Getting to Know Tierra Thomas, Visiting Archivist for Southern Jewish Collections

Rose Library is staffed by an amazing group of people who are knowledgeable, friendly, and passionate about archives. The “Getting to Know…” blog post series asks 5 questions so our staff can introduce themselves in their own words.


Visiting Archivist for Southern Jewish Collections Tierra Thomas

What do you do at Rose Library?

I am the Visiting Archivist for Southern Jewish Collections. In this project-based position, I will process and make available four collections related to Jewish people and Jewish history in Atlanta and the South more generally. Those collections are the Bert and Esther Lewyn family papers (which has recently been reopened for access), the Jack Stewart Boozer papers, the Morris B. Abram papers, and the Isaac Don Levine papers.

What career path did you take to work in the Archives?

As an undergraduate at Georgia State University, I majored in history with a minor in African American studies, and in one of the first history classes I took, I learned about archives and got to go into the stacks, and I just thought it was the coolest thing. I was so interested in the old books, and I wanted to know what was in all the boxes. Before that experience, I really don’t think I knew the archives existed. From there, I got a job at the Georgia State University Special Collections and Archives as a student assistant. In that job, I assisted the processing department in various processing tasks and even ended up processing a small collection on my own. I then decided I might want to do this long-term and moved onto the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, to earn my master’s degree. While in school there, I also worked in the University Archives at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library.

Why are archives important?

People have very little without memory. Memory can rule how our day goes from the most basic “I forgot my coffee cup,” to the more complex and shared memories of who was the first person do something. Archives can help us remember things; even though they aren’t always perfect at giving us the truth or multiple views of the memory, they still help us remember pieces of our collective history. They often facilitate the sharing the pieces of history we don’t all know about or learn about in school but are just as important as the broader historical contexts we know more generally. Archives can also serve as evidence that something happened or existed, and there is definitely power and importance in that.

What advice do you have for an aspiring archivist?

If you are an aspiring archivist, my advice is to be open. Be open to all sorts of different archives-related projects. There are so many different areas of archives to get into: digital archives, analog collection processing, audiovisual archives, photographs, digitization, curatorial and exhibit work, archives on popular culture, specific groups of people, schools, and the list goes on. So I think it’s a good idea if you have the opportunity to try participating in different projects or just be open to doing something unexpected because there are a lot of different skills you could pick up that could help you on something you want to work on in the future or it could lead you to a new interest in the field of archives that you hadn’t expected you would enjoy.

What interesting item have you encountered while in the Rose Library archive?

Bert Lewyn with his large stack of manuscript drafts and other materials found in the Bert and Esther Lewyn family papers.

One thing I was glad to find in the archive was this set of photos in a photo album of Bert Lewyn holding his huge stack of binders that contain documents and the several manuscript drafts that led to the publishing of his memoir On the Run in Nazi Berlin.

 I found this to be interesting (a better word would probably be heartwarming) because he is clearly so happy and proud of his accomplishment, but also I also saw this photo after processing all those same binders, so it felt like a full-circle moment for myself in finishing the project.