Retired University Archivist Looks Back 32 Years: An Interview of Anne Turkos

Anne Turkos, with the “real Testudo” — the diamondback terrapin on which the University of Maryland’s mascot was based.

On July 1, 2017, Anne Turkos retired as University Archivist of the University of Maryland, where she had worked for over 32 years. Turkos performed in a variety of professional roles, including as reference librarian, processing archivist, faculty member, historian, teacher, and mentor. On November 8, 2017, Turkos was interviewed by co-editor Eric Stoykovich, currently a Project Archivist with the University of Maryland, to discuss her career and future plans.

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Eric: Please tell me about your earliest interaction with a primary source document or object.

Anne: Probably this occurred in college, when I attended Dickinson College. Though I don’t remember the first document or specific object I encountered, I visited the Special Collections on campus several times. Curator of the May Morris Room and College Archivist, Martha Slotten, was very inspirational. I also enjoyed going to museums.[1]

Eric: When did you first know you wanted to be an archivist?

Anne: For a few years after college, I worked in Baltimore at the Loyola-Notre Dame Library, a joint facility for Loyola University Maryland and Notre Dame of Maryland University — first I worked in acquisitions, then later in circulation. “Maybe I’ll become a reference librarian,” I thought, but when I discovered that there weren’t many reference jobs available at the time, I turned my career plans in a different direction. Archives sounded cool as well, so I decided to apply for library school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. I studied there for about a year and a half, beginning in fall 1979.

Eric: Were you able to take courses with Ruth Helmuth while you studied at Case Western Reserve? Who else were your teachers or mentors there?

Anne: I was in a double-degree program, similar to the University of Maryland’s HILS program in the Graduate School. I did have a few classes with Ruth Helmuth, though she did not start out specifically as my mentor. However, she was a wonderful teacher, wonderful person. She was enjoyable to listen to and very thoughtful. Very practical instruction. She helped us think about how the nuts and bolts connected to the theories of archives. In particular, Ruth was great at finding a position for each one of her students and encouraging us throughout our careers. She truly wanted to keep in touch with former students. At SAA, she would host a reunion and would stay connected to us all.

Eric: From what I can find online, you first began working at the City of Baltimore archives in 1981. Was this a homecoming of sorts for you, as a native of the Baltimore area?

Anne: In December 1980, I graduated from Case Western Reserve, after three semesters and a summer of study. I did not have to write a thesis. I knew that I wanted to go back to Baltimore. Using the National Historical Publications and Records Commission’s directory of all the archives in the United States, I went for an informational interview – at that time they were fairly common – at the City of Baltimore archives, where Richard Cox was the City Archivist.[2] During the informational interview, he said “Well, there are no positions. We just hired someone….too bad you weren’t here earlier.” Then, a week and a half later, Cox called me to say that the person they had planned to hire had reneged. Thus, I was asked if I would like to take the position.

As an archivist for Baltimore, I was first employed as part of an NHPRC grant the City Archives had received to improve records management practices in a variety of city agencies. At that time, every record series had its own records retention schedule, so it was very laborious to schedule each series. I had no background in records management. Only one lecture in graduate school. But it’s not rocket science. For example, Richard and I went to the place where the records of the Housing and Community Development (HCD) were being stored near Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Station. Richard and I saw two thousand boxes in disarray, which turned out to be a good sample of HCD’s activities. I was told, “Start with this…here’s the form you’ll need.” The situation was difficult. The room was all men and me. “I’m never going to figure this out,” I thought, but once I calmed down and got started, it all eventually made complete sense.

I had to go visit other locations across the city. Some record retention schedules were for the Enoch Pratt Library. I also had to look at records at the Baltimore Civic Center, later called 1st Mariner Arena. It was owned by the City in the early 80s. Once, I went to the building while it was being cleaned by pre-release prisoner labor. It was the fastest I worked in my life, since I was in an isolated storage area in the building and didn’t feel terribly safe…

Some of these locations were environmentally and physically challenging. At one of the Housing and Community Development sites, they had set out poison to kill mice, and there were dead mouse bodies scattered across the floor.

The city’s archives itself was an old flour warehouse. It had a water-powered elevator. You had to pull on the rope while reaching out into the open elevator shaft. I was glad to let one of my co-workers, a gentleman named Jim, always operate this elevator, since I was not comfortable with it. Still, it was a good place to work. I worked there four years.[3]

Eric: I find reference online to several collections you processed, including the Dr. Stephen Laufer Papers and the Jacob H. Hollander Papers, both of which were part of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. How did you come to process these collections?

Anne: When my hours at the Baltimore City Archives were reduced, I added a second position at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. The museum at that time was housed in an apartment in the Pikesville area, but was getting ready to move to a proper archival facility. The people in charge wanted to put the archives in the basement, a typical miscalculation. Still, the archival processing was interesting, even if I was the only professional. One of the workers was a secretarial part-timer, along with a good group of volunteers.

Eric: Not only did you work to make more accessible the Records of Baltimore’s Department of Housing and Community Development Agency (HCD), but you co-authored an article on those HCD records with Richard Cox, published in 1984 in Prologue, the journal of the National Archives. Were you the one who initiated this collaboration?

Anne: No, this article was Richard’s idea. He was always going home on the weekends and writing an article. We would ask him: “Why are you doing this and not relaxing on the weekends?” His answer always was “Now, that is fun for me.” He thought that the connection between local and federal records was an interesting thing to pitch to Prologue.

Eric: Would you have wanted to continue working longer in Baltimore?

Anne: I would have liked to since I had gotten married and was living in the city, but the management situation had become more difficult, in my opinion, after Richard [Cox] left for a position at the Alabama State Archives. So, I applied for a position at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, but did not receive an offer. Then, I applied for the position as Assistant Curator of Historical Manuscripts and Archives at University of Maryland. I interviewed for the job on Halloween, something of an omen.

Once I took the job, Lauren Brown (Curator of Historical Manuscripts and Archives) and I didn’t actually spend much time on University Archives. Instead, we worked a lot on Historical Manuscripts, particularly the accessioning and inventory of the papers of Spiro T. Agnew, Governor of Maryland and Vice President. That work still continues today.

Eric: What thing surprised you the most about your first years of work at the University of Maryland?

Anne: The UMD archives was not that old, having been established in 1972. By 1993, it was only 21 years old. It had little to no profile on campus outside of Special Collections and Archives, but new accessions were coming in. Accession control was the first order of business. I worked hard to track down a lot of unknown or uncertain donor information. Sometimes the date received was unknown; other times, we couldn’t identify the donor. After investing quite a bit of energy, we could never find some of the stuff that had been accessioned.

A lot of time was spent cleaning up all the existing finding aids. One finding aid started off as only one sentence long. I enjoyed organizing the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America (IUMSWA) archives, which needed a lot of work to get into a better order.[4] Accessioning the Agnew collection, which had begun in 1974, was a major concern. When I started, the Agnew papers were in a bit of disarray. They had been stored in the Biology-Psychology building. Storage was very poor; a number of flooding events occurred. Once a glass pipe with acid broke. We would send a team of students over there from McKeldin Library to work on the collection, and they included Susan McElrath, the future wife of current director of UMD Special Collections, Doug McElrath.[5]

One day, something strange happened. These students came back and told me that the collection was gone. When I rushed over and opened the door, I found no boxes. I called Lauren and said we had a problem. Later, we found out that Physical Plant department had moved the Agnew collection without telling us.

One whole year in the early 1990s, the entire Historical Manuscripts and Archives staff worked on processing the Agnew papers. It was becoming embarrassing to the University how long it was taking to arrange them for release to the public.

Eric: In your work with Historical Manuscripts between 1985 and the fall of 1993, what was your favorite collection you tackled during this time?

Anne: Perhaps the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America (IUMSWA) archives . It had started off in a crazy arrangement, before I began to reprocess it around 1990. It was very difficult to find anything. All the Locals (local unions) had been previously arranged by document type. You had to look in six different places to find information on each local. Another collection of importance was the American Association of University Women (AAUW).[6] For the American Association of University Women, we had teams of volunteers who would work on arrangement every Tuesday morning.

Eric: In 1993, while remaining Associate Curator of the Archives and Manuscripts Department, you became the University of Maryland’s first full-time University Archivist.

Anne: I had previously applied for an internal position in Special Collections, but I didn’t get it. Lauren [Brown] said, “I want someone to want to think about University Archives 40 hours a week,” and so a position opened up for me.

Eric: What was your greatest achievement as University Archivist?

Anne: Good question – raising the visibility of the program, I would say. When I started to work full-time as University Archivist, there wasn’t much visibility at all on campus. Helping to spread the word took a lot of work. Also, teaching a class on the history of the University of Maryland class has been wonderful. “Ask Anne” was a big move forward.[7]

Eric: How did that come about?

Anne: Terp Magazine’s editors approached me. Soon, my column became the number one cited piece in the magazine. I don’t know what’s going to happen now that I have retired, and I won’t be continuing the column. The editors of Terp have told me that they would like to continue to have an historical feature—maybe take an object or document, and write a short piece. This fall my final Anne-swers were published. Another achievement: all the exhibits that we did.

Eric: How has the University of Maryland archives influenced the practice of University Archives?

Anne: I don’t know if UMD has had a tremendous impact on university archives more broadly, though I do think we nurtured a number of top-notch university archivists in their early days of professional training, including Elizabeth Slomba (University of New Hampshire), Tamar Chute (The Ohio State University), and Tom Harkins (Duke University).

Eric: What strategies did you use to document the history of the University?

Anne: I must admit I’ve never read Callcott’s book [George H. Callcott, A History of the University of Maryland (1966)] cover-to-cover, but I often used it as a tool to begin research on a particular topic. Early on in my time at UMD, we did some records management surveys as part of the University’s iSchool archives program. But the main strategy was reaching out to people all across the University.

We also now have a formal collection policy that helps us deal with offers of materials that were often difficult, if not impossible, to fend off in the early years of my career. One example from my days working with the Historical Manuscripts division: the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) is very valuable collection, as it includes the history of women’s collegiate sports before their incorporation into the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).[8] But, the collection was actually accepted by the School of Public Health, with understanding that it would come to archives. It was housed in North Gymnasium, for many years. Students of physical education and faculty members, notably Joan S. Hult, did a lot of work with the important history of women’s sport championships.[9] They created many useful spreadsheets which tracked the matrix of Hollinger boxes in that collection that they created on the floor of the wrestling practice room. When AIAW arrived in the archives finally, we spent many hours cleaning up all of that work.

University Archives weren’t all that involved in several other accessions, for example, the Lucille Maurer papers were accepted by the wife of the University president, who was a personal friend of Lucille—a collection that’s been used twice, if that. Some collections we didn’t have much choice.

Work with handling administrative records and those documenting student life was pretty straightforward. Personal papers from faculty members were a lot more challenging. The University Archives wasn’t responsible for Faculty Papers until 2011, a political decision, for better or worse. This type of collection comes with its own set of problems, since faculty papers are generally not heavily used and can consume a great deal of space.

Anne Turkos (left) with alumni, in the Maryland Room, Hornbake Library.

Eric: Who was the most interesting person you’ve met while University Archivist?

Anne: I’ve met so many alumni. They are my heroes—people who dedicated their lives to the University, some of whom have become famous. Recently, I had the privilege of meeting the first African-American woman, Elaine Johnson Coates, to receive an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland. It was very moving to me to listen to her stories. I hope to meet Hiram Whittle.[10] Jeff Kinney, the author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, always interesting. Coach Gary Williams, Tom McMillen, the players of Queen’s Game 1957—they’ve been a thrill for me. I also met Harry Hasslinger and Ralph Williams, class of 1933, of Testudo fame. Williams was the undergraduate student who took the terrapin to Providence, RI, to serve as the model for the famous statue of our mascot and brought it back to campus to participate in the statue’s unveiling on Class Day in 1933. There have been other ‘power classes’—such as the class of 1910 with Millard Tydings, first UMD grad elected to the U.S. Senate, William P. Cole, chairman of the Board of Regents from 1944 to 1956 for whom Cole Field House is named, and Herschel Allen, whose company built the first Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The class of 1950 is another power class in my mind—including people like Robert H. Smith, and A. James Clark, Samuel Riggs, and Leo Van Munching. Smith and Clark named the Schools of Business and Engineering, respectively, The Samuel Riggs Alumni Center is named after Samuel Riggs IV, and Van Munching Hall after Leo Van Munching, whose company was at one time the sole U.S. importer of Heineken beer.

