Student Spotlight: Alanna Natanson, Special Collections Graduate Desk Assistant

Alanna Natanson ('23) has worked as a Graduate Student Desk Assistant in the Special Collections Reading Room since June 2021.

The Special Collections Research Center blog series "Student Spotlight" features student employees who contribute to the work of the SCRC. Guest author Alanna Natanson, class of 2023, is a graduate student in the Master of Science in Library Science program at UNC Chapel Hill. Alanna has worked as a Graduate Student Desk Assistant in the Special Collections Reading Room since June 2021.

Please describe in a sentence or two the work that you do in the Special Collections Research Center.

I have the honor of serving in two positions for Special Collections! As a Graduate Desk Assistant, I help in ways the public would see: registering new researchers, assisting researchers with our collections, processing collections, answering the phone, and opening/closing the Reading Room. As a Graduate Digitization Assistant, I do work the public may not see but greatly benefits from, including scanning collections into the Rare and Unique Digital Collections catalog and filling out the metadata (descriptions) of scanned materials so users can discover them more efficiently. Between the two jobs, I get to connect a lot of members of the campus community with stories from NC State’s history!

What has been most interesting to you about your work? 

Hearing from researchers piques my interest the most of all my duties. I love answering the Special Collections Research Center’s phone to find out what kinds of questions campus community members have. When a researcher orders a scan from our collections, I love guessing how they plan to use the digital copies of papers or photographs. Patrons keep the job exciting!

If you met someone who was unfamiliar with archives and special collections, what would you want them to know? What should new researchers know about the work you do?

I think it’s important to know that this archives is never finished collecting. University Archives and Special Collections preserves materials created as recently as last year, and we preserve a lot of records that began as digital files. That means, if you’re a campus community member today, you can be a part of building SCRC’s collections.

I also must acknowledge that while NC State has materials representing a lot of different parts of the campus’s history, no archives can provide a full and objective account of an institution’s history. Past individuals in charge of operating the school chose what documents and stories to save and seek for the archives. A history of unequal access to education and decision-making power at an institution like ours means the many academic collections lack materials that equally represent the perspectives of past campus community members from historically marginalized communities or may not describe members in the ways that they would describe themselves. The contents of collections, in turn, affect the stories we can document about the university’s past. Finally, I want to thank the current SCRC staff and my fellow student staff, because I know that their work organizing and sharing materials that flesh out marginalized stories from the university’s history takes physical and emotional labor that a box or a link on our website might not reveal.

What are you studying, and what do you hope to do in your future career?  Has your work in the SCRC changed how you look at your studies or your future career plans in any way?

The NC State University Master's of Public History program originally brought me to Raleigh, but Cheerwine and the Master of Science in Library Science program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill convinced me to stay a little longer. My work in SCRC has shown me that I really enjoy connecting people who have questions to sources that can answer their questions, so I hope to continue that work in the future. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work with the SCRC?

I’m totally biased, but I love exploring the Rare and Unique Digital Collections online catalog. It’s filled to the brim with thought-provoking snippets and photos from NC State history, which means I can research all sorts of NC State past while sitting at home in my pajamas!