Placing Archival Skills into the Hands of Individual Podcasters: Interview with Mary Kidd on Preserve This Podcast!

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, Archivist and COPA Early Career Member, Kristi Chanda, interviews Mary Kidd. Mary Kidd currently works in the Preservation and Collections Processing Department at the New York Library as their Systems and Operations Manager. She also served as a Project Lead for a two year grant based project called Preserve This Podcast!, which worked to teach preservation skills to independent, individual producers.

KC: What is Preserve This Podcast! and how did it originate?

MK: Preserve This Podcast was a two year grant funded project. It ran for a finite period of time,  from January 2018 to January 2020. Thankfully, it ended right before CoVid and lockdowns hit North America, so good timing on our part. Its primary purpose was to teach independent or “indie” podcasters (that is, podcasters working out of their home as opposed to for a radio station or a media corporation) about digital preservation, especially in terms of preserving digital podcast files and everything else that makes a podcast. So that, in short, was Preserve This Podcast.

In terms of how it originated, a few years ago, back in 2016, I was working at the New York Public Radio archives. I was part of a National Digital Stewardship Residency cohort that year, and I was paired with  NYPR on a project where I was looking at all of their born-digital output and documenting the flow from the point at which someone created something to be broadcast up to the point where it was placed into long-term storage.

As part of my program, I was attending a bunch of conferences and one of them was the Radio Preservation Task Force conference. This was the first conference of its kind addressing radio preservation so it was pretty exciting for me to go. It was being held at the Library of Congress that year so I traveled out to Washington D.C. By chance, I met Dana Gerber-Margie who was one of the co-leads on Preserve This Podcast. She was working at the time at the Wisconsin Historical Society on an oral history project. We had a lot to talk about, since we each had a foot in archives and another in audio-visual preservation. Fast-forward a year later, she contacted me and a few other people and asked us if we wanted to be part of hosting a workshop at the Personal Digital Archiving Conference (PDA). It was being held that year at Stanford University in Palo Alto. She wanted to facilitate a workshop around podcast preservation. That was the first I’d ever heard of this concept of podcast preservation, so you could say PTP originated from Dana’s brilliant mind. I agreed to do it and it was a lot of fun. The workshop was geared towards indie podcasters, but we were primarily talking to archivists because this was an archivist’s conference. So we were preaching to the choir a little bit. Fast forward another year, I was contacted by Molly Schwartz, who was working as the studio manager at the New York Metropolitan Library Council, also known as METROfor short. She was working on a podcast called Library Bytegeist, which is a really great podcast about librarians and archivists working in New York City. So, a super fun podcast for people interested in that kind of stuff. She contacted me and said, hey, I heard that you hosted this workshop on podcasts preservation and I think that’s a really good idea. Why don’t we apply for a grant? So, Molly, Dana and myself started meeting over the summer of 2017 and eventually we were put in contact with the Mellon Foundation.  They were really receptive to our idea. By January 2018 we launched the project and hit the ground running. So that’s the story of Preserve This Podcast.

KC: Why is this organization significant in the podcasting/archiving community?

MK: I think most podcasters, unless they work for a radio station or media company with an archive,  are not always thinking about long-term preservation.  The point of Preserve This Podcast was to produce a suite of free tools for people to get them thinking about it. One of those tools was a five part teaching podcast called the Preserve This Podcast podcast that spoke directly to  indie podcasters to make them  aware of the problems plaguing digital files,  and here are the reasons why you should take time out of your day to take certain steps towards preserving your content.  Indie podcasters’ digital content is at more risk than  big box podcasts like  This American Life. That is because indie podcasters are likely time and resource-strapped. They don’t have a lot of cash. They are working by themselves or on a small team kind of outside of a day job or raising families. They don’t necessarily have the resources to take on a preservation plan and as any person in our field knows, preservation always takes time and resources. So I think it was important that we put out this suite of tools for people to make it easier for them to learn a new skill. Our podcast is a really fun listen with high production quality. We worked with a team of people to produce this podcast, including an editor,  and a soundtrack. We really wanted to speak to podcasters in the language that they’re most familiar with, in order to bring the message of preservation to them. 

In terms of PTP’s importance for archivists, potentially an archivist listening to our podcast or encountering our work may also be the first time for them to  consider  podcast preservation. Not a lot of institutions have a podcast collecting policy or focus on podcasts as part of what they acquire.  Some institutions do, but by and large you just don’t hear about podcast collecting. I think, in part, it’s because it’s contemporary to us, it’s here now, and so there’s kind of this notion that it’s just like here and it’ll be around for a while. One example that we talked about  at librarian and archivist conferences  is concrete proof  that some of the earliest podcasts produced 20 years ago have already disappeared. So this is something that you all should pay attention to and not take for granted the fact that this is a popular medium now, but you could say the same thing for VHS tapes thirty years ago. So that’s what we brought to the table for archivists and people working in preservation, nudging them and saying, this is something to look at and this is something important that you should consider for  your collection development or preservation policies.

KC: What were the challenges that you had to overcome while working on the project?

MK: I think our greatest challenge was convincing people of  the problem. We really did our due diligence in a lot of ways and did a lot of research to prove that podcasts have already disappeared or were at-risk.  One of the first things that we did was we worked with a data analyst, Jacob Kramer-Duffield,  who helped us to design a survey that we distributed out to podcasters. We took the results of that survey and we were able to qualify the fact that a lot of indie podcasters have not thought about preservation or put a preservation plan in place, compared to their non-indie peers.  Through this survey we were able to support our hypothesis that indie podcasts are at risk. In addition to the survey, we also looked at a collection of some of the very first podcasts ever made, called 2005 Podcast Core Collection, hosted on the Internet Archive.  The person who compiled this collection was Jason Scott, who works at the Internet Archive now and back in 2005 he wrote this script that crawled a directory of podcasts that existed at the time. For each podcast, the script would scrape the audio and any RSS XML data. This script ran for about two years.  One of the things that we had podcasters do when they attended one of our workshops was to call up this collection, choose a podcast at random, and then try and see if they could find it listed in  Apple Podcasts or by performing a web browser search.  By and large, for most of these podcasts, you could not find them.This exercise was a concrete example showing that podcasts made only 20 years ago have disappeared.  I’m sure  a lot of these original creators  never expected that their podcasts would just disappear. Giving podcasters this example really hit home, and I think it spoke to people on the urgency behind podcast preservation. 

KC: What did you hope your audience will gain from attending the workshops and conferences?

MK: We really wanted people to walk our of workshops with some sort of plan. At the end of our workshops we would say, okay, given what you’ve learned about things like metadata, backup plans, and file and folder organization, what are some steps that you can take today? Even as that’s like, I have a no open container of coffee rule at my desk, that was fine. Then what can you do in the next week, month, six months, and try and see if you can also incorporate these steps into your podcast production workflow, because I think that was the key to making sure that people would go home and actually take these steps. If you don’t incorporate it into sort of your everyday workflow it will probably fall to the wayside. So one of the things that we wanted them to walk away from you know from our workshops is an idea of how they can incorporate preservation into producing a podcast. We tried to incentivize them. One of the things that Dana pointed  out was that, more often than not, podcasters will get some sort of request. NPR will email a podcaster, and say, “Hey, we’re really interested in using this 30-second from your podcast episode from three years ago into our news segment, can you send us a file by the end of today?” If you have a file and folder organization plan in place — which is something we taught at our workshops — with , you are more likely to  find the file really quickly. If you don’t, then you’re scrambling. The lesson here is that file and folder management is not just  something you do for preservation, but it can also help monetize your podcast.

In terms of what we wanted archivists and librarians to learn from us, we wanted them to understand the technical aspects of podcasts that make them unique assets. We especially wanted to drive home the point that podcasts are not just digital audio files. There may be an mp3 file, as well as unedited raw audio, a soundtrack, transcription metadata, and release forms which can affect things like rights metadata. You may also have an accompanying website, which is also a rich trove of descriptive metadata or even artwork and branding.  There is also the RSS XML metadata, which is like a really rich source of standardized metadata, which you can use to your advantage to automate incorporate into existing preservation workflows.

KC: Are there any plans/goals set for the future?

MK: Preserve This Podcast lives on in a number of ways. A few of us have been asked to guest lecture classes and teach workshops post-grant. An exciting and new development is an upcoming NEH grant-funded project, Open Sources: Training Communities of Practice for Complex Born-Digital Collections, which will be spearheaded by Myriad Consulting. This project will see the “development and implementation of curricula, resources, workshops, and community events tailored to smaller cultural heritage institutions focused on preservation of and access to born-digital materials”. The formation of this project took some inspiration from Preserve This Podcast, and will be using a teaching zine to teach digital preservation concepts. So although it’s not a project aimed specifically at preserving podcasts, it still captures the spirit of supporting staff and other individuals working for smaller or under-resourced cultural heritage institutions. I will be taking on a consultant role for this grant, and will be taking what I learned through the course of PTP to this project.

There’s an Archivist for That! An Interview with Andrew Weymouth of the Washington State Fair Archives

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, Andrew Weymouth talk about his work with the Washington State Fair.

Please tell us a little about yourself

My name is Andrew Weymouth and I am currently in the final year of my MLIS degree at the University of Washington. I work as the Digital Pedagogy Specialist for the University of Oregon’s DREAMLab, where I am currently building an online curricular toolkit for faculty and students to learn about digital scholarship services. I am also excited to begin working as an archivist for the Murray Morgan Papers with the Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room, whom I have been busy collaborating with throughout the fall on a Visual Resources Association Foundation grant in order to assess, digitize and promote the incredible Richards Collection. Finally, I am working as research assistant for Hannah Palin and Annie Dwyer at the University of Washington’s Moving Image Archive and Comparative History of Ideas departments, respectively. I come from a background in design, writing and radio and I decided three years ago to move up from Oregon to Tacoma, WA in order to finish my higher education and apply some of those skills towards archiving, instructional design and digital exhibit making.

How did you get into archives?

I have always had a pretty compulsive interest in history but my first real interaction with archives would be through working on a Portland, OR based radio show called 100 Tacks for the community radio stalwart, KBOO. I wrote and produced the show, which focused on the industrial, agricultural and social history of Oregon and found myself frequently visiting the Multnomah County Archives to inform the work, so much so that some librarians and archivists there eventually became interviewees and contributors to the program over time. While professional obligations eventually pulled

me away from this project, I have remained in contact with archives across the Pacific Northwest and I have been lucky enough to gain experience with a wide variety of materials, formats and subjects.

How did you get the position as the Assistant Archivist at the Washington State Fair (WSF)?
I applied for the position through a posting on Archives Gig in the Spring of 2020. Although I didn’t have any contacts in the organization, I think my background in design was of interest to the WSF graphic designer Patty Herman, who I would later work under.

Strange enough, I was able to bring my experience creating the radio show into the interview process. One of the larger projects I wrote and produced was on the story of a twenty foot tall, animatronic bear made out of prunes which was created for the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland. The whole creation was in service of promoting the Oregon prune, which, at that point, was attempting to unseat the California raisin, and we know how that panned out. This interest in fairs, local history and agriculture may have also helped me secure the position.

Tell us about the Washington State Fair

The Washington State Fair, previously known as the Puyallup Fair for the Tacoma suburb where the grounds are located, has been operating in one form or another since 1900. The fair has always been focused primarily on agriculture and livestock, holding popular competitions on mainstays like produce weighing and judging everything from horses to rabbits. There has also been a consistent feature on folk art, canning, lumber and horse racing which people regularly travel across Washington to participate in.

Because I was so new to Tacoma when I started working with the WSF, I was completely unfamiliar with the fairground’s use as a Japanese American internment site during WWII. Known technically as the The Puyallup Assembly Center or euphemistically as Camp Harmony, the fairgrounds were intended as a temporary holding place for Japanese Americans before being transferred to larger, more remote internment camps in Idaho, California and Wyoming. That said, poor planning and extended confinement led to dangerous and unsanitary conditions for the over 7,000 Washington State citizens retained there over time.

Could you describe your collections?

Although there were initially plans to process some moving image records, I only had a chance to work with the visual collections during my time with the WSF. For the most part, the subject matter for the collections was amazingly consistent from 1920 to 1980. Every year had jam and needlework competitions, petting zoos with intrigued/ terrified children, fireworks, pie eating and every imaginable variety of clown.

What are some of the challenges unique to your collections?

As I mentioned above, I began working with the WSF just as the pandemic was graduating from a concern to a real threat. I was able to work with the institution for a few productive months by picking up materials and working on them remotely, but it ultimately became a logistical impossibility as everyone began to realize that the fair was not going to take place that year. Like many working with archives during this time, I was furloughed from the position not very long after beginning to work on the collection. That said, I was able to attend the 2020 SAA conference almost immediately afterwards, and it was incredibly beneficial to connect with others in the field, as so many of us struggled to stay afloat during this historic moment.

What is the favorite part of your job?

I am fascinated by nineteenth and twentieth century fairs, expositions and lyceums. These events merge community, industry, agriculture, politics and religion and reveal incredible insights into a community’s shared values, fears and aspirations.

What advice do you have for aspiring archivists?

One kind of silly hurdle which kept me from pursuing my MLIS degree for too long were negative experiences with institutional gatekeepers who over-emphasized the technical aspects of library science. While I am currently developing my skills around web design and coding, and will continue to in the future, I am fully aware that these skills will never be my strongest assets that I can lend to future projects, and that’s ok!

