March 15, 2010
Elizabeth Klipp, 404-413-1356
On the outside of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., sits a statue with an inscription at its base that reads, "What is past is prologue."
To Traci Drummond, the line from Shakespeare's play, "The Tempest," sums up everything she loves about her job as archivist of the Southern Labor Archives at Georgia State University Library.
"It's the idea that everything that came before has prepared us for what's happening now," Drummond said. "To touch history and get a little closer to things that happened before our time allows you learn so much."
Indeed, the Southern Labor Archives in the University Library's Special Collections - located on the 8th floor of Library South - contain a wealth of information.
Established in 1971, the archives include the documentary heritage of Southern workers and their unions. It is the largest accumulation of labor records in the southeast and one of the largest in the nation. If you lined up all the boxes in the archive side by side, they would reach close to 8,000 linear feet, Drummond said.
Inside the boxes are organizational records, pamphlets, periodicals, photographs, collective bargaining agreements, constitutions and bylaws and convention proceedings from 1888 to the present. The archive also includes personal papers of notable labor leaders such as W. J. Usery Jr., former U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Gerald Ford, as well as oral history interviews with labor leaders and advocates.
For Drummond, who is clearly passionate about her work, the documents at times can bring the past alive.
"It's really great when you're able to get in and look at the records individually and see the local union's particular issues," Drummond said. "You can pull out personalities. I'm always excited when the records come across as a little more personal and you see people who were working to better their situation."
In the late 1960s, professors of the GSU History Department came together with the local labor community to start an archive that would collect the records of local and regional labor unions as well as labor organizers and advocates. In 1971, the first collection came in and the first archivist was hired. The collection has grown exponentially from there.
"Especially in the South, where it's been so difficult for labor unions to organize because of the conservative climate, it is important to have a record of the movement to get workers better benefits, working conditions and salaries," Drummond said.
Today, the Southern Labor Archives is the official repository for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, National Federation of Federal Employees, United Garment Workers of America, United Furniture Workers of America, as well as many other union offices and state federations of labor, including the Georgia AFL-CIO.
Drummond is responsible for collecting, preserving and organizing collections and making them available to researchers. She works with donors to bring in new collections, add to existing ones or do special projects.
Outreach is also a big part of Drummond's job. She teaches instruction classes to GSU history students about the use of primary resources and shows union members techniques for preserving their own records until they are ready to donate them.
And, as if that wasn't enough, Drummond is currently working on a grant application to provide funding to digitize portions of the collection and helps researchers from across the world find resources for their projects.
"The archives really appeal to a wide group of researchers," said Drummond, who recently assisted a researcher in Japan with a request about the records of the North Carolina AFL-CIO. Within the collections, there is not only information about the work of union, but also the businesses that hired union workers, gender and race equality in unions and in the workplace, and legal issues in the workplace.
Drummond grew up in a small town outside of Athens, Ga., and earned a B.A. in art history from Georgia State. After GSU, she got a job in the University of Georgia Library's Government Documents Department and found her calling in life.
"I love the bigger mission of all libraries to make information available to all people to help them with whatever they are trying to do," she said.
Drummond went to the University of Texas at Austin to receive a Master's of Science in Information Studies, with a focus on archival enterprise. She came home to Georgia State in 2007 to take the job as the archivist for the Southern Labor Archives, one of seven collecting areas in the University Library's Special Collections and Archives department.
The Southern Labor Archives will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year and Drummond is already busy planning events to commemorate the milestone. She is working with the Southern Labor Studies Association to bring the Southern Labor Studies Conference to Atlanta in 2011 and is planning an exhibit highlighting airline collections.
Even if labor studies may not be a person's cup of tea, Drummond thinks a visit to her archives would be time well spent.
"If you come in and hold documents that are 75 years old, or read a letter about how hard a local union worked to organize and get better working conditions, it just brings a little bit of history to life," she said.
For more information, visit http://www.library.gsu.edu/spcoll/pages/area.asp?ldID=105&guideID=510.