A Conversation with Wendy Hagenmaier, Digital Collections Archivist at Georgia Tech

Interview conducted with Wendy Hagenmaier by Colleen Farry in March 2019.

This is the sixth post in a new series of conversations between emerging professionals and archivists actively working with digital materials.


Wendy Hagenmaier is the Digital Collections Archivist at the Georgia Tech Library where she leads the development of workflows for preserving and delivering born-digital special collections. She also manages the Library’s retroTECH initiative. Recently, Wendy shared her experiences as an archivist and some recommendations for new professionals with bloggERS!

When Wendy entered graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin, she did not initially know that her area of focus would be archives. She recalled a presentation by Dr. David Gracy during orientation. “I was captivated by the thought of how records are with you from the time that you’re born and how they’re evidence of your life.” Wendy went on to work in the archives as a graduate student while pursuing her M.S. in Information Studies. In retrospect, pursuing a career in archives was a natural career path for Wendy. As a child, she was always fascinated by objects and the narratives that people attached to them. In this way, Wendy explained how “the past is still present within objects in an archive.”

In addition to managing born-digital special collections, Wendy oversees the retroTECH Library program at Georgia Tech. This initiative provides a place for engagement with vintage hardware and software and modern tools for digital archiving and emulation. As described on the program website: “retroTECH aims to inspire a cultural mindset that emphasizes the importance of personal archives, open access to digital heritage, and long-term thinking.” Wendy hopes the program will continue to grow and expand beyond its space in the library. “The students, in interacting with older technology, can consider how we interact with technology now. They begin to consider the infrastructures that define our records and think about their own engagement with technology.”

Visitors to the retroTech lab have the opportunity to experiment with classic hardware and computer programs. “When people walk into the space they become very emotional and immediately launch into a memory of when they were a kid.” She spoke about the power of that experience and its ability to demonstrate the importance of libraries and archives as preservers of the past. Wendy also shared her thoughts on the importance of making archival work more visible and the challenge of developing models of sustainability within the profession. “We need to be able to communicate the value of our work to people in power who make resource decisions.”

When asked about the dynamic nature of digital archiving and staying up to date on new tools and technologies, Wendy acknowledged, “We will continue to encounter skills gaps in our careers.” To tackle new challenges with technology, Wendy has adopted a collaborative approach, working with colleagues to achieve goals that she might not have had bandwidth to accomplish on her own. “I think, ‘If I don’t learn scripting in the way that I had fantasties of, that’s ok.’ I spend time talking with colleagues that have expertise that I wish I had more time to cultivate.” She added, “there are many great SAA courses, and I’m grateful to benefit from these gap-filling learning opportunities.” Wendy also encourages archivists to explore open-source tools with strong user communities and training resources. For her, it is very motivating to be in a profession where “everyone is very open to sharing their knowledge and capitalizing on the ways that we can support each other.”

Some pieces of advice that Wendy shared for new professionals included staying curious and feeling empowered to question. “Try to maintain that sense of wonder and discovery about technological and socio-technical issues, and feel empowered to challenge them, where necessary. Our field is going to change a lot, and we should encourage each other to push beyond the status quo.” She observed that archivists can’t always control how technologies are developed, but they can think critically about how those infrastructures define our records and practices.

Networking can be challenging for new archivists and veterans alike. Wendy recommended pursuing virtual collaborations and reaching out to regional groups with shared interests. “I found comfort and a genuine connection with smaller working groups, like the ERS steering committee.” Wendy has also done a lot of work regionally. “It’s great to get involved locally to identify areas of commonality to present at regional conferences.”

When asked what she loved most about being an archivist, Wendy said the privilege of working with people that have a shared passion for archives. “I do this because I love it, and I get to work with others who love it as well; feeling that shared passion is very nurturing.”


Colleen Farry is an Assistant Professor and Digital Services Librarian at the University of Scranton where she develops, coordinates, and manages the Weinberg Memorial Library’s digital collections and related digital projects.

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An Interview with Elise Tanner – Director of Digital Projects and Initiatives at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture

This is the fifth post in the Conversations series.

FB_IMG_1535042441997Elise Tanner received her Master’s of Science in Library and Information Science from the iSchool at the University of Illinois in 2015. She was a Resident in the 2017/2018 National Digital Stewardship Residency for Art Information program. For the residency, she worked on a project to build a foundation for the preservation of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s time-based media art collection. Today, she is the Director of Digital Projects and Initiatives at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture where she is taking the lead of all things digital.


“Try things.” “[Ask] lots of questions.”

Elise Tanner’s cheery force of will shines through the interviews we have over video chat. Her work in digital archives and preservation so far has been on the edges of the digital preservation map: preservation of Time-Based Media Art at the Museum of Philadelphia and this new position as the Director of Digital Projects & Initiatives at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Center for Arkansas History & Culture. She admits she doesn’t see her role as an “archivist” necessarily, but a preservationist — even if archival concepts can’t help but inform her work as she considers an upcoming born-digital remote transfer.

We talk about the way archives hold stories, show structural bias, and how cool it would be to incorporate soundscapes in future collections. Tanner is working on collaborative GIS projects with the GIS Lab in the University, getting the Digital Services Lab technology organized, thinking about how to best engage the graduate assistants/apprentices who do much of the digitizing work in the lab, in addition to all the work involved with getting up to speed with a new institution and a new home. The Center itself shares space with the Central Arkansas Library System’s Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, a unique partnership that includes shared reference work in the research room.

When I ask her what advice she has for newer professionals and students, she points to her first internship in an academic library: “It wasn’t what I really wanted [to be a reference librarian].” But it is necessary for people to try things out, see what is in the field, join the listservs and ask (more) questions. Another colleague who made a career change later in life began working at the Center as a graduate student in UALR’s Public History program and has remained at the Center as an Assistant Archivist for the past 10 years.  As for many things, the first attempt will not be your last.

Tanner’s route to digital archives reflects the current social-economic times and her desire to keep learning. After graduating with a BA in Photography from Columbia College in Chicago, she worked for three years at Starbucks before deciding on an online MLIS program to avoid moving. She admits that the program wasn’t really structured towards archival work, but she pulled together the courses needed to obtain a certificate in Special Collections. Tanner worked full time during her MLIS as a digital imaging technician for The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  This practical component, as well as access to practitioners who could answer Tanner’s many questions, would prove a valuable counter-balance to a mainly online program.

After graduation, Tanner applied for the 2017-2018 residency in the National Digital Stewardship Residency for Art Information, and while her first interview didn’t garner a position with that particular institution, the positive impression she created led to one of the other Resident positions with the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The residency work produced the base for “an approach to digital preservation of time-based media art (TBMA)” for the institution. It also provided Tanner with the opportunity to develop presentation and project management skills, as well as mentorship from other professionals and the residency organizers.

How did she find herself at Little Rock? “The staff here really sold it to me,” Tanner admits. After the usual job application grind and interviewing near-misses, she credits luck and hard work in landing a position that was a good fit for her skills and personality. She almost didn’t apply because the word Director in the title was intimidating, before looking closer at the requested skills and deciding to go for it. The match seems well made.

What are important skill sets for the nascent digital archivist/preservationist to develop according to Tanner? “Communication” she expands: learn to give an elevator speech; how to articulate your vision to a group; stay on top of an overwhelming email inbox; definitely mastering project management; how to prepare for and run a meeting; go to conferences and put yourself out there. Technical skills follow close behind: networks, security, any tools that will make your life easier in terms of communication and project management.  It might all sound overwhelming, but getting practical experience in the field will reveal your personal strengths and narrow down aspects you can work on – careers are a long game, try things – ask more questions.

What does the future hold for Tanner? Publishing her TBMA work is first on her list, but also aspires to one day collect the archives of the local Rock Town Roller Derby league, and eventually greater embedment with the local community. So definitely keep your eye out for more from this upcoming digital preservationist.


profile5Author Bio: Meghan Whyte is a former public librarian who currently works as a government records reappraisal archivist for Library and Archives Canada.

“A Trial by Fire Process”: Digital Archiving at the State Historical Society of Missouri (Interview with Elizabeth Engel)

This is the fourth post in the Conversations series

Founded in 1898, the State Historical Society of Missouri (SHSMO) “collect[s], preserve[s], publish[es], exhibit[s], and make[s] available material related to all aspects and periods of Missouri history” (The State Historical Society of Missouri, “About Us”). Supporting this mission is a large staff that includes thirty-five full-time and twelve part-time employees, two research fellows, and a large number of volunteers and interns who work in one of SHSMO’s six Research Centers (The State Historical Society of Missouri, “About Us”). My interviewee, Senior Archivist Elizabeth Engel, serves at the Columbia Research Center on the University of Missouri campus. Elizabeth and her colleagues work to make SHSMO’s collections (e.g. the National Women and Media Collection) accessible to a wide variety of patrons, including film creators, reporters, and researchers from all walks of life.

