Archivist sees bright future in collections of past

In the basement of Snell Library, new university archivist and head of special collections Giordana Mecagni is settling in among thousands of papers, photos, and films that document the past of both Northeastern and the city of Boston.

Mecagni started working at Northeastern about three months ago and is excited to grow the University Archives and Special Collections (within the Northeastern University Libraries), which collects, preserves, and describes a vast array of historical documents.

She comes to Northeastern after working at Harvard University’s Archives and Special Collections for 11 years.

“There is so much to do,” Mecagni said. “There is still quite a lot of material to collect, and we are actively collecting.”

The extensive collections include correspondence from former university presidents, 1,667 reels of film from athletic events, and scrapbooks from camps at the YMCA where Northeastern was founded as a night school in 1898.

Pieces are available to students, faculty, and staff for research. The archives boast both online collections and physical materials housed in two secure stacks at Snell Library. The second area was recently built, and Mecagni said it is her job to fill it.

In addition to Northeastern history, the archives’ collections house a broad collection of Boston’s social justice history, including the history of the city’s African-American, Asian, Latino, and LBGTQ communities. Mecagni said the library would soon embark on a project to accumulate pieces related to the relationship between built environments and natural environments throughout Boston’s history.

One of Mecagni’s roles as an archivist is to make people and groups comfortable with contributing something to her department.

“We need to spend a lot of time convincing people we will keep it, take care of it, and preserve it,” Mecagni explained. “Once it is here, people are so proud and that is really a great thing. It gives it some stature.”

As the world continues to evolve in the digital age, Mecagni said the archives will soon follow suit. The infrastructure is set for the library’s new digital repository to collect pieces electronically on a grander scale, something that was not available to previous archivists.

To get familiar with history between Northeastern and the surrounding community, Mecagni has embarked on a listening tour in which she has met with various cultural organizations. She has also met with faculty to learn how pieces from the archives are being used in classrooms.

Mecagni said her goal is to incorporate the archives across all facets of Northeastern’s campus.

“I think the archives could be used in every aspect,” she said. “There are data sets that should be in the archives and available for research. For the arts, there are posters from past Northeastern activities. It’s just a matter of knowing it’s here.”