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Humble Leader, Committed Archivist: One Grad’s Pursuit of a Dream Job

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Joy Hamilton

Publications and Research Writing Manager

Flynn came to DU for a degree in library and information science. They’ll come away with a diploma and so much more.

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Flynn sits in front of stone columns.

Flynn isn't naturally drawn to leadership positions.

“My preference is to be the notetaker,” they say.

But when Professor Krystyna Matusiak asked Flynn to lead a group project in a digital libraries course, Flynn, having built a trusting mentee relationship with Matusiak, agreed.

The leadership role was one of many that Flynn would undertake while completing a Master of Library and Information Science. From serving as the president of the DU student chapter of the Society of American Archivists to heading up a research project on Chinese immigrants who lived in Park County Flynn fulfilled their mission of coming to DU to gain experience worthy of their dream job. They're coming away with that, and much more.

Traveling West

Flynn, a first-generation college student from Plainville, Massachusetts, started their post-secondary journey with eyes on a career in the math and sciences, but an internship at the Old Colony History Museum in Taunton sparked an interest in archives, leading them to Amherst College for a degree in history and Russian.

“I'm all about people and connections with the past,” says Flynn.

Flynn then traveled to South Dakota for an AmeriCorps position as a museum and teaching assistant at Maȟpíya Lúta on the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Reservation. It was there, and living in New Mexico, that instilled their love for the West, prompting them to pursue graduate programs in the region.

Seeking relationships with professors that could grow into mentorships, Flynn says DU faculty were present and personable during an admitted students' event—a rare occurrence for admissions events, they say. That, plus the quarter system and small, in-person cohorts made DU the perfect fit.

Once on campus, Flynn catalyzed their passion for research, writing and telling the stories of people the history books have overlooked through research assistantships and research projects in classes. They were no longer “just doing the homework to get a good grade,” they say.

A community archive

Archival work isn't the flashiest of professions.

“People usually imagine an archivist alone in the stacks, or as a stuffy old person,” says Flynn.

But that image couldn't be further from Flynn's truth. They envision someone actively embedded in a community, unearthing and documenting forgotten stories—someone just like Matusiak, whom Flynn was immediately drawn to, thinking, "I want to work with her."

“We share a passion for community-based projects and value working with nonprofit cultural heritage organizations,” says Matusiak who specializes in digital community archives.

A black and white image of a wooden cabin with a sign in Chinese to the left of of the front door.
Park County Local History Digital Archive

As Matusiak's research assistant, Flynn continued a yearslong project telling the stories of Chinese immigrants in Park County, Colorado during the mining boom of the 1800s to early 1900s.

“The history of Chinese immigrants in Park County is largely untold,” says Matusiak. “The work on the railroads and in mining are not documented, so the project is bringing some of those invisible stories to light.”

Matusiak and Andy Spencer, the director of the Park County Department of Heritage, Tourism & Community Development, were so impressed by Flynn and former graduate research assistant Sam Carlson's work that they encouraged Flynn to turn the report into a book, which is currently being submitted to publishers.

For Flynn, Matusiak's mentorship has made all the difference.

“Things feel more manageable, and you don't feel alone, you feel supported,” they say. “She really cares about her students.”

In pursuit of the dream job

Ask a newly minted grad about their future, and you'll likely face silence or a dreadful moan. Not Flynn. In addition to winning back weekends and evenings, they're feeling energized to go after their dream job as a community archivist.

Flynn stands in front of a DU building with spring flowers in the foreground.

As the president of the DU student chapter of the Society of American Archivists, Flynn saw their mission as expanding people's understanding of both what archivists do and what an archive can be by providing their cohort with opportunities to talk with community archivist consultants and the Denver Botanic Gardens archivist.

Flynn says their goal is to support small communities with limited resources to build archives that can be sustained without the assistance of outside organizations—not unlike their partnership with Park County.

As Flynn walks across the stage this June, they're bring with them experience with community archival work and refined skills in writing, conflict resolution, public speaking and people management as they pursue the next chapter.

“People told me coming into this degree that you learn everything on the job anyway,” they say. “I disagree because I've learned a lot of important things in school. This has been rewarding, exciting and interesting for me.”

Flynn's mentor Matusiak adds that their commitment to social justice, research skills and work ethic is what will make them succeed.

For Flynn, the decision to attend DU turned out to be more beneficial than expected, even if they still don't love being in the spotlight. They'd rather thrive in the archives, helping a community find and tell its story.