One minute with Valerie Higgins, archivist

Valerie Higgins pages through issues of FermiNews in the History Room. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Valerie Higgins pages through issues of FermiNews in the History Room. Photo: Reidar Hahn

How long have you been at Fermilab?
I started in February 2012 as the Linsley project archivist for six months. Then in August 2012 I was hired as the lab archivist and historian when Adrienne Kolb went into phased retirement.

What brought you to Fermilab?
Fermilab seemed like a really interesting place to work. Before I was at Fermilab, I was an assistant archivist at The Art Institute of Chicago, so I thought this would be a fun, new, very different type of archives work.

What does your typical workday look like?
I usually start by working on reference requests. These requests might come from lab staff, faculty from universities, students working on projects, or many other types of researchers. Processing is also a big part of what I do. When I get an accession — new paper or electronic documents or artifacts to be added to the archive — I start by figuring out what the records are, then organize and describe them all in a way that makes them accessible and useful. Sometimes records can come in as a mass of unorganized papers. I might also do an oral history interview, and I sometimes work with researchers visiting the archives for several days at a time. I also work on various projects. Right now I am creating a workflow for archiving Fermilab’s websites.

What is your favorite aspect of your job?
I really like the processing. That’s the archivist’s bread and butter. It’s fascinating to go through records, learn so much about the people and events they document, and then make them available to others. Archives are a unique resource; they are the raw materials for history. Archivists preserve and make available the records we need in order to write and understand history. It’s also very satisfying to find someone the information or document they need!

What’s something not many people may know about archiving?
I feel like many people know very little about archives in general and don’t realize what a valuable resource they are. Many people are more familiar with libraries and museums than they are with archives. I think that’s in part because you can’t just check stuff out of an archive like a library — you have to consult it on site. But our collections are unique, so we have to be careful with them, because if a document walks away, that’s often our only copy.

Archives may not have the same visual appeal as a library or museum because our shelves are filled with gray boxes, but those boxes have great things in them. And anyone is welcome to visit the Fermilab Archives and use our collections — just contact me!

What is an interesting fact about you?
I’m a big Doctor Who fan.