If anyone reading this also comes from more of a storytelling background, there is still absolutely a place for you in archiving. You will still have to struggle though learning these platforms which may be completely second nature to others, and you may be the least proficient person with these tools during future meetings. This is all in service of being able to clearly communicate your digital storytelling, UX and instructional design concepts with more technically minded collaborators in order to create the best possible work for your archive.

Ask An Archivist: An Interview With Terry Baxter

Join us as we celebrate American Archives Month by Asking An Archivist! Inspired by #AskAnArchivistDay, we sat down with five archivists to ask them about what they do—from “what is an archivist?” to “What’s the most creative public use you’ve seen with your collections?”—and explore daily challenges, successes, and everything in between.

Stay tuned because we’ll be sharing one full interview per week starting on #AskAnArchivistDay on October 13!

This is the title card for an interview with Terry Baxter by COPA member Rachael Cristine Woody.

For our fifth and final installment of this mini-series, we’re excited to share a conversation with Terry Baxter, archivist for the Multnomah County Records Management and Archives Program and the incoming Vice President/President-Elect for the Society of American Archivists. Rachael Cristine Woody of the Committee on Public Awareness sat down with Baxter (virtually) for a video conversation in 2021.

Terry Baxter has been an archivist for 33 years, the last 20 with the Multnomah County Records Management and Archives Program. Terry is a member of and has served in a variety of leadership positions in Northwest Archivists, Society of American Archivists, Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums, Archives Leadership Institute, and The Academy of Certified Archivists. He has presented and written on tattoos as personal archives, documenting domestic terrorists, archives as tools of power structures, diversity and inclusion in the human record, community based archives, archives of state-sponsored surveillance, and a variety of other topics. Terry is a proud Local 88 member and a proud public servant. He lives in Cully with his wife and brother-in-law and is frequently visited by ten kids and 5 grandkids.

Video Interview


Baxter [0:00:03] My name is Terry Baxter I’m the Archivist for Multnomah County Archives, which is in Portland, Oregon, and the Oregon Country Fair which is in Eugene, Oregon. I’ve been an archivist in various settings since 1985. And in service desk, I’ve done quite a few different things with SAA and Northwest ArchivistS particularly, archival service. Been in SAA — I’ve chaired the Diversity Committee I’ve been SAA Council, on the nominations committee, and then, surprisingly, the incoming, Vice President for the organization. So, that’s kind of my service in a nutshell.

Woody [0:00:49] That is quite a bit of service and not a surprise at all that you are now going to be Vice President, which, Congratulations.

Baxter [0:00:55] Thanks.

Woody [0:00:56] So my first question for you is the question we frequently get as archivists, and that’s what is an archivist, but also, why did you become an archivist and how did you become an archivist?

Baxter [0:01:10] Well, let’s get back to what is an archivist. I’ll start with how I became an archivist and that’s if you may have heard this story before because I, this is a question that does get asked a lot, so if you have, bear with me, but I always start with saying I got in for the money, which is an insider joke because nobody gets into archives for the money, but I really did because I was in college at the time working on my bachelor’s degree in history, and I also was raising a family, carrying, 18 hours in school and working 40 to 50 hours managing an Arby’s.

And so, as you can imagine that was, well I was young, I could, it wasn’t that big of a deal but, you know, it was a lot to do at one time and this Oregon State Archives, not the university that State of Oregon archives posted a student worker job that paid about what I made managing the Arby’s but for only 25 hours a week. And so it’s kind of a no-brainer. So yeah, I’m gonna go I’m gonna go work in the archives and save some time. 

Right. And so I did and started out. Started out kind of, in, you know kind of the, of the artifact area of archives so the very first collection I was doing some kind of like preliminary re-foldering type stuff you know one you give the students, and I was the Whitman Massacre trial documents, which was fascinating to me on, on the face of things, but, you know, started to lead towards some other, you know processing type jobs and working, working with the various documents and then I got assigned to do a very large cataloging basically project with the territory on provisional government records of Oregon, which again was. These are old and cool documents you know so, so I kind of thought, well if I get my degree I can actually do this work that pays pretty well and it was really still about the money, you know, as it was a good paying steady job with government benefits. So when a job opened up in the summertime, on a three-year records management project. I applied and got the job. 

And so I started working on that. And then things really changed, and this kind of will segue into what an archivist is in a lot of ways because I don’t believe an archivist is someone who just writes a bunch of stuff about a bunch of documents and, you know puts that together. My boss was given the opportunity to go to a thing called Camp hip, which was the as a long name. And then, the Institute for Advanced Archival Administration or something like that. And it was a mid supposedly a mid-career archivist bonding, learning about electronic records, learning about, you know management techniques, a lot of ways is a precursor to things like the Archives Leadership Institute and that was cohort-based and designed to give skills, techniques, and kind of like connections to folks. And my boss said I don’t want to go to this, what do you want to go on is that sounds interesting, it’s in Pittsburgh, why not give it a whirl and see, see what it’s all about. And I did. 

And it was really fascinating to see a bunch of folks much further along in their careers than I was thinking about archives in a different way thinking about archives as a means to an end so you can use archives for a lot of different stuff and you could use them, you know, for regular stuff, regular research, you can use them for entertainment, but you can use them to make change and I think that was really something I hadn’t thought about at all. Up to that point. And once I started to think about things in that way and conceptualize archives and archivists as changemakers, and as you know, people that could do active work you know not just sitting in an office processing records or, you know, working with ivory tower researchers but that everyday regular problems could be solved. People with just stuff they need to get done, you can help them get that stuff done. And that really turns a switch in my head, and I saw what an archivist is a facilitator, a connector, someone who is out there actively trying to make their community, broader communities, individuals lives better. And so, so once I saw that through that glass then I was hoping it became something I just wanted to do the rest of my life.

Woody [0:06:04] I love that answer. That’s, I didn’t, I don’t think I’ve heard the story about the really was the money, first of all, that was very amusing, but I love the archivist being facilitators connectors, helping to reveal some of those truths.

Okay, next question for you is what is your favorite item In the archives or the most curious or mysterious item in the archives that you found?

Baxter [0:06:32] Hmm. Yeah, those are always, they’re interesting questions, because, you know, it’s like, which of your children are the favorite, the one that’s in front of you right now, right? 

So, but I would say I, one of my absolute favorite to my to myself personally, and it’s not, it’s not particularly important, but it’s to me, it’s really kind of fun in it. It’s kind of one of those, what could be kind of story. So I am in Oregon in 1964. Actually, in ’63, they started planning for it. A commission was set up and it was we have, we have a set of records, I believe the City of Portland has a set of records. So I think both institutions were, you know, kind of was one of those multi-jurisdictional organizations, but it was the Delta Recreation Commission.

And it was set up to investigate and propose a bond measure to set up a dual-use Major League Baseball and NFL Stadium in Delta Park. And being an NFL guy, like I really fit into the NFL of all sports, I think that’s the one I kind of follow the most. It was really fascinating to me to see how close this came not really close, it was close up to get on the bond measure. But it was voted down pretty handily, I think by about 15%. But it was a commission that was just set up to they went through and the minutes are there. And the pictures It was kind of this weird, dome almost spacecraft-y, the looking thing and it was really, we have the postcards that they sent out to show what it would be like and it was modeled after some of the really innovative dual-use stadiums at the time. So it was set up to have like a retract, I believe it had a retractable roof and was going to be you know, set up in a way that you could do both of these things and attract two major league teams and baseball is had a pretty long history in Portland with triple-A teams like the Portland Beavers, but football has really never been a thing here.

So those you know, the records were just cool to me, they, you know, they have all this stuff in the election stuff the way it was voted down. So sad. And then they just kind of sat there. Most of the time I’ve been I’ve been at the county archives for 24 years, 23 years now. And they’ve only been used a couple times, with the exception of just the actual picture used for an exhibit. But the guy that did the research was researching sports, and we’re in Portland, specifically Portland, Oregon. And his conclusion was that the failure of the Delta Dome was both good and also it was Portland-y in the sense that I don’t know if you’ve been to Delta Park but Delta Park now has soccer stadiums, it’s got baseball fields, softball fields, tracks, and all this stuff and he said, “the fact that we don’t have an observational sports set up in Delta Park but we have a participatory sport set up in Delta part is really a lot more Portland-y and it’s also probably better for the community.”

And I hadn’t thought about it that way but that’s absolutely true. I do like to play sports too so I can see where that makes a lot more sense to have something where people are you know getting off their asses now actually running out there and playing as opposed to you know, just watching sports either in the stadium or on TV so yeah, so it kind of worked out so that’s, that’s a collection that’s kind of near and dear to my heart. I had not heard that before but your description that’s so Portland-y does seem accurate.

Woody [0:10:01] Alright, Terry one last question for you, and that is what’s the best or most creative public use of the collections you’ve seen?

Baxter [0:10:11] Well, I will. There are several answers to this but I’m going to give you the one that I think is the most important. And we got in a collection, maybe. I’m gonna say probably 10 years ago that said, I could give you exactly the answer if I looked it up I think it’s about 10 years ago, and it was a collection called the Regional Drug Initiative. And this was a really multi-jurisdictional group with the reason we have the records is because the district attorney led the group, but it was the sheriff’s office, city of Portland Police Bureau, FBI, anybody that might have kind of an intersection with the nascent war on drugs because that’s really what this was. This was the governmental layout for how to how to proceed with the war on drugs.

And so, again, a collection that just sat there for a long time but getting to your ideas about how research, and you know outreach and reference might be a little different nowadays. I knew a guy who was interested in this stuff because he’d done work with—he’d done work on a couple of side projects in town and I knew he had some interest in this, in this area so I said, Hey, come on out. Come out, check this new collection out and see what it is. It wasn’t processed yet but I knew generally what was in it and I knew, you know, what he was interested in. He started plowing through it and he found some stuff for his project. 

And then he left without, you know. It wasn’t a really big deal until he came back about a year later. And he said I am doing research on drug houses. And I said, well I don’t know anything about drugs. So, well, that’s what I called and evidently, a family member had had a house that had been called the drug house and that was his vernacular for a drug house, and you know so I was still trying to make the connection here what was going on. And finally, I got down to the point that his relative’s house had been seized as a drug house and I said, are you talking about civil forfeiture? He says I don’t know let’s look it up and so he started looking up some of the laws he says, that’s totally it. 

And so all of a sudden this collection that had been used kind of for this little purpose ballooned, and he started doing quite a bit of research in the use of civil forfeiture in the war on drugs in Portland to dismantle urban neighborhoods, so that they could then be revitalized, or, you know, whatever term you want to use for that some people might have other terms for it but, but that was a term used, but he then proceeded to do quite a bit of research in that to kind of show. Whole neighborhoods, not just his relative’s house but whole neighborhoods interest in what was going on with gentrification and some of the other, some of the other issues that Portland faces on a regular basis, and how that can be traced back to Multnomah County’s active and direct participation in the fake war on drugs, which is really a war on Black folks, you know, I mean, Black and Brown folks, and, you know, it just fascinating to me how two things in this really fascinate me one is that the records are just sitting there I mean, you know, this is like a blueprint for what, what everybody has said was so horrible and happened, this is a blueprint for it I mean, nobody was hiding anything. This was just right there. 

But the other thing is how just a really small descriptive element, makes the difference between whether people can find this stuff or not. If I had just said, up, drug house, don’t know what it means, keep on moving. Then this collection would have just sat there, but by kind of teasing out what was really what a drug house really was what, what, what could it mean in government-ese really made the connection successful so the research worked, and worked for somebody who may not be familiar, number one with archives terminology but also government terminology.

So that was a really fascinating and good public use of some of our records.

Woody [0:14:19] Yeah, that is one of the best examples I think I’ve heard that is such a great story. Thank you for sharing that. And I love that it came full circle to archivists being connectors, which is what we started with. Wonderful. Well, Terry, those were all of my official questions. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us before you go?

Baxter [0:14:44] I don’t know. I like meeting archivists so if you see me walking around or something I’m always happy to buy someone a beer, or hang out, chat, whatever.

“Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights:” How Progress Seen in Local Activism Impacts the National Narrative

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, Archivist and COPA Early Career Member, Kristi Chanda, interviews Stuart Hinds. Stuart Hinds is a Curator of Special Collections & Archives at University of Missouri-Kansas City.  Hinds discusses the exhibit “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights” that was built by students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s public history program. It documents the rise of gay and lesbian activist community groups before the Stonewall riots. 

KC: What are the main aspects to your exhibit “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights?” What was the process like creating it and who are the main figures involved?

