Head of Special Collections Brings New Outlook to Archives

University of Houston Libraries welcomes Christian Kelleher.

University of Houston Libraries welcomes Christian Kelleher.

For the first time in over 30 years, a new head of Special Collections has joined the University of Houston Libraries.

Christian Kelleher, former archivist and assistant head librarian at the University of Texas at Austin Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, began his appointment at UH this summer. As head of the thriving Special Collections, Kelleher envisions his role as providing direction and prioritization to the innumerable collecting opportunities, and as a supporter of the talented group of librarians and archivists working with unique and rare materials. He will continue to build upon the department’s robust collecting areas, and develop programs that bring the collections to more people.

One of Kelleher’s priorities is to broaden digital collections to support scholarship on a grand scale. In today’s environment of increased access and new forms of data, Special Collections is expanding its ability to bring more primary sources to more scholars in a number of fields, not the least of which includes digital humanities projects.

While the paradigm of the reading room is a mainstay of access to archival materials, Kelleher strives to supplement this practice by bringing more primary resources online and into the classroom. “We have wonderful collection materials that are being developed in such a way that they can support scholarship in the new scholarly environment,” Kelleher said. “Visitors do come into the reading room and use materials there, but it’s not always that way.”

Additionally, an outreach and exhibition program allows more students and faculty to interact with archival materials. Kelleher seeks to expand the reach of exhibits not only inside the Libraries, but also by contributing Special Collections’ archives to exhibits at museums or libraries worldwide. It’s about getting more materials out from behind the walls of the reading room of the archives, and facilitating interaction between the archives and members of the community.

Kelleher aims to develop more partnerships with students in order to bring their historical materials to the University audience, and provide a venue for them to tell their unique story. In this way, student engagement with archives in Special Collections presents great opportunities to have a positive impact on academic success and scholarship.

“One of the reasons I was so attracted to this position at the University of Houston Libraries is that the university and the city are both extremely diverse,” Kelleher said. Leveraging archives “is a great way to demonstrate to students that their experiences and cultures are important and valuable, and can inform the scholarship being produced at the University and beyond.” Oral histories, personal papers, and organizational records that reflect the diverse population of students signifies their importance in the cultural and historical narrative of the University.

Kelleher’s perspectives are influenced by the concept of post-custodial archives, which posits that custody of physical materials is no longer as important as it once was for archivists and librarians to do their work. The role of the archivist becomes that of a connector and facilitator. “Custody and preservation of primary resources, and the connecting of scholars with those materials, doesn’t have to happen only in the library and only with materials in our custody” he said.

Moreover, Kelleher sees new opportunities to partner with local businesses and foundations that hold records of scholarly interest reflecting the history of the community. “Special Collections can work with external organizations to provide access to material, to catalog and provide metadata, so that students and scholars can use that material for their goals,” Kelleher said. “That’s a really exciting development within libraries and archives.”

Kelleher recently earned a second master’s degree in journalism research and theory from the University of Texas at Austin. While working on his thesis, he became immersed in quantitative analysis, and became interested in applying this principle to work in archives. While efforts have long been taken to measure the impact of archives, including simple counts of materials accessed and the like, Kelleher notes that the relative numbers can offer deeper insights that show how archives are used and how research is conducted, informing future strategic appraisal decisions.

Kelleher is further inspired by the unique energy of the University of Houston campus. “The diversity that I’d heard about became really evident to me on the first day of class,” he said. “The amount of activity that happens in the library, the diversity of interests and experience that are represented in the students, is really exciting. I’ve met some great faculty who are equally excited about the students and the resources that we have in the library. And of course Chancellor Khator is a force to be reckoned with. She really inspires students, faculty and librarians. It’s a great thing to see.”


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Posted on September 16th, 2015 by Esmeralda Fisher and filed under Announcements | Comments Off on Head of Special Collections Brings New Outlook to Archives