The fourteen volunteers we have here at the Smithsonian Institution Archives are a vital part of the work we do every day. Our volunteers bring expertise and enthusiasm for the work of the Smithsonian Institution and the Archives, whether it is digital archiving, image research and digitization, or working with our oral history collection. From the volunteer weather observers that worked with our first Secretary Joseph Henry to the thousands of global volunteers who transcribe Smithsonian materials, the Smithsonian’s amazing accomplishments wouldn’t be possible without the help of our more than 12,000 in-person and digital volunteers.
In recognition of all the incredible work done by our volunteers, I’d like to introduce you to Kathy Boi, a volunteer with our Oral History Project. A retired Smithsonian employee, she brings her expertise from her years of work in the Secretary’s Office to making oral history interviews available to the public. As she works with the oral history interviews featuring the Smithsonian Secretaries, she tracks down place names, scientific terms, and projects mentioned in the interviews so that they have clear and accurate information.
What did you do at the Smithsonian before you began volunteering?
I had been a federal employee for several years, working at the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Forest Service, so when my husband and I returned to the Washington, D.C. area, I wanted to continue in federal service. I was thrilled to join the staff in the Office of the Secretary at the Smithsonian in 1982 as a clerk stenographer, transcribing Secretary S. Dillon Ripley’s dictation. Over the next 28 years, I advanced within the office and worked for five Secretaries (S. Dillon Ripley, Robert McCormick Adams, I. Michael Heyman, Lawrence M. Small, and G. Wayne Clough) and one Acting Secretary (Cristián Samper). I retired in 2010 as the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Secretary.
How did you start volunteering?
When my husband, Keith, and I retired, we first took a series of classes in bookbinding and restoration; he continued in an apprenticeship, and I moved on to learn handweaving, which I still love doing. Volunteering at the Smithsonian was high on my list. The variety and number of volunteer opportunities at the Smithsonian is amazing – and mind-boggling. I was approached by a number of Smithsonian colleagues who had projects in mind. Over the years, I had worked with Pam Henson, Director of Institutional History in the Smithsonian Archives, and her suggestion that I work on the Oral History Project in the Archives sounded perfect for me.
What has been your favorite project to work on so far?
My favorite interview is the one with Secretary Robert McCormick Adams, which I am currently finishing. I really enjoyed the ten years that I worked for him, and it was a pleasure hearing his voice recount his years as Secretary. Even more fun was listening to a younger Bob Adams in an earlier interview describe his exploits and adventures over his eventful career as an anthropologist.
What is the coolest thing you have found or learned about in the Archives?
I have learned so much about American history listening to interviews (such as Philip Lundeberg, Helena Weiss, and Louis Purnell) and conducting research.
How has your impression of the Smithsonian Institution Archives changed since being here? What’s surprised you the most?
During my career at the Smithsonian, I worked with the Archives staff regularly – archiving the Secretary’s records and doing research. I was shocked to learn how little I really knew about the extent of what is done in the Archives – conservation, preservation, digitization, conducting research, mentoring researchers, the use of technology such as social media to engage the public. The Archives staff is a dedicated and creative group, and I enjoy my association with them immensely.
Want to join in the fun at the Archives? Learn more about how to intern or volunteer! You can also help transcribe materials from collections across the Smithsonian (including the Archvies!) online, at the Smithsonian Transcription Center.
Thank you, Volunteers!, The Bigger Picture Blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Smithsonian Volunteers, 2011, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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