Archivist for a Day

BHS :: Richetta Randolph Wallace Papers

Earlier in the term, I had an assignment that took me to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The archivist there was nice enough to answer my questions (with no prior notice) and chat with me about my career goals. When it was time for me to go, I thanked him and spent the train ride to Brooklyn thinking about how nice that face to face interaction was after nearly two years in an online school.

When a second assignment was set to take me away from my computer and out into the world I hoped to go back to the Schomburg Center. Alas, that didn’t work out and I had to scramble for another location that would have me on relatively short notice.

Enter the Brooklyn Historical Society

BHS is housed in perhaps the most beautiful building ever to start as a place to hang out and talk history. I mean, the people who created this place didn’t just throw up a structure and fill it with books. This building is a work of art with a rich history. The wordwork alone would make you drool.
Brooklyn Historic Society Othmer Library

Brooklyn Historic Society Othmer Library

After recovering my composure at its beauty I was immediately overwhelmed by the incredible staff. I don’t know if archivists are just naturally generous and lovely, but I was half in love with them by the time I left lol. My first day there, literally, changed the course of my career goals. As I lamented the lack of personal interaction (and therefore connections) that you deal with when attending an online school, Julie popped open a browser and gave me a crash course on NYC archivist associations, listserv and message boards chock full of job, grant and volunteer opportunities. Priceless. Seriously. Along with that info she imparted knowledge about work history and how joining and then networking at these professional orgs can lead to so much. When Liz, who actually cleared my observation hours at BHS, arrived she shared a cover letter site that has already been invaluable.

On day two, I was lucky enough to spend time with the director of the library who was the very definition of generosity with his efforts to make sure that I got a true taste of what it’s like to work in a library archive setting. Along with shadowing him as he assisted patrons and arranging a visit with the page to their storage area, he set me to task with a group of documents that I have not been able to forget since.

They were the papers of this woman

Ms. Richetta Randolph Wallace

“Ms. Randolph was private secretary to the social activist Mary White Ovington in the first decade of the twentieth century, leading to a position as the first member of the administrative staff for the new National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Ms. Randolph later became the NAACP’s office manager and was private secretary to NAACP officers James Weldon Johnson and Walter White, among other important positions until her retirement in 1946.”-BHS Blog

To read about her request for a raise and the praise for her work and how her retirement was stalled when the NAACP declared that they couldn’t go on without her was fascinating. Issues of equal/fair pay, the important part that women play in the workplace and more are still relevant now.

BHS :: Richetta Randolph Wallace Papers

BHS :: Richetta Randolph Wallace Papers

I mean, when this woman wrote to congratulate the mayor on his win he wrote her back! Promptly! The entire experience was amazing. Reading letters written in the 1800s and holding a bride’s wedding invite from 1894 were really moving experiences. There are more photos in this set.

This all led me to my new job, as the Social Media Manager for Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York! So far, I am enjoying the additional (albeit small) responsibility. Along with the holiday fair planning, school (please be over soon) and LIFE (all caps are NECESSARY) I am quite, happily, busy. ;o)

Voting today was very cool, too. My oldest asked me if President Obama won as soon as I walked in the door. Like my vote was the final deciding factor, lol

Go vote, if you haven’t!


19 thoughts on “Archivist for a Day

  1. Congratulations on the new gig! I’m speaking (or writing) seriously when I say that it is a kick ass job.

    I really enjoyed reading about your experience at BHS. To be surrounded by such history is incredible. It’s amazing to read and see where we came from – how it’s changed and how it hasn’t.

    • Thanks, Mad! I need some experience before I can land a plum assignment, like you ; )

      I was riveted to the maps of BK that showed farm lines and a house like every ten blocks or more! I could gaze at them forever!

  2. Congratulations Nettie! I’m so excited to hear more about your journey in your new job. Of course, we’ve never met, but somehow I just feel so certain that you are headed down a path to meet all your career goals.

    I’m so stunned by that beautiful interior at the BHS! They just don’t make buildings like that outside of the northeast, haha! And it was amazing to read about your experience helping the archivist and learning a bit about Ms. Richetta Randolph Wallace!

    • Thanks, Sallie!! I really want to do work that inspires me. I hope I’m getting closer to that goal.
      I think we do corner the market on astounding architecture. But that could be my Brooklyn/NY pride/arrogance talking, lol

  3. What a marvelous place! That building really is lovely, and how fantastic that they embraced you immediately. Congrats on the new position!! That is such fantastic news and you totally deserve it, my friend!!

  4. Congratulations on the new job! I’ve just finished cataloguing a collection of material from a women teacher’s union who fought for equal pay and have so much admiration for all the women in the collection – your Ms Wallace sounds equally inspirational!
    I’m sure you’ve already thought of this as a networking tool but Twitter is also a great way to meet other archivists. @archivesnext has a list of archivists on Twitter which is a good place to start. I absolutely love working as an archivist and can echo your experience of people being friendly and welcoming – looking forward to hearing more about your journey!

    • What an interesting assignment, Kathryn! It’s baffling to read about the struggles of women so long ago and how they mirror the SAME struggles now!

      Thanks for the info about @archivesnext! I am always looking for ways to connect with people. I’m so glad to hear that you love your work! I hope to find a position that speaks to me, too.

    • I do! I really love books and really enjoyed creating programming for school assignments. So initially I thought I’d become a YA librarian. But the experience at BHS and the passion for local history it inspired has drastically changed my opinion. I’ve already put together a list of entry level positions to apply to. Fingers crossed!

  5. Wow, lady, congrats on the new gig! What an exciting new venture! I’m so glad to hear about your great experience! I have to agree with you– that building is gorgeous, and you feel smarter and more inquisitive just sitting in it!

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