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.

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.

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.

#AskAnArchivist Day October 13!

Graphic: In voice bubbles in different colors (aqua, gray, dark blue, red) questions surround text #AskAnArchivist Day October 13: What do archivists do? How can teachers incorporate archives into the classroom? How can I donate materials to an archives? Why are archives important? What's the oldest item in your collection? How can I preserve my family photos? What should I do to make sure my emails don't get lost?
#AskAnArchivist Day October 13

What Is #AskAnArchivist Day?

On October 13, archivists around the country will take to Twitter to respond to questions tweeted with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist

It’s an opportunity to:

  • Ask questions about archives and get an response from multiple archivists/institutions
  • Let archives and archivists know what you’re interested in
  • Learn about different kinds of archives by following the #AskAnArchivist hashtag on Twitter

How can I participate?

  • CREATE a Twitter account if you don’t already have one. Get started here.
  • Ask questions about archives on Twitter
  • Include hashtag #AskAnArchivist
  • Include an institution’s and/or individual archivist’s Twitter handle (e.g., @archivists_org) if you want to direct an answer to a specific organization or person. Not sure who to ask? Use this this year’s list of participants to retweet or tweet questions
  • Retweet good questions someone else asked, include a specific Twitter handle if you want to direct question to specific organization or person

If you are an archivist, special collections librarian, or work in a cultural heritage institution, take advantage of this opportunity to join with archivists from around the country to talk to and hear directly from the public on October 13.

If you or your institution plan to participate, please email SAA Editorial and Production Coordinator Abigail Christian with your Twitter handle so we can add you to the 2021 list of participants. For more details on promoting and participating, visit #AskAnArchivst Day.

#AskAnArchivist Day 2019: the Twitter Takeover

This year, the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) took over Society of American Archivist’s (SAA) Twitter for #AskAnArchivist Day on Wednesday, October 2nd. Today’s post summarizes COPA members’ experiences taking over SAA’s Twitter ( for the day.

Rachael Woody, Consultant & Owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC

I really enjoyed the Twitter takeover. I saw it as an opportunity to help boost lower-visibility archives and projects, and to raise awareness of SAA resources that may be of use to membership. I was the last shift for the takeover and being on the west coast many of the larger institutions had already ended their participation. Using the SAA Twitter account to engage during the day until 5pm Pacific allowed us to help boost or answer posts from our Pacific coast colleagues. By utilizing COPA members across the country we were able to provide 12-hours of coverage for the day and I’m really proud we were able to participate and contribute for that length of time!

Lynn Cowles, Assistant Archivist and Assistant Professor, Nicholls State University

I participated in SAA’s #AskAnArchivist Day for the first time this year. It was a great experience, although I only asked one question and didn’t really get asked any. My question:

I got some excellent answers and I really appreciate the extended community that events like this highlight. Twitter is a fantastic tool for outreach!

Nick Pavlik, Curator of Manuscripts/Coordinator of Strategic Partnerships, Bowling Green State University

From the vantage of SAA’s Twitter account, I really enjoyed seeing the rather staggering extent of the profession’s participation in #AskAnArchivist Day.  It was impossible to keep up with all the notifications on the SAA account, but since that was an indicator of all the activity going on around the #AskAnArchivist hashtag, that was a good thing!  There were some wonderfully creative and engaging tweets from archivists and repositories that sparked substantial threads filled with insightful or simply hilarious responses, and I was really pleased to see the dedication to public outreach that was on display in our profession.  In that regard, I would say this year’s #AskAnArchivist Day was another resounding success.

At the same time, it’s no secret that generating actual engagement and participation in #AskAnArchivist Day from the general public has always been a challenge, and that seemed to be the case again this year – most tweets that I saw during my time slot seemed to come from within the field.  I certainly did see some public engagement, which was very gratifying – and I really appreciated seeing Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf getting involved! – but generating more participation from those outside the archival profession remains a significant hurdle that I hope we can continually break down over time.

Nick’s Favorite Tweets of the Day

Vince Lee, Archivist, University of Houston

As a member and volunteer of COPA’s annual #AskAnArchivist Day event, I always look forward to creating and seeing others memes created leading up to the big day. Having binge watched Netflix’s “Stranger Things” series, I couldn’t wait to find the perfect meme to use. Turns out this year’s #AskAnArchivist Day would have bit of a different twist. In conjunction with participating and using our own Twitter handles, COPA members would do a scheduled “takeover” of SAA’s twitter handle answering, retweeting, liking, and in some cases asking questions throughout the day. 


During the 11 hour takeover, from 8am-7pm EST, my fellow colleagues were on hand to take care and facilitate your #AskAnArchivist needs. To be honest, I really didn’t know how it would turn out or what to expect when I signed up (gulp). Turns out  I really had nothing to worry about. It was one of the fastest and most pleasurable work hours I ever spent. There is a certain cadence and rhythm when working and tweeting with Twitter. Obviously, there is the word limits when posting or responding, then there is monitoring of the streams of  incoming tweets, from fellow archivists and institutions that were contributing, and then there were the likes and retweets of posts.

What was eye opening to me is the power and reach of using SAA’s twitter handle. I wanted to share the love and exposure to other respositories, in this case the University of Manitoba Archive. By merely liking and retweeting their post I was able to spotlight their institution and question to a wider audience. Talk about the power of social media! 


Finally to round things off, I posed some questions myself, asking fellow members:

  1. How they get students and their community members excited about archives and their collections?
  2. What does a “hybrid collection” mean to them?

