Our next member profile is that of Sarah Ferencz of the Whitby Archives.
Sarah graduated from University of Western Ontario with a specialization in history and a minor in classics. Sarah continued her education at UWO by earning her Masters in Public History.
What do you do at the Whitby Archives?
As Archivist, I am responsible for preserving, cataloging, organizing, describing, and making accessible our collection of photographs, negatives, audio-visual material, documents, correspondence, ephemera, and other paper-based items. Assisting the public with research inquiries (genealogy, school projects, government research, etc.) is also a pretty big part of my daily routine. I lead workshops on preserving family collections and conduct outreach to local organizations and schools. The Archives Technician is responsible for digitizing our photographs and negatives, of which we currently have over 7500 online. Right now I’m working on cataloging our map collection and I hope to digitize a couple of the more interesting ones soon.
Why did you choose this career?
During my undergrad, I studied history and became increasingly interested in the little details of the past that can only be learned from reading a handwritten letter, examining a photograph, or analyzing data ledgers. There is something inherently intriguing and enlightening in archival material and I came to learn more from these items than reading any secondary resources. I completed my MA in Public History because I wanted to explore how to convey my experiences with archival material and history in general to others.
What is your favourite part of your job?
Like Jennifer said, I enjoy that every day at the office is different. Today I’m cataloging the maps but tomorrow I might assist a researcher in finding an important piece of information that helps complete their family tree. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I have arranged and described a collection so that it can be accessed by researchers. I am also lucky that my work allows me to be involved with the Archives Association of Ontario and I enjoy working with the network of archivists in Durham Region.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of your job?
Sometimes it is difficult making decisions that directly or indirectly affect the record of Whitby’s past. For example, our Collection Policy is very specific about the items we acquire for our collection due to space restrictions, limited resources, and/or local, historical relevance. Whether I want to or not, we just can’t accept donations that don’t comply with our policy and this can be a difficult realization to come to when ultimately my main objective is to preserve Whitby’s history.
How did you get into the archival field?
One of the requirements for my MA in Public History was to complete an internship at a heritage institution. I was lucky enough to secure a position at Library and Archives Canada where I was responsible for arranging and describing two collections. It was a great experience and I had a very supportive supervisor whose confidence in me inspired me to search out other archives jobs. From there I acquired a job scanning archival photographs at a museum in New Zealand and upon my return I was hired at the Whitby Public Library in the Whitby Archives. I’ve been here ever since!
What is your earliest memory of the Whitby Archives? OR What is your favourite memory of the Archives?
My most memorable moment at the Whitby Archives was when we were awarded the 2013 Ontario Library Association’s Archival and Preservation Achievement Award for our dedication and efforts with our online historic images collection. It was an honour to have our work recognized at the OLA’s annual Superconference in Toronto.
Do you have a favourite artifact or collection?
Yes, we have a scrapbook made by Gladys Thorne, a student of Ontario Ladies’ College (now Trafalgar Castle School), which she called a ‘Stunt Book’. It’s full of amazing tokens, trinkets, notes, and photographs that represent the time she spent at the school in 1911. The whole book is stunning but my favourite page contains a ghost-like mask she wore to one of the school’s dances. The strangest item in the book is a chicken’s wishbone!