December 22, 2017,  Peabody

The Advocate Asks: with Peabody Institute Library archivist Erik Bauer

The Advocate Asks: with Peabody Institute Library archivist Erik Bauer

   For this week’s “The Advocate Asks,” we interviewed Erik Bauer, archivist at the Peabody Institute Library, about the depths of the library’s archives, which he has been the steward of for the past five years.


  Q: How long have you been the library’s archivist?

  A: I have been the archivist for the Peabody Institute Library since January 2013.


  Q: What made you to want to apply for this position?

  A: I was finishing my Master of Arts in History from Salem State University and was working as an aide in the Teen Department at the Peabody Library when I found out the previous archivist was leaving. I had been looking for work and was very happy that the position opened up because I did not want to leave the library. Its rich history, the diverse and unique materials in the Sutton Room and the incredible staff are all reasons that I applied for the archivist position.


  Q: What did you do prior to becoming the archivist?

  A: After I finished college in Iowa, I spent two years in the AmeriCorps in southeastern Ohio teaching literacy skills to first graders. Then my wife and I moved to Los Angeles, and I worked as an inventory control specialist for Apple in the retail stores. From there, I went to grad school at Mount Saint Mary’s University at Los Angeles, where I completed a Master of Arts in Humanities specializing in legal history, and then interned at the Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles. It was at that museum where I realized that I wanted to work in the Library Archive Museum field. Then we moved to Massachusetts to earn a Master of Arts in History with an emphasis in public history from Salem State University. While at SSU, I had various internships at local historical societies and museums on the North Shore.


  Q: What does your job entail?

  A: Cataloging and updating materials in the collection and keeping things organized; transcribing the oral histories within the Oral History Collection. From time to time, I will inventory parts of the collection to make sure that materials are where they should be. Working with patrons, either in person, email or by phone and helping them locate materials as well as identifying and digitizing materials in the collection. I also put together exhibits, both physical and online, using materials from the collection to highlight a theme or aspect of Peabody history. I also run programs for the public on various topics that relate either to Peabody or the North Shore in general. I am very lucky to have wonderful interns and volunteers. They help with transcription projects and digitize materials in the collection. When time allows, I purchase materials for the collection. I also present at history and archival conferences.


  Q: How far back do the archives go?

  A: Our rare book collection goes back to 1672. The manuscript collection, which is personal papers and unpublished materials, and the archival collection, both date back to the 1750s.


  Q: Are the archives something that the library’s patrons frequently utilize? What are residents typically looking for when searching through the archives?

A: Yes, people use the archives, but in different ways. Genealogical research is one of the most common popular uses of the archive; we have yearbooks, voter registration books and street directories among other materials that allow patrons to search for their ancestors. Other searches relate to the photograph collections where people are searching for homes or people.

Over the past couple of years, I have made a large push to digitize materials as this provides greater access to those who are unable to visit in person. In addition, the digitized materials help to promote the collection to a wider audience. The archival collection is also searchable on the library’s local history section of the website, which makes it easier for patrons to find what they are looking for.


  Q: How has your department changed over the years?

  A: The archive here in Peabody is fairly new: less than 20 years old. The previous archivist had to start from scratch, figure out what was there, sort through the materials and organize the collection. By the time I look over in 2013, the archive was pretty well established. My goal was to take a second look, make changes to the collection and update records to make the collection more cohesive and user-friendly to both myself and patrons. The collection is now at a point where I am doing more exhibits, public programs on genealogy in addition to having outside speakers. I have also made a push to add to the collection by acquiring manuscripts and other materials that relate to the collection.


  Q: How is your department likely to change going forward?

  A: Digital records are becoming more important; these include email, photographs, digital files like Word and Excel documents, but also social media accounts. Each type of digital file comes with its own challenges and issues in terms of preserving and cataloging. An example of this are the files that relate to the City of Peabody Centennial Parade. I had several different formats that I had to work with to ensure that they could be opened 100 years from now. Some of that meant making archival PDFs and changing the file formats so that long-term care can be achieved.

Along with the issues of digital records is the preservation of them. Having a strong backup system is important because files can get corrupted, altered or even deleted. All of these makes handling digital records more difficult, but by putting safeguards in place, it does reduce the odds of something going wrong.


  Q: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

  A: I enjoy reading, mostly nonfiction, spending time with my family, traveling back to Chicago or Kansas to visit family and visiting other archives and special collections while traveling. I also chair a couple of committees for the New England Archivists.

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