Meet the new University Archivist!
Longtime University Archivist Bill Maher retired in December of 2022, and Joanne Kaczmarek, Archivist for Electronic Records and Director of Records and Information Management Services, stepped into the role in an interim capacity. She was confirmed as the permanent University Archivist in November 2023.
Joanne was kind enough to answer a few questions about herself for the blog and Out of the Vault, the Archives’ newsletter. Read on to learn about her background, what lead her to the Archives, and her visions for the future!
What was the path that led you to become an archivist? What was your background before becoming an archivist?
My path to becoming an archivist was a bit circuitous, I’d say. After my undergraduate studies, I was not financially positioned to pursue graduate studies and I needed a job that I knew would probably not “go out of style”. I had enjoyed cutting hair during college (both my own and that of my friends) so I decided to get a cosmetology license and cut hair professionally – at least for a while. Doing that, led me to an opportunity to open a salon called “Armadillo, the salon” right on Neil St. where Circles is today. This was just before the Internet became ubiquitous and I was very curious about the technology. I decided to set up a network of NeXt computers in the waiting area of the salon where clients could surf the Web for free rather than going to what was then known as an “internet café”.
I had a number of clients at the time from the iSchool (then called the Graduate School of Information Science or GSLIS) who were involved in the launch of Prairienet, a service run by GSLIS bringing the Internet to the community at no cost. They encouraged me to get involved and suggested I consider enrolling in their MLIS program. Because they allowed me to enroll as a part time student, I was able to make it work. While I was not at all focused on archives during my time at GSLIS, my work in the salon built my appreciation for and skills in what might be considered an informal approach to oral histories. I gathered from my clients personal stories about the town and the University community as they sat in my chair. In exchange, I taught them simple styling techniques and how to cut their own bangs. Once I graduated, I had the good fortune to work on a research project in the Library which led me to begin to explore various facets of electronic records and ultimately opened the door for my first position in the University Archives.
What was your prior role in the Archives and what were your responsibilities?
My prior role has been as Archivist for Electronic Records and Director of Records and Information Management Services. At the time I was hired, the challenges of born digital content were just beginning to make themselves known more broadly. There had been a great deal written about the pending “lost of history” by archivists in the 1990s. In the early 2000s the deployment of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems was becoming widespread across higher education and the expectation was that archivists needed to get ahead of the curve and engage with the IT folks rolling out these systems to ensure the historic record of universities would not be lost. I have to admit, I was not particularly successful in wrangling the University’s ERP system to ensure all important records were preserved. But I developed a strategy to build out an enterprise-wide records and information management program in hopes of developing long-lasting relationships with various administrative units. This has been a slow but steady process of bringing more awareness to units about their records, helping people sort out that which they have that may have archival value and that which can be disposed of eventually. This work has expanded my appreciation for the University as a whole and all that we do to support our students, faculty, and the broader community both at home and abroad.
What excites you most about your new role as University Archivist? What are some plans/ideas you have in mind for the Archives?
I am excited to have the opportunity, and perhaps even the mandate, to learn as much as I can about the vast holdings of materials we have in the Archives. I believe our various programs have been run by professionals over the years that are second to none. I look forward to finding ways to make a broader audience aware of and benefit from what we have to offer.
When it comes to plans/ideas I have in mind for the Archives, the immediate focus is in creating more opportunities for communication among members of our staff. Because we operate out of three distinctly separate locations, it can sometimes be difficult to stay up on everything everyone is doing. I’m also looking for opportunities to help us increase collaboration between the Archives and other Library units as well as units and community organizations outside the Library.
What is the funniest/strangest/most memorable or satisfying experience at the Archives?
- Funniest/strangest: Finding one shoe with two socks stuffed in it in the old stacks of the Archives when moving some materials. (Never did find the other shoe)
- Most memorable/satisfying: On many occasions, watching the staff take particular care to help bring to life an old college memory for a visiting alumnus by sharing with them a select slice of our materials.
What would you like people to know about the Archives (or University history) that may surprise them?
Perhaps one of the surprising facts that some may know is that there are several individuals (human and animal) buried on campus, and not in the cemetery. We just found out about another one, the old University Fire Station dog, Susie. The others are John Milton Gregory the first University Regent, Illini Nellie the cow, and Al the Transgenic the Pig.