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.