November 1, 2004
A Guardian Of History
Name: Brenda S. Banks
Occupation: Deputy Director, Georgia Archives,
a division of the office of the secretary of state
Location: Morrow, GA
Duties: Plans and directs programs; fund and grant development; oversees department goals and budget; coordinate facility renovations
Salary rage: From $30,000 for assistant archivist to $150,000 for directorship
When Brenda S. Banks applied for an assistant archivist position at the Georgia Archives, her application created a frenzied buzz in the institution because “this black woman had applied. This was 1972,” she recalls.
“Even though most of us were farther along, Georgia Archives was not. These are people whose heritage … was steeped in Confederate history and southern history.” Today, Banks is its deputy director.
But not long after she joined the institution, Banks witnessed how Alex Haley’s Roots ignited interest in exploring genealogy. It did little, however, to encourage African Americans to enter the archiving profession. Banks says African American record keeping is “more of an oral tradition than a written tradition.” She also notes that a “lack of understanding and trust in placing our papers with an institution” are issues archivists of African American descent have to address in public forums to elevate visibility and demystify the process.
Banks admits that the Society of American Archivists has also been “too busy working on what it is we do than advertising who we are and why it’s good to be who we are.” Now, they are focused on proving that the archival profession isn’t “just about dusty old musty books and papers. It’s about preserving information and providing access to information.
“As archivists, we have to understand the connection between records being created now … you have to understand how it fits in history … how it might be important 200 years down the line,” Banks explains.
Archiving is important for a variety of reasons. Many corporations maintain an archive: Exxon, Disney, Coca-Cola, and Playboy each have private archives composed of corporate logos, advertising, patents, and legal papers. Government archives are those of local, state, and national agencies and serve the public, as do archives maintained by colleges, churches, and institutions like the Atlanta History Center, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, and the new African American Depository for Records in Florida.
The field caters to many passions as well. There are specialty archivists who only preserve digital images, audiotape, movie film, and even postcards.
An undergraduate degree in history provides a good foundation, but career advancement requires a master’s, preferably in archival management. For Banks, a third generation Spelman graduate, it was a phobia of math that shifted her desire to become a psychologist to choosing history as her major in her sophomore year.
After two summer internships at the Georgia Archives, she applied for an assistant’s position while pursuing her master’s degree in library science at what is now Clark Atlanta University. Her curriculum vitae list a number of positions and honors: She served as president of the Society of American Archivists in1996, led the audit of the National Archives and Records