Recently, I was invited to participate on a panel of guest speakers in the Introduction to Public History course at my alma mater, Wright State University. After we three panelists had given our talks about our educational and career backgrounds, and answered questions, the course professor posed the following wrap-up question to all three of us:
What has been your most satisfying experience as an archivist?
I responded that, in general, I am most satisfied when a researcher contacts us in the Local History Room about any of our one-of-a-kind items or collections. The fact that this person was able to locate an item of interest in our collections tells me that we must be doing something right.
I’m always curious how people find us when they come calling with a specific archival material already in mind. Did they find us on WorldCat, the library web site, a search engine hit, the OhioLINK EAD Finding Aid Repository, or somewhere else? On at least two occasions that I’m aware of, I have received reference inquiries that stemmed directly from something the person read on this very blog (*happy dance*) because the blog entries show up on Google search results.
So, yes, I suppose my most satisfying experience in general is when people find our archival materials and want to actually use them. Because if people can’t (a) find them and (b) use them, then honestly, what is the point of having them? (Isn’t that like Rule #1 from Ranganathan?)
And I think that the reason it makes me happy when people find and use our materials is because that then gives justification to the other activities on which I spend most of my time, which pertain to preservation, arrangement and description, and access to those very materials. Allow me to elaborate.
My “the short version of my job” speech begins with: “I have about four hats…” Those hats include: Reference, Processing, Conservation, and CONTENTdm.
Reference is the part where I help researchers find answers to their questions; that’s the part where sometimes people ask to use the archival materials.
Processing is a shorthand term for archival arrangement and description: figuring out what is in a manuscript collection, putting it in a logical order in boxes and folders, then writing a finding aid so other people (including yourself, later on) can find materials in the collection. I’ve also worked hard to get catalog entries for all our ready-to-use manuscript collections, because our local catalog entries are also fed out to WorldCat, which means worldwide discoverability…which hopefully leads to use.
Conservation work, in my case, involves item preservation activities and sometimes repairs (such as rebinding a book to better protect the information on the pages inside).
And finally, CONTENTdm refers to the digital asset management system we use to serve up the digitized images and descriptions of our historic photographs, postcards, and other types of documents.
So, when you consider that three of my four main job duties involve caring for one-of-a-kind materials, it’s not hard to understand why I get excited when people actually find those materials and want to use them!