This blog post was written by Processing Archivist Thomas DeShong.
During a time of global hardship and uncertainty, it is sometimes difficult to see the “bright side” of our situation and to celebrate personal achievements, particularly when so many people are struggling to get by. Thus, this blog post is not so much intended to be a celebration of my accomplishments here at Poage Library, rather, a reflection on the lessons I have learned and the priceless experiences I have had. The distinction is slight, granted, but significant enough to point out.
My First Year at Poage
This week, I am celebrating my first year at the W. R. Poage Legislative Library as the Processing Archivist. I have greatly enjoyed the atmosphere of comradery and teamwork that exists at Poage. As cliché as it sounds, it makes going to work so much easier.
My primary duty as the Processing Archivist has been to process and to oversee several graduate and undergraduate students who are doing the same. Since last April, I have processed 3 collections: the Mattie Mae McKee papers, the W. R. “Bob” Poage Campaign papers (with Ph.D. assistant Kristina Benham), and the W. R. “Bob” Poage Texas Development papers. I had hoped to finish the W. R. “Bob” Poage U.S. Government papers by September 2020, but due to the coronavirus, that plan will need to be adjusted. I have processed many collections during my brief career as an archivist, but congressional collections are truly in a league of their own. The Bob Poage papers, which I am currently tackling, are housed in over 1,650 document boxes. It is fascinating to see the diversity of materials in a collection so large, covering topics such as agriculture, Civil Rights, defense, education, environmentalism, and so on. I have also been charged with posting social media content through Facebook, Instagram, and WordPress. It has certainly been a challenge, trying to find the right balance between entertainment and education. But social media is such an important outreach tool for libraries and archives in the 21st century.
Last August, I had the opportunity to participate in my first iEngage Summer Civics Institute. I, along with a Ph.D. student from the English Department, Reyna Johnson, led a discussion of the Bill of Rights, specifically highlighting how citizens can practice their First Amendment Rights. I was impressed by the knowledge that some of the students, grades 5-9, exhibited and how astute they were at brainstorming ways that they could get involved at such a young age.
I was honored to meet members of Poage’s Standing Committee at the 15th annual luncheon held on November 8, 2019 at McLane Stadium. During a ribbon-cutting ceremony where Poage Library formally opened three archival collections, I had a chance to personally meet Mattie McKee whose papers I had processed earlier in the year. What a delight! It is rare to meet the subject of the collection you are processing. But it was certainly a treat to meet Mattie who served in the offices of three U.S. Representatives and two U.S. Senators during her career in Washington, D.C.
I have also had several opportunities to work with classes from various departments across campus, especially history and museum studies. Through these presentations, I have personally learned a lot about the history of Poage Library, the Jack Hightower Book Vault, and the contents of some of our collections as we explored our materials on race relations, the Cold War, etc.
One of the highlights of my year was the Impeachment Panel held on February 6, 2020. It was such an enriching time to hear Law Professor Rory Ryan, History Professor Stephen Sloan, and former U.S. Representatives Alan Steelman and Chet Edwards talk about their knowledge of the Constitution, the history of impeachment, and personal experiences during the Nixon and Clinton impeachment hearings. It was a fascinating discussion that gave me hope that politics does not necessarily have to be so partisan that people across the aisle cannot engage one another in meaningful conversation.
Fifth Year at Baylor
On May 1st, I will also be celebrating my fifth year as a staff member at Baylor University. In addition to my two years as a graduate student, I have worked four years as a staff member at The Texas Collection, filling the roles of Archival Assistant (1 year), Project Archivist (2 years), and Library Information Specialist III (1 year) in addition to my one year at Poage. I will be forever indebted to the faculty and staff at The Texas Collection for the lessons I learned there. Baylor University is a great place to work, combining the tenets of the Christian faith with education. At this stage in my personal journey, I cannot imagine myself working anywhere else.
In all likelihood, I will be celebrating my 1-year Poage anniversary and 5-year Baylor anniversary working from home with my wife Rachel and my cat Minerva. I recognize how fortunate I am to still be working. Reflecting on this past year has only reinforced my gratitude. I hope that all of us can soon return to work and to some semblance of normalcy. Stay safe!