Brian Irby is an archival assistant who holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in history from the University of Central Arkansas. Irby is among our staff members who gave a presentation recently during the Arkansas Historical Association Conference earlier this month. He took time from his hectic schedule to talk more about the Archives and his work.
Q: What’s your job title, and how long have you worked at the Arkansas State Archives?
A: I’m an archival assistant who has been here for over 10 years.
Q: What do you do on a typical day at the Arkansas State Archives?
A: There are no “typical days” at the Archives, which is great. Every day is different depending on what is coming up. Sometimes I do research for articles; sometimes I work in the research room assisting researchers.
Q: How did you become interested in Arkansas history or working at the Arkansas State Archives?
A: I’ve been interested in history since I was a kid. I actually used to enjoy reading encyclopedias. As I grew up, I kept that interest and fascination with the past. Arkansas has such an interesting past, full of drama and intrigue.
Q: What’s the most important or interesting thing you’ve discovered while working at Archives? Why?
A: One of the most interesting things I have found is the handwritten journal for the first legislative session of the Arkansas Territory from 1820. I call it Arkansas’s baby book. In there you will see the establishments of all of the counties and the establishment of Little Rock as the territorial capital. Many of the earliest laws governing Arkansans are in that book – all hand written and signed by the governor.
Q: Why do you think the Arkansas State Archives is important for Arkansans?
A: Without the Arkansas State Archives, so much of Arkansas’s history would have been lost. A case in point is the records donated by L.C. Gulley. When they were moving into the new capitol building, those papers were all in a pile about to be sent to the dump. Gulley rescued them and donated them to the State Archives. In that pile were letters and documents from the early territorial governors. There were even letters from Native Americans on the Trial of Tears. Can you imagine what would have lost had Gulley not donated them to be preserved for future generations?
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: I love it when a researcher comes in with a research project and I am able to suggest a collection that they may not have known about.
Q: How do you see archiving evolving in the future?
A: A lot of archiving is probably going to go digital. I don’t believe that the process of archiving physical documents is going to change. It is always important to keep the physical items. But, much of archiving is going to involve storing digital files. Especially since many institutions and individuals are conducting business digitally. When is the last time you wrote a physical letter? As a result I can foresee many archival positions being dedicated solely to preserving digital records.
Q: What do you wish people knew about Archives?
A: That we have the largest collection of Arkansas materials in the world and the most dedicated staff. Also, I wish people knew archives are not scary places, we are here to help both experienced and new researchers.