Steering Share: Lisa Calahan

The Steering Shares series provides an opportunity to learn more about the I&A Steering Committee and the issues that committee members care about. This introduction post comes courtesy of Steering Committee member Lisa Calahan, Head of Archival Processing at the University of Minnesota.

Lisa Calahan
Steering Committee member Lisa Calahan
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB OR THE ARCHIVES PROFESSION?

My favorite thing about my job is that every collection is different and I can never get bored. As Head of Archival Processing, I lead a lot of processing projects and there are never two collections that are the same. For example, I am currently managing processing projects for a collection of comic books, a social welfare organization, a civil rights activist’s papers, a theater company, two rare book collections, a collection on youth work, a historic architect’s records, and a partridge in a pear tree. I love assessing each collection, discovering (or attempting to discover) what clues the material and original order convey and piecing the information together in a cohesive way that can be useful to researchers. I also like seeing history “in the raw.” When I’m appraising new archival collections, very few others have peaked into the boxes and the collections have yet to be subjected to interpretations. It’s an incredible opportunity to be reminded how powerful and sneaky bias can be and try to remember to check my own before creating processing plans.

WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO JOIN THE I&A STEERING COMMITTEE?

I’m a long-time member and listserv lurker. I&A is one of the most active sections I’ve been involved with; I wanted to be a part of the activity and help keep the section successful!

WHAT IS AN ARCHIVAL ISSUE THAT MEANS A LOT TO YOU?

An issue that means a lot to me is valuing the concept of “shared authority” and how our profession can better collaborate with communities. The professional model that archivists are taught, at least I was taught, involve removing the historical record from the community and keeping the records in a “safe” place. By doing so, we also alter the ability for communities, especially historically disenfranchised communities, to retain ownership and power over their histories. I think a lot about how we as archivists can use our knowledge to support community based archival efforts to build relationships rather than building collections.

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