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Saint Mary’s archivist plans to make College collections more accessible to community

and | Thursday, September 26, 2019

Eric Walerko joined the Saint Mary’s community in June, becoming the College’s newest archivist. Since then, he has started the task of maintaining materials pertaining to the history of Saint Mary’s from 1844 to the present.

“Having an undergraduate degree in history, I always had an interest in a hands-on approach to history and its preservation,” Walerko said. “I was fortunate enough to get a student work position at the [Indiana University South Bend] archives on special collections, which really introduced me to the field.”

The Indiana University of South Bend (IUSB) graduate further pursued his education, spending about two and a half years at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and receiving a master’s degree in archival studies there.

“Then I had my first position for a nonprofit foundation in Philadelphia,” Walerko said. “And after a few years there, I saw the position open up here at Saint Mary’s, and the opportunity to move back home and work for such a fantastic institution I was familiar with, it was just an opportunity too good to pass up. So, I was very fortunate and was able to join the Saint Mary’s community.”

The archives are crucial to safeguarding the identity of Saint Mary’s as a college, Walerko said.

“I mean, of course, you have the records management aspect of keeping a paper trail for the routine records of the administration and operating procedures,” he said. “But we’re much more than that. The history we have here has enduring value for generations. It tells everything from the story of the College itself – from a small academy in Bertrand, Michigan turning into the bustling liberal arts college that it is today.”

Walerko said many Saint Mary’s alumnae have contacted the archives, hoping to find remnants of their own pasts and those of other relatives.

“There’s also a lot of personal connections here, with records connecting students and alumna from generations,” Walerko said. “Every week, we get research requests from the people in the community that are either looking for an ancestor that went here, or maybe even information about themselves that they thought was lost forever … so I think that’s why it’s really important to have functioning archive.”

Walerko said he is joined by two student workers who have been assisting him in making the collections more accessible with better labeling and digitization.

“As far as my end, I haven’t been able to dive too deeply into the physical processing myself, because there’s still some administrative gaps that I have to fill,” he said. “My first few months have consisted of writing policies and procedures that are critical for running a credible archive … creating forms and templates that will keep the archive functioning smoothly for the day-to-day stuff.”

While preparing the archives for student use, Walerko noted he and the student assistants are also making the collections more accessible to the community as a whole.

“I have some long-term goals, such as a digital repository for photos, art and documents that will make it possible to pull those up much quicker,” he said. “I also have plans for an online archive management tool that will allow for our collections to be searchable to students online, and … have access to the descriptions of those collections for quicker and easier research.”

For now, however, Walerko said he is focusing on establishing the archives as an important and valued resource on campus.

“In the short term, I’ve definitely been playing up to the campus’ theme of community this year, trying to connect with different department faculty, administrators and students to kind of get the word out [about] what the archive is and what kind of services we can offer, because it’s very important that people know that we’re here for those functions,” Walerko said.

Walerko said he invites anyone pursuing research opportunities or interested in learning more about Saint Mary’s history to stop by the archives, located in Madeleva Hall.

“I’d be happy to answer any questions,” Walerko said. “The archive is typically open between nine and four. If the lights are on, I’m probably here. So, feel free to come by and ring the doorbell.”

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