October 1, 2010
Tagged: Faculty Center for Professional Excellence

Getting to Know Assistant Professor of Library Jessica Wagner



I am committed to the idea of access: I think the most important reason to save archival material is so that people can use it.


Please give us a brief overview of your background, area of expertise, and research.

I decided to pursue a career in archives and special collections because of a fairly random summer job. As an undergraduate at Binghamton University, I majored in English and history, but I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated. I spent the summer between junior and senior year in Binghamton, and was hired by the special collections library. I completely fell in love with the work. I found I was surrounded by the sorts of things I loved best—rare and unusual manuscripts, old books, and artifacts—and got to work with them every day. I could study them, help preserve them, and aid patrons who wanted to use them for their research. My coworkers there encouraged me to apply to library school, so I got a master’s in library science, specializing in archives, and a master’s in history, focusing on American film and culture during the early 20th century. After that I worked for three years at the New York Historical Society, where I cataloged Presidential and other historical letters.

What made you choose to come to Adelphi?

I always wanted to work in a combined Special Collections department like the one at Binghamton. I also felt that I wanted to be in academia. The library community here seems very active and interested in exploring new technologies available for teaching and scholarship. The librarians, and faculty in general, are also committed to student access and learning, which is important to me as well.

What has been your experience been so far?

I have been very happy here! Everyone seems enthusiastic to include me and help me pursue my ideas and plans for the archives. The administration has been supportive of my work, and helpful in allowing me time and resources to research and attend conferences. I feel very much appreciated here, and everyone is friendly. The students seem to be a very nice, inquisitive, helpful bunch! I also have met a lot of other new professors and have found that the support system for untenured faculty is great.

What do you wish to contribute? What do you feel strongly about in regards to teaching or in your specialization?

I am committed to the idea of access: I think the most important reason to save archival material is so that people can use it. This may seem self-evident, but there has been a long tradition in the archival community of privileging the preservation of material over the use of material. But if material is locked away in boxes, and no one knows what the boxes contain, I think they aren’t doing anyone any good. I want to encourage more students, faculty, alumni, and outside researchers to use our resources. A lot of my research will focus getting people more familiar with our resources, so they might enrich their coursework and research with it; and also figuring out how faculty may introduce our materials into their curricula. I also want to implement ways to save the kinds of records that tend to be much more ephemeral- specifically, emails, websites, and audiovisual material. If I wanted to know about the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example, I could go back through his letters, meeting minutes, memos, and other business records, which were all written or printed on paper. But 70 years from now, a similar researcher trying to study 2010 may not be able to locate the same kind of information about us because so much of our interactions are conducted via the Internet, and then not properly saved. If we don’t do something now to start saving some of this material, there will be a huge gap in the historical record. I am passionate about trying to preserve material documenting contemporary culture and society, in order to aid generations to come.

This piece is from the Fall 2010 Issue No. 14 of the FCPE Newsletter.
Tagged: Faculty Center for Professional Excellence