“Guardians” of Archival Holdings

Thus far at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum archives, I’ve learned that the two most important principles guiding their archival work are the continual preservation and protection of their holdings (the document and photo collections the library owns) and the accessibility of their holdings to the public. Today I want to focus on the steps taken to protect holdings. As a new intern, one of my first tasks was watch a thirty-minute training video that portrayed the archive as the “guardian” of many of our nation’s priceless documents and photos. Unbeknownst to me, there are those who would steal documents to make a quick profit, thereby ensuring their inaccessibility to the rest of the world. As a precaution against this behavior, the entire staff’s duty is to protect the holdings they have in their possession. For example, staff members, interns, and volunteers cannot leave collections they are working on alone for any reason, whether it’s to use the bathroom, get a drink, search for a coworker, etc. Unless a coworker is present to look after the holdings, the holdings must remain with the interns at all times. Interns also have more limited access to the holdings than the regular staff. As an intern, I can’t go into the “stacks” (where the archival collections are stored) and grab a collection without a staff member present.

One reason behind these immense protection measures relates to making the holdings accessible to the public, because if someone steals a document then no one will ever have access to it again. As a “guardian” of the Truman Library’s holdings, I take this aspect of my job quite seriously and consider it an honor to be given the opportunity and responsibility to be left alone with these documents and photos. I’m very fortunate to have the chance to work with original materials relating to Harry Truman’s presidency on a daily basis.

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