We’re kicking off Halloween week by heading over to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY.
We asked archivist Sarah Malcolm about public misconceptions of her profession.
“The word archivist is a misconception in and of itself, since unfortunately most people aren’t sure what that word means,” Malcolm said. “Usually, the first question I get from people when I say that I am an archivist is, ‘So what do you do?’
“What an archivist is can be a range of things. Archivists work with collections and papers ranging from centuries ago to digital files being created today. We take care of these documents, photographs, audio and video recordings to make them accessible for people now and for generations to come. We preserve collections, create exhibits, answer peoples questions, and spend a lot of time getting dusty and dirty. We work in small historical societies, colleges and universities, corporate headquarters, government institutions, and everywhere else in between. We get to work with history every day, and that’s what makes being an archivist so unique and fun.”
Read on to learn more about Malcolm’s archival experiences!
Name: Sarah Malcolm
Occupation: Archivist at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library
How long have you worked at this library?
Three years, plus four summers of internships.
How/why did you decide to go into the archival field?
I fell in love with the archival field the summer before my senior year of college. I was an undergraduate history major who didn’t know what to do with a degree in history. I knew I did not want to teach nor go into law, and was looking for other avenues in the field when I stumbled upon an archives internship at the Roosevelt Library. I applied (even though I didn’t know what an archivist was or did) and was lucky enough to get an internship. After my second week, I knew this was the right path for me, and I never left the Library.
What are some of your responsibilities at your library?
My responsibilities include being a part of the Library’s digitization program, answering reference questions sent to the Archives, overseeing the research room, managing the Library’s book collection and helping manage our Library’s social media empire.
What do you like best about your job?
I love the fact that I have the chance to make the papers of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt accessible to people around the world. Through our digitization projects and social media posts, we are able to provide access to our documents and photographs to so many people beyond those who visit us in Hyde Park. For me, finding ways to provide those types of access and outreach is an important part of being an archivist.
Tell us about a time something unusual or unexpected happened to you in your line of work.
The unexpected happens for me when I get to see just how personal and special some of our records can be for people.
Last year, I had corresponded with a gentleman from the Solomon Islands who was looking for information on a letter his father had sent to President Roosevelt. After looking through the files, I was able to find the letter, as well as a picture of this gentleman’s father that had been sent along with the letter. I was also able to let him know that we had a wood carving in our museum collection which his father had sent to President Roosevelt. This past February, he traveled to the Library with his daughter to see firsthand the letter, photo, and carving. He was so amazed and happy to see that we still had these things which were sent to the President of the United States from a small village chief in the Solomon Islands. Those types of interactions make for an unexpected and spectacular day.
Tell us something about your President that the average American might be surprised to learn.
In 1934, President Roosevelt was sent a live alligator as a gift. While we know that it was received by the Secret Service, we have yet to find out what happened to the alligator.
If your library were attacked by zombies and you could only save one record, what would it be?
The record I would try and save is the Missale trajectense. This is a Catholic missal printed in 1480 in Utrecht. It is the oldest printed item in the Presidential Library system, and one of only two known copies in the world.
If you were carving a President Roosevelt-themed pumpkin, what design would you choose and why?
If I was to carve a Roosevelt-themed pumpkin, I would try and carve President Roosevelt fighting off a group of zombies with the phrase “Freedom from Fear.”