There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Colleen McFarland Rademaker of the Corning Museum of Glass

The There’s an Archivist for That! series features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. COPA member Anna Trammell, Archival Operations and Reference Specialist at the University of Illinois Archives Research Center/Student Life and Culture Archives, brings you an interview with Colleen McFarland Rademaker, Associate Librarian, Special Collections at the Corning Museum of Glass Rakow Research Library.

Colleen McFarland Rademaker in her office at the Rakow Research Library, Corning Museum of Glass (Courtesy of Colleen McFarland Rademaker)

Colleen McFarland Rademaker currently serves as associate librarian, special collections at the Rakow Research Library, The Corning Museum of Glass. Previously she was head archivist for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth (2015-2017), director of archives and records management (2012-2015) and archivist (2010-2012) for the Mennonite Church USA in Goshen, Ind., and head of special collections & university archivist at the University of Wisconsin — Eau Claire (2006-2010). She serves on the Society of American Archivists Publications Board (2014-2020) and is certified as an interpretive guide by the National Association for Interpretation. Colleen received a B.A. in German and history from the College of Wooster, an M.A. in history from Cornell University, and an M.L.I.S. from the University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee.

AT: How did you get your gig?

CMR: After working in academic archives for six years and religious archives for seven years, I took what may not look like a logical “next step” by seeking a position in a museum archives. However, the Corning Museum of Glass is not just any museum, and neither is it an archival program. I was immediately drawn to the institution’s interdisciplinary mission to document and promote the art, history, science, and technology of glass. Few repositories offer the opportunity to work both broadly and deeply across disciplines, and I embraced the challenge of serving patrons who bring expertise from incredibly diverse backgrounds to the research process. Having an interdisciplinary academic background myself, I recognized that this position might be a great fit for me.

As for the mechanics of getting the job, I confess that I applied for a different position than the one I currently hold. A very strong internal candidate was offered the position I originally applied for. In delivering that news to me, the chief librarian asked whether I might be interested in a different position in the organization. My answer was obviously an enthusiastic yes!

AT: Tell us about your organization.

CMR: The Corning Museum of Glass was founded in 1951. Corning Incorporated (then Corning Glass Works) gave the museum to the nation as a gift on the company’s 100th anniversary. The museum tells the world about glass by hosting over 400,000 visitors annually in its glass collection galleries, innovation center, glassmaking school, and center for glass scholarship, the Rakow Research Library. Guest artists frequently work and teach at the museum, and the museum takes glass demonstrations on the road with a hot glass roadshow mobile unit.

The museum’s commitment to glass scholarship is evident in the fact that the library is one its largest components. The library hosts researchers from around the globe, and library staff answered over 4,400 reference questions last year. The newly-formed special collections department provides leadership in managing all unique materials, but especially 20th and 21st century manuscript collections created by glass artists and manufacturers.

Rakow Research Library Reading Room (Courtesy of Colleen McFarland Rademaker)

AT: Describe your collections.

CMR: The Rakow Research Library holds the world’s most comprehensive collection on glass making. Its special collections include everything from a 12th century Mappae Clavicula (a medieval Latin text containing material formulas) to digital video capturing contemporary glass artists at work.  While special collections includes rare books, trade catalogs, works of art on paper, and archival collections, I’ll focus only on the archival collections here.

The library functions primarily as a collecting institution and has acquired over 200 manuscripts documenting the work of glass artists, glass factories, stained glass firms, glass researchers, and glass collectors. Some of our most significant and heavily-used collections are those documenting the local glass industry. While Corning Incorporated maintains its own corporate archives, the records of the cut glass manufacturer T. G. Hawkes and Co., and the art glass producer Steuben Glass Works are among our most beloved holdings. These records not only provide an important glimpse into the economic and social history of the region, but also support the provenance research of glass collectors. These records also complement the records of glass firms outside of the region, such as the recently-acquired records of Fenton Art Glass Company.

Among the personal papers in our holdings, glass artists’ papers have great significance because they document all phases of the creative process, from inspiration to execution. Glass recipe books, called “batch books,” are invaluable not only to glass researchers, but also to glass artists today who continue to experiment with glass formulas. And while the museum curators collect representative pieces from glass artists, the artists’ papers contextualize those pieces in photographs of and writing about the broader body of work.

