Libraries, universities come together to educate students about archives

Naomi Ghahrai
Contributing Writer

VCU Libraries hosted Archives Fest Oct. 5 to celebrate American Archives Month at James Branch Cabell Library.

In 2006, the Society of American Archivists designated October as American Archives Month to commemorate the vital role of archives — primary source, first-hand accounts of people, places, objects or events.

“Each archive, for the most part, has a substantial role in the preservation of history and in the illumination of the history of our culture,” said Mary Ann Mason, project archivist with the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

Many students learn history from sets of facts, events and dates packed into a textbook.  Primary sources, however, humanize history and provide a direct link to the lives of the past.

According to the National Archives and Records Administration, students develop critical thinking and deductive reasoning skills through the use of archives and primary sources. Archives force students to realize any account of an event is subjective, since history exists through interpretation.
“We decided to celebrate [American Archives Month] by bringing together lots of different repositories, so students can see what is available,” said Jessica Johnson, VCU Libraries processing archivist and one of the Archives Fest organizers.

At the event, archivists and librarians from several Virginia universities and organizations — including VCU, the University of Richmond, the Virginia Museum of History & Culture and the Library of Virginia — discussed their archive collections.
“Primary sources are pretty rare for students — especially undergraduates — because they don’t know they exist,” said Molly Lentz-Meyer, digital and archival collections librarian at UR’s Muse Law Library. “So this fair allows undergraduates to see the archives available for them in the town they live in.”

The Archives Fest had a contest in which students were asked to create an interpretation —  such as a craft, poem, creative writing piece, GIF or even a meme — of a particular archive for a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card.

“[Archives Fest] definitely broadened my mind about the resources in Richmond,” said VCU sophomore Roushini Manjunath. “We tend to get stuck in the routine of campus life and forget about the vast information available at arm’s reach.”

Students can search the archives at Cabell Library and Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences at library.vcu.edu/research/special-collections/ or by asking a librarian.

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