Elizabeth’s entry into the archival field was due partly to happenstance. After enrolling in the University of Iowa’s (UI) School of Information Science, Elizabeth expected to work in public libraries—especially because she had worked in similar settings during her high school and college years. However, she seized upon an opportunity to complete a work-study assignment at the Iowa Women’s Archives (at the University of Iowa) and promptly discovered a passion for archives. After graduating from UI in 2006, SHSMO initially hired her as a Manuscript Specialist—and the rest is, well, history (The State Historical Society of Missouri, “SHSMO Staff”). As the senior archivist for the Columbia Research Center, Elizabeth’s day-to-day work involves processing collections; fulfilling various public services responsibilities, and developing biographical histories of Missouri’s most well-known citizens. Her greatest responsibility, however, is overseeing the Columbia Research Center’s accessioning efforts—particularly as it pertains to digital content.

Elizabeth’s Research Center has seen a marked increase in the amount of born-digital material that it takes in each year. This point is exemplified by SHSMO’s recent acquisition of Senator Claire McCaskill’s papers, which consists of approximately 3.25 cubic feet AND two terabytes of data. To tackle the challenges of managing such content, Elizabeth and her staff have employed a variety of tactics and tools. While MPLP-inspired collection-level descriptions have sufficed for physical collections, Elizabeth noted that digital content requires a more in-depth description for access and preservation purposes. Elizabeth’s work on other projects—such as the processing of the Missouri Broadcasters Association Radio Archives Collection—reinforced the importance of flexibility, as exemplified by her arrangement tactics (recordings are organized by call sign, and further accruals are added to the end of the finding aid) and description efforts (“some of the file names were in ALL CAPS and I decided to retain that for the time being as well…perhaps it will aid in retrieval).

This theme of flexibility emerged when Elizabeth discussed the different digital archiving tools that SHSMO staff have employed: Duke University’s DataAccessioner and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets (to create and organize metadata); various storage spaces, including network attached storage (NAS) units and a dark archive (both of which are accessible only to certain staff); thumb drives, used to deliver content to patrons; a Microsoft Access database, which serves as the institution’s collection management system; and BitCurator, which SHSMO staff set up to tackle larger and more complex collections (e.g. Senator McCaskill’s papers). Overall, effectively and efficiently managing these digital resources has been “a [constant] trial by fire process,” given the somewhat volatile nature of the digital archives field. In the future, Elizabeth hopes that SHSMO will adopt more user-friendly and compatible software—such as Archivematica and/or Access to Memory (AtoM)—to fulfill its mission. In fact, Elizabeth emphasized that finding such tools—especially cost-effective tools—represents one of the greater challenges facing modern archivists.

For the aspiring digital archivist, Elizabeth recommended seeking out practice-focused learning opportunities. To complement her largely theoretical UI coursework, Elizabeth completed the Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) certificate; scans the field for published literature; and engages in other professional development efforts. She further recommended the workshops provided by Lyrasis as another opportunity to deepen one’s digital preservation knowledge. Elizabeth explained that the twenty-first-century digital archivist must remain flexible and commit to continual learning to stay on top of the field’s recent developments. She also emphasized that these same professionals must also be given sufficient time to learn and experiment with tools and workflows.

Before we digitally parted ways, Elizabeth offered one final and—in this writer’s opinion—exceptionally solid advice:

“You’re going to make mistakes and that’s okay. The DAS courses drilled it into me that ‘Doing something is better than nothing.’ Standards/tools are going to change and you can’t predict that. Sometimes all you can do is digital triage with the resources/time you have, so don’t let the doing things perfectly be the enemy of the good.”



Gentry_Photo_2018.jpgAuthor Bio: Steven Gentry is the Archives Technician for the St. Mary’s College of Maryland Archives. His responsibilities include processing collections and building finding aids; assisting with web and email archiving efforts; and researching tools and best practices pertaining to digital archives and electronic records.