An Interview with Liz Novara

The second in our series of “An Interview with…” is with Liz Novara, a SAM member who graduated in 2005 and is still working at UMD. Read on for more about her.

1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m currently Curator of Historical Manuscripts for the University of Maryland Libraries. I received a BA in History and in French language from Saint Mary’s College of Maryland in 2002.  I decided to go straight into graduate school and the HiLS program looked like a perfect fit for me.  I first started out the as a UMD Libraries employee as an hourly Graduate Student Assistant, then I became the Graduate Assistant for the University Archives. After graduating from the HiLS program in 2005, I became a Project Archivist for the University Archives and then later the Assistant University Archivist.  I have two kids and a wonderful husband who is also a curator at UMD.  We talk a lot about archives at home, but also have other interests.  I enjoy spending time with my family, reading, and watching period pieces.  Because I love historical research so much, I decided to enroll in the History department in 2013 and am currently taking classes towards a PhD in History and a Certificate in Women’s Studies.

2. What did you like best about being a member of SAM and/or what was your favorite event or memory?

One of my favorite memories of SAM is attending the Maryland Renaissance Festival.  I had never been before and it was a fun experience with fellow graduate students.  Former SAM president Jilly Reilly James organized the activity and dressed for the occasion.

3. Did you have a favorite professor? Who?

My favorite professor in the iSchool (or CLIS as it was then known) was Susan Davis, who is now teaching at Drexel University.  Her class on Access was extremely informative and definitely influenced the way I currently think about archival accessibility issues.  I also enjoyed taking classes with history professor Gay Gullickson who recently became a professor emerit.

4. How do you think SAM helped you prepare to be an archivist/program manager?

SAM helped me in various ways including learning how to network with other students and future colleagues, discovering new archives and libraries is the D.C. area,  understanding  how to manage a student organization, and how to do event planning.

5. What is it that you do today?

I’m the Curator of Historical Manuscripts in Hornbake Library and leader of the Maryland and Historical Collection area.  The subjects in this collection area include archival, manuscript, and print holdings relating to the Maryland region (including, but not limited to, history and culture, the environment, politics and civic organizations); historic preservation; and women’s history/women’s studies collections. I manage reference, collection development, donor relations, acquisitions, accessioning, arrangement and description, and basically all aspects of archival work related to the collections under my purview.  It’s a massive collection area to manage, but it is certainly very interesting and rewarding work.

6. What is your favorite thing about working at the University of Maryland?

My favorite thing about working at the University of Maryland is that no day is like any other.  Because of the academic environment, the variety of collections, the diversity of students and researchers, every day brings with it new questions, new collection opportunities, new collaborations, and new learning experiences.

7. Are there any interesting collections where you work that you think the world should know more about?

Tons!   All of our collections are interesting in some way, it just depends on your perspective and the research question you are trying to answer. Some of my favorite collections relate to nineteenth-century history and include women’s diaries and letters from that time period related to daily life in the state of Maryland. They include examples of cross-written letters, locks of hair from family members, and daguerreotype photographs.  A few years ago UMD Special Collections had an exhibit focusing on women and the Civil War in Maryland, a project that I very much enjoyed working on.  For more information about the exhibit see the following link:  http://www.lib.umd.edu/civilwarwomen/index.htm

8. Are you working on any interesting projects?

There are always many interesting projects happening here in the UMD Libraries.  One interesting project that is almost complete is the processing of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBCJA) archives.  This project has been going on for five years and has had several graduate students and staff working on it over that time, including, current iSchool student Maya Riser-Kositsky.   I am excited to see the completion of this project hopefully this year with a full online finding aid that will represent over 600 linear feet of material.  Another interesting project that I have been working on with donor Rita Cacas, is the Filipino-American Community Archives.  Rita’s vision for this project is to bring in donations of materials to document the Filipino-American community in the DC-metro area and I’m excited that we are the repository for these materials.  I’m particularly interested in developing this project as well as creating similar archives projects to save the history of other underdocumented communities in Maryland.  Finally, I am also working on, with assistance from colleagues in our Digital Systems and Services department, a transcription tool for our special collections, much like what has been done at the University of Iowa Libraries (https://diyhistory.lib.uiowa.edu/ ) and at the Library of Virginia (http://www.virginiamemory.com/transcribe/) , which I hope will be released to the general public later this year.  This spring semester I am collaborating with an English professor on using the transcription tool in her class as sort of a pilot run for the project.  We’re hoping to use the transcription tool in future undergraduate classes in order to have students engage more fully with primary sources and special collections materials.

9. What advice do you have for current SAM members and other students at the iSchool?

Attend as many conferences and join as many professional organizations as you can as a student because they will help further your career.  They not only  provide networking opportunities, but they allow you to demonstrate to your future employer that you are keyed into important issues in the profession.  This is especially important for students who are looking for job opportunities in academic libraries because conference attendance and participation shows potential for service and scholarship.   I was a moderator for a session at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) in Arlington, VA, as a graduate student in 2004.  It was a great experience and helped me gain professional skills that you don’t necessarily have the chance to obtain in the classroom or in the archives.

10. White gloves or no gloves?

I have to say “no gloves!”   I find Rebecca Goldman’s the webcomic Derangement and Description on this issue particularly enlightening:

https://derangementanddescription.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/do-i-need-to-wear-gloves-in-the-archives-a-helpful-flow-chart/

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