Three Questions: Kate Theimer

Kate Theimer is the author of the popular blog ArchivesNext and a frequent writer, speaker and commentator on issues related to the future of archives. She is the author of Web 2.0 Tools and Strategies for Archives and Local History Collections and the editor of A Different Kind of Web: New Connections between Archives and Our Users. She is currently editing a series of books for Rowman & Littlefield on innovative practices in archives and special collections. Kate served on the Council of the Society of American Archivists from 2010 to 2013. Before starting her career as an independent writer and editor, she worked in the policy division of the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland. She holds an MSI with a specialization in archives and records management from the University of Michigan and an MA in art history from the University of Maryland.

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What interested you in becoming an archivist?

When I arrived at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, I was interested in museum informatics, not archives. But at that time they really didn’t have any faculty in that area, so I took the Intro to Archives class with David Wallace. And that was that. David wove a compelling narrative about the purpose of archives throughout that class, reinforcing the importance of the records for accountability, memory, culture, and social justice. He introduced the rich theoretical background as well as the practical side of managing archival collections. After that I had several classes with Margaret Hedstrom and one class on appraisal with Terry Cook, so my impression of archives as a field full of rich challenges only grew.

Who has influenced you in your career?

Well, the trajectory of my career has taken me away from traditional archival work, so my influences are rather non-traditional. When I started out blogging and writing about archives, I looked for role models and sources of inspiration who I thought showed authenticity, good humor, expertise, confidence, and a real passion for what they did. The people I wanted to emulate were teachers, in a way, making their subject matter approachable and interesting for a broad range of people.

I wish I could say I had wise archivist mentors, guiding me along my path, but my mentors when I started out were people like Tim Gunn (of “Project Runway” fame) and Ina Garten (the “Barefoot Contessa” of cookbooks and cooking shows, who also left a job in D.C. to pursue a different path). These and some other blogging role models showed me how to develop a distinctive style of writing and presentation that was deeply grounded in the subject matter, but not overly formal. Serious, but not stuffy.

What contributed to your success?

Well, luck had a lot to do with it. I started writing about Web 2.0 at a time when it was a relatively new topic for archivists. I chose the topic because it was something I wanted to learn about, and by writing about what I learned, I was able to develop a resource that was useful for others. I’m a social person, and I love to connect with people and share information, which has made Twitter a natural platform for me to use. I also enjoy writing, and I can do it relatively quickly, which is a big advantage for work in both social media and traditional publishing. Being active and engaged on social media has led me to make connections across the archival profession, with archivists of all ages and backgrounds around the world, and also connections with people in related professions who are interested in the same kinds of issues and questions I am. I have been lucky that my interests and talents are a good match for the world of sharing via social media.

“Three Questions” is an ongoing series of interviews with women who are leaders in the profession. The interviews, limited to three questions, will highlight women in the field who have made an impact, whether through their role in management, mentoring, research, or other leadership capacity. This series of interviews responds to WAR member’s interest in promoting women in leadership roles, as identified in WAR’s survey of its membership in August 2013. WAR welcomes suggestions for future interviewees – please contact us with your ideas.

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