SH: The exhibit tells the story of gay and lesbian activism, both in Kansas City and in the US, in the 1960s before Stonewall, during the Homophile Movement, as it was called. The main thrust of the exhibit is to uncover Kansas City’s surprisingly pivotal role in that movement. The first gathering of gay and lesbian civil rights leaders from across the country, took place in Kansas City in February of ‘66. Out of that meeting comes the formation of umbrella groups for all these different, discrete advocacy and activist organizations across the country. As a part of that umbrella group there is the formation of an information clearinghouse. It was based in Kansas City because the folks here had access to a printing press. So, they would print and distribute the newsletters, the promotional material from a lot of different groups across the country. The exhibit focuses on those efforts, and the formation and activities of Kansas City’s first advocacy group which happened a month after that national meeting. In March of ‘66 the Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom was founded, and they were really active locally. What kicked off the exhibit was the fact that I worked with a committee made up of community members to install a historic marker in downtown Kansas City commemorating the 50th anniversary of that civil rights meeting, and it was put in place across the street from where the hotel used to be. At the same time I worked with a public history faculty member here on campus and his Intro to Public History class developed the exhibit in conjunction with the installation of the marker to sort of flesh out the story that the exhibit tells or that the marker commemorates. It was a class-based exhibit that was a semester-long project, and then I worked with the faculty member and a graduate student who designed the final product. We sort of tightened up the writing and did transitions between panels and all that kind of stuff, and then we got some grant money to fabricate a local version of the exhibit and then a touring version. It went on display locally, in the spring of 2017. The touring version has gone across the Kansas City region and several places in Kansas since then. The process was interesting because it was a class exhibit and I know most of the students weren’t from the LGBTQ community, so they wanted to make sure that they got the story right from the perspective of that community. They interviewed a couple of different folks who were on the committee that worked on the marker. We had a panel discussion with the class, and then reviewed the drafts of their panels.  The main figures that are involved in the narrative of the exhibit include prominent national activists, like Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon from The Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco. The primary activist who started the Phoenix Society, who was really a driving force behind it, was Drew Shafer. He was president of the Phoenix for the first two or three years and, you know how some of these organizations work, there’s only one person who makes everything happen, and in this case that was true.

KC: How does the exhibit positively reflect the past and present of the LGBTQ+ community? In what ways can it help empower future LGBTQ+ activism?

SH: The exhibit contextualizes the situation both nationally and locally. The 60s were a particularly oppressive time for the gay and lesbian community. There were lots of efforts to really keep queer people at bay. The exhibit talks about the scene here in Kansas City and how it was surprisingly active. There was a very active social scene. Unlike in a lot of other cities, places where people congregated, essentially gay bars, weren’t typically raided by the police, which they were in lots of other cities in big cities like New York and Chicago and Los Angeles, San Francisco. You saw a lot of raids and a lot of harassment by law enforcement and that wasn’t the case here in Kansas City. The exhibit talks about that. It goes into detail about the activities of the Phoenix Society, which was responsible for that clearinghouse for the national group. They also had their own agenda and set of activities going on locally. They opened a community center in 1968, two years after they founded the group. There was just a lot going on. By the end of the decade they had really overstretched themselves, they were really burnt out, they had really taken on too much.  I hope that’s a lesson that local activists take from the experience of members of the Phoenix, that as enthusiastic as you are, and as much as you want to achieve it, you must do it in a balanced way or otherwise you are going to burn yourself out very quickly. Everything’s going to come crashing down, which is exactly what happened with the Phoenix.

KC: What obstacles have you and your colleagues faced with creating this exhibit? What issues are you currently encountering?

SH: When the exhibit was first introduced and initiated, there really weren’t many obstacles. It was just a matter of the students doing the research and connecting with the resources that we have here, just doing the work of the class in conjunction with connecting with local community members. I will say we did get a little bit of pushback when we applied for grant funding. We received funding from the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, which straddles the border between Missouri and Kansas, which was a real hotbed during the Civil War;  that was the emphasis of the Heritage Area when it got started, but they’ve since broadened the scope to really focus on different interpretations of freedom. So, we thought this would be a good group to apply to for some of this grant money.

 There was some hesitation on the part of the institution’s leadership to take this to the review board because the concern was that they would just immediately push back on it because of the content.

We were able to convince them to be strident and move forward and they agreed, and we got the funding to do it.. The touring version of the exhibit has traveled across Missouri and across Kansas to several different places: to a small-town public library in southeast Kansas where there is a very active queer community, to public libraries here in the metropolitan area,  and to museums and historical societies. There was never an issue in the eight or nine places it’s been. Then I was working with folks who are affiliated with the Missouri State Museum,  which is in the state capitol in Jefferson City. We were having conversations about queer Missourians in advance of the state’s Bicentennial which is this year, as they were trying to do an exhibit on important Missourians in the history of the state, and they reached out and we talked about some of the the activists here in Kansas City. As part of that conversation, I mentioned this touring exhibit. They were excited about that, and reached out earlier this spring when we made the final arrangements to get the exhibit to them. It went up in what they call the History Hall, which is the hallway outside of the museum, inside the Missouri State Capitol. Some legislative aides, and a legislator reached out to the Museum and asked why this exhibit was on display. They got a very appropriate response from the Director of the Museum, and then they took it further. They took it to the leadership of the department that oversees the museum, which is the Department of Natural Resources.. The leadership of the Department of Natural Resources, four days after the exhibit went on display, decided to remove it from the state capitol. There was a big hue and cry that got a lot of media attention, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. It was in the New York Times, it was in the Washington Post, it was in The Advocate, it was an all sorts of queer blogs. You really couldn’t escape it. As a result of the outcry, the Department of Natural Resources relocated the exhibit in one of their buildings, also located there in Jefferson City, a historic building about four blocks away from the state capitol, far less visible and far less accessible. That’s where the exhibit remains to this day, even though most of the national, regional, and local professional history organizations issued public letters to the governor demanding that the exhibit be relocated back to the state capitol, which didn’t happen and won’t happen at this point. So that’s been challenging on many different levels.It’s just interesting that we encountered this pushback in a building that is supposed to be for all Missouri citizens. First, that they would censor student work and second, that they would censor a specific community of Missourians is really disheartening and frustrating.

KC: Has there been any discussion about future organized plans to take this a step further?

SH: Well, the flip side of the coin is that now we have about seven institutions in line that want the exhibit. I was just talking with the folks at the Missouri State Museum today and it looks like it will come back to us after the holidays, and then we’ll get it first in line for the next showing. Along the way we received generous support from a radio personality in St. Louis who has funded fabrication of another edition of the touring exhibit, and it will go to St. Louis probably within the next few weeks and tour. He’s coordinating several different sites throughout St. Louis to have short term displays of the exhibit through the first six months of 2022. So, it will get out there. It’s just unfortunate it took this ugliness to make that happen.

KC: What do you hope the public would gain when visiting your exhibit? 

SH: You talked about an awareness of stories that reflect the histories of the American LGBTQ communities that aren’t about big cities–that aren’t about New York, that aren’t about San Francisco, that aren’t about Los Angeles. That’s why we started this archive, because the stories that emanate from here help complete the picture. There are lots of Kansas City ties directly to the national narrative. That meeting is just one of those ways and we really hope to expand people’s understanding of the fact that there was activity going on here and similar sized cities and even smaller places while the more well-known stories we’re going on.

KC: Any plans in the making for future displays/events?

SH: We have a local undergraduate college of art and design here in Kansas City, the Kansas City Art Institute. I’m working with one of the faculty members there, and he has taught a class on queer archives the last couple of years. This year, he’s teaching it again in the spring, and he really wants to focus the students’ efforts  on this topic and the controversy around the exhibit, and then make work in reaction to the controversy. One of the venues that expressed interest was the Kansas City Public Library, so I’m hoping we can finagle having the Making History exhibit and the students’ exhibit on display at the Public Library simultaneously because I think that would really be an interesting opportunity for some conversations and just more awareness. I’m excited about that opportunity. We’ll see what happens.

Ask An Archivist: An Interview With Melissa Gonzales

Join us as we celebrate American Archives Month by Asking An Archivist! Inspired by #AskAnArchivistDay, we sat down with five archivists to ask them about what they do—from “what is an archivist?” to “What’s the most creative public use you’ve seen with your collections?”—and explore daily challenges, successes, and everything in between.

Stay tuned because we’ll be sharing one full interview per week starting on #AskAnArchivistDay on October 13!

This is the title card for an interview with Melissa Gonzales by COPA member Rachael Cristine Woody.

For our fourth installment of this mini-series, we’re excited to share a conversation with Melissa Gonzales, Director of Records Management for Houston Community College, and until 2021, a member of SAA Council. Rachael Cristine Woody of the Committee on Public Awareness sat down with Ganz (virtually) for a video conversation in 2021.

Melissa Gonzales is Director, Records Management for Houston Community College, which was a slight transition from her previous academic and museum archival work. She is currently pursuing a Certified Records Manager designation and is passionate about archival salary equity and advocates for this via leadership roles on SAA Council and now as Vice President of the Society of Southwest Archivists.

Video Interview


Gonzales [0:00:04] I’m Melissa Gonzales. I’m currently the director of records management at Houston Community College. I’ve been there for three years now, and I’m also an outgoing member of council, I’ve served three years on council, and I’m also vice
president of the Society of Southwest Archivists, which I was recently elected to this past year, and I’ll be president starting May 2022.

Woody [0:00:27] Excellent, thank you and I can’t believe it has been three years already for your SAA term.

Gonzales [0:00:35] Yes, it went by very fast. I tried to get as much done as I could as possible. With all the red tape and bureaucracy that pops up. And not to mention the pandemic, I mean that the right everybody for a loop, I think.

Woody [0:00:40] Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so first question for you, Melissa is, what is the difference between archivists and records managers.

Gonzales [0:00:55] Well I think we all know that archivists, preserve materials of importance to organizations, institutions, or individuals that are of a historical nature or ephemeral nature. Records managers tend to, not tend, they do manage those records that are pertinent to business operations for institutions, organizations, also those that are necessary for business continuity in the case of a disaster we manage those based on a retention schedule.

So archivists have collection scopes or, you know collection management policies that dictate what we can and cannot collect that keeps us from over-collecting as well. But we, records managers, are specifically inclined to collect pertaining to the retention schedule for compliance purposes, usually have to make some kind of state or federal compliance, and at the end of that lifecycle, there is an archival component. So you do have to manage the entire lifecycle. So if it gets down to it and some materials are meant to be kept permanently, or for historical purposes, then we have to be able to do that as well.

And it’s interesting that I found that many archivists, I entered the profession, wanting to become an archivist, so when I entered and found that a lot of archivists have never done records management, or were aware of the differences or what it does, what it means that there was a kind of a learning curve but it’s interesting that from the records management perspective they also get thrown a learning curve, regarding, you know, the archival component the end of the lifecycle, and there seem to be gaps there some archival institutions don’t handle records and some records managers don’t handle archivist archival materials or know how to do that so it’s kind of interesting.

Woody [0:02:46] Thank you for sharing. I know that SAA, of course, has members from both of those camps, and for you having served both sides it’s like a pivotal translation spot I think for many of us.

Gonzales [0:03:02] It is definitely, as we know archival salaries, it’s kind of sad that it’s a running joke that records managers positions don’t often require master’s degrees, yet they get paid considerably higher than archivists that do require, you know, their jobs do require master’s degrees.

So, it’s, I went to an ICRM certified records management prep exam course a few years back, and they do have a section that covers archival science, and the person that was teaching it was like I haven’t actually been an archivist for quite some many years, I was the only archivist in the room. So when she found out she kind of looked to me for some questions. But at the end of it, she walked up to me, she goes, “I’m so sorry we get paid so much better than you.” I mean it was that bad, it was that I was
like “wow okay we’re there.”

So I made the switch for salary purposes, which, you know, I think many archivists do that.

Woody [0:04:05] Yeah, absolutely, and can’t blame them, slash I mean it’s a smart decision.

Gonzales [0:04:11] Yeah.

Woody [0:04:12] Yeah, and I think about it. So this sort of goes into our next question, which is why did you become an archivist? Slash, how did you become an archivist? But if you’d like to also address the switch to records management, then that would be great to hear as well.

Gonzales [0:04:29] Sure. So I went to UT Austin. As an undergrad so I was very aware of their high school. While I was there, I worked for a professor and Middle Eastern Studies section department because I actually wanted to be an Egyptologist when I started undergrad, so I did specialize in ancient Roman Greek and Egyptian art and architecture. I took a lot of, you know, conference courses pertaining to that and then I worked for a professor who specialized in early writing. So I did a lot of archival pickups and research and scan, you know, made sure to go and get some resources for her. And so I visited many archives while you know, I was an undergrad and that’s how I became aware of them.

And then I graduated, of course, volunteered in the museum realized, you know, what the actual real-world situation is like for curators, not to mention POC curators. And I was like, oh, okay, this probably isn’t going to be feasible or work out, and if it does, it’s going to be a struggle.

So I went back to banking which I had done, off and on from a retail perspective since I was 17, and had always been a great backup. So I ended up working in corporate banking for a few years and while I was there. I was like, oh look, I’m handling all these records, and I’m managing the records for this department and this is a job. And I started you know looking into it. I thought oh it’s parallel to the archival profession, and I started looking at programs, and so I ended up going with Simmons and went to Boston in 2007 to get that my master’s degree.

And while I was there in turn to are worked at the Simmons College Archives, I interned at the Peabody Museum at Harvard of Archaeology and Ethnology, and then also at Mass Historical. And then in between that because I was really paranoid and the recession hit, and I saw that you know even Harvard was laying people off and when that happened everybody kind of freaked out. So I was like, oh I need as much experience in different types of archives, with different types of files and formats, and different you know CMS is as much as possible so I’m as marketable as I can be.

And I ended up interning in-between. I called the archivist at the Johnson Space Center Archives at UBH Clearlake University of Houston Clear Lake and ended up securing an internship between my first and second year, while I was home. And then, yeah, and then when I was graduating, I thought, well, I’d like to go back to Texas because the cost of living on the East Coast is kind of ridiculous, and when you grew up on the Gulf Coast, you can see how your dollars really stretched.

So I started applying for jobs that were closer to Texas, and my first gig was in a really small town in south Texas that was actually pertinent to the Texas Revolution, and it yeah so it was a town of 2000, and the county I think had 20,000, and I ended up moving there afterward, and it was interesting, I reported to the library board which was made up of retired teachers, so they weren’t really familiar with what I was supposed to be doing, which is why I was really glad that I had had so much experience prior to going. They had hired a consultant from Houston at one point to come in and create a draft o what needed to be done, what needed to be addressed how it should be addressed. And of course to hire professional archivists so they had hired someone prior to me who had left and you know as their successor.

And so that those policies and procedures helped out considerably well, you know, having my first gig in that small town with no help or assistance nearby. So then what I realized was that all of the historical materials from1836 were at either Austin or the state, so they didn’t really have a lot of materials historical materials I had to deal with that. And the mission that was nearby, and so I was like okay so there’s gonna be other things I can do here in the area and so I ended up bringing in the Methodist Church’s records.

And so there were institutional records more so than historical, because the Methodist Church keeps a lot of their birth and marriage and death certificates and books. So I kept mostly their institutional how that church started their board meeting minutes, things of that nature.

I started a collection for the library board as well, and just started doing more institutional archival collections that had to do with the library, the archives, the county that kind of thing that some work with the local Historical Commission, and then my next job after that was with the National Academy Western Heritage Museum and while I was there, my boss, noticed that I had had records management experience, and then when I was at Simmons, you did have an entire course, I want to say I had at least two, but at least one definitely at max two records management courses, and that’s when I started picking up oh this isn’t normal for people to have that background or at least have a semester of it.

So I counted myself really lucky at that point and she was like “Can you start getting the institutional archives together for this museum because they’ve never done it before.” And I was like “okay I’ll draw some, some policies and procedures and see if we can get started.” And then when I went to UT Arlington after that.

The same thing happened, they had a records manager that reported to the provost’s office I believe she’s still there. She was retired and thought that she would take a part-time gig. Nearby, that would occupy her time, her spare time, and ended up turning into a full-time position again for her. So, since I was the university archivist we were working in tandem to determine you know when you know records become archival and it was really kind of mind-boggling that the UT system doesn’t have a set retention schedule for all of its sisters, or you know subsidiary, universities, so it was kind of interesting that we each had to do them on our own.

And I found that in Texas that kind of happens a lot with institutions that have other you know sister institutions and other cities, that they don’t really, they don’t do it from like a system-wide each institution has to do it themselves, which is kind of frustrating, especially when you don’t have the staff to do that. And you don’t have the direction to do it, but what’s really amazing about Texas also is that the Texas State Library and Archives Commission does have retention schedules that are for colleges junior colleges local government, it’s all mapped out so all you have to do is pretty much double check with your departments that those are the records they create, which ones they don’t, wipe them out, cater it to your institution, and then you’ve got a retention schedule in place, but still a lot of work because you’ve got to confirm and meet with all those departments.

Departments have sub-departments, sub-sub-departments, and it can get really granular very fast and it kind of becomes a mess but when I went to the Witte Museum of San Antonio, I ended up doing the same thing building institutional archives because they had never I was the first archivist in their 82 year history at that time. So they had a lot of amazing archival collections, but they didn’t have anything documenting the institution itself. And they have plenty of material to be doing that and to have those collections in place so I started that there, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston already had an amazing institutional archives collection scope in place.

So, it was just a matter of continuing that and moving it forward and that’s how I found myself, you know at Houston Community College as a director of records management, And they also really had a great program in place too as far as the retention schedules go, we do create our subsidiaries but yeah that’s kind of how I made that transition is that, um, you know, being a single woman in your mid-40s And you start thinking about retirement and everything else you’re like, oh I need to start looking at this, and how to take care of myself with a single income. And I  had taken, my father passed away in 2016, so when I was in San Antonio, I needed to get back home to Houston to help my mom out and it always been a dream growing up in Houston to work at the museum of fine arts, Houston, and Lorraine Stewart had told me at the time that she needed an assistant archivist, somebody who you know hit the ground running and I needed a job there so I ended up taking a pretty sizable pay cut to get back to Houston. 

And when Lorraine left I realized how much she had been getting paid, after working there for 20 plus years. As the head of the archives of a major museum National Museum, and I was floored. I was just that I can’t believe it’s taken her that long to get over 80,000 in a prominent, I mean fourth largest city in the country, and a prominent Museum at that, and I wasn’t going to get things that happened after she left so I think the idea was that I, with my experience, would be able to move into that position but it, unfortunately, didn’t work out that way.

So I started looking at other options and a friend of mine told me about the HCC gig, and lo and behold, I was shocked when I got the call that, well not that I had gotten the job I was okay but I mean, when they told me that the compensation package, I was ready to negotiate, I was I had on my terms laid out, I was ready to go. And I’m still kicking myself because maybe I could have written negotiated more and more, but I was so shocked at the starting salary and I was like, oh my god Lorraine had worked 20 plus years in museums to get to 80, and they’re on, they’re offering me like, 81, and I off the bat, and I was just like, This is insane. I just couldn’t believe it. Just all that hit me at once on that phone call.

And then I thought, oh I have to actually answer this man. So, yeah. And then it dawned on me as like, but it’s just, I even knew what the range was but to think that you’d be offered you know, at that end. What I, the difference is just amazing and sad and really frustrating. But I thought you know I just can’t.

Now that I’ve, you know, taken care of my own personal goals I can’t just leave behind the things that I’ve been working on before because they’re still very important to me that you know especially we’re so academic heavy in the profession and SAA that just trying to look out for smaller nonprofits and other groups, and working on standardizing, to some degree or as much as we can, archival salary.

So, yeah, I’m still trying to work on that as much as I can. But yeah, that’s how I transitioned. It was basically pay, and opportunity, and I actually do enjoy records management. I miss archives. 

I’m actually building the HCC archives right now because they just had their 50th anniversary and they’ve never built anything either. They started as another school in the ’20s which split off into the University of Houston and Texas Southern and they just never, they never. They just formed their own archives that those two institutions. And so, I think he’s the public library has some of the materials as well, but you know they still produced when the HCC started in the ’70s and so, yeah, I’ve been working on that and working with Erica Hubbard, who’s our Director of libraries who’s amazing, they have a fashion archives which is astounding that a junior college would have a fashion archives, it was donated by a local family and a local socialite and then her friends start donating, and there are just some amazing pieces in that collection so I noticed that digital preservation was an issue at this institution and it seems like records managers, there have been so many webinars out there right now in the REM world that have to do with digital preservation because I don’t think out so many of them have been wrangling with just electronic content management, that they haven’t really I think started looking towards preserving things that are 10 plus years or permanent.

So, I, that was a goal of mine since I first got here, and we’re about we’re working on phase two of our digital preservation system. And so that should be up and running pretty soon, and I’m hoping that that will help out with our essential records program as well.

But yeah, it’s been great, making the switch in, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I still think I’m an archivist at heart.

Woody [0:16:50] Yeah, I think it never really quite leaves us.

Gonzales [0:16:55] Yeah.

Woody [0:16:56] You’ve had quite a career thus far, like how much you got jam-packed in there it’s full of good stuff.

Gonzales [0:17:05] Yeah, there for a while those uh, it was 10 years of a lot of moving. I got really good at packing and moving, and figuring that out, but yeah, most of it was upward mobility and moving for upward mobility and jobs and it was really funny when I got the job at the cowboy my boss said to me my first day on the job she said, I’m not paying you enough. I can’t pay you what you deserve, and you deserve a lot more than what we can. And, but I’m going to do everything I can for you regarding professional development, I’m going to send you to whatever you want to go to whatever we have money for I’m going to send you to, you’ll go with me on donor visits. I’ll do whatever we can to boost so that we can get you another job that’s, you know, I was like, This is my first day on the job, he always tried to get me another. I just moved here. I drove eight hours. But yeah, it’s been interesting, to say the least, to see how different academics and museums, and how they function, especially here in Texas and other places I’ve worked.

So, yeah, I don’t think you quite see the regional differences until you’ve actually moved around some and seen it, and graduate school just really doesn’t prepare you for that.

Woody [0:18:23] That’s the truth.

Gonzales [0:18:24] Absolutely.

Woody [0:18:25] This is not an official question, so let me know if it’s okay if we ask it on the record, but you had touched on salary advocacy, especially as it was pertinent to your story.

Is it okay if I ask you a question about it because, from my perspective, that was one of the things you went into Council with as one of your priorities. And I know it’s been something you’ve championed for us. Is it okay if I ask you, why you did that and why it was important to you?

Gonzales [0:18:54] Sure. So when Rebecca Goldman, asked me to be on the steering committee, I think it started tweeting, and I was on the A&D listserv there for a bit, when a lot of people were, you know, just pick yourself up by your bootstraps and look I’m tired of these answers, and they’re in 2011 and she, you know, all that was going on.

And I don’t know if that’s how I got on her radar. But Rebecca called me, or, or even contacted me about being on the steering committee, to create the bylaws for the students and new archives professionals roundtable. Oh, at the time we’re on the table now section, and so I joined that because I thought this is gonna be a great group. Oh my gosh, she’s got so much impetus and steam behind her and I’m really passionate about this. So they didn’t feel at the time that we were getting any. I don’t see any but it just seemed like we were getting the same answers over and over and over again. And I also kind of wanted to steer away from the whining and actually doing, or what was perceived as whining. And actually, because perception is everything and unfortunately that was coloring a lot of things.

So I thought well let’s see what this group does and see if we can’t, you know, make some strides and get some action, actual action done and be I ended up being the I think second chair of the group. And while I was there, you know, just a salary and certified archivist and masters, and what do we do and why do we have all this, and there are so many questions coming out of it and people having, you know, not enough jobs, not enough well-paying jobs not enough upward mobility, how do we, you know, and if you don’t want to become a manager, which is perfectly fine. Do you just sit in the same job and just wait to get increases that never come, or might come, you know, and there’s no guarantee of anything, and what you know is pretty much a lot of professions have those same issues, but I just felt like we, the profession itself wasn’t working on that at the time, and when you’re new you don’t really know of any historical swings or things that have happened in the past so I started reading up.

And, you know, being in the museum world, I noticed that they, you know, have certified. You can be—I’m certified, and a lot of museums do like that they get accredited, and I started looking at their, you know, archival components. I started realizing that directors love to say that you know we’re an accredited museum or accredited institution. And then I started realizing they like to tell people I was a certified archivist and they don’t really realize what that means, I think, but they would be just, oh and we have a certified archivist, just because they like to be able to say they have something certified because it sounds fancy right, so I thought well why don’t we putting this on individuals who can’t afford. I don’t have enough money, I’m lucky enough that my institutions have always paid for my memberships, I actually negotiated that at one point into my job that she was like well we don’t, we’re not having good luck. Nobody’s going anywhere and that’s when I said “I’m sorry I have to go to these conferences. So if you want me and can’t pay me enough, you’re going to pay to send me to these things” and I was the only person at the time that was going, and they’re like, how did you make this happened and we’re gonna negotiate it into my contract, I mean they’re like oh I didn’t even think like what also was hired at the right at that time when that was happening so I could, so I highly recommend doing that if you can so that you’re, you have it on paper that your institution will pay for your memberships and will pay for conferences, especially the big ones. SSA to study stuff was archivist when I haven’t been able to attend those are usually low enough in costs, that, you know, I could pay for them myself, which was great. And so, you know your regionals are always, always amazing to turn to you as well I love regionals.

But anyway, yeah so I started reading up on that and kept thinking, you know, why aren’t we holding institutions accountable? Why is it always coming from individuals, we can’t afford I mean, to attend all the conferences to get the points to obtain our certification without taking the test and then paying the $50 every year and then doing this and doing that? And then, you know institutions not counting it because it’s certification, and they don’t consider that, you know, the institution shouldn’t pay for those. You got to pay for them out of pocket, and then, oh but they love to say hey we got a certified person, but, um, so yeah, there’s just all these, these red flags that were going up that just doesn’t make any sense and why are we putting the onus on the individual when the institutions are the ones with the money.

And I started reading, and notice that you know this has come up in the past before about sort of about institutional certifications, and you know we do have the digital archives, you know, the MIT designation, but how many are able to get that too because we do have the resource of this as users have the resources to actually get certified for that. And that’s one very specific thing. It’s not accreditation for the archives as a whole. And to be, so we don’t have trusted digital repositories, but we don’t have trusted physical repositories.

And so this whole relationship that we start with donors, and with our communities is based on just blind trust. Oh, we’ve always been here, we’ve always done this we have these policies and procedures. But what actually backs up and supports those policies and procedures just the institution is these two institutions getting money from the state, are they getting the support that they need to show that this stuff will be around whenever you know, I mean, how do you, there’s nothing stating that we as an institution have checked off all these things and have been certified by a governing body that will back us up or support us.

So then I start reading about all the issues that are involved with that I had some really good conversations when I was in San Antonio with Kathleen Roe, and Kathleen recommended that I either find someone on council, that would be an ally and hear me out or either getting council myself, so I was like, oh okay, I’ll just start advocating for myself to be council, and it worked, and I thought okay so and then at that same time, the working group on archival compensation started working, which I’m still floored by it so many people in an unofficial like non-professional org backed group got together to do all that work, which just makes my heart sing, but, yeah, while I’m on council I can support these people and I can try and get these things going and see what we can do to get it done.

And when I tried to put forth the salary transparency in December of 2019, and it didn’t pass. They wanted more information, and we’re like okay well we can get a task force together to put more information to create a packet of recommendations if that’ll make y’all feel better.

And that was agreed so I drafted it that day and night, during the council meeting with Stephen Booth, and I want to say the Audra Eagle Yun also helped me on that and perhaps Courtney Chartier. I can’t remember but yeah, drafted that task force charge, got it going, and got it approved that year and then April of last year is when Gretta Pittenger was you know, assigned as chair we got the group together.

And so they’ve been working, we’ve been working for the last year on recommendations and other things, and it’s just, yeah, and then, of course, we got salary transparency passed in May. After I think I presented that was the third time I presented it to council.

So, yeah, I’m kind of that guy. I don’t mind being obnoxious or annoying as long as I can try and get things done, because you know it’s just about being heard, so it’s amplifying your own voice, sometimes, even if you’re that guy, so I just I have no shame, which I think helps, but, um, you know, it is what it is, I think as you get older you just have less to give in. And you wake up in the morning like you know what, I, I’m just going to make it happen. I’m going to try and make this happen so yeah, and it’s not done, I mean there’s so much work to be done.

And I’m, I’m really looking forward to our new executive director who we just hired SAA just hired because she’s already very aware of those, those issues, so I’m looking forward to seeing where SAA goes next and establishing and helping people regarding salaries. So, yeah, it just, I hate that I’m rolling off and you know can’t continue with that perspective, but it’s, it’s nice knowing that I still have contacts and networks that I could sit with and talk to and possibly get things moving if we need to.

Woody [0:27:33] Well thank you for so much labor that you have done on everyone’s behalf, trying to get that in front of council, multiple times, and for finally giving that victory on salary transparency so just thank you so much for being a champion of that.

Gonzales [0:27:49] Oh thanks. That really means a lot. Thank you.

Woody [0:27:52] What’s the craziest thing you’ve found in the archives?

Gonzales [0:27:55] It had nothing to do with the collections when I was in that small town in Texas, South Texas. I was in the public library and it was basically a conference room it had been converted into the archives and reading room, and it was right by the back exit door and I don’t know if I grew up in the Gulf Coast, on the Gulf coast which is more humid than even South Texas, just inside on the Coastal Bend, and it gets really hot and dry, and I guess this poor little guy was just like, I’m hot, I need to go somewhere cold and so I will, I got into the archives that morning, and open the door, and there was a coral snake stuck in a trap, a sticky trap. And I was like, Oh, I was like oh, red and yellow killer felt like I had to actually remember the line because I thought I don’t want to touch this, but I think it might be okay. And I was like no, this is, this is a bad noodle.

So, yeah, I ended up having to call someone to get some help, but I felt so bad for the poor thing too because it was stuck on. That’s got to be a horrible way to go being stuck on these little traps, but I just kept thinking, Oh my god, I found a snake, a deadly snake, of course in the archives. 

I want the Hertzberg collection at the Witte Museum was also just amazing from the standpoint that I had gone as a kid, you know, I was always going to San Antonio because my paternal grandmother lived in South Texas and so we would always go down to see her for the summer and then drive up through San Antonio on the way out, we’d hit, you know all the things. And one of the things we’d always do was the wedding, and the Breckenridge Park and the zoo, and the Hertzberg circus museum was right there on the Riverwalk. And lo and behold, when they shut down in the late 90s The Hertzberg. Will said that the city would get the service collections. 

And so, while I was there we were moving to a much nicer storage facility. Actually, my Twitter picture is from working in the nasty commissary that was the old storage facility. There was black mold, there were rats, and there are rats in the basement, like underneath. But anyway, working with the Hertzberg collection that the posters and surface collection and rehousing those. I was always finding something every day that I was like oh my god my Instagram is gonna be insane because I’m just taking photos every day of these, these posters or things that my museum site collections, people in the collections management, my peers were finding over there and I also had to go to a funeral home once, which was kind of weird because they still have the equipment with the fluids in it to like you know when the. Yeah, so working in that area was kind of, I’ve worked in some funky areas.

Woody [0:30:56] Yeah.

Gonzales [0:30:59] Yeah, it was fun for me just things I’ve heard when there are my little baby coffins in the corner and you’re trying to like put newspapers and obituaries together and box them and get them out of there and you’re like, this is kind of creepy but it’s also weird how quickly you acclimate and then it’s like oh it’s just the baby coffin in the corner I’m just not going to look at that anymore, surprise, I didn’t have nightmares for months, but yeah, it’s part of the job I guess other duties as assigned for archivists.

Woody [0:31:30] Yeah, maybe coffins, they don’t tell you about that.

Gonzales [0:31:33] No, yeah, another thing grad school. Yeah embalming fluid just, You know, yes.

Woody [0:31:40] Okay, last question for you, Melissa. With COPA, part of our major activity is promoting outreach, awareness, etc. So with that in mind, the last question is, how do you engage your audiences?

Gonzales [0:31:58] I always try to engage people, I think, a lot, like I said earlier, I have no shame. But I also believe in transparency as much as can be done. I mean, obviously, we’re always going to be, especially with council and everything else there are things happening on the back end that, that, you know, you can’t release right away cuz you’re still working on it it’s not finalized. You don’t want to get anybody’s hopes up. You don’t want to do things, but I truly believe in being as transparent as possible. And I encourage people to read meeting minutes, I encourage people to ask to show up to council meetings, because there’s a lot going on there that you don’t get to see, and sometimes when you just see the meeting minutes in the end, they’re very dry, you don’t get to hear the conversations or discussions, also to see how the people you’ve elected, how they’re speaking on your behalf, how they’re, you know, I tried to always keep that in mind as far as audiences are concerned. I know that we are as an org from a leadership perspective and from an SAA leadership perspective, even SSA, you know, I have to think that people looked at me for a certain reason. And that’s to represent them. Also, I don’t want to leave out everybody else. So I try to look at those perspectives as well. But I just by being as honest as possible, even if sometimes that’s blunt, because sometimes you got to put up a mirror for people to see that, you know, things got to change. But it also can’t change overnight. So as much as I would like, as we saw with the trends salary transparency, taking care of yourself when you’re doing all of that, and finding the right allies and support team, and just having your own network of people and standing back and helps out tremendously. If you have, I know it’s just kind of going in a different direction, but it’s what keeps me sane, to keep my audience in mind so that I don’t lose track of that, either.

So, I, I’ve always had support groups that are non-archivists, so I have a support group of librarian friends that I’ve worked with in libraries that are aware of some of the same similar situations and we’re all going through these, you know, similar situations in the library profession. So just being able to have a group that you can bounce ideas off of that you can go to event, so that I’m not doing that publicly because as angry as I get if I do post-event something publicly on social media, it’s because I want other people to see the ridiculousness. And see, look, look at this, this is, I mean you need to step back and look at what you just did. I think the 52 is a great example of that I don’t want to go too much into that because I probably already ticked off a lot of people but it’s one of those things where if you don’t realize that if you’re not thinking about it when you make those decisions, then having it brought to your attention.

And I tried to do that isn’t in a sterile a ways I could but also showing hey this is what this did, and I hope it helps people understand the future to be able to try and step back and look at things more holistically, I tend, I’m, I’m a typical Virgo and that I want to solve things, And so while somebody is talking to me and what things are going on. My brain is already trying to think of solutions or possible ways to help or possible ways to do things, or who to get together, or you know just trying to figure out ways to create solutions. And so I’m listening, I’m doing that.

And then at the same time though, I want to make sure that you get the right people together at the table and also get people who probably aren’t heard enough, and encourage them, which I know is difficult and some people don’t, you know, want to be involved in that and that’s fine. But you know, just, just trying to figure out how to get that going, and because of that I think it’s one of my weaknesses is that I do tend to actually, had a boss tell me this, that’s a strength and a weakness that I jump to act very quickly, because I’m already been working on things, and my brains been working overtime.

And then I want to add, but I’ve taught myself, and it’s a struggle, it’s always a struggle for me to step back and kind of look at it before I make a decision before I actually do the thing. So, I will say having a bullet journal has helped immensely because then I can write down all my ideas and things, so I don’t lose them because I think in the past that’s what I’ve been kind of afraid of is that all that stuff that’s going through my brain is going to go and I’ll forget, and then I’m like, and I didn’t act on it so it’s like, yeah. And so I think you know just being able to write it down. And keeping in mind, and then being able to refer back to it and know that, oh I wrote that back then I want to make sure I don’t lose track of that.

And this person said this in this meeting, or I was in this webinar and this person said that and I want to touch base with them about that. Yeah, so I tried, I know with my liaison groups and counsel for those that are more communicative, I’ve tried just kind of, hey, I’m here if you need me, let me know what you need. I’ve always told people, you know, feel free to reach out to me DM me on Twitter, you know, if you feel like you need help with anything let me know.

So as far as my audience, I just want to make sure that I’m still listening and paying attention to what’s happening and staying relevant, which I think is also what’s great about the profession, period, is that you’re always having to work on yourself professionally to stay relevant because things are changing so fast. And I think it’s the same thing with leadership, you just can’t walk in with an agenda or something in mind and forget about everything else or not pay attention to everything else, it because it’s all at some point going to work into, you know, you can’t do one thing without thinking how it’s going to affect us or affect that, for example, COPA, you know the archival task force is going to look have to look at public awareness at some point, how do we start advocating and do outreach and marketing?

And for, and bringing public awareness to our global salaries on a whole to people outside of our profession that like HR departments, I have no idea what it is we do. Yeah, they’re the ones creating the job descriptions, they’re the ones posting them. So you know we want to be able to keep in mind that you know, the Committee on Ethics and privacy COPA, you know, other groups you know who can we work with that, you know, is probably outside our specific scope, but are adjacent. So I think just doing that and keeping that in mind, is helpful, keeps you sane.

Woody [0:38:37] Thank you for sharing that. You’re incredible. I mean, all of your answers have so much great information but I particularly appreciate the dealing with the mindset that you have which I have sort of a similar like I get distracted thinking about how to fix it. Yeah, I’m also a Virgo so maybe.

Gonzales [0:38:58] Maybe that’s why is, it’s a con and a pro.

Woody [0:39:03] Yeah, yeah so I love your suggestion of like get it down on paper so that it, you know, it can live there and then maybe I can refocus a little bit better, because the listening is so crucial because not everybody thinks the way that you think.

Gonzales So yeah that’s the other thing too, it’s like I keep thinking oh well this person has, I know this person went to grad school, I know this person went two years and it’s like, but I don’t know what courses they took, I don’t know how they what they took away from it, I don’t know what their experiences are, or how that’s colored, the way they think, or, you know affected the way they think, or what they do.

And so but I just for the longest time assumed that everybody in the profession, got some kind of standardized background and it’s not true at all. And, which is great because that’s what makes our profession so diverse, and just listen to the different backgrounds, experiences that people have had you.

Yeah, I just, I just think being able to listen and it’s something I have to constantly work and I just want to shut up and listen, because I’m also a talker. So, yeah, I was that kid on the report card. She talks too much, great grades talks too much. So yeah, it’s, it’s just having to constantly remind myself to listen, which is why seriously bullet journaling, if anybody has any questions, feel free to send me, but oh my god you can go down the bullet journal rabbit hole, the next thing you know you’ve bought way too many markers rates many templates way too many rulers you’d like I don’t need all these things, but anyway. See, there I go digressing about bullet journals, but yeah definitely listening and putting the notes down.

Woody [0:40:36] Well thank you so much for your time.

Ask An Archivist: An Interview With Michelle Ganz

Join us as we celebrate American Archives Month by Asking An Archivist! Inspired by #AskAnArchivistDay, we sat down with five archivists to ask them about what they do—from “what is an archivist?” to “What’s the most creative public use you’ve seen with your collections?”—and explore daily challenges, successes, and everything in between.

Stay tuned because we’ll be sharing one full interview per week starting on #AskAnArchivistDay on October 13!

This is the title card for an interview with Michelle Ganz by COPA member Rachael Cristine Woody.

For our third installment of this mini-series, we’re excited to share a conversation with Michelle Ganz, partner to the founding of the Accessibility & Disability Section of SAA and Regent for Member Services for the Academy of Certified Archivists (ACA). Rachael Cristine Woody of the Committee on Public Awareness sat down with Ganz (virtually) for a video conversation on June 23, 2021.

Michelle Ganz has been a certified archivist for 15 years, receiving her MILS from University of Arizona. She has been a long-time activist, speaker, and leader in Disability Diversity and Inclusion within the Archival Profession. She has also held a number of Leadership roles within the SAA and was an integral partner to the founding of the Accessibility & Disability Section. In addition to working with the SAA Michelle has been involved with the ACA for over a decade and is currently the Regent for Member Services.

Video Interview


Ganz [0:00:03]Oh, my name is Michelle Ganz. I’m currently employed at the History Factory as a staff archivist, I was prior to this I was at McDonough Innovation and Lincoln Memorial University, and I’ve been an active member of SAA for about 15 years now. I’m currently the outgoing Chair of the Independent Archivist—oh sorry, the Accessibility and Disability Archivist Section, and I was a founding member of the Independent Archivist Section and past chair of Lone Arranger Section and I’ve been involved all over the place.

