Archival Profile: The Life and Times of a Preservation Librarian

In honor of American Archives Month, get to know our Preservation Librarian, Hannah Davis!

Hannah Davis,
Preservation Librarian

Hannah Davis first started working for Special Collections & Archives at FSU in 2013 as a graduate assistant, pursuing a Master’s degree in Library and Information Studies. Over the next five years years, she would hold other titles like Heritage & University Archives Assistant and Research Services Coordinator. But in January of 2018, Hannah was hired as Preservation Librarian, a faculty role that was newly re-vitalized after being vacant for several years. Within her first year on the job, Hannah had prepped our collections for hurricane Michael and begun to coordinate a move of many thousands of linear feet of collections material from one storage site to another. The large projects have only continued since then, often involving hefty doses of mold or other preservation concerns.

But what exactly does a preservation librarian do? What has Hannah’s experience been on the job? Last week I took some time to interview Hannah to get more insight. Keep scrolling to learn more!

Tell us who you are, your title, and what work you do with FSU Special Collections and Archives?

My name is Hannah Wiatt Davis and I am the Preservation Librarian with SCA. I oversee the preservation activities in SCA, which includes collections management, environmental monitoring, and working with various Library entities to keep SCA materials safe in perpetuity.

How did you first get interested in archives?

I had a really transformative experience while visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame when I was in high school. I’ve never been a particularly big country music fan, but the museum was so interesting and I started to put together the pieces of how archives and museums connect people with history they don’t even know to ask about. The experience stuck in the back of my mind throughout college and after graduation, growing each day, until one morning I woke up and said: “I think I want to be an archivist.”

Below are some photos Hannah took from that fateful trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame:

What common misunderstandings about your work would you like to dispel?

One thing I try to impress on new visitors to Special Collections is that these materials are here for their use, whatever the use may be. While my job as Preservation Librarian requires me to create and enforce policies that ensure the safety of SCA’s materials, I also uphold the ethics of our profession which includes providing equitable access to everyone. So, if someone comes in to the reading room and asks if they can see the oldest thing in SCA, my response is “absolutely.”

Pictured here, Hannah is working on rehousing our collection of Papyrus fragments.

What’s your favorite item or collection of items in FSU SCA? Why?

Hands down, the Frances Isaac Letters. It’s a collection of letters from an FSCW student during WWII. I even wrote a blog post about them long ago. This collection has everything: love, drama, vintage stationery.

What is your craziest preservation experience?

I was working with a campus department to assess the inventory of a room full of 16mm film reels – I’m talking floor to ceiling shelving full of film canisters. A majority of the films exhibited vinegar syndrome, a process where the chemicals in the film start to break down. When this type of degradation happens, the film starts to put off a vinegar smell, as well as starts to shrink and become brittle. The whole room reeked as if it were full of pickles. A lot of the film was suffering from other preservation problems, like sticky shed and mold. It was just a gross process all around.

An example of one of the reels Hannah assessed.

What is the most relatable preservation meme you have seen recently?

I don’t know if I’d call it a meme, but there was an exchange on Twitter about this incredibly gross and beyond-preservation film reel… you just have to see it.

More mold! Here, Hannah is using a vacuum to safely remove mold spores.

A huge thank you to Hannah for participating in this interview for American Archives Month. Have any more questions for Hannah or about archives in general? Comment them down below!

Published by Florida State University Special Collections & Archives

The Special Collections & Archives Division of the Florida State University Libraries advances research by acquiring, preserving, and providing access to rare and unusual books and original primary source materials. The division includes the Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Heritage & University Archives, The Claude Pepper Library, and the Digital Library Center. Through exhibitions and programs, the division supports active learning and engagement. Collections of unique manuscripts, historic maps, rare books, photographs, and university archives offer abundant opportunities for discovery and scholarship. Strengths of the collections include Napoleon and the French Revolution, poetry, political papers, Florida history, Southern business history, and the history of Florida State University.

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