Every October, the Society of American Archivists initiates a month-long celebration highlighting archives and archivists.
American Archives Month gives archivists all over the United States an opportunity to talk to people in their communities about what they do and remind them that archivists are preserving important items and making them accessible. The UCR Library has two full-time permanent archivists on staff, University Archivist Andrea Hoff and Special Collections Processing Archivist Andrew Lippert. Learn about their roles at the UCR Library and more in our Archivist Q&A!
What inspired you to become an archivist?
Andrea Hoff (AH): I’ve always been fascinated by the past. Archives provide a window to history that can shape the way we view the world. This field offers unlimited opportunities for learning. It also allows you to develop expertise in many different areas, since each archive usually has a particular focus. The archives I’ve worked in have all had a unique collecting focus – from architecture to LGBTQ history, higher education to the Presidio of San Francisco. It’s been a thrill to get to learn about so many subjects.
Andrew Lippert (AL): My educational background is in history and I really wanted to find a way to make use of my degree in a career. I learned about archives while looking through the course catalog of my Master’s program and signed up for the classes more out of curiosity than anything else. I really enjoyed the mix of hands-on and intellectual work and decided to pursue a job in the field. It is a real treat, for a history buff, to get to engage with archival collections on a daily basis.
As an archivist at UCR, what does your job entail?
AH: As the University Archivist, I’m responsible for the curation and management of material related to the history of UCR. I collaborate with faculty, academic departments and campus organizations to ensure that their historical materials become part of University Archives. There is a lot of communication and relationship-building that goes into this. Advocacy and outreach is also important in order to increase the visibility of the archives. Making the collections accessible through processing and creating access points is another significant aspect of my job. I also teach and do research and assist people with their research… the list goes on!
AL: As the Special Collections Processing Archivist here at UCR, my primary role is working with our manuscript and archival collections to make them accessible to students, faculty, and other researchers. This is mainly focused on arranging and describing the contents of collections and creating guides to the collections, which we call finding aids. All of us in Special Collections & University Archives tend to have multifaceted responsibilities and my duties have grown over the years to include, at different times, instruction, outreach, presentations, curated exhibits, donor relations, collection development, and much more.
What is the most interesting special collections project you have worked on?
AL: There may be some recency bias weighing in on this one, but I would have to say the First Contact exhibit for this fall quarter was one of my favorite projects. I had a ton of fun diving into the history of first contact stories in science fiction and putting together the exhibit. It was a good excuse to read more science fiction at work, it was a fun puzzle trying to figure out what to include in the displays, and it was very interesting looking at a specific theme within the genre from an historiographic perspective. Aside from that, I would say that any time I get to work with a class has been a very engaging and rewarding experience. Each class asks new questions about the archives and the primary source materials that lead us to learning something new about the collections.
What challenges do you face as an archivist and how are you approaching them?
AH: Competing priorities are a challenge. There are so many things we are trying to accomplish and all of them are important. Different formats present a challenge as well. Preserving electronic records is quite different than preserving 35 mm film, for example. Deciding which collections should be processed and digitized is a challenge because every organization has limited time and resources to devote to those activities. My approach to this is to prioritize the stories that haven’t been told yet. Collecting materials that document the diverse voices that have shaped the history of UCR is my top priority.
Given that space is limited, how do you determine if materials have historical or lasting value?
AL: The million-dollar question! Space is a challenge that pretty much all libraries and archives have to deal with. I tend to approach this from a few perspectives. First, it is imperative that we look at who and what is represented in our collections and then identify those communities and voices that have not been well represented in the archival records in the past in order to work towards filling those gaps and silences to ensure that our archival materials are more diverse, inclusive, and representative of our broader community going forward. A second aspect is to look for materials that compliment specific topics that our repository has a strength in, to create a richness and depth of resources on a given subject in a single location. Third, as a part of the academic community, we have the opportunity to tap into current scholarly trends and research, which allows us to focus our collecting efforts in support of the students and faculty more directly. It is by no means a science and it is incredibly hard to predict what will be hot areas of research 10, 50, or 100 years from now.
What advice would you give to people who want to become archivists?
AH: Talk to archivists! I’m a big advocate of informational interviews. Reach out to archivists and librarians and ask to set up an informational interview. This is an opportunity for you to ask questions about the profession, potential career paths, etc. Archivists are the best resource for advice about how to get into this field and we are more than happy to share that. Most archivists consider this type of advocacy to be an essential part of our work. It’s a great way to find out about internships and other opportunities that can help you get your foot in the door.
AL: The field is quite varied in terms of the types of archives and roles that are available. It is definitely worthwhile to experiment and try a few different options before settling into a specific career path within the profession. Also, the early career stage can be challenging with regard to long-term or permanent employment. Most of us have gone through numerous temporary, grant-funded, or project positions before getting established in a career position.