Record Breaking Record Taking: An Interview with Library Archives and Special Collections Assistant, Noah Sleeper.

Noah Sleeper, a current Senior, has been working at the Muskie Archives as the Library Archives and Special Collections Assistant since the beginning of the summer before his Junior year. “This was my first job at Bates, and certainly one of the more enjoyable ones that I’ve held in my career” says Sleeper.

When looking to apply for jobs on campus, Noah realized working in the Muskie Archives would be a job that interested him in particular because it fit well with his academic interests. “As a US History major, I was excited by the prospect of working with primary sources, particularly after working in the Archives for a brief paper on Muskie for Professor Jensen’s ‘America in the 20th Century’ class.” Noah remembers the job application process being straightforward, asking if he had any prior experience in working with primary source documents. “After that came the interview, and then I got the job,” remembers Sleeper.

The day-to-day tasks of Noah’s 12 hour work week can range broadly and might include shelving document boxes, scanning and copying documents, rearranging documents in folders, organizing objects in Archivists’ Toolkit, and retrieving documents for researchers. However, Noah’s primary project that takes up the most of his time is a large scale digitization project of the Muskie audio cassettes within the Archive’s collection. “There are about 1330 tapes in the collection, ranging in length from 30 seconds to two and a half hours,” Noah explains, “ My job is to use a program called Adobe Audition to digitally record the sound cassettes for digital preservation.” Noah also note the condition of the recording and any keywords or themes that are present in the recordings. “I have to listen to the entire tape to make sure that the recording goes smoothly, so its a long process,” he adds, “Most of my work is fairly independent, but the Archives staff is very helpful when I have any questions or technical problems.”

When asked if he had any interesting stories to share from his time at the Archives, Noah remarks “I once listened to a tape that was a comedic roast of Sen. Muskie, which featured all sorts of important Maine politicians from the 1970’s. That was certainly one of the more interesting tapes.” And in fact, his favorite part of the job has been developing “a much better understanding of Maine politics in the 1970’s than I would have otherwise. It is very interesting to listen to all of Ed Muskie’s speeches, especially because he was such a good speaker. I like to say that I’m eavesdropping on history!” says Sleeper.

Working at the Muskie Archives has been fairly useful in developing skills that Noah plans on using after graduation. “I’m strongly considering a career in library science or archives,” Noah explains, “so all of the skills I’ve developed here will be extremely useful, especially in digitization, which is becoming more important as old technologies like audio cassettes are being transferred to digital formats for preservation and eventually wider access.” Noah finds that relearning how to use an audio cassette player has been a fun perk of the job, but adds that learning how to use a digital audio preservation program is a useful, relevant skill.

In fact, Noah’s job at the Archives has already been helpful to him out in the working world. His experience helped him get an internship at the State Department (DoS) this past summer for their museum as well as his current DoS internship where his main focus is archival bibliographic research for their Historian’s Office. “It’s also helpful to have real work experience when applying for grad school and post grad jobs, especially in digitization,” Noah adds.

“I’ve learned a lot about the Archives as a whole, especially some of the really interesting things in the collection;” says Noah, “in addition to Muskie’s papers, there are several other collections including a lot of Bates history and a collection of Sanskrit bibles. The Muskie Archives are a very cool and useful resource, so I would encourage more people to stop by and give it a look!”