Celebrating International Design Day with Architecture, Arts and Design Archivist Harold Housley

This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series. In this post, Harold Housley, Archivist for Architecture, Arts and Design at Arizona State University Library, describes the uniqueness and challenges of Design and Architecture Collections and offers his interpretation of the International Design Day theme, Suspended in Transition. This interview was conducted by Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Claudia Willett.

Claudia Willett: Let’s start with a brief introduction of yourself to the readers.

Harold Housley: I’ve worked for Arizona State University (ASU) Library since 2007, currently as Archivist for Architecture, Arts and Design. My previous experience includes working as an archivist for the National Park Service. I am a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists and SAA. I earned a Master of Arts in History from Arizona State University and a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.

CW:  Can you talk about your role as Archivist for Architecture, Arts and Design?

HH: I am responsible for overall management of Design and the Arts Special Collections, which is primarily an architectural archives and manuscript repository. The collection developed in the 1970s and 1980s out of interest by School of Architecture faculty members in collecting primary and secondary sources on two prominent architects important in Arizona history, Paolo Soleri and Frank Lloyd Wright. The opening of a new building for the College of Architecture and Environmental Design in 1989 created the space to develop and expand the collection to include architectural drawings and files from prominent architects such as Victor Olgyay, a pioneer in climate-responsive architecture, and Blaine Drake, a former Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice and key figure in post-World War II modernism in Arizona.

Desert Cabana (1939), rendering from the Blaine Drake Collection, Design and the Arts Special Collections, Arizona State University Library

The collection has evolved over the years to include textual records, architectural drawings, presentation boards, and project files that document desert-sensitive design and the development and evolution of mid-century and modern architecture in the Southwest. The greater Phoenix area has a rich history of significant mid-century modern architecture and the presence of the architectural school at ASU has helped the library to acquire the drawings and papers of architects such as Alfred Newman Beadle and Will Bruder.

CW: Can you describe your organization and the collections?

HH: ASU Library has a wealth of archives and special collections resources grouped under Distinctive Collections and Archives, the Labriola National American Indian Data Center, and the Senator John McCain Papers Project. Design and the Arts Special Collections falls under Distinctive Collections and Archives, which also includes Rare Books and Manuscripts, the Child Drama Collection, Greater Arizona Collection, Chicano/a Research Collection, Black Collections and University Archives. The Labriola National American Indian Data Center has both primary source materials (photographs, oral histories, manuscript collections) and a large collection of books, journals, and Native Nation newspapers. The Senator McCain Papers Project processes and manages the papers of longtime Arizona senator and former presidential candidate John McCain.

CW: International Design Day is April 27 and the theme is ‘Suspended in Transition’. How does this theme apply to your work or experience with design collections?

HH: I find this theme very relevant to my work as an archivist and probably many other archivists would agree that traditional ways of acquiring and managing collections are in transition and need to evolve to meet the challenges of the present and future. I think other aspects of the theme are also relevant to archivists, such as that the pandemic has fostered the proliferation of new methods of collaboration and communication and created an opportunity to explore alternative ways of doing our work.

CW: Can you talk about some challenges unique to your collections?

HH: The large number of oversize items usually found in architectural collections definitely creates storage challenges. The variety of records found in architectural/design collections means you need to have both traditional archival shelving to accommodate paper records and photographs but also lots of flat filing cabinets for drawings.

Reference also presents some interesting challenges beyond dealing with large-format materials. For example, the access point for many researchers looking at a specific building is the address, which is often not listed in a finding aid. So I have found it useful to have separate drawings inventories that provide those item-level details that help in reference but may not be included in a collection finding aid.

CW: What is something you wish more people knew about Architecture and Design collections?

HH: There are some real “hidden treasures” in architecture and design collections. Examples include designs for buildings that, for one reason or other, were never built. It is fascinating to imagine what a completed building may have looked like. I also really enjoy looking at houses that architects design for themselves. Residential design projects usually involve the architect and client working closely together to bring a design into reality. But when the architect does not need to cater to the wishes of the client, I think there is more freedom to explore a particular theme or experiment in a style without having to answer to an outside client.

House designed by Alfred Newman Beadle for himself and his family, Beadle House 6 (1954), Phoenix; from the Alfred Newman Beadle Collection, Design and the Arts Special Collections, Arizona State University Library

Architecture and design collections, because of their strong visual appeal, have the ability to connect with everyone. Most architectural collections found in archives are a blend of personal papers and business or professional records, so you have documents, such as correspondence,  that are typically found in other types of manuscript collections. But you also have lots of very eye-catching materials that are works of art, such as full-color architectural renderings. So even if someone has no prior knowledge of or experience using archives, they can appreciate the value of what they are looking at. 

There’s an Archivist for That! An Interview with Camri Kohler of the PBS Utah

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, Camri Kohler talks about her job as the Archivist for PBS Utah.

1. How did you get your gig?

While I was in grad school at the University of Utah, I worked part-time as an AV archival project assistant at the Marriott Library, specializing primarily in U-matic tapes. Then once I graduated with my MLIS, AV specialists in the library science field were pretty rare, and I was already familiar with U of U assets. PBS Utah is owned by the university, and they were hiring their first full-time archivist as I was finishing school. The archivists of the Marriott Library and I still work together all the time.

2. Tell us about your organization.

PBS Utah was originally KUED. When Brigham Young University’s PBS station went private, we became the only PBS station in the state, so we changed our name. We’ve been making wonderful nature, music, human interest, local, and historical programming since 1957 and we have wonderful weekly episodic programs like The Hinckley Report, Utah Insight, and This is Utah.

3. Can you describe your collections?

Our collections are both analog and digital, ranging from 1” reels to ProRes digital files and everything in between. We have multiple formats and instantiations for all of our programs, including Figure it Out! which are exercise videos produced in the 70’s along with an on-set pianist, and Family Circle, a panel discussing the pros and cons of women in the workplace. We also have documents, photos, and music preserved as assets to those programs.

4. What are some challenges unique to your collections?

Because Digital and AV archives are still such a new priority, the community is small. I’m not just the only AV archivist in the building, I’m the only archivist. I don’t have anyone to share the workload with, or to plan with, or innovate with. It can be a lot of pressure, particularly because few people in the production environment have a good understanding of what my job entails. 

5. What is your favorite part of your job?

I love finding the fun, niche programs we made in the past! They say a lot about the times in which they were created and it’s values and interests. Making those programs accessible digitally, bringing them into the present, is so gratifying!

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.

There’s an archivist for that! Interview with Mott Linn, Chief Librarian of the National Security Research Center (NSRC) at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. In this article, Mott Linn talks about his role leading one of the world’s larger scientific research archives.

Mott, thanks for talking with us. Please tell us a little about yourself.

