To be an archivist: Rosemary Fischer

Our second post in the series “What does it mean to be an archivist at your repository?” is by Rosemary Fischer, the University Archivist at Clayton State University.

I was the founding archivist hired at Clayton State in December 2014.  The Archivist position was established by combining a ¼ time professional librarian position and a staff position. The school was 33 years old and had no archives.  I was shown to my work space.  It was a classroom-sized space with windowed walls that did not go to the ceiling.  Our windows looked out on the library and the microfilm readers faced our windows.  Following a minor renovation, this space had formally been the library’s circulation department.  There was a desk with three legs held upright by a stack of books.  The phone hung from the ceiling.  There were two doors to the room.  There was no shelving and only a couple of document boxes, each with one photo in them.  There was one room for the archivist, the collections, the work space, the interns, and the researchers.
At the same time that Clayton was establishing their school archives, the National and Georgia Archives were moving to the edge of Clayton’s campus.  A lot was written and said about the Georgia and National Archives and only a small amount about Clayton’s archives.  It was a challenge to promote the school’s archives.  Whenever you talked about the Archives, people would assume you meant the National or Georgia Archives. 
The Clayton State University Archives has collections.  We have about 2000 cubic feet.  This is a small archives but it is a start and we are now adding to our collections weekly.   I don’t have to split my time 50/50 as a librarian and I was given a very small budget to cover the cost of archival supplies and equipment for the archives.
Being my first job out of graduate school, I was a bit nervous about being responsible for establishing an archives.  I didn’t know anything about Clayton State’s history and no one knew me or about the school’s new archives.  I realized that it wasn’t archival skills I needed but promotional skills.  I had to learn to be a librarian and share my time 50/50 with the library.  I had to manage my work without a budget.
The Director of the Library  gave me the task of walking around campus introducing myself and telling folks about the school’s archives.  I created a brochure and proceeded to “spread the word”   and encourage faculty and staff to donate items to the archives and to help us preserve the history of Clayton State.  I got a break when the on-campus publications started doing articles about our new archives and included my photo.  Some of these articles were picked up by local newspapers.   In a few months, I had been in the papers about a dozen times.  But I was still getting the same response from folks on campus, “I didn’t know Clayton had an archives!”  I am still getting that response today after 10 years. 
My main focus is still “promotion.”  I handle that in many ways.  I am invited by some professors to speak to classes about archives and how to use them for research.  I am engaged in community outreach programs to promote our collections and encourage graduates to donate to the archives.  I have an active internship/volunteer program.  I accept students from any school and any major.  (I have been known to convert some majors to history or liberal studies so they could continue working with archives.)  My outreach is extended to helping churches, schools, and other organizations start their archives. 
When I am given the opportunity to work with a department of the university, I jump at that chance.  I put everything else aside to work with that department to build a mutual and beneficial working relationship.  I will publicize the progress of our work together as an example for other departments and individuals to follow. 
Currently, our library space is in the midst of renovation.  The majority of our collections are stored off-site.  Later this summer or fall, we will move into our new space.  The Archives will have a large workspace, an exhibit hall, a research room, and a separate room for the collections.  I will open the exhibit space to anyone on campus wanting to share an exhibit – faculty, student groups, and departments. 
Perhaps with a more visible university archives, I will be able to build and process collections, which is why I became an archivist.   But for now, I work with what I have.
Thank you to Rosemary for sharing what it means to be an archivist at Clayton State University Archives!  Want to share what your own experience is like working as an archivist?  Submit you “What it means to be an archivist at my repository?” post to us at outreach [at] soga [dot] org.

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