The museum’s institutional archives also reside among the archival holdings. As the Corning Museum of Glass approaches its 75th anniversary (2026), its historic records are more important than ever. As the memories of long-tenured retired staff members begin to fail, current museum staff have increasing need to consult the institutional archives.

AT: What are some challenges unique to your collections?

CMR: The museum suffered a devastating flood in 1972, and none of the collections were spared. A selection of images of the flood damage and subsequent conservation work may be seen here. That the museum reopened just six weeks after the flood seems nothing short of a miracle! Significant resources were invested to conserve the collections, and the museum contracted with experts, including book conservator Carolyn Horton. However, the institution’s own records were not fully conserved, and original order was lost during salvage operations. Individual documents were chemically treated, dried, and repacked into dozens of records cartons. Some hold related caches of documents, while others do not. Imposing an arrangement on the museum’s early records presents a significant challenge because of the time it will require.  Sadly, MPLP is not an option for this project.

We are also in the midst of documenting the first generation of Studio Glass artists. Art glass production began to move from factories to small studios in the early 1960s, where artists could collaborate, experiment, and make one-of-a-kind objects. The pioneers of the Studio Glass movement are now considering their legacies, and many wish to make their papers available to future generations of glass artists and researchers. The volume of papers and the narrow timeframe for collecting pose a formidable task.

AT: What is your favorite part of your job?

CMR: I have the privilege of working with tremendously knowledgeable and dedicated people! Having worked as a lone arranger for most of my career, I am enjoying the company and expertise of others who share my sense of mission and passion for the collection.  I also appreciate the enthusiasm and intellectual generosity of the glass community – the artists, collectors, and scholars who create and use the records under my care.

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 Teresa Hedgpeth, United States Olympic Committee Archivist & Historical Steward

This is the third post in our new There’s an Archivist for That! series, which will feature examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.  To continue this new series, COPA member Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Teresa Hedgpeth, archivist and historical steward for the Crawford Family U.S. Olympic Archives.

Teri Hedgpeth

Teresa Hedgpeth (photograph courtesy of U.S. Olympic committee).

Teresa Hedgpeth was named as Archivist and Historical Steward for the Crawford Family U.S. Olympic Archives in July 2012. She is a professionally trained Certified Archivist with experience from the National Archives, the U.S. Naval Historical Center, U.S. Navy History & Heritage Command and the Western History Center.

For years the Olympic archives sat idle, stored in boxes in the basement of the shooting building at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center (CSOTC). Shortly after Teri came to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), a meeting was arranged with donor, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation Board Chair and Olympic artifact collector, Gordon “Gordy” Crawford. Crawford began collecting Olympic memorabilia back in 1984 and is now the proud curator of one of the largest known collections.

As a result of that visit, Crawford pledged the funds to build a state-of-the-art archives to properly preserve and display the Olympic artifacts and archives. $1.5 million and 2 years later – along with thousands of hours of labor and Teri’s passion for preserving the Olympic movement in a way that all could benefit – the archives moved from the CSOTC to its new facility at the USOC headquarters and are available for private tours upon request .

The most common, and most feared, question Teri faces in her position is: What is your favorite artifact? Her emphatic response? “There is no answer to that question!”

Teri earned a Master of Arts degree in U.S. History from American University, Washington, DC; a Bachelor’s degree in History from Auburn University at Montgomery; attended the Civil War Institute; and, is a graduate of The National Archives’ Modern Archives Institute. She is a member of the American Association for State and Local History, the Society of American Archivists, and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

RS: How did you get your gig?

TH: I’ve always been a huge fan of the Olympic Games – I mean, who isn’t right?  And, my daughters lived in Colorado Springs, where I was before taking the post as the archivist for the Western History Center in Casper, Wyoming; therefore, in 2012 when I saw the job posting for an archivist for the U.S. Olympic Committee, I jumped at the chance to prove to them I was the best candidate.  It was a multi-step process of application, telephone interview, all-day on site interview and then I had to create a 5-year plan once the field was narrowed down.  I am happy to say that the powers that be chose me to be the first archivist for the USOC.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

RS: Tell us about your organization.

TH: The United States Olympic Committee is one of the most recognized non-profits in the world with a mission to support U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes in achieving sustained competitive excellence while demonstrating the values of the Olympic Movement, thereby inspiring all Americans.  Founded in 1894 and headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., the USOC serves as both the National Olympic Committee and National Paralympic Committee for the United States. As such, the USOC is responsible for the training, entering and funding of U.S. teams for the Olympic, Paralympic, Youth Olympic, Pan American and Parapan American Games, while serving as a steward of the Olympic Movement throughout the country.  In addition to its international Games responsibilities and its work to advance the Olympic Movement, the USOC aids America’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes through their National Governing Bodies, providing financial support and jointly working to develop customized, creative and impactful athlete-support and coaching education programs.

