Steve Ammidown is the newest participant in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. We will be following Steve for a year. You can read his previous posts here.
“Why does the school have an archives?”
It’s a question that fills me with a combination of joy and dread. I love talking about what I’m working on- improving access to collections, uncovering stories, remembering those time has forgotten. But it’s also a reminder of how much work there is yet to do in reaching out to my stakeholders and the larger community.
A prep school archives is a fascinating mix of a corporate and academic archives. Not unlike a corporate archives much of my work involves making our alumni remember their good feelings about the school, and that’s a lot of fun. Working with the alumni relations group, I’ve been doing a lot of social media outreach and designing in-house exhibits, especially around our big football rivalry that marks its 100th meeting in November. Good alumni relations benefit the school in a number of ways, but also significantly heighten the visibility of the archives in the eyes of those most in a position to support us.
At the same time, there’s a traditional reference part of the job as well. I receive phone calls and emails every week from alumni, outside researchers and media looking for information on the school’s past. These interactions have really given me a crash course in school history since I began in February and give me plenty of material to amuse and impress my coworkers. This kind of reference is also a great outreach opportunity, especially when it shows the world that our archives are open to all who are interested.
Perhaps most importantly, there are a lot of chances to do outreach with students and faculty. A visit to the archives by our 3rd graders last spring has led to collaboration with one of the teachers that will bring this year’s class to the archives four or five times throughout the year. Another project taken on by a group of upper school teachers and students has set out to learn more about the African-Americans who built our school and made it run decades before they could have been admitted as students. Even more than introducing the concept of primary sources, my goal in these interactions is to plant a seed that demystifies archives and makes them a go-to point of reference as they move through their academic careers.
I know I used the word “dread” earlier in talking about outreach work to be done, but I only half mean it. Aside from family, outreach is what gets me out of bed and into the office in the morning. That said it’s a never-ending challenge to balance the needs of disparate stakeholder groups, while at the same time trying to build the most complete and honest record of school history. This is what’s referred to as “job security”, I believe…