Of Archivists and Archangels

  • The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., November 2017, RYV
    8 Jul

    Of Archivists and Archangels

     A library is a sacred place to me. To be in the midst of so much knowledge inspires me; the serene setting and familiar smell of books comfort me. 

    My mother first introduced me to the public library when I was a child— in part to assuage my utter disappointment that I was too young to attend school with my older siblings. She crafted a book bag for me, gave me some school supplies, and took me to the little library located a few doors down from the Giant grocery store in my hometown of Vienna, Virginia.

    I was amazed that the books were “free” and felt empowered by my library card. I would sit on the floor in the children’s section, carefully select my quota of books, then proudly present them to the librarian who stamped the book cards. After this ritual, I placed my borrowed treasures into my book bag, and my beautiful mother carried the overflow home with me.

    Since then, I have spent many hours within the chambers of the different libraries of my life—the highest percentage in the Medical College of Georgia Library, with the University of Georgia Science Library ranking a close second. When I visit a city, a walk through its public library is a necessity, and a college campus tour is incomplete until an inside peek of this facility.

    Boston Public Library, Boston, MA, Oct. 2017, RYV.
    New York Public Library, NYC, July 2016, RYV.

    Thus, it was quite a treat for me to visit notable libraries and archives during my quest for images to add to my father’s memoir. This pursuit of new photographs was akin to a scavenger hunt wherein I searched for unique photos of my father protecting “his principal.” I am quite well versed in finding him having developed this skill over time. When I see a photograph of one of “the five presidents”—especially President Johnson—my eyes instinctively look for the bald-headed man in the vicinity. “Where’s Waldo?” my siblings and I often joked.

    The Truman Library, Independence, Missouri, Sept. 2016, RYV.
    The Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas, Sept. 2016, RYV.

    After passing a brief course on the handling procedures, I was allowed to visit the inner sanctums of regal libraries and government buildings where I adorned white cotton gloves and eagerly searched through numerous boxes and folders for these photographs. All the while, an archivist watched over me, or rather, over the exclusive material I was reviewing. Some sat inconspicuously at a desk facing me, mindful of the way I coursed through the files. While others sat with me during my search, handing me appropriate resources. My project was blessed by the artistry of great photographers—Yoichi Okamoto, Abby Rowe, Cecil Stoughton, and Robert Knudson to name a few.

    The JFK Library, Columbia Point, Boston, MA, Oct. 2017, RYV
    The LBJ Library, Austin, TX, Nov. 2017, RYV.

    I scored quite a few “finds.” Once, I squealed with delight, unintentionally breaking the code of silence, when I found an unexpected picture of my father standing next to President Eisenhower during the 1957 Inaugural Parade.

    But, the truth is, I would never have found these coveted new images had it not been for these historians who worked with me. With the random clues I gave them, they sorted through categorized files within mountains of material and all but handed me the images. (Well, sometimes they did that, too.) In fact, had it not been for the archivists who, for years, have collected, organized, preserved, and made available their archives, I may never have seen many of these wonderful photographs, nor understood their historical significance.

    I once jokingly referred to these archivists as “my guardian angels.” And, then, it hit me. They are indeed the special guardians of our history. 


    archives (n.)

    …from Greek ta arkheia “public records,” plural of arkheion “town hall, public building,” from arkhe “government,” literally “beginning, origin, first place” (see archon). The sense of “place where public records and historical documents are kept” in English is from 1640s.

    archon (n.)

    …from Greek arkhon “ruler, commander, chief, captain,” noun use of present participle of arkhein “be the first,” thence “to begin, begin from or with, make preparation for;” also “to rule, lead the way, govern, rule over, be leader of,” a word of uncertain origin.

    archangel (n.)

    “an angel of the highest order,” late 12c., from Old French archangel (12c.) or directly from Late Latin archangelus, from New Testament Greek arkhangelos “chief angel,” from arkh “chief, first” (see archon) + angelos (see angel).

    from Online Etymology Dictionary


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