the maximum amount of information to our audience, Davis agreed to record our Q&A session, and Woody donated the money towards producing a full transcription so that we can all have access to Davis’ words of wisdom.
All right. Thank you everybody. I am Rachael Woody. I am a member of the Committee on Public Awareness, and our mission at COPA is to help promote and protect the value of Archives and archivists. I’m here today with Deborah Davis and Deborah is at the Valdosta State University Archives and Special Collections, and Deborah’s agreed to chat with us today about her extensive Advocacy work building the program that she has at Valdosta. I’m so excited to speak with you today, Deborah on this. So thank you for joining us.
Well, when I was going through library school, I was kind of a generalist, but I was interested in preservation. So I took a class in preservation and I did a preservation field study. Then I stayed home with my baby for three years and taught [adjunct 00:01:25], taught English. Then when it came time to start my library career, I started rather obviously as an instruction, a library instruction coordinator. So I did that for five years and I kind of felt like I was on a treadmill. If it’s Monday, it’s history, if it’s Tuesday, it’s English, if it’s Thursday, it’s nursing and you’re constantly jumping from thing to thing. When the person who was serving as the archivist wanted to get out of Archives and be more involved in reference, I was like, “I want that.” My director was like, “Why do you want that? You have the most highly visible library and position on campus. Why would you want to go down there to that closet?” I said, “Because I think I could make something out of it.” So he grudgingly let me take it, but I was right.
Oh my goodness. I love that story in terms of those are common … Like what your boss told you, those are common things that many of us have heard in terms of Archives isn’t typically the glamorous out front job, and especially when it starts out as a very small, in the closet literally program, but I’m so glad that you had the gumption to take that on and that you’ve had such success with it.
Wonderful. Well, thank you for sharing that answer. Question number two for you. If you could please describe the Valdosta State University Archives and Special Collections when you started and you alluded to this, but what is the size and what were the challenges and opportunities?
Was about 900 square feet. It was under the stairs on the first floor behind the men’s and women’s bathrooms. It had collections, some collections, but it was a total mess. Every archivist that had come before me had decided to rearrange the way Archives was done. It had a card catalog, but the card catalog was completely divorced from the location. So you couldn’t find anything with it, and the last archivist had gotten so frustrated she pulled all the boxes off the shelf, put them back on alphabetically. So the Archives was organized alphabetically, which means that office of minority affairs was under O, office of affirmative action was under A and diversity was under D and they’re all the same office. It also meant that each time you wanted to add to a collection, anytime you got additions, you had to shift the entire holdings of the Archives to fit them in.
So I knew it was a disaster. I also knew that we didn’t have collections to … That was going to bring people to us much. So the first thing I did was make a web page and put up some digital content to get people interested in us. I looked around the Archives and I decided, what’s the purpose of this place anyway? What could it be? I decided that it could be a teaching lab Archives, that it could bring students in there to explore collections that maybe outside researchers wouldn’t be interested in, but that we can make the students be interested in, and we could also teach them about various aspects of archival work. So I had that, but what I didn’t know was original order, [provont 00:05:35], series, records groups. I didn’t know that stuff.
So one time I went to a training, the first year, and I poured this out to somebody from the Georgia Archives. She said, “GHRAB, the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Board offers grants, and they can offer a grant to send a consultant out to you to help with this.” So I said, “Okay.” So I wrote a grant and I got a consultant and he came and spent a week with me and I basically sat at his feet and absorbed everything he had to say. We got out the phone book which was organized hierarchically and we looked at a few org charts and we started records groups and series for our university Archives.
The manuscripts were easier. It was manuscript one, manuscript two, manuscript three, but we needed records [groups 00:06:42] for our university Archives, which comprised the bulk of what we had. Then he went away and based on our conversations, wrote a policies and procedures manual with every kind of form you could want, basic steps, the definition of the records groups, how to do the locations, how to do all of it. Then he also suggested that I get further training. So I took that, I had already asked for other training and been told there wasn’t the money to do it. So I took the consultants report to my director and says, “Look, he says, I have to have further training.” So they found the money to send me to Georgia Archives Institute for an intensive two week, all-day training on how to do Archives. So at the end of the first year, I had a website, some digital content, information on how a policies and procedures manual for how to proceed forward and training. So that was sort of the condition that I found it in, and the first obstacles that I was able to overcome.
You touched on so many wonderful things here. The first one being the very common, overwhelming problem of when an Archives has somewhat existed, but without necessarily an archivist, trained archivist with it. So discovering multiple different ways it had been organized or identified over the years and the problems that come with that. So I know many people who will watch this interview later will be able to relate to that.
