IN THE SPOTLIGHT
People Behind the Scenes
Who keeps our university in top shape? It’s the People Behind the Scenes! Meet David M. Hays, archivist, University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries
David works under the curator and head of the archives to recruit, train and direct 12-14 student assistants in archival research, patron assistance, correspondence and archival processing. He assists the curator with donor relations, the acquisition of collections and the scheduling and funding of archival operations. He also directs the World War II era U.S. Navy Japanese/Oriental Language School Archival Project and teaches introductory archival research to classes requiring primary source papers.
What is one thing you would like people to know about the work you do?
While I sometimes joke that 'archivist' is how one pronounces 'unemployed historian,' I take my work very seriously. I believe that archivists amass, organize and preserve evidence from the past for the court of history. No matter how technological and digital our society becomes, original documents must be preserved, just like cold case files, for future inquiry. Digitized versions can always be manipulated in ways the originals cannot. The primary sources in archives remain the true links to a past that generations of historical scholars and students can continue to explore and interpret. If one had any doubt about this, consider that the Holocaust left more evidence of its occurrence than quite a few nations have of their existence, yet a considerable number of people and some world leaders still challenge whether it happened. Imagine how many would join that challenge if the primary evidence, the records, the photographs, the testimony were gone or only existed in published or digital accounts? Milan Kundera wrote "The struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." As an archivist, I am in the memory business.
What do you like best about being a part of the CU community?
I came to CU-Boulder as a history graduate student in 1979. Despite the undeniable beauty, quality and grandeur of the University of Colorado and Boulder, sometimes one can take the place for granted. Perhaps the aspect of the university I have never taken for granted is the chance to meet, or to have met, such faculty as professors Keith Porter, Omer Stewart, Al Bartlett, David Hawkins, Hazel Barnes, Gilbert White, Bill Weber, Robert Pois, Ralph Mann, Robert Schulzinger, Lee Chambers-Schiller and others. At times, after talking with them I have felt like a member of the classic Athenian demos, surreptitiously listening in on great philosophers as they lectured their students. I can only shake my head when I contemplate my good fortune - that I have been able to meet such people. Moreover, since the archives hold the papers of so many distinguished faculty, my job allows me to preserve that historical legacy on into the future. Working with those collections also gives me the chance to acquaint myself with past professors whom I never had the chance to meet.
What is your favorite activity/interest outside of work?
Ever since I found out that my old Army units were being sent to war in the Middle East, I have worked through a group of Army mothers in AdoptaPlatoon to write and send care packages to U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2005, I have written to seven different soldiers, in the 3rd Armored Cavalry, the 1st Cavalry Division, the 10th Mountain Division, the 43rd Air Defense Artillery, the 7/10th Cavalry Battalion, and the 1st Infantry Division. It can be time consuming and the troops do not always write back. Nevertheless, I grew up in a military family and remember sending mail to a brother in Vietnam, so I do not worry about the time or response at all. The most recent soldier is in the unit in which my father was serving when I was born.
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