A chat with former University Archivist Maggie Shapley

9 March 2018

After 13 years of organising the University's records, Maggie Shapley has decided to park the records trolley permanently and delve into the world of retirement.

Maggie, who has been the University's Archivist based at the Noel Butlin Archives at the back of the Menzies Library, has been helping ANU organise and catalogue the labyrinth of records shelves, rooms, filing cabinets and office bookcases across campus.

Asked what has been the Archives' biggest achievement in 13 years, she said "We got a database. That was a big thing."

"When I came we just had a list that was on the website - that's not like being able to do keyword searching on a database!"

At the moment, the Noel Butlin Archives has 65 per cent of its records uploaded into the database.

"That's a really high number for an archives. Some archives have got 10 per cent of their items in," she said.

"Everybody has coverage - a set of photographs - everybody's got that sort of information. But to have the information of every single person in that series, that's what we call item-level. So 65 per cent item level, is great."

The Butlin Archives includes records of council minutes, committee records, photographs and even some objects such as academic dress from former chancellors, such as gowns and caps that give an indication of fashion styles over the years.

"But the hardest thing to capture in the archives is the student life because you can capture student results and teaching and learning policies, but it's very hard to capture student life," she said.

One of the policies Maggie has brought in during her time is the Collections Policy for student groups, clubs and societies so that records of some student activity is documented.

"What you're trying to do is document the idea of campus and what goes on here," she says.

"You can't write the history if you don't have the records. You can rely on people's memories but people don't always remember exactly what happens." 

The Archives don't just have an array of records relating to the running of the University. It also houses archival records relating to University House, trade union movements - including banners drawn by horses in parades - as well as records from Australian companies. One of the oldest companies still in operation - the UNESCO listed Australian Agricultural Company - has its records housed at the ANU Archives.

Although the Archives are used heavily by staff and students as a resource for research, Maggie says the most popular records requests come from records relating to historic hotels. The ANU Archives is a repository for Tooth and Company yellow cards records - records that include old photographs of historic hotels from across New South Wales. These records are popular with heritage architects, town historians and homeowners who are interested in restoring the historic buildings to their former glory.

"We do have history courses run by Frank Bongiorno and Nicholas Brown for students that utilise the archives in research. And of course because it's here on campus, you don't have to travel to see the collection," she said.

Although she is stepping down from the archivist role, Maggie says she'll still stay around as an advisor for the archives and Library Services.

"I've decided I'm going to be an Archivist Emerita!" she says, laughing. "But I will still be around, perhaps doing some research in the archives!"

Maggie says it's one of the best jobs around.

"Things that you wouldn't normally know about, you learn about because you're taking in these records and you need to know what they are about."

Given her attention to service in helping find historic records and images relating to the University's past, we're sure the entire University community would like to take this opportunity to wish Maggie all the very best in her retirement.