LISA SPEER

Lisa Speer, the Arkansas state archivist forced to resign by Department of Arkansas Heritage Director Stacy Hurst, has received a national honor from the Council of State Archivists.

Speer, who’s now working at Ouachita Baptist University, received the Victoria Irons Walch Leadership Award.

A news release about the award quoted from her nomination:

When Dr. Lisa Speer was named the Arkansas State Historian and Director of the Arkansas State Archives (ASA) in 2013, neither she nor the staff of the archives knew what a transformative effect she would have on the organization. At the time, collaborative efforts between the archives and the other historical repositories in Arkansas were nonexistent, and outreach to records creators and the archives’ stakeholders was minimal. The state archives did not participate in the wider field of archives and did not actively pursue either the acquisition of historical materials or state records. The archives acquired only what was given by donors who sought out the state archives for their collections. Grant funding was not often sought, and new projects ideas were often left unfunded and unfinished. The ASA did not have an advocacy group to support its existence, and its web accessibility was limited to seventeen separate searchable indexes of some types of its records holdings, and searchable EAD finding aids for approximately a quarter of its total archival holdings.

Dr. Speer first addressed the lack of digital content available to researchers online, and in 2014, the archives launched its digital collections site, the Digital Ark-ives, with its first six digital collections. Over the past four years, fourteen more digital collections containing thousands of digital materials have been published, including a series of Arkansas History Lesson Plans created in collaboration with the Arkansas Department of Education, and the supplementary primary source documents that support those lesson plans. In 2014, Dr. Speer also obtained a grant for the archives to overhaul its website for the first time since 2002, giving it a more modern and easier to navigate design, and featuring an integrated records search, increasing public accessibility to collections and overall functionality. The site launched in the summer of 2016 and has since been listed among Family Tree Magazine’s Top 75 Best State Websites for Genealogy.

Dr. Speer’s leadership also forged closer connections between the archives, its donors, the public, county governments, and state agencies. The ASA has always lacked the mandate to require state agencies to transfer their archival records to the archives for preservation, and so had never before engaged with state agencies regarding their records preservation. Nevertheless, Dr. Speer led a two-year outreach project to state agencies, holding monthly information workshops for agency representatives on the state archives, state records retention laws, physical and electronic records management and preservation, and the process of transferring records to the archives. These grassroots efforts have borne fruit, because the archives now has robust state records transfer policies in place, has enacted records transfer understandings with twenty state agencies, and has developed contacts with over fifty more.

Dr. Speer’s time as Arkansas’s State Historian ended in February of 2018, but her leadership and service at the Arkansas State Archives have left it a changed place, and continue to benefit the organization she led and the archival staff she supported. It is not enough to say that Lisa Speer did her job and directed the archives; Dr. Speer changed the archives’ direction.

Wendy Richter is now state historian and archivist.

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