ML: My BA is from the University of Delaware, I have master’s degrees in history (University of Wisconsin – Madison), librarianship (Drexel University), and nonprofit management (Clark University), and my doctorate in library management is from Simmons College.  I am also a Certified Archivist. 

My first archives job was with the Philadelphia Flyers and after that I created the NHL’s video library.  I spent 10 years at Clark University in charge of their archives before 10 years leading the collection services half of their library.  I am now the Chief Librarian of the National Security Research Center (NSRC) at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). 

How did you get into archives? 

ML: By replying to a blind ad in a newspaper (how times have changed!). 

Today, the archival profession’s biggest problem is having too many archival education programs training far too many people to be archivists, who then have great difficulty finding jobs; this is our profession’s great tragedy.  When I started my career, the opposite was true: there were very few education programs.  The good news is that over those decades the quality of archivists has improved; back in the 1970s a major goal of SAA was to do just that.  Because of that, SAA started offering workshops, began publishing manuals and books, established the standards process, and created the Academy of Certified Archivists. 

So, it was not unusual back when I was first hired that I had no training to work in an archives.  However, I did have considerable experience doing research in archives.  Furthermore, I had played, refereed, and coached ice hockey, which meant I had the desired subject expertise for my first job. 

How did you get your current job? 

ML: A headhunter contacted me.  They hired me because not many archivists also have the managerial experience that I have; for example, at the time I was overseeing a $2 million dollar budget.  It also helped that I had overseen the collection of a famous scientist, Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry.  

Tell us about your organization.

ML: LANL is a United States Department of Energy laboratory.  It was created during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project to design the first nuclear weapons.  Los Alamos is now one of the largest science and technology institutions in the world and conducts research in a wide array of scientific fields.  It is located in the beautiful mountains of northern New Mexico, which is a wonderful location for outdoor activities. 

Could you describe your collections?

ML: The NSRC collects scientific research materials related to the nation’s defense.  I dare say that we have one of the largest archives in the US.  For comparison, we have a larger collection than most, if not every one, of the presidential libraries.   

We house both a large number and a wide array of materials.  For example, we have over 3 million radiographs, almost a million aperture cards, and a half million engineering drawings. 

Despite our size, the NSRC is only a couple of years old.  Previously, the materials that make up our collection were either in records management or being held by the various LANL lab buildings.  Since we are a new archives, we are still expanding our collections and have been growing our staff. 

Although our collections are used for historical research, they are more heavily used by the lab’s scientists to further their research.  For example, a scientist recently found the results of a series of experiments from years ago that their lab was planning to conduct.  Because we found the previous results, we saved the lab millions of dollars since they did not have to conduct the experiments again.  It is great to both save the US taxpayers money and find the data that our scientists want. 

What are some of the challenges unique to your collections? 

ML: Depending on where our acquisitions are coming from, they might have to be tested for hazardous materials.  Another facility that had created an environmental disaster recently sent us hundreds of boxes. Those boxes were tested.  

In addition, there is the red tape dealing with security and safety regulations.  For example, because of national security reasons, every person on my staff and each of our customers need to have security clearance. 

What is the favorite part of your job? 

ML: I was hired to turn the NSRC into a properly functioning archives.  Additionally, I really like recruiting new archivists to add to my team and helping my staff improve themselves with professional development activities. 

What advice do you have for aspiring archivists? 

ML: First, since too many people are being trained to be archivists, I would ask if they are up to doing the needed training with the possibility of not being able to find a job afterwards.  As I said, there are too many archival education programs training too many archivists; that so many of them cannot find jobs is tragic. 

Second, if they still want to be archivists, when earning your master’s degree, create a backup plan via your choice of classes.  For example, somebody getting a library degree could also take a few cataloging and metadata classes, thereby creating the possibility of getting cataloging jobs. 

Third, expect to continue to grow professionally after graduation because professionals are expected to keep up with improvements in their field.  This is all the more true because of the stiff competition for archives jobs.  You could earn a second master’s degree, go to conferences, and/or take some workshops in an area that you want or need to know more about. 

The most important part of that is becoming a Certified Archivist.  Most professions, such as doctors, lawyers, appraisers, records managers, and accountants, have a way of both certifying who is competent to practice that profession and a method of recertifying who continues to have that competence as that profession evolves.  The Certified Archivist designation serves that purpose in the archives profession.  So, prove your competence to yourself and others, including employers, by becoming a Certified Archivist. 


Ashton Wingate, Digital Archivist of the NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund, Inc.

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. COPA member Rachael Woody, owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC, brings you an interview with Ashton Wingate, the Digital Archivist of the NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund, Inc. (LDF).

Ashton Wingate currently works for the NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund, Inc. (LDF), where he preserves the organization’s 80 year history in the fight for racial justice, equality and an inclusive society. To learn more about Wingate, please visit his website.

RW: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

AW: On the professional side… I am fairly new in my position, I joined LDF in January of 2019. Previous to becoming a Digital Archivist, I was a librarian in the D.C. Public Library system leading early literacy outreach/programming. My time at the D.C. Public Library taught me a lot and I highly encourage every information professional to work in a public library for at least a little bit of time to understand the power and responsibility of our profession. I am a board member of the National Home Library Foundation and the board treasurer for the Archives Roundtable of Metropolitan New York. Personally, I spend most of my time with my fiancé and our two dogs in our cozy Brooklyn, NY apt which has become MUCH “cozier” during quarantine. I have interests in music, sports, craft beer and cult films. In the past I’ve done radio and podcasting so I’m possibly looking to start that back up if I can find time. I have a small side hustle doing graphic design and building websites for friends and family. If you’re looking to spruce up your personal/professional brand hit me up!

RW: How did you get into archives, or why archives?

AW: After I graduated from undergrad, I spent the first nine months selling cereal for Kellogg’s. Worst job ever! Nothing wrong with Frosted Flakes but I didn’t take the job as seriously as I should have and I am definitely not a salesman. After that didn’t work out, I spent the next 8 years or so in communications for a variety of non-profits and government organizations in Washington, D.C. Eventually, I hit a wall and just wanted to do something different. I saw the advertisement for the Department of Library and Information Science at Catholic University on the train and something just told me to check it out. Looking back on it now, I think access to information is just so big for me. It is probably one of the biggest civil rights issues of our time and I just wanted to be a part of that in some way. Keeping people informed and allowing everyone an equal opportunity to understand more about the world around them is key.

Thurgood Marshall was an influential leader of the civil rights movement. He also had a profound contribution to the NAACP and his legacy lives on in the pursuit of racial justice. 
Thurgood Marshall founded LDF in 1940 and served as its first Director-Counsel. He was the architect of the legal strategy that ended the country’s official policy of segregation. Marshall was the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court on which he served as Associate Justice from 1967-1991 after he was successfully nominated by President Johnson. He retired from the bench in 1991 and passed away on January 24, 1993, in Washington DC at the age of 84. Civil rights and social change came about through meticulous and persistent litigation efforts, at the forefront of which stood Thurgood Marshall and the Legal Defense Fund. Through the courts, he ensured that Blacks enjoyed the rights and responsibilities of full citizenship. 

RW: How did you get your gig at the NAACP-LDF?

AW: Fate? I’m not really sure. I know many people can relate but it’s not easy getting a job in this field especially as a new graduate. Whether it’s the unrealistic expectations/job descriptions or the (sometimes) low pay, it’s difficult to find the right opportunity. I knew that I wanted to move to NYC so that narrowed things down, from there it was a mixture of luck and perseverance. I applied for A LOT of jobs; my heart wasn’t set on just archivist. I was on every job board, every website, contacting friends of friends… I never thought it was going to happen, especially not an opportunity like the one at LDF. I’m eternally grateful to my boss and LDF leadership for taking a chance on me and I can’t imagine working anywhere else or doing anything else with my skills and expertise.

“Our Division is committed to the principle that minority group citizens must be empowered to work for their own liberation. Our role is to heighten their consciousness of their legal rights and to assist them in developing strategies to make bureaucracies accountable,” Jean Fairfax stated in a 1972 report to funders. The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund’s (LDF) Division of Legal Information and Community Service was created in 1965 by Fairfax, who served as the Division’s director until her retirement in 1984.

RW: Please tell us about your work at NAACP-LDF.

AW: The way that I have come to describe our work is that we add historical context to the ongoing conversation about race and its relationship to justice, politics and society. We are tasked with preserving the 80-year history of the country’s most prestigious legal organization fighting for racial justice. From Brown vs. Board of Education to representing Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King, to the current moment we’re facing as a country… it is a daunting task. We are a team of three serving an organization of almost 200 people. We answer reference questions, maintain collections of physical and digital legal and social science research resources, manage records retention and physical box storage as well as work strategically to ensure that each and every legal, policy, educational and community organizing effort is informed by the organization’s rich history. We are a unique archive but we are tackling some of the same problems as others including document management, data governance, training staff and getting buy-in on archival best practices/priorities and of course dealing with budgets and constantly presenting the value proposition for how archives fits within the organization’s mission and vision.

Right now, we’re in the midst of what we’re referring to as an “archives modernization”. With incredible support from LDF leadership and from generous donors, we’ve undergone an evaluation of our current archival structure, policies and procedures which has given us a roadmap going forward on where to invest our time and funding. We plan to update our workflows and processes, strengthen our technological infrastructure, procure new software for e-discovery and box management as well as identifying high priority physical and digital processing projects and work towards sharing our collections publicly through an online research portal containing information about LDF’s 6,000+ cases from 1940-present day. As a law firm, we have yet to open our collections up to the general public due to concerns over privileged and sensitive legal information.

The School Desegregation Task Force was a core program of the Division in the mid-1960s, with Fairfax serving as the project administrator. In a 1967 memo to funders, LDF Director-Counsel Jack Greenberg explained the aims and impact of the task force: “The opportunity for equal education for Negro children was finally at hand, but the problems incident to its realization were overwhelming. The Legal Defense Fund joined with the American Friends Service Committee to create a School Desegregation Task Force which operated in hundreds of local communities, especially in rural areas, in nine southern states.

RW: Please describe the collections or one of your favorite collections.

AW: The core of our collection is pleadings, research, and correspondence related to thousands of cases LDF has litigated. Our holdings also include photographs, videos, policy files, publications, fundraising materials, administrative records, and documentation of LDF’s sustained efforts in community organizing and social science research. We have over 250 boxes of physical material at the Library of Congress and over 10,000 boxes in storage between our New York and DC locations in addition to an ever-increasing amount of digital records.

LDF’s second Director-Counsel Jack Greenberg describes LDF’s ability as an organization to “bridge the gap” among the laws that govern our society, the enforcement of these laws, and the everyday people who are impacted by these laws and practices. He highlights LDF’s focus on not only setting legal precedent, but creating substantive social impact to improve the lives of African Americans.

RW: What are some challenges unique to the collections?

AW: One of the biggest challenges is the fact that we cannot share the information publicly with any level of ease. The majority of our collections is case material and cannot be released publicly without thorough review for privileged and sensitive information. Another challenge is just our relative youth as an archival institution. The archives at LDF was created in 2014/2015 and the majority of our collections have not been processed or digitized. It makes it difficult to fully gain an appreciation or understanding of LDF’s work and impact over the past 80 years. We are steadfast in our mission to work through the backlog of physical material and we’ve highlighted important cases and collections that we will be processing for the next three years. Because we are essentially a non-profit law firm and our retention and document management hasn’t been as strong as it is now, there is a lot of LDF material outside of the archives at other universities, repositories and still hiding in people’s basements! In the past, members of our litigation staff have been transitory, and they’ve taken their papers with them. A long-term goal for us is to track down these collections, take note of where they are and make efforts to accession them into our collections if the current steward cannot or no longer wishes to preserve them.

Phyllis McClure, author of An Even Chance,  introduces the research as having a “familiar theme:” the misuse of Federal education money intended to benefit poor and minority children. According to a 1971 LDF annual report, “the impact of this report on Governmental agencies responsible for the education of Indian children has been stunning. The facts revealed in the study present a shocking record of disregard of the rights of Indians guaranteed them by treaties, laws passed by Congress, and laws of individual states. The report opens the way, based on facts, for action to correct wrongs inflicted upon Indian children and their parents.”

RW: What’s your favorite part of the job?

AW: My favorite part of the job is just knowing the importance of my work to the organization’s larger mission and the way in which we are all working together at LDF to meet this moment in time that is so important for civil rights and racial justice.

RW: What advice to you have for aspiring archivists?

  1. Believe in yourself! Shake the imposters syndrome as best you can.
  2. Advocate for what you need to do your job well.
  3. Join a board or professional network to continue to make connections and see different aspects of our field.
  4. Do whatever it takes to get the job done. Specialization is nice and important in some ways but to me there’s no difference between an archivist, a digital archivist, a librarian or a records manager… everyone on our team is doing all of that because that’s what the job calls for.
  5. Be visible in your organization. As a department, don’t hide in the archives, get out there and offer your services wherever there is opportunity for collaborative work. Share your successes. As an individual, just try to be seen. I always try to find some way to be helpful to leadership so they know they can depend on me. I also try to be vocal during meetings so that people know I’m there.

RW: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

It is our organization’s 80th Anniversary, keep your eyes out for the launch of our timeline covering 80 years of groundbreaking legal milestones in the fight for civil rights. It was a heavy lift for our department digging up archival information on over 100 cases as well as biographies on important figures and finding ways to relate the historic moments to the work we’re doing today. It’s something we’re proud of and it is coming soon! Check this link for more information: https://80th.naacpldf.org/

It’s not The Distance, “It’s the Niggers.” Comments on the Controversy Over School Busing, May 1972, attempted to “bring facts and reason to bear on the current hysterical and politicized discussion about busing,” said Fairfax. The report found that “busing for integration…has not required a major reallocation of scarce funds and has usually been accepted once plans have been implemented.”

Also, I want to put in another plug for the Archives Roundtable of New York. It is an awesome organization; membership is super affordable, and we do our best to make sure we’re contributing to the archivist community in a real way. We’ve just launched a mentorship program and a skill-share and we have office hours every other Tuesday where members can call in and talk about whatever is going on professionally. We also have an open call for submissions to our quarterly publication the Metropolitan Archivist and a call for proposals for a virtual symposium that we’re holding as part of our Archives Week event this fall. More information can be found at www.nycarchivists.org.

While the LDF collections are closed, the archives does accept external inquires on a case by case basis. You can email your request to this address: archives@naacpldf.org.


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. Allison Termine, brings you an interview with Adam Jeffery, the Tattooer, Collector of The Baltimore Tattoo Museum (est. 1999) and Annette La Rue, Tattooer, Collector from Electromagnetic Tattoo in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Interviewer: Allison Termine, I’m a trained Librarian, Archivist and Collections Manager, learning Taxonomy and Ontology. Capturing the essence of nostalgia in my life has always led me to activities, professional and personal, where I had the opportunity to observe, record, preserve, display, learn and organize primary and secondary material of history.

Image by Annette La Rue of Paul Rogers.


The pioneering style in the trade of tattooing is called Americana. Knowledge of this trade was passed down orally by August “Cap” Coleman, 1884-1973 and Franklin Paul Rogers, 1905-1990, the for-father’s, what remains is tattoo ephemera and an oral tradition that lives on today through those they taught. Important historical artifacts of modern electric tattooing exist in various collections who are archivists in their own right. It is a treat to interview two artists and collectors of the Tattoo Trade to learn of a niche subculture through its remnants / ephemera. Just like other collected historical archives, provenance of the Tattoo Trade is based on oral dissemination and the now primary objects that were used to apply the final product were secondary to them and therefore have become a nostalgic link to the past. Such object items are; the tattoo machines, drawings on fragile tracing paper, business cards, pictures, adapted furniture for the tattoo sitting, banners, and flash to name a few. These accidental archivists, interviewed are artists and collectors and are what I consider boots on the ground archivists. A term that describes the importance of gathering material in the present time, which they have done throughout their career in the Tattoo Trade.

*To discover an in depth history of the origins of Americana Tattooing visit:
http://www.tattooarchive.com/index.php and

Image by Annette La Rue. Pictured is a Paul Rogers original tracing paper flash from “Sailor Eddies” Shop in Camden, New Jersey 1971. With additional acetate stencil rubbing of a “Cap” Colemans’ drawing reworked by Sailor Jerry.

Our first interview is with Annette La Rue of Electromagnetic Tattoo, Chesapeake Virginia. Find her shop owned by her and her husband Steve Tiberi, also a tattooer and collector on Instagram @electromagnetictattoo, @annettlelarulex, and @tiberitattoo.

Image by Allison Termine. Annette La Rue and I doing conservation work, on a banner made by her friend, Ernie “Ernie the hat” Gosnell, of her former tattoo shop in New Orleans, Louisiana. Electric LadyLand.

Q: As a Tattooer of 30 years can you tell me about the history of Americana Tattooing?

Americana style tattooing means a bold colorful style consisting of bold thick outlines, solid black shading and bright solid colors. Americana tattooing was popular among sailors and circuses at the turn of the century. Most tattooers traveled with the circus or went to busy Navy port towns. It was seedy and frowned upon to have ink on your skin until the late 90’s into the 2000’s.

Image by Allison Termine. The Electric LadyLand banner made by, Ernie “Ernie the hat” Gosnell, of Annette La Rue’s former tattoo shop in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Q: As a collector of your trade what drove you to save ephemera of the tattoo trade throughout your career? (Your perspective then and now).

I was fascinated with older tools and designs because they connected me to the old ways. Kind of like a bridge to the heroes of yesterday. I felt a little “magic” in those tools. It made me feel like I had a link to the past and it made me proud to have possession of the tools of the trade. Now it’s just more stuff and I’m selling and trading my collection for things I can actually use. I want the younger tattooers to have those objects so they can feel like I did. To own historical tattoo pieces is like instant “cred” for anyone who has it. If you have money, you can be a collector. When I was buying you had to track someone down, go to their shop or house and beg them to sell you things. Now it’s on ebay and craigslist, too easy to get.

Q: Can you tell me about the significance of early tattoo machines and how the knowledge of building them was passed on and evolved through the years?

At the time there was no significance to old tattoo machines; they were simply a tool to make money. Tattooers would travel and visit each other and learn different ways to build machines. Most machine builders have their own style or frame configuration. They would mail parts and write about the secret trick they had to make to make their machines better. There was a lot of friendly competition between tattooers. Some builders got famous and some were more obscure. Machines from the old times are very valuable today. When the old guys died a lot of families were embarrassed about the line of work and tons were thrown out, leaving a few for younger tattooers to scourge to find them. Good builders would invite younger ones to come build and learn. You could spend the day or a few weeks with a builder and get secrets and tips while making your machine. A smart person would go to everyone’s house they could and did blend all the knowledge and make it on his or her own. This is significant because the younger generation needed to know the tips of the trade in order to keep machines up and running and it also helped the young guys to progress using old ways.

Q: If the collected ephemera of Americana Tattooing is the result of a trade learned orally, could you tell us about how the forefathers of Americana Tattooing influenced this particular style that remains “timeless” and how it has lasting power today over all other styles of tattooing being applied to skin?

I believe Americana style remains timeless because the designs were timeless. From the 1800’s to the late 1990’s an eagle looked like an eagle. A rose was a rose. You could tell what it was in two seconds. That is what makes it timeless. Today’s tattoos are trendy and you can tell if someone got it in their 90’s or early 2000 or 2010 or 2020 because of the design. They may seem more personal now but they aren’t. People get the same bad trendy design over and over, thinking they are “custom” and they don’t realise we tattooed that same design 40 times that month. Most timeless designs can be changed with different colors or leaves or background etc. Modern designs have not much room to change, as customers want it to look the same.