Yes, and as you said, being able to go and get a grant to bring in a consultant to help do some foundational things, like getting policies and forms set up. Then the other point that as a consultant, I found amusing and a somewhat sad, but common way where I often work with other archivists who are credentialed. They know what they’re doing, they know what they need, and they’ve communicated that need to their boss, but it’s not until I say that same need as the consultant or the outside person where they’re like, oh, okay.
Absolutely. Yes. That is an important point. One follow-up question I had for you was, you had mentioned in this first year or so, you knew you needed some sort of online presence and you wanted to get some things online, which is a wonderful instinct for creating awareness for Archives. I’m wondering, was that just something you knew you needed to do or can you explain a little bit more as to why that was important?
Well, I had been one of the early website makers as library instruction coordinator, and I had put our instruction on the web using like, here’s the class, here’s all the things the class needs to use. Here it opens up in frame. So they can’t just go somewhere on the internet and mess around while you’re talking. It was trying to solve a lot of issues that we had. So when I went down there, I was already familiar and comfortable with this and I felt like just to exist, the Archives needs a website and it needs content. The content worked really well because when Arcadia Press was looking for schools to highlight in their college history section, they found it and they contacted me and asked me to write a book. So I did.
You’re welcome. So I know we touched on this, but for my third question, you’ve built such an amazing program and I know you’ve shared some of the challenges and opportunities. Is there anything else that you wanted to share related to that?
Oh yeah. It’s been 22 years of taking the Archives to new places and advocating for it. We have a volunteer program that over the years has brought about 800 students into our library to do indexing and sometimes processing. We had a 200 box collection that had to be processed. We didn’t have the people to do that. We didn’t have the range to do that. We threw those volunteers and they went through and did all the preservation stuff and entered all the file names into a database by box, and we had our finding aid after we added biographies and a scope note. We did that for free. I know in [PLP 00:12:31] says, don’t pull staples. Well, these were free workers. They could pull staples, and the person who donated this was a historian. So he was used to staple lists collections.
So he thought we’d done all kinds of great things, and I had done it for free and now we have them indexing our student newspaper. We have them creating a vital records index for our local newspaper, so that people … And we get requests from all over the country from genealogist who want this obituary, this marriage announcement, this kind of thing and that was just one of the things. We created a very vibrant teaching program, which I guess I’m going to talk about later. We worked with alumni relations. We worked with teachers, we found a way to situate ourselves into whatever program was going on. Whatever the mission statement was of the … And the strategic plan was at the university, we made sure we fit in there and we made sure the news that we fit in there got up to where it was supposed to be. We took advantage of every report to tell our story. We just kept going.
There are so many great things in this, and I just want to underscore the points you made, where it is so critical for Archives to make sure that they are securely housed within whatever the strategic plan is. From the perspective of when resources are scarce, which seems to be a constant issue that Archives need to make sure that it’s clear to everyone that they’re doing mission critical work. Then the second really important point you brought up is nobody else is going to pay attention or shout your praises. You have to let people know and as you said move the good news up the chain.
Yes, yes. So whatever project you’re doing can become something to situate it higher than you are. When you first started out as an Archives and you look around at the mess and the lack of finding aids and all this, and there’s a common despairing feeling that comes over people. They think I’ll never get the resources. I’ll never be able to do it, and I hear this from archivist at conferences, but you’ve got to commit yourself to getting the resources, to getting the people. If you’re lousy at processing, hire somebody who’s detail oriented. You keep with the big picture. If you are … Hire a student to scan and build that student position up so that it only makes sense for them to give you a tech position, and all of those things are just part of telling the story and pushing and pushing and pushing.
Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. My next question for you is I understand that the Archives and Special Collections are housed within the humanities and social sciences versus the library, which for our audience, usually in this model, that’s typically where you find the Archives is in the library. I would love for you to share with us how that happened, if you can discuss the pros and cons that come with the Archives being in that location versus the library.
Okay. We are still physically in the library. I still sit on the department heads council in the library. We still have a lot of things and some of our expenses like telephones and copy machines and stuff are still part of the library, but I do have my own budget. What happened was my husband became … When the last director left, my husband was interim director and after a long search, he became dean of the library. So he is now head of the library. They have to do something with me. They suggested a whole bunch of things. The thing we picked at the time was under the graduate school because we wanted it to be an area that touched the whole campus. We didn’t want to become just part of history or just part of the art department or something like that. So we went under the graduate school, I worked very well with that dean. That dean was moved to the college of humanities and social sciences.
We split our college of arts and sciences. So this was a new appointment. He carried me with him and it has been a wonderful opportunity. It allows me to teach more because he expects … He teaches, he expects his department heads to teach. So now I teach fall and spring. I teach with the history department and I teach … These are semester-long classes. It doesn’t count all the Archives instruction that I do, but I teach with the history department, I teach with the MLIS department. I also have become written into the curriculum of the history department.
These classes will be offered, Archives is this percentage of that class. So not only the class I teach with them, but other classes that they bring in to me. There might be a work project for history 3,000. There might be library and Archives instruction for other classes. So it has solidified and made permanent a program that I’ve worked for years to build and that gives me a lot of security that our teaching program is very stable and very good. I’ve also understood more what the issues are for teaching faculty now that I’ve seen it from the library side and now that I’ve seen it from the teaching faculty side.
Digging more into this teaching program you’ve created. So in addition to growing the Archives and Special Collections, you have this teaching program, which I love the description you used earlier, where it’s a lab. The Archives are a teaching lab. So I would love to hear, how did you go about creating that? Was it easy or hard? What sort of tips would you give fellow archivists?
It was hard. It was hard because when I came on as archivist, nobody in the history department was working with Archives. There was somebody from women’s studies and she wanted to use the classroom because it was an interesting looking space. We had a few displays up on boards that made it look interesting. So she wanted to teach small classes in there, but nothing really going on. So what I started doing was teaching wherever anybody would take me. You need to talk to sixth graders about career day. The English department wants something and I just surrounded the history department, made sure … Wrote letters to let them know what we could do for them. Made sure they knew what we were doing, and I went after the new faculty, the faculty that [as 00:20:30] historians knew the value of Archives.
Didn’t know that some library director, two directors ago had off some historian and he had decided that the Archives was now worthless and he’d take everybody to the historical. So they didn’t know that. So they thought, here’s an Archives I can work with and we started all kinds of programs from work projects to more straight Archives orientations to even library BI, that included primary sources. So I’ll draw up my library teaching experience to teach them books, journals and primary sources. So we just built it. I teach with math. I teach with education. I teach with journalism. I teach with English. I teach with history and slowly, as people found out … And I teach with art. As people have found out what we have and as I have pushed what we can offer, our teacher program has expanded, expanded.
The only personal library that teaches more than I do is the BI coordinator. I teach as much as all the reference librarians and I teach more semester-long classes. So it’s really been a labor. I like to teach. Teaching is something … And it’s also something I think an archive should do. The mission of these comprehensive universities is teaching. Research and service are important, but teaching is central. So position yourself so that you are an important part of instruction. It gives you security, it shows what your Archives has to offer and it’s just really important to situate yourself there.
Yes, 100%. I have also worked in a university setting and everything you said I had encountered and felt as well, but everything from teaching being so important and you get more recognition for the value of your work being a teacher. So therefore the Archives is sort of legitimized, to the challenges of one history professor at one time got disappointed or grumpy. So you had to find the ends where you can as you-
Yeah, and we’re faculty. So we have a university promotion tenure, and the library can say, these people are eligible for promotion tenure but if that university committee, of which there’s only one librarian, doesn’t recognize what you do, doesn’t recognize how this fits and teaching fits. So it sits there and it makes all the other things you do fit too.
Well, you present what you’re working on. What are you working on right now? How can you get that into a conference that maybe has an overarching theme that year and you can make it fit? So this is what I’m working on. So let’s make sure we present it. Take opportunities to publish, especially with other people. We just had an article come out last … Well, this year, 2020 that was written with the department head and the history teacher and me, and it was on this cohorted freshmen class that we had developed. It talked about assessment. It talked about Archives. It talked about the whole thing and it was easy to do because we wrote it together. The book counts as a peer review publication, and that was a labor of love. We used a lot of pictures. We used a lot of captions that were primary sources, and that book has been in print since 2001 and it spent about 12 years as the best selling local book.
So just take the opportunities as they come. If you do something with a professor, ask him, “Hey, why don’t we do an article about this?” Because they need to publish too. So if you go in jointly with them, you get your publications, they get theirs and you should plan to have a presentation at least once a year. I had two in the fall, I’ve got two planned in the spring and they’re all things that I’m currently working on. If you present at one conference, you can present the same thing at another conference to a different audience. Just look at it as something that’s part of your job to do. It’s part of getting your Archives out there beyond your institution and becoming a statewide player or a national player.
