Meet Scott Wands, Manager of Grants and Programs at Connecticut Humanities

by Alli Smith

Scott Wands is an advocate. He advocates for humanities programming at institutions across Connecticut. He advocates for building strong relationships with and within in the community. He advocates for rolling with the punches. In fact, he just returned from the American Alliance of Museum’s Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., where he met with five legislators, making the case for continued federal funding and support for museum interests.

Scott knew early that he wanted to work with museums, and so he began his path in that direction at Amherst College, earning a bachelor’s degree in American History. He then entered into the Winterthur program in Early American Material Culture at the University of Delaware, where his tiny class of ten essentially learned to be curators. It was here that Scott realized he wanted to focus on education, and he worked as a museum educator for five years after earning his master’s. He also began volunteering with the Connecticut League of History Organizations (CLHO), where he ran workshops and awards programs. In March of 2008, Scott began his work with Connecticut Humanities (CTH) as a provider of professional development and training.

Connecticut Humanities is a 501(c)3 affiliate for the National Endowment of Humanities, providing grants to historical societies and other institutions across Connecticut for exhibitions and programming.  Scott explained that in the early 1970s, when the endowments for the humanities and arts were first created, the arts affiliates at the state level became state departments while the humanities affiliates became independent non-profit organizations with both receiving federally appropriated funds. This funding is decided upon using a formula based on population size for each state.  Ninety percent of CTH’s funding comes from state or federal dollars and, as Scott says, “it’s tough to split that pie.”

Connecticut Humanities was successful in its mission, however, owed in large part to the work of Scott’s predecessor Bruce Fraser. For decades, Bruce single-handedly advocated for CTH, emphasizing the importance of state-level support of cultural heritage institutions. The thinking was that an investment in CTH from the federal level allowed for the organization to then invest in heritage and humanities programming, attracting users and infusing the community with tourism revenue. Sadly, Bruce passed away in the early aughts, erasing a needed connection to a network of supporters. The economy also took a dive in 2008, and Connecticut Humanities is still recovering in some ways. A staff of twenty became a staff of six, and the organization has moved to different facilities.

Despite these issues, Scott moved through the ranks of the organization over the years and is now the Manager of Grants and Programs. His daily activities run the gamut, and he highlights the need to be a “jack-of-all-trades.” For institutions seeking grants, Scott provides a start-to-finish service. He assists applicants through the application process, helping them develop project ideas and write their grant applications. He also processes those applications and makes decisions alongside board members on which projects are most deserving of funding. He even assists institutions with final reports they pen.

Outside of the grant process, Scott also implements direct CTH programming. One such program, StEPs-CT, is a self-study curriculum designed to help institutions evaluate their work against national museum standards. The program is based on a national curriculum “Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations”(StEPs), which was developed by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH). The Connecticut offshoot was created in partnership with the Connecticut League of History Organizations (CLHO) and the Connecticut Historical Society.

In addition to his work with AASLH on the StEPs-CT program, Scott is also now a board member, which has afforded him a network of contacts from across the country. It is the cultivation of relationships like these, and others, that contribute, in large part, to the success of Connecticut Humanities. This is a never-ending endeavor; seats for state and house legislators, for example, are constantly changing. Scott says, “You are never done reminding people of who you are, what you do, and why it is important.”

Concluding our interview, I asked Scott if he had any final take-aways about his work in outreach and advocacy. His answer? “You’ve got to be adaptable.” With the challenges Connecticut Humanities has faced during Scott’s tenure, it is a testament to his own adaptability that he has been able to develop and maintain successful programming in an ever-changing world.



Meet Joe Bagley, Boston’s City Archaeologist

by Jules Thomson

Joe Bagley’s headquarters at the Boston City Archaeology program consists of a few rooms jam-packed with the material history of the area. Native artefacts from thousands of years before European colonization lie bagged in boxes alongside 20th century steel and ceramics. A few display cases offer up some of the juicer finds in the collections: animal skeletons, bullets and flint-strikes, and a peep-show token from the Boston Common, among many others.

Joe shows me a pile of dessicated wood haphhazardly laid out on metal shelving. It is part of what is known as the Seaport Shipwreck, the mudbound remains of a vessel from the 19th century unearthed during routine construction. Obviously, Joe tells me, they would have like to have reconstructed and re-housed the ship’s entire frame, but it was simply not possible with the department’s limited resources.

This limitation becomes more apparent the more I speak to Joe, who occupies the archaeology program’s’s only permanent role; he is accompanied solely by an assistant whose position is continuously, and tenuously, grant-funded. An army of volunteers assist with artifact processing, inventory, and excavation. The backlog from previously excavated sites is daunting; Joe and his assistant Sarah estimated that more than 80% of the archived collections remain to be processed and cataloged. Associated site reports, the final distillation of an excavation, remain to be written and published. Without these results, the collections archived at the facility largely remain in the “dark”, inaccessible to interpretation by researchers.

The City Archaeologist position consists of three main roles: stewardship of vulnerable sites and properties (including excavated materials housed in the department), the excavations themselves, and public education work. These categories are seasonally defined, partly owing to the lack of staff, but also to the seasonal nature of archaeology itself. Excavation and subsequent processing of finds and samples take priority during the summer months, while stewardship and educational outreach are constrained mainly to fall, winter and early spring.

Public outreach is inherent in the job role – The City Archaeology program and staff position itself was initially a public information service established during Boston’s “Big Dig”, which published material from the surveys and excavations undertaken as part of the widespread construction work. A convenient side-effect of excavation is that it tends to generate a large amount of public interest by virtue of its visibility. Additionally, Joe’s educational mandate includes producing publicity, giving public talks, and conducting school visits. In the latter case, this has included delivering video-lectures to several classrooms at once, reaching up to 150 students in a single session.

Internet technology, particularly web 2.0, has revolutionized the department’s relationship with the public in other ways. Joe, who had successfully promoted his own startup business on Etsy prior to his position as City Archaeologist, was hired with a strong social media mandate. He credits a significant surge in public interest during his tenure as a direct effect of this online promotion and networking.

City Archaeology has also carved out a strong presence on the website. This includes a large informational ccomponent for the general public, but also more in-depth research materials such as digitized site reports. Joe has recently begun an ambitious photography and digitization program; with the help of volunteers he plans to photograph 100% of archived site artefacts, a project which, by his own admission, may take several decades to complete.

Perhaps the most apparent theme of our interview was the level of public interest and support for City Archaeology’s mission. “The only complaint we tend to get from the public is that we aren’t doing enough,” Joe says. In light of this groundswell of popular support, I was perplexed as to why the department remains so chronically underfunded: The operational budget is nonexistant – income for supplies and other necessities is generated solely by publications and donations.

One major factor is that the program is barred from soliciting specific donors, due to the their governmental status. Fundraising efforts cannot be targeted toward specific groups, and are consequently imited to general fund drives – which Joe characterized as “not very effective”. One solution to this has been to generate support by proxy in the form of the nonprofit grou Friends of Boston Archaeology. As a 501(c) organization, the Friends are able to solicit donations more effectively on the department’s behalf.

I left our conversation both impressed at what Joe had managed to achieve on a shoestring, and also disappointed at the lack of investment in this obviously very popular heritage resource. The derth of funding mirrors other heritage organizations in government jurisdiction, where priority is given to essential services such as health and infrastructure. It seemed to me that Joe had gone above and beyond his mandate and grown the service as much as possible utilizing low-cost methods such as social media, volunteer support, and creation of a Friends Organization. It remains to be seen if this grassroots spirit will translate into increased support from the municipal government I am hopeful that City Archaeology will be able to leverage their recent outreach success to obtain recognition and funding from the municipal government.


Further Reading:

Meet Samuel Smallidge, Archivist at Converse

by Maggie Hoffman

“What do you know about the history of Converse?”

When Samuel Smallidge read the words on the questionnaire, he felt uniquely qualified to answer. Though he holds two Master’s degrees, it was knowledge recalled from a fifth grade history project that helped Smallidge land his current position as Archivist at Converse. As it turns out, Smallidge’s hometown of Lyme, New Hampshire was likewise home to Marquis Mills Converse, the very man who’d founded Converse Rubber Shoe Company back in 1908.

Within a week of penning his answer, Smallidge was offered a contract. On day one, he walked into the Converse storeroom—then located in North Andover, Massachusetts. “It was basically just a big empty room, and I’ve spent the last eight years just kind of filling it up with stuff,” he explains. Since his tenure began, Smallidge has tackled critical preservation concerns and seen the archives through a relocation from North Andover to Charlestown. He’s made hundreds of calculated (and very cool) acquisitions. He’s also made a name for himself. Four months after being hired on as a contractor, Smallidge successfully advocated for the creation of the full time archivist position he holds today.

Over the last decade, the billion dollar company has undergone a series of changes to its corporate structure. As a result, the archives’ position within the hierarchy has changed a few times since Smallidge assumed his role. For the past few years, the archives has settled into a position nested under Converse’s Design Department, a 40-person department responsible for footwear design. Smallidge considers the archives’ position within the corporate structure a significant benefit when it comes to internal advocacy. The Converse Headquarters’ relatively small size of approximately 500 employees also offers an advantage. Converse employees know who Smallidge is and what he has to offer. In fact, a tour of the archives is integrated into new employees’ training sessions.

