Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Conversation with Terra Titsworth

Terra Titsworth, archival manager for
imaging and preservation, photo
courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives
Terra Titsworth is the archival manager for imaging and preservation at the Arkansas State Archives. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock before joining the Archives in 2016. She previously worked for the Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands and the Arkansas State Auditor for a total of about 10 years. Titsworth manages the microfilm department, gives Archives tours focused on the microfilm process and has lectured as a professional chef including presenting food demonstrations at some of the ASA’s foodway symposiums. She recently took a few moments from her busy schedule to talk with us about her work at the Arkansas State Archives.

Q: What’s your job title, and how long have you worked at the Arkansas State Archives?
A: I am the archival manager for imaging and preservation and have been with the Arkansas State Archives for about four years. My job focuses on microfilming Arkansas newspapers, periodicals and historical records for preservation and research purposes.

Q: What do you do on a typical day at Archives?
A:  I manage a small staff of three. On a typical day, I work with historical societies and libraries regarding film orders and special filming projects. I spend a lot of time filming Arkansas publications, as well as, processing and duplicating film for our research room, regional archives and film orders. I am also responsible for the maintenance of our lab equipment and cameras, all of which are used in the microfilming process. I perform a multitude of tasks, so you may even see me ironing newspapers to prepare them for microfilming.

Q: How did you become interested in Arkansas history or working at the Arkansas State Archives?
A:  Since early childhood, I have been fascinated by all things old. When I decided to major in history in college, I originally planned to teach, but I decided preserving the past was what I really wanted to do.

Q: What’s the most important or interesting thing you’ve discovered while working at Archives? Why?
A:  I found my grandfather’s genealogical research in the microfilm vault, which was pretty amazing. A decade’s worth of his work, dating back to 1583, was neatly preserved on microfilm. It is a treasure.   

Q: Why do you think the Arkansas State Archives is important for Arkansans?
A:  I believe the Arkansas State Archives is important for Arkansans because we provide access to the past. We are an educational repository with an enormous variety of material. In the microfilm department, we have more than 13,000 rolls of newspapers and currently film about 150 Arkansas publications.   

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A:  The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I am preserving Arkansas’s story for many generations to come. The film I create today can be viewed in 500 years, if treated properly. It’s amazing to think something I worked on today will be ready and available for researchers hundreds of years from now.  

Q: How do you see archiving evolving in the future?
A: The drive for internet access to everything and the move to digital formatting will change a lot about what we do here. I still think microfilming is the best way to preserve documents, newspapers, etc.  It only requires light and magnification to view. The accessibility and authenticity of original documents are concerns I have with the move to digital archiving. For example, digital records can deteriorate more quickly than microfilm and can become difficult to retrieve as technology changes.

Q: What do you wish people knew about Archives?
A:  The Arkansas State Archives has been preserving the history of Arkansas since 1905, making it the third oldest archives in the nation. We are still actively archiving and preserving material, but the Archives can’t do it alone. We need donors and outlets like newspapers to provide print products we can use for microfilming. As more newspapers move away from print products, it’s possible we, as a society, could miss out on the preservation of our current history. I wish more people knew about our services and our efforts to grow participation.