Library Happenings: Archivist for a Day

BHS :: Richetta Randolph Wallace Papers

Earlier in the term, I had an assignment that took me to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The archivist there was nice enough to answer my questions (with no prior notice) and chat with me about my career goals. When it was time for me to go, I thanked him and spent the train ride to Brooklyn thinking about how nice that face-to-face interaction was after nearly two years in an online school.

When a second assignment was set to take me away from my computer and out into the world, I hoped to go back to the Schomburg Center. Alas, that didn’t work out and I had to scramble for another location that would have me on relatively short notice.

Enter the Brooklyn Historical Society

BHS is housed in perhaps the most beautiful building ever to start as a place to hang out and talk history. I mean, the people who created this place didn’t just throw up a structure and fill it with books. This building is a work of art with a rich history. The wordwork alone would make you drool.
Brooklyn Historic Society Othmer Library

Brooklyn Historic Society Othmer Library

After recovering my composure at its beauty I was immediately overwhelmed by the incredible staff. I don’t know if archivists are just naturally generous and lovely, but I was half in love with them by the time I left. My first day there, literally, changed the course of my career goals. As I lamented the lack of personal interaction (and therefore connections) that you deal with when attending an online school, Julie popped open a browser and gave me a crash course on NYC archivist associations, listserv and message boards chock full of job, grant and volunteer opportunities. Priceless. Seriously. Along with that info she imparted knowledge about work history and how joining and then networking at these professional orgs can lead to so much. When Liz, who actually cleared my observation hours at BHS, arrived she shared a cover letter site that has already been invaluable.

On day two, I was lucky enough to spend time with the director of the library who was the very definition of generosity with his efforts to make sure that I got a true taste of what it’s like to work in a library archive setting. Along with shadowing him as he assisted patrons and arranging a visit with the page to their storage area, he set me to task with a group of documents that I have not been able to forget since.

They were the papers of this woman


Ms. Richetta Randolph Wallace

“Ms. Randolph was private secretary to the social activist Mary White Ovington in the first decade of the twentieth century, leading to a position as the first member of the administrative staff for the new National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Ms. Randolph later became the NAACP’s office manager and was private secretary to NAACP officers James Weldon Johnson and Walter White, among other important positions until her retirement in 1946.”-BHS Blog

To read about her request for a raise and the praise for her work and how her retirement was stalled when the NAACP declared that they couldn’t go on without her was fascinating. Issues of equal/fair pay, the important part that women play in the workplace and more are still relevant now.

BHS :: Richetta Randolph Wallace Papers

BHS :: Richetta Randolph Wallace Papers

I mean, when this woman wrote to congratulate the mayor on his win he wrote her back! Promptly! The entire experience was amazing. Reading letters written in the 1800s and holding a bride’s wedding invite from 1894 were really moving experiences. There are more photos in this set.

This experience, thanks to Julie’s guidance, led me to my new job, as the Social Media Manager for Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York! So far, I am enjoying the additional responsibility. I can’t wait to really get started.


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