Smallidge’s successful efforts at advocating for the archives put him in a position to hire additional help. Now, with added staff to process archival materials, he is able to focus his own efforts on telling the company’s stories. As Smallidge explains it, Converse relies heavily on its history. While occasional external reference inquiries come through his inbox, the bulk of his outreach is actually inreach. He serves as a link between the company’s trademarked past and its innovative future.

Employing thoughtful research, Smallidge ensures that the company’s history is accurately conveyed through presentations at product launches, even traveling as far Beijing to discuss how the brand has evolved over the years. He also curates permanent and rotating exhibits at the company’s Lovejoy Wharf headquarters building. A current installation aptly relies on the ten-story building’s elevator bays to illustrate how Converse’s logo has changed over the past century. When Smallidge designs these exhibits, he focuses on their reception by potential hires and other stakeholders.

In addition to creating exhibits, Smallidge helps Converse’s design and marketing teams preserve company history through their continued dedication to the brand’s memorable designs. As designers brainstorm new projects, they turn first to the company’s archival collections for inspiration. Smallidge notes that the different departments have distinct approaches to the research process. While some employees seek out a detailed history for every shoe they request, others want a simple photograph and nothing else. After eight years, Smallidge has become well-versed in anticipating different users’ needs and responding accordingly. Currently, Smallidge is developing a plan to make the archives more user-friendly for the company’s design team. With a few layout changes, he’s optimistic that he can create an inviting physical space for designers to interact with the archival materials.

When it comes to a brand as widely-recognizable as Converse, the impact of communicating the company’s history is crucial. Smallidge takes that task to heart. His work not only preserves the fascinating history of the Converse brand, it informs the active use of the company’s past to shape its future. Smallidge’s advocacy has stabilized the position of the archives within the corporate structure, while his creative and thoughtful inreach has effectively communicated the company’s history to the employees that will build its future.



Meet Nancy Carlisle, Senior Curator of Collections at Historic New England

by JC Johnson 

Cover of catalog for “Cherished Possession” exhibition at Historic New England

For thirty years, Nancy Carlisle, Senior Curator of Collections, has been a vital part of Historic New England’s efforts to protect, preserve, and interpret the region’s unique history and how it fits within the cultural story of the United States. Founded in 1910, Historic New England is dedicated to preserving unique structures and significant objects. The organization owns over thirty historic houses, and has collections with over 123,000 objects, and more than a million documents, historical photographs and ephemera. Nancy and other staff members use the collections to create interpretive recreations of New Englanders’ domestic lives from the seventeenth through the twentieth century and illuminate the region’s rich history. Nancy Carlisle has made significant contributions to Historic New England’s mission and her work continues to challenge and excite her.

A New Jersey native with family roots in New England, Nancy visited New England frequently while growing up. Those excursions provided her first look at the unique architecture found across the region and stories those houses might contain. During college, Nancy studied art history and American history. These passions formed the foundation for Nancy’s wide-ranging duties at Historic New England. Still, Nancy claims her main responsibility as a curator is to find ways to share the stories that the collections of historic New England tell about the people who lived here.

Nancy helps oversee the organization’s holdings of historic household objects and artifacts. She also works to locate and acquire new objects for the collections which appropriately augment existing holdings. Nancy also collaborates with her colleagues to create exhibitions in the organization’s historic houses using objects and furnishings in order to provide insight into four hundred years of life in New England. This process requires Nancy to visit houses with colleagues, sometimes using archival photos and records as reference points to assess the site and plan their work. Some site interpretations dress an entire house to represent a single time period, and in other cases, a house’s furnishings may be curated to lead visitors through different eras as they move from room to room.

Nancy is interested in the stories found through examining the objects with which people surrounded themselves. She focuses on the “everyman” and “every object” and does not limit interpreting the past through the words and deeds of “the great man.” Objects and domestic settings inspires Nancy, particularly because, as she relates, much of America’s domestic history is women’s history. In fact, Nancy co-authored the book, America’s Kitchens, with Melinda Talbot Nasardinov. For this book, Nancy chose items from Historic New England’s collection to guide readers through a history of American cooking while examining the evolution of the kitchen’s cultural significance over two hundred years of American domestic life.

Nancy’s proudest accomplishment is “Cherished Possessions: A New England Legacy”, the organization’s first major travelling exhibition, which she curated. Between 2003 and 2005, the exhibition visited museums from Maine to Hawaii. The well-reviewed exhibition featured significant objects from four centuries of New England life which provided entry points to understanding the people who valued those items. Nancy also wrote the accompanying exhibition catalog detailing the items and the stories they tell.

Nancy leads small tours at Historic New England sites, including the main facility in Haverhill, and she speaks at other regional cultural organizations. She enjoys these regular opportunities to interact with people across New England. Her outreach work also entails writing articles for Historic New England magazine and other antiques and fine arts publications. One recent article examines two earthenware pots linked to two remarkable New England women centuries apart. Lastly, Nancy’s work involves fundraising activities like researching and applying for project grants. When project funding comes through, as it did for the restoration of Quincy House, in Quincy, Massachusetts, Nancy thrills that a sleepy house returns to life to tell its story. She happily reports that Quincy residents embraced the project, and the restored house helped enhance civic pride for the town’s past and present.

Nancy Carlisle plays many vital roles at Historic New England. She enjoys them all. Examining objects and interpreting the stories that they tell about people is one of the great rewards that she takes from her work. That mission remains a driving motivation and fits well with the mission of Historic New England. In fact, when she has compared other institutions to her own, Nancy readily admits that Historic New England is exactly the right place for her.

Meet Kate Bradley, Archivist and Research Librarian at the Flagler Museum

by Karen Duhamel

Picture from “NEH-Funded Projects Completed.” Inside Whitehall 22, no. 3 (Summer 2015): 4.

Kate Bradley, Archivist and Research Librarian of Palm Beach, Florida’s Flagler Museum, came to cultural heritage, archives, and her current position through what she calls a “weird series of events” driven by a lifelong love of learning about history.  These events included the pursuit of a Bachelor of Arts in History and French from Skidmore College, a Master of Library and Information Science and a Master of Arts in History, both from Simmons College, as well as a stint as Director of Engagement and Special Collections for the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation.

Her experience with outreach and advocacy, however, has been much more straightforward.  As Director of Engagement and Special Collections, Bradley worked to fundraise for the organization, as well as plan programs and activities, honing skills which she brought with her to the Flagler, where outreach and advocacy are more complicated.  Unlike those of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation, the Flagler Museum Archives are closed to the public, finding aids are not shared, and none of the collection is online, limiting Bradley’s interactions with the public.  Also complicating matters is the fact that museum has not prioritized outreach in the past.

“It’s hard,” she says, “when the institution in question hasn’t done much in the past.  You’re basically building it from scratch, and you might experience some pushback.”  Not to be discouraged, she advises “you have to understand that pushback, where they’re coming from and how to work through that to get to a point where you are bringing archives out more and showing it to more people and just getting more people interested in it.”  Bradley does this in a number of ways, promoting the archives to parties both inside and outside of the museum, starting with the fielding of traditional research questions and an expansion of the museum’s use of social media.

Beyond those questions and social media posts, Bradley starts with the museum’s docents.  As part of their training, Bradley introduces docents to the archives and talks with them about the collections she keeps secreted away, explaining how the collections are and can be used.  By keeping the docents informed, Bradley makes sure that they “better understand their roles” and are capable of sharing their knowledge of the archives and relevant history with museum visitors during tours.

A second critical group of stakeholders that Bradley targets within the internal structure of the institution is the museum members, which she does through the museum’s quarterly membership magazine.  In each issue of this magazine, entitled Inside Whitehall, Bradley includes an article relating to the archives.  These articles, which might be about a unique item that was found in the collection or about a research project that was undertaken to answer a research question or to help create an exhibit, allow members to see behind the curtain, as it were, and understand how their donations are put to use by the archives, and thus (hopefully) justifying the archives existence in the minds of members.

Bradley also does important work to help students understand what her archives, and archives in general, have to offer.  Firstly, at the Flagler, she meets with groups of visiting schoolchildren and explains what primary sources are and how to use them.  Secondly, Bradley works outside of the museum by taking part in National History Day. In the past, she has used her expertise in historical and archival methods to serve as a judge at the state and county levels of students’ historical works such as documentaries and papers, though she was unable to partake in this year’s programming.  Her involvement with National History Day allows her to share her “skills as an archivist and history professional to help these students grow in their own fields and understanding.”

