To be an archivist: Deborah Davis

Our third post in the series “What does it mean to be an archivist at your repository?” is by Deborah Davis, the Director of Valdosta State University’s Archives and Special Collections.  Along with providing insights into what means to be the archivist at VSU’s archives, this post also highlights what it means to be an archival manager.

What does it mean to be an (the) archivist at Valdosta State University?
The VSU Archives is a mid-sized archives with 1 full time equivalent (fte) archivist, 2 fte staff members, 1 ½ time graduate assistant and 1.5 fte student workers.  One staff member and 35 hours of student labor are devoted to our digitizing and digital preservation program, including the website and social media.  These workers do 2/3 of the scanning for reference questions as well.  One staff member, the graduate assistant and 20 student assistant hours are devoted to paper processing and preservation and reference questions.  They handle processing on our Archon system. 
Well, a good question about now is what does the archivist do?  I’m a bit of a gadfly moving into all those areas.  I handle all teaching, about 50 classes per year including research, volunteer orientations, and work project design and teaching.  I handle all planning and design of our outreach programs, from sitting on inauguration committees and working across campus to commemorate 50 years of integration to designing exhibits and soliciting artwork for our 6 library art galleries. I design all exhibits, with assistance in mounting them.  I handle all administration, from writing annual reports to designing our assessment program to hiring and evaluating all staff and students. I supervise staff and students and assign and prioritize their duties.  I answer reference questions as needed, a few a week.  I work with the digitizing arm of our archives to set priorities, assign tasks, and evaluate results.  I occasionally process, mainly adding to collections when I come across something that needs doing, usually in the course of a reference question.  I handle all acquisitions, from negotiations to the move to setting processing priorities.  I purchase items for our Special Collections (Georgia Collection) and our rare book collection.  I write grants and handle our endowment spending.  I handle press outreach for our archives and our exhibits.
As a faculty member (I’m a full professor), I sit on and chair library and university committees.  Part of a faculty member’s duties are service and research.  I’ve just returned from teaching a week-long workshop to the archival community in Belize, and I work with the Consortium for Belize Educational Cooperation as their treasurer, archivist, and web master (with assistance from my staff) and have been helping to design and solicit classes in library training for that country.  I’ve worked for 15 years with a group that presents field trips for Georgia 7th graders on Asia and Africa.  We have several African art collections that we use with approximately 2000 students a year in this program.  For research, I’ve written a book and several articles, made over 50 presentations at state, regional, and national conferences, and I serve as the archivist for the Georgia Library Association.   I also teach the semester-long Archival Theory and Issues class for the VSU MLIS program every two years.

If I had to sum up my role as the archivist, I would say my work is to serve as the public face and advocate of the VSU archives.  Whether I am that face in front of a class or in another country, I’m always representing the needs of my archives.  My job is varied and in a lot of cases not the traditional processing/description role of an archivist.  In fact, my staff is better at those traditional tasks now than I am—even though I initially trained them.   But I love my job and love its diverse roles.  It’s never boring.  My favorite part is mentoring the staff and students I meet who want to be part of this profession.  Right now both my staff and my graduate assistant are in the MLIS program, specializing in Archives, and several of my student workers want to join them.  Students from my MLIS class have gone on to get jobs at UGA, the State Archives and other archives around the state.  I think that’s my biggest accomplishment and my biggest contribution to the profession.      
Thank you to Deborah for sharing what it means to be an archivist at Valdosta State University Archives and Special Collections!  Want to share what your own experience is like working as an archivist?  Submit your “What it means to be an archivist at my repository?” post to us at outreach [at] soga [dot] org.

To be an archivist: Dallas A. Suttles

Our inaugural “What does it mean to be an archivist at your repository?” post comes courtesy of Dallas A. Suttles, who serves as the Computer Services Associate in the Archives and Special Collections department at Valdosta State University.

I am currently working on my Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) certification and work as a digital archivist, in all but name. For me, being an archivist has meant:
  • Digitization! – Scanning, organizing files, adding metadata, and making our materials accessible to the public.
  • Digital Preservation – Using command line tools like BagIt and Fitstool, I make AIPs for long-term preservation. We are using Google Drive for Business, with unlimited data, as an off-site backup.  I also scan the web for regional history to preserve. For example, I use IFTT to automatically index every local newspaper I can using RSS feeds.
  • Web Design – I run about a dozen websites and do a ton of web design with HTML and CSS.
  • Database Design – So many databases! Most were built from the ground up using PHP & MySQL. Our next database, an index of the 1860 Slave Census, will soon be underway.
  • Exhibit Design – All our exhibits need signs and labels. I use Photoshop to design these.
  • Social Media – Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc… This involves mining our materials nearly every day to post something relevant.
I like to think that through my work, I am serving the past, present, and future. When a patron finds an ancestor in one of our databases, we are reuniting the past and present in that moment. Thereby serving the living and the dead. And to generations yet born, this data will only become more invaluable, not just to the public but to the next generation of archivists that will build upon this work.

Why Archives Matter?
Archives and archivists are part of the foundational structure of civilization itself. Like pillars, we hold up the past so it doesn’t fall away into darkness, forgotten. We stand on the front-lines in an epic, losing battle against the ravages of time. By preserving the past we venerate the dead, serve the present, and educate the future. Please excuse my hyperbole, but in the grand scheme of things, this is precisely why “archives matter”, in my opinion.
Thank you to Dallas for sharing what it means to be an archivist at Valdosta State University Archives and Special Collections!  Want to share what your own experience is like working as an archivist?  Submit your “What it means to be an archivist at my repository?” post to us at outreach [at] soga [dot] org.