I want to talk about my perfect archivist moment.
As so often happens with these kind of stories, it was a rainy Monday. Friday and Saturday had been filled with the hustle and bustle of our Alumni Weekend leaving me with one day off, and I could feel the fatigue all over. But this wasn’t an ordinary Monday. Today I was set to meet with the 3rd graders that I’ve been working with all year, to give them their charge for the final piece of our collaboration- their very own donation to the archives.
I also had a surprise in store. Over the weekend, a member of the class of 1966 had donated a number of items to the archives, including the football cleats he had worn in the 50th football game against our main rivals. While I would normally shy away from accessioning footwear, these were special and I could already think of the exhibit opportunities. I also knew the boys in 3rd grade would get a huge kick out of them (no pun intended).
I made sure to show the cleats round the room, pointing out how thin the leather was (kangaroo leather, if the story is to be believed), yet how heavy the metal studs made the shoes. It was this point where the teacher caught what is truly the perfect archivist moment.
The kids were an excited handful during my visit, but I had missed that instant until I got back to my office and saw this picture. Since my first encounter with the 3rd grade a year ago, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that 3rd graders “get it” when it comes to archives. And here was the photographic proof. Sure, boys are natural hams when a camera comes out, but this was mostly genuine excitement.
I made the argument a few weeks ago at the MARAC Spring Meeting that working with K-12 kids is the surest route to grow and diversify our profession. No matter the content of our collections, we have the opportunity to inspire the next generation by talking about what we have and what we do. It’s a long game to be sure, but I see the impression I’m making in the eyes (and the many questions) of the students I work with. They will remember archives and archivists. And that’s all I can ask for.
One thing is for certain- I will hang this picture on the wall of every office I ever have, because it’s a great motivator. We should always be chasing that moment.