A couple of months ago I blogged about my boss, David Gregory, retiring and now I get to reminisce about our former Head of Special Collections and University Archivist, Tanya Zanish-Belcher. Just two weeks after David left, Tanya went off to be the Director of Special Collections and University Archivist at Wake Forest University. Although, those of us still here at ISU really resented the fact that she was sending us images of daffodils blooming in Winston-Salem in March (especially since it was snowing in Ames at the time and is now snowing here in May!), we miss her.
Tanya started here in 1995 as the Curator of the Archives of Women in Science and Engineering, and in 1998 became the Head of Special Collections. Laura, our archivist, blogged a farewell to Tanya in January highlighting what she has done for and meant to the Department over her 17 year tenure. She was their leader and mentor, spokesperson across campus and the community, and a national presence in the profession. She’s a Society of American Archivists Fellow. It doesn’t get much better than that. She’s a dynamo, participating actively at every level in the archives world, but she also looks beyond the Archives and Special Collections.
When I started here, the relationship between Special Collections and Preservation was a little chilly. Communication was non-existent and, pre-Tanya, items for conservation were selected without Special Collection’s knowledge. Tanya made it a point to repair the relationship and she not only became my colleague and co-worker but also my faculty mentor, collaborator, friend, and some would say co-conspirator. She brought to my attention some of the problems that she had discovered and we talked about workflows, tensions over decision making, and the lack of communication. We saw this as a shared challenge and worked at establishing workflows and opening lines of communication. We both knew all too well the stories about obstinate curators and conservators that would only consider the singular best way to provide access to, value, handle, and treat an artifact; any compromise would go against their standards even if it meant it could no longer be stored on any shelf or used in anyway.
This is not to say that Tanya and I always saw things eye-to-eye, and on some issues probably still don’t. We also brought our differing philosophies and perspectives to the table when discussing preservation and access. Special Collections and Preservation have closely aligned but slightly different missions and goals. Our responsibilities to the collection and the user, and our codes of ethics guide us in ways that do not always result in the same expectations and results. We learned to compromise without straying from our codes of ethics or standards, but this took a lot of communicating and learning about the real issues behind the disagreements. As I mentioned, we still may not agree on everything, but I learned so much from the conversations and arguments we had. These discussions on when full-treatment was appropriate versus stabilization or simply re-housing were very informative. We ended up collaborating on a couple of articles that evolved out of our discussions: “Pitfalls, Progress, and Partnership: Collaboration Between Special Colelctions and Preservation in Academic Libraries,” and “Square Pegs, Round Holes: Thinking Creatively about Housing and Storage.”
I think it’s funny that colleagues ask me what I’m going to do without Tanya or how I’m holding up now that she is gone because I do miss my friend but they do not seem to realize that we sometimes battled it out. For that I am grateful because I am a better preservation advocate now that I also have a better understanding of the curator/archivist perspective. I’m certain that our philosophical debates will continue over email and we will continue to learn from each other, but I miss our mimosas!