Who’s Who at the Reagan Presidential Library: The Archivists

Today’s blog is a guest post from our Summer Intern Victoria exploring the staff in the National Archives and Records Administration office at the Reagan Presidential Library.

Besides the curation staff and 3D artifacts, the other main part of the museum is the paper and audio visual archives. These documents were part of the administration as well as personal documents that are held in a vault. There are over 65 million documents held here at the Reagan that are preserved and cared for by our archivists Ira Pemstein, Whitney Ross, and the archivist team.

Photograph of the Reagan Presidential Library Research Room.
The 65 million documents in our archives are open to researchers and the general public through our Research Room.

Both as I mentioned are archivists but Mr. Pemstein is the main supervisory archivist for paper and audio visual archives. Both help with the research room, where the public can request to look at and research documents, as well as preservation and maintenance of all the documents. Similar to the museum registrar, it is up to the archive staff to look after all 65 million documents. Some of the documents have not been processed from their original boxes yet from when they were shipped from the White House to the museum. Each document is carefully accounted for and censored to help protect names and confidential information. Then they are organized into specialized folders and boxes that counteract the effects from the acidity of the paper.

Interview with Ira Pemstein

Now you know why the Reagan is also called a library because we literally house a library of documents. As part of NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) these documents are considered public property and can be made available to anyone. This is also the case for all of the other presidential libraries that are associated with NARA.

For Ms. Ross this is a dream job. In college she came upon the first editions of old books in her university’s library and was interested in working with them. Ms. Ross then went on to receiving her degree in library information sciences. Ms. Ross previously worked at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas. Another interesting place she worked for was the Hawaii State Archives where she worked while studying for her masters degree at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. In her interview Ms. Ross explained where her interest in archive work comes from and some of the challenges of the profession yet she is happy with where she is today. Like myself, she is a young museum employee who brings new skills to the table such as being technically savvy. As part of the digital generation, Ms. Ross and I can assist museums with the new frontier of social media and website building as they try to appeal to new and younger audiences.

As for Mr. Pemstein, he explained that he eventually found his way to this job. Originally Mr. Pemstein was an anthropology/history major for his bachelors. However he went into IT work first for 9 years before deciding to pursue his interest in library information studies. In total Mr. Pemstein has studied at Cal Poly University and California State University Northridge. Like Ms. Ross, Mr. Pemstein also worked at another presidential library, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, in between his employment here at the Reagan. With his knowledge of archival procedures and his passion for library studies, Mr. Pemstein takes his job very seriously but enjoys seeing and learning new things within the library that he discovers. Even though he has worked at the Reagan since 2004, he still finds fascinating material in the archives that keep the job fresh and exciting.

Together Ms. Ross, Mr. Pemstein and the archive team (we have 14 total archivists) work hard to bring the public the documents that were part of our fortieth president’s administration as well as preserve those documents not only for further use but for historical preservation. We here at the Reagan are very lucky to have such dedicated and skilled workers who will go through the detailed work these millions of documents require.



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