Meet your Member At Large: Ashley McGhee Whittle

Aashley McGhee headshotWhat jobs have you had in the archival realm?
I first went to work in an Archival position when I accepted the Archives and Curatorial Assistant position at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. I worked there for one year and then had the opportunity to return to work in the History Department at UNC Asheville, my Alma Mater. After a year as the Department Assistant, I then applied and accepted the position of Special Collections and Assistant Archivist in Ramsey Library's Special Collections at UNC Asheville.

What is your educational background?
I hold my BA in History from UNC Asheville. As an undergraduate I completed three internships and then a special project through a grant in Ramsey Library Special Collections. I am currently working on my MLIS with UNC Greensboro with an Archival concentration. Prior to obtaining my Bachelor's degree, I held my nursing license (LPN) in the State of North Carolina for ten years.

What is your favorite part of your job and what do you consider to be the most important part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is two parts. First, I love processing collections. We hold some really unique collections at UNC Asheville, including several on environmental history and environmental groups in Western North Carolina.  I have a minor in environmental studies at UNC Asheville and am an avid outdoor junkie. One of my favorite collections to process was my special project as an undergraduate, where I processed the John Brown Lands Speculation Collection and worked with documents and maps dating from the early 1700s! I also got to work directly with the donor, which left a lasting positive impression on me. I also love getting into the history and stories from these collections–they are so interesting! Second, my other favorite part of my job is teaching the undergraduate students that we have throughout the semester. We often have several History, Literature, and First-Year classes where we teach classes of students everything from a basic introduction to Special Collections and researching primary sources, to the History of Urban Renewal in Asheville. This is also what I consider the most important part of my job–teaching the importance of this material to our undergraduate students and helping them make discoveries within these collections. It's also nice when students become so interested in Special Collections that they then decide to complete an internship with us and after "drinking the Archival Kool-Aid" make the decision to go on and become an Archivist.

Tell us about something you're particularly proud of from your job or your institution.
I am particularly proud of several things–but two of the most recent things that come to mind are that I had one History intern and one student worker who is majoring in Psychology last year who have both decided to get their Master's in Library Science and go to work as Archivists. I worked directly with and helped mentor both of these students, and I am so excited that they have decided to become Archivists! Second, I was able to connect with the Environmental Studies Department on campus last semester, and we hosted our very first Environmental Class in Special Collections. This class was on Environmental Restoration, and we were able to connect students with various collections to help with their semester long projects on restoring environments in Southern Appalachia. COVID interrupted our in-person classes with them, but I'm hopeful that we will be able to collaborate more with this Department in the future!

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a similar career?
Find a mentor! Having a mentor in this field is key. They can help guide you in all aspects of getting into an Archival career, from internships, to education, to jobs. And when you are taking classes at the Master's level, take as many related to exactly what you want to do–for example, I am taking most of my classes for my MLIS related to Special Collections and Archives. Making connections are key in this field!

Who has been key to shaping your professional outlook?
I have had three significant mentors since I returned to school and obtained my Bachelor's degree and then went to work in the Archives. The first was Dr. Ellen Pearson in the History Department at UNC Asheville. She was the mentor who made me realize how successful a woman can truly be–and this was significant for a first-generation, Southern Appalachian woman returning to college at a non-traditional age (I was 29 when I returned to school). Second was Dr. Daniel Pierce, also of the History Department at UNC Asheville. He was the mentor who made me realize that what I had to say was important, both in class and in the World, and that because I was a native Appalachian and a woman, my voice was more important than ever. Finally, Gene Hyde, Head of Special Collections at UNC Asheville. Gene mentored me as an undergraduate but does even more now as my supervisor and colleague. Gene has improved both my writing and speaking skills, he continues to help me develop my Archival skills and encourages my educational endeavors, and he challenges me on a daily basis regarding what I believe and what I have to say, always wanting to know the rationale behind my reasoning. He has not only made me a better Archivist, he has made me a better human being.

What do you hope to accomplish during your time in SNCA leadership?
My plan as Member-at-Large, new professional/student member, is to continue to cultivate the connections SNCA has with colleges and universities across North Carolina. I also hope to continue to add to these connections and have started working on adding contacts from some of the smaller and/or private colleges and universities across the state. The future of SNCA belongs to the up and coming young Archivists just entering the field, and I consider it part of my responsibility in this position to ensure that SNCA is here to support these budding Archivists in all their educational and archival endeavors.

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