Yeah, it is. I have an ear condition. That means when I fly in an airplane, my eardrums rupture. The only way to avoid that is to get tubes in your ears, which is expensive and painful. So I, long ago decided that my contribution to SAA would be whenever SAA came close enough for me to drive, when I did get involved in believes and doing library and Archives training and believes that was enough of a labor of love, that it was worth the pain and the money of the ear tubes. I made my impression within the state because I didn’t have the choice to make it nationally.
I think you raised an important point where whether it’s health issues, where I also suffer from chronic pain conditions, autoimmune issues, and excuse me … For many people, if it’s health stuff or family stuff, et cetera, we all have personal lives that we need to pair with our professional lives and making those strategic choices in terms of where can I balance those priorities?
Yes, yes. That is very important because you will burn out. You have a great idea, it takes time away from your work and you’re going to do this and you never get the time to do it. You never published anything and all of a sudden you’re up for tenure and you’re in trouble. Whereas if you take it on as just part of your work, it’s the next step after you finished the project, it gets done.
It gets done. I love that. My next question for you, Deborah, is you’ve received recognition and respect from your university through your constant advocacy and doing amazing things, but also being really good at communicating those things up the chain. What does … For you, what does that constant advocacy look like and do you have any tips for advocacy that you could share with us?
When I first heard about advocacy, it was kind of presented as going up to the legislature and advocating, and I’m like, I don’t do advocacy, but then it dawned on me that I do it every day. So what advocacy looks like for me is always keeping the Archives in mind. Whatever you’re doing, find a place for the Archives within that. Are you sitting on a committee? How can the Archives assist with the work of that committee? Are you meeting with faculty? What can the Archives do to meet the needs of some of those faculty? You’re always thinking about your Archives. You’re always speaking up for the Archives. You’re always making sure people don’t forget the Archives. You’re sort of a one-note pony, but eventually everybody knows you, and if you’ve done enough special projects and you’ve had enough of an impact, they’re like, “Oh yeah, you’re the Archives. You do that such and such.”
Over the years, we’ve won awards and we won a national award for a website we did for our folk life collection. I’ve worn awards from working with [inaudible 00:29:59] I’ve won awards from working on campus with our African-American studies program, and in 2000, I won a statewide award. In 2018, I won the president’s Excellence Award for service. That is a kind of late career award that sort of sums up all you do and I was very proud to get it because it meant that all the stuff I had been doing had been heard and had been recognized.
Yeah. I’ve got a little area in Archives that I just put up little plaques and stuff like that and they’re to me, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re the Archives’ awards. They’re the Archives awards because the Archives allowed me to do all the things that I did. To go back to publishing, when you first start … And presenting, when you first started as an Archives, you have nothing credible to say to the Archives community. You need training, you need work, you need to build your Archives. You have nothing credible to say, but … Unless you’re already trained, but you’re sitting on your Archives and nobody is doing research on your Archives.
So do research on your Archives and tell the story of Valdosta state and get that story out there and write articles about that, that may appear in local history publications. So you keep presenting and you keep publishing, but you just do it within a different thing and once you’ve built yourself up and gotten certified and feel like you have something to say within the profession, then your focus switches away from the local history and towards professional publication.
So we’ve touched on this a little bit, but shifting more towards grants, you’ve been able to cultivate an endowment and a foundation. So in addition to bringing in grant funding, are there some lessons learned or strategies you can share with us, in terms of the financial shoring up of the Archives and Special Collections?
Grant writing is very important. Over the last 22 years, I’ve written 19 grants, or I’ve gotten 19 grants. I’ve written more than that. We tried for awhile to write one grant a year. One year we wrote two and got both of them, and that was crazy, but we try to write one grant a year. They’re relatively small grants. I’ve been on a big federal grant once for three years, and our portion of it was small, but the grant itself was $800,000. I’ve gotten $3,000 grants, $4,000 grants, $25,000 grants. I’ve gotten them from private estates. I’ve gotten them from public people like the Georgia Humanities Council, like the public libraries, granting agency within the state, like the Council for the Arts, like the Georgia Historical Records advisory Board. I’ve gotten several from each one. So grants are important.
The endowment came about from a close relationship that I was able to build between me, the Archives and the longest serving president’s wife and the president. They believed I had worked with them on all these public programs and displays and all this kind of stuff. The president edited my book that I wrote before we send it off to the editor. They just felt like I was turning the Archives into something that they had always wanted it to be, so that when they died, they left a life insurance policy for $100,000 to our Archives.
