Sunday, July 19, 2015

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.      
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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.

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