Reflections on the 2021 Georgia Archives Institute

by Terri Hatfield, 2021 Carroll Hart Scholarship Recipient

As the 2020 recipient of the Carroll Hart Scholarship, I first want to thank the scholarship committee and the Society of Georgia Archivists for the award and the opportunity to attend the Georgia Archives Institute. What an incredible honor!

I can still remember receiving notice that the 2020 GAI would be cancelled mere weeks after being notified of receiving the scholarship. Though we all had become accustomed to the certain disappointment that came as the COVID-related cancellations and postponements started to pile up last year, this one was particularly hard for me to take. A year later, I was pleased to hear the scholarship had been extended to allow me to attend a virtual version of the Institute in 2021.

I have to admit: I was incredibly intimidated to be there! I have recently completed my MLIS and want to eventually work exclusively in archives, special collections, and public history, and so I desperately wanted to learn more about archives. Furthermore, alongside my primary duties as Program Coordinator for the Institute for Women’s Studies, an academic unit at the University of Georgia, I have also been informally tasked with managing the departmental archives, which include photos, newspaper clippings, memos, letters, flyers, posters, and other ephemera pertaining to the unit since its inception in 1977. So, I also desperately needed to learn more about archives. But I don’t currently officially work in an archive or library. On the first day, as the other attendees shared their backgrounds, anecdotes, and job titles, I worried my experience was too little and too informal to be there.

What made me feel more at ease was hearing many of the guest speakers talk about how the very nature of the ever-changing field of archives means you’re always learning something new, whether it’s a new practice in the field or a new item in your collection you’ve never processed before. So, you might always feel a bit like an ameatur. The key is being open to learning and changing with the field. And that’s why I was there: to learn!

And learn I did. I was impressed with exactly how much GAI was able to fit into a week and a day of courses. It was mentioned that each section of the Institute was approximately a full semester of coursework. I believe it. So much was covered, from selecting, acquiring, and appraising, to accessioning and deaccessioning, to arrangement and description, to copyright, security concerns, reference, instruction and outreach, diversity and inclusion, and more. So much more! Our primary instructor, Pam Hackbart-Dean, was awesome in keeping us focused and on these many tasks, and in managing the Zoom chat, questions, and other distractions. She was knowledgeable and personable and tried to make sure we all felt seen and heard.

From the practical lessons on preservation offered by Tina Mason Seetoo, such as how to remove a staple and how to dry out a dampened book; to the descriptions and explanations of activities and strategies of digital preservation (multiple copies, multiple media types, multiple locations!) provided by Katherine Fisher; to the crucial and invaluable reading and guest lecture on Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppressive Archival Description, the other faculty and guest speakers covered broad and extensive material for students to discover and consider further.

One of my favorite guest lectures was on Community Archives presented by Tamika Strong. What an interesting and important project preserving funeral programs as a way to document people’s lives and narratives! Tamika’s personal interest in and passion for the subject matter, combined with her knowledge of archives and the field, along with the practical breakdown of how the project came together in its various phases, made for a great presentation. I learned so much! Tamika mentioned that the biographies found in funeral programs are sometimes the only biographical information available to tell a person’s life story. This is a perfect example to me of the potential of intentional archival practice. I felt inspired and empowered by this presentation and it reminded me why I want to further pursue this field. Even better is that Tamika has an MLIS and is an alum of GAI – like me! How cool is that!? I hope to find my archival superpower like Tamika has, and be as effective and valuable to the field!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the awesome gift box attendees received during the week. What a pleasant treat! Thank you to the GAI board for the adorable mini Hollinger box that will sit atop my desk at work and of course for all the delicious goodies! While everyone else gushed about the praline (and rightfully so), the peach candies and vidalia onion petals are tied for my favorite! This gesture added a special touch to the experience and created a shared connection to what could have easily been a disconnected virtual cohort.

While I still feel like I have so much to learn, I’m excited to continue reading, doing, and building upon this knowledge base I gained at GAI. Of course I’m disappointed we were unable to do an internship as part of the virtual Institute, but after hearing from so many board members and representatives of archives organizations on the last day wrap-up, the potential for future collaborations or shadowing seems possible. I have already been able to apply some of the things I learned at GAI to my informal archival work in Women’s Studies at UGA and I’m excited to grow in the field.

I would highly recommend applying to attend the Georgia Archives Institute if you can. It’s an incredible and invaluable learning experience and I feel privileged to have been able to participate.

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