The United States Olympic Committee is governed by a 16-member board of directors and a professional staff headed by a CEO. The USOC also has three constituent councils to serve as sources of opinion and advice to the board and USOC staff, including the Athletes’ Advisory Council, National Governing Bodies Council and Multi-Sport Organizations Council.  The mission of the USOC archives is to capture and preserve the history of the Olympic and Paralympic movements in the United States.

RS: Describe your collections.

TH: The USOC archives has numerous collections consisting of manuscript, photographic, three-dimensional and a sport library.  Our manuscript records include the official history of the USOC as well as personal collections and records of the Olympic and Paralympic movements.  The photograph collection consists of headshots and action shots of our athletes, coaches, staff and venues of Olympic, Paralympic, Pan American and ParaPan Games.  We have not counted the images but we know the collection houses tens of thousands of images.  Our photograph collection is probably the most visible aspect as it is used by our organization and accessed by news media and researchers.

Finally, the coolest part of our collection is the artifact collection.  In this collection, we have Olympic and Paralympic uniforms, medals, and torches as well as additional ephemera associated with the Games such as pins, patches, stamps, tickets, merchandise, coins, cereal boxes, cabbage patch kids … you get the picture.  Think of any company that is an Olympic sponsor and we most likely have a sample of what was created.

Special Collections-2

Special Collections (photograph courtesy of U.S. Olympic Committee).

Special Collections-3

Close-up view of Special Collections (photograph courtesy of U.S. Olympic Committee).

RS: What are some challenges unique to your collections?

TH: The biggest challenge for me involves completing our collections of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic uniforms, medals, torches, etc.  The USOC did not start collecting artifacts until the 1980s and then it was only to support a  traveling exhibit sponsored by Coca-Cola.  There was no comprehensive collection policy in place.  From that first call-out for memorablia, the collection grew to over 3,700 items when I started in 2012.  Today, we have over 9,000 items and are continuing to fill in the gaps in our collection.

Another challenge is associated with our Olympic marks, the use of them and educating the public on how important it is to safeguard those.  Unlike most National Olympic Committees around the world, the USOC doesn’t receive government funding to support athlete programs. The USOC is responsible for overseeing amateur athletics in the United States and for training, funding and sending Team USA to the Olympic and Paralympic Games every two years. To allow the USOC to fulfill these responsibilities, Congress granted the USOC broad rights to control commercial uses of USOC IP in the United States. Official corporate partners provide critical funding for elite athletes and athlete programs. The USOC allows our official partners to use USOC trademarks in recognition of their support for these athletes.  When others use USOC IP without authorization, it creates a disincentive for our partners to continue funding Team USA in exchange for the right to promote that association with the U.S. Olympic Team.

And finally, I think the biggest challenge I face with our collection is convincing Olympians and Paralympians about the importance of safeguarding their history.  Some athletes get this; but others think that since they did not medal, their history is not important.  I am flabbergasted each time I run into this line of thought.  They are the best of the best, chosen to represent our country in the most iconic world competitions and they think they are not important because they did not win a medal?  When you take into consideration how few athletes win medals at the Games, this reasoning boggles my mind.  In my opinion, yes, winning an Olympic or Paralympic medal is the ultimate achievement for these athletes; but, one cannot ignore the huge sacrifices each athlete, who made the Olympic or Paralympic team, endured just to be on that team.  That’s what I love; all of what transpired before to get them to that point and that’s what I try to relate to them when I have the opportunity to talk to our athletes.

RS: What is the favorite part of your job?

TH:  My favorite part?  Oh man!  I love researching our athletes and the items we receive.  For example, a competition uniform is created for us by designers for use by our athletes.  It is important that we know the designer and I love researching that history.  Then, the uniform issued is worn by a specific athlete and I love finding out all about that athlete; what motivated them, what challenges they faced and how well they did, or did not do in competition.  Sometimes the stories amaze you; they will inspire you and uplift you.  Such as, Wilma Rudolph, who was born premature, contracted polio, wore leg braces until the age of 11; and then, just 5 years later competed in her first Olympic Games, at Melbourne in 1956 winning a bronze medal.  But, four years later, at the age of 20, became the first U.S. female athlete to win 3 gold medals in a single Games.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Another aspect I love about my job is sharing these stories with others.  We create historic displays and exhibits of our collection for use by our organization at events; we also conduct tours of our archives for different departments in our organization.  Development, Marketing, International Relations all love to give their visitors a tour of the archives.  Since we are not open to the public, this is a very special treat.

