Saturday, February 06, 2016

Interview with Poet/Archivist Paige Roberts: One foot in the dusty archives, the other in the great outdoors.

Paige Roberts

Interview with Poet/Archivist Paige Roberts; One foot in the dusty archives, the other in the great outdoors.

with Doug Holder

Paige Roberts is a member of the Bagel Bards, a literary group in Somerville, Mass. She is also the archivist for the Oliver Wendell Holmes Collection at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. When she is not working with this prestigious collection, she is often hiking and communing with nature.

Throughout her professional years, Roberts has developed new archival techniques to increase the accessibility and vitality of the archived collections. While she was the director of the Beverly Historical Society, she developed “model archival collaborations” which allowed for the exchange of materials between schools and public libraries.

Roberts also served as the head of special collections at the State Library of Massachusetts in Boston, an archivist at Springfield College, Director of the Beverly Historical Society and has been the President of the New England Archivists.

Roberts received a B.A. from Bates College in Political Science, a MLS from Simmons College concentrating in archives management, and a Ph.D. in American Studies from George Washington University with an emphasis in New England culture.

I had the pleasure to speak to her on my Somerville Community Access TV show Poet to Poet Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: I am sure not every person know what an archivist actually does. Can you enlighten us?

Paige Roberts: Well I am a one person operation. I do everything from bringing in collections from donors, and alumni. I am also involved with preservation, the security, and the storage of collections. I handle the processing and cataloging of the collections. The collections I am in charge of are pretty extensive. I use students and consultants to organize collections, to make them more accessible for research. I am also involved in promotion of the collection, website development and management, digitization, etc...

DH: What do you mean by accessible?

PR: There are many philosophies in regard to this. We approach things on a large scale—based on the office that created the record. For instance, the National Archives archives records from the White House, etc... So at our school we would archive records from the office of the Dean of Faculty, etc...Also the records need to have some restrictions for confidentiality. I have to attend to these issues of privacy and at the same time help people research, and have classes come in and access the collection.

I feel the students are scholars and are treated as such. I field many questions from alumni, family historians, and journalists. The Globe used the collection and did a terrific piece about us concerning Jeb Bush's time here at Andover.

DH: Do you guys still have the old card catalog?

PS: Yeah we do. And it is a working one. It is from the early 20th Century. The writing on the cards is hard to decipher. I have students who are trying to decipher it and transcribe it.

DH: Well, what things do you house at the Wendell Holmes Collection?

PR: Well we have a lot of institutional records, rare books and papers. We have the papers of Henry Stimson—the Secretary of War under Roosevelt, a graduate of the Academy, and later President of the Board of Directors. We have an interesting collection of pictures of the Phillips family, and other fascinating stuff.

DH: What is the definition of a rare book?

PR: There is no formal definition. But of course if it is rare it may be due to the fact that not many were published—or it wasn't a particularly a good book.

DH: Well if it isn't a “good” book then why would you collect it?

PR: Well there is always the idea of a book as an artifact. What does this book tell us of the history of the book? We also collect books by alumni.

DH: I know you are involved in the digitization of the collection. There are some concerns today that books are being thrown out by libraries in favor of electronic records.

PR: That is not my approach. We see digitization as enhancing access to the collection—not for preservation. This process limits the handling of the original work. We have a lot of our files on a great online archive

DH; You are a budding poet as well as an archivist. I know you love nature, hiking, the outdoors and your writing reflects that.

PR: Yeah I grew up on a diary farm in New Hampshire. In 2006 I went on a hiking trip in the White Mountains. There I met people who hiked every week. So I really got into it. I have been hiking for 10 years. Nature is a metaphor it helps me express questions I am struggling with in my own life.

Standard Time

All that’s been is all that will be,
every moment arising anew.
I am going nowhere
when I would be playful and whole
(though the ego noise is deafening).
Am I invisible–hidden, unseen, overlooked–
self protection by concealment?
Almost everything (that matters)
is imperceptible, only a sliver of the universe.
An ache of loneliness, yearning for
the celadon of connection.
my timelines of lost chances
what I would want it to be about
if you were nearby
Incongruity of the change of seasons:
feathery rime ice on rock cairns and birds poking at purple lilacs.
The tenacity of existence is conditional.
Reconciling my self–limitless but
never inviolate (even when intoxicated with desire)–
to the movable conversational frontier.
Do I seek the power to control
the transition between the visible and invisible?
Dismantling duration.
— Paige Roberts

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