Eric: What are the greatest changes in University Archives between 1993 and the day you retired from the position on July 1, 2017?

Anne: Certainly, the size of the staff has notably increased. Electronic records. We kind of had computers in the beginning. The pace of work had increased, as we increased our visibility. Some demands now are much greater. More opportunities to do outreach. When we put ourselves out there, people do find us. We had no materials from or on Athletics until 2002, when several collections moved from Cole Field House. Now the Athletics departments can call the Archives for photographic or film requests. In fact, 50-70% of University Archives’ reference questions relate to Athletics. We even have a position devoted specifically to University Athletics.

Eric: Do other schools have Athletics Archivists?

Anne: Two other schools in the Big Ten have Athletics archival positions.

Anne [continuing previous question]: There’s still a lot of work devoted to other Schools and Programs on campus. The real crushing issue facing us is electronic archives. Electronic archivist, Amy Wickner—I don’t know how she sleeps at night. She has a huge job ahead.

Eric: How many archival students have you mentored over the years?

Anne: Perhaps the number of students I’ve worked with has reached 100. Perhaps 30-40 interns, 10 graduate assistants. During some years, including my first semester, I had 3 interns. It was craziness with multiple interns…some student assistants were fabulous, and some I had to let go. Some I am tremendously proud of. Going to conferences at SAA has been an opportunity to see many of them again.

Eric: Tell me more about the 150th Anniversary of the University, which I hear demanded a lot of work in 2006.

Anne: Work began in late 2004.We had contract staff to supplement student assistants. Critical to the success was promoting and writing a history of the University. Dr. George Callcott decided to update his 1966 book. He wanted the archives to be his research team, and that consumed a lot of time. There was a campus-wide planning group for the anniversary celebration, on which I served, and I chaired a sub-group of this body called the University History and Research working group. The Archives also assisted with lots of projects undertaken by various campus groups. The Terrapin Photography Club took many photographs on the actual anniversary day, March 6, 2006. Students compared photos of what the campus looked like before and then. Various birthday celebrations occurred within the colleges and departments. There were over 20 major projects. By the end of that busy year, I had become a workaholic and worked 60 hours or more a week.

We had the opportunity to do a number of out-of-the-normal projects with students, such as a university video, Keeping the Promise: The Rise of the University of Maryland, which now-Curator of Historical Manuscripts, Liz Novara, helped me with when she was a student. There was also a coffee table book, which involved the University editor and campus photographers.

Eric: Now I would like to turn to some broader issues in archival history.
How have archives changed since you started in the field?

Anne: Biggest thing that changed would be electronic records. People now expect to find things instantaneously on the web. Expect it to be digital. Not easy to deal with that.

Eric: How can we change the public’s expectations?

Anne: Showing patrons and visitors what’s in this building—all the boxes is overwhelming. But it’s an education process. It’s intriguing, how many stories in the news relate to records. Donald Trump and Russia; emails and financial records to prove collusion…even if it’s not electronic or paper files, such as logs of telephone calls. We’re still probing the Nixon tapes, or Enron records. The computer and internet have only made records more important. Iran-Contra, all the shredding that went on. A lot of our world turns on records, permanent or archival.

Eric: If you had ultimate power, what is one thing that you would change about the archives field?

Anne: That people would respect us more, and respect the value of archives more. As hard as we have fought, the stereotype of quiet and dusty archivists persists.

Eric: Would you have done anything differently in your professional career?

Anne: I thought about leaving the University of Maryland at one point, early on. But, I had drunk the Terp-aid a long time ago. It’s fun.

Eric: As you worked longer hours, maybe you’ve become more like Richard Cox. Maybe he’s relaxed a bit now?

