The Greatest Job in the World

Today’s guest blogger is Kathie Johnson, an archivist who has worked with many rare and interesting collections.


I have the greatest job in the world!  I may not get paid as much as some in the academic world – but I think I have as much, if not more, fun than anyone.  Here at the University of Louisville, my position has many components and each one is educational, entertaining, and often awe-inspiring. My position currently entails working with donors, organizing collections, caring for rare books, assisting researchers, and creating exhibits.

As a manuscripts archivist I work with donors (individuals who donate their personal papers or representatives of businesses or organizations that donate their records) and I have met some fascinating people just from those experiences, including a retired congressman, several local social activists, museum administrators, and other interesting personalities. As a processing archivist I get to handle primary source material (the original stuff) that is an absolute necessity for the research and writing of history. Processing means working with the collection: clearing out the trash like old rubber bands and blank envelopes, segregating papers with personal information that is protected by law, arranging them in some order if there is none, and listing the contents so researchers can easily find out what we have. World War I diaries, 19th century correspondence, an 1860 presidential election ballot, and a display case of items removed from various orifices by an ENT are just a few of the wonders that I get to see on a daily basis.

As the curator of a rare book collection I get to (very carefully) handle books that date back to the fifteenth century, determine how to best protect the books that are in poor condition,  check over book donations for items to add to the collection, and assess estimated values of some of the rare books. As a reference archivist I get to meet with researchers and assist them as they search for the sources they need for their paper, project, genealogical inquiry, or just plain curiosity. I can pull reference files if they just need some basic information, I can show them how to find the collection listings on our webpage, and I can suggest other sources that they may not know about. I have been asked to check the provenance of a Colt pistol; if we have any specimens of encephalitic brains preserved; and the name of the player on the Louisville Slugger baseball bat used by Jack Nicholson in the movie The Shining (by the way, it was Carl Yastrzemski). The only negative to this is when the answer to an inquiry is not what the patron wanted to hear.

Besides all of those fun activities, I get to create exhibits using items (or facsimiles of) in our collections. I have done over thirty displays on UofL history, women’s history, medical and nursing history, as well as on individuals and their collections. I also get to speak to community groups on topics pertinent to local history and archives, as well as on my own research interests.  Occasionally I get to work with school age kids and show them the wonders of the archives and primary source materials. I get to do research and writing of my own. And to top it all off, I get paid to do this.

Like I said, I have the greatest job in the world and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Kathie Johnson, Associate Professor
Archivist for Manuscript Collections, University Archives & Records Center
Archivist/Curator of History Collections, Kornhauser Health Sciences Library
University of Louisville


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