The first question was a popular one. I received back 10 replies, 2 retweets, and 5 likes to this.

I’m biased, but rather than have it be one day out of the year, everyday should be #AskAnArchivist Day and #ArchivesAware if it’s this much fun and activity to showcase what we all do collectively. 

Chris Burns, Curator of Manuscripts and University Archivist, University of Vermont

Chris’ Favorite Tweets of the Day

For more information on #AskAnArchivist Day check out previous posts about this super awesome day:

October 2nd is Ask An Archivist Day!

The members of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) get excited when #AskAnArchivist Day comes around. This year’s #AskAnArchivist Day will be Wednesday, October 2nd. On that day, archivists around the country will take to Twitter to respond to questions tweeted with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist, letting us engage directly with the public about what we do, why it’s important, and of course, to share our “most interesting/bizarre/touching etc., records” stories.

Between now and October 2nd, we encourage you to promote #AskAnArchivist Day among your users and constituents via your institution’s website, Twitter account, blog, newsletter, and any other mediums available to you. View SAA’s public #AskAnArchivist Day announcement  and feel free to pick up language from it for your own promotions.

COPA’s members have found memes to be a great way to drum up excitement. They’re fun and are easily created through an online meme generator. Here’s an example, a new one created for this year’s Ask An Archivist Day.

Starting September 30, follow the official hashtag #AskAnArchivist, on Twitter–we’ll keep sharing our memes up until the big day. We hope to see yours as well, and look forward to seeing you on Twitter on October 2nd for this great public outreach opportunity!

If you plan to participate, please email SAA Editorial and Production Coordinator Abigail Christian with your Twitter handle so we can add you to the 2019 LIST OF PARTICIPANTS!

October 3rd is Ask An Archivist Day!



The members of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) get excited when #AskAnArchivist Day comes around. This year’s #AskAnArchivist Day will be Weds, Oct 3. On that day, archivists around the country will take to Twitter to respond to questions tweeted with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist, letting us engage directly with the public about what we do, why it’s important, and of course, to share our “most interesting/bizarre/touching etc., records” stories.

Between now and October 3, we encourage you to promote #AskAnArchivist Day among your users and constituents via your institution’s website, Twitter account, blog, newsletter, and any other mediums available to you. View SAA’s public #AskAnArchivist Day announcement  and feel free to pick up language from it for your own promotions.

COPA’s members have found memes to be a great way to drum up excitement. They’re fun and are easily created through an online meme generator. This is a meme from COPA’s own vault that’s been “repurposed” for this year.


Starting October 1, follow the official hashtag #AskAnArchivist, on Twitter–we’ll keep sharing our memes up until the big day. We hope to see yours as well.

COPA members are also thinking of questions we can ask throughout the big day, so that we can join the conversation and hear your archival stories.

  • Who’s the most interesting or famous person who’s entered your archives?
  • What was the most difficult item to preserve in your Archives and why?

…so get your answers ready, and be prepared for more questions coming from COPA! We’ll be using an added hashtag, #ArchivesAWARE, to make it easy to follow our questions.

If you plan to participate, please email SAA Editorial and Production Coordinator Abigail Christian with your Twitter handle so we can add you to the 2018 list of participants.

Asserting the Archivist, no. 3

This post was authored by guest contributor Samantha Norling, Digital Collections Manager at Newfields and member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA).  This is the third post in our “Asserting the Archivist” series on the importance of highlighting archivists and archival work in outreach efforts, rather than just focusing on the collections themselves.

Too often, archivists and archival repositories can get stuck in the loop of sharing only THE STUFF, especially as those posts get a positive response and many interactions. But those collection-centric posts that help to extend our reach to every conceivable interest group on the web provide us with a valuable opportunity to highlight the work, knowledge, and skills of archivists to a nearly unlimited variety of audiences–“Asserting the Archivist” in outreach for our institutions.

Last week this this tweet from Susie Cummings, a member of NPR’s Research, Archives & Data Strategy team (RAD) caught my attention:

Assuming that NPR RAD’s #TechTuesday Instagram initiative would be an exciting new example of Asserting the Archivist, I went straight over to IG to check out the story–and I was not disappointed! While the main goal of these posts is to share the technologies that make preservation of audio collections possible, the stories make it clear that the staff are integral to this process, bringing essential professional expertise to the table.

Apart from these #TechTuesday postings, the @npr_rad IG account features their staff on a regular basis, sharing interesting details about their work while associating the real people (including their faces, personalities, and background stories) behind job titles such as “Deputy RAD Chief” and “audio reformatting intern.”

NPR RAD’s enthusiasm for sharing their work and the people who make up their team has helped to gain them broader attention, both within the larger NPR organization and outside. Coverage has included an Inside NPR post titled “Preserving the Past,” and an article in Current, “How NPR’s Research, Archives & Data Strategy team is saving sounds of the past for the future.”

If I haven’t convinced you yet, I strongly encourage you to check out and follow the NPR RAD Instagram and Twitter accounts–not just for the #TechTuesday stories, but for all of their great archives- and, more importantly, archivists-related content!

Did I mention that they are active participants in #AskAnArchivist Day?

Do you have a favorite example of archival repositories or organizations/businesses that “assert the archivist” in their outreach efforts? Or would you like to share your experience incorporating archival work into your outreach? Please share in the comments below or contact to be a guest contributor to ArchivesAWARE!