Q+A: Daniel Hartwig, University archivist

May 8, 2013, 11:55 p.m.

While Stanford’s students and faculty members frequently win acclaim for their contributions to the intellectual community, the behind-the-scenes work of University archivist Daniel Hartwig may be just as noteworthy and valuable. The Daily sat down with Hartwig to discuss the most challenging aspects of conservation, entrepreneurship in the library and his love for 19th-century photography.

Daniel Hartwig, Stanford University's archivist, holds a trowel that was used to lay down the campus' first cornerstone. Hartwig cites Eadweard Muybridge's historic photographs of locomotion as being some of his favorite university artifacts. (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)
Daniel Hartwig, Stanford University’s archivist, holds a trowel that was used to lay down the campus’ first cornerstone. Hartwig cites Eadweard Muybridge’s historic photographs of locomotion as some of his favorite university artifacts. (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)


The Stanford Daily (TSD): Can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you first get involved in the field of library science?

Daniel Hartwig (DH): I grew up in Iowa, and I did my undergraduate [studies] at the University of Iowa. I double majored in history and philosophy. At the time, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do professionally, but I was somewhat interested in teaching history. I also had an interest in science so I went to the University of Indiana, Bloomington, and then got master’s [degrees] in history and the philosophy of science.

On the history side of things, I worked in the Lilly Library [at the University of Indiana] and did a lot of research with primary resources, [or] historic documents. I loved the archives there and I loved the work, and I thought there might be some type of career in that.

I then went to library school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and worked at the Wisconsin Historical Society for two years. So that was how I got started and that’s how I fell in love with archives and the work that we do.


TSD: Why did you decide to make the transition to Stanford?

DH: Throughout my career and with most archival positions these days, the emphasis is on technology transitioning from a primary analog world — paper-based documents — to a digital world. I had a lot of web design experience, did a lot of digitalization, did a lot of computer applications at my time at Yale, and given Stanford’s innovative ways and various projects in terms of digital libraries, there was a real need to move the archives from an analog to a digital environment, so that was my foot in the door so to speak.


TSD: How has technology changed the culture of archiving?

DH: [This change has] radically uprooted the traditional skillset for [an] archivist, just as with any professional track or education — the things that you learn 20 years ago are obsolete now.

Digital preservation is perhaps the most pressing issue. We [used to be able to] put things in a box or in a cold, dry dark room and they’d be good for 500 years… well we can’t do that with computer files. You really have to curate the things over time… and be much more aware in terms of technology.


TSD: What is your favorite part about your position at Stanford?

DH: When I interviewed, I heard the word entrepreneurial maybe 20 times, so coming from Yale it was a different environment. I thought, “what is entrepreneurial?” Whenever I talk with people and try to explain what’s different about Stanford, it is that word — ”entrepreneurial.”

[I think entrepreneurship is] understanding and enjoying change, innovation, creativity and flexibility — being agile. You have your responsibilities, or your mission, but you have full flexibility and freedom to implement that in the way you see fit… That’s what I love and that’s what makes the job most exciting. It’s the totality of what we do that we enjoy, which is really collecting a lot of things not just to collect but to make them used… in research, teaching, learning, documentaries, exhibits. It’s seeing at the end of the day how resources are used that might be the most fulfilling aspect of what we do.


TSD: Can you describe an instance in your work with the archives during which you employed this entrepreneurial spirit?

DH: When I came here, we maybe only had 100 of our collections with online descriptions. Now, almost all of our 200 collections do. So, it’s transforming our online presence, in terms of the description about our collections and online access. I think over 200 of our collections are now available online and those 200 collections… include hundreds of thousands of images and videos.


TSD: What are some of your favorite items in the Stanford archives?

DH: I have a fondness [for] and a bit of a background in photography, architecture, and design. My favorites would include Eadweard Muybridge photographs. He did motion experiments [with Leland Stanford] and was one of the innovators in cinema and movies. His photographs are amazing.

We also have the Hanna House collections — the Frank Lloyd Wright house on campus. We have blueprints, architectural designs, a few sketches of Wright and a lot of photographs. We also have a print collection, which includes some of the original prints and campus plan by [architect] Frederick Law Olmsted.


TSD: Where are the university’s artifacts stored?

DH: More often than not, we’ll provide item-level conservation so we’ll put them in a Mylar sleeve and then put them in acid-free folders and boxes, and [finally] put them in our climate-controlled environment.

For digital files, there are several levels. One is having an open and well-understood file format; for images the format of choice is a TIFF file — they’re non-compressed, open, and will last for quite a while. For audio it’s a WAV file, and for motion pictures it’s some type of motion JPEG 2000. [We have to] convert those formats, get them into the Stanford Digital Repository and make sure all of the bits are transferred and backed up in the process.


TSD: How do you generate the material that goes into the archives? Where do all of the artifacts come from?

DH: It’s a bit of a combination — sometimes people donate their materials to us. We work with faculty to give [us] their papers. But we also analyze our holdings, so we’re very strong in science and engineering, physics, chemistry, to some extent psychology, but [we don’t have as much] in… mathematics, economics [and] art.

A third area is student organizations and student groups. Students are here for a short period of time. They’re very busy — they don’t always create materials that last.


TSD: How do you determine what is worthy of being archived?

DH: More often than not, there really isn’t [a] choice. It’s ‘does it speak to Stanford’s history?’ If so, then yes. If we already have similar materials, it’s ‘what story does this tell that isn’t already told?’ or supplements what we already have. We are very fortunate that we have adequate space so that we don’t have to say ‘no’ a lot. In terms of student groups, it’s the high-level decision making materials that are most valuable so that when future students are doing research they can see what those students [in the past] were thinking.


This interview has been condensed and edited.


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