I am always asked, what is your favorite item in the archives or what is your favorite Olympic moment?  One of my favorite Olympic moments revolves around the men’s 10,000-meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.  No one thought Billy Mills of the United States had a chance, except him; he knew he could do it.  I love watching the video of that race.  Listen to the announcers, one even stated, “Billy Mills from the United States is in there, a man no one expects to win this particular event.” In the final lap, Ron Clarke of Australia elbows Mills out of the lead.  No sooner is that done when Mohamad Gammoudi of Tunisia pushes through them both and takes over.  Mills is third and it seems out of the race after being jostled by both front runners.  However, in the final 100 yards, Mills comes on the outside of both runners in a blazing burst of speed to win, becoming the first American to win the 10,000-meter race.  Wow!  Chills every time I see that!  That is one athlete I would love to have in our collection.

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 on ArchivesAWARE!

There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Samantha Bradbeer, Hallmark Archivist

This is the second post in our new “There’s an Archivist for That!” series, which will feature examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.  To continue this new series, COPA member Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Samantha Bradbeer, archivist and historian at Hallmark Cards, Inc.

SBradbeer Interview Photo 1

Samantha Bradbeer, Courtesy of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

Samantha Bradbeer has served as the archivist and historian for Hallmark Cards, Inc. since 2011. Prior to Hallmark, she was an assistant librarian at the Ike Skelton Combined Arms Research Library on Ft. Leavenworth, KS and interned at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

She is a Certified Archivist (CA), and holds a Bachelors of Arts in Anthropology (BA) from the University of Kansas and a Masters in Museum Studies (MA) from Johns Hopkins University.

Samantha is an active member of SAA’s Business Archives Section and ICA’s Section on Business Archives, and serves as the vice-chair of the Kansas City Area Archivists.

RS: How did you get your gig?

SB: I began my career at Hallmark almost seven years ago. At Christmastime 2010, a friend recommended that I apply, as she felt that the job announcement was kismet. We both felt that it was written just for me, as I met all the requirements to a tee and have been a brand supporter for years. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of visiting Hallmark Gold Crown stores for cards and Keepsake Ornaments with my parents, and, as if there was serendipity involved, I even saw some of my first Hallmark purchases stored in the Hallmark Archives during the interview process. As luck would have it, Hallmark hired me on Valentine’s Day 2011.

Since then, I have been responsible for preserving and sharing Hallmark’s corporate and product history with employees, business partners, special guests, media and the greater Kansas City community. I am able to do so by answering research requests, creating exhibitions, providing tours, recording oral history interviews and responding to guest speaker opportunities. I am also responsible for arranging, cataloging and storing the collections.

SBradbeer Interview Photo 2

Samantha prepares several displays for the 2017 Keepsake Ornament Club Convention (Courtesy of Hallmark Cards, Inc.).

RS: Tell us about your organization.

SB: The Hallmark Archives is located inside Hallmark’s worldwide headquarters on the southern edge of Kansas City, Missouri.

The significance of our holdings stem from Hallmark founder J.C. Hall’s encouragement for a high level of quality and creativity and a longstanding tradition of support for the arts. Hall began assembling our antique card collection, one of several collections we hold, in the 1950s in the interest of creating an accurate and varied record of the historic development of the greeting card industry, and our company’s major product line.

The Hallmark Archives has since served a dual role in that – in addition to serving the entire corporation and outside organizations as a source for industry history, holiday origins and graphic design trends  – it also serves Hallmark by supporting current product development. Hallmark artists and writers often reimagine past designs based on current marketplace trends or anniversaries. For example, Hallmark is currently celebrating the 100th anniversary of gift wrap, and several vintage gift wrap patterns from the Hallmark Archives are currently in stores to mark the occasion.

RS: Describe your collections.

SB:  The collections housed in the Hallmark Archives provide a visual and historical representation of greeting card history, industry and printing technologies, and serves as the repository for materials documenting Hallmark corporate, family and product history.

