Ellen Swain, Archivist for Student Life and Culture at the University of Illinois Library, has been named a distinguished Fellow of the Society of American Archivists (SAA). She received the honor at August’s annual SAA meeting. She joined the library in her current position in 1999 after previous time at the university as a graduate student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and a graduate assistant in the University Archives.SAA Fellows have been named since 1957 and may never exceed five percent of the SAA membership. In his nomination of Ellen for this honor, Scott Schwartz, Archivist for Music and Fine Arts and Director of the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, described her impact on the profession and the university:
The direct result of her academic training and hands-on archives experience has enabled Ellen to become an influential leader of the Midwest Archives Conference and the Society of American Archivists. In addition, her education as an archivist and historian has helped establish the University of Illinois Archives’ Student Life and Culture Archival Program as the leading model for academic archives in the twenty-first century, particularly for those repositories that are responsible for the preservation of records of “Greek” organizations. Ellen’s academic and professional training gives her the unique ability to creatively articulate the purpose of the archives profession to diverse communities, particularly student organizations, and remind them of the relevance of archives for the preservation and interpretation of student life on America’s college and university campuses.
Since her return from SAA, Ellen answered a few questions for Recognizing Excellence about her research and service in the profession.
What motivated you to go into the archives profession?
During grad school (MA- American history), I held a summer assistantship at the Indiana Historical Society and really enjoyed the combination of conducting research and processing the materials. This interest took me to GSLIS and assistantships in the University of Illinois Archives. I enjoy being an archivist because no two days are alike—I might teach instruction, work on a research initiative, meet with a donor, promote the collections to a group or at an event, process historical materials, conduct an oral history, answer reference inquiries, etc. etc. etc.
You have overseen the Student Life and Culture Archives at the University of Illinois during a time of tremendous growth in their use. Who have been the major visitors to these archives, and what kind of outreach do you do to bring people in?
The UI rhetoric program and the Ethnography of the University initiative (http://www.eui.illinois.edu/) have been strong users of the SLC Archives in recent years. Both programs have bought into the value of undergraduates conducting original primary research. We’ve promoted the SLC Archives’ amazing national fraternity and sorority holdings to scholars and national Greek groups to increase use, particularly through our national archives conference for fraternities and sororities. Presentations to student organizations, community groups, and alumni are also a big part of the Program.
The SAA award recognized your contributions to a new pilot program to connect new archivists to leaders in the profession. How will this project work?
The goal of the Midwest Archives Conference’s Speakers Bureau pilot program is to offer low-cost, quality workshops to archivists and others who might not have the funding or opportunity to travel to a MAC or SAA event. We’re still in the planning stages although we hope to have our first workshop scheduled this fall/winter. We’re looking forward to potential partnerships with SHRABs [State Historical Records Advisory Boards] and some of the sub-regional archival organizations in the MAC 13 state region.
What are some of the big questions and problems that have driven your research, and where is your current research turning?
I have written on managing legal aspects of student records and strategies for documenting student experience– two areas that I confront on a daily basis. Currently, I’m exploring better ways to integrate our primary sources into the classroom; writing a biographical piece on Quaker reform Rhoda Coffin for a Indiana sesquicentennial history; and examining a 1844 fugitive slave case in terms of historical memory.
What are some of your favorite items from the student life and culture archives?
There are so many fantastic resources—it’s hard to choose!
I love the photograph of the 1915 Corn Girls:
And, check out the Digital Daily Illini (an ongoing digitization project of the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library funded in part by the SLC Archives)! This resource has enriched deeply our understanding of student life and the university:
Please check us out:
The University Archives in Room 19 Library: http://archives.library.illinois.edu/
The University Archives’ Archives Research Center (home of the SLC Archives, ALA Archives and other important holdings): http://archives.library.illinois.edu/slc/ and ALA: http://archives.library.illinois.edu/ala/
And, the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music: http://www.library.illinois.edu/sousa/