Join us in welcoming Megan Friedel as the new head of archives in the Department of Special Collections, Archives and Preservation (SCAP) at the University Libraries.
Friedel comes to the University of Colorado Boulder from History Colorado where she was the curator of photography. With experience as an archivist and professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and a love for the history and culture of Colorado, Friedel brings an ideal mix of skills and expertise to the CU Boulder Archives, which celebrates its centennial anniversary today at Norlin Library.
Whether describing her experience as a student in Galway, Ireland or as a bluegrass guitarist, Friedel’s enthusiasm is palpable. Part of that enthusiasm comes from having carved out her own path in life, rather than following a well-worn route. Originally a magna cum laude graduate from the east coast, Friedel is most at home in the mountains of Colorado. An exhibit curator, a photographer, a historian, a musician, a well-published academic, and a new mom, Friedel hasn’t allowed any one role to limit her interest in another. And several of her passions find an ideal outlet in her role as the head of the archives.
“We are the keepers of memories, we hold people’s photos, diaries, letters---the day to day stuff of people’s lives and organizational records” is how Friedel defines the archives. “The role of archivists then is to be passionate advocates for these things—otherwise it is just ‘stuff.’ The mission of my career is creating opportunities for engagement with collections, whether for students, faculty or the general public, and getting people to interact with archives in unusual ways.”
A prime example of how she fostered that engagement at History Colorado is the Tiny Library Concert series. Live concerts might not be the first thing you imagine at a state history museum, but Friedel’s celebration of Colorado musicians brought people into the space who had never been there before, and led to new ways of interacting with the collections.
“We have amazing materials at CU and we are doing a disservice if we just sit back and wait for people to come and use them,” explained Friedel. “We want these collections to be used —yes in the classrooms, yes by individual researchers, and yes—by people in the community in completely new ways.”
Another role of the archives that excites Friedel is the mission to fill in the gaps, to find the stories that have been missed in the past by most archives. “The reality is that most archives in Colorado were established at the turn of the century and didn’t include the voices of women or people of color,” said Friedel. “Over the past 30 years, there has been a sea change in trying to record these voices and identifying the holes in our collections, and CU Boulder Libraries are actively engaged in that.”
This fall the Archives will help celebrate the 50th anniversary of UMAS, the United Mexican American Student organization that is now called UMAS Y MEChA, a sign of its inclusion of all Chicanao students, regardless of nationality or gender. Friedel has strong connections to the Chicano community in Colorado, but she emphasizes that students are leading the curation of the upcoming exhibit as well as the celebration on September 14.
Friedel sees the role of the archives as keepers of the historical record, but not interpreters of that record. “We are here to provide access to the materials, we are not gate keepers,” said Friedel. “At the same time, we have to actively demonstrate that our archives are a safe space for communities who have felt marginalized or traumatized by traditional places of power. CU Boulder is a premier research institution, so the onus is on us to welcome people. And the benefit is that a place like CU can protect and care for those records so that they aren’t lost twenty or fifty years from now.”
You can hear Megan Friedel speak this evening as she is one of the guest presenters, in addition to CU Boulder Provost Russell Moore and Director of SCAP Heather Ryan Bowden, at the Centennial Celebration of the Archives, 4 pm in the Center for British & Irish Studies in Norlin Library.
This is story #99 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 today with tours of the archives at 1 pm, 3 pm, and 5:15 pm, in addition to the reception at 4 pm. We hope you will join us—and return tomorrow for the final story in our series!