We continue with celebrating American Archives Month by showcasing some of our amazing archivists in the Presidential Libraries.
This post takes continues our journey through the heartlands of America: Abilene, KS.
Name: Valoise Armstrong
Occupation: Archivist at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum
How long have you worked at this library?
After working for five years at the National Archives at Seattle office, I transferred to the Eisenhower Library in July 2004.
How/why did you decide to go into the archival field?
I went to college many years after I graduated from high school and majored in my passion, which is history. I didn’t have any desire to teach, but being an archivist was a way I could immerse myself in history every day, so it was a very easy choice to focus on Archival Management in graduate school.
What are some of your responsibilities at your library?
I am responsible for three main areas in our archival operations: I am in charge of manuscript preservation activities; I maintain our oral history collection; and I oversee all of my library’s entries in the National Archives online description catalog. Among the duties shared by all the archivists at my library, I also answer reference questions, work with researchers in the research room, assist with public programs and process collections.
What do you like best about your job?
I love tackling large and complex collections, especially those with interesting preservation challenges. Ferreting out the original arrangement, determining how to tackle unique situations, and finding ways to provide useful description for our researchers are fascinating and keep me sharp as an archivist. Preserving historical documents for use by succeeding generations and finding the best way to connect users with those records are at the heart of why I became an archivist.
Tell us about a time something unusual or unexpected happened to you in your line of work.
While I was working in Seattle, a production team from the BBC came to film documents from a Federal court case involving the estate of Jimi Hendrix as part of a documentary. As I was looking at some of the evidence from the case, I held up a record album and said to a colleague, “I used to have this when I was a kid.” Someone on the film crew overheard and asked if they could interview me on camera. How anyone can appear natural on camera is a mystery, as they had to film each question and action over and over again to get just the right take. It all made me very glad to be an archivist and not an actress.
Tell us something about your President that the average American might be surprised to learn.
There are a lot of people who think that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was just out there playing golf all the time, but he was a President interested in results, not the limelight. As Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, he fine-tuned his skills at getting strong and opinionated leaders to come together for a common goal. As President, he used these skills to guide bipartisan government in a manner that few have been able to duplicate.
If your library were attacked by zombies and you could only save one record, what would it be?
Well, for a zombie apocalypse it would be nice to have some ammo for the World War II weapons in our museum, but I do have a document that I would save: the “In Case of Failure” message. This is a short hand-written memo President Eisenhower composed just prior to D-Day and the Normandy Invasion that was to be released if the invasion failed. After praising the efforts of all the troops, the last sentence reveals him to be the kind of leader who, instead of trying to shift the blame on his staff, stands up and takes responsibility: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.” That’s strength of character.