My name is Derek Whisnant. I’m currently a senior nearing the end of a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Spanish at UNC Asheville. Beginning my sophomore year, I had the opportunity to work as an assistant in UNCA’s Ramsey Library Special Collections. Over the past two years, I have been fortunate to work alongside Head of Special Collections Gene Hyde, and Assistant Archivists Colin Reeve and Ashley McGhee Whittle, each of whom have provided me with meaningful work, mentorship, and guidance.
During my time working at UNCA Special Collections I was able to work on a variety of different projects which exposed me to various archival principles, thought processes, and considerations involved in archival work. The work I am most proud of at UNCA Special Collections was accessioning manuscript collections from two influential figures in Asheville’s history: E.W. Grove and F.L. Seely. Through working on these collections I learned a great deal about how to approach and think about organizing and cataloguing materials. I was able to work through the entire process, from ensuring proper storage in archival-grade materials, to various levels of description, writing scope and content summaries, and entering metadata into our archival software. It was a fulfilling experience to see boxes of materials go from their original donated condition to a fully accessible and organized format for use by the public in the future. I was also afforded opportunities to work on a few other research and writing projects, digitizing materials, and I have also started on a project with Gene which entails cataloguing repositories of archival materials relating to Southern Appalachia to be published as a resource in the Appalachian Curator newsletter in the near future.
Seeing the ways in which Gene, Ashley, and Colin enthusiastically participate in their professional circles, guide students in conducting research, fill information requests from the public, and contribute meaningfully to their school and larger community made me aware of the critical public service which archival work entails. When I started working at UNCA Special Collections, I had the intention of finishing my Psychology degree and moving into social work, therapy, or another public-facing application. Through this experience however, my plans have changed substantially. I intend to move towards an MLIS program after finishing my undergraduate studies at UNC Asheville with the hope of making information more accessible to more groups, particularly underserved communities. I am even more aware now of just how many ways a library and an archive participates in and supports its community, and I eagerly look forward to continuing my participation in such an effort.