Image and caption by Annette La Rue. Pictured is a “Cap” Coleman original flash with signature and date, 1948. The significance of owning this sheet of flash is that 72 years ago “Cap” Coleman was in the next town over applying these very designs. This is my favorite piece in my collection and probably priceless.

Q: What is your favorite part of knowing you are an accidental archivist?

My favorite part of knowing I’m an accidental archivist is just knowing I can make young tattooers as excited and happy as I was when I started collecting. Of course these items all increase in value every year. It is the younger Tattooers having interest in keeping this history alive that I find interesting.

Our next interview is with Adam Jeffrey of The Baltimore Tattoo Museum. You can find Adam on Instagram @adamjeffreytattooer, and @thebaltimoretattomuseum.

Q: What are the types or formats of tattoo ephemera that were saved and what makes them significant? For example; how did a single piece of torn tracing paper with a pencil drawing become deemed “to save”, or a business card from Paul Rogers.

At The Baltimore Tattoo Museum we hope to explore the history and artifacts of modern tattooing in the Americana style. When it comes to the types of ephemera we collect that makes them significant are varied. For example, from some artists the art itself was secondary to their abilities to apply tattoos or build and tune tattoo equipment. So there are varying reasons we try to collect the many things we have. Some are significant to the tattooers of our area and the designs of a given town, for example, shipping and navy type tattoos in Baltimore, as it is a major east coast port. In other cases it might be the little inventions they crafted to make their everyday tasks a little easier like, retrofitting an old dental type chair to create better access to an area of skin to be tattooed. In other cases it’s their amazing ability, these untrained artists had to create very well drawn and thought out lasting style designs that even years later folks still would like to have applied to their skin.

Image and caption by Adam Jeffrey from The Baltimore Tattoo Museum. Pictures is a rubbing of an acetate stencil made by Paul Rogers and sent in the mail to Ernie Carafa to share the design to make money. Back then, designs were common and people liked them that way. Uniformity with subtle differences to make it each artist’s own with various colors or background elements.

Q: If the collected ephemera of Americana Tattooing is the result of a trade learned orally, could you tell us about how the forefathers of Americana Tattooing influenced this particular style that remains “timeless” and how it has lasting power today over all other styles of tattooing being applied to skin?

Like us at Baltimore Tattoo and Museum and the majority of tattooers, still apply tattoos with the same electromagnet style tattoo machine they’ve always used. There are even modern makers making the same style frames that were being made in the turn of the century. As well as the same hand motions and application styles that were handed down to get the pigment under the skin, to have a good outcome to the tattoo once it’s healed. Also, the way the machinery is set up and tuned, to make precise lines and shading etc.

Image and caption by Adam Jeffery from The Baltimore Tattoo Museum. Pictured is a Joe Farrar machine built for Johnny Walker who tattooed with “Cap” Coleman of Norfolk, Virginia, and Sailor Jerry Collins in Honolulu, Hawaii. The machine is a Percy Waters model #7 from the 1940’s-1950’s era, that Farrar rebuilt to serve as a shader. Pictured in the right-hand corner is Joe’s tattooing and business card from their DC location.

Q: Can you tell us of one of your favorite collections?

I personally love our collection of Paul Rogers tattoo machines acetate stencils and flash. Most of it came from the collection of Charley and Sandy Parsons who are two of my mentors and were close friends with Paul who tattooed from the late 1920s till the late 1980s. Paul was an innovator and all around crafty artist making his own equipment, mixing his own colors and a designer of tattoos. The total package and to boot a good person as I am told.

Image and caption by Adam Jeffery from The Baltimore Tattoo Museum. Displayed are Paul Rogers machines, acetate stencils made by Paul and a photo of a tattoo he did.

Q: What are some challenges unique to the collections?

The largest challenge is that prior to the 2000s Tattoo memorabilia was just old stuff or junk so a lot of it was thrown away or lost to time as tattooing was nowhere near as common as it is currently. So honestly, there isn’t as much of it to be had as one might think as well the prior you get it thru can be hard to deal with as it has become more popular. Prices have gone up and you are getting it second and third hand now so the provenance of it isn’t easy to establish.

Q: What is your favorite part of knowing you are an accidental archivist?

My favorite part of being an accidental archivist is interacting with other collectors who have been collecting for a long time, their knowledge helps me place dates and times on artists, machines and flash that I’ve had questions about. It can be an awesome community.

There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Danielle Nowak, Digital Assets Librarian at the Morton Arboretum

Danielle Nowak. Image courtesy of Danielle Nowak.

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.  COPA member Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Danielle Nowak, the Digital Assets Librarian at the Morton Arboretum in the Sterling Morton Library in Lisle, Illinois.

Danielle Nowak graduated from Purdue University Calumet with a Bachelor’s Degree in History in 2015, followed by a Master’s of Library Science Degree from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) in 2017.

After graduating with her MLS, Danielle worked as a Reference/Instruction Librarian at Prairie State College and the University of St. Francis before landing her permanent gig at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois.

You can visit www.daniellenowakmls.org to learn more about Danielle’s past and current work and professional experience.

How did you get your gig?

I began working at The Morton Arboretum in late 2017 as the Access Services Librarian. Before earning my MLS I had interned and worked in various library settings and knew that I ultimately wanted to end up in a position where I would be working with archival collections. However, the challenging job market did not allow me to do that right away. As an undergraduate and graduate student I worked full-time as a manager at Panera Bread, while also picking up library and archival internships and jobs on top of that. Between school and working multiple jobs at the same time, I essentially worked 7 days a week for six years. Despite the trials and tribulations I went through in getting to this point, I never took my eyes off my end goal of getting a full-time archives job.

When I saw the opening for the Access Services Librarian role at The Morton Arboretum it was pretty much love at first sight. As someone that loves the outdoors, nature, history, and libraries, I was super excited to see that a position like this even existed. I applied in July-August, had my first and second interviews in September-October and then was hired in December. My original position as the Access Services Librarian had a term limit of two years. Close to the end of those two years, the Digital Assets Librarian position opened up and I applied for it and accepted the position.

Tell us about your organization.

Founded in 1922 by Joy Morton (founder of the Morton Salt Company), The Morton Arboretum is a 1,700 acre tree museum that is located in Lisle, Illinois. On these 1,700 acres are 222,000 live plants, representing nearly 4,300 taxa from around the world. The Arboretum conducts scientific research on tree and health improvement, collects and displays trees for study and enjoyment, offers educational programming for adults and children, and presents nature-related activities year round for people of all ages and interests.

The grounds are also home to a Visitor Center, Children’s Garden, Maze Garden, miles of hiking trails, a Herbarium, Plant Clinic, and the amazing Sterling Morton Library.

The Sterling Morton Library was opened in 1963 in memory of Sterling Morton, Joy Morton’s son. Interestingly, the library building itself was designed by the Chicago architect, Harry Weese, as an addition to The Arboretum’s Administration Building.