Woody [0:00:41] So just like a little bit involved.

Ganz [0:00:44] Yeah

Woody [0:00:45] Yes. Wonderful. Well, thank you for your service, in all of those sections, especially with the Independent Archivists and the Accessibility sections, they’re so critical, so thank you. For our first question I have, what is an archivist?

Ganz [0:01:04] So when I’m talking to people about what an archivist is, I usually start with we’re like librarians but very very specialized, and we work with documents rather than books, but we worked with both. When I’m talking to other archivists, I like to say that we are the protectors of history and the guardians of the truth. So it is important that we exist to ensure that history does not get changed, especially in the climate that we’re seeing nowadays where there’s a lot of revisionism happening archivists are critical to ensuring that the truth is, both protected and made known.

Woody [0:01:46] Those are great answers. I love, like the succinct example upfront with like a librarian but also like that current events tie in, I think is crucial so that, that’s a great answer. Thank you.

Ganz No problem.

Woody [0:02:03] Okay, question number two how and why did you become an archivist.

Ganz [0:02:10] So I came into the field, accidentally, when I was an undergrad at Ohio State University. I was applying for a job, a student worker and I thought I was getting a job at the University Library, and when I got to the interview I was like, “well this isn’t the library,” and I realized that I was at the University Archives and also well you know I’m student worker I need job easy to get to, I’ll take it. After two days working there, I looked around and I said, “You do this every day how do you, what is this job and how do I get into it?” and then Tamara Chute, who was the Assistant Archivist at the time and now she’s the Head of Archives at Ohio State, really mentored me into the field. She started getting all kinds of work that was more like what you would do as a grad student and then eventually right before I left I was actually helping with like putting together exhibits and answering reference questions, so she really kind of let me see what the field was like. And not only did I love it so much that I encouraged my best friend to ultimately go to library school. Yeah, by accident, but once I discovered it I realized that I’d been an archivist my whole life and it just came out that way.

Woody [0:03:21] I find that we tend to all have similar like origin stories for archives, “this place I landed in.” 

Ganz Good way to know if you want to be in the field or not.

Woody [0:03:35] Yes absolutely, and I also loved it, like you brought friends with you like this job is so cool you need to do it too.

Ganz [0:03:42] Oh yeah, like the second day of library school I called her I was like, go to library school right now and she’s like, I don’t know and I’m like no, no, no, right now. And now she’s the head of the cataloging department for the Columbus Public Library system.

Woody [0:03:57] Oh my gosh, that’s so cool. Awesome. Ok, third question for you, what’s the craziest thing you found in the archives?

Ganz [0:04:09] So, this is a great story. When I worked at Lincoln Memorial University we had a huge collection of Lincoln material. And we had a museum dedicated to him, and I was kept materials and you know just trying to make sense of everything and I run across this very tiny box. That’s like a shipping box and it’s still got the label and everything on it, and I opened it off, and there’s a piece of paper folded inside there, and it’s packing peanuts and I dig through it further and pull out a skull. And the piece of paper with it is a letter that was written by some fraternity members who said that they ran across Lincoln’s skull somewhere, and wanted to return it to its proper home.

The funny thing about this being, it was clearly a medical dummy because it had the spots where you wire everything together and it had numbers on it. And, and second of all, Lincoln skull is with the rest of his body under six feet in concrete in Indiana, and so it was just it was hilarious that these drunken guys had gone through so much effort to, to do this and so really the curator actually argued back and forth on whether we should keep or not because, clearly it’s not part of the collection, but it was so funny and they put so much effort into it and I was like, this is a testament to what people are willing to do when they realize that archives exist. So, hands down funniest thing ever.

Woody [0:05:36] That’s a good one I have definitely heard of, like, obviously you know human remains have ended up in some archives, but to have a non human remain. I mean, bless those frat boys. They tried right.

Ganz [0:05:55] And it was a great joke. I mean it’s still making me laugh today and it’s been 10 years. The grossest thing that I found, though, are those hair samples, and those pictures of dead babies and thinking for a while, those are just horrible.

Woody [0:06:11] Oh yeah, yes I think those, those and creepy dolls are for me. 

Ganz Yeah, especially the dolls with the eyes open and close.

Woody [0:06:25] Perfect. Well, those are our official questions. Is there anything else you wanted to share with us?

Ganz [0:06:34] So a thing that I’ve been talking about a lot recently is how we have access to more information than ever but people are less aware of how to you know discover factual information how to verify the information you’re getting is correct. And one of the things that I think archivists some tend to push off onto librarians is this whole idea of information literacy. And in the last three or four years I’m seeing archivists take a more, more, front and center stand them in and you know finding ways to teach our patrons, or people who are just interested in archival collections, what information literacy is, and I’m really glad to see us taking more of a leadership role in it as opposed to just punting it off to our librarian friends.

Woody [0:07:25] Yes, I’m so glad you brought that up, that is definitely something that, you know, critical thinking research skills, You know, information literacy skills all of those are, have always been important, but, you know, bringing them into the fold officially and being better at that would be a good step for us.

Ganz [0:07:43] Definitely, and I’m not seeing more people doing it organically, which makes me feel like, you know, it just couldn’t be par for the course given a number a couple years which, which I’m glad for. Oh, another thing I’m seeing a lot of is that because of COVID, we have discovered that we can offer archival services in a whole host of ways that we never thought of. Two years ago, and it’s also made it really great for recruiters because we’ve discovered that we can work from home, and accommodations can be made for people so all of a sudden we’ve gone from, I’m sorry we can’t do that. I know you have a disability, like the rule state that we have to do it this way and all of a sudden we’re saying, Well you know we can be a little bit more flexible in that what works for you and it’s making archival work a lot better for a lot of us. So, so that has been awesome to see and my hope is, is that we’re not going to just go back from the status quo. As we move back into the “normal” things and most institutions seem to be doing a really good job of folding those policies from COVID Just right into the new policies as we move forward so I’m glad to see that.

Woody [0:08:51] Yes, absolutely. In fact, follow up question for you, especially knowing your leadership in the Accessibility Section, what can we do as a profession and as colleagues to help make sure that we are moving those things forward and keeping people accountable?

Ganz [0:09:09] What I’m encouraging people to do is, is multi-level so if you’re in a position of leadership, absolutely lean hard on the fact that we have statistics to prove that we were just as, as productive if not more productive, last year than we were in years past, and if you’re just an employee. We’re not a lot so like when you’re, when we’re in meetings where we’re talking about, you know, well as we transition back to the office you know we’re gonna do this that and the other thing, pipe up with a question, you know, will we be able to continue to do this hybrid work-from-home-work-from-the-office situation which works really great for people with kids, for people who live with their parents, you know, a whole host of reasons for wall night. You want to make that easier to do and I’ve found that if you’re in a, you know, an HR meeting and you’re already talking about asking that question, is a really great way to get people go, you know, we haven’t thought about that, but maybe we should. 

And I’ve also noticed that people are using this as an opportunity to push back on things like parental leave, like we redid our whole policy here based on what was happening during COVID and the realization that we could take this opportunity to make things better for everybody on our staff, not just pregnant people so that was nice thing too is that we actually folded paternal leave into this, and adoption leave, And, you know, taking into consideration all the ways that families are made up, and making sure that we’re giving people the space that they need for that, and I really loved how one company, especially approached it in terms of language, so that nobody felt like it was you know that traditional, you know, heterosexual, family, family set-up, we really made sure to make everyone feel included and I loved that I was just so thrilled that they did it.

Woody [0:11:01] Yeah, that is great news. I love how you phrased it in terms of thinking about this last year and of course the hardships for a lot of people, but having taken the opportunity at least in the learnings from this last year to make things better for everybody moving forward.

Ganz [0:11:17] Exactly. And I know that that’s been, it hasn’t been uniform across the field, like I had hoped, but a fair number of repositories are using this as a way to take those giant steps forward that we usually tell people to try to avoid because I know when I’m counseling people on how to make things more diverse and inclusive, I tell them it’s not a giant leap, it’s 1000 Little steps, but in this case, it’s the opportunity to actually take a giant step, when everyone is comfortable with, you know, everything on a dime still so glad to see that people are taking advantage of that.

Woody [0:11:53] Yes, absolutely.

Ask An Archivist: An Interview With Dominique Luster

Join us as we celebrate American Archives Month by Asking An Archivist! Inspired by #AskAnArchivistDay, we sat down with five archivists to ask them about what they do—from “what is an archivist?” to “What’s the most creative public use you’ve seen with your collections?”—and explore daily challenges, successes, and everything in between.

Stay tuned because we’ll be sharing one full interview per week starting on #AskAnArchivistDay on October 13!

This is the title card for an interview with Dominique Luster by COPA member Katherine Barbera.

For our second installment of this mini-series, we’re excited to share a conversation with Dominique Luster, Founder and Principal Archivist at The Luster Company. Katherine Barbera of the Committee on Public Awareness sat down with Luster (virtually) for a video conversation on September 2, 2021.

Dominique Luster is one part archivist -one part researcher – full parts natural haired bourbon connoisseur, with a dash of genealogy for taste. Dominique has been working in the cultural heritage and memory fields for nearly 10 years. In this time, she’s come to be known as a champion for Black history and Black-centered storytelling.  After working at universities, libraries, and museums across the country, she came to understand that history is not merely a listing of events in chronological order. But rather, a meticulously curated phenomenon of power. All too often, the stories of marginalized communities are suppressed, oppressed, erased, or forgotten. With this as a north star, Dominique started The Luster Company to rechart that path. The Luster Company is an outpour of spirit by way of helping individuals and organizations uplift, honor, and tell stories that represent the lived experiences of the Black diaspora.

Video Interview


Barbera [00:00:02] All right, we are good to go. I’m Katherine Barbera, an archivist and oral historian at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’m also a member of the Committee on Public Awareness for the Society of American Archivists. Today, I have the privilege of interviewing Dominique Luster.

Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, Dominique. We are really excited to talk to archivists for #AskanArchivist Day this year. So, I have a couple of questions for you. Feel free to answer them however you choose. And I’m excited to hear what you have to say.

Luster [00:00:42] All right, thanks for inviting me.

Barbera [00:00:46] So what is an archivist?

Luster [00:00:49] An archivist is an individual who works with memory and history through its records, and that can be a person’s records, an organization’s records, a company’s records. But it is someone who works with memory and with history, and history record keeping through the vehicle of working with the documents, photographs, maps, oral histories that are left behind.

Barbera [00:01:32] So, with that in mind, how and why did you start working in archives, what got you interested?

Luster [00:01:42] I was a theater lighting design undergraduate student, actually, and I think many people know that, but I worked in lighting design for years before I got into archives, like in and out of school, before school, after school, all over the country. It was a really cool thing. And then when I came back from my Fulbright, I needed an on-campus job. And so there were student jobs available in the special collections library on campus. And it was actually I didn’t realize at a time, but I thought it was just an on-campus job. But it was a part of a program called The Learning Lab, which was managed by Stacie Williams, who’s in Chicago at this point. And it is an incredible program because none of the students in the program were history or English majors. It was all a variety of different students, pre-med students, pre-law students.

I was a theater student and what they did was to align subject specialty collections based on our interest. So, there were a lot of skills that we needed to be taught in terms of just processing. But the interest was connected to your major or to whatever you were interested in. So, for example, the very first collection that I processed was a playbill collection and I was a theater major. So I had a lot of knowledge and information about the plays and the playbills and the playbill company and all of this information.

But I had no idea how to process. I didn’t even know what processing was. The idea of what a subject that was, I think took me like a month to actually grasp because it just didn’t make sense. There was a lot of criticism, the technical aspects of the archival world that I had no idea even existed. I remember one day being like, oh, people have given this like, oh my gosh, this is the thing. And it just kind of opened up a whole other industry to me that I didn’t know about—library science.

I just didn’t know it existed. And I think that’s my own ignorance at the time. But I had a lot of mentors early on who kind of helped shape the career path following that first initial seed at the university special collections library.

Barbera [00:04:04] Interesting that you started out in theater, I had no idea. I really like hearing about archivists’ trajectory to the field. Everybody has a different story.

Luster [00:04:15] Yeah, thank you.

Barbera [00:04:17] It sounds like you’ve worked with a broad range of collections and materials over the years. What is the craziest thing that you found in a collection?

Luster [00:04:29] I found 20 dollars once and I have found hair, I have definitely processed collections where I have found like baby hair or like women’s hair that was like in a ribbon. And I think it was, if I remember correctly, I think it was like an early 20th century collection. I think was very it’s very, very common at that time to extend your sweetheart in the war a lock of your hair, and then the women would tie it in a ribbon. So I found that.

And then I think I’ve also found like a little of, like, baby’s hair, just like a little tiny lock of baby hair that was tied in a little ribbon. I think those are actually pretty standard. I think most archivists have those kinds of stories.

The craziest thing I think I have found is a pipe. Once I found a pip—like a smoking tobacco pipe—and I found the tobacco, that was great. And I remember we tried to take them to the supervisor, and at the time he was like, “Cool, I just I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with this but I will figure it out, I’ll just and it’s just kind of set it to the side and like, don’t touch that. We’ll figure it out.”

Barbera [00:05:51] What was the context? Do you ever figure out what the pipe was from or why it was in the collection?

