This is an entry in a series introducing LVA employees and exploring what they do day-to-day. If you are interested in what goes on behind the scenes entries in this series are collected under the tag 7 Questions. Other entries discussing the internal work of the Library of Virginia are filed under “The Stacks”.
Alan B. Arellano
What is your background?
I was raised and lived in a few places around the world, including my family’s home country of Peru. That being said, I consider Northern Virginia home. After receiving my Bachelors in History at the University of Texas at El Paso, I was introduced to the world of archives at the National Border Patrol Museum and Research Library. I worked there for a couple of years processing their archival collections, fulfilling research requests, designing exhibits, you name it. I came to the Library of Virginia in April last year after a few years of graduate school at the University of Maryland where I received my MLIS and MA in History.
How do you explain what you do to others?
I really appreciate this question as it’s one I’m answering quite frequently lately (at least more than I ever expected to!). I’ve started to use two careers as points of reference or “bookends” if you will: librarian and records manager. I’ll ask “You know a librarian?” Most people will know what that is, and I’ll just say, “Ok, it’s like that but with historical documents, records, and the like.” I’ve found this gives others an idea rather than producing a blank stare or a “What’s that?” when I mention Archivist. In all seriousness, as an archivist whose bulk of work is processing state collections, this entails various processes to make Virginia’s archival state records accessible to the public. These include cataloging, arranging, describing, and even physically transferring said records, be they electronic or physical.
Have you held other positions at the Library? If so, what?
Even though I still feel like I just got here, I actually started as a reference archivist with the Public Services team last year. Ginny Dunn and everyone with library and archives reference made me feel so welcome in a position that is a bit of trial by fire, to which anyone who has worked in reference can attest. You field all sorts of questions from patrons, some of which you definitely can’t answer a few months in. Never a dull moment! A few months ago, I joined the state records team, helping with the never-ending processing of the archival and governor’s papers backlogs. While the crux of the work is processing, accessibility includes more than just refoldering records and writing finding aids. I’ve already had the opportunity to plan for and think about how to address issues of inclusive description and processes for collections that include a variety of electronic formats.
How has technology affected your current job?
Technology is one of the main reasons I joined State Records. I find the potential for the use of technology not only in accessibility of archival records, but also in the actual processing throughout the various stages of the digital lifecycle an interesting part of the profession. Roger Christman and Susan Gray Page’s work with Governor’s emails is an example of some of the technological challenges with government records that the Library of Virginia addresses. Currently, I am processing some born-digital collections from the Kaine administration, without much standardization when it comes to workflows with a collection of such nature. We have processing manuals and procedures for paper records, but changes in technology allow us to try new things (and fail!) as we try to find ways to make these types of records accessible and discoverable as soon as possible.
Describe your best day at the Library of Virginia.
The best day(s) at the Library of Virginia are those when you get feedback from patrons and the public. Even a small thank you and a smile as gratitude for the work we do goes a long way. It reminds me that our work at the Library is meaningful and rewarding. When I was in public service, an email thanking us for help with a research project for school or finding that missing will or deed overshadowed those difficult situations with patrons on other days. Now with state records, for example, I had the opportunity to assist Roger Christman, Chad Owen, and Katie Ray with the Northam Administration’s paper records transfer to the library the other day. All the positive feedback from the folks in the Patrick Henry Building made the big move a little easier and much more rewarding. I cherish the days when I get to hear from the public, particularly during these COVID times.
What was your first paid job?
My first paid job was as a cashier at Five Guys at Tysons Corner Mall. Trial by fire, sink or swim type of job for sure, especially on weekends with the never ending lines in the food court. I’m still surprised that I didn’t get sick of eating there every day, nor did I gain much weight even though we were allotted one full combo per shift! I miss not having to pay eight dollars for a cheeseburger.
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I think some would be surprised to know about the history that I have with the cello. Although I gave up the formal instruction and competitive world in my undergrad years, I had the pleasure of playing throughout grade school and high school. My high school’s orchestra was pretty renowned in the area, and it afforded me the opportunity to travel and play all over the country (Hawaii, San Francisco, and New York City, for example). I’ll still play some pop music now and then at home to unwind or annoy the neighbors, depending on who you ask.