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Meet a History Saver: Meghan Kelly

As HistoryIT celebrates its 10th Anniversary in 2021, we want to take the time to share how amazing our team of history savers is. In this blog series, you’ll get to know each member of our organization who makes HistoryIT’s history-saving work possible. We’d like to introduce you to Meghan Kelly.

As a Senior Project Specialist, Meghan ensures that our clients’ collections are not only preserved, but also accessible. One of our top metadata magicians, her passion to democratize history motivates her to ensure each record can be easily found by the average curious individual.

1. When did you discover HistoryIT and what is one of your favorite history saving moments so far?

I first discovered HistoryIT when I was wrapping up a yearlong fellowship in archival education at the Special Collections Department of Colby College, where I’d been an undergraduate student. That position gave me a wonderful hands-on education in working with archives. I saw students using archival documents and photographs in their classes to directly connect with a past that had previously seemed remote to them. HistoryIT was a great opportunity to take that experience and replicate it on a larger scale through digital preservation. 

One of my favorite HistoryIT memories was visiting Hog Island in Bremen, Maine, and seeing the Audubon Camp there with Friends of Hog Island. We had the opportunity to take a tour of the island and the camp buildings with the wonderful Juanita Roushdy of Friends of Hog Island. I tend to do a lot of my work in front of a computer or in dusty basements and libraries with sunlight-blocking curtains, so it was wonderful to take history saving to such a beautiful place.

2. In your role at HistoryIT what does a typical day look like?

Most of my days are spent in the nitty gritty of creating metadata for digitized photographs, letters and other archival materials. Metadata is central to HistoryIT’s digital preservation work. It’s the backbone that makes archival collections searchable and makes each record on a client site discoverable. This means that to create effective metadata, I have to look at each item I work on in the context of the whole collection: what are the common themes and how does this item tie in? I also have to consider the end user: who might be looking for this photograph and why? How can I use subject tags to make sure that they can find it? The challenge of holding those small details together with the big picture of a collection is my favorite thing about the metadata creation process. 

3. What’s one thing you want your clients to know about HistoryIT?

We all do the work we do out of a genuine love of history, and we always want to work with you where you are right now. Sometimes I hear clients say they wish a collection they are showing us were more fully processed or stored in a more optimal setting, but all of us have seen collections at all levels of organization and storage — nothing phases us. HistoryIT really does operate from a place of passion, not judgement. We are here to value your organization’s history as highly as you do, and to work with you to come up with the best strategy to preserve it and make it accessible.

4. What about history inspires you?

I think the best way to make history real to people today is to make it personal. When I worked in archival education, I saw students who didn’t necessarily start off passionate about history perk up when they studied a scrapbook made by a student at the same school a century ago, or connected themes from a student protest in the 1970s to a debate on campus in the present. I’m always inspired by the opportunity to create moments like that for members of the organizations we work with.

5. Why is it important to digitally preserve our history?

History is more than just a collection of facts — it’s the story we tell ourselves about who we are. We see reminders of the contested nature of that story every day, which means it couldn’t be more important to democratize access to the historical record. 

Archival documents shouldn’t only be accessible to those who have the time and resources to travel to particular repositories that often have limited hours. That necessarily limits the voices that shape what we know about the past. The more the historical record is publicly accessible and widely available, the more resources we all have to understand history from a place of truth rather than dogma.

6. In celebration of HistoryIT’s 10th Anniversary, what is one of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

I have such a fondness for the Hog Island digital archive, which is one of the first projects I worked on from start to finish at HistoryIT. As a lifelong Mainer, I always especially love projects that preserve this state’s local history. In the course of working on this project, I also learned from family that my paternal grandparents had attended the Camp at Hog Island, probably sometime in the early 1950s. They’re no longer alive, so the opportunity to learn a new story about them was a real gift.

7. If you were to look back on this interview in 10 years, what mystery of history do you hope will be solved?  

When I worked in Special Collections at Colby, I helped catalog a collection of personal papers belonging to Benjamin Butler, a Union general who later ran for president in 1884. I was holding a letter from that collection and started to read it in hopes of deciphering the name of the sender, only to realize that the writer of the letter was a woman who had been locked in an asylum against her will and was trying to find a way out. I’ve never forgotten the searing moment when I realized what I was seeing, and I’ve always wanted to know what happened to her and if she was able to free herself.

8. Who will play you when they create a movie about the making of HistoryIT?

This is a tricky one. Maybe Anna Kendrick, since we share a hometown and reading her memories of Maine in her memoir made me laugh.

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