Do What You Love What You Do: Archival Work in Sitka

Originally I had planned to write a post about the history of Sitka, as it was the Russian capital of Alaska at one time. I had planned on having one day’s worth of work to do and thought I’d spend the second day exploring some of Sitka’s historical sights so that I could get a better understanding of the contentious history of colonization that happened in Sitka.

Sitka’s Russian influence cannot be missed as St. Michael’s Russian Greek Orthodox Cathedral sits dead center of downtown Sitka.

I ended up with two full days of work to do, however, and it was pouring rain the entire time so I was glad to have a reason to stay inside.

Thus, instead I’m going to use this post to brag a little about how awesome my life as an archivist can be. This blog, after all, is about an Archivist, so it’s only appropriate.

This is what traveling for work looks like in Southeast Alaska. I’m definitely not taking for granted the beautiful scenery outside the window sliding by as I work.

My work in Sitka is based at the Sheldon Jackson Museum. Sheldon Jackson was a missionary that set up a school in Sitka in order to “culturally educate” the Alaska Natives. He started the museum as a place to house artifacts that he had “collected,” been given, or possibly lifted, from around Alaska. This isn’t to denigrate the museum in any way, so much as to acknowledge the controversial history of the artifacts and the man for which the museum is named. Many museums have similar stories. My work, however, takes me to the library next door.

Sheldon Jackson Museum

This trip’s assignment presented the peculiar task of carrying archival boxes through the pouring rain between buildings and the trunk of my car. How often do archivists get to carry archival boxes and material in the back of their own car?

Archival boxes in the back of my car?? Yep.

The project involved a home visit to collect papers from a donor. This donor, however, happened to be THE archivist of Sitka, and I got to go to her house! (They’re trusting me to do home visits! I’m working my way up in the world! Woohoo!) This amazing woman has started or worked with every archives and historical society in the city. I was hoping to learn from this 90 year old archivist, as well as slightly nervous because I felt that my powers of organization could not compare to her years of expertise. Of course we got along just fine! She was so welcoming and pleased to get some of her papers out of her house. Also, she was very happy with the way I suggested organizing the papers in folders! Not that it needed much organizing by me! She is already super organized. Later in the day she  invited Micah and I to have coffee with her, and we all happily passed two hours chatting and only left when we realized we had to return to work before the museum closed. She was so engaging, and had plenty of fascinating stories about her life in Sitka, as well as so many interesting book suggestions that I must have added at least 5 books to my to-read list on Goodreads!

To top off this trip, our fellow Sitka coworker, let us stay on her fiance’s boat. I can’t imagine any other archiving job that would cause me to stay on a boat, put archival boxes in my car, and visit the home of one of the most respected archivists in the state. Only in Alaska?

What’s the most unusual things you’ve had to do for work?

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