With each box or document she eagerly opens, Janette Garcia unlocks an Upper Iowa University treasure and delves into its past. You could say Garcia herself made UIU history when she officially stepped onto the Fayette campus on November 16, as the University’s first known archivist.
“As I looked at the vast amount of items in storage here during my first couple days on the job, my immediate thoughts were, ‘Just let me at it!’” smiled Garcia, while praising the previous efforts of alumni, faculty and staff in preserving and displaying UIU’s history. “The amount of care that has been taken in watching over these archives is truly remarkable.”
A member of the Academy of Certified Archivists, Garcia earned a master of information and library studies degree from the University of Michigan and is currently working toward a master of history degree. She previously served as head of archives and special collections at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (formerly University of Texas-Pan American).
The Okemos, Mich., native acknowledged that the UIU position initially drew her attention and that of her husband, Arturo (Art), because it provided them the opportunity to return to the Midwest.
“But as I looked more into Upper Iowa University, I was not only intrigued by its wealth of history but also that of the entire area. I quickly viewed it as a challenge to record and preserve the countless items located in the archives here for the benefit of future generations,” she added. “Then when Art and I took a scenic drive after arriving in Fayette, it only cemented our decision.”
Garcia’s initial plan of action is to install and implement an archival management software program as her first and largest task. The new collections database will be a full inventory of stored items and those already exhibited throughout campus. The project will result in uniform numbering, labeling and cataloging of the collections for the benefit of the University and the general public.
“In addition to making more of the archives available online, I look forward to working with faculty, students and the entire community in fully utilizing the archives and promoting the history of UIU and the entire area,” added the 50-year-old.
Ironically, Garcia noted that a main challenge for today’s archivists is due to the advancement of electronic technology.
“History is about people, and many times this history has been compiled from written letters. Some of the larger collections of letters provide a more personal insight into a person than a textbook ever could,” she explained. “People don’t write letters anymore, and communication through computers and other devices isn’t being saved, which is making the preservation of history for tomorrow’s archives that much more difficult.”
“Researching archives is not for the faint of heart. It takes time, but it is well worth it. The results from one researcher can be shared by so many other people.” noted Garcia. “I find it most enjoyable when I learn new information from patrons after they exclaim, ‘Wow! Look what I found.’ When they share their findings, it often leads me to my own ‘wow’ moment.”
As she reached for another box of archival documents, she wondered aloud what new tidbit of UIU history would be revealed. For the University archivist, each day is a treasure hunt and she has the map.