Gatepost Interview: Colleen Previte, Special collections librarian and University archivist

Donald Halsing / THE GATEPOST

What is your educational and professional background?

I have a bachelor’s in business administration from Worcester State – university now, but it was “college” at the time – and a master’s in library and information studies from the University of Rhode Island.

How did you become interested in your profession?

As you can see, I got a business degree, so I try to tell students that my path wasn’t quite as straight as I thought it would be. I did get a bachelor’s in business administration, but I personally got stuck in secretarial positions, which is wonderful if you want to be a secretary, but it wasn’t really for me. … So, I went through some career-planning books, and I read about archives and how you could preserve things. You do a lot of research and you do a lot of reading and you’re preserving things for future generations, and that really hit home with me. I feel like that’s what I’m passionate about, trying to get students excited about using the materials, but also for me to preserve them. And 100 years from now, hopefully someone is using these things because we’re following the proper standards.

How do you get students interested in the archives?

I work with a lot of different departments. I can match my collections with an academic department and have some collaborative efforts. Our materials, because we were the first state publicly funded normal school, can fit perfectly into the Education in American Society [class]. They have a certain history that they teach, so it fits perfectly. I worked with Kelly Kolodny, and we created a booklet of six different people, and we’ve picked various resources from our collections and then the students get to look at them. … I also work with the English department, the history department, the museum studies program. So, in those fields, I give them an introduction to the archives. We have a variety of primary source materials, like an index, or photos, or the newspaper, or maps, or whatever might fit. If they’re history students, they’re probably going to use the archives at some point. I try to get them familiar, because it’s kind of daunting at first. We have a lot of rules – you can’t bring your bag with you, you have to have a pencil, you can’t pull the materials – they have to be pulled for you. There’s a lot of rules, so I don’t know if that would throw some people off. … So, I just like to get them used to the atmosphere. I try to give a broad perspective of what we have, and they really love it. It’s like playing in the sandbox! They get to actually touch the materials, and I think there’s something to that, in this digital age, to be able to actually touch something – like something one of the students in the first class had written. We have the journal of Cyrus Peirce – he was our first principal, and we have his writing about the first day of the school starting and such. So, hopefully, those types of things excite them. 

How has your field changed since you first started?

Everything is becoming more digital or computer-based. The whole quandary for archivists has always been the changing of medium – you know, I have in my collection some floppy disks and disk drives. We have u-matic tapes, which was the kind of film before VHS. We have this challenge of making it so that they’re available to people and sort of transfer it down the line. So, I think databases and other resources will hopefully make it a little bit easier for us. We have our digital repository now, so we scan things and that’s another way of getting materials out there – to the world, really. The change is that it’s not just paper anymore – we’ve gone computer – and when I graduated in ’98 from grad school, we were just learning how to work with web design and things like that. But I still like working with the actual physical materials. And now, because we have limited space, we have to find other ways of storing the materials and what we’re going to do with them and how that will be going forward.

How is the archive space at Framingham State changing?

We added some complex shelving about five – or seven – years ago. We have some room for growth in the back. You can go up to six [shelves] safely, and the back is at three levels, so you can go up some more. We’re constantly getting materials in, but the majority of the archives is in here [the archives room]. We do have some materials in the special collections room, which is down the hall. Some of our manuscripts and journals are in there. We’re always trying to get more – we have some collections that are coming our way. When administrators or faculty are cleaning out their offices, sometimes they’re like, “Oh, I have a drawer full of this – here you go!” So, we’re always getting more – we’re always growing. We definitely weed out what’s not worth saving, though. 

What is your favorite item in the collections?

I guess I would say the journal of Cyrus Peirce, because it is historically one of our oldest items that we have, and the fact that Cyrus Peirce was the first principal. As far as value goes, everybody loves the photos and such – mostly the historic ones, and they love the modern ones, too. 

What advice would you give to FSU students?

When I was teaching the Foundations course, I would tell students that my path wasn’t a straight line. You might have to make some changes or do some zigzagging around. So, you have to figure out what you want to do, and sometimes it doesn’t always work out the way you planned. I mean, I was going to work in business or human resources or something like that, and I ended up here, as an archivist. I never thought I’d be dealing with things for Christa McAuliffe and talking to astronauts! I never thought I’d meet an astronaut! Some of the news shows have come here to use our materials. … I just think it’s really neat to be able to do this.