Luster [00:05:58] I think it just belonged to the donor. It was just part of the donor, a situation in which the family kind of gathered up all the things in the office and all the things, you know, out of their study and whatnot and kind of donated it to the repository and maybe they just didn’t go through it very carefully. It was an incredibly mixed materials collection between manuscript materials, photographic materials, published book materials. There was a lot of things in there. And, so as I’m just kind of going through the boxes, I found a pipe. And then, as I kept going, maybe a box or two later, I found like a little baggie of the tobacco. And just like one of those little that little plastic bag.

Barbera [00:06:44] I have never found a pipe, but I have certainly experienced where it’s obvious they took whatever was on the desk and it all went into the box. We find all kinds of interesting things, sometimes eyeglasses or other personal materials or personal effects that they probably didn’t mean to include, but the entire contents of the desk or whatever it was.

Luster [00:07:06] They kind of just take the drawer and dump it into a banker’s box. I think if anybody ever is watching this and they’re like, “oh, I have a family member and we’re wondering about what we should do about their awesome materials.” You should call us and we will be glad to help you. Call your local archivist because it’s not always necessarily about just dumping everything into the box.

Contrary, I think, to popular belief. And let me know if you feel differently. But, contrary to popular belief, archivists are the best weeders of anybody that I know. I think there’s a misconception or there’s a perception, public perception that archivists, we keep all the things like we keep all the history or librarian, like we keep all the stuff and we have our boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff, which is true.

But, that stuff is like meticulously curated and I think any processing archivist has experience with whittling down a collection that might have started with 50 linear feet worth of boxes. But at the end of the day, you might have 40 feet or 35 feet. And so I think there’s this public perception that we are the keepers of all the things that we could just if you donate it to your local library, historical society, then they just keep all the things. That’s not true. Call us first because we will weed it and we will take out all of the extra things, all of the like, easily findable, published materials, a lot of those personal effects. We will give it back to you. We don’t want it.

Barbera [00:08:37] I completely agree with that, as we have to be really selective because you can’t collect everything. It’s just an impossible task. And so we’ve become very good weeders. And I think sometimes that surprises folks, exactly as you said, that we do. We’re very good at determining, alright, this is what we keep and this is what we don’t.

Barbera [00:09:06] So we’ve talked about what the craziest thing you’ve found is, do you have a favorite item or perhaps the most mysterious item from a collection that you worked with?

Luster [00:09:23] So I don’t know if I have a favorite item, I definitely favorited, I guess, the the Teenie Harris collection, while I was working there. I think it’s just such a special collection, the entirety of it.

It’s, you know, almost 80,000 photographic negatives. So it’s not like one thing in the collection. It’s the entirety of it kind of as a whole is very special. So it is probably, I don’t know, for life might be my favorite collection. It’s just an incredible body of work. But I don’t know if I could pick a favorite image out of it, I think that be way too hard. If you’ve seen any of the images in the Teenie Harris collection, it’s hard to find a favorite. So there’s that portion of the question, and then I want to make sure that I remember the second part of the question.

Barbera [00:10:19] If you found a mysterious item that had a story or something that really stood out in your mind from a collection.

Luster [00:11:58] One of the most mysterious things I’ve ever found were posters. They were assigned as a part of a project, posters from a blackface minstrelsy show collection. And it was through the kind of midsouth like the Kentucky region.

And it was the first experience that I had had with like up front and personal portions of that history. So it wasn’t necessarily a topic that I wasn’t aware of, but it was a topic that we often teach from a far distance in this country. There are, I guess, the education structure around blackface minstrelsy. It’s maybe very filtered, and when you’re working with the show posters, there’s no filtering, there’s no distancing. It’s very like it’s you and the posters. And when you start digging into the companies and you start researching the history behind the venues or the companies themselves or the troops that would do these shows.

And further, I would actually say when I found when I was looking into a particular poster that was an African-American troop doing blackface. Now, that was something that I wasn’t necessarily aware of. It wasn’t a cultural aspect that I was very familiar with. So it was very surprising and mysterious that this whole culture existed, that I had no idea.

Barbera [00:13:41] That sounds like quite an intense experience. It was kind of a new one in terms of direct exposure to primary sources that, like you said, there’s often some distance from.

Luster [00:13:59] Yeah, absolutely.

Barbera [00:14:01] Do you have any thoughts for those who are encountering collections like that themselves for the first time?

Luster [00:14:15] I do. And I would say because it often ties into the work that I do now is very up close and personal with the Luster company. It is the storytelling of people who are interested in Black narrative in whatever format that may take, and we can’t guarantee or promise what form that will take [phone ringing]

We can’t guarantee or promise what form that will take or what we’ll find, and it can often be jarring or surprising to say the best, upsetting to say the most, just distraught, I think is also a word that happens.

But when you come when patrons or when clients are in everyday individuals who started out searching for, say, their ancestry and they are descendants of the enslaved, they often there’s this catch point when you have a name and a plantation and a price and a slave owner name. And when all of those records become very real and you can often even—I can give you the address of where that plantation, that house is now, if it’s still standing, when you get down to those details and they’re very, very real and you say here is your mother’s name and that mother’s name and that mother’s name and that mother’s name, who was born in 1842, is an enslaved woman on this plantation. And here is how much she was like when you have all of those details, it becomes very real and very upsetting. There’s not really a separation from it.

Luster [00:16:03] Sometimes it hits you right then and there. Sometimes it does take a while. I’ve seen people respond down the road maybe a week, maybe a month later. You just kind of have to breathe through it, whether you’re an archivist or not. I have found, especially with Black archivists or Black clients working on their ancestry, there is a certain strength that comes through the knowledge and you have to go through it. You just can’t you can’t go around it. You kind of just have to push through it and just let it sit. And it does move. It’s not immovable. The feelings are not immovable. They just move slowly. And if you just accept that that’s the case and know that you’re doing just fine, you’re just letting it move at the pace that it moves. It does kind of wrap in a way that allows you to find space and breath and just kind of ease that you may not have felt at first.

Luster [00:17:11] So I guess it’s a long, very convoluted way of saying that all things pass, all things get not easier, but become more normalized. I think the more that we say their names, the more that we accept them in our hearts and in our minds and in our spaces when you’re dealing with difficult material. It’s going to upset you. It just you kind of have to allow yourself to be upset and let it move through at the pace that it’s going to move through if you try to force it it’s not something that you can force, especially when you have record books or when you have deed books. Those are very difficult when you have. Like, I don’t know, slave records from army enlistment, things like that, they have a certain effect on the individual and it just have it will move slowly, but it will move.

Barbera [00:18:13] I really appreciate what you just shared about that experience and how much care and attention it sounds like you’re placing, in your current work, around the folks that you’re working with and how you engage your audiences and help them through the process of working with materials that may be difficult or upsetting. So along those same lines, in your current work, how do you engage your audiences if you could expand upon what you said a little bit?

Luster [00:18:53] So this is the how I, there are places in one’s own business that one can always grow and improve. and engaging with audience is certainly one of them.

I’ve come from a career of having a marketing department, or an outreach and education department or all of these things, editors and all of this extra amazing support. And when you are in the entrepreneur space, you do all the roles like you are the main person and the support person, and the customer person and the marketing person and you are all the things and I definitely something that I want to be able to do is to connect and reach out to the community here, and, and be more present to show up more online to show up for out in the world. And to engage, I really want to get engaged in social media, but I struggle to engage in social media personally. And so from a business standpoint, I’ve seriously struggled to engage. But I am working on it. And you know, anybody has any tips or tricks on how to engage better out in the world, with audiences who are interested in history.

So that’s the other thing is that building a business, and engaging with people in a virtual space that is very immediate, and has a lot of instant gratification, forming and shaping an interest in historic records, particularly in those that uplift the Black experience. It’s not immediate, it’s not instantly gratifying. And as I think many archivists can attest to doing the work, it can take a long time.

So whether it is processing a collection with a personal client, or doing an ancestry, genealogy, genealogical work with a client, or helping the local community’s school district prioritize their records, it all takes a lot of time. We could be working on school district papers for four months, and there just may not be a lot to talk about in the meantime.

And so how do you engage. And this is something that if anybody has tips and tricks out there shoot them my way, but shoot them my way on Instagram, because if you send them my way on Twitter, I probably won’t see it. I’m on Twitter, I tried to be more active on Twitter, I know I need to just set aside time to be on Twitter. But we’re all just being honest today.

Barbera [00:21:32] A lot of archivists can relate to the tension you’re describing between the immediacy of social media, and the slow and careful nature of archival work that often characterizes what we do every day. You don’t see the results of our work right away. It may take weeks, it may take months, sometimes it takes years to find whatever it is you’re looking for, or to process a collection, or to provide access to that collection. And so I appreciate that you shared that tension because I think a lot of archivists feel that.

And actually, it really hits home for ask an archivist day because that is part of the reason we’re hosting this event is to give archivists like you and others a platform to engage with audiences in a medium that they’re familiar with, but also be transparent about some of the challenges that we face or the interests that we have or just the day to day struggles of the work that we’re doing. So I really appreciate that you shared that. That was perfect.

Barbera [00:22:48] You’ve talked about some of the different collections that you’ve worked with over the years. And because #AskAnArchivist Day has an outreach focus, what is the best or most creative public use you’ve seen of collections or of a collection that you’ve worked with? It could be either, but a public use that you’ve seen, that you went, oh, that’s really interesting. Or, wow, that was really impactful.

Luster [00:23:18] Let me think. Because I’ve seen a lot of cool things. Am I allowed to say something that I’ve done that I think has been one of the coolest thing since sliced bread?

Barbera [00:23:37] Yeah, absolutely. Go for it.

Luster [00:23:39] I don’t necessarily want to toot my own horn, but I will say previously I had the opportunity to partner with one of the local high school teachers, and it was a 9th grade civics class.

This teacher, if I had a teacher like this when I was in high school, I probably would have become an archivist. I don’t know, 2 years sooner than I did. I mean, it’s she’s just she’s just absolutely amazing. Her students adore her. The school I mean, she was absolutely fantastic. And she taught high school world civ. And she taught it from the vantage point of activism and personal responsibility, and so I got to partner with her for many years, I think we probably co-taught this class for three or four years. And so it was fantastic.

It was a class on change agents and social change. And so what we did was we would bring in materials from the Teenie Harris collection in these prints. So we had access to hundreds of prints like matted prints from previous collections. And I would go through them after reviewing with what syllabus was and we would go I would go into class and I’d have my prints, but I would put them on the easel. So actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. She would put up a Teenie Harris image on the board, on the projector, and it was really zoomed in. It was zoomed in. Let’s say it’s a 4 x 5 negative. It was zoomed in on like 1 inch. And the students gave feedback on what it was. It’s a clock or something. It’s a calendar. And then she zooms out a little further and that gives them a little bit more context.

So they start adding on pieces of information, starting to make inferences. She zooms out a little more, a little more. And so with each zooming, the students kind of add on what’s going on with this photograph. So then we take that photograph and I have my first print. So I reveal the first print and they’re connected. The students don’t quite know that it’s connected yet, but they are connected. And so we I give them only what’s necessary to understand the photograph. As the archivist, I know the back story, the cut line behind it, the people in it, but I don’t mention any of that. I let the students kind of start putting things together based on context, clues between the photograph that they’ve seen on the screen and the photograph that’s standing in front of them. I also get them out of the seats and like, come closer, come look at the photograph. You can interact with it. So we have a discussion. What do you see? What do you infer? What do you see? What do you observe? What do you infer? And then we add another print. OK, so now you have to and then we add another one and another one.

I think eventually we end up with four or five prints and it actually we hope we don’t give them context. That’s not necessary. We let them figure it out based on their own inferential skills. And it’s to kind of noodle that out of them. But by the end of the class, we’re having conversations at the 8th and 9th grade level on redlining, gerrymandering and gentrification. It is a great class. It always leaves me on fire every single year. And we would do it for every class period that day. And in the kids came to know that this was this was a thing in the school that this lady comes in with her prints and and we would change it up based on what was going on in the world, because we could always connect a current day event to something in the Teenie Harris collection from 50, 60, 80 years ago.

So we would have these very rigorous conversations around really complicated topics at the 8th and 9th grade level. Based on what do you see, what do you observe, what do you infer? And we would zoom out from one photograph to maybe like 5 or 6 and the kids do all the work. And it was amazing.

I was always blown away by things that they would teach me. It was it was a really cool way to kind of integrate, whether it was a Ahmaud Arbery or the census or other forms of gentrification that were happening in their neighborhoods, whatever it was that was in the news that they were hearing on social media or whatever was going on in the news at the time, we were able to connect to the collection in a very direct and clear way. It wasn’t a stretch like they could see it. So they’re now making connections to their own neighborhoods, to their own families. And it was very it’s still by far one of my favorite teaching with primary sources activities.

Barbera [00:28:42] Sounds like an incredible experience. Yeah, I love the activity you just described, it sounds really, really great. Well, thank you for sharing your time today. It’s been really great to hear about your experiences and the different collections that you’ve worked with over the years. And that class sounds fantastic.

If folks watching this want to see some of the collections that you’ve mentioned, where would they find them?

Luster [00:29:14] So a couple of cool places to check out. First and foremost is the Teenie Harris Collection at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. It is an absolute gorgeous photography collection. Still to this day, my main squeeze. I absolutely love that collection.

