A day in the life of Betts, an archivist at Harvard University

Betts is standing by a wall wearing Model No.19 dress in margate plaid linen
Meet Betts, an archivist who creates connections between stories & researchers during the day, and after hours is a writer, all the while packing in adventures with her sidekick, Nina, a tiny dachshund....

Tell us who you are, what you do, and a little back ground info about yourself.

Hi, I’m Betts, and I’m an archivist at Houghton Library at Harvard University. I’ve always loved learning about people’s stories, whether in real life and studying history or in books. I thought I’d end up working in an art museum when I graduated college, but realized I am more connected to the stories behind and around cultural history. I pursued a library and information science masters and became an archivist. 

Betts is wearing a cocoa stripe dress

I grew up in Kansas but have lived in Minnesota, Texas, New York, Missouri, and for the last twelve years in Massachusetts, where I feel like I’ve made a home with my husband, our elderly cats, and dog. 
A lot of my work is doing what we call processing - assessing archival collections (boxes of papers, typically), organizing them, and creating online records that show researchers what’s in them and how to access them, so they can decide if they want to visit the library. I manage others doing this work, too, and work on a lot of documentation that might seem pretty dull to others but makes me happy because I know it helps make connections between users and our collections. For me, that’s the magic of being an archivist: discovering what and whose stories are in a collection and then helping researchers see them and be able to use them in whatever work they’re doing. 

Betts is standing on the stairs outside a building

I also have a side gig as Staff Writer for National Horseman, a publication specific to the show horse sport in which I grew up. My mom has a farm where my sister has a riding lesson program in Missouri, and though I also still ride, writing for the magazine keeps me active and close to the horses and sport. It’s also yet another way I’m able to connect to people’s stories and history, and because I’m part of many generations involved with the horses, that can be really meaningful. 

What’s a typical day in the life for you? 
I work an early schedule, so I’m all about planning! I outfit plan ahead of time, on the weekend or the night before. I get up at 5 AM and take our dog outside and get her settled, then I do 30-45 minutes of yoga to stretch and set myself up for the day. I’m out the door in my P&S by 7, lunch packed, and I read on the train or listen to podcasts in the car, depending on the day. Once I’m at work, my days vary quite a bit: I might be working with boxes of papers, drawings, photographs, and ephemera to understand their contents and organization; doing metadata work in the various databases we use (I see a lot of spreadsheets!); working a couple hours in the reading room to help researchers; having meetings with colleagues at Harvard and beyond; or even digging around in the stacks to locate materials. Every day is different and every collection is different, which can make things very exciting. 

Betts is sitting down on a bench

At the end of the day, I head home where my husband and I always walk our tiny dachshund, Nina, and then make dinner. Cooking is another love of mine, so it’s something relaxing at the end of a day. Sometimes I might have a call or need to write something up for the magazine, but I try to keep that to a minimum on weekdays. 
On weekends we take advantage of hiking and beach walks with Nina, and she and I like to be our best horse girl selves when we can - and I cover horse shows virtually around the country and do interviews for editorials about people involved with the sport. But on weekdays we get in some Great British Bake-off (or historical fiction, mystery, or fantasy) to wrap up the night! I love to quiet my mind with yet more stories (and baked goods).

Thank you so much, Betts! I love connecting to our dress loving community, especially knowing Betts has a love for horses, which is something we both share! 
Interested in sharing your day to day snapshot with our community? Just send me an email and I'd love to hear more about what adventures you and your dresses get up to...
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