University archivist keeps Kent State’s history alive

Rabab Al-Sharif

Paschen donates personal items to library collections

Stephen Paschen, university archivist, remembers the day when he provided a man the only two photos the man would have of his father.

“The reward you get is just when somebody finds exactly what they needed and you’ve got it,” Paschen said.

That is exactly what happened when the man found out his father had gone to school in the early 70s, and by looking through old yearbooks, was able to find two photos, which the archives made him copies of, free of charge.

“Researchers get pretty emotional when they find what they need and you’ve helped them really succeed at what they’re doing,” he said.

The archives and special collections, which are located on the 10th, 11th and 12th floors of the library, have about 11,000 boxes that are one cubic foot each. They can hold anything from university documents to banners, T-shirts and old photos.

A big part of Paschen’s job is deciding what is worth saving and what can be thrown out.

“We’re really charged with two things; saving stuff, which also implies that you’re going to pick it out in the first place,” he said. “We can’t save everything, that’s the problem.”

Paschen has been the university archivist at Kent State since July 2006, but he served the same job at the University of Akron for nine years before that.

He actually started off as a landscape architect for 12 years before he decided to go back to school for a degree in history.

Cara Gilgenbach, the head of special collections and archives, said Paschen has somewhat of a unique background among their staff because he has a lot of experience doing research as a historian.

“That informs how he approaches teaching students about that (research) because he’s actually done it himself quite a bit,” Gilgenbach said. “He can draw on his own experience and give students tips on how to approach doing research with primary sources.”

Gilgenbach said Paschen experience with working in museums also brings something unique to the table.

“He’s dealt with collections that are a lot more diverse than ours in terms of having a lot more 3-D objects,” she said. “He’s dealt with that kind of setting, which is unique for someone going into special collections and archives.”

Paschen worked as the curator and later executive director of the Summit County Historical Society for 11 years before deciding to go back to school again. This time, he got a degree in library science from Kent State.

He said his love of history led him to working as an archivist.

“I still think of myself as a historian,” he said. “I like to work with the real stuff that history is written from.”

Paschen said there comes a point went you start to realize that you’re actually a part of history. That came for him when he donated some of his personal items, including his draft card, tire tread sandals, his old transistor radio and a pair of his old bellbottom pants. He said he has had several disguises through time, even sporting an afro at one point.

“People are getting a laugh about that when they discover those are actually my pants,” he said.

Paschen said his job is broader than many people might expect.

“I think people think that we’re up here in the tower and we don’t have any contact with people, but that’s really what we’re all about,” he said. “If you need help on learning how to do research, that’s the main thing we do.”

He said he considers the archives and special collections a service like the library, but the big difference is that the materials they have are often one of a kind. That means anyone who comes into the archives will have someone helping them one-on-one.

“You have to have some people skills, and you’ve got to understand that some people are high- profile scholars, other people are students who are scared of archives and think they can’t do research here when they’ve got as much right as anybody else does,” he said. “We’ll treat everybody the same.”

Contact College of

Communication and

Information reporter Rabab

Al-Sharif at [email protected].