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 Aliza Leventhal

Aliza Leventhal, Archivist at Sasaki Associates

by Sara Mueller

Three years ago, the archives at Sasaki Associates, an architecture firm in Watertown, Massachusetts, did not exist. Today, archivist Aliza Leventhal works to ensure that the significance of this fledgling archive is seen throughout the firm.

A graduate of Smith College with degrees in Economics and American Studies, Leventhal earned her Masters in Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. Her passion for organizing historical records, garnered from working at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, prompted Leventhal to concentrate her Simmons’ studies on the dual History and Archives program. During an internship at the Cambridge Historical Commission (CHC), Leventhal became “completely enamored with design records.”

Through her work with the CHC, Leventhal was drawn to the concept of what “physical environments do for collective memory and what documents do to support or corroborate or dispute that.” This idea has followed her into her current position as Archivist/Librarian at Sasaki, where Leventhal strives to bring together the firm’s belief in the connection between architecture and community and her own education in archives and preserving the past.

While Sasaki has had librarians in the past, Leventhal is the first trained archivist to step into the firm. The first to admit that there is no such thing as an average day, “things that are constantly happening is more like it,” Leventhal balances multiple tasks from providing resources for the architects such as periodicals as well as finding test prep resources, to what we perceive as the usual archival tasks of processing and arranging.

“Sasaki is unique as a firm to have an archivist,” Leventhal says, “there are only, probably, thirty-five or forty firms in the country that have archivists. But most of them have a donor agreement with an institution so the archivist is on staff for them because the institution is requiring the firm to process the collection before donating it.” Sasaki, however, isn’t donating their material anywhere, which allows Leventhal to focus on serving Sasaki instead of being pulled in different directions on archival standards. This uniqueness also helps cut down on the material stored by the archive, which, with about 7,000 projects and all their related material, would be a lot. Leventhal admits that it can sometimes be difficult to get material from project teams for the archives. “I basically have to hear rumblings that a project is about to be closed then I run to that project manager’s desk and say, ‘I hear you have stuff. Do you have stuff?’”  While project managers are more likely than not to say no, that everything is digital, Leventhal knows that at least a few items are in physical form.

“The thing with designers and programmers and anyone who’s doing design for something active, current or for future, is that they are always future looking,” says Leventhal, “and they are very rarely past looking. There can be a lot of tension about talking about the past.” So how does Leventhal advocate for the archives?

Every other year, Leventhal curates an exhibit to help preserve the institutional memory of Sasaki. In addition, she helps to facilitate the orientation of new employees by letting them know that she is there whenever they need something. Leventhal has taken on what she terms her “personal call to arms” for Sasaki, which is to help facilitate knowledge management within the organization. Leventhal works to pair knowledge seekers with a “knowledge mentor,” someone who is an expert in the field who can then pass on what they know.

“It’s a concept of facilitating knowledge sharing and transfer,” says Leventhal. Surprised that she never learned this concept during her archival studies, Leventhal has embraced this philosophy and hopes to create a best practices manual to better facilitate the passing of knowledge.

While it can often be daunting to work as, what’s termed in the archive world, a lone arranger, Leventhal has found ways to bridge the gap between the business and archival worlds. Whether that be through learning to use the language of her organization instead of archival jargon or through the simple act of shortening her e-mails to quick business speak. She knows that she can, also, reach out to others in the library and archive world should she need.

No matter what, though, Leventhal has one major focus in her work at Sasaki: showing pride and teaching others to instill pride in their work. At the end of the day, if she has helped Sasaki to own more of its history, Leventhal feels that she has done her job.