Earlier this summer, Scott Memorial Library’s Archives & Special Collections team grew to add Anita Lai, the new Digital Archivist. And the timing was perfect! The Archives & Special Collections department is busier than ever – preparing for the university’s 2024 bicentennial celebration and embarking on a renovation and expansion project of the Archives space. Read our Q&A with Anita to learn what excites her about the world of archives and how she can support researchers at Jefferson.
What is your title and what are your responsibilities within Scott Memorial Library?
My title is Digital Archivist and what it means is that I collect, describe, preserve, and provide access to digital assets (digitized and born-digital material) that have long-term historical value across their life cycle. Within Scott Memorial Library, I manage the scholarly work and historical collections available in the Jefferson Digital Commons (JDC). I work with researchers across Jefferson to create new collections in the JDC that highlight and make freely available scholarly work by faculty, students, staff, and researchers. I also work with colleagues across the University to document the history of Jefferson. My work includes describing and digitizing material in the Archives & Special Collections, creating and adding content to the JDC, and managing the web-archiving program to preserve Jefferson’s web presence and online born-digital material, including, but not limited to Jefferson news, publications, blogs, and video content.
What sparked your interest in the world of archives and why do you think it’s an important field?
For me, entering the world of archives, finding aids, and rare books was serendipitous. Growing up, I’d always been drawn to history and historical sites. However, I didn’t discover archives and special collections until I worked as a work-study Special Collections Assistant during my undergrad at Bryn Mawr College. I couldn’t believe I could touch a book over 400 years old with my bare hands. That summer and fall, I worked on digitizing late 19th-century advertising trade cards and helped to process an alumna’s collection of theatre ephemera. I loved every bit of it, even working to shift 40,000 rare books in the collection. From there, I continued to work at several different academic and cultural institutions before pursuing my MLIS degree. I have to say that working in the archives field is a unique experience that allows me to participate in a wide range of tasks ranging from collection management to outreach. I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon this field, and it’s one that I’d highly recommend.
It’s a bit difficult for me to concisely answer why the archives field is important. Archivists often work with unique unpublished material such as photographs, business records, letters, diaries—things that document people, businesses, institutions, communities—society. In general, they’re tasked with identifying and making decisions about what items fall within their collecting policy, have historical value, and warrant long-term care. Whether dealing with analog (i.e. paper, photographic prints, etc.) or digital (i.e. flash drives, CDs, websites, video recordings, etc.), history and the historical record matter.
Community archives, university archives, government archives, museum archives, or corporate archives—all archives document individuals, events, and institutions. However, archives are more than just records; they tell stories of the past. They are evidence of the activities of individuals and institutions, of which archivists play an integral role in the selection and preservation of. For this reason, the archival field is extremely important for those who access and utilize archives for information and knowledge of the past.
Now that you’ve had time to get to know the Center City Archives & Special Collections, is there anything in particular that you’ve been interested in or want to learn more about?
I’m excited to delve into and learn more about the history of Jefferson and medicine. Admittedly, most of my time in these first few months has been spent familiarizing myself with existing workflows and focusing more on our “contemporary” collections. I’m looking forward to slowly shifting gears to our historical collections. I know that acquiring institutional knowledge and familiarity with Jefferson’s collection will take time—I’m eager to jump in. Part of my excitement stems from the fact that we will soon be celebrating our bicentennial in 2024. The other part is because the Archives & Special Collections recently received a donation for renovations and much-needed expansion of the space (thanks to Dr. Marion Siegman). With these two milestones, there is much to do and plan for.
Can you tell us a bit more about what the JDC? Why should researchers submit their work to the JDC?
The Jefferson Digital Commons (JDC) is Jefferson’s open access institutional repository. The Academic Commons is committed to helping make scholarly work by Jefferson faculty, students, staff, and researchers readily available. Content found in the JDC includes published articles (pre-prints and post-prints), posters, presentations, newsletters, photographs, theses/dissertations, and other scholarly works. The JDC also houses historical collections from the Archives & Special Collection, ranging from oral histories, course catalogs, yearbooks, rare books, historical photographs, and more.
The Academic Commons offers this free service to TJU researchers to make their research more easily discoverable and accessible. In supporting open access publishing and submitting work to the JDC, Jefferson researchers can increase both the reach and impact of their scholarly work that would otherwise be locked behind a subscription paywall. The JDC is a great way for researchers to get their work out to more people worldwide. Not only does your work appear in Google searches, but the author dashboard also allows you to access detailed metrics on the number of downloads and streams and what institutions are looking at your work. Since its founding in 2005, the repository has grown to over 23,000+ posted works, 6.6 million downloads, and 49,000+ streams. If you’re interested or have questions about submitting work to the JDC, feel free to reach out and email email@example.com.
How can the Jefferson community get in touch with you if they want to discuss the JDC or Archives?
The best way to reach me is to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about the JDC or the Archives & Special Collection.
How do you like to spend your time outside of work? Is there anything your coworkers would be surprised to learn about you?
I enjoy working with my hands. I like anything that allows me to take part in the creative process. Some of my hobbies/interests include drawing, painting, sewing, jigsaw puzzles, thrifting, cooking, and eating. My latest project is trying my hand at building my first piece of furniture—perhaps a coffee table or shelving/organizational unit. I’m waiting for the weather to cool first, at least that’s what I’m telling myself.