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Tamar Evangelestia-Dougherty Preserves Black History In Smithsonian 'Dream Job'

| Super User | Legacy

The Smithsonian's inaugural director of its Libraries and Archives is Tamar Evangelestia-Dougherty. She is in charge of 21 libraries across D.C., NYC, MD, VA, and Panama.

She views her new job as a "dream come true," having military and postal family members.

In December 2021, Evangelestia-Dougherty officially began. 3 million library books and 44,000 cubic feet of Smithsonian archives are under her management.

Following are some excerpts from an interview with the new Smithsonian director:

Q: You have improved the nation's Black diaspora-related collections, digital projects, and archives, particularly at the NYPL's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

A: In my opinion, linking papers to the place in which they were created helps to establish connections with other archives, like those at the Chicago History Museum and Chicago Public Library. Several Chicago archive items were lost in 2007, and we had to deal with it. It has to do with the legacy left in their neighborhoods and the potential for crystallizing societal memory.

When I worked as a curator, I refrained from acquiring collections from locations where they didn't contribute to the local historical memory. Not every curator or archivist takes this much care. Regarding the documents of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, there have been various disputes during the past 20 years. Memory keepers are required to link scattered collections.

Q: What are your professional objectives?

I aim to establish links between graduate students and K–12 students . The digital resources and instructional models from the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives will be used to do this.

Our youth must understand primary resources. They taught us how to analyze personal records like diaries and how to look at oral histories, even though you're normally trained to use secondary sources. This kind of critical thinking is essential for our children.

Children need to have adults who are willing to invest in their success, and one way to do that is to take them to libraries where they can explore and discover what interests them. It invites inquiries about politics, society, and history, just like my mother did with me.

Q: What's left to achieve in your career?

A: This job is incredible. There are numerous options available through the Smithsonian. The history of American women is covered in one of two new museums. Each museum will have a library.

Another gem is the National Postal Museum of the Smithsonian Institution (NPM). The Postal Museum is frequently connected to stamps. Numerous documents about prejudice and resistance are available at the Postal Museum.

Numerous African Americans who work for the postal service are part of my family. These records emphasize Black labor history and equality struggles, much like the Pullman Porter Museum does. It won't be dull to work for the Smithsonian.

Q: What success are you most pleased with?

The University of Chicago's Black Metropolis Research Consortium is meaningful to me because I was born and raised in Chicago. I don't believe that the Great Migration, the Black Arts Movement, or the civil rights struggle are truly known or understood on a national or international scale.

Chicago has been inundated with media coverage about Black-on-Black violence and drive-by shootings that does not elevate Black success and joy. We both know that Chicago has a lot of success stories, especially Black ones, so as a resident, I become defensive.

There aren't enough accounts of Black achievement in Chicago.