Most of the stories we've shared in this series, 100 Stories for 100 Years, as well as the current exhibit on the Archives in Norlin, have been prepared by project archivist Jane Thaler, with help from fellow project archivist Katelyn Morken, as well as her other colleagues, Jennifer Sanchez and David Hays. Thaler and Morken gave us a tour of their favorite parts of the archives and offered these insights into the future evolution of the archives:
As archivists who are both relatively new to the profession and CU Boulder Libraries, how did you became interested in archives?
Morken: I have always been interested in working in a library, having been enthralled by reading from an early age; however, it wasn’t until my college years when I began to seriously consider attending Graduate School for Library and Information Science. After beginning my Master’s, I fell in love with my archival coursework and sought out archival internships to see if it was the right fit. A year and a half later and I am in the field working on some incredible projects!
Thaler: I first became interested in archives when I wrote about them in my undergraduate thesis in Art history. I was looking into the idea of recording and art that was intentionally created to fall apart, decay, or change over time. This led me down the rabbit hole of how history is made and what things are chosen to live on in our very limited historical record. From there, I went into library school to learn more about the theory and practice behind archiving and the recent move toward more representational collections in archival repositories. And now I am part of doing just that in my current position!
What does an archivist do? Can you describe a typical work day?
Morken: At CU Boulder, I am currently a Project Archivist working with the Atomic West Collections. I manage and process these collections, creating finding-aids that I then enter into our online collection management site, ArchivesSpace. This also involves working with new donors in acquiring their collections that relate to the Atomic West collecting area. Outside of those specific projects, I also get to look over the Archives’ student workers, who assist us in entering in metadata and other small tasks.
Thaler: My principal duties includes processing collections, conducting donor relations, providing research assistance to patrons, and doing all things outreach including designing physical exhibits, creating digital exhibits, and hosting archives 101 workshops. My days range from structuring websites to leading tour groups, from numbering folders to planning digital emulation of born-digital content. Still, I would say that most of my energy goes into supporting our digital initiatives, fellowship programs and the Post-Holocaust American Judiasm Collection.
What challenges have you encountered as an archivist?
Morken: Prior to this position, I did not have as much experience in copyright and its effect on archival collections. [Editor’s note: for example if a photo belonged to the donor but is still under copyright, it may be viewed in person but not shared in the collection online] I came in not knowing the ins and outs of copyright and how that affects access to material within some collections. In this case, I am seeking out the advice of my fellow co-workers who have worked first hand with copyright issues, as well as educating myself on how to handle these certain situations according to archival standards.
Thaler: The biggest and most pervasive problem in my mind is the fact that archives have been entrenched in a colonialist past that has been carefully curated by those in positions of power. This has left so many gaps in our historical record that can never be recovered.
However, within the past few years, archives and archivists have been making drastic changes in how we work with donors, appraise the research value of collections, and provide access so as to try to counter some of the very harsh imbalances. We are definitely moving in a better direction. We are now partnering with communities and groups, which had been overlooked and even discouraged in the past, to help foster a more representational record, such as the Boulder County Latino History Project.
How do you explain to others on campus what the archives are?
Morken: In getting asked this question, I always want to illustrate that the Archives at CU Boulder is an area in the library where we maintain and preserve over 1500 collections of historic, rare and multicultural material on individual people, organizations, and the overall institution. I state that some of these collections represent those associated with the University, while others are related to the state of Colorado, the Rocky Mountain area and beyond. I also like to mention that we are an access point for those interested in learning more on our specific collecting areas or have distinct research questions related to a collection that we hold. We are here to put the user first, making sure that the historic information that we hold is available and known by all.
Thaler: I describe archives much more loosely than some in our profession as:
The location: a place that provides access to historical documentation while keeping preservation concerns in mind
The materials: archival materials are any type of recorded information (including the way it is recorded or the material that is is recorded on) that tells some bit of the story of our collective human history.
What are you most excited about the CU Boulder Archives’ future?
Morken: I am ecstatic to see not only how archives in general will grow in the coming years, but also specifically CU Boulder’s Archives. I believe that our Archives will be a great representation of how archives in general will further develop, as we are implementing new measures in extending our connections with local and regional organizations that will provide potential future projects and donations. By both expanding and adding to our existing collecting areas, we will be able to supply more valuable resources to researchers. It also will develop a goal in reaching voices that haven’t potentially been heard or represented in the archives before. The future is exciting for archives, especially at CU Boulder!
Thaler: I am extremely excited about the team that we have working down in “the cave,” as we affectionately call Norlin’s basement. We have professionals with skills that cover the vast spectrum of archival needs that have the ability and initiative to really push the CU Archives into being a center of research for so many collecting areas. While we have some strides to make in terms of digital resources and outreach potential throughout the campus and Boulder community, we are perfectly poised to be not only up-to-date with the changing tides, but to be a regional leader in moving archives forward.
A sincere thank you to Jane and Katelyn for taking time to explain more about the archives and sharing their enthusiasm for their work!
This is story #97 in our series: 100 Stories for 100 Years from the Archives. The University of Colorado Boulder Libraries will celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Archives on June 6, 2018 with tours of the archives and a reception at 4 pm in Norlin Library. We hope you will join us!