Category Archives: Meet the Staff

Learning to Listen: A Student Assistant’s Experience in the Radio Haiti Archive

Post contributed by Tanya Thomas, Radio Haiti Student Assistant

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Student Assistant Tanya Thomas.

As a Haitian-American raised in Miramar, FL and Petit-Goâve, Haiti, moving to Durham, NC in 2013 for my freshman year at Duke was a culture shock. For one thing, I learned the hard way that ordering patties from a restaurant menu meant getting the ground beef portion of a burger, not a deliciously deep-fried, meat-filled Caribbean staple. As I began to settle into life at Duke and in Durham as a pre-med student majoring in International Comparative Studies with a focus on Latin America and the Caribbean, I started working on the Rubenstein Library’s Radio Haiti Archive project. The main part of my job was to listen to interviews from Haiti’s first independent radio station, Radio Haiti-Inter, a station that ran from the early 1970s to 2003, finally closing a few years after the assassination in spring 2000 of the station’s director, the agronomist-turned-journalist Jean Dominique. Working on the Radio Haiti project was my work-study job, but the job meant so much more to my Duke experience than extra cash. It gave me the opportunity to explore and understand the history of my homeland, which is why when I graduated in 2017, I wanted to keep working on the project, even while applying to medical school and working as a medical scribe in Miami.

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A screenshot of an interview described by Tanya Thomas in the Radio Haiti Archive.

As an assistant for the Radio Haiti Archive, part of what I do is listen to Jean Dominique’s daily Face à l’Opinon interviews. I then describe these interviews in English and Haitian Creole so that anyone, from academics who study Haitian history to someone curious about twentieth century Haitian life, can browse and learn. I tag the relevant topic, place, and name labels to go with the descriptions. What made Radio Haiti special was the fact that Jean Dominique interviewed peasant farmers and grassroots activists just as often as he did political leaders and members of the intellectual and economic elite. It’s one thing for a renowned journalist to interview a member of parliament about how a policy affects peasants. It’s another to interview a rice farmer and local activist about how government organizations are actually impacting their livelihoods. No social position was too small to be heard on Radio Haiti. Listening to hundreds of these interviews helped me gain skills and insights that I will use moving forward as a doctor who aims to provide care to underserved populations.

Tanya and Laura sitting back-to-back in a work cubicle.
Tanya Thomas working with Laura Wagner, Radio Haiti Project Archivist.

As a medical scribe, I work in the consult room as the patient is being seen by the doctor. I listen to their health concerns in real-time and type their symptoms and relevant information about their life circumstances into their electronic medical record. In the summarizing sections of the notes, I condense the entire visit to the patient’s most pressing symptoms. I also record what the doctor tells me that she or he finds during the physical examination, and the treatment plan they decided on with the patient. I write these notes not only for the doctor’s own reference, but also for anyone with access to the patient’s record. For example, this could be a paramedic taking a seriously ill patient to the hospital, or a judge in a court of law if the visit were to come up in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

In that respect, medically scribing a patient encounter is quite like describing Radio Haiti recordings. In both these jobs, my notes must be clear enough to lay out the situation so that someone reading what I wrote for the first time can be caught up enough to know what the most pressing thing that happened was, and what related issues can be investigated for further context. Though I am a subjective human being, I must faithfully and dispassionately communicate what happened and who said it with as little subjective input as possible. Whether listening to descriptions of injustice and human rights violations in the Radio Haiti materials, or creating a record of the pain and suffering of a patient in the clinic, it can be difficult to keep my emotions from clouding my understanding of events, but critical distance remains crucial to the work at hand. Moreover, the patients we served in the Miami clinic were, like many of the people Jean Dominique interviewed at Radio Haiti, people who are excluded from the political process or silenced in clinical encounters: immigrants, undocumented people, people who do not speak English, and poor people. I have learned to balance the processing of personal information with the larger social responsibility of providing a service to the marginalized, and this skill is something I will keep nurturing throughout medical school and beyond.  As I reflect on this past year and prepare to start medical school this month, I realize that by working as a medical scribe and an assistant for the Radio Haiti Archive the most important skill I have learned this year has been listening. As one of Radio Haiti’s old jingles went, “Radyo Ayiti: anvan nou pale, nou koute w!” (“Radio Haiti: before we speak, we listen to you!”)

The Rubenstein Library staff, and particularly the Radio Haiti team (Laura Wagner, Craig Breaden, Patrick Stawski, Sarah Schmidt, and Naomi Nelson) would like to congratulate Tanya on starting medical school at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine this week! We are proud of you, we appreciate everything you’ve done for this project, and we wish you bon chans as you undertake this next exciting step.

Welcome, Hillary Gatlin!

Photo of Hillary Gatlin, Duke's new Records Manager.Hillary Gatlin recently joined the staff of the Duke University Archives as Records Manager. We asked her a few questions to help us—and you—get to know her a little better!

Tell us a little bit about your new job at the University Archives!

As the Records Manager, I will be working closely with University Archives staff and other university stakeholders to update, redesign, and guide Duke’s records management program to ensure that the significant records of the university, including both paper and electronic formats, are preserved and made available for future research. I will be assisting offices and departments to help them identify, retain, and dispose of their records appropriately by creating records retention guidelines, assisting with records transfer, and providing guidance on electronic records management. You will see me out and about on campus as I work with departments and offices.

Why is records management important?

Records management is all about getting the right information to the right people at the right time. The goal is to ensure that employees have access to the information they need to be successful here at Duke while also protecting personal information and sensitive data in accordance with best practices and federal regulations. Records management is also crucial when  documenting university history. The work we do at Duke is important, and we should make sure the records of it are preserved in the Archives for future research and scholarship.

Can you give us a sneak peek of some upcoming changes for the records management program?

The Archives will soon be unveiling new webpages with updated information on records management procedures, including a new online form to streamline the records transfer process. Later this year, we will begin offering introductory records management presentations to offices and department staff.

What is one thing that people may not realize about records management?

Records management is everywhere! Records management plays a role in everything from records creation to access and use to destruction or preservation of records. People use records management every day whether they think about it or not; naming a document, saving a photo, filing an email—all of these tasks involve records management. Records management is a crucial part of our lives—and you may not even notice!

How did you become a records manager/archivist?

My interest in records began during my undergraduate work at the University of Mary Washington, where I studied historic preservation. I then attended the University of Pittsburgh to get my MLIS in Library Science. I took two classes on Records Management, and I realized I had found my calling.

What aspects of your new job are you most excited about?

As a records manager, I get to know campus well. I get to work with new people all the time, and I enjoy working with people from all across campus. I also get to know campus spaces. I frequently go to departments and get to see their storage spaces. I’ve been in more basements, “troll dungeons”, closets, and attics than I can count. While those places are not good spaces for storing records, they make for interesting visits!

Tell us one fun thing about yourself.

I love football—both professional and college! I look forward to cheering on the Blue Devils in the ACC!

Any last words of wisdom?

Are you having difficulties managing your records? You are not alone! Sometimes people feel they are the only ones facing records issues. Every department and office faces these problems, and the Records Management program is here to help. Just ask!

Thanks, Hillary, and welcome to the UA!

Meet the Staff: Megan Lewis, Processing Archivist for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture

Megan Lewis joined the Rubenstein staff in 2002 as a rare book cataloger. In 2009, she became the Technical Services Archivist for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

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Tell us about your academic background and interests.

My B.A. is in English, so I’m particularly interested in our literature collections. It’s fascinating to make connections between the materiality of what we collect with the published product. I’m also interested in popular culture. Show me your popular culture, and I’ll show you who you are. Since I started working at the Bingham Center, I’ve become interested in the ways we as archivists can serve various activist communities by documenting their work.

What led you to working in libraries? How did you know you wanted to be an archivist?

I was genetically destined to work in libraries, since my mom was a librarian and I loved to shadow her at work when I was a kid. After working at my college library as an undergrad, I was lucky to get my first job in special collections at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Once I started learning about rare books there, there was no turning back.

I never actually planned to become an archivist, but fell into it at Duke after working as a rare book cataloger. A position opened at the Bingham Center, and I applied for it. I’d first heard about the Bingham Center when its director visited my class in library school. She gave an inspiring talk about how the Bingham Center “saves women’s lives,” and as a lifelong feminist, I thought it would be a dream job to work there. I was right.

What are the main projects you work on at the Rubenstein and Bingham Center?

I process and catalog manuscript collections. That means that I arrange them in a coherent fashion and create collection guides, as well as a catalog record, so people can find what we have. I’ve worked almost exclusively with large modern collections, but lately I’ve also been cataloging small, older manuscripts from the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection. As a Bingham Center staff member, I also participate in events, outreach, and donor relations.

How do you describe what you do to people you meet at a party?  To fellow librarians and library staff?

I tell laypeople that I’m a women’s history archivist. Usually, they say “cool!” and that’s it, but sometimes they want to know details.

To fellow library folks, I say that I’m a technical services archivist at the Rubenstein, because that gives them an idea of where I fit into Duke Libraries’ organizational structure.

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What does an average day look like for you?

On an average day, I might check in with my library school intern and my undergraduate student assistant. I’m lucky to have an intern who also processes collections.  My student assistant helps me rebox and folder incoming new materials, and creates boxlists that are part of the collection guide. Much of my job entails moving materials along so we don’t get backed up. Right now my shelves are almost full, which means that it’s time to send as many boxes as possible to our Library Service Center. I also meet weekly with my Bingham Center cohorts so we can discuss our work with each other.

What do you like best about your job? What excites you most?

I love that I get to help document women’s history. It’s a privilege to work with our donors, many of whom are tremendously accomplished women whose work has changed the world for the better in palpable ways.

I get excited when I see young women, who might not consider themselves feminists, use our collections and be able to connect their present-day struggles with the work done by activists who came before them.

What might people find surprising about your job?

It’s not always quiet, and it’s not without stress. When I tell people I work in a library, they often say, “Oh, that must be nice and quiet and calm.”

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Trying to keep up with new acquisitions and increase our processing capacity. Some donors like to send us things on a frequent basis, which has a mushroom effect.  Sometimes I feel like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice trying to beat back the water.

Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?

Right now, I’d have to say the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, which has been transformative for the Rubenstein. It’s an amazingly rich and deep collection based around the theme of working women. Each small manuscript collection I catalog is a mini history lesson.

Where can you be found when you’re not working?

Walking my dog and consuming culture in and around Durham.

What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?

Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues (1993). Leslie was a transgender activist ahead of her time, and was also the partner of writer/activist Minnie Bruce Pratt, whose papers are held by the Bingham Center.

Meet the Staff: Reference Intern Ashley Rose Young

Ashley Rose Young, a doctoral student in History at Duke, is the Reference Intern at the Rubenstein Library.

Tell us about your academic background and interests.

Food and history have long been a part of my life.  My mother’s family owns a gourmet grocery food business in the city of Pittsburgh, and my father, a history teacher, instilled his passion for American history in me and my three brothers.  As a child, my summers were marked not by family vacations to Disney World, but by trips to historic sites such as Fort Ligonier, Gettysburg, and Colonial Williamsburg.

As a history major at Yale University, I was able to further explore my interests in a wide variety of courses ranging from Global Environmental History, to Ancient Egyptian History, to African American History Post-1865.  Two terms abroad at Regent’s Park College at Oxford University introduced me to the fascinating history of court culture in Early Modern Europe, the anthropological study of ancient Etruscan civilization, and the rise of the Baptist faith in America.  Perhaps one of the most pivotal moments in my undergraduate career was my Archives and Collections internship at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, which inspired my senior thesis on the ethnic and racial imagery in postbellum cookbooks, “‘Cooking in the Old Creole Days’: An Exploration of Late 19th and Early 20th Century Creole Culture and Society Through the Study of Creole Cookbooks.”

As a PhD student at Duke University, I’ve sought to engage not only with the history department but also the Center for Documentary Studies, branching out into the study of oral histories.  I’ve partnered with the Southern Foodways Alliance to profile the nationally known Carrboro Farmers’ Market through oral histories—a project that illuminated the highly political, rich culture of alternative foodways in North Carolina.

In the fall of 2012, I began to immerse myself in debates and questions about the digital humanities, participating in the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge as well as the HASTAC Scholars program. This community influenced my dissertation research in several ways. I am, for example, mapping the demographic data of food vendors and public markets in twentieth-century New Orleans to see where power was concentrated and how people survived outside of the commercial core.

My larger dissertation project, “Nourishing Networks: Provisioning Southern Cities in the Atlantic World” examines the history of New Orleans’ public market culture. Whereas scholars have tended to examine how markets functioned in a single city, my project situates places like the French Market within a global context. On both sides of the Atlantic, municipal governments developed local food systems that prioritized fair pricing, cleanliness, and the construction of modern market halls. This European-influenced public market culture was not unique to the American South; it existed in most major American port cities. As a result, vendors, consumers, and local officials across the U.S. forged a cohesive public market culture during the nineteenth century that has yet to be fully understood. Regional food cultures were not isolated. Rather, they were interconnected and—even more importantly—crucial to the development of a larger American culture.

What led you to working in libraries?

I have a passion for public scholarship in all of its iterations. Working at the library, brainstorming with researchers, helping them advance their dissertation projects while enriching my own work are all part of building a lively career. These daily interactions help me break down the barriers that exist between the academy and the public, thereby enriching both the Duke and Durham communities.

As an intern, how does your work at the Rubenstein influence your research and writing?

It’s a known adage that reading widely improves your academic projects. The same goes for researching. Working with materials that are “completely unrelated” to my dissertation helps me think of new ways in which to investigate the development of Creole communities and culture through diverse sources.

What does an average day at RL look like for you?

My days vary, which is wonderful. Typically, though, I help patrons with remote research. I also work the Reference Desk and the Circulation Desk. So, I am often the first face that a research sees when she walks into the Rubenstein or I am one of the two librarians who help her access materials once she heads into the Reading Room. Sometimes, I assist with or lead class visits to our library. This is always a real treat. I enjoy working with undergraduate students who I find some of the most inspiring scholars on campus.

What do you like best about your job? What excites you most?

Some of my favorite work involves helping students with independent research projects. As a culinary historian, I am always eager to work with students who are interested in our rare and historic cookbooks. Some of these students trickle into the library on their own and inquire about our collections. Most of the time, however, I meet students when classes make special visits to work with materials at the Rubenstein.

What might people find surprising about your job?

During one class visit, I taught students how to read medieval square notation from large, vellum songbooks. I even sang a few Gregorian chants for them and ended up sight singing alongside a music student. It was a delight to hear that ancient music come to life. It was haunting and also beautiful.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Our collections are so vast and our patrons’ interests so diverse that it is sometimes difficult to answer their specific questions or meet their particular needs. I strive to help our patrons to the best of my ability, but sometimes neither I nor our staff can help researchers find the materials or information necessary for their projects.

Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?

I enjoy working with the Nicole Di Bona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks, 1850s-2000s (especially the nineteenth-century cookbooks). They are fragile, ephemeral, precious, and fascinating. American taste is something that has changed over time. So, some of the recipes seem a bit “strange.” Our staff, though, enjoys diving into the messy history of historic cooking and many of us have blogged about our experiences on the Rubenstein Test Kitchen series (which I highly recommend that you check out).

Where can you be found when you’re not working?

When I’m not working, I like to walk through the Duke Gardens. This time of year, they are stunning. I love how pools of sunlight collect in the tulips. A quick jaunt through the garden helps me get centered and ready to revise my most recent dissertation chapter.

What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?

I am reading two books at the moment. The first is Jason Gay’s Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living. The other is a book of poems titled, Self Portrait as Joseph Cornell, by Ken Taylor, a local poet who lives in Pittsboro.

Interview conducted and edited by Katrina Martin.

Meet the Staff: Laura Wagner, Radio Haiti Project Archivist

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 Laura Wagner is the Project Archivist for the Radio Haiti Archives. She joined the Rubenstein in 2015. She has a PhD in anthropology from UNC. Her dissertation is about the 2010 earthquake and its long aftermath: how did people’s everyday lives and social worlds change (or not change) in the wake of the disaster and displacement? How do people get by in an aid economy? How did Haitian people and non-Haitian interveners make sense of the humanitarian response and its failures?  She also wrote a YA novel, Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go , which deals with some of the same issues. Her interests include Haiti, literary fiction and nonfiction, humanitarianism, human rights, and social justice. She has been a frequent contributor to the Devil’s Tale since joining the RL. 

How do you describe what you do to people you meet at a party?  To fellow librarians and library staff?

At parties I say “I work on the archives of Haiti’s first independent radio station.”  Then that confuses them and they think I’m doing research in the archives, and I have to clarify that I’m processing the materials.  Then they generally want to know why these materials live at Duke.  And if I’m at a party in Haiti, people then want to talk to about their own memories of Radio Haiti and of Jean Dominique, and they ask me if the station will ever reopen. To librarians and library staff, I say I’m a project archivist who never trained as an archivist.

What led you to working in libraries?

This project.  I had never worked in a library before.  I began working on this project as an external contractor for the Forum for Scholars and Publics, which was collaborating with the Library to create a public-facing pilot website with a small sample of the Radio Haiti recordings.  When the opportunity to apply for the Project Archivist job came along, I applied.  I had already decided that if it was possible, I wanted to work on this project full time.  Temperamentally and experientially, I am probably a bit of an outlier among the library set.

Tell us about your relationship to Radio Haiti. How has it evolved since taking on this position?

Jean Dominique, Michèle Montas, and other members of the Radio Haiti team had numbered among my heroes since I first started learning about Haiti and learning Haitian Creole, back in 2004.  I never could have imagined that one day I would have the opportunity to work on preserving the work of Radio Haiti.  The first time I met Michèle, in April 2014, I was embarrassingly giddy. It is a huge honor to work on this project.

I’m learning a lot about late twentieth century Haiti, in a very granular way.  I already knew the major events and trends, the main themes, but always analytically and in hindsight.  It’s a very different experience to learn about events through real-time, day-to-day reporting, done by people who did not yet know the outcome of the story.  It’s fascinating, but also often sad and frustrating because you see the same things happening over and over and over again, until today.  The same injustices, the same impunity, though sometimes it “repaints its face”, to use a phrase that Jean Dominique uses.

 How does your work at the Rubenstein influence your approach to research and writing?

I was a researcher and writer before I started working on this project, so I have to keep myself in check; I cannot follow my instincts and desires by letting myself act as a researcher and writer when my job, for the moment, is to be processing the archive.  That said,  I hope to someday write something substantial about this archive.  I can also say that my experience as a researcher and writer influences my approach to processing this archive.  I want it all to be clear and transparent; I want to provide context and thematic guidance for future researchers and listeners.  Working on the Radio Haiti archive has been a huge learning experience for me, and I want to impart as much of that knowledge as possible to others down the line, by incorporating that knowledge into the structure and description of the archive.

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What does an average day at RL look like for you? 

Because this is a single project with a clear goal and endpoint, and with defined stages, my typical workday varies depending on what we’re working on.  These days I am mostly working through Radio Haiti’s paper archive.  So I get to work, answer some email, and start organizing the papers, removing the faded invisible Thermofax pages, sorting them by subject and year.  I have two excellent undergraduate assistants this semester, both Haitian, who are starting to listen to and describe some of the recordings.  I am very eager to finish processing the papers so I can focus on the audio full-time.  I also spend part of the day thinking about broader questions of access — how we’re going to make this collection as available and accessible as possible to people in Haiti, given the social and infrastructural realities there.  I am very eager to begin working on the recordings full-time, of course.

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Laura working alongside her student assistant Tanya Thomas.

What do you like best about your job? What excites you most?

What excites me the most is that I am helping keep this important work alive, making it accessible to people in Haiti and beyond. And I just really like the experience of listening to the recordings.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to listen as an archivist, rather than as a researcher and writer.  So it’s fun when I get to write a blog entry about the project, and synthesize and put together different parts of the archive, translate some excerpts, and provide context to people who may not already know the story of Radio Haiti.  As I said, it’s a great honor to work on this collection, to be entrusted with this collection.  As Michèle says, part of Jean’s soul is here.

What might people find surprising about your job?

I think it depends on the person. For people who aren’t used to processing archival collections (id est most people), I think they’d be surprised at how much physical restoration, intellectual labor and time this job takes.  A lot of people want the Radio Haiti collection to be available as soon as possible.  (I’m one of them!) And many people don’t understand why we can’t do it instantly.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

I have two answers to that, which are sort of incommensurate with one another.  In a day-to-day sense, it can be tedious, and I sometimes feel isolated in this work.  Radio Haiti itself was a team effort — it was a social, collaborative, interactive entity, an act of ongoing solidarity, both in terms of the journalists and their audience… and the audience was nearly all of Haiti.  So engaging with that work in my cubicle in a converted tobacco warehouse in Durham, North Carolina, can feel lonely.  At the same time, I feel connected to the people who appear in the tapes, across time and space, even across life and death.  Which brings me to the second challenging aspect of this job, which is actually the same as my favorite thing about the job: the weight of history, the weight of memory.  This collection is a huge part of Haitian national heritage. And so much of it is sad, frustrating and infuriating — there is so much injustice, suffering, and absurdity in this archive.  Sometimes it’s emotionally difficult to listen to these things — though Jean Dominique’s incisive intellect and humor make it easier.  It sounds strange, but I laugh all the time.

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Laura surveys her boxes

Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?

Well, the Radio Haiti collection is obviously my favorite collection, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned.  I’m not intimately familiar with the other collections, but the National Coalition for Haitian Rights archive has some fascinating material in it that often complements the Radio Haiti collection.  And I like all the History of Medicine collections, especially Benjamin Rush papers, which are poignant, and the creepy suede baby + placenta.

Where can you be found when you’re not working?

Cooking dinner with friends, baking cakes, drinking a beer, vaguely working on novel #2, vaguely revising my dissertation, singing in the car, asking my cats why they are thundering hither and yon at 2 am.  I like making silly little greeting cards for friends; I’ve been thinking about taking an actual art class or something.  I’d like to know how to access all the other seasons of the Great British Baking Show.  And I’ve started running as of late, at which I am truly mediocre.  It’s liberating to do something you know you have no hope of being good at.

What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?

There’s a stack!  I’ve been slowly savoring the Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector for a few weeks, but it’s a bit heavy to carry around.

Interview conducted and edited by Katrina Martin.

Meet the Staff: Megan Ó Connell

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Megan Ó Connell is the Rubenstein’s Reproduction Services Manager.  Megan has been a part of the Duke library system since 2006, when she served as a University Archives intern. She joined the library full-time in 2009.

Tell us about your academic background and interests.

I have always been interested in the cultural record left by humans. I studied Anthropology, with a focus on American archaeology, and I worked in Southeastern and Gulf Coast archaeology for many years. After studying what can be learned from the unintentional record left by artifacts, I wanted to interact with the intentional/communicative record, as it was left in the past and continuing into the “futurepast,” that is, the present. Rare books and archives satisfied that wish.

What are the main projects you work on at the Rubenstein?

I manage the patron reproduction requests, including those made by both onsite and remote researchers, ensuring that the most appropriate technology is used based on the specific items and desired output; liaise with onsite and offsite services; and deliver requests as efficiently as possible while maintaining high quality and providing RL’s acclaimed customer service. Exponentially increasing numbers of library users want digital versions of our materials, and these researchers often cannot do the reproductions themselves, so I help ensure that they get what they need for their research, whether they live in Durham or Durban.

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What does an average day look like for you?
On most days I log new reproduction requests; route materials to be used in requests; examine materials for reproduce-ability; discuss options and approaches with technical specialists, RL staff, and my student assistant; and communicate with staff and patrons about technical considerations and goals. I may do some reading on specific media types, technologies, or techniques; troubleshoot imaging equipment maintenance issues; train staff on processes; or communicate with vendors. I assist researchers about 12 hours a week on the Reading Room desk, and also work on general reference questions, many of which  lead to reproduction requests.

What do you like best about your job?

I love seeing (and hearing) the panoply of treasures we hold at the Rubenstein — pamphlets, photographs, beautiful bound volumes, maps, vintage sound and film recordings, broadsides, artists’ books, zines, ads, papyri… and I enjoy learning about how researchers are using this richness to ask intriguing questions and shed light on cultural phenomena. People might be surprised to know that our library is so busy that we produce around 20,000 digital reproductions per year for patron requests! I enjoy helping our diverse researchers, from students to professors to authors to genealogists, and working with people all over the globe, learning about their lives – and often connecting with them on a personal level. It is gratifying to be able to be a part of so many efforts to illuminate aspects of human existence.

Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?

