Archivists Go to Washington

Last week, thousands of archivists descended upon Washington, D.C. for a joint annual meeting of the Council of State Archivists (COSA), the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA), and the Society of American Archivists (SAA). Every four years these national organizations convene in our nation’s capital to learn and share knowledge. I was able to attend the conference as a member of SAA, as were assistant department head Laura Sullivan and one of my fellow project archivists, Stephanie Bennett. The following are, in my opinion, some highlights of the conference.


The conference program for the 2014 joint annual meeting of COSA, NAGARA, and SAA.

Attending educational sessions is one major reason we attend conferences. The sessions that struck me the most this year were “Getting Things Done with Born-Digital Collections,” “Talking to Stakeholders about Electronic Records,” and “Taken for Granted: How Term Positions Affect New Professionals and the Repositories That Employ Them.” The first two discussed the challenges of electronic records, which is a hot topic in the archives profession right now. The session on term positions was particularly relevant to me since I am currently in a term position, meaning that my employment here ends after a certain amount of time. That session discussed the positive and negative impacts of short term positions, as well as possible solutions and compromises to the problems term positions create.

Some notes I took during a session. Fast writing does not make for good penmanship...

Some notes I took during a session. Speedy writing does not make for good penmanship…

Another big reason we attend conferences is to meet other archivists and to network. Happily, I found two friends from grad school right off the bat, and it wasn’t long before I found other IU-Bloomington alumni, including those that I’d never met. I also met lots of people who graduated from other schools, and it was great to learn about different experiences and their current work. I even got to meet some famous people in the world of archives, which was really exciting for a new professional. In the end, it was wonderful to catch up with old friends and meet new.


Yours truly in the Library of Congress reading room.

Yours truly in the Library of Congress reading room during the All-Attendee Reception.

A couple other highlights of the conference were the All-Attendee Reception and a variety show, “Raiders of the Lost Archives.” This year’s reception was held in the Library of Congress Great Hall in the Thomas Jefferson Building. That is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen, and absolutely lives up to its hype. They opened the reading room up to us, which is only opened to the public twice a year. I could not have been more excited to be there. After the reception, a sketch show was performed – of which I was a part – back at the conference hotel. It was a reboot of “Raiders of the Lost Archives,” which was a sketch show performed in the 1980s and 1990s. The shows included skits and songs full of archival humor (yes, it’s a thing), and it was a blast to be involved. This year’s recording may be available on YouTube in the near future, but don’t judge my performance too harshly – keep in mind we had very little rehearsal and it was at the end of a long day. But really, overall I think the show went well; we received some wonderful comments and it was good fun.

The joint meeting this year was a great experience, and I hope to attend next year’s SAA Annual Meeting in Cleveland, Ohio!

Aspects of the Archives Profession: Conferences

In the last few months, I have been trying to provide some flavor as to what exactly we archivists and Special Collections staff do here at Iowa State in our pursuit of making primary documents available to researchers and other interested people. (Like you, web reader!) I introduced the concept of “processing” collections and described the Digital Repository @ Iowa State University and its many features.

Consider this another spice to the flavor profile of Archivist: we attend a variety of professional meetings, which can vary from a lunchtime webinar that is organized by a professional group such as the Society of American Archivists (SAA) or the American Library Association (ALA) all the way to a professional association’s week-long annual meeting that encompasses continuing education courses, sub-group and business meetings, learning lunches – activities that are familiar in professional associations of all kinds. Laura wrote in 2011 about the Consortium of Iowa Archivists meeting (yep, the CIA) that she and department head Tanya Zanish-Belcher attended at the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

Conferences come in many forms: there are state- and sometimes city-based groups to join – the Boston Librarians hold a monthly get-together, for example; regional groups such as the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) or New England Archivists (NEA), which are frequently more formal than local groups but have more flexibility than larger ones; national groups, such as SAA or ALA; and even international groups and events, like the International Council on Archives or the annual Open Repositories conference.

Our hotel room had a lovely view of the Kansas City, though we spent most of our time in conference rooms

Our hotel room had a lovely view of the Kansas City, though we spent most of our time in conference rooms

This past week, our regional organization, the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC), held its annual meeting in Kansas City, Missouri, and a number of Iowa State staff traveled down. Our Head of Preservation Hilary Seo and Conservator Melissa Tedone held a half-day seminar entitled “Soot, Mud, and Mold: Beyond the Basics of Salvaging Archives Collections,” to help archivists plan for and respond to disasters. Collections Archivist Laura Sullivan and Project Archivist Amy Bishop both had duties as members of the Education Committee, which provides a variety of learning opportunities for Midwestern archivists. I presented as part of a panel under the title “Part Theory, Part Therapy: Archival Management Lessons from the Trenches,” examining the tools and techniques that archivists use to manage the collections and employees under their care.

So that’s what conferences are like – but what do we do there? Why are they meaningful? I asked Amy and Whitney these questions.

Amy writes: I enjoy professional archives conferences because I love to hear about all the innovative things that my colleagues at other institutions are involved in – and get inspired by them! At MAC, I was inspired by the ways that archivists are using digital humanities to engage users with archival materials. Digital humanities (DH), broadly defined, refers to the intersections between computers and the humanities discipline. In an archival context, DH projects can be anything from digital exhibits to visualizations of historical data. For example, speakers from Concordia College in Minnesota described a collaboration between the archivist and a history faculty member that engaged students in historical research in order to create projects to share with the whole community. Students ran a “history harvest,” in which alumni brought in artifacts that the students digitized, researched, and presented online as the Concordia Memory Project. What a great way to engage students with the historical materials in our collections in a meaningful and exciting way!