There are also really fantastic collections, if you’re interested, at the Schomburg in New York as a part of the New York Public Library system. If you are also interested, feel free to check out the African and Africana studies collections at UNC Chapel Hill. And there’s also a few collections at Duke as well. They have two really fantastic collections in the triangle there. There are really great, fantastic collections everywhere.

The final one that I’ll mention is in Washington, D.C. at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. I think we’ve shortened it to NMAAHC. I’m not sure if other people have done that, but I certainly have. But they absolutely have a great collection and they also have really wonderful tools in their personal what’s it called—they have this lab that they will actually help patrons digitize and conduct family oral histories, digitize your family photographs and help you kind of take the reins in your family to help you do that work. They do all the metadata like, their labs in D.C. are very, very helpful and expansive to just the everyday individual or to any family who’s looking to kind of get help from archivists. Feel free to contact me or anybody with COPA. Anyone with SAA we’d be happy to help you out. And thank you so much.

Barbera [00:31:08] And for the work you’re doing now, if folks want to learn more about your business, what is the name and how do they get in touch with you?

Luster [00:31:17] Absolutely. If anybody is—the way I describe it is the Luster Company is your partner if you have a passion for Black storytelling as much as I do. And that’s about it. Those are the only requirements if you have a love and an interest for Black stories, Black history, Black storytelling in any way, shape or form. Give me a call. You can check out the website at “” and you can follow along on any social media platform at the Luster Company. Dominique[at] if you want to email me. The “” for the website or on any social media.

Barbera [00:32:03] Great. Thank you so much, Dominique, it’s been very fun hearing about your experiences and all the collections that you’ve worked with over the years.

Luster [00:32:12] Thank you so much for having me.

Art as a Representation of Native American Resiliency: Samantha Manz on the Minnesota Historical Society’s Native American Artist-in-Residence Program

This is the latest entry in our Archives + Audiences series, which features the perspectives of archival audiences – scholars, journalists, filmmakers, artists, activists, and more – for whom archives have been an important part of their life and work. In this post, COPA Member and Archivist, Angie Piccolo interviews Samantha Manz (Cherokee Nation)  about the Minnesota Historical Society’s Native American Artist-in-Residence program (NAAIR.) Manz is the collections associate for the Minnesota Historical Society’s Native American Collections and program associate for NAAIR.

AP: Please tell us about your program.

SM: The Native American Artist-in-Residence program is funded by the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies and we work with Native American artists from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. They don’t have to be tribal enrolled members, but they do have to be affiliated with a tribal nation. When I say artists, we’re not working with fine arts artists, we’re working with people who are learning about traditional arts, such as beadwork and quillwork.

This year we have an artist who is learning how to make traditional Dakota dugout canoes and birchbark canoes. A few years ago, Denise Lajimodiere (Ojibwe) learned how to birchbark bite, which had almost been lost. So we try to work with artists who are working with the type of traditional art form that is almost lost to the community.  

In a pre-Covid world, we would have two artists-in-residents, but this year we have three artists who are studying jingle dresses, canoes, and quillwork. In addition to the artist-in-residency, we have the Encouragement Grant and this supports younger and upcoming artists. The Encouragement Grant allows them to visit the Minnesota Historical Society Collections and buy supplies.. We try to provide a lot of feedback for artists too, because a lot of them are community members and applying to the NAAiR program can seem intimidating and discouraging. And if they are rejected, then they won’t want to reapply and that’s not our goal. 

Framed square birchbark biting design of a large floral flanked by many dragonflies. Made by Denise Lajimodiere, Turtle Mountain Ojibwe, in 2015-16 during her time as a Minnesota Historical Society Native American Artist-in-Residence. 2016.108.7 (Accession Number)

Over the years,  we have acquired pieces from different artists. We allocate $7,500 per artist for MNHS Collections to acquire contemporary items.  For example, April Stone (Ojibwe) is a black ash basket weaver and we only have one piece from her in our collections. She made a traditional Ojibwe black ash burial basket. We were able to buy several smaller pieces from other artists. So it depends on the artist. 

Additionally, part of the artist’s contract includes public programming. In the past, artists have conducted three public programming events, but this year we are only requiring two public programs. Artists can host public programs on their reservations, community centers, and at MNHS.

When people come to these events, we have them answer a few questions of what they learn and then we keep track of all of that. Right now, the program is shifting to thinking less about the artist’s interactions with the community and more of how we’re impacting the community on a whole. Sometimes for artists, working with their community means taking on an apprentice and teaching them. So we’ve had a few artists in the past who’ve had an apprentice who’s learned from them and came with them to look at our Native American collections.

Sometimes the artists go and look at other museums, like the Minneapolis Institute of Art. One year we had an artist who went to the American Indian Museum in DC, and looked at their collections. We try to combine collections research with traditional Native American art. So they’re learning from the collections, we’re learning from them, and then they’re going out and teaching the rest of their community.

 AP: What are some challenges that are unique to this program?

SM: I think right now, especially with Covid, it’s harder. In the past we’ve been able to go out to community members, like different reservations in the area or in South and North Dakota, and do application workshops and answer questions, which is harder to do in Covid. So that’s one challenge and the other challenge is whether or not we’re able to support them with what we have in our collection. So I think those are the two biggest challenges. Also having to reject artists even if their work is beautiful and we love it. It’s harder to get them to reapply, especially because they’re community artists versus fine art artists who are used to applying for such big grants. So we’re trying to bridge that gap between what’s a community artist and how we define artists.

AP: What do you like most about your job?

Table accent fully beaded with plants indigenous to the Great Lakes region. Made by Minnesota Historical Society’s Native American Artist-in-Residence Jessica Gokey, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. 2015.35.1 (Accession Number)

SM:  I really love interacting with the artist when they come in and look at our collections, the things that we learn from them, and what they learn from us. I think it’s a really great opportunity to see how these objects are living in a lot of ways because there’s so much knowledge within objects. Particularly with 3D objects, there’s so much cultural knowledge within them, as well as traditional knowledge.

The artists are able to learn from objects in ways that non-Native artists can’t. That goes for really any artist who comes in to look at our collections. They’re able to teach us things about what they know from their community, and then we add it to our database. I think it really shows that the objects and collections are living and we can learn from them in the same way that they can learn from us.

AP: What are some of your goals for the future of this program?

SM: I think in a lot of ways, how can we continue to help grow this program? What do we want it to look like in the future? Do we want it to continue to grow? How do we want to capture community development? I would love to see more work within the Twin Cities as well, and particularly with the youth. I think we have so many great Native organizations and in the Twin Cities where we can work on combining art and sovereignty and getting people more involved on a day-to-day basis versus just having the artist. I would love to do more community engagement with it.

AP: What do you hope people (both the artists and audience) take away from this program?

SM: For artists, it’s great to see them take this grant and then continue to apply for other grants and have other amazing opportunities and showcase their work in other museums and continue to show in contemporary and more mainstream institutions. I think it’s great to see Native artists participate in some of these mainstream museums that we don’t see and for people to see native artists on a daily basis. For the Native people who feel disconnected, they are able to take these opportunities to learn and grow in their communities and cultures and reconnect with them. 

For non-native people to be able to interact with Native artists and learn more about native history, Native arts and see that on a daily basis and see that represented fully. There’s all these representations of Natives as stoic and daunting. I think having those representations challenged is great and to see the vibrancy of the material culture really shows how resilient Native communities are.

Link to the webpage: Native American Artist-in-Residence Program | Minnesota Historical Society (

Ask An Archivist: An Interview With Bridgett Pride

Join us as we celebrate American Archives Month by Asking An Archivist! Inspired by #AskAnArchivistDay, we sat down with five archivists to ask them about what they do—from “what is an archivist?” to “What’s the most creative public use you’ve seen with your collections?”—and explore daily challenges, successes, and everything in between.

Stay tuned because we’ll be sharing one full interview per week starting on #AskAnArchivistDay on October 13!

This is the title card for an interview with Bridgett Pride by COPA member Rachael Cristine Woody.

For 2021 #AskAnArchivistDay and our fist installment of this mini-series, we’re excited to share an interview with Bridgett Pride, Reference Librarian for the Manuscripts Archives and Rare Books Division as well as the Arts and Artifacts Division of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Rachael Cristine Woody of the Committee on Public Awareness sat down with Pride (virtually) for a video interview on Friday, June 25, 2021 to talk about becoming an archivist, the stereotype of archivists as gatekeepers, and more.

Bridgett Pride is a part of the inaugural class of fellows Rare Book School for Cultural Heritage, focusing on Black collections and zine making. Bridgett received her MLIS, and a MA in History from Simmons University in 2018. She was a part of the Diversity, Equity, Race, Accessibility, and Identity in LIS (DERAIL) forum, and served as the 2018 project manager. Bridgett was awarded the 2018 Kenneth Shaffer Outstanding Student Award for student leadership. She studies American women and their intersectional identities with gender, race, and class in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Video Interview


Pride [0:00:03] Hi my name is Bridgett Pride, and I am the reference librarian for the manuscripts archives and Rare Books division, and the art and artifacts division of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black culture.

Woody [0:00:20] Thank you. And our first question for you is how slash why did you become an archivist, what’s your origin story?

Pride [0:00:30] So I wanted to become an archivist, because I was a literature major and then a history major, and I was always very frustrated by the complicated nature to which I’m doing any type of research was when I was looking for Black voices, particularly the voices of Black women who are also Queer so basically I was looking for myself. And so I decided that the best way to solve that problem was to make sure that those voices were elevated and accessible. And so I went to library school to do that and do that every day now at the Schomburg Center.

Woody [0:01:25] I love that answer. Thank you. Second question for you. How do you engage your audiences?

Pride [0:01:33] As the reference librarian of two research divisions of a public library but an archive within a public library, I have the wonderful opportunity to get to teach. So I have classes that come in from a New York from Philadelphia from New Jersey, who are curious about learning about the Black diaspora.

And so that is truly one of my favorite parts of my job is getting to work with. First time researchers, whether they’re in the fourth grade, they’re college students, or their graduate students and getting to teach people the magic of the archive what is inside and watch their faces light up when they find out that they are allowed to be there and encouraged to be there, and just unveiling all there is to learn, and all of the different topics that can be covered within an archive, and so just being the bearer of such wonderful news and introducing people to how to access that type of knowledge is just such a fun thing to get to do and can be really engaging because you can do that in so many different ways.

I’ve had the great pleasure to be able to do that during the pandemic virtually, I’ve done it in person, and just making connections with first time learners in whatever way is the most accessible to them at the time.

Woody [0:03:16] I particularly love that because traditionally archivists, the stereotype is like gatekeepers, you know, keeping it keeping the treasures behind closed doors, and how you’ve described your role and the work that you’ve been doing, it’s like you were throwing those doors wide open, get them off the hinges.

Pride [0:03:36] Yeah, like the Archivist for everyone, and like the fact that I work in a public library makes it so much easier. Like, it’s against the mission to say no. So really having the opportunity to roll out the red carpet. And like come hang out with us, whether that’s like at a public program where we’re singing and dancing like on Langston Hughes ashes or if we’re in the reading room engaged in study. There’s so many different ways to engage.

Woody [0:04:15] My third question for you. What’s the best or most creative public use you’ve seen with your collections.

Pride [0:04:23] For this I have to shout out my colleague Katie out to Tubman, who is the Director of our Junior Scholars Program. And so she works with students from elementary school to high school, where they engage in group study of materials at the Schomburg Center. And every year they produce some sort of project or exhibit. And this past year, the students engaged and creating this means that documented their study of the autobiography of Malcolm X.

These young scholars blew my mind with these thoughtful pieces that they had created, from reading Malcolm X’s edits of his autobiography that we hold, and really connecting with him on a personal level. By being exposed to his papers at the Schomburg. And they created a digital exhibit which anyone can look at.

It’s called, “By any means necessary,” and is available on the Schomburg Center website and just watching these young people and how they processed, like some heavy topics, and these revolutionary ideas is just fascinating to me. And just the fact that we have programs like that in an archive where young people are encouraged to come and engage in this way is so important, and I would love to see more activities like this happen in archives.

Listen To Stories From The 2020 “Finding Aid to My Soul” Storytelling Event.

To help you get excited about this week’s A Finding Aid to My Soul Storytelling Event, take a listen to these great stories from the 2020 virtual event, also hosted by the one and only Micaela Blei.

Jessica Newell: Gladys Redux

Micaela Terronez: This Time It’s Personal

Melissa Barker: Murder Saves the Day

Kathy Marquis: An Unlikely Match Made In The Archives

Ethel Hazard: The Search History Of My History Search

And join us for the this year’s A Finding Aid to My Soul, Storytelling Event Celebrating Archivists, Oct. 6 2021, 12:00 pm CT.

Join SAA in celebrating the diversity and commonality of the archivist experience! Five storytellers—Sasha Griffin, Tricia Campbell Bailey, Hannah Palin, kYmberly Keeton, and April Anderson-Zorn—will share true stories about their funny, heartfelt, and surprising encounters in the archives. This free event, sponsored by the Committee on Public Awareness, will be hosted by two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner (and former Moth director of education) Micaela Blei.

Time: Oct 6, 2021 12:00

Register at this link–oqDMrE9w5WjAOQ2PXfY05MkAVrs1G

Sponsored by the Society of American Archivists Committee on Public Awareness.