Danna Bell, Educational Resource Specialist, Library of Congress and Past President and Fellow, Society of American Archivists
Danna Bell is an Educational Resource specialist at the Library of Congress. She joined the Library of Congress in 1998. Before working at the Library, Danna was the curator for the National Equal Justice Library, which was originally housed at the American University Washington College of Law and is now housed at the Georgetown University School of Law. Bell has also worked as an archivist for the District of Columbia Public Library and the Henry Lee Moon Library at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Dana was called “a dedicated servant within SAA, an articulate voice of reason and progress, a pragmatic and committed leader, and an energetic presence who exemplifies the activist archivist” by a colleague who nominated her for the honor of SAA Fellow. Another colleague, for the same nomination, noted that she “insured that a Diversity Committee be appointed and given its charge to advance diversity in SAA” (SAA).
She earned her MLS from Long Island University, and received her Bachelor of Science in Public Personnel Management and Master of Science in College Student Personnel Services from Miami University.
Danna was interviewed for Archiving in Color by Rachel Seale, outreach archivist at Iowa State University,
In your Three Questions interview with the Women Archivists Section, you mention you thought you would be a lone archivist and you currently work for the largest library in the world. How did you get to be an Educational Resource Specialist at the Library of Congress (LOC)?
When I started at the Library of Congress we were doing regular demonstrations of the American Memory online collections. For some reason the senior staff for the National Digital Library program, which coordinated the American Memory program, decided to pair our team with the team developing teacher resources and then changed our team’s focus to working primarily with teachers. After American Memory and the National Digital Library Program ended they spun my team off to do digital reference full time. But I still had a strong connection with the Educational Outreach team. I still did presentations and workshops with them and traveled with them to conferences. Eventually I was asked to officially join the team.
Danna then described something that occurred earlier in the day when she and another colleague were working with a group of students participating in the K12 Web Archiving Program:
She talked about what she did as an archivist and one of the students said, “Working with papers all day seems awfully boring,” and I told her “It’s never boring. It’s never boring because you always learn something.”
She told the group a story about the Theodore Roosevelt diaries. If you look at the entry for February 14, 1887, there is a big “X” and the following words: “The light has gone out of my life.” And the reader wonders “What happened?” A few days later he notes that on February 14 his wife went into labor with their first child. Sometime that morning, his mother died. And later that afternoon his wife died in childbirth.
Danna noted that if one is reading at a brief biography of Roosevelt or a textbook, the reader will never know that. But seeing this entry helps humanize Roosevelt. The reader can see how he reacted to this loss.
Tanya Zanish-Belcher, SAA Vice President- President-Elect, and Director of the Special Collections & Archives at Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University wrote:
One of the things I like best about Danna is her constant interest and dedication to public service and her focus on serving patrons. Many times, the people we serve–whether genealogist, young visitor, or researcher, can be forgotten with our focus on caring for the records, but she never forgets. For anyone who wants to know more about what Danna cares most about as an archivist, you simply need to read her Presidential Address: “An Archival Roadmap” where she discusses primary documents and K-12 education.
She also combines two important skill sets which have served her well in her career–she sees the big picture, but at the same time, sees the value in personal connections and face-to-face interaction. Finally, she is always there when you need her. I know that sounds trite, but it is true.
What led you to instruction and outreach?
I’ve always been a teacher at heart. During my first master’s degree program which was in College Student Personnel Services, I had the opportunity to teach classes and I loved it. If I could ever get the chutzpah to get the Ph.D. I would love to be a full time professor.
I see reference as part instruction. It’s finding the information, but it’s also teaching. I think that part of what we’re doing is showing people how to find information and in my current position, showing people how exciting it is working with history. I love sharing information and performing reference is sharing information, making it accessible and helping users find it in the future.
I also got involved with library instruction when I worked at Marymount University while taking a break from archives. Yes, some of the professors wanted an easy substitute teacher, but the large majority actually wanted the students to learn how to use the library’s resources.
Sometimes I had to reach out to professors to encourage them to provide some instruction to their students. At Marymount, there was an instructor, a science teacher, who had one of the larger classes in the university. Each week the students had to find an article on a specific subject. They were having the worst time. I begged and pleaded with her, “Let me do an instruction session with your class,” and she said: “No, I don’t have the time.”
So I developed a packet and said, “Give me 15 minutes during the first week of class to show the students how to use the library resources.” She finally did, and as a result she found that she was getting much better articles from her students. On the other side my colleagues and I were seeing fewer frustrated students from her class.
How did you get involved in AAC?
I might have stumbled into it a little bit when looking for my footing within SAA. I was also fortunate that Brenda Banks picked me up and said, “Hey come on and come join us!” It is the understatement of the century that I was blessed that Brenda was assigned to be my mentor in the SAA mentor program. She helped me get to know people within SAA and to become more involved in the Association. I made some friends and became more involved in both SAA and MARAC.
Describe your experience with SAA?
In terms of being involved, I started out as the intern for what was then known as the Committee on Education and Professional Development. It was a committee that oversaw the various professional development opportunities offered by the Society and helps develop the guidelines for graduate archival education programs. I eventually became a full member and eventually became co-chair of the committee. I have presented a number of papers for both SAA and MARAC. The first came out of a discussion on helping teach patrons how to use archives. After participating in that session I was hooked! I continued presenting at SAA and at MARAC and eventually for other organizations.
Eventually I was elected to serve on the Nominations and Elections Committee, was elected to Council, served on several and eventually co-chaired Program Committee, and was elected Vice President –President –Elect and served as SAA President.
As I became more involved in the Society and was asked to run for the Nominations and Elections Committee I sought Brenda’s advice. She said I should run because it was unlikely that I would win but I would become known to the membership. She knew my goal was to be elected to Council and that I would have a better chance of being elected if the membership knew my name. Imagine my shock when I won and had the opportunity to work with some amazing people to craft the slate of candidates.
Honestly, if you’d asked me in during my first few years as a member of SAA if I would ever be president, I’d say, “You’ve got to be out of your mind!”
In the area of diversity within the Society, it’s been interesting to watch the profession become more diverse and in the last 7 or 8 years to begin to really see diverse faces participating in the Society. For a long time, there were very, very few of us.
For a long time I think the Society focused on one or two aspects of diversity. I was guilty of doing that as well. When Nancy Beaumont became Executive Director, she asked Council to define what diversity is. She really forced us to think more deeply about diversity in all of its various shapes and colors and more importantly to consider all kinds of diversity and the issues we must face to become a diverse organization.
I think we’ve seen increasing numbers of men and women of color, people from various religious and ethnic groups, sexual orientations, and from many different repositories and sections of the country become involved and actually push the Society to do things I don’t think we would have considered 10 or 15 years ago. I think a lot of people think I was a catalyst for that. In reality, I was an angry, screaming council member who said in a meeting after being informed that having ten members who were of different races showed that we were diverse, “This is not diversity. We are not a diverse organization and if you think that 10 people out of 1000 surveyed makes us diverse you are wrong.”
I think all of the movements that happened after Birmingham [2002 SAA Annual meeting] when people like Karen Jefferson and Brenda Banks said, “Hey, the Task Force on Diversity did all this work and basically SAA ignored it.” If it wasn’t for women like Brenda, Karen, and Joan Krizak who said, “This is wrong” I think SAA might have continued on in a very different direction. It was hard to face these issues. I think we lost an executive director because of it, but we’ve moved forward. I think there is more to do and more to think about, but I think we’ve moved forward well.
What is the favorite part of your job?
I love sharing the Library of Congress collections with a variety of different users. I do that through answering reference questions and pointing people to cool resources. I do it through our social media efforts. I do it through presentations where I highlight what the Library does and how our team makes these materials accessible to teachers. I do it in our conference exhibit booth. When someone goes past our booth and says, “Library of Congress, you don’t have anything for me,” I get great satisfaction if I get them to stop, show them something they can use for their class and they leave saying, “You do have something for me.”
- Library of Congress Leadership Development Program, 2010-2011
- Society of American Archivists Fellow, 2008
Service- Society of American Archivists (SAA)
- Associate Reviews Editor, American Archivist
- Reference, Access and Outreach Steering Committee
- Chair, Appointments Committee
- Co-Chair Program Committee
- Program Committee,
- Nominations and Elections Committee
- Instructor and Co-creator, “Real World Reference” Workshop
- Chair & Co-Chair, Committee on Education and Professional Development
- Manuscripts Repositories Steering Committee
Service: Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC)
- Chair, Distinguished Service Award Committee
- Chair, Co-Chair Custer Award Committee
- Chair, Nominations and Elections
- Co-Chair Program Committee
- Chair, Ad‒hoc Committee for Developing Continuing Education Opportunities
- Chair, Education Committee
- Editor, State and Local News Column, Mid‒Atlantic Archivist
- Member at Large, Steering Committee
- Local Arrangements Committee