Celebrating American Archives Month: October 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central Library

Celebrating American Archives Month: October 2013

Meet Special Collections Photo Archivist Mark Greek

Celebrating American Archives Month
Oct. 1-31, 2013

American Archives Month
Imagine yourself at your annual family reunion and your nana asks you to preserve the family’s photo albums. These priceless images of family vacations, birthday parties, holiday gatherings, etc. are considered treasures. A friend suggests that you consult with a Photo Archivist because you have no idea what to do with all of them. You begin to wonder: “Where in the world can I find a local photo archivist?"

Meet DC Public Library’s Photo Archivist, Mark Greek.

GreekSo Mark, please answer the burning question that’s on all our readers' minds: “What is a photo archivist?" And “What does the work of a photo archivist consist of?"
Like any archivist, I am tasked with collecting, preserving and making available materials of unique and historic value. My primary responsibility is working with all types of prints and photographs. I have approximately 1.5 million images in my care at the Library.

My work consists of a series of preservation efforts designed to preserve the images so that they can be used and enjoyed by generations of future researchers.  These steps include identifying, organizing, sleeving, foldering and housing. I am also creating a database to increase the collections' searchability and we are also moving forward with a digital archive that will be available through our website by early 2014.

I also assist researchers who are looking for images for a wide array of uses.
Do you ever find yourself admonishing anyone who gets their fingerprints all over a photo?
I don’t think I’ve ever scolded anyone for doing that. However we do take several precautions to avoid this from happening. These measures include having patrons wear gloves and placing images in protective sleeves.

It might seem funny, but those fingerprints could cause permanent damage to a photograph. Our hands have a natural oil that can bond with the glossy coating found on many photographs, thus a fingerprint on the image. This damage can be permanent, causing smudging on the photographs.
If someone was interested in doing volunteer work with a photo archivist, should the person have a passion for photos?
It wouldn’t hurt, but I don’t think it’s needed. What you should have is a love or knowledge of the content of the images. Our volunteers are currently helping to find “homes” for the over 100,000 unidentified and/or loose images in our collection.

Quite often I find myself asking, “Who is this?” or “Where is this?" Volunteers have helped in this process and the only thing needed is a familiarity with Washington, D.C. people and places.
How would an archivist sustain the volunteer’s interest in the job, to ensure that a feeling of ennui doesn’t occur?
I always tell them to take time to enjoy the images; processing speed is not necessarily what I’m looking for. Working with images can be very fun, and I like to let the volunteers explore the content of the image, study the people, the places, use Google to find out more information, laugh at a funny picture, make a photocopy to share with friends. It’s amazing how far one image can take you.
Hmmm … sounds really interesting Mark!  If there is a reader out there who’s interested in becoming a photo archivist, what advice would you give them?"    
There are a few things that can make a good archivist. Foremost you must have a love of history and a desire to see the objects preserved and made available to researchers. This career can be very rewarding and sometimes it’s just fun to go through other people's stuff. These items we preserve help tell the story of a place, an era or a person.

One of the most rewarding things is helping a researcher find an answer to a question, after all that is why we preserve all this stuff.
Thank you for your time Mark.