These days, people collect their memories on all sorts of mediums. With multiple places to share a thought, picture, or a video, memories easily become distorted to serve the purpose of the individual recording them. We’re human, we enjoy a good story…especially one told from our own point of view. When one’s story reaches the archives, however, it is transformed into its original form with the purpose of communicating truth. Placed on a timeline, and given an historical context, it becomes greater and more meaningful than even we could express in first telling it. This fact is something I have encountered multiple times in working with various collections at the I.U. Archives. The collections I worked with were, in a sense, boxed memories. Holding truly significant evidence of a time in an individual’s life, their story was left incomplete until given order and placed within the context of I.U.’s history.
I have had the pleasure of working with three collections of retired professors. Through each of them, I have had the opportunity to peek into their research, teaching styles, and even their personal lives. With them, I have learned many things, but most specifically the value in preserving a variety of backgrounds. Before the age of postmodernism, minority groups were rarely represented in archives across the world. Given this fact, archivists reevaluated their collecting policies, began to question their personal biases, and reached out to those whose stories originally went untold. Being aware of my responsibility to these individuals, I first acquainted myself with them. I would research their lives either within obituaries or even Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. Getting a sense of who they were helped me appraise and organize their collections. After being invested in a professor’s collection for a few weeks, it became hard to let one go and pick up another. However, with each collection I refined my skills and learned something new.
Along with managing collections, I was given a chance to see where archives are needed within an academic community. After the passing of one of I.U.’s esteemed chancellors, Byrum Carter, the President’s Office decided to hold a memorial in his honor. The individuals working on the project turned to the archives requesting access to his collection. My job was to collect a variety of images from his career and share them with other collaborators. I was also expected to provide an outline of his career including his early life, academic life, professional career, and achievements. Carter was a very involved administrator. During a time of enormous political upheaval on college campuses across the nation, his demeanor and management style ensured Indiana University remain devoted to carrying out its mission of education, uninterrupted by the chaos of the world. I was moved by his career and was determined to honor his memory through my work.
My memory of the archives will be preserved in this short post. In the future, it may be categorized, associated with something great or something small, or deleted entirely. In any case, my experience here will be one I will cherish. I have had a chance to experience what it means to be an archivist and work with some of the most helpful, encouraging people in the library. If one day I am fortunate enough to call myself an archivist and mentor a student, I will use the example of my supervisors to help her reach her full potential and follow her dream.
If you would like to a more detailed account of Jessica’s experience in the archives, feel free to visit her website.