I love the H. Lee Waters films because while Waters intended to create a record, unlike most documentaries, the intended audience was the subjects themselves. The films’ subjects were caught in their everyday activities, yet they were very aware of the camera’s presence, and many behaved as if they were amusing their friends, rather than consciously creating a historical record. It’s just fun to watch the subjects ham it up, although the quick cuts can be a bit dizzying after a while.

Where can you be found when you’re not working? 

I enjoy nature walks, photography, reading, hiking, canoeing, gardening, fishing, and playing music.

What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?

The John McPhee Reader.

Interview composed and photographs taken by Katrina Martin. 

Meet the Staff: Craig Breaden

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The Meet Our Staff series features Q&A interviews with Rubenstein staff members about their work and lives.

Craig Breaden joined the Rubenstein as our Audiovisual Archivist  three years ago. Prior to his time at Duke, he spent seven years at the Russell Library at the University of Georgia. He has a BA and MA in history from Texas Christian University and Utah State University, respectively, and an MLS from UNC .  He works on everything from small single-film collections to grant-funded preservation projects involving thousands of audiovisual items.  He facilitates preservation work, provides access to obsolete formats, processes (inventory and catalog) collections, and functions as the go-to oral history guy.

Tell us about your academic background and interests.

I started out interested in frontier history particularly, and how popular images of the American West inform the way Americans think about themselves, their creation myths, the rest of the world.  I’ve also had a lifelong love of music and a fascination with recorded audio and video.  Our audiovisual heritage provides a different, animated view of the past, and can carry a unique emotional weight.

What led you to working in libraries?

I’d had some experience working in a special collections library while in college, but it took a long while for me to come to the profession.  Some folks are late bloomers, I guess.  After years of working in corporate atmospheres unrelated to my academic background, I’d come to the point where I wanted to start making a difference and make a living.  It was the idea that work should mean something, make some kind of contribution to the society as a whole.  There are of course all kinds of ways to do this, but I thought I should play to my strengths.  I had a challenging and satisfying year of teaching 8th grade social studies, but knew that I could give more outside the classroom by focusing on what we might consider the raw materials of educators, those cultural heritage resources that give voice to the past.  It so happened that one of the best library schools in the country (UNC-Chapel Hill) was just down the road, and I applied and fortunately got in.  I decided to focus on my background and my interest in A/V, and while in school pursued audiovisual archiving as an emphasis of my library education.  I owe a big debt to the Southern Folklife Collection and its director, Steve Weiss, in helping me on my way, and to the great librarians at the University of Georgia for giving me a shot.

How do you describe what you do to people you meet at a party? To fellow librarians and library staff?

I usually tell people I’m an archivist in Duke Special Collections.  Sometimes that leads to further conversation, other times not.  I think in general there’s a real disconnect, a misunderstanding about what history really is.  It’s hard to say to most people that what we think of as history is what it is because of what we do in libraries and archives like the one here at Duke.  Colleagues get it, but I think usually the best introduction for them is when they get a CD or tape or film as part of a collection and wonder, at the very basic level, what to do with it.

What does an average day look like for you?

One of the great things about my job is that there aren’t many average days, but most days hold some combination of digital preservation, inventorying collections, answering reference questions via email, figuring out how to run a film or a video or audio tape so that we know what’s on it, and advising colleagues on portions of their collections that hold AV.  Then there are often questions related to policy creation and the changing landscape of digital preservation.  And let’s not forget the meetings….

What do you like best about your job?

I like figuring out problems that fall into my domain of expertise.  I do a ton of troubleshooting and tinkering to get AV to simply play back in a way that it can be accessed, and these nuts-and-bolts successes are always satisfying and really essential to what I do.  I also enjoy meeting donors and getting to know the personalities behind the stuff, just as it’s always great to help a researcher plug into something they might not have been aware of.  And of course my colleagues – every one of them brilliant in completely different ways.

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Craig with the Rubenstein’s newest flatbed film editing suite, the Steenbeck

What might people find surprising about your job?

The amount of time spent with spreadsheets and on email.  The first is part and parcel of what we do, that is, knowing what we have, the second is all about attempting to efficiently communicate (jury’s out on that, though).  Pleasantly surprising is that amazingly smart colleagues have something interesting to show or talk about every day.  Archives can be mind-blowing.

Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?

The H. Lee Waters Films for their big heart, the Frank Clyde Brown field recordings for all the secrets they hold in their wax cylinder and lacquer disc grooves (and that will soon be secret no longer), the home movie collections we have that tell a story beyond what’s happening onscreen, and all the fragile and forgotten bits of film and video that share our shelves equally and continue to have a voice.

Where can you be found when you’re not working? 

With my kids, cooking, strumming a guitar (sometimes all three at once).

What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Innkeeper’s Song by Peter S. Beagle; Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Wagner; and Haiti: The Aftershocks of History by Laurent Dubois.

Interview conducted and edited by Katrina Martin.

Meet the Staff: Liz Adams, Collections Move Coordinator

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The Meet Our Staff series features Q&A interviews with Rubenstein staff members about their work and lives.

Directly following the completion of her master’s studies in information science, Liz Adams joined The Rubenstein in 2013 as the Stacks Manager. Since January, she has served as the Collection Move Coordinator. She holds two degrees from the University of Michigan, a BA in English and an MSI.

We know you’re officially the move coordinator–what’s your unofficial title at the Rubenstein?

I’m a bit of a “gal Friday” in my attempts to alternately harangue or kindly beseech people to move forward on projects because collections can’t move without everyone’s involvement. No one would listen to me if I just said “move this!”

Tell us about your academic background and interests.

In undergrad, I worked in a public library. I couldn’t figure out what to do with my English degree and I knew I didn’t want to teach, but I liked books. I especially liked how tight-knit everyone in the library was and how we worked together to help people find what they needed. I went straight to grad school from undergrad, during which time I worked at a special collections library. Broadly speaking, my professional interests surround the idea of access and creating better, more useful access points for researchers and staff members alike. I think this can be accomplished through physical means—making things as physically accessible as possible– which is how my current job fits into that goal.

How do you describe what you do to people you meet at a party? To fellow librarians and library staff?

The people I meet at a party are generally familiar with the big construction project that’s happening on West campus and the Rubenstein. I tell them it’s my job to move our materials from temporary swing space to a permanent location and to figure out all that encompasses: good, bad, and ugly.

For people who might not immediately understand why there’s a whole position dedicated to this task, I’d highlight just how much material we have in our collection. Much like when you’re moving from one house to another, you find more things requiring your attention at every turn (and realize how much stuff you own!).  You have to decide what stays, what should move, and how you’re going to arrange things in a new space. No one likes moving and everyone else at The Rubenstein is so busy, there needs to be someone separate to help plot things out.

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What does an average day look like for you?

It’s a lot of Excel! One of the big headings under the umbrella of the move is the reclassification of all of our materials. We’re going from a system of 125 legacy call numbers (some more intuitive than others!) to Library of Congress. Part of what I’m doing now is sorting through a list of our 280,000 print materials that have been reclassified. I figure out which of those things should move on-site after being housed off-site during the renovation and before we had all this space. I ask questions like, which materials are high-interest? Which materials are high-use?

What excites you about the move?

When I was the stacks manager, I saw the confusion experienced by our student workers when retrieving materials.  At times, it really required a fine-toothed comb to find items. When the move is completed, everything will be in the same classification scheme and organized by size. Students and staff will hopefully be able to find materials more easily.

It’s also nice to think of moving into a brand new space that no one else has lived in. You get to really make your mark. In fact, you get to make the first mark, which as a competitive person, I love. I like to imagine that I’ll be the first person to walk in – my moon landing. Although I doubt it will be me!

What might people find surprising about your job?

I think my job is a lot of what people might expect. It’s a lot of organizing things, talking to people, and making sure things are done in a timely fashion.

Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?

I really like the Anna Schwartz collection. She was an economist who worked with Milton Friedman. It’s really interesting to see the personal and professional interplay of a female economist in the mid-twentieth century. She talks about comments made by a coworker and how she “took them to task” – you go Anna Schwartz!

Where can you be found when you’re not working? 

I enjoy a good picture show at the Carolina theatre. I can be found eating my way through the Triangle. You might see me huffing and puffing while running, and I sometimes pretend to be a yogi.

What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?

In my bag I have New Introduction to Bibliography by Philip Gaskell.

On my nightstand, of a totally different flavor, is The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos.

 

Interview conducted and edited by Katrina Martin, Library Assistant in Technical Services.