Ready for ‘the big show'
Joan Gosnell's official title is University archivist, but she could just as easily be called its history detective. As the centennial celebration unfolds, she plays a key role in identifying the people and events that shaped SMU.
"All good archivists want to have the materials under their care showcased, and an opportunity like the SMU centennial is what we live for. It's the big show," says Gosnell, who joined SMU in 2004 after serving as the corporate archivist for J.C. Penney for almost 10 years.
Since the launch of The Second Century Celebration in 2011, she has been an integral contributor to numerous projects, including the book In Honor of the Mustangs: The Centennial History of SMU Athletics, 1911-2010, published by DeGolyer Library and the Lettermen's Association in 2011; and the history timeline in SMU Centennial Hall in Hughes-Trigg Student Center.
During the Year of the Library, her goal is to "systematically study" materials related to all libraries to determine "what gaps we might have in the collections and ensure that libraries on all campuses are better documented."
Early in her academic career, Gosnell found her calling. As an undergraduate at Juniata College, she was a summer intern with the National Archives in Washington, D.C. — a "real job" for a history major. After completing a master's degree in history at the College of William & Mary, the native of Queens, New York, landed a position as the archivist for the American Irish Historical Society. From there, she went to J.C. Penney.
As University archivist, Gosnell toggles between the past, present and future each day. "It's a tricky balance," she says. "You always have to be thinking about what we need to collect now that will be useful when SMU celebrates its bicentennial."
She and staff members from DeGolyer and Bridwell libraries recently joined an initiative launched by the Society of American Archivists that encourages libraries to "jump in" and start developing protocols for the collection and management of "born-digital" content.
Tweets about the University posted via Twitter, Facebook pages maintained by schools, departments and organizations, and other information created in a digital format could be of value to future generations trying to piece together a picture of SMU in 2013, she explains.
"We're trying to understand now how to corral materials so that they will be around in another hundred years."
See selections from the SMU Archives in two digital collections, "SMU Memories" and "SMU Student Newspapers," online at digitalcollections.smu.edu/all/cul/.