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Archivist sees bright future in collections of past

Friday, September 13, 2013
Thomas Urell
t.urell [at]
(617) 373-2821
Archives and Special Collections

New university archivist and head of special collections, Giordana Mecagni

Photo by Brooks Canaday, story by Joe O'Connell. Originally published in the News @ Northeastern September 13, 2013.

In the base­ment of Snell Library, new uni­ver­sity archivist and head of spe­cial col­lec­tions Gior­dana Mecagni is set­tling in among thou­sands of papers, photos, and films that doc­u­ment the past of both North­eastern and the city of Boston.

Mecagni started working at North­eastern about three months ago and is excited to grow the Uni­ver­sity Archives and Spe­cial Col­lec­tions (within the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Libraries), which col­lects, pre­serves, and describes a vast array of his­tor­ical documents.

She comes to North­eastern after working at Har­vard University’s Archives and Spe­cial Col­lec­tions for 11 years.

“There is so much to do,” Mecagni said. “There is still quite a lot of mate­rial to col­lect, and we are actively collecting.”

The exten­sive col­lec­tions include cor­re­spon­dence from former uni­ver­sity pres­i­dents, 1,667 reels of film from ath­letic events, and scrap­books from camps at the YMCA where North­eastern was founded as a night school in 1898.

Pieces are avail­able to stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff for research. The archives boast both online col­lec­tions and phys­ical mate­rials housed in two secure stacks at Snell Library. The second area was recently built, and Mecagni said it is her job to fill it.

In addi­tion to North­eastern his­tory, the archives’ col­lec­tions house a broad col­lec­tion of Boston’s social jus­tice his­tory, including the his­tory of the city’s African-​​American, Asian, Latino, and LBGTQ com­mu­ni­ties. Mecagni said the library would soon embark on a project to accu­mu­late pieces related to the rela­tion­ship between built envi­ron­ments and nat­ural envi­ron­ments throughout Boston’s history.

One of Mecagni’s roles as an archivist is to make people and groups com­fort­able with con­tributing some­thing to her department.

“We need to spend a lot of time con­vincing people we will keep it, take care of it, and pre­serve it,” Mecagni explained. “Once it is here, people are so proud and that is really a great thing. It gives it some stature.”

As the world con­tinues to evolve in the dig­ital age, Mecagni said the archives will soon follow suit. The infra­struc­ture is set for the library’s new dig­ital repos­i­tory to col­lect pieces elec­tron­i­cally on a grander scale, some­thing that was not avail­able to pre­vious archivists.

To get familiar with his­tory between North­eastern and the sur­rounding com­mu­nity, Mecagni has embarked on a lis­tening tour in which she has met with var­ious cul­tural orga­ni­za­tions. She has also met with fac­ulty to learn how pieces from the archives are being used in classrooms.

Mecagni said her goal is to incor­po­rate the archives across all facets of Northeastern’s campus.

“I think the archives could be used in every aspect,” she said. “There are data sets that should be in the archives and avail­able for research. For the arts, there are posters from past North­eastern activ­i­ties. It’s just a matter of knowing it’s here.”




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