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Supervisor Interview!

June 26, 2023

My main supervisor at Cushing Memorial Library and Archive is Mr. Jeremy Brett, my second supervisor is Mr. John Bondurant. Both are archivists and have been experts in their fields for many years. I hope that my interview questions will help me to gain more insight on what it means to be an archivist as well as various components of the job not really seen from an outsider. I have truly learned a lot from both of them. For the first few questions below, I was also able to ask a few other librarians and curators about their experiences to learn more.

Question 1: What motivated you to become an archivist? / What education did you receive?

  • John Bondurant - Digital Archivist. - John has a Master's degree in Information Science and his first job after graduate school was in an archive.

  • Anton DuPlessis - Director: Los Primeros Libros de las Américas Project; Curator: Colonial Mexican Collection, Ragan Military History Collection, Chapman Texas & Borderlands Collection, Area Studies - Hispanic Collection, Dykes Range Livestock Collection, Maps Collection Maritime & Exploration Collection. - Anton has a Master's in Political Science and a Master's degree in Spanish. He got a job working tech support as part of a digital project management on a 16th century new world materials collection in California.

  • Jeremy Brett - Curator: Science Fiction & Fantasy Collection, Women & Gender Studies Collection, Area Studies - Africana Collection, Children's Literature Collection, Maps of Imaginary Places Collection, Modern Politics Collection. - Jeremy has a Master's degree in Library Science and a Master's in history. He worked in public libraries while he was in high school and really enjoyed it. He worked in Washington D.C. for a while and really enjoyed taking care of old things.

  • Robin Hutchison - Associate University Librarian, Special Collections and Archives Division. - Robin has a Master's in English. She got a job at Cushing library while waiting for her husband to finish his degree and she has stayed.

Question 2: What is your favorite part of your job? Least favorite?

  • Anton- Anton’s favorite thing about his job is finding material and making it available to the public, allowing them to educate, inform, and synthesize information. His least favorite thing is the lack of personnel, a high workload because of the lack of staff, and the slow progress on projects.

  • Jeremy- Jeremy’s favorite thing about his job is that every book in the collection meant something to someone at some point. Also, seeing people’s reactions when they find something they really like. His least favorite thing is the lack of space, no space for books or archives.

  • John- John’s favorite thing about his job is learning something new every day, forming a tight knit community with his co-workers, everything can be self-contained within Cushing, everything has a story, “history of the unknown.”

Only Jeremy's answers below!

Question 3: What do you think are the most important skills for an archivist to have?

  • Jeremy stated that it is extremely important for an archivist to have a sense of organization. He said that it is important for an archivist to see the order in their mind and organize the collection or exhibit in a way that makes sense for both the archivist themselves and the patrons. He also said that it is important to have an interest in what you do as an archivist, but especially history and your specific collections. For example, Jeremy is the curator for Cushing Library's Science Fiction collection which has some extremely important pieces like the first edition of Gulliver's Travels that I have mentioned before, as well as a lot of Game of Thrones material and memorabilia given to the library from George R. R. Martin himself. If Jeremy did not have an interest in Science Fiction, he would have a difficult time working with the collection. He also said that it is important to be open to new ways of thinking and look at collections and material from different perspectives. It is also necessary to remember the fact that every collection is different and has different needs.

Question 4: What are some challenges archives are facing today? What challenges is Cushing facing?

  • Jeremy said that a big challenge that archives are facing are records born digital. He said that with so many being created every day and technology rapidly evolving that it is a struggle to stay ahead. He also emphasized the need to stay ahead of the technological curve because falling behind would mean that archivists would be unable to access material stored on different devices. (Example: I have a lot of CD's that I collected when I was younger, but I cannot play them anymore because I no longer have a working CD player, and neither my laptop or my car have a CD drive. The challenge archives are facing are basically like this but on a much larger and more dangerous scale. If they don't stay current or ahead of technology then we could lose access to digitally born material and the information and data would be lost forever.)

  • He said that another problem is that early archival theorists were mainly government employees who only preserved high level government/corporate documents instead of peoples history. He also said the archival career field is still made up of primarily people of white ethnicity with a slight majority being female, but still primarily men in administration. There are more people of color working in archives than ever before but it is still a white majority. He hopes that in the future more people of color will follow the archival career path to encourage more perspectives and diverse history to be preserved for the future.

  • Jeremy said that Cushing's biggest challenges is that there is not enough space (the building is history so it is difficult to make changes to add more space), there is a lack of staffing, and a lack of funding. This lack of funding is why there is a lack of staff and limited the collections budget for purchasing new material.

Question 5: Are you involved in community outreach/advertising of your collections? / Do you prefer to work on projects by yourself or with a group?

  • Jeremy said he prefers to work by himself and can do a lot of work on his own, but that there are times when he has to work with others on projects (like when he works with John for digital items since he is the digital archivist). Currently, there is no outreach librarian at Cushing. The outreach librarian work focus on advertising exhibits and organizing events. They would take some stuff off the curators places allowing them to focus on designing the exhibits, events, speaking to groups and conferences (even at Cons) and writing papers.

Question 6: Are you responsible for fundraising and/or how does Cushing find funding for collections and exhibits?

  • Jeremy said that each collection has budget to help them acquire more artifacts and material, and the exhibit funds come from the Texas A&M Libraries. There are also development officers to contact donors when the library or curators need more money for exhibits or collections. Texas A&M has a lot of wealthy alumni who are willing to assist the libraries, this group of donors is called the Mayo Circle, they are kind of like Cushing's version of public libraries Friends of the Library.

Question 7: Favorite exhibit you have designed/organized?

  • Jeremy said that one of his favorite exhibits he has worked on was the exhibit of Maps of Imaginary Places. He said it was challenging because of the lack of wall space to hang the maps. They had to borrow moveable walls from the George Bush library to hang the maps up on and bring in benches to allow visitors to sit. He said he also enjoyed the Diversity in Sci-Fi and Fantasy exhibit. He said he got to pick various themes to include and arrange the items in the display cases.

This interview was extremely helpful for me to gain a full understanding of what it means to be an archivist. As an undergraduate student at Texas A&M, I majored in History and minored in Museum Studies. Now as a graduate student at the University of North Texas, I am working on my Master's degree in Library Science. Interning at Cushing Memorial Library and Archive, truly combined what I love with my education thus far. Working with historical documents and learning about that history and how to preserve it for the future is something I know for a fact is something I want to do in the future. My internship and this interview have solidified the fact that I would love to some day become an archivist!

The picture above is of my supervisor at Cushing Library, Jeremy Brett. Photo from the American Libraries Magazine - An Archive of Fire and Ice.

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