Tiah Edmunson-Morton 2015-07-29 11:03:26
Creating the Oregon Hops & Brewing Archives (OHBA) in the Special Collections & Archives Research Center at the Oregon State University (OSU) Libraries followed a unique recipe. I spent most of my career as a traditional reference and instruction archivist, matching researchers with collections and convincing students they were researchers. My work was gratifying but also felt a bit like the movie Groundhog Day— for first time researchers the experience was fresh and new, but the days seemed to be on repeat for me. I’d been at my job for seven years and feeling the edges of burnout; my focus on access for others meant I’d moved away from research and descriptive practice. In summer 2013 my job shifted radically when I pitched the idea of establishing the first archive in the country dedicated to collecting materials on the history of hops and craft brewing. Oregon has a rich history of growing hops and brewing beer, and it’s bursting with opportunities for researchers, consumers, artists, and tourists. Creating OHBA turned out to be an easy sell to the OSU Libraries administration and the state’s beer-related industries. However, this work has called into question my own definition of an archivist’s role, required me to grapple with the mechanics of community-based archival practice, and allowed me to explore the professional ethics of working closely with a historian. OHBA is a repository of records and stories told by the industries and communities, but it isn’t just a collecting initiative housed in a university archive. I wanted it (and me) to connect researchers to collections in local archives, libraries, and historical societies. This was a personal challenge! Though I’d grown up in Oregon and had hop growers in my family (four generations back), I wasn’t a collections archivist, scientist, brewer, hop grower, or even a big beer drinker. Being the first to establish a subject-specific archives like this is awesome, but if I wanted to collect and refer, I had research to do. Life as a Researcher Initially, I was a traditional researcher. I did Google and library searches, looked through bibliographies, read summaries and longer articles, contacted staff at archives and historical societies, and made a lot of visits. Sometimes I walked in with a clear idea of what I wanted, while other times I had a vague hunch that “there must be something here.” Sometimes I got a lot of instruction, other times staff assumed that I knew what I was doing and I was on my own. I assumed I knew what I was doing and that hunches were always right. One particularly sobering (and humorous) example was a trip to the state archives to research the “Brew Pub Bill,” significant for craft brewers in Oregon, but also ripe for their misremembering. I wanted to verify information I’d read in a book, so I requested the records related to that bill and other versions. The boxes rolled out, I opened them up, and I soon realized that I had no clue what I was looking for or how to find what I wanted. After thirty minutes of faking it, I went up to the desk with the bill numbers—and left embarrassed by how little I knew about the way our government operates. I continued my research journey visiting with other archivists and historical society staff but also learning who’s who in the industries and absorbing enough science to sound credible. I moved into the territory of original research, exploring OSU collections, growers’ association cabinets, brewing company design files, and the world of “breweriana.” However, to collect materials that reflected the history of these industries and their orbiting communities, I also had to think broadly about what “research” was in this context. Because I wasn’t a big beer drinker, I had to expand my knowledge of styles and community events so I could have conversations with potential donors and the media. The top question I got was, “What’s your favorite beer?” I needed to make sure my go-to answer wasn’t “the yellow one.” My experience with research was complicated by assumptions about professional roles. For example, I believed the archivist collects and the historian reflects. We bring together raw materials, and they make meaning. We may have deep subject knowledge that can aid in collection development and reference, but our role is to provide the resources for the subject experts. We create guides for our collections, but those guides are merely road maps rather than history lessons. These were the rules set in my mind since I became an archivist over a decade ago, and these were the rules that codified in my practice as a reference archivist. OHBA blurred those lines between the content I created as an archivist, the content I collected from others, and my subject expertise. I went to festivals. I conducted oral histories. I sought out materials to digitize, and then I returned the originals. I did the research. Soon I was called on to be the expert. Beyond beer styles, I wanted to learn more about the science, and being at a university with hop yards and a research brewery on campus gave me access to experts. Though I value what I’ve learned on my own and from scientists, running parallel to my own research journey was my connection to a professional historian who was writing the book on hops history in our growing region. Our relationship is an important part of this story. Life with a Historian Several important things happened in summer 2013: a wedding at a hop yard, the Archives Leadership Institute, and a talk on hops history by Dr. Peter Kopp. Though he works at New Mexico State University, Kopp grew up in Oregon and did dissertation research in OSU’s archival collections. He’d also travelled through the state looking through boxes and conducting oral histories, so he knew how scattered the information was. Aside from the 1992 book Tinged with Gold: Hop Culture in the United States, Kopp was literally writing the book about my archives. Although he was still researching, he’d already done much of the research legwork that would form the foundation for my own work. Our relationship was collegial, yet complex from the beginning. While our objective was the same—to share and save the stories—it was likely our motivations and comfort with sharing research findings would differ. Did we implicitly trust each other because of our roles as “archivist” and “historian”? Would that be complicated by the fact that I provided reference services and acquired collections used by him and others? How might his commitment to donate his research papers influence how I worked with other researchers? Would my ethical obligation to this researcher interfere with my work to promote the archives? Kopp gave me time, contacts, advice, a dissertation, and a promise of his papers, but he couldn’t give me full access to his research because his final product was still in progress. At times he was also concerned about the promotion of the archives itself; hops and brewing are popular topics, and since he’d spent many years gathering materials and cultivating relationships with people in the industries, he didn’t want someone else to write the book first. I was creating an archives that would make future research easier, but I was still an archivist and had ethical obligations to this researcher. When he asked me for subtlety and patience, I asked him to finish the book. As time passed, our relationship evolved. Kopp became an even more valuable advisor for the archives, answering questions about his research, but also reminding me to be patient when working with the communities. As I grew the archive and answered reference queries, I made new connections in the materials and offered him new perspectives based on what I’d learned. He’s understandably curious about what others are researching, but as I settled into my role as both researcher and collector, I found it easier to separate Kopp as the advisor from Kopp as the researcher. One of the most exciting changes is that we’ve adopted new roles as content creators, conducting oral histories and participating in events or conferences together. At the National Council on Public History last spring, he referred to two stages of his work as “B.T.” and “A.T.”—before and after Tiah. I relish the challenges that this archives offers and appreciate the colleagues who make growing it so interesting. Kopp offered a bit of advice early on that I’ve tucked in my pocket and take out regularly: “Be patient. Building these relationships takes a lot of time.”
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