Whitney says: For me, MAC is about meeting other archivists at different experience levels and with different backgrounds; catching up with archivists I already know; and attending sessions, of course. Two were of particular interest to me: “Improvisations of Processing: Confronting the Unforeseen in Large Processing Collections” and “Managing the Syncopations of Socially Connected Collections.” The session on large processing collections was particularly relevant as that is precisely what ISU’s project archivists primarily work with. The presenters detailed their experiences with mold, water, fire, and controversial items in their collections (i.e., guns) and how they handled such unexpected challenges. The social outreach session got me excited about possibilities for future projects, such as rephotography. Between the opening reception, held at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and American Jazz Museum, and a restaurant tour – I opted for delicious Jack Stack Barbecue – I had plenty of opportunities to meet fellow archivists and learn about their experiences. MAC was a great way to connect (or reconnect) with others and the profession in general, to learn, and to get excited about archiving – both its present developments and its future.

MAC meeting in Kansas City

I devote one notebook to each conference I’ve attended – they always end up full!

My answer? Conferences within the discipline allow me to learn from fellow archivists in order to better understand the tasks and concerns that I face in my daily work, as well as long-term issues. Sessions cover topics like effective and efficient use of social media by archives; dealing with unforeseen issues common to large processing projects; establishing and managing oral history projects; and addressing electronic records workflows. Quite a one-stop education, all covered in three days! As archivists, we are responsible for the day-to-day operations of our repositories; maintaining care for the collections that are already under our care; and preparing to care for records people create today: emails, websites, Instagram accounts, etc. Conferences allow me to not only work better now, but to learn how to work better moving forward. I can’t think of a better way to spend a few days bi-annually.

2011 CIA Annual Meeting! (CIA=Consortium of Iowa Archivists)

This post will be a little different than most – it will not be about our collections, but rather the CIA annual meeting Tanya Zanish-Belcher (Head of our Special Collections Department) and I attended about three weeks ago (July 11).  And, yes, CIA in this case does not stand for the federal government’s Central Intelligence Agency – but rather Consortium of Iowa Archivists.  (The CIA’s founders, however, decided that since the professional organization of Iowa’s archivists would have both the word “Iowa” and “Archivists” in the name, the acronym naturally had to be CIA).

Every once in awhile archivists do, indeed, get out of the archives and meet fellow archivists to learn about what others are doing and, perhaps, bring back some of what we’ve learned to our own institutions.   This meeting of about 25 Iowa archivists was no different.  The Hoover Presidential Library and Museum graciously agreed to host the meeting at their archives, and during the meeting the staff gave an interesting presentation on their collections.  Another wonderful part of the  meeting was talking with our Iowa colleagues, finding out what they had been doing this past year, and sharing stories, struggles and advice with each other.  Most of the morning’s meeting therefore consisted of reports from attendees on what their institutions had been working on.

Pictured above is the (very, very small!) house where Herbert Hoover (31st President of the United States) was born.

Although only a brief summary of what some Iowa archivists are working on, below are a few highlights (the full minutes of the meeting will be posted on the website shortly):

  • Kirkwood Community College reported on how they had been digitizing collections.
  • Grinnell College reported on their work with Archon.
  • Luther College is finishing up its sesquicentennial celebration.  The sesquicentennial has been very busy for the college archive’s staff, which recently doubled to include two people.  Project Archivist Sasha Griffin was recently hired to help with the Journeys to America project.
  • Loras College submitted an HRDP grant proposal for digitizing glass plate negatives depicting Dubuque’s entire workforce in 1912.
  • Iowa Women’s Archives (at the University of Iowa) has worked with the State Historical Society of Iowa to provide digital access to suffrage collections located at the University of Iowa and other Iowa archives (including Carrie Chapman Catt’s suffrage buttons from here at Iowa State!).
  • University of Iowa’s Special Collections Department is digitizing their Civil War diaries and experimenting with crowd sourcing (allowing people to access the images of the diaries online, and from these the general public can create and submit transcripts of the digitized diaries).  The University of Iowa also  recently completed an online exhibit on “LGBTQ Life in Iowa City, 1967-2010” and received an honorable mention from, which sponsored the competition.

Various other items were discussed after lunch, and afterwards we could choose to either have a behind-the-scenes tour of the Hoover Archives, or receive a guided tour of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site grounds.  I took the tour of the grounds, since I was curious to find out about the grounds and Hoover’s history in his childhood hometown of West Branch (Iowa). The Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is located on the site where Hoover was born and where he and his wife are now buried.  Below are a few photographs of the grounds (see above for the house where Hoover spent his first few years).

Above is the inside of Hoover’s birthplace cottage.  In addition, the grounds include buildings as they may have appeared during Hoover’s childhood, such as a Quaker meeting house (West Branch was founded by the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers.  Hoover and his family were Quakers, and people have speculated about how this background may have influenced him.)

Hoover was buried on a small hill near his birthplace.  As I stood on this hill, I loved the idea that his grave overlooks his birthplace.  You might be able to see it in the photograph above – it’s the very, very small speck of white between the trees in the far distance.

And, finally, there are patches of native prairie on the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site grounds.  The lovely patch near Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover’s gravesite is pictured above.