Meet Kate Boylan, Director of Archives and Digital Initiatives at Wheaton College

Kate Boylan, the Director of Archives and Digital Initiatives at Wheaton College, describes her job as having “all the irons in all of the fires.”  Among her many duties she oversees digital preservation, manages the Wheaton College Digital Repository, teaches instructional sessions, helps students and faculty incorporate digital initiatives into their scholarship, handles reference requests, hires and oversees staff and student workers, and engages in outreach and advocacy work.  She works and collaborates with Mark Armstrong, her tireless and fearless colleague and College Archivist/Records Manager, as well as Thomas San Filippo, intrepid Systems and Educational Librarian.  Boylan recently spoke with me about her path towards archives and digital initiatives and the different forms of outreach and advocacy she is involved with at Wheaton College.

Boylan attended Wheaton College as an undergraduate, majoring in English and film with a minor in music.  As a senior, like many college seniors, she did not know what she wanted to do following graduation.  However, thanks to childhood visits to the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, she did know that she was interested in film preservation projects.  Following internships at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library as an audiovisual reference intern and an audiovisual digitization intern, she decided to attend Simmons College to earn her Masters in Library Science.  Subsequent positions at the Massachusetts Department of Recreation and Conservation Archives, the Simmons College Archives, a private school in Boston, and the non-profit organization Facing History and Ourselves gave her plenty of experience working at the intersection of libraries, archives, education, and digital resources.

In 2016, Boylan returned to her alma mater as a Digital Initiatives Librarian, working with faculty members to support their digital scholarship projects.  Digital initiatives and the Wheaton College Archives soon merged, and Boylan became the Director of Archives and Digital Initiatives.  As director, she is responsible for leading the important work of outreach and advocacy for the Archives.  Boylan focuses this work around forming relationships with the three main stakeholders of the Archives: the faculty, the students, and the administration.

Thanks to Wheaton College’s small size, Boylan is able to have one-on-one conversations with many of the faculty members to learn about their teaching and their research.  These conversations are instrumental in developing relationships with the faculty.  They help Boylan determine the needs and interests of faculty members, think creatively about how her department’s resources can help them succeed, and increase campus awareness of the physical and digital resources of the Archives.  She says that once a faculty member visits the Archives or starts to use a digital initiative, they begin to incorporate it into their work and to recommend it to their colleagues.

Her work building relationships with faculty members also helps Boylan connect with students.  When there is faculty buy-in to the archives, they tend to bring students into the archives.  In the last year, Boylan has worked with approximately thirty different classes, including instructional sessions about cultural heritage and primary sources, a First Year Seminar about Wheaton’s history, humanities classes, and STEM classes.  Boylan also points to student workers as an opportunity for outreach.  When they are interested in their work, they tend to tell their friends about it, and, in Boylan’s words, “moss grows fast on a rolling stone when it comes to students” and word of mouth.  Thanks to this kind of outreach, Boylan estimates that 26% of the student body engaged with the Archives last year.

Of course, Boylan’s outreach is about more than the number of people who come through the door.  It is about truly engaging those people with interesting, meaningful, and relevant projects and resources.  The digital initiatives element of Boylan’s work is a huge asset in this.  For example, a computer science class recently used the collections to develop a program that can help determine the authorship of literary works.  Currently, Boylan is working with the administration and the faculty to use technology to actively steward and document the College record as Wheaton redevelops its curriculum and works to build more inclusive STEM classrooms.  Additionally, the Archives recently received a grant to work with faculty and students to develop a workflow for creating, sharing, managing, and preserving their digital work.  These and other collaborations stand out as examples of how digital initiatives can help cultural heritage professionals connect with users in innovative new ways.

All of this outreach work means that Boylan has a strong foundation of support to lean on when advocating for the Archives.  However, no matter how strong a foundation someone has, advocacy work never rests.  Boylan is currently preparing to give a presentation about the Archives to the President’s commission in April.  Boylan is looking forward to this “huge opportunity” to show how integrated the Archives is in the college community and how “incredibly energized” everyone is to keep taking the Archives and digital initiatives to the next level.