Sterling Morton Library Reading Room. Image courtesy of Danielle Nowak.

To add to the library’s uniqueness, the May T. Watts Reading Garden is attached to the library. The Reading Garden was constructed as a permanent monument to May Theilgaard Watts, a renowned American naturalist, author, poet, and educator. The Reading Garden makes for an exceptional place for quiet study or work.

May T. Watts Reading Garden, Image courtesy of Danielle Nowak

Describe your collections.

At the Sterling Morton Library we aim to collect resources that will assist our staff and members in supporting The Arboretum’s mission and work. In addition to our archival collections, we also have circulating, e-book, journal, artwork, nursery catalog, landscape plans, and rare book collections.

My work is primarily focused on our archival collections – both physical and digital.

The Library houses the institutional archives of The Morton Arboretum. These materials include documents and photographs that detail and describe The Arboretum’s development, past, and present; institutional and staff publications; photographs of plants taken on Arboretum grounds; photographs and documents pertaining to ex-situ plant collecting trips; and an assortment of other materials that help document The Arboretum’s existence and impact.

Kim Shearer, The Morton Arboretum’s Tree and Shrub Breeder, preparing to gather pollen from a Magnolia bloom. Image courtesy of The Morton Arboretum

The Library also houses and collects materials related to the Morton Family. With The Arboretum’s centennial approaching in 2022, digitizing the materials from the Collection of Morton Family Materials has become one of our priorities in the library. Right now, myself and a team of dedicated library volunteers are working to digitize and catalog our collection of Morton family correspondence, transcribe handwritten letters from said collection, and ultimately make the collection as accessible as possible.

Our fastest growing collections are our digital photograph collections, the largest being the Arboretum Image Bank, Collection of John Hagstrom Photographs, and the Living Collections Departmental Photographs. The Arboretum Image Bank is a series within The Morton Arboretum Records (our institutional collection) and contains photographs taken primarily by Arboretum staff of events at The Arboretum, work taking place at The Arboretum or off-site, and other Arboretum exhibitions and programming. We have contributors from our marketing, interpretation, and living collections departments transferring images on a regular basis.

Our other two largest digital photograph collections are related to plants and trees. Our Living Collections Departmental Photographs collection contains photographs of plants and trees that have been taken by an Arboretum staff member and an Arboretum volunteer. In these photographs, the two photographers aimed to capture images of woody plants around the Arboretum and Midwest. In addition to photographing just the entire plant, they also focused on taking pictures of specific parts of the plant or tree.

A mature seed from a Ginkgo biloba. Photographed by Ed Hedorn, Courtesy of The Morton Arboretum

Our other collection of plant and tree photographs is the Collection of John Hagstrom Images. John Hagstrom is a long-time Arboretum volunteer that set out to photograph every type of plant at the Arboretum, each of its part, and in each season. While the project is still in progress, so far, John has donated over 10,000 images that we are actively incorporating into our digital collections.

A close-up view of flowers on a Viburnum farreri (fragrant viburnum). Photographed by John Hagstrom. Courtesy of The Morton Arboretum

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

I would say one of the biggest challenges that is unique to our collections is having a good grasp on plant names and naming conventions. Oftentimes, plants will have multiple common names or their name will have changed over time. Since plant photographs make up a huge part of our digital collections and we have searchers with varying plant knowledge, it is imperative that we are able to incorporate multiple names into our plant name’s keyword and also keep our naming convention consistent. Additionally, prior to being hired at the Arboretum, I did not have a strong background in botany. So, there has been a bit of a learning curve when it comes to plant names and parts, but I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about them and seeing myself become more knowledgeable on the topic. 

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is the people I get to work with and assist. Because our collections encompass so many different topics (local history, botany, institutional records, etc.) I am always getting a variety of questions and tasks that keep me on my toes. I appreciate this because it helps facilitate an environment of learning that really helps me thrive.

Stay tuned for future posts in the “There’s an Archivist for That!” series, featuring stories on archivists working in places you might not expect. If you know of an archivist who fits this description or are yourself an archivist who fits this description, the editors would love to hear from you—share in the comments below or contact archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!


Laura LaPlaca, Director of Archives. Photo courtesy of Laura LaPlaca.

Laura LaPlaca, Director of Archives. Photo courtesy of Laura LaPlaca.

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. COPA member Rachael Woody, owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC, brings you an interview with Laura LaPlaca, the Director of Archives of the National Comedy Center.

Before her tenure as Director of Archives for the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, NY, Laura earned a PhD in Screen Cultures in the Department of Radio/TV/Film at Northwestern University. Her work focused on the early history of broadcasting in the United States, and particularly the development of the sitcom genre from the late 1920s to early 1960s. She also holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Dept. of Radio/TV/Film, and bachelor’s degrees in Art History and English Literature from Pepperdine University. During her 10+ years as an archivist of popular culture and media, Laura has led or contributed to processing and preservation efforts at institutions including the Library of Congress, USC-Warner Brothers Archives, and Paley Center for Media. She founded the Northwestern University Radio Archive Project [NURAP] and has served on the boards of the Library of Congress Radio Preservation Task Force and Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ Television Studies Scholarly Interest Group. Her co-authored manuscript on the history of American comedy is forthcoming from Smithsonian Press.

RW: How did you get your gig at the National Comedy Center Archives?

I first visited Jamestown, NY – a beautiful historic community on the shore of Lake Chautauqua in Southwestern NY – on a grant-funded archival research trip while completing my doctoral dissertation on the history of the sitcom. Jamestown is the birthplace of the ground-breaking TV pioneer Lucille Ball, whose archives are housed by the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum, which tells the story of Ball and Arnaz’s influential Desilu Studios and celebrates their enduring cultural legacies. During my visit, I met Journey Gunderson, the Executive Director of the museum, who told me about her team’s ambitious efforts to execute Lucille Ball’s vision to build the first national-scale, non-profit educational institution devoted to comedy in her hometown. I knew moments after meeting Journey, and hearing about the remarkable energy, optimism, and goodwill that all of Jamestown was pouring into the National Comedy Center project, that I had to be involved. It turned out that the Comedy Center had yet to hire a Director of Archives & Research, and my particular background in the history of entertainment media and popular culture archives was a good match. I joined the team about 18 months before the 37,000-square-foot, $50-million-dollar National Comedy Center opened its doors in August 2018. Since opening, we’ve educated more than 100,000 guests from around the world about the history and art of comedy. We’ve been named one of Time’s “World’s Greatest Places,” voted “Best New Museum” by USA Today, and were designated by the United States Congress as our country’s official cultural institution devoted to preserving and presenting the vital story of comedy. But I am most proud of the fact that we have been so thoroughly embraced by the comedy community itself; knowing that the artists and creators we are celebrating find our work important is really the best metric of our success so far, and the thing that energizes me every day.

