The following is a Q&A with NWA’s First Resident for the Archivist-in-Residence program: Abbey Maynard. Northwest Archivists, Inc. is offering a $5,000 stipend for one graduate student (or recent graduate within two years) to receive an Archivist-in-Residence opportunity. The purpose of this residency is two-fold: 1. To offer upcoming and new professionals with paid career development opportunities to apply knowledge in archives, libraries, museums, or a related field; and 2. To provide an opportunity for archival organizations to work toward the long-term goal of eliminating unpaid work within the field. This is a unique experience for a new professional to develop a project based on their goals and skills and work directly with an organization to determine the project’s scope, goals, and outcomes.
Abbey will complete her Masters of Library and Information Science at the University of Washington in June 2020. During her time in graduate school, she has focused her studies on archives, accessibility, and public services. Abbey has worked as a student reference specialist in University of Washington Special Collections, and has also had the opportunity to cross-train in several other Special Collections departments including Digital Projects and Photo Processing. Her favorite part of working in Special Collections is working with patrons to help facilitate their research needs. Abbey is originally from Des Moines, Iowa and currently lives in Seattle, Washington. She enjoys reading poetry, short stories and critical theory, hiking, and going to concerts in her spare time.
One of the things that drew me to library school was my passion for customer service I developed while working as a barista. The world of specialty coffee, like the world of archives, at times requires specialized knowledge and can have a lot of barriers for entry. These kinds of barriers—whether they are encountered in reading rooms, finding aids, or technical skills and equipment required for accessing digital collections—can make people feel like archives aren’t for them. Working in a variety of positions at UW Special Collections has made me want to pursue archives after graduation because it has shown me how every vantage point of archives—from technical services, public services, processing, and more—can be approached from the perspective of making information spaces friendlier to all patrons. I feel a lot of satisfaction from my work when I help people feel comfortable, confident, and independent in archives.
In your own words, why are archives important?
Archives are important to me as a site of cultural critique. The work archivists do in appraisal, preservation, and making archives accessible is an extension of the story we tell about the importance of different historical narratives. Not only do archives record history, but they also document silence by the gaps in knowledge they have. Archives can be a valuable site for critiquing and interpreting dominant cultural modes by asking questions about who is present, who is missing, and who is speaking for who in our historical record.
Where will your residency be and who are you working with?
My residency is at the Labor Archives of Washington (LAW) and I’ll be working with Crystal Rodgers, LAW’s Labor Archivist for Processing, and Conor Casey, Head of LAW. The Labor Archives of Washington is a division of University of Washington Special Collections.
Tell us about the project you’ll be working on.
I’ll be processing the RIDGE records– which document the activities of the Roslyn, Washington-based advocacy organization. This collection is of high anticipated research value because of RIDGE’s coalition model of activism, which brought together labor unions and citizens, land use, and environmental activists. Though the organization was not successful in winning all of its demands or a resulting court case, RIDGE did win important concessions from the developers and was successful in demanding union construction jobs on the resulting projects. I will do more extensive processing of the collection – including creating a processing plan that proposes an intellectual and physical arrangement for the records and addresses additional preservation concerns flagged during the first iteration of processing. I’ll be encoding the archival finding aid publishing the finding aid on Archives West– a consortial database of finding aids in the PNW region. I will also work with Technical Services staff in Special Collections to update collection records, find shelving locations, and process born-digital materials. I’m also seeking feedback from the record creators and curator about the arrangement of the collection, and any privacy/sensitivity issues the record creators have.
What skills do you bring with you that have prepared you for this residency?
I am familiar with the holdings of LAW from my work in public services at UW Special Collections, and have a strong understanding of how their holdings connect to other collections housed at UW Special Collections and other regional repositories. I have also worked as a visual materials processing student assistant in UW Special Collections since September 2019. I have been rehousing and physically/intellectually arranging visual materials and creating finding aids. In the past, I’ve worked with one of LAW’s donors, CASA Latina, an immigrant’s rights and education organization in Seattle, to help them manage their onsite archival material and help facilitate a smooth transition to LAW when more of their records are ready to be donated. My classmates and I also crowdsourced descriptions of their photo archives from workers and employees at CASA Latina to include in their own scrapbooks and history-keeping projects.
What are your career goals and how does this project help support you in achieving these goals?
After graduation, I am looking for jobs in archives and special collections, specifically for jobs as a processing or project archivist. Many of the postings I’ve looked at are asking for experience in preserving, arranging and describing born-digital materials. Processing the RIDGE records for LAW will give me the opportunity to gain several skills related to born-digital materials at once. I am also looking for opportunities to be more involved in project management and big-picture planning of processing projects. I anticipate that at some point in my career, I will be in a position where I’ll routinely have to make decisions about the overall health and processing level of archival collections for an organization. I’m hoping that working on the RIDGE records will help me make connections between institutional priorities and collection priorities, and help me see how an organization’s goals and values are implemented on a collection-level basis. As an organization, LAW is very clear about their values of preserving the history, struggles, and accomplishments of working people. They strongly value making sure their collections are accessible for people represented in their collections, which is also one of my top priorities as an archivist. Not only will it be a tremendous opportunity to work for an organization who shares many of the same values I have, but it will also be insightful to see how these values and priorities are present at different stages in processing.
In your own words, how will your work benefit the Labor Archives of Washington?
LAW will benefit from the processing of the RIDGE records because of the practical and preservation concerns my work will address. Processing the collection will put the collection in more stable environmental conditions, and will house the oversize material in more appropriate storage. An enhanced description of the collection’s content will also increase researcher access of the records. Confirming descriptions will help curatorial staff make informed decisions about weeding the RIDGE records or related archival collections, and can help identify duplication in their overall holdings. LAW will benefit from my insights and experiences working with researchers to access, navigate, and interpret finding aids. From working with users, I have a sense of what visitors find useful, what may halt their research, and what kinds of keywords are frequently used in finding aids of other curatorial areas. My experiences can help shape the arrangement and description of the RIDGE records to better serve patrons.
The NWA Paid Internship Committee would like to thank NWA membership and our Gold-level sponsors for their support of the Archivist-in-Residence program: