Among Fragile Records The Archivists Reign

Sunday, January 27, 2008

When Constance Potter is introduced, people often think at first that she is an anarchist or an architect. So she repeats that she's an archivist -- someone who works to glean, store and preserve information from historic materials.

Potter works with original documents, some more than 150 years old, at the National Archives and Records Administration customer services division. She specializes in genealogical records, giving lectures, answering letters and mentoring new staff.

The job requires "patience and a sense of humor," she said, as well as the ability to work independently and search for answers in all kinds of often fragile materials.

The National Archives employs 305 archivists and 1,657 archive technicians in Washington and at a dozen regional facilities. Pay ranges from $38,000 to $143,000 (GS-7 to 15).

Archivists also organize and preserve historic materials at museums, universities, nonprofit organizations, religious orders, theaters and some major corporations. Most jobs require a master's degree. Potter researched the Federal Bureau of Prison's formation for her master's thesis in history.

Her colleague, Susan Abbott, recalls searching for documents showing how President William Howard Taft acquired his oversize bathtub. "It's always different, something unexpected," she said.

-- Vickie Elmer

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