Q: Please tell us about the National Comedy Center Archives.


From the American sitcom Seinfeld, the Seinfeld puffy shirt on exhibit at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

The National Comedy Center Archives collects materials that illuminate the comedic process, demonstrate the sociopolitical import of comedy history, and elevate comedy as an artform. We are committed, first and foremost, to providing access to collections. We always acquire, process, and preserve artifacts with exhibition and educational goals top of mind. To that end, the archives team works hand-in-hand everyday with staff in Guest Experiences, Education, Programming, and Technology to activate our collections for the public. The Comedy Center is comprised of more than 50 immersive exhibits that marshal cutting-edge technology and novel forms of interactive storytelling to communicate the story of comedy – very often via primary source archival materials. One of my primary roles as


From the movie Ghostbusters, the Ghostbuster suit on display at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

Director of Archives is curatorial: Where and how can archival materials illuminate history for our visitors? That sometimes takes the form of traditional artifact displays inside glass cases (the “Puffy Shirt” from Seinfeld, Harold Ramis’ Ghostbusters suit, Charlie Chaplin’s cane, or Joan Rivers’ joke notes). But, more often, involves activating digital surrogates of archival originals as part of interactive exhibits that involve touch screens, video walls, projections, or other technologically enhanced presentations. To share just one example, our visitors can take a seat at a Virtual Writer’s Desk and “page through” annotated script drafts from comedies like The Muppets, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum while the final-draft on-screen versions of the scenes play out beside them. In the past six weeks, due to the COVID-19 closures, we have moved a selection of our exhibit content to a digital platform that brings the museum direct to fans, students, and families around the world. You may enjoy exploring National Comedy Center Anywhere at anywhere.comedycenter.org.


The Virtual Writer’s Desk on exhibit at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

Q: Please describe the collections or one of your favorite collections.


The George Carlin Collection on exhibit at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

Our collections range across the history of comedy, from I Love Lucy to Saturday Night Live, from vaudeville to Internet humor, and across all comedy genres. I have three “favorite” collections: First, the 27,000-piece George Carlin Collection, which we have digitized and made available to visitors via an interactive interface in our galleries. The collection chronicles Carlin’s five-decade evolution as an artist, via his copious handwritten notes, day planners, audiovisual recordings, wardrobe, and more than 40 boxes of creative ephemera. The interactive exhibit showcases his meticulous process in detail, and allows our visitors an up-close look at the creative mind of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Second, the Rusty Warren Collection, and accompanying exhibit, honors the contributions of an important feminist comedic artist who levied her talents and brilliant wit to become a leading voice in the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Rusty Warren’s work was so progressive – and so feared – that she was banned from performing on television. Nevertheless, she toured cabarets and nightclubs for over thirty years and made 11 hugely popular comedy albums – 7 of which “went Gold.” Third, the Carl Reiner Collection – which is currently being processed – includes digitized


From the American sitcom I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball’s polka dot dress on display at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

copies of every annotated draft page of the scripts for the seminal sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, which Reiner created and wrote. This series was an important pivot point in the history of American television, and set a high watermark that endures to this day. The chance to peer into Reiner’s process via these scripts is like taking a masterclass in the art of comedy writing. In addition to overseeing the processing and preservation of our rapidly-growing permanent collections, I also work closely with artists, estates, and industry partners to curate rotating exhibits of documents, props, and costumes that represent landmark moments in the history of comedy: Lenny Bruce’s trenchcoat, Harpo Marx’s wig, Lucille Ball’s polka dot dress, a “Dundie” from The Office, Carol Burnett’s charwoman costume, The Smothers Brothers’ guitar and bass, Andy Kaufman’s wrestling belt, Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor costume, the wedding dress from Bridesmaids, Weird Al Yankovic’s accordion, and so many more.


The Smothers Brothers pose with the Smothers Brothers Collection on exhibit at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

Q: What are some challenges unique to the collections?


John Mulaney views whe Rodney Dangerfield Exhibit at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

The primary challenge that we contend with is the vastness and variability of comedy as a subject area. The Comedy Center celebrates comedy in all its forms – and across all eras. That approach requires safely housing, preserving, and conserving a broad range of multimedia artifacts, most of which were designed for one-time use on stage – not for decades of stable storage and exhibition. Our team routinely handles manuscripts, photographs, scrapbooks, and documents of all sorts…but also cares for 100-year-old fake mustaches, vaudeville broadsides, cartoonist’s palettes, Grammy Awards, a toupee, acetate discs, costume jewelry, a piano, several motor vehicles, a papier-mâché frog costume, paintings, undergarments, nitrate films, a miniature bicycle, a trick cello, a sledgehammer, and all manner of fragile, irregular, and – oftentimes – very funny objects.


Dan Aykroyd donates his motorcycle to the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

Q: What is your favorite part of the job?

Part of my responsibility as the National Comedy Center’s Director of Archives is to work directly with artists and their estates to devise the best ways to engage, inspire, and entertain our visitors while educating them about the vital role that comedy has played in shaping our shared cultural heritage. I enjoy every opportunity I have to interact with artists: to discuss their work, to internalize their stories, to strategize together about how to preserve and celebrate their craft for generations to come.


The Joan Rivers Collection on exhibit at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Ilana Short

Courtesy of Ilana Short.

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.  COPA member Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Ilana Short, the Vault Manager for Invenium.

Ilana Short, MA has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a master’s degree in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University. Ilana is currently the Vault Manager for Inveniem, a technology and archival company in Los Angeles, California. Ilana has previously held positions as the Manager of Visitor Services and Education with Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts and the Photography Collections Manager for the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas.

How did you get your gig?

I honestly sort of fell into it, which is of course not what people want to hear, as I know how hard it is to get a position working in archives. But, it really is the truth in this case!

I had spent most of my career working in museums, and I had done everything from education and visitor services to working with collections. Collections was really my favorite and where I focused my career, and I had been working at the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas managing the photography collections and archive. I then became more involved with the Curator of Manuscripts, and worked with her on cataloging and developing taxonomies for the photo collections, in addition to developing and curating exhibits. I discovered I had a knack for cataloging, and really enjoyed the work as well! I had been working closely with the archivist for a sister organization, the Las Vegas News Bureau, when she came across the job posting for Vault Manager at Inveniem on the SAA message board. She forwarded it to me with a note that said “this sounds like you!”

I have a personal passion for music, and many things I enjoyed doing in my free time revolved around music and concerts, and the job posting mentioned working in the music industry. I really went back and forth on applying for a little while, since the job was in Los Angeles, and I live in Las Vegas, but I did apply a couple days later.

