Catheryne Popovitch (MS/LIS '11) had never considered working in government archives when she was a student in the iSchool but is now relishing the variety in her job with the Illinois State Archives. Her work has garnered accolades from the Council of State Archivists (2021 Rising Star Award) and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (inaugural Emerging Leader Award).
Where do you work and what is your role?
I work at the Illinois State Archives, supervising the Operations and Publications Sections. The Operations Section responds to all reference and research requests, accessions new materials from state agencies, oversees general maintenance of the stacks, and stores security microfilm for state agencies and the circuit courts. Our Publications Section creates finding aids and guides for our records and issues a newsletter three times a year. I currently serve as the deputy coordinator for the Illinois State Historical Records Advisory Board (ISHRAB) and oversee the ISHRAB's Historical Records Grant Program, its Archival Professional Development Scholarship Program, and all other board activities.
What do you like best about your job?
I really love the variety in my job and that I often plan my day a certain way and it rarely ends up going how I think it will. One minute I can be digging into boxes for a research request and the next I'm giving a tour to a public history class or talking with a grant recipient, troubleshooting issues with a grant project. No two days are alike, and I get a really good mix of solitude and public interaction.
What do you see as the most important impact of your work?
Working in a government archives, the records in our care are truly the public's records. Our records document the functions of government and help to ensure transparency in government actions. I recently assisted a woman who was working on a book about slavery in the northern states and was able to provide her with a copy of one of Illinois' "black laws," which banned the immigration of free African Americans into the state and authorized sheriffs to sell violators' labor. The researcher wanted to tell the story of her ancestors, and I had the privilege of helping her demonstrate our state's past transgressions. And on the flip side of that, we have an exhibit up now highlighting records in our collection that document suffrage in Illinois, including a 1913 law which made Illinois the first state east of the Mississippi to grant women the right to vote for president. Our records and the work we do to make them available help tell the unique and complex story of our state.
How did the iSchool at Illinois help you get to where you are today?
The iSchool really prepared me with both the theory and practice that I use every day in my job. I learned about the fundamentals of archives, what they are and how they function, as well as how archives are evolving in the twenty-first century. In class projects and internships available through the iSchool, I was able to gain essential hands-on experience, working in archives and special collections and learning how to perform a reference interview, process records, etc. Most importantly, the iSchool taught me to always ask questions and the importance of continuing education.
What advice would you like to share with iSchool students?
My advice would be to try everything, both in terms of classes and work experiences. Don't necessarily say no to an opportunity because it's not in line with what you thought you would be specializing in. You may find that you like working in a different kind of setting, and you will also learn what you definitely don't want out of a job. My first job after graduation was as a librarian and records manager at an engineering firm. I was a solo librarian, so I learned how to do EVERYTHING, and the experience was invaluable, but I also learned that working in the private sector was not what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to work in a university setting and never really considered going into government archives, but honestly, I don't see myself working anywhere else.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I’m happiest outside: hiking, running, biking and just generally exploring. I enjoy spending time with my husband and two sons. And, big surprise, I love to read.