What do you do for the Southern Historical Collection?
As the Administrative Assistant for the Southern Historical Collection, I coordinate the day-to-day operations, which is to say I do a little bit of everything. I am usually the first person someone speaks with when they reach out to the Southern Historical Collection. I answer the phone and the mail and help potential donors or patrons figure out their next step. When materials are donated, I help with accessioning and completing paperwork to track the donations properly.
What did you do before joining the Southern Historical Collection?
Before joining the SHC, I lived in Charlotte and worked for a company that organized USA and Canadian participation in Food and Defense Trade Shows in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. I worked directly with the exhibitors to make sure they had everything they needed for a successful show, which included vendor order coordination, product shipping and transportation, pavilion design and construction, hotel block registration, and on-site event setup. It was exciting, but stressful work to make sure all of our participants were ready for a show.
How did you get into this line of work?
When I was a senior at North Carolina State University, I worked in the Special Collections Library part-time. I really enjoyed the work, but unfortunately when I graduated very few libraries were hiring. When I moved to Chapel Hill a little over a year ago, I was excited to see there were jobs posted in the library and thrilled to get this position.
What do you like about your job?
I like how excited everyone is about the materials we collect. Whenever a new donation comes in people are genuinely enthusiastic to see what we received and how it will fill in the gaps in what we already have. Whenever I find an interesting photo, letter, or diary entry, there is no shortage of people to share it with who are just as interested in it as I am. It is great to work with people who share your enthusiasm.
I also like seeing the journey a document takes. I like when someone will go into the field and bring us back something that hasn’t seen the light of day for decades. Then we examine and assess it, repackage it up nicely and give it a good, safe home. It’s rewarding when a researcher will come in and use that material, or when the family that donated the material can see how well we’ve cared for it and how we’re preserving their story.
What is your favorite movie to take place almost entirely in a library?
[As we look to “reboot” the Southern Sources blog this semester, we plan to focus some attention on the people who make the wheels of the Southern Historical Collection turn: our wonderful staff, students, volunteers, donors, and SHC champions. We hope this series of profiles will give a human face to our work, especially since we have so many new faces on our team. Today we are featuring Biff Hollingsworth, Collecting and Outreach Archivist for the Southern Historical Collection.]
What do you for the Southern Historical Collection?
I would say I’m kind of the “utility infielder” for the Collection. Depending on the day, I might be involved in any number of collection management activities: meeting with donors to discuss new materials for the collection, performing on-site reviews of materials being offered to the Collection to determine whether or not they fit within our scope, processing gifts, and working with other library departments to solve collection issues that come up each day (from mold and critter abatement to handling special shipping and receiving requests). I am also responsible for a few outreach duties: I curate onsite and online exhibitions, I develop programs, workshops, and tours, and I co-manage our social media efforts.
How did you get into this line of work?
My journey to the archival profession has been full of switchbacks and detours, as I’ve held various jobs in my life, from managing a small immigration law office, to teaching Spanish classes, to working as an electrician and delivering pizzas to pay my way through college. But, I first had the idea of becoming a librarian during a 2004 stint as a volunteer at a public library in my hometown of Atlanta. So, I moved to North Carolina in 2005 and was accepted into the School of Information and Library Science program at Carolina. I joined the Southern Historical Collection in the fall of 2006 as a graduate assistant. Later, in 2008, I was hired into my current professional position with the SHC, and I’ve been here ever since.
What do you like about your job?
As I mentioned, I am involved in the day-to-day work to acquire new material for the Collection. Most of the time, this happens by way of a donation being brought in to the library for our consideration. Other times, our staff travels to do onsite reviews of possible new acquisitions. The most fulfilling part of my job is the sort of archaeology of it, getting to unearth materials that have long been stored in attics, closets, crawlspaces and storage units.
Also, like all archivists, I enjoy learning about the context behind the collections that we acquire. I work directly with the creators of these records, or with their descendants or relatives, and so I’m responsible for listening and recording as much as I can about their lives and experiences. This as an extremely important part of my job because this context will impact what kind of arrangement and description we give to the collection, which can translate to the level of accessibility (or searchability) of each collection for our researchers.
What are you working on right now? What are some new and exciting projects on the horizon?
We are very proud of the work we have been doing on a new project called the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP), a community-driven archival and digital humanities project aimed at documenting the lives of African American coal miners and their families in Harlan County, Kentucky, as well as the story of the intergenerational migration of members of this community into and out of the Appalachian region during the 20th century. This is an exciting project because it allows us to work with a community that has been historically underrepresented in the archival record, and because it has truly been a cooperative effort among the SHC, our fantastic partner Karida Brown (sociologist at Brown University, Harlan County native, and EKAAMP founder), and with many wonderful individuals who have been donating their stories and archival collections to EKAAMP and the SHC. I have really been inspired by the generosity of everyone involved in this project and I’m proud of what we are building together. So far, Karida Brown has recorded several hundred oral history interviews with members of the community and we have archived these recordings alongside collections of photographs, organizational records, and family papers. We hope you’ll follow our progress on the EKAAMP project website (ekaamp.web.unc.edu).
I am glad I could take a few moments to introduce myself and share some of the work that I have been doing with the Southern Historical Collection. I’m looking forward to writing more about the new collections that we acquire, the projects and programs that we develop, and the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead as we seek to broaden the understanding of the history and culture of the American South.