What is an archivist?

When many people hear the word archivist they may find themselves wondering what exactly is an archivist and what do they do? Archivists are professionals who are specially trained in preserving original two-dimensional materials (e.g. photographs, maps, business and club records, etc.) that are considered to have enduring value. More importantly, archivists are responsible for providing access to those materials and the information contained in the materials.

So, how do archivists and archives staff do this exactly?

When these materials are brought into the museum and undergo approval for the museum collection, the archivist and the archives staff begin the processing of the materials. It is important for the archives processor to understand the story that the materials tell and to preserve this story for the researcher. Archives staff are not necessarily here to interpret the materials, but to provide access to the materials in their true form.

Archives staff begin by conducting background research on the subject of the materials. They then develop a system of physical arrangement of the materials that will make sense to the story and the researcher. It is both a fun and difficult task. One truly develops a close relationship with their assigned collection!

During arrangement, archives staff rehouse the materials to preserve them, and begin the task of describing the materials in order to provide the researcher with resources that will enable quick and easy discovery of the materials. These researcher resources are commonly referred to as finding aids or resource guides.

During the processing of archival collections, staff at the Greeley History Museum Hazel E. Johnson Research Center often come across interesting items within the wide array of materials. Here are a few that we would love to share with you.

Inside the Southard-Gillespie Family Collection we came across a red painted wishbone hidden among the collection of family documents and photographs. We thought, “how curious?” After conducting some research, we are still unsure of the significance of this object. If you know, we would love to find out!

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