Staff profile: Randall Miles

03/10/15

Focusing on the nuts and bolts of archives.

Who he is: Randall Miles, technical processes archivist for the Kheel Center

What he does: As the registrar for the archive, I receive any new collections that come in and record them in our database. As the technical processes archivist, I’m responsible for physical and intellectual control of the collections. Physical control means making sure everything is organized and in the right containers. Intellectual control means describing the overall collection and creating a list of all the folders in the collection. All this information goes into the Kheel Center’s database of record. From all the data in the database I can push out a finding aid as an XML document, which is published on the Web. Traditional print finding aids can be generated as well.

I also assign the collection space in our stacks, meaning I keep track of about 40,000 different containers of material. That’s also done through the database; I wrote some programming that allows me to assign shelf space and then search by collection to pull up where the boxes are, so it’s all tied together.

Why it’s important: We’re one of the foremost repositories for primary sources related to the workplace and employer-employee relations; our work enables people doing research in the world of work to access these documents and use them.

Google crawls our finding aids, so information will come up for anyone doing a search for something we have. It gives the collections very good exposure and allows people to use our materials.

Where he comes from: Ithaca. I’m a native.

Background: As a kid, I would come up to Cornell and go to the library sometimes, but I never really thought about archives. That happened when I was in the graduate history program at Binghamton — I was in the library, working with special collections, and I just loved it.

Education: My undergraduate degree is a combination of TC3, Binghamton University and Cortland, and it’s in teaching secondary social studies. I have a master’s degree in library science from the University of Buffalo and a master’s in history from Binghamton. By the time I’d completed the coursework for a history Ph.D. I realized I could finish, as promised, before I turned 50 and so left it at that, enabling me to return to other things, like gardening and maintaining our house.

Years at Cornell: Over seven.

Most memorable moment on the job: I was able to complete programming to convert an Excel spreadsheet to something that was publishable for the Web. It streamlined our work considerably. And my favorite collection is whatever I happen to be working on at the time.

Best part of his job: I get to spend about half my time actually dealing with the papers and physical objects, and the other half dealing with the computer aspect of it. It means we can lay our hands on what a researcher needs at a moment’s notice, and make sure things are open to the light of day.

In his spare time: I started a free, online, peer-reviewed journal: Practical Technology for Archives. I was having trouble finding articles about the real nuts and bolts of doing archival work, and even more trouble getting my own articles published. I got frustrated with that, so I started asking other archivists to see if there was a need for that kind of journal, because it didn’t exist. There was quite a bit of interest, so I got together an editorial board and we’re working on our fourth issue now. It’s not archival theory, but dealing with how you actually do something. It’s online, free online so you can look at it.

My wife, Carol, and I have chickens and a pretty good-sized vegetable garden. We participate in the Candor farmers’ market, where we sell produce and crafts Carol makes, including tote bags made from feed bags. I’m also a model railroader – I build models of trains and scenery, I have a room in our house dedicated to my HO-scale electric trains. Working in archives is not my first career; before going to grad school, I spent 18 years building houses and doing cabinetmaking  around the Ithaca area. I still do carpentry around the house and build some of our furniture.

Dream job: I really love being here, doing exactly this. To me, this is fun. More fun than building houses — you can only hit your thumb so many times before that stops being fun.

In this LibeScope series, interviews with library staff reveal their skills, talents, interests and backgrounds. Want to suggest a staff member for a profile? Email libcomm@cornell.edu.