Ever wonder what exciting new projects the many employees at NARA are working on? The “What are You Working On?” blog feature aims to introduce a variety of NARA employees and highlight some of the exciting projects we are working on around the agency.
This week, we introduce Tammy Kelly, archivist at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.
What is your name and title?
Tammy Kelly, archivist
Where is your job located?
I work at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum in Independence, Missouri.
What is your job in a nutshell?
When I explain to people what I do, I tell them that I help to make President Truman’s papers available to researchers and the public and help to make sure they last. I work on arranging and describing our manuscript collections, answering reference requests, conducting occasional public programs, and making materials available on the Truman Library website. I also work with our high school and college interns and supervise some of the projects they work on. In addition, I have a background in Museum Studies, so I do some work with our museum staff, cataloging museum objects and working on various exhibit projects.
What are you working on right now?
One of the major projects I am working on is processing the papers of Bess W. Truman, President Truman’s wife. It’s going to take a while to complete, but when we’re finished, it will shine some light on a First Lady about whom not much is known. The papers contain material from her days in high school with her future husband all the way up through her death, so they will be quite comprehensive. We’re opening the papers in stages, and we hope to get a significant series or two done every year for the next couple of years.
My other ongoing important project is the Truman Library’s photograph database. We created our photograph database in 2003 with the help of a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and we add more photos to it nearly every day. All our interns scan and describe photos in the database, and we have several volunteers who work on it as well. I verify all the work of the interns in the photo database, adding ARC search terms and checking to make sure everything is spelled and identified correctly. We add about 4,000 photos to the database every year, and our goal is to get to 25,000 photos in the database by the end of this fiscal year.
I also work on the Library’s website, and I am one of the people responsible for the Truman Library’s Facebook page. It’s great to see how many fans we have and come up with new and interesting ways to interact with our audience.
How long have you been at NARA?
I have worked for NARA for about 3 years, but I have been at the Truman Library for almost 9 years. I started in the summer of 2001 as an intern. At that time, the Truman Library Institute (our non-profit foundation partner) had a grant to work on the processing of President Truman’s papers. After finishing my internship, I was hired part-time through the grant. About a year later, I began working full-time under the grant, and continued working through the Institute until I became an archivist with NARA.
What has changed since you started at NARA?
One thing that has evolved, both at our institution and throughout NARA, is the growing commitment to make more of our materials available online. The Truman Library’s website has been in existence for almost 15 years, and one of the original purposes of the website was to make primary source materials more available to teachers and students. Now, our researchers expect more and more of our holdings to be online, and one of the things I enjoy about my job is making that happen through adding finding aids, documents, and photographs to our website.
Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?
One of my favorite experiences at the Truman Library was the day that Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, came to the Library to deliver a speech. It was a crazy, hectic day, but it is neat to get the opportunity to meet dignitaries that stop by.
One of my favorite recurrent days at the Library is History Day, the first step toward competing at National History Day. The Truman Library hosts our Regional competition, and I’ve served as a judge since I started working here. It is always great to see students excited about history, and see some of the interesting topics they choose and the creative projects they make.
I don’t know that I have a favorite discovery, but working with collections of personal papers, you often find some unusual things. When I was working on the papers of Madge Wallace, Bess Truman’s mother, there was an envelope, blank on the outside, that contained a piece of paper, folded into quarters width-wise. I didn’t catch the faint pencil writing on the back of the paper and just opened it. There inside were two, seven-inch long locks of hair! I wasn’t expecting that, and I was so surprised I nearly dropped the paper on the floor. The hair belonged to two of Bess’ brothers, and had been cut off about the time each boy turned six, roughly 1892 and 1898. When I looked at the paper again, Mrs. Wallace had written “Frank’s curl” and “George’s curl” in pencil on the back of the paper.
What are your passions or interests outside of work?
For about the past 3 years, I have been working on fixing up my 90 year old house. I’ve just about finished the inside, now I’m moving on to the yard! I love reading, antique shopping, gardening, working on my needlework, and spending time with my nephews. I love football, and I am a HUGE Kansas City Chiefs fan! My boyfriend has season tickets, so I’m looking forward to going to a game or two this year. I also love to bake – I am the “Dessert Girl” for all the potlucks we have here at the Library!
What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?
I try to alternate fiction and non-fiction, so I don’t get too bored. Some of the non-fiction that I read is work-related, mostly books about the Truman era. The last fiction book I read was The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear. She writes a fabulous mystery series about a woman detective working in post-World War I London. The last really great non-fiction book I read was In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan – very enlightening. It has definitely inspired me to want to eat better. Right now I’m reading Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. The Supreme Court by Jeff Shesol.
Meet more NARA employees: http://www.archives.gov/careers/employees/