Joan Curbow: The ultimate Beaver

Joan Curbow: The ultimate Beaver

If it is true that beavers build, then Joan Curbow is the ultimate beaver. Curbow, Buena Vista’s first and only archivist, has built a collection that reflects the school’s storied history.

But what does being a BV archivist entail? “One of the first tasks in an archive is to…intake materials that are to be preserved,” said Curbow. “That’s called accession. Then the next step would be to arrange and describe what it is that you’ve received. And then the end of that process, you generate something called a finding aid. It’s like a fancy word for a cataloguing record, and it’s rather detailed.”  

Perhaps the most important clarification Curbow offered was in the basic description of her role. “I’m not the creator of historic materials. I manage historic materials. There’s a difference. So, I’m not really a historian.” 

Jodie Morin, BV’s current library director, has known Curbow since before she became the archivist. “Ten or twelve years ago, it became apparent that we were getting the volume of information that really needed a whole staff member,” Morin explained, “so [Curbow] made the decision to go back to school and get her master’s degree so she would qualify for a higher position…At that point we were just starting to talk about having an archives here. And so basically, we sort of grew our own archivist, which was great because she already had a history with us.” 

Curbow described the early days and the formation of the archives as a “big change” for the university. She recalled how, around 2012, a new vice president of academic affairs arrived and headed the movement to get a university archive set up. “The talk of the archives sparked my interest, and so I decided to go to grad school rather late in life and get my master’s and then hopefully be able to step into that role.” Clearly, the role became hers. 

Throughout her tenure as archivist, Curbow has actively sought to gather as many artifacts as she could from yearbooks stretching back decades to film reels of old sporting games, from old campus posters advertising visiting performers, to a plethora of Tack newspapers back when they were still in print. The archives are, no doubt, one of the best sources of BV history we have access to and it’s right under the students’ noses on the second floor of the library. 

Curbow is well acquainted and often works with many departments within the university like the alumni and development offices, university marketing and communications, and athletics. Occasionally even an alumnus will contact her asