Jason Wood Unlocks Simmons College Archives' Treasures
posted December 2, 2013 5:01 AM
"You constantly need to be creative. A collection is only as relevant as you make it."
- Jason Wood, '01LS, '11SOM
"Archives peddle nostalgia," says Jason Wood '01LS, '11SOM the Simmons College Archivist and Head of Discovery Services in the College Library. A recent New York Times article features research supporting that nostalgia can "counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety making people more generous toward strangers and more accepting of outsiders." Yet the Simmons College Archives offers more than warm and fuzzy sentiments associated with the school's past.
Located on the second floor of Beatley Library, the Simmons College Archives is an inviting oasis of portraits, artifacts, and books. According to the College website, the Simmons College Archives was created in 1974 and was dedicated to the memory of undergraduate alumnae Colonel Miriam E. Perry Goll '30 in 1980. More than a 1,000 linear feet of records are stored on-site and another 3,000 linear feet of the Simmons archival materials are stored off-site. The collection includes a plethora of college administrative and committee records, publications, photographs, audio-visual materials, historical books, charitable organizations' records, student theses and dissertations, as well as alumni and faculty manuscript collections. There's also the occasional eccentricity, such as a 1941 drinking jacket that has sketches of Snow White's seven dwarves and notes about the bars where the students would go drinking inscribed on the jacket. The jacket arrived in the Archives with what appears to be 60-year-old beer stains.
Wood's team in the College Archives, including Library Assistant Justin Snow, and a graduate assistant, and the occasional intern, hosts about 170 visitors and processes more than 500 reference requests a year in the College Archives. While Wood "cannot confirm or deny" the presence of ghosts in Simmons South Hall, he enjoys being surrounded by dedicated researchers, such as Simmons College Trustee Denise Pappas, '71, '85SOM, who is currently writing a graphic novel about the life of John Simmons. Inquiries give Wood and his team an opportunity to learn something new about the college every day.
Yet supervising the College Archives goes beyond preserving, organizing, and sharing the collection for use. With a sharp focus on the Archives' mission to document the history of Simmons College, Wood drives initiatives that are aligned with the College's goals. In addition to offering records management and collection services to College administrators and researchers, Wood has facilitated integration of the Archives into the various curriculums throughout the college. For example, the College Archives partnered with Simmons GSLIS faculty to produce a variety of student initiatives, such as Candy Schwartz's LIS 462 Digital Libraries' Louise Lincoln Scrapbook and Kathy Wisser's LEADS Project. The College Archives also sponsors a Simmons GSLIS intern almost every semester to earn course credit. In addition, Wood collaborates with faculty and undergraduate history majors to examine how to conduct primary research, examine a collection, and use resources.
Wood also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Simmons GSLIS, teaching LIS 456 Managing Records in Electronic Environments, also known as the records management course. In addition to traditional archives, material covered in the class applies to corporate, medical, and finance fields as it addresses standards, how to apply consistency, ethics, as well as practical skills associated with records and information management. "Information professionals interested in corporate environments sometimes get more out of the class than the archivists."
"You constantly need to be creative. A collection is only as relevant as you make it," says Wood. "The archives are no place for a troglodyte. You can't sit in a corner and process dusty records all day. It's important to communicate effectively with everyone in the organization and participate in the understanding of the organization's strategic vision." He has chaired or served on several College committees, including Data Stewards, Strategic Planning, and Staff Council, and strives to be active and present in the College community.
The College Archives have also tapped into the power of social media to share the collections on social networks, such as Twitter @SimmonsLibrary, Flickr, YouTube, and on a Facebook timeline. Featured videos, photos, and stories try to capitalize on hot topics, such as sports and traditions that may appeal to the Simmons community. "You need to know your audience," says Wood when he mentions the importance of serving the college's administration, students, alumni, and researchers. The College Archives has produced exhibits about activism at Simmons College during World War I, the Civil Rights Movement, and women's reproductive battles, all issues that resonate in today's political climate. Wood emphasizes the importance of knowing how to sell programs to administration and community, as well as understanding how a program needs to be aligned to support an organization's mission.
Managing a relatively small collection compared to that of a university library has unique challenges. Wood believes that archives need to promote that "they are more than a closet for records." While records management programs can be introduced to a department, it can be difficult to achieve ongoing compliance with recognized standards and protocols. The College Archives has sponsored a series of trainings and follow-up visits to various college departments to encourage user-initiated delivery of records, as well as conducted awareness campaigns to show the value of the archives. In addition, records management supports ongoing collection development to help ensure that important administrative decisions and materials are captured, organized, and preserved. While Wood believes records management can reshape ideas about what archives can do for research, there are also ongoing challenges in the archives field about how electronic records and social media will be managed and preserved. Where does the exact copy of a record lie? Whose perspective will be documented? Despite the relative newness of the platforms under consideration, long-standing concerns of the archives profession, and issues of documentation, content, and context remain.
By Dean's Editorial Fellow Jennifer Moyer