"What Are You Working On, Jerry Simmons?"

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. Check for this blog series on Wednesdays!

This week, we introduce Jerry Simmons, Archives Specialist for Data Standards/ NARA Authority Team Lead.

What is your name and title?

Jerry Simmons, Archives Specialist for Data Standards/ NARA Authority Team Lead

Where is your job located?

Archives II in College Park, Maryland

Jerry Simmons in the Research Library at Archives II in College Park.
Jerry Simmons in the Research Library at Archives II in College Park.

What is your job in a nutshell?

Though my primary work focus is authorities cataloging, I’m fortunate to be involved in a variety of projects at NARA. I’ve participated in the Social Media Working Group since its beginning, working specifically on the launch of NARA’s photostream in Flickr.com. Since my arrival in January 2000, I’ve worked on the ARC (Archival Research Catalog) Project Team, creating and maintaining authority resources, developing guidance and policies, and teaching the Access Point portions of ARC training program. Over the years I’ve worked with the ARC Tech Team to test new ARC software upgrades, and more recently joined the Description/Authority Service Integrated Project Team (IPT). We are looking forward to a more flexible authority service with power to exchange MARC21 Authority Format data and EAC-CPF (Encoded Archival Context – Corporate Bodies, Person and Families) authority records.

What are you working on right now?

My day to day work mostly involves cataloging new person names into ARC, then sharing that data with the wider library/archives community via NACO (Name Authority Cooperative). NACO is a program of the Program for Cooperative Cataloging at the Library of Congress, and NARA has contributed over 2000 headings since joining the cooperative in 2004. I’ve cataloged a high number of person names for the Truman Library recently, and almost all of those have been shared with the Library of Congress. NARA’s participation in cooperative cataloging means that other cataloging shops, from largest national libraries to smallest local historical societies and archives can share well-documented authority data free of charge. NARA proves its leadership capabilities in cooperative cataloging by sharing person and organization name and subject headings documented primarily, sometimes exclusively, in its original holdings. I also do similar work to create subject headings for the Library of Congress Subject Headings, proposing subjects found in NARA’s holdings, via SACO (Subject Authority Cooperative).

Aside from my authorities cataloging and other work obligations, I also do personal research and writing when time allows. Since 2007, I’ve been researching the DOCUMERICA collection here at Archives II in the Still Pictures branch. I’ve published a high-level article in Prologue about the overall DOCUMERICA project, but now I’ve begun writing a piece specifically about DOCUMERICA photographs taken in New Ulm, Minnesota, by thirteen photography and photojournalism students from the University of Missouri-Columbia. I thought it was unusual that so many photographers be assigned to one location for DOCUMERICA, especially a relatively small and average U.S. town. It turns out that the photographers were all students of well known photojournalist Flip Schulke, who had grown up in New Ulm. Schulke earned fame in the 1960s for his coverage of the civil rights movement in the South, and for his iconic profile photograph of Coretta Scott King at her husband’s funeral in 1968.


Gathering information for the New Ulm article has connected me to the New Ulm Public Library where twenty DOCUMERICA/New Ulm photos are posted in an informal exhibit. The exhibit provides blank pages for folks to jot out their identifications of New Ulm citizens from the past. Thanks to a New Ulm library volunteer, six folks from the 1974 photographs are now identified. When all is done, I plan to post this new information to the New Ulm photographs in Flickr.com.

Starting in January 2011, I will be channeling my past experiences with NARA authority work into teaching a class at Catholic University’s School of Library and Information Science. The class focuses on the theory and mechanics of creating and managing thesauri and authority files.

How long have you been at NARA? Have you worked at any other NARA location?

I arrived at NARA on January 3, 2000, the very first work day after the Y2K roll over. Before coming to NARA I was the archives cataloger for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. My first professional archives job was in my hometown, Savannah, Georgia, where I was an assistant archivist for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah. It was a great start to my career. Because it was a small archive with only two full-time staff, I was exposed to all areas of archival work; from acquisitions and processing to description, reference and research. That archives started humbly in the basement of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the most beautiful church in the Southeast (at least in my opinion), and not a day goes by now that I don’t recall something I learned in that first archives job.

What has changed since you started at NARA?

Social media explosion! I appreciate NARA’s embrace of this new technology and communications medium for archives work and I look forward to seeing the agency’s progress over the next few years.

Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?

In 2008, I had the opportunity to host photographer Charles O’Rear on his first visit to NARA. He takes credit for the most photographs taken and submitted to the DOCUMERICA of all the photographers on the project. I had contacted him for biographical information while completing the authority record for his name and the dialogue continued from there. At the end of his visit, he told me that he had no idea the photos even existed any longer. He was pleased and proud to know his work found a permanent home at NARA. O’Rear is now a well known photographer and is many times published. The Napa Valley wine region, its vineyards, wineries and surroundings are his subjects of expertise.

What are your passions or interests outside of work?

Passion seems so strong for describing hobbies and passing interests. The truest passion for me is my family. After my family, the thing that brings me the most joy is music. I’ve been involved with music in some form since I was about eight years old. As an adult I’ve been a member of choirs, ensembles, bands and orchestras over the years, but currently my time for music is spent performing the Monumental City Ancient Fife and Drum Corps from Baltimore. We perform for special events, a number of parades yearly and musters throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England. I’m on the line of fifers and on St. Patrick’s Day I act as primary fifer, calling tunes for the parade in Baltimore.

What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?

The holidays are upon us, so I decided to revisit Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It was one of the first books I’ve read on my new iPad using the Amazon Kindle app. In print or on a micro-computer screen, this story is still one of the most moving pieces of literature I have ever experienced. The last book I really loved was Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. Up next on the iPad Kindle is A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne.

Meet more NARA employees: http://www.archives.gov/careers/employees/

One thought on “"What Are You Working On, Jerry Simmons?"

  1. Ah, now I’m inspired to dive into The Pillars of the Earth myself — just heard someone else talking about this. Nice work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *