Reflections of an Archivist

Category: Heritage

Noraleen Duvall Young

Alpha Chi, Purdue

When asked what I do, of course I say, “Archivist.” That is usually followed up by the questioner getting a look on her face of “what in the world is that?” Upon seeing that response, I go into a brief (sometimes a little longer than that) description of the very interesting things that I get to do on a daily basis. In honor of October as American Archives Month, I thought I would share what I do here as the project archivist at Theta.

I have a great tradition to follow. The Fraternity established the Theta archive in 1899 and because of that long tradition, we have an extensive collection. My favorite part of the job is to share the treasures in the collections. In order to do that, I have to manage the material that already exists and add new material, be it on paper, digital, or a three-dimensional artifact. The archive acquires most of the materials through transfer of items created in the conduct of Fraternity business or by way of donations from members and their families. The recent acquisition of materials from the family of Carole Cones-Bradfield, great-granddaughter of Bettie Locke, has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my archival career. Going through trunks and boxes and uncovering materials that Bettie; her daughters, Edna and Eulalia; her granddaughter, Genevieve; and Carole tucked away so that their history and the history of Theta would be preserved has left me in awe.

Once materials are received, I decide whether they’re worthy of inclusion. (We have a collection policy to help me decide.) I arrange the records following archival best practices. I write descriptions so that others know what is in the folders and boxes and where to find those particular items again. I also need to be aware of the condition of the materials and how to best protect them so that Thetas 50 years from now will be able to use them.

The archive is a resource for officers, staff, members, chapters, and the public, and I answer questions from all them. I help chapters and members preserve their history. I also try to connect the story of Theta and its members to the larger historical stories of women and women in higher education. If you name an event in the last 146 years, I can probably find something in the Theta archive that touches upon that event in some way.

As I mentioned, the most fun I have is sharing the archive, whether it is when people visit headquarters, through the Heritage website, or via social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat (check out Live from the Theta Archive on Thursdays). I never know what I will find or what questions will come up. It definitely is never boring! Keep sharing your Theta items with the archive and keep asking those questions.