From there, things moved fairly quickly, at least for a job in the museum and archives world. I applied in late summer, had a few rounds of interviews, and started in November of 2018. I had expected that my husband, kids, and I would all move to Los Angeles, but it hasn’t actually worked out that way. I am still commuting weekly, but now I am working from home more with the pandemic.

Tell us about your organization.

Inveniem is a small, private technology and archival company and we work primarily with living musicians and the estates of former musicians. Our client list, with rare exceptions, is completely confidential. What we specialize in, though, is helping our clients archive their personal memorabilia and possessions, as well as helping them monetize those assets if they choose to do so. We employ a staff of professional archivists, most of whom have MLIS degrees, and have developed our own schema and taxonomic structures for cataloging our client’s assets. We also choose the best long term storage and preservation options for our client’s assets as well. As Vault Manager, my job is to oversee the archivists, as well as developing strategic methods for cataloging assets and monetization plans, and creating work flow procedures for each of our clients.

Describe your collections.

The collections that we work with vary from client to client, but because our clients are musicians, they tend to contain a lot of the same types of objects. The assets that we work with typically include photographic materials (photos, slides, negatives, and transparencies), tour books, merchandise from tours, stage and video costumes, awards (like gold records and Grammy Awards), instruments, posters, and personal memorabilia. Being a photo archivist by trade, the photographic collections are always my favorites to work with!

One client that we are allowed to talk about is Wiz Khalifa, and most of the objects we worked with in his collection were clothing and shoes. We really excel at receiving a lot of disparate objects and turning them into cohesive collections – we categorize the objects, assign barcodes, photograph or scan each object, create metadata, and ingest the metadata into our database.

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

One of the biggest challenges is our confidentiality. It’s absolutely essential to our business but it does make it more difficult to participate in things that archivists normally would for professional development, like presenting at conferences. It’s also hard on a personal level because you might be a tremendous fan of an artist you are working with and you can’t tell anyone what you are doing! Aside from that, we face the challenges anyone in other archives face, especially how to organize information so that our clients can interact with it in a way that makes sense to them, as they aren’t archivists.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Where do I begin? In a lot of ways I have really found my “dream job.” Yes, I get to meet rock stars from time to time, but honestly my favorite thing is working with objects that I know no one else has ever seen. Some of our clients are artists that I really enjoy listening to, so getting to see lyrics in their handwriting, or photos from their travels are fascinating to me. I also love that the job constantly brings new challenges to solve and that I have to continuously be creative in many ways to bring new initiatives to our clients.

Stay tuned for future posts in the “There’s an Archivist for That!” series, featuring stories on archivists working in places you might not expect. If you know of an archivist who fits this description or are yourself an archivist who fits this description, the editors would love to hear from you—share in the comments below or contact archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!

There’s An Archivist for That! Interview with Kat Siddle, Librarian for lululemon athletica

Portrait of Kat Siddle.

Courtesy of Kat Siddle.

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.  COPA member Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Kat Siddle, the Sample  Librarian for the Historical Garment Archive at lululemon athletica.

As a self-described “clothes librarian”, Kat Siddle manages the historical garment archive at lululemon athletica’s headquarters in Vancouver, BC. During her 12 year career, Kat has worked in public, academic, and special libraries, with a short stint in copywriting.

How did you get your gig?

It’s a long story!

I’m technically a librarian, not an archivist. And I got this job because I left libraries for copywriting.

After I graduated, my first full-time position was at a public law library. I liked my job, but after a few years, I started feeling like it was time to move on. I didn’t quite know what to do next. Library jobs were scarce and public law libraries are pretty unusual institutions. I didn’t have an obvious next step. I went back to the drawing board and started applying for non-library jobs. I got a job as a junior a copywriter at lululemon athletica, the company that invented yoga pants. I didn’t have any experience, but I was interested in the apparel industry and I was a good writer. I didn’t know if I would ever end up in libraries again. I did copywriting and content management at lululemon for 2.5 years – and then a role in the archives opened up.

Now I’m librarian running an archive. And instead of books or documents, my archive is filled with clothes. It’s a hybrid library-archive space, because employees can check items in and out, and they’re able to self-serve if I’m not available.

Tell us about your organization.

lululemon is company that makes yoga and fitness clothing, plus accessories and clothes for everyday. It’s known for having an intense culture. It’s very outgoing, sporty and goal-driven—which was a big change for me!

View o f hoodies in pastel and gray shades hanging on a rack.

Garment racks are absolutely essential. They’re my bookcarts. They’re the best way to organize and transport clothing in a workspace. Courtesy of Kat Siddle.

lululemon is a vertical company, which means that we create everything in-house. We develop our own special fabrics and design our own garments, and sell them in our own stores. This means there’s lots of opportunities for information professionals. Right now, there are three librarians/archivists working here.

Describe your collections.

Right now, my collections all contain clothing and accessories. I have a few other products, like bottles of skincare and cans of lululemon-branded beer that we created for our annual half-marathon.  We keep the lululemon products that come out globally every season, plus products made by our Lab line and our little-sister company, Ivivva. Ivivva made clothing for girls. The Ivivva brand will be closing soon, so right now I’m working on transitioning that collection from a “working collection” that needs to be referenced by merchants and designers to a historical collection. I want to capture the aesthetic character of the brand and really honor all the hard work that went into it.

Some day, I would love to keep designer’s sketches and other artifacts from the design process, because I find that fascinating.

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

One challenge is that our accessions are driven by the company’s productivity. The company has been growing, so the amount of archival garments that I’m keeping is increases every quarter—but my space remains the same. So I’m always on the verge of a space crisis.

Another challenge is defining what makes up a meaningful or useful collection. I don’t always know how or why people are using my collections, which can make planning and weeding a challenge.

View of women's mannequins in storage.

Behind the scenes at a clothing company. Piles of mannequins are pretty common, and I almost don’t find them creepy anymore. Courtesy of Kat Siddle.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love that I have the chance to apply my skills in a design-driven environment. I always wanted to be a special librarian, but many of those positions deal with dry subject matter that doesn’t inspire me the way clothing does. I love working with colours and fabrics. It’s just inherently interesting to me. And I’m always learning — there’s so much I still want to learn from the fields of archives and museum sciences.

9 scrunchies on display, various colors, w/ exhibit tags.

I keep collections of all kinds of clothing and accessories. For some reason, the scrunchie collection is one of my favourites. Courtesy of Kat Siddle.

Stay tuned for future posts in the “There’s an Archivist for That!” series, featuring stories on archivists working in places you might not expect. If you know of an archivist who fits this description or are yourself an archivist who fits this description, the editors would love to hear from you—share in the comments below or contact archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!