The final outreach project that Bradley discussed was one has allowed her to bring items from the archives to the museum floor.  In order to draw further attention to unique items in the collections, beyond what Bradley has been able to articulate in her Inside Whitehall articles, she has worked to create so-called “pop-up exhibits” or “spotlight cases” within the museum proper.  These exhibits are small, thematic, and temporary (the current exhibits about Presidents Day and Valentine’s Day run through the first half of March), and are designed to “highlight pieces from [the] archival collection that really have never been seen before.”  It’s “really nice,” she says “because we’ve really been able to bring some stuff out that I think is awesome but nobody ever gets the chance to see.”

For more information on the Flagler Museum, visit  Also see the NEH 50 States of Preservation article on the museum at  To learn more about National History Day, visit

Meet Ginevra Morse, Director of Education and Online Programs at The New England Historic Genealogical Society

by Melissa Diberardino

The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) is hidden gem on one of Boston’s most famous streets. Nestled on the corner of Newbury Street and Clarendon, this eight story library and archive building is home to America’s first genealogical society and the largest non-profit genealogical society in the world. Founded in 1845, this massive research and historic center’s mission is, “to advance the study of family history in America and beyond, we educate, inspire and connect people through our scholarship, collections, and expertise.[1]” Currently, their website has 1.4 billion searchable names in their database and they are dedicated to not only uncovering ancestors and history, but they offer services such as how to interpret your DNA results and various classes. Along with their library and archive, there is a conservation and preservation lab on site, they produce publications, and in 2010 they partnered with the American Jewish Historical Society and now house the Jewish Heritage Center among many other outreach and advocacy partnerships.

After making my way over to the NEHGS, which unbeknownst to me was literally right around the corner from one of my part time jobs at the Boston Public Library, I sat down in a grand reading room surrounded by old texts and important looking portraits of older white gentlemen. It was here that I met Ginevra Morse, Director of Education and Online Programs at the NEHGS. Morse is a young vibrant professional in a world where most of their users are older, retired folks interested in a new hobby of family research. She came prepared with pamphlets and flyers as well as an extensively long program calendar. While I had done my basic research, I was unprepared for the amount of work and innovation happening at the NEHGS with the help and leadership of Morse.

Ginevra Morse gained her bachelor’s degree at McGill College in Montreal for religious studies and anthropology. However, her journey to get where she is now started at a young age. By 4th grade her interest in history and the world around her led her to become involved in and volunteer at a historical site in Exeter, NH where she grew up. Upon finishing her undergraduate degree, she landed her first job at a foreign language academic publisher in the marketing department. It was during this time she began gaining her outreach skills. It wasn’t long before she began creating webinars to reach teachers and educators and teach them about the best methods and practices in foreign languages. After four years there, Morse moved on to the NEHGS.

She began her career at the NEHGS in the publishing department where she would work on book production, design, and promoting. After three years in the publishing department, she moved to the education department where she resides today. In her current role, she oversees over 160 programs a year, from research tours to dedicated research projects, all across the country. They organize seminars on various topics and take archivists, researchers, and genealogists to locations around the country (and world) to other genealogical societies and historical societies. Locally they hold free lectures, author events, evening programs, seminars, workshops, webinars, and classes. In 2013, she helped launch their online learning center where they have free materials easily accessible to users.

The traditional user that comes in most often are those of retirement age who have started up their new hobby of collecting information and seeking out their family histories, aka amateur genealogists. Family genealogy has increased as a hobby as the information age has begun digitizing public records and other materials which makes finding out family information easier, including DNA kits. Most of these hobbyists that come into the NEHGS have already started their research and are considered at an “intermediate” level. However, new comers who have not begun their research are more than welcome, and encouraged, to come in and learn about the best of practices and ways one can start their research. While it is a genealogical society, it is also a historical society with many historical texts and materials; thus a good population of users are established historians and researchers.

More recently, Morse has been trying to reach a younger population by creating a new school program. The program, starting as young as 3rd grade to 12th grade, is very new and they are continually adjusting it to improve on. They offer programs such as “Family History Detectives”, “Archivist for a Day”, and “Genealogy 101” for older students. While students and educators may not seem like a non-traditional user to some archives, this demographic of people has been outside the scope that the NEHGS have focused on in the past.

Going further into the non-traditional archivists, I brought up the fact that we were sitting under the portraits of older, important looking white men in an institution that definitely feels more friendly towards those in power rather than those who have often been systematically taken out of Eurocentric history. She agreed that the idea that the collections held within the building are for the people who have been here (New England) forever, but that is not the case. They have partnered with the Jewish Society, they are actively trying to document immigrants and their histories, they have African American and Native American collections, as well as have expertise from Asian to Latin American history. There are a lot of misconceptions which Morse, as well as the NEHGS as a whole, have been trying to battle.

