Meet Our Staff series! First up: Ashley Taylor
We’ve had a lot of people ask us about… well, us! Who are the people behind the collections, processing boxes and writing collection guides and answering emails? What are we interested in, what exactly do we do, and how did we even end up here in the first place? So, each month, we’ll introduce you to a new staff member or student (we’re always home to a few graduate students, which, ironically, is where a big chunk of our professional staff came from!). First up is one of the two archivists who bring you the Tumblr and Facebook updates. Look out for more on another staff member in October!
Name: Ashley Taylor
What are some of your responsibilities? Processing large, complex collections is my forte! By large, I mean collections that can range from 200 to 2200 boxes. I’ve worked on the papers of K. Leroy Irvis, Maurice Shapiro, Jean Witter, Thomas E. Starzl, and Senator Arlen Specter. These projects involve elements of project management, arrangement and description, electronic records management, digitization, reference and outreach. With Zach, I help run the ASC social media pages (Tumblr and Facebook). I’m also taking the test to get my Digital Archivist Specialist certificate from SAA in November, so I’m helping guide and make recommendations to the ASC as we begin to handle more and more electronic media files. In a nutshell, I really do a bit of everything.
Why did you choose to work in archives? Like so many archivists, I was a history undergraduate who didn’t want to teach and had no idea what to do with myself. A great professor got me a job as an intern at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, and the very first collection I worked with was a collection of Civil War miscellany- nothing like going in your first day and finding an original newspaper announcing Lincoln’s assassination! I loved the combination of history and information science; I’m a very structured thinker, and I found that a lot of the job came easily to me. Today, I like the challenge of tackling access issues- how can we best get information to researchers?- especially with regards to medical and electronic material.
Tell us about a time something unusual or unexpected happened to you while working here: This is before I started at the ASC, but it’s a great example of some of the “dangers” of archival work that they don’t tell you about in school. One of my colleagues at the WRHS and I were going through some boxes that had recently arrived from a local organization, and they had been stored in a basement in not-so-great conditions for several decades. I reached into the box, felt something strange under the pile of papers, and then actually looked at what I had reached into: a (probably also decades’ old) spider’s nest. All of the soap in the world couldn’t wash the creepy feeling off of me after that- I guess it’s amazing I still went ahead and applied to grad school!
If you could go back in time and ask a question of anyone represented in the collections, who would it be and what would you ask? I’d probably ask K. Leroy Irvis if he could give me lessons in woodcarving and making model airplanes, because I bet that we could have some great conversations and make some beautiful art!
What’s your favorite ASC collection to work with? I love the Jean Witter Papers; I processed them as a graduate student, and they came to me in pretty much no order at all. It was a definite challenge, but I loved it. As I pieced everything together, I found out a lot about Mrs. Witter and her story; learning more about the gender equality movement from her papers was really fascinating.