Kathleen Roe 2015-05-22 12:36:10
Like many others, I came to this field after pursuing graduate work in history. After a friend chose the sixteenth-century Irish navy as a thesis topic, I was left wondering if I could home in on something so specific as my “passion”—thirty years on one country, one time period, one topic? Fortunately, a professor at Michigan State University steered me to an opening for a student assistant at the State of Michigan Archives as a way to explore other options. That’s where I met Geneva Kebler Wiskemann, a tiny woman who walked fast, talked faster, and exuded an incomparable passion for archives. She taught me various work processes, but, more importantly, as we worked, she talked about why archives, particularly government archives, are essential to individuals and the functioning of government and organizations. It was not just work for Geneva—archives and serving the public was a mission with purpose, significant outcomes, and something that can and does make a difference. Her vision and energy were infectious, and I’ve thankfully never recovered from that exposure. At Geneva’s urging, after finishing my master’s in history, I entered Wayne State University’s MLS program with a concentration in archives, then taught by Dr. Philip P. Mason. Phil not only provided a thorough and thoughtful education in archives, he took seriously his role as a mentor. For many years after I graduated, he had lunch with me at SAA annual meetings, stopped by when he was driving through on research trips, and was always available to talk. His careful mentoring expanded and enhanced my commitment to archives as a profession in which I could make intellectually stimulating and personally rewarding contributions and as a field that changes lives and affects society in subtle but significant ways. Throughout my career, I’ve tried to “pay forward” the kind of mentoring and collegiality that Geneva and Phil so generously shared. Recently I was fortunate to return to Wayne to meet with their energetic staff and students. I discussed Geneva and Phil and how their mentoring has been so important to me. Among those attending was Caitlin Brennecke, a recent Wayne grad who’s been doing behind-the-scenes work for me collating submissions for “The Year of Living Dangerously for Archives.” This morning Caitlin emailed to tell me that she had taken an oral history workshop, taught by none other than Geneva Kebler Wiskemann. She introduced herself to Geneva and let her know that she is a second-generation Wiskemann protégé. The connections we make as archivists matter, and they matter for a long time. Whether it is a formal mentoring relationship or simply sharing our energy, skills, and passion for archives, it will have an impact on the field. So as part of my challenge to you all to make this “The Year of Living Dangerously for Archives,” I encourage you to reach out to one another—talk to the young archivist sitting next to you at a meeting, email a more experienced archivist with a question, respond to someone on Twitter or Facebook, or just stick out your hand at a meeting and introduce yourself. You never know what chain of relationships you may create, and we will be a better profession for it.
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