Ask a Public Historian: Keri Hallford

Keri Hallford is an Archivist at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery, Alabama. She specializes in maps, architectural drawings, posters, and oversized collections.

What led you to your field?

I have always adored museums and libraries since I was a young child. When I figured out that there was a library-like setting that would allow me to work hands-on with historical items daily, I was completely sold!

What is your educational background?

I have an undergraduate BA in History with an Art History minor from Auburn University. My master degree is in Library and Information Science with an information architecture emphasis from Florida State University.

What led you to the job you have now?

I spent most of my graduate degree joining and becoming active in professional organizations within my intended field. Those would be the Society of American Archivists, the Society of Alabama Archivists, and the American Library Association. This was incredibly helpful because I met people who would eventually be key to helping advance my career in some way. The archival field is very much about who you know and strong, professional relationships. I did an internship for my graduate degree that was forty hours per week with the Auburn Special Collections and Archives department for an entire summer. After that, I volunteered at the Tuskegee University Archives until I could be hired on as a processing archivist.

How do you define and engage with the “public?”

In my position, the “public” is defined as any person that is or was a citizen of Alabama or interested in Alabama that wants to interact with me. I answer complicated reference questions from government departments as well as the average citizen. Occasionally, I will do behind the scenes tours or travel to lecture across the state. There have also been many occasions in which I can produce an exhibit for the public. I like to think that I also engage with the public by making items “findable” through our online databases and search tools. If I don’t process it in a way that you can find it, how will you ever even know it’s there? I must put myself in the shoes of every sort of researcher when I do my work.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to enter the field of public history?

Get involved! A degree will open the door but without experience, you will never be able to meet minimal entry requirements. You need to volunteer, do internships, and get involved in local and national historical and professional organizations. Employers want the well-rounded employee with field experience.

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