Faculty Spotlight: Derek Webb

Tevin Arrington

Senior Reporter

Derek Webb is fairly new addition to the W family. He is originally from South Bend, Ind., and now lives in Columbus with his wife Amber Handy, an associate professor of history here at the W.  He took on the duty of becoming the archivist for Mississippi University for Women in January of 2013.

Q: What brought you to the W as the university’s archivist?

A: “Well, I had started volunteering in the archives in August of 2012, just kind of helping out where I could. And over the next six months, I gradually transitioned from that into full-time work as university archivist.”

Q: So in 2012, when you started volunteering, was the archive active?

A: “It was not. The university had an archive in the 1980s. It closed in the early 90s and had not been open since then. So there was a lot of things that needed to be done before we could open up. So I had come in just to maybe look at ways to preserve some of the materials, and maybe describe some that students can use.”

Q: What are some of the duties of an archivist?

A: “Essentially what we say in the archives profession is, we select, preserve and make available historical records. So when things are coming in, we have to make choices as to what materials have historical value and what ones don’t. We do what is needed to preserve them. That is everything from purchasing supplies from them to restoring materials if they have been damaged in some way. I also work with professors for classes.”

Q: Who are some of the professors you have collaborated with?

A: “I work mostly with professors in the history, political science and geography department. I have collaborated with Dr. Kempker for several of her classes. Bringing students in [the archives] for the purpose of doing history rather than reading about history.”

Q: What were some of the difficulties you have been met with since the archives have been open?

A: “The problems we have faced are really the same as to what most or all archives face. There is not enough space, money or staff. We also had issues with getting our name out and letting people know what we are here and we’re open, but we have made progress on nearly all of those fronts.”

Q: In helping students navigate their way through the archives, what has been your role?

A: “Once they come in, what I would often do is hold a reference interview with them. That’s where I talk to them about what their topic is that they are looking for, and then talk with them a little bit about how the archives is organized and how one goes about finding those things. And when I can, I will turn them to some leads to help them get started.”