So satisfied customers can be sources of an endowment. My foundation fund, which has about $8,000 in it right now is a place where I can put the interests funding from the endowment and let it build up so that I can buy equipment and other things. I use it to send students and graduate students to conferences. That’s why we always have a graduate student because we do value added. They don’t just have an interesting job to do, but they get to go to conferences. I’ve presented with students before. I’ve done poster sessions with students before, and we fund their trips through the foundation.
We use the foundation for food, for events, so that our events are always a little more special than just the speaker or the exhibit or the whatever is, there’s going to be nice food and people know that. So they want to come to our events. The foundation is funded sometimes through donations, always through me. I give $125 a month to that foundation, and over time that’s $1,000 a year and that funds a lot of the basic things that we do. The extra donations are just wow, extra and good things that we can do, but it is great to have a foundation to fall back on to, to add to your operating budget, to be able to do things and do extra things. The endowment is good for that, too. We’ve bought art collections. We’ve bought rare maps. We’re saving it right now, trying to get up enough for a new scanner we want.
You raised a point that I’ve heard recently in another conversation I had with Bridgett Pride and the way you talked about that happy customer, I think was the phrase you used and how Archives, whether we think of it this way or not. It really does come down to relationships and providing a good customer experience.
We’ve struck above our weight by customer service by going the extra mile. Like we got some papers from an author and she was being approached by Duke University’s Archives for those papers, but she had been to Valdosta State. So if we could do right by her, we would … She would give us her papers and we did, and she was a very happy customer. Later on, we wrote a grant and we did public programming with her and brought her out into the schools and used the collection and had a giant conference. We just tried to make that customer as happy as we could because we had beat out Duke to get those papers.
Well, thank you for sharing those strategies that I know, especially for our newer professionals, learning what sort of funds to even think about and how to go about that will be so valuable for them to hear from you. So thank you.
Yes, I will be retiring in two years and something. So succession planning is very important to me because I’ve put my life into this and I don’t want to see it fall back. So, I don’t have input into who the next archivist is, but I do have input in who the interim archivist is. So I’m working with one of my staff members to make sure he gets experience in all the needed areas that I do. Like teaching, like just some of the other areas that I do. Like, look, we’re going to write a grant. I want you on this. I want you sitting on committees. He’s already involved at the state level. Just some things that can make this person more … And you should seek this certification and DAS certification and you should do it within this timeline.
So just some things to make this person more attractive candidate. I also have things that I want to finish. A book that I want to write the points out. These are the things that work. These are the things that don’t work. These are the areas where I see weakness in a few years. So that when the person comes in, they don’t try to reinvent the wheel because if something’s working, leave it alone and focus on what’s not working. Just because you happen to be really good at something, that’s something you’re really good at might not be what the Archives needs.
So here’s the needs. Here’s where you can situate yourself and start presenting and publishing about this to get your tenure and that sort of thing. So that’s what I worry about. Are there other collections that we need to make sure we highlight before I leave so they have a strong standing within the Archives and there are. So I want to make sure to do that. I’ve gotten the teaching program written into curriculum. So I feel secure that the teaching program will continue even if I’m not here.
What a wonderful gift that you were leaving in terms of making sure that there’s a good succession plan, both in terms of leadership, but also you’re still supporting that person and the Archives as a result with saving them the overwhelm and the … As you said of reinventing the wheel, by giving them a guideline of like, don’t miss a beat here. You can continue running with this.
I hope so. That’s what I want to do. That’s what I’m enthusiastic about doing. I don’t want to get so over committed that I don’t get time to do that, and I think that it’s going to be important because this Archives has grown and grown and grown. It’s now important within the campus, and I don’t want to see it fall back because somebody comes in who doesn’t appreciate what’s already here and know what to do to take it in a new direction.
Well, Deborah, I have one last question for you. You’ve given such great advice all throughout this interview, but I am wondering, is there any other advice you have in specifically thinking about our archivist colleagues that are just starting out?
If you’re just starting out, take advantage of as many webinars as you can, as many training sessions as you can. Get involved at the state level. The state often offers training that is, it’s not as expensive as SAA training. So get involved in the state level and work your way up to the national level. Do not despair. Find out what you have that’s good and build on that. Define your Archives. Why do you exist? What can you beat people? What do you have to offer and write that as your mission statement and your collection development statement should be broad because if you’re a small Archives, one single collection edition can take you in a new area. That’s what we’ve done, where Valdosta State, where the surrounding South Georgia region, but we’re also in supportive curriculum and that gives us a broad area to expand and to use those new collections to reach new people.