Upon ending our interview, I asked her if she had any advice for those out there in advocacy, outreach, and education. The most important advocacy and outreach she told me is networking. There is a mutual benefit when organizations work together and help each other out. You reach a wider variety of users and audiences and bring others together. Other tips were to keep your ear to the ground, keep up to date with popular culture and trends, see what is popular and try to figure out a way to incorporate that into your organization so that you grow with everyone rather than stay stagnate. By growing, you show that history is still alive.


Meet Sarah Burke Cahalan, Director of the Marian Library at the University of Dayton

by Emilia D’Agostino Pisani

The Marian Library is celebrating its 75th anniversary with events and exhibits throughout 2018. Events inspired by the Library’s rich musical holdings, feature a concert of medieval music interpreted for women’s voices and an early-music ensemble performance. An exhibit will document the history of the Marian Library honoring the founders’ vision and all of those who have served the Library. Another exhibit will feature materials from the Middle Ages to the present that will draw students and faculty from many disciplines throughout the University as well as theologians and scholars from around the world.

In 2016, Cahalan became the Director of the Marian Library that was established in 1943. The Marian Library and International Marian Research Institute (IMRI)  is a key component of the consortium of libraries at the University of Dayton; a Catholic university in Ohio that was founded in 1850 by the Society of Mary.

Cahalan realized she wanted to be a librarian while working in Harvard’s Weissman Preservation Center. She studied Folklore and Mythology as an undergraduate student.  After receiving her MSLIS from Simmons and a MA from the Courtauld Institute, she worked as a librarian at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington D C for about five years. She enjoyed public librarianship outreach opportunities and community engagement. She wasn’t actively looking for a new job when she saw the Marian Library posting. It looked intriguing, so she investigated further and decided to apply for the position.

Being Catholic informed Cahalan’s interest in the Marian Library but, she doesn’t feel that one has to be Catholic to work with Catholic collections. Rather, what matters is an interest in engaging with the tradition. She sees so much of the human experience in the collection, such as holy cards that are worn with use and garden plans devoted to the Virgin Mary. The Library also acquires materials from traditions beyond the Catholic experience, for example, documenting the frequent appearance of the Virgin Mary in the Quran.

Cahalan is a tenured faculty member who reports jointly to the Dean of University Libraries. She is responsible for strategic planning, budgeting, marketing and administration of the Marian Library resources and services. She partners with other faculty and staff in the University Libraries managing the special collection library that supports research on, and devotion to, the Virgin Mary. The Library’s multi-language collection includes over 95,000 books and pamphlets, a stamp collection, crèche collections, medals, postcards and works of art.

Cahalan looks for opportunities to integrate the special collections with academic programs.  She understands that people find the library even if you don’t do the work, but that doesn’t mean that you should rest on your laurels saying “See? We have patrons.” She believes that the work is in building new and creative connections.

The Library IT specialist regularly updates information about services, acquisitions, special events and exhibits on the University website. The information often stimulates discussions about how specific materials might be of use for a class. Presently there are three special collections collaborating in a one-credit semester-long class. Cahalan hopes that this initiative can continue or become a module that could be connected to classes in other departments. The Library has a good relationship with the Campus Ministry, which has been a collaborator for chapel exhibits and has used rare materials in prayer sessions.

There is nothing as valuable as personal relationships. A number of instruction sessions and longer-term projects have been scheduled because Cahalan had coffee with someone or served on a committee. She sees it as part of her job to speak up about how important the collection is to the life of the University; she knows that “sometimes you have to be a bit obnoxious”.

A challenge for a religious collection is connecting with patrons who may not be interested in the devotional elements of the collection. An ongoing task is to ensure that patrons can use the special collection for classes in graphic design, music, art history and other fields of study. There are even connections to health sciences, for those who might be interested in exploring the relationship between faith and the healing effects of praying for a patient before a medical procedure.

The success of Cahalan’s librarianship begins with her interest in the Catholic tradition. She meets the collection’s advocacy and outreach challenges with an unabated determination to promote the relevance of the collections by integrating them into the University’s academic programs.

Meet Tobie Cunningham, Associate Registrar of Collections and Exhibits at the National Cowboy Museum

by Natalie Kelsey

At the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Tobie Cunningham works hard to bring the rich and complex history of the West to new visitors. But her start in the cultural heritage profession started, like many of us, with a passion for history. She was a college sophomore studying fashion merchandising, only taking history classes as a hobby, when a history professor pulled her aside and complimented her research and writing. She decided to change her major, and was drawn to museum studies and decided to try it out. It was a perfect match and Tobie found her calling.