  • The design collection includes advertising, chromolithographs, folios, original artwork, prints, progressive proof books and rare books from the 17th to 19th centuries.
  • The historical collection includes Victorian-era greeting cards representing holidays and everyday, as well as advertising and trade cards, handmade or folk art, playing cards, postcards, scrapbooks and salesman’s sample books.
  • The corporate collection includes Hallmark advertising, audio visual materials, correspondence, photographs, publications and oral histories from 1910 through today.
  • The product collection includes greeting cards and other products manufactured and sold by Hallmark from 1910 though today.
  • The masterworks collection includes samples of original Hallmark product art dating from the 1950s through today.

Unique items in the Hallmark Archives include medieval manuscripts, two examples of the world’s first printed Christmas card and Victorian-era Valentine puzzle purses.

SBradbeer Interview Photo 3

Samantha adds original artwork to the masterworks collection (Courtesy of Hallmark Cards, Inc.).

RS: What are some challenges unique to your collections?

SB: Hallmark has created millions of products since 1910, and the Hallmark Archives has stored and preserved a sampling from every year and holiday or occasion. It can be challenging at times to select which products to keep, but luckily our complete set of employee newsletters and product catalogs provide insight into the full product line, when needed.

Although our retention schedule automatically sets aside most products, many departments keep their records as working files for years, even decades. We recently started relocating some of these records to the Hallmark Archives, as the departments needed additional working space. Retired employees and fans of the company have also donated other products and records, and, like many archives, we have a backlog of materials to still process and properly store.

As technology has improved, we have also been digitizing our collections gradually. Most of our materials are digitized when our employees and business partners request them, but, as time allows, we have also scanned entire collections, including our masterworks collection of over 40,000 samples of original Hallmark product art dating from the 1950s through today. With that being said, an extremely small portion of our corporate records – including audio visual materials stored on now obsolete formats – has been digitized. I hope to start digitizing more of these records, especially as we are sharing more and more of our company history online and in the media.

RS: What is the favorite part of your job?

SB:  Over the past 100 years, Hallmark has partnered with dozens of well-known and influential artists, writers, celebrities and politicians. Many of whom – including Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Grandma Moses and Norman Rockwell – built personal relationships based on mutual respect and admiration with our founder. I grew up reading about these icons, and having the opportunity to see their original artwork and read their personal letters still gives me goose bumps.

I love to display these materials and other unique items from the Hallmark Archives as often as I can at the Hallmark Visitors Center, so employees, local residents and visitors to Kansas City can see a glimpse into our collections and company history.

SBradbeer Interview Photo 4

Samantha shares the history behind J.C. Hall and Norman Rockwell’s friendship and business partnership with Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family talk show host Ken Wingard (Courtesy of Hallmark Cards, Inc.).

 

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 on ArchivesAWARE!

 

There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Anne L. Foster, Yellowstone National Park Archivist

This is the first post in our new “There’s an Archivist for That!” series, which will feature examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.  To launch this new series, COPA member Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Anne L. Foster, Archivist at Yellowstone National Park.

Anne Foster.resized

Photograph of Anne L. Foster. (Courtesy of Anne L. Foster).

Anne L. Foster has served as Yellowstone National Park’s Archivist since 2010. Prior to that, she was the University Archivist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Traveling Archivist for the Montana Historical Society, NHPRC Fellow in Archival Administration at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, and Assistant Archivist at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Arizona. She is a Certified Archivist (CA), Digital Archives Specialist (DAS), and holds an Masters in Library Science (MLS) from the University of Maryland.

RS: How did you get your gig?

AF: As an undergraduate history student at nearby Montana State University in my hometown of Bozeman, Montana, I used to see flyers advertising an internship in the archives at Yellowstone. While I couldn’t take advantage of the program at the time (I was working three other jobs to pay for school), the fact that archives was a potential career for a history major and that someplace I loved like Yellowstone had one stuck with me. For the next fifteen years, through graduate school and several other archives jobs, I would periodically check and see Yellowstone was hiring. And then, on one random check—they were! I’d just been tenured and promoted at my academic repository, but finally, my dream job was available.  All those other jobs were probably a good thing, though, because they gave the skill set needed to step in as the first professional archivist in Yellowstone and tackle one of the largest backlogs in the National Park Service.

Processing room during our Archives Blitz grant project

Processing room during the Archives Blitz grant project (courtesy of Anne L. Foster).