Anne: Perhaps he has. Back then, as City Archivist, there was a lot of work to do. We relied on a secretarial staff, pounding away on the typewriter. Typing things on three-part forms.

Eric: Were there people in the archives or libraries professions outside the University of Maryland who supported your career?

Anne: I suppose they would have to be Ruth Helmuth and Richard Cox. Once I got to the University of Maryland, I developed a good working relationship with Lauren Brown.

Eric: How would you like to be remembered in the field?

Anne: As a good mentor. I tried to make archives fun. I tried to sensitize the University to its history and how best to make use of that history.

Eric: What was your proudest piece of writing?

Anne: I didn’t do all that much writing. Perhaps the Maryland History and Culture Bibliography, first compiled in 1974.[11] I’ve worked on it since 1987, with help from several others. It started as a database derived from accumulations of Richard Cox’s 1970’s bibliographies. Each year, we enter new bibliographic entries into the database. For example, for 2016, I have 30 pages of new entries to enter when I get a chance.

Eric: Five months after retiring, what are your new goals and plans?

Anne: Fundraising, including the Launch UMD campaign, which will help digitize the University’s primary student newspaper, The Diamondback. Raising money to digitize basketball footage as well. I am the chair of the Capital Campaign Committee of volunteers for the UMD Libraries, which has a goal of raising $60 million by 2020-2021. We are 60% towards that goal. Having received faculty librarian emerita status, I also will continue to co-teach a course on the history of the University, with the help of the Assistant University Archivist. I also want to process Board of Regents files, which have a preliminary inventory, but a lot of folders are crumbling. We agreed, in the 1990s, to take in the Records of Board of Regents and President’s Office up to 1988…a lot of work has been done on the Presidents’ Office files, with only one president remaining untouched…I want to work on the President Elkins’ papers, which is about three hundred to four hundred linear feet of Paige boxes. Board of Regents is one hundred and twenty linear feet. I want to update MAC to Millennium (a digital resource about the University of Maryland).[12]

Eric: Do you have any tips for new archives professionals?

Anne: Remember that your first job is not likely to be your only job. Find what you are passionate about and pursue that actively. A good salary is important, but job satisfaction and personal happiness are just as valuable. Never stop learning, whether it’s something about the collections with which you work or some aspect of your archival training that you wish to enhance.

Eric: Thank you for your time.

Anne: My pleasure. Thank you.

[1] In 2014, Turkos related her memories of Martha Slotten in a news article for Dickinson College entitled Curating a Life.

[2] The first edition of NHPRC’s Directory of Archives and Manuscript Repositories in the United States was published in 1978 by the National Archives and Records Service. The second edition appeared in 1988 from Oryx Press.

[3] The Baltimore City Archives was housed in the former Flour Warehouse of the Terminal Corporation at 211 East Pleasant Street in Baltimore. See a description of the building: http://mht.maryland.gov/nr/NRDetail.aspx?NRID=503. In 2017, the City Archives was located at 2615 Mathews Street in Baltimore.

[4] For the finding aid of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America (IUMSWA) archives, see http://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/1707.

[5] McKeldin Library is the main library on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland. Special Collections were located in McKeldin between the 1970s and the mid-1990s.

[6] For the finding aid of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which has a Maryland division as well as local divisions, see Maryland Division of the American Association of University Women archives (http://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/1748).

[7] A Question-and-Answer feature appeared each month in the University of Maryland alumni magazine Terp. The final ‘Ask Anne’ column can be found at “Final Anne-swers,” Terp Fall 2017 (September 14, 2017).

[8] For the finding aid of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) archives, see http://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/1346.

[9] For the finding aid of the Joan S. Hult papers, see http://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/16067

[10] Hiram Whittle was the first African-American undergraduate to attend the University of Maryland, as noted in “Historical Item Analysis: Admission of Hiram Whittle” (May 8, 2017), Terrapin Tales.

[11] For more information, see The Maryland History and Culture Bibliography.

[12] For MAC to Millennium, see https://www.lib.umd.edu/univarchives/macmil/.

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