The Archivist’s Nook: Farewell and Thanks for All the Files!

“To Build a Stronger Union of Oil Workers”, from the CIO collection, 1950

This week’s post is guest authored by Marielle Gage, a recent CUA graduate in Library Science.

Two years ago, I walked into the American Catholic Research Center and University Archives as a student worker. I thought I would like the job — I knew one of my new coworkers from class, and had approved of John Shepherd’s fine collection of New England Patriots’ memorabilia — but I was surprised by how much. At the time, I was finishing my Master’s in History, and was assuming I would continue on to the PhD. But unexpected circumstances, and my new job, made me reconsider, and this last year has seen me finish a second Master’s, this one in Library and Information Science, and searching for a position in the field of archives rather than academia.

More than once, I’ve been asked, “What is it you do at an archives, anyway?” Normally, I explain what an archive is, and that answers their curiosity, but sometimes I get a follow-up: “Okay, so that’s the use of an archive, but why do you do all day? Just wait for researchers?” That question is actually harder to answer than you might expect, not because there isn’t anything to respond with, but because there’s just so much, it’s hard to describe a “typical” day. There isn’t one, really.

Take just this last month, as I finish my time at ACUA. I’ve processed a collection, including moving files into acid-free boxes and folders and giving everything labels, as well as fully organizing it, coded the Electronic Archival Description for it (using html), created a preliminary listing for another collection, scanned images for independent researchers and CUA staff, updated records, introduced researchers to our archives and rules, pulled boxes, created PDFs of hundreds of pages of original documents, taken phone calls, compiled a list of previous commencement speakers by reviewing old commencement handouts, moved artwork from our stacks to the vault, and more. Sometimes I arrive at the archives not sure what I’m going to work on that day; and even if I think I do, that could change with a phone call from the Registrar or some other university office, or with the arrival of an unexpected researcher. In my two years here, I have very few memories of being idle or without anything to do, even for twenty minutes.

Marvel’s “Mother Teresa of Calcutta”, from the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa collection, 1984

Even more than keeping me busy and out of the proverbial pool halls, my work at ACUA has been incredibly rewarding. Contrary to any stereotypes of librarian-type students, I am very much a people person, and take great satisfaction in helping people along their way: especially if they are seeking information and knowledge. I wish sometimes I had the ability to read the final version of every researcher’s book or article assigned by their investigations here, and it makes my day when we are able to provide something above and beyond the expectations of our visitors. That’s not really to our credit, necessarily: our records really are amazing. Not just highly informative — such as our various labor collections or the USCCB files — by sometimes really fun; we have, for example, a copy of a comic book Marvel produced about Mother Teresa. Even if it is simply her biography (and not, as I was hoping, a team-up with The Incredible Hulk to defeat Professor Poverty) it’s still a delightful record of the cultural impact she had even during her lifetime. There’s dozens of more items and collections I could talk about, but that’s not the point here.

Really, the point is to thank Dr. Meagher, Dr. Mazzenga, Mr. Shepherd, Shane MacDonald, and everyone else at the Archives for such a wonderful opportunity. They took a chance on a bookish girl, knee-high to a grasshopper even in her twenties, and trusted that she would be an asset to their community. I hope I have paid back that trust at least partially, but truly I owe all of them a debt I may never be able to repay. I very much doubt I ever would have sought that second Master’s, or sought a career in this field, if I hadn’t worked here. Now, as I move on to (hopefully), bigger and better things, I’d like to take this final chance to wish them all the very best. So here’s to you, ACUA: may your donors be plentiful and your HVACs never leak.