Vocations: Archivist preserving history at NDSU

Katrina Burch talks about how she became an archivist at North Dakota State University Archives and Institute for Regional Studies and what her job entails.
Katrina Burch is an archives associate at the NDSU Archives and Institute for Regional Studies.

Editor's Note: Vocations is a regular video series featuring people in their work environment. If you know someone who would make for a great story, email Chris Flynn at cflynn@forumcomm.com.

Katrina Burch is an archives associate at the North Dakota State University Archives and Institute for Regional Studies located at 3551 Seventh Ave. N. in Fargo. She’s been with NDSU since March of 2015 and graduated from San Jose State University with a master's degree in library and information science in 2012. Burch says the collection policy is that materials must be about a person from North Dakota, someone related to the university or about the southeastern region of North Dakota, specifically. Burch said one of things she’s liked about working at the NDSU archives is being able to do genealogical stuff. “I didn’t get to do that at previous institutions, so that’s been kind of fun for me to find out those resources.”

What is the role of an archivist?

Katrina Burch: The role of an archivist is not only to help preserve the material and keep it safe, but also to show the public these materials. We want to promote them. We want the public to see that these aren’t just something you keep away from the public face. We want to have people see these documents as living and not necessarily something to keep hidden, which a lot of the times has happened in the past — especially with stuff that’s controversial. So our role is to be that gatekeeper. Somebody who prepares the material to be able to be viewed, but also keeps the material safe.

How did you decide to become an archivist?

Burch: I have a degree in history and anthropology, and I took a year off and was trying to figure out what to do with my life. My mom’s like, 'you like to read, why don’t you go to library school?' — not knowing anything about the profession or anything. And I love my mom, but she didn’t know what the profession really entailed. So I went and looked at it and realized I love history and I love researching history, so I went to library school at San Jose State University and worked as well. That’s really important, being able to work in an archive or a library or whatever part of the profession you go into. I worked at an institution just kind of like NDSU and just kind of fell in love with what they did and wanted to help promote them, and kind of just fell in love with it and went from there.

Nathan Larson researches an old Fargo home at NDSU archives.

How can a person become an archivist?

Burch: You have to go through an undergraduate career. You can have any career, any fields you want. I know there have been archivists who have science majors, who have engineering degrees, English degrees. It just kind of depends on what kind of archives you want to go into. Then you have to go to library school and that’s usually a two-year program. Then, you are a full-time librarian. You have your master's in information and library sciences. You can get certified through the Society of American Archivists, but it’s not necessary. It’s kind of a touchy subject within the field of whether that’s necessary or not, but as long as you have a master's in library and information sciences, you can work in an archive.

What types of archives are there?

Burch: There are business archives. That would be something like Kellogg's Cereal. De Beers Diamonds has an archive in New York. You could go into academic archives, which would be something like a university library, or you can go into a museum — they sometimes have their own archives. There are medical archives. Kind of the most famous is the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.

Rare books are kept in the staff only section of the NDSU archives.

What is something you think is cool to look at in the archives?

Burch: There’s a couple little books that I like here and there. One of our oldest books is really cool to look at because it’s written in Old English. I usually bring that out to show people because it’s not something you see everyday, a book written in Old English in North Dakota.

Who can use the NDSU archives?

Burch: We are open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Anyone from the public can come on in, request materials, look at the materials, anything they want.