Sarah Keen recently completed her first academic year serving as university archivist in Special Collections and Archives in the University of Iowa Libraries
She came to Iowa in August 2022 from upstate New York, where she served as Colgate University Libraries’ university archivist and head of Special Collections and University Archives. Previously, she was technical services archivist and American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences project archivist at Cornell University Library, and archivist for the Jane Harman Congressional Papers Project at Smith College. She earned her Master in Science Information from the University of Michigan and her Bachelor of Arts from Alma College.
Keen took some time to reflect on her first year at the UI Libraries.
How was your first academic year at the University of Iowa?
I’m thrilled at the warm welcome I’ve received and how interested the members of the campus community are in preserving and exploring the past and present of the UI.
Can you share a few of the highlights?
- Creating a pop-up exhibit with colleague Liz Riordan, lead outreach and instruction librarian, for the Hawkeye Distinguished Veterans Award event and attending the awards presentation.
- Meeting Hualing Nieh Engle, co-founder of the International Writing Program.
- Hosting an open house for the University High School Class of 1965 reunion.
- Collaborating with some students and faculty in the theatre arts to document the history and present works from that department.
Has anything really surprised you?
I would say it’s more of an ever-evolving wonder of learning all the things going on at the UI, so frequently experiencing that sense of “wow.” Recently, I’ve enjoyed learning more about the built environment on campus, the histories of various buildings, and how the campus was impacted by and recovered from the 2008 flood. Also, a Libraries colleague introduced me to the Iowa Raptor Project and their work in raising awareness about birds of prey and conserving their populations.
What do you expect to be the collecting priorities for Special Collections and Archives over the coming years?
Broadly we will focus on documenting historically underrepresented aspects of the university community, and we will be doing some assessment work over the next couple years to gather more information on what those areas might be. We will be keeping in mind the university’s bicentennial coming up in 2047 and how we can help the community share stories that give a fuller appreciation of our history.
What do you enjoy about being an archivist?
I enjoy learning about people’s lives and their experiences as individuals and with the organizations they create. It’s been fascinating learning about the university, its complex history, and its wide range of activities while collaborating with colleagues across campus.
One last question. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not digging through the archives?
I love rowing, hiking, and listening to music. I’m also a Red Sox fan and enjoy reading mystery books and watching mystery/detective shows. It has been 20 years since I last lived in the Midwest, so I look forward to continue getting reacquainted with the region.