RS: Tell us about your organization.

AF: The Archives is part of Yellowstone’s Heritage & Research Center (HRC), which also houses the Park’s museum collection, herbarium, and research library.  The HRC is part of the Yellowstone Center for Resources, which is tasked with managing all those things that make Yellowstone so special like the thermal features, wolves and bears, and the scientific research that guides management decisions. While we are part of the National Park Service, we are very fortunate to also have Yellowstone Forever, our philanthropic and educational partner. Yellowstone Forever actually started life in the 1930s as the Yellowstone Museum and Library Association, so our collections have long been a key part of their efforts. Most people think of Yellowstone as the place for geysers and wildlife—and we are–but the Archives is the place where we document those special features and our efforts to preserve them, which to me is something special.

HRC

Entrance to Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center (Courtesy of Anne L. Foster).

RS: Describe your collections.

AF: Like many archives in the U.S., we are both an institutional repository and a collecting institution. Our institutional records are government records and we are subject to federal records laws and guidelines. There are actually two types of records within the government collection: resource management records and administrative/historical records. All national parks keep resource management records. Parks are created to manage a resource or resources and as long as that resource exists, we need to keep records pertaining to those resources to help inform future management decisions (these records are considered “permanently active” as long as the resource is active).  Unlike other national parks, however, we also retain our permanent administrative and historical records like Superintendent’s correspondence, planning documents, partnership agreements and other records that don’t pertain quite so directly to resources. For other parks, those records are sent to the National Archives. Yellowstone is fortunate to be one of the few Affiliated Archives of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This means that the records become part of NARA’s collection, but so long as we meet their standards for preservation, security, and access, we can keep them in our location. This makes it easier for our researchers, both staff and the public, to access our history in one place.

Our third category of collection is our donated or manuscript collections. These materials range from Park visitors’ photo albums, diaries, and scrapbooks through the research of scholars and  scientists who donate their data for future comparative or longevity studies to records of businesses who have operated in the Park over its nearly 150 years. In fact, our Yellowstone Park Company (YPC) records, the main Park concessioner for the first 100 years, is our most accessed collection because it includes payroll records. The YPC hired hundreds of college kids every summer and, apparently, that summer was so memorable that the employees would spend the rest of their lives talking about their summer in Yellowstone. Now, we’re getting those employees’ kids and grandkids coming in to find out what Grandma or Grandpa really did in Yellowstone.

Archives stacks

Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center Archives stacks (courtesy of Anne L. Foster).

RS: What are some challenges unique to your collections?

AF: People love Yellowstone, so much so that there isn’t much about the Park that they aren’t interested in.  This makes archival appraisal a bit challenging—the most routine things truly have the potential for historical value.  Our NARA-approved NPS records schedule, for example, classifies most supply records as temporary. Of course it does—why would one need records for equipment once that item is used up or sold? But, we get queries regularly from people who have purchased former Park vehicles (buses, boats, snowmobiles) and want to know all about their item, down to paint formulas and the names of Rangers who drove them; it’s frustrating not to be able to answer their questions. At the same time, we can’t possibly keep everything.  So, it comes down to a rigorous and often detailed appraisal process.

We can have some unique preservation challenges as well.  Some of our most interesting records are logbooks–bound books used to record eruption data, visitor comments, or deep thoughts about wilderness. But, many of the logbooks are kept in less than optimal locations during creation—backcountry cabins, rock cairns on top of mountains, or next to erupting geysers.  By the time they are filled and transferred to the archives they can be nibbled, rained upon, or even somewhat eaten away by the acidity of geyser spray. During the 1988 fires, the Park’s historian actually flew with a fire crew in a helicopter to several backcountry cabins in order to rescue the logbooks (fortunately, all of the historic cabins were saved). Today, we have a more regular transfer of the logs to help cut down on damage and make use of digital duplication in cases where the damage is significant or potentially harmful to other items.

RS: What is the favorite part of your job?

AF: The location; it is magical to go to work in Wonderland and even more extraordinary to be the keeper of the documentary record for the world’s first national park. That feeling is shared by my coworkers as well as our visitors and researchers—it makes for a lot of enthusiasm and interest in the Park’s history. Every day is different and that makes for interesting and challenging work. There’s a huge amount of variety to my day: the types of records, the archival functions, and the research questions are as varied as Yellowstone’s landscape.

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 on ArchivesAWARE!