Lori Curtis, the first full-time archivist and special collections librarian at Mossey Library, has seen many impressive historical documents over the years.
As the official archivist for Hillsdale College, the idea of connection is central to Curtis. She strives to find the best way of archiving materials by seeing everything she touches as a piece of a larger puzzle. Some institutions categorize materials by mediums, but Curtis considers how different documents fit together.
“It’s like you’re a part of the lives of these individuals,” Curtis said. “You develop the connections between the materials. It can be very emotional.”
Linda Moore, a former Mossey librarian who retired in January after 44 years at Hillsdale, said Curtis’ work is important for future generations. People often ask about great-great grandfathers who may have attended Hillsdale, or if their ancestors were donors.
“In 100 years, people are going to have questions that we need to answer,” Moore said. “The only reason we know that Frederick Douglas visited Hillsdale College is because we have the minutes from the women’s literary union. When you’re an institution, someone’s got to keep that information going.”
Moore was previously in charge of archives, but also spent much of her time as a public services librarian. As the college’s collections continued to grow and Moore retired, Mossey Library Director Maurine McCourry asked the college administration to hire a full-time archivist.
McCourry said many important works, such as the personal collections of Sir Martin Gilbert and Harry Jaffa, were previously the responsibility of the president’s office. Curtis now houses the collections in the library.
McCourry said she appreciates the experience Curtis brings to Mossey.
“She knows how to manage information in a large institution and can start to manage our institution the way it should be. She brought ideas from other libraries and has experience implementing new ideas, which is very valuable,” McCourry said.
After working at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma and Loma Linda University in Southern California, Curtis was ready for a change when she heard about the job in Hillsdale.
Curtis immediately accepted the job when the phone call came.
“I knew that Linda had done amazing stuff with the time that she had. I would have the opportunity to develop, create, and organize Hillsdale’s archives. It was a good opportunity to put all my training and skills to a good cause,” Curtis said.
Curtis works with a wide variety of mediums — letters, photos, pamphlets, maps, manuscripts, and more. She manages the current collections owned by the college, and is also responsible for archiving anything by or about the college, from board minutes to official documents.
The amount of materials may seem daunting to some, but Curtis said she has always seen it as an opportunity to learn.
“To be an archivist you have to be able and willing to learn about all the different formats. Everything has different requirements of temperature, light, and humidity to keep it happy. I want to protect and preserve, but also make it accessible,” Curtis said.
Currently, she uses a local storage warehouse to hold many of the college’s archival material, and said it is “packed to the rafters.” She also has items stored in her office in the library, and hopes for more space for archives.
Curtis said she hopes more people take advantage of the rich resources available in the archives department, whether it’s for a class or just out of curiosity.
“I don’t want to run a warehouse where things are put in and never seen again,” Curtis said. “It’s so students and scholars can have access to this material and learn from it. We want folks to use it, but we want to preserve it so the next person can too.”