Volunteer Appreciation: Peter Finkel

Peter Finkel, volunteer at the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Here at the Archives, we have 25 fulltime staff members, and half as many volunteers and interns at any given moment. Not only do these volunteers and interns keep things interesting, they fill vital roles crucial to keeping the Archives thriving and growing.  In honor of the National Day of Service and all the volunteers who help out in so many ways, I’d like to introduce Peter Finkel, a volunteer at the Archives Electronic Records Division since October 2008. In addition to volunteering at the Archives one day a  week, Peter is restoring a five million year-old whale skull at National Museum of Natural History’s FossiLab, which is open to the public.

  • What’s your day job?

I build custom Arts & Crafts/Mission-style furniture with my father, George. He’s the ‘G’ in PG Woodcraft.

  • How did you hear about the Archives?

I retired from AOL as a software development project manager, started PG Woodcraft, and realized I wanted a part-time job. I came across the notice for the Smithsonian Behind-the-Scenes Volunteer Program and saw that my technology skills fit with what the Electronic Services Division of the Archives was looking for.

  • What have been your favorite projects so far?

I enjoy working on the intake of digital collections when they’re acquired by the Archives. I take digital media (like sound recordings) and copy it onto servers. Sometimes I find something that catches my eye. One of my favorites was an interview with a German rocket scientist who was brought to the U.S. to help start the NASA program (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). It reminded me of my days in “space camp” where I had met some of the original German rockets scientists.

Another thing I found was looking in the construction records for the National Museum of the American Indian. There were all sorts of building plans and designs for the heating, electric, etc. One folder was titled “ducks” which I thought was a mistake, and should have been labeled “ducts.” It turns out that when they were laying the foundation for the museum, it had flooded and a group of ducks took up residence. There were these pictures of Smithsonian security guards in their nice uniforms retrieving the ducks from the hole.

  • How has your impression changed of archives and The Smithsonian since being here? What’s surprised you most?

My eyes have been opened about what is done at an archive. It hadn’t occurred to me all the things that need to be preserved, especially with digital media. I also appreciate how the Electronic Services team treats me like a member of the team.

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