Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Meet the Staff - Susan Gordon

Welcome to another installment of “Meet the Staff.” Today, let’s meet Susan Gordon. She is an Archivist in Archival Technical Services (ATS).

How long have you worked here?

Since 1999.

What are some of the things you do as an archivist?

Aid in processing, evaluating, and analyzing manuscripts and preparing them for placement in the collections; I am part of a large team that summarizes court transcriptions for our Tennessee Supreme Court data project; I research historical events and participate in several of our very active committees. I identify historical context for letters, diaries, court cases, state legislation, and keep up on current events. (Nothing worse than an uninformed historian!)

What is your favorite part of your job?

It’s a hackneyed old answer, but I enjoy (nearly) all facets of my work. Processing family papers is at the top of the list. I very much enjoy the research required to assess the historical value of a collection. It’s an endless learning experience.

Another of my favorite responsibilities is editing finding aids, which our talented ATS folks write. These are guides to manuscript collections, state records, and governors’ papers. We assess their significance to Tennessee history. One has to be a little nosy to be a historian since you must summarize collection content. (Reading diaries and period correspondence--some intimate--is like reading other people’s mail.)

I serve on several committees. A committee such as Archives Review decides if donations and potential purchases will complement/widen the breadth of the collections. It keeps me aware of incoming documents. Exhibits Committee work is pretty obvious: we research, illustrate, and write copy for displays on topics as diverse as women’s suffrage, prohibition, and children. Great fun. Let me plug the upcoming exploration of Tennessee’s role in the Great War--that’s World War I.

Education Outreach gives us the chance to share our holdings with teachers and students. We have a remarkably able Outreach staff--they are a vital part of carrying out our institutional mission.

I’m biased, but I think my department (ATS) is one of the most important in our building. We take in manuscript donations, process collections and write their finding aids, and deliver documents to the Public Services Manuscripts Section for public viewing, the Digital Work Group for digitization, or to other archivists doing research. They count on ATS not only for delivery but also for helping to locate related collections. Access to manuscripts, state record collections, and governors’ papers originates in ATS.

Do you have a favorite collection?

Of course, I do! The Oliver Caswell King and Catherine Rutledge King Papers. Dozens of intimate letters tell the story of two East Tennessee lovers (yes, they get married) who get caught up in the Civil War. Their exchanges provide a social, political, and domestic framework of the times through correspondence, essays, and poetry. Anyone interested in antebellum/wartime courtship practices, college experiences, Civil War camp life, and life on the home front will find plenty here. The letters are not unlike those written in the next century: they reveal humor, sympathy, pain, jealousy, and intellect.

(View them online: http://tsla.tnsosfiles.com/digital/teva/sites/kingpapers/index.htm)

What makes libraries and archives relevant to modern society?

Libraries and archives exist to preserve and share the records that document our history. The State Library and Archives is a custodian of our state’s past, and that means preserving legislative records, governors’ papers, personal and family papers, books, atlases, and maps. Fulfilling our mission is a balancing act. May patrons handle historic documents? Or, do we strictly preserve the records of times gone by? Both. Often a researcher feels a connection to an original document. We are sensitive to that, so in certain situations and under strict supervision, a patron may work with originals. To keep us in the modern age, we are digitizing countless numbers of these documents. Making them available to the public in this way allows us to preserve them and share them at the same time.

For more than 10 years, I worked as a manuscript archivist in Public Services. I considered it important work. Soon after I moved to ATS, I realized how essential to our mission my new work was. Maybe in some small way I am helping scholars and family historians contribute to the historical literature.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett

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