Profiles of Archives Movers & Shakers Winners

So, let’s take a look at why the judges chose Lisa Cohen, the Council of State Archivists, Brenda Gunn, and Mark Matienzo as excellent examples of “people or organizations in the United States who are innovative, creative, and making a difference in the archival profession.”

Lisa Cohen, is the director as well as the founding force behind the Pacific Northwest Lesbian Archives. Reading her “Letter from the Director,” as well as the strong statement of support from her nominator, we saw someone with a passion for documenting and preserving the history of her community and the drive to make her dream a reality. It’s been a long road for Lisa (12 years in fact)–who knew she had to get the right education and professional training to build a truly successful archival program. After founding the PNLA in 2006 she has, as her nominator put it, “shaped the Archives to be much more than an archival operation.” Lisa creates a visual presence for the archives in the community-with info tables at Seattle’s LGBT film festival and Seattle’s Pride Festival. She has plans for the Archives to become less Seattle-centric by reaching out to smaller cities in Washington state as well as connecting with people in Oregon, Idaho, Alaska and British Columbia. This September, Lisa will be in Vancouver, BC giving an archives how-to-workshop at the BOLD conference.

Recently Lisa has negotiated a home for the archives at the Washington State Historical Society, where volunteers will soon start processing the 95 cubic feet of materials that have been donated so far. Having an institutional home will enable the PNLA to start accepting new donations as soon as the volunteers have gotten through the backlog, and we are sure Lisa will continue to make the Pacific Northwest Lesbian Archives a model for grassroots community-based archives. Congratulations, Lisa!

Most of you are probably familiar with the Council of State Archivists–a small organization with a membership of only the 50 state archivists in the United States. Perhaps it’s because of this small and cohesive membership that CoSA has been able to mobilize and respond to so many of the important issues facing our profession. I don’t think I could say it any better than the nominator did:

I continue to be amazed that a group consisting of governmental bureaucrats will just mobilize and begin to take action–before there is an assured funding source, before the outcomes are clearly visible, and knowing that it will need to draw from its own membership to provide the thought and work behind much of this. This action orientation of the organization is reflected in its annual meetings, where rather than presentation-oriented sessions, it holds ‘incubator’ sessions where members meet to discuss current problems and ‘hatch’ ideas for addressing them. CoSA has been willing to go head first into situations where archivists have rarely tread: introducing legislation in Congress, applying for a multi-million dollar grant to a federal agency to which archivists are very foreign, or engaging lawyers from an online company. There is no hesitation, hemming or hawing, just solid, committed action to address real needs of the state government archives community—and those actions nearly always result in positive benefits for the entire archival profession. CoSA is deserving of a ‘movers and shakers’ award because it acts, it works, it makes a difference and the archival landscape will be changed for the better because of this small, activist organization.

If you think CoSA doesn’t have anything to offer you because you don’t work at at a state archives, take a look at their website and I think you’ll be surprised. Emergency preparedness. Local government records. PAHR. They get a lot of useful work done. CosA, you make me want to join, but I think I’ve got a long way to go to become a state archivist!

The crises of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita inspired more than just national organizations like CoSA. These awards are not the first to recognize the work of Brenda Gunn in responding to the people and archives affected by those devastating storms. The Society of Southwest Archivists recently gave Brenda their Distinguished Service Award, saying:

She has distinguished herself in numerous ways and has set a high bar for all SSA leadership. Her cool-headed response in the face of natural disaster in our region resulted in establishing the means to communicate with our members just four days after hurricane Katrina hit land. Soon after, she established a fundraising campaign to provide aid needed by archives impacted by both hurricanes Katrina and Rita. With her husband Stan’s help, a blog called SSA Cares enabled us to know that our colleagues were safe and gave those affected a vital link for expressing their needs and sharing their experiences.

Setting up a blog might not sound like a big deal, but, her nominator wrote: “For those if us close to those in the areas affected by the storms the blog Brenda set up was a ray of hope in the midst of devastation and ignorance.” By responding to this crisis both immediately (by setting up the SSA Cares blog) and for the long-term (by starting a fundraising campaign), Brenda provided an example of leadership that continues to have relevance. The fund-raising effort Brenda started was the start of what is now SAA’s National Disaster Recovery Fund for Archives. Brenda has made a difference in the lives of archivists in her own region and beyond. Congratulations Brenda!

Ah, Mark Matienzo. Let’s see how Mark describes himself in his Twitter bio: “archives professional, beer geek, python/drupal hacker, linked data zealot.” This post would get crazy-long if I tried to describe all Mark’s accomplishments. But rather than talk about what Mark has done, I think it’s more important to focus on what Mark is. Again, I’ll let his nominator do the talking:

His ability to speak the languages of archivists, librarians and computer geeks with equal facility was an inspiration and a challenge to me, as well as a fine example of what a committed, creative and well-rounded archivist can accomplish. His insistence on exploiting the resources and time necessary to create sustainable infrastructural platforms to support ongoing experimentation and creativity was, for me, a formative challenge that has radically altered my thinking on the future of archives. . . . For years scholars and other authorities of the archival community have pointed to the looming convergence of archives and libraries via common information technologies and practices. Despite this prognosticating, very little real convergence has happened, due in no small part to the compartmentalization of archival, library and information technology professions. Mark spans all of these divides and is truly a man ahead of his generation

The judges agreed that what makes Mark stand out are his skills as both an archivist and technologist and his boundless willingness to bring those two areas together, not just though his own work at the New York Public Library but through the many professional committees and working groups on which he serves–with the Museum Computer Network, the Research Libraries Group, and the Society of American Archivists. Mark was an early adopter of Web 2.0 tools–as demonstrated both by his own blog ( and his creation of the popular ArchivesBlogs site that aggregates the RSS feeds of blogs relating to archives. Mark combines an unusual passion for archival description with his love of technology, but always with the intent of making those descriptions more easily accessible to the public. Mark is indeed a model of an archivist who is not only not afraid of technology, but uses his knowledge to push the boundaries of archival practice.

I hope you’ll agree with me and the other judges that these four nominees are all deserving of the title Movers & Shakers in Archives. Speaking of which, these awards would not be possible without the generous service of our colleagues who agreed to serve on the panel of judges:

  • Terry Baxter
  • Laura Edgar
  • Jean Green
  • Michael Rush

My thanks to them and everyone who submitted nominations. It’s a pleasure for me to be able to use this blog to promote the work of outstanding archivists and archival organizations. I hope you’ll join me in congratulating the winners, and be on the lookout for people and organizations to nominate next year!

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One thought on “Profiles of Archives Movers & Shakers Winners”

  1. CoSA’s well-deserved recognition is due in no small part to the dynamic energy, organizational prowess and can-do attitude of its Executive Director, Victoria “Vicki” Walsh, and CoSA’s Program Officer Jenifer Burlis-Frielich. Together they provide the collegial support and seamless professional interface that permit representative voices from the states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia to effectively come together as one. Bravi!

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