Every October is American Archives Month – a time to celebrate the work of archivists and the physical and digital items that benefit from our care. There are as many ways to celebrate Archives Month (or #archivesmonth, on Twitter) as there are archival repositories. Larger archival institutions have a full range of activities to showcase their work. The National Archives and Records Administration profiles staff members and favorite items throughout the month on social media. Smithsonian Institute Archives covers its work through a number of virtual and in-person opportunities. Here at ISU Special Collections, we celebrate by working: accepting university records and donated materials relating to our collecting areas; working with donors; processing materials; answering questions from the wide variety of folks who enlist our help; educating students through tours and classroom talks; and providing access to our collections through our website and Reading Room.
The Society of American Archivists, our professional organization, is observing Archives Month, of course. The association president, Kathleen Roe, recently wrote a blog post and asked the question “Who have you met on your journey through archival records?” She posed her question in reference to people whom she met through the historical record – such as the faculty and staff, students, and alumni whose collections we hold.
The Special Collections reading room and exhibit space in 1971, RS 25/3
But as I sit in the Reading Room with a researcher hard at work and one of our student workers making preservation reproductions, I think of the meaningful interactions and lessons that I learn from the living people that I interact with in and around the archives. For example:
- Students of all ages, from middle school on up to retirees who are curious about something and have the time to pop in. And of course academic scholars from ISU as well as other institutions who seek the rare and unique information that we hold. Even the questions that they ask, about the archives or about their interests, teach me lessons about my work all the time!
- Our student workers, who bring their perspectives and questions to work every week. It’s nice to hear what student life is like in 2014 when I’m used to fielding questions and handling materials that are often older than today’s students.
- Donors who generously hand their memories, or their loved ones’ memories, over for care-taking. It is a privilege to assess a lifetime’s worth of accumulated materials and process them to allow others to benefit from all the knowledge within.
- Colleagues who have fielded my questions, encouraged and mentored me, introduced me to other archives colleagues in their network, and so on and so forth through the six degrees of separation between me and Kevin Bacon. No, wait, between me and famed archivist Theodore Roosevelt Schellenberg.
- Archivists of the wider world who I meet through graduate school, or at regional conferences, or at the SAA Annual Meeting – which was held with two other records-centric organizations this year. There is an unending supply of new people to meet, share stories with, and learn from.
Much appreciation goes out to all those who make our work as archivists possible – especially the archivists ourselves. You can celebrate American Archives Month by coming by to see our new exhibit on Homecoming, doing research, or checking out all the resources we have available through our [newly updated] website!