After a hiatus from the profession to care for her chronically-ill child, Tobie’s current boss reached out to her. Although the open position, Associate Registrar for Collections and Exhibitions, was a slight step down in responsibility, Tobie chose to take the job. This was 9 years ago, and Tobie found that she enjoyed the position because it allowed her to get back to the things she loves most about the profession.

The museum was first known as the Cowboy Hall of Fame, and indeed this is the name many people still know it by. It was established as a way to honor notable cowboys – performers and rodeo stars as well as working cattlemen and ranchers. Tobie explains that this aspect is still active, and the Hall inducts members each year in “The Western Heritage Awards,” a key event for the museum. When the Hall of Fame first opened, attendance was high and people began to donate material related to the American West. From those materials, the museum developed. Today, the museum has a professional staff of about 60 people and counting security, maintenance, grounds- and housekeeping, the museum employs approximately 130 people.

Indigenous cultures are also represented in the museum’s collections. Although it can be difficult to integrate the stories of indigenous people and cowboy settlers, Tobie acknowledges that providing a complete history of the region means working with these often uncomfortable truths. Tobie also acknowledges the difficulty of reconciling the museum’s original mission with other stories – stories of the black cowboy, the paniolos of Canada, the gauchos of Mexico, and women in general. She explains that to exclude these stories would be to exclude a large part of their target audience – younger people who want to see themselves and others reflected in the museum’s collections. 

When I asked Tobie to tell me more about the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, she said, “Ask your grandparents about it! They’ve probably heard of it!” This gets to the heart of the museum’s core demographic and, also, to the core of their outreach efforts. In order to bring in a younger audience, Tobie explains that the museum is now featured in ads on public radio and a local grassroots newspaper. They have also developed some new and different events that are geared more towards their target audience. Events like a monthly whiskey tasting and movie showings, free with the price of admission, have garnered a good response.These events generally draw about 50 people.

The newest event the museum offers is a summer camp for kids. The camp focuses on Western activities and children learn about life on the early Western frontier as well as the indigenous tribes of the area. Tobie says this takes full advantage of the museum’s resources to create a unique experience for the museum’s youngest patrons. Tobie’s own son participated in the first camp last summer and she said he and the other kids raved about the experience. Although the museum did not break even on the budget for the camp last summer, they are hoping that the great response will bring in more campers this summer. 

Although the museum faces funding challenges from the state, Tobie is hopeful that the future of the museum is bright. As new events bring in younger audiences, she hopes that it will free up time and funding to expand the museum’s collections.



Meet Bethany Fair, Archivist at the Vermont State Archives

by Julia Greider

Bethany Fair gets to do a little bit of everything in her job as Archivist II at the Vermont State Archives in Middlesex, Vermont. The state archives exists to serve the people of Vermont, and because it’s a government institution, all the records it holds belong to the public and legally must be accessible. Bethany most enjoys interacting with the myriad of patrons—ranging from legislators, to academics, to attorneys, to the general public—who come to the archives for information.

Bethany has found that the reference room is the locus of outreach and advocacy, because people with research needs are always grateful for prompt and thorough assistance. Attorneys form one of the archives’ main user groups, and the archivists spend a lot of time helping them trace the origins and development of laws. As a result, satisfied attorneys often refer their colleagues to the archives with similar requests. The archives also has strong relationships with other government agencies, which it serves not only by holding their records, but also by fulfilling their information requests.

However, Bethany says that the public often has a misconception of the state archives as a place that holds nothing more than old, boring government records that have little research value for today. Furthermore, people think that the government is trying to hide its records from the public—particularly the records of shameful pasts, such as the Eugenics Survey of Vermont, a program that many believe sterilized Abenaki Indians in the 1930s. Outreach can be a great way to dispel these false visions of the archives. For example, Bethany recently helped organize a lecture by a visiting undergraduate who was studying the eugenics program. She’s found that dark topics like eugenics tend to draw people in, and the program is an important part of Vermont’s history. Not only did Vermont Public Radio and NPR do interviews with the student who gave the talk, but there was also an impressive turnout for the talk itself, which then spurred attendees to come into the archives and find their ancestors in these records of the eugenics program. Bethany believes this experience showed people that the government isn’t trying to hide its actions of almost a century ago—in fact, all the evidence is sitting right in the state archives for anyone to see.

Bethany and her colleagues know their outreach has been successful when they get an increased number of researchers coming to them with questions. She’s fielded a wider variety of questions as a result of outreach efforts, because people have begun to realize that the state archives doesn’t only hold birth and marriage records (the usefulness of which should not be discounted, of course), but also the records of both wacky and weighty events of the past.

Because the state archives is funded directly by the Vermont legislature, any changes to the archives budget have to be approved as bills in the legislature. This means there isn’t much wiggle room in the budget, so there isn’t much money set aside for outreach. As a result, Bethany and her colleagues have to create ways to do outreach without a budget, which often means working on their own time and finding people who are willing to give lectures on a volunteer basis. Furthermore, the archives staff has to advocate to the state legislature to ensure that they get the resources they need. Beyond an awareness of public records laws, lawmakers generally have little sense of what the archives does. The archivists, then, must explain their role in the government and why their skill set fits them out best to deal with certain legal issues. However, Bethany says that she and her colleagues must not only advocate for their own institution, but also for what will be best for their patrons—what will provide the people of Vermont with the easiest access to government records.

When the legislature debates bills pertaining to the archives, anyone can testify before the assembly, and theoretically, this is when outreach and advocacy can really pay off. The archives constantly builds up strong relationships both within the government and with the public, meaning that if it were ever necessary, Bethany and her colleagues would have many allies in vocalizing the value of the archives to the state of Vermont. For now, they’re finessing their preservation of born-digital records and working on expanding their digitized holdings in the hopes of creating online exhibits that can reach an even broader public and expand opportunities for outreach and advocacy.

Meet Stephanie Noell, Research and Instruction Librarian at Savannah College of Art and Design

by Jennifer Skarbek

Stephanie Noell, a Research and Instruction Librarian at the Savannah College of Art and Design, has a diverse background that ultimately brought her into the academic library world.  With an undergraduate degree in philosophy, background in environmental philosophy and conservation, and 10 years of experience in theater, Stephanie found herself drawn to the Library and Information Science field through her undergraduate job in her university library.

While pursuing her MLIS degree, Stephanie decided to gain experience in multiple aspects of the field, and took courses in a wide range of subjects from cataloging to archives. Through her coursework, she was able to gain experience in the library world through volunteering in a fashion archives and working in a private publisher’s library in Seattle.

Stephanie was able to hone all of the skills and experience she had acquired to land her first official library job working in Reference at the University of Texas at Arlington, where she realized that she likes to focus on the user experience and customer service aspects of library work.  She next made the transition to special collections within the University of Texas at Arlington, and ultimately decided to take a position as an Art Librarian at Mountain View Community College in Dallas.

Following her desire to work with patrons to help them find what they need, Stephanie landed her current position as a Research and Instruction Librarian at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she is enthusiastic about being able to work with faculty and students to help them in their research and creativity.  A main aspect of her job that she truly enjoys is highlighting collections that either group wouldn’t necessarily know is there.  Not only does this allow Stephanie, who works predominantly with their comic book and graphic novel collections, to showcase collections that interest her, but she’s also able to highlight collections that students and faculty may not realize are available for use, or even know that the library holds these collections.

However, she does recognize the challenge and differences in work with faculty and students, which echo some of the challenges many LIS professionals are facing in their respective institutions.  Faculty, while supportive and aware of the library, may not always be aware of the library or librarians’ and how they can truly enhance their courses, and by extension the students’ learning.  Students, while aware that the library has resources to help them succeed, may not feel comfortable making the trip to the library, and even further may not feel comfortable approaching a librarian to ask which resources would be the most helpful.

That’s exactly where Stephanie comes in: Stephanie focuses a large portion of her work to building a rapport with faculty and staff through one-on-one sessions with students to discuss their specific needs, teach a class on information literacy and conducting research with the materials the library has to offer, and bolstering SCAD’s collection development program by bringing materials into the library that students and faculty alike are hoping to utilize in their work.

To even further develop a relationship with the SCAD community, Stephanie tailors an ongoing display of library materials to what would be interesting to the community as a whole.  Most recently, this included professional development resources for students who may be graduating soon and information on various campus events like their upcoming DeFINE Art event where alumni and internationally renowned artists visit for talks on campus related to their work.  Stephanie is able to highlight the related materials in the library’s collections through this display, and show students and faculty alike the wide range of materials that can be found in their collections.

The needs of her patrons are always on Stephanie’s mind, so she spends her time not working with patrons to process the library’s backlog of comics donations, including highlighting writers or characters from traditionally marginalized groups that students would be interesting in seeing, but also may not realize are kept in the library for them to use had they not been brought to the forefront.  By focusing on the materials students would be interested in seeing, Stephanie is able to spark their interest in materials they may not have thought to use before.  As Stephanie puts it, “getting a non-librarian excited about library resources is the best thing ever,” and that philosophy seems to shape the type of work and service she brings to the SCAD community.