Luther Alumni Magazine

Q&A: New archivist takes students straight to the primary sources

Hayley Jackson became Luther’s archivist in summer 2015. A native of St. Charles, Ill., she has a bachelor’s degree from Elmhurst College and master’s degrees in information and library science and history from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

Hayley Jackson, Luther archivist
Hayley Jackson, Luther archivist


What's in the photo

Jackson pulled out a few of her favorite things from the college collection for the photo, opposite. Left to right: The letter is from the Office of Censorship to former history professor Chellis Evanson. During World War II, Evanson published a newsletter he called Scuttlebutt and sent to Luther alumni in the armed forces. He would publish addresses and locations of various alumni abroad so they could write to one another. The Office of Censorship wrote to Evanson informing him that published materials, including Scuttlebutt, should not include specific unit or ship identities when sharing addresses. The book in the photograph is a “memory book” recently donated by Martha Ylvisaker Limburg ’56. It contains photographs of Luther’s class of 1921 graduates in their caps and gowns. The photographs in front of Jackson are of radio host Garrison Keillor and college president H. George Anderson. In 1985, Keillor received an honorary degree from Luther and delivered the shortest commencement speech in college history, about 4½ minutes. In one photo President Anderson presents Keillor with a bust of a Norwegian bachelor farmer. The violin is from the Carlo Sperati Collection. Jackson knows little about it, but would like to research it.

Why did you become an archivist?

I took a class on historiography in which we had to write a paper using primary sources. Our professor took us to our college archives, and I just had so much fun working with the materials that a light bulb went off. I thought, Hey, maybe I don’t want to go the professor route; maybe I want to do archives.

What was your favorite class in graduate school?

I took a really interesting class on appraisal, the process by which archivists decide what to preserve. That was a difficult class because there are so many theories about what should or should not be kept, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

How do you help people do research in the Archives?

My role in helping people find primary sources is that of a guide. Archival collections cannot be browsed in quite the same way as in a library because archival collections are organized by document creators rather than by subject matter. I talk to people about their projects, and then I search our material to find what best suits their needs. Reference work can range from a student asking precise questions that I can simply look up, such as what tuition might have been in a given year, to broad inquiries about what we might have on a given topic.

Doing this kind of work gives students hands-on experience working with primary sources. Such knowledge is called primary source literacy and is an important part of information literacy, or the skills students need in order to recognize when they need information, how to find that information, and what sources provide the best information. Having the archives available to students allows them to further develop their primary source literacy, which in turn enhances their information literacy. This skill is particularly valuable at a college like Luther, where we encourage undergraduate research. Any student doing research as an undergraduate, regardless of whether they plan to pursue graduate school or academia, benefits from this.

Faculty, too, have used the Archives in many ways: Holly Moore, assistant professor of philosophy, came in with her class to learn about the papyri we have here so the students could have exposure to Greek material culture. One of our librarians, Christine Moeller, uses the Postville Project, our digital collection on the Postville meat-packing raids, as part of her Paideia course, and we have plans for a Spanish course to use records from that collection as well.

How do the Archives benefit alumni?

We serve alumni by helping keep old memories alive, encouraging the creation of new ones, and encouraging alumni to stay connected with us—recently we helped find old photos for use during alumni reunions. In return, alumni trust us with their memories—Luther graduates have been very generous donors of archival material, sending old pamphlets, postcards, and programs. It’s a very circular relationship.

What else does your job entail?

Two other main facets of my job are collection and management. The first portion is the preservation of the institutional memory and historical record of Luther College. I preserve and make available records that document our past and show how we function as a college—everything from the bylaws that govern us to the syllabi used by professors.

My other job is records management. We ensure that records essential for the college to function are kept and are readily available to those who need them, as well as those we are legally required to maintain.

What’s your main task right now?

We’re working on planning for long-term digital preservation. I’m researching what’s new in the profession and then talking with our digital initiatives librarian and other interested people in Library Information Services about our options. I’m focusing on how to store information that comes to us in digital form. If someone brings me a flash drive full of digital images, for instance, how do we keep those in a usable way? Digital files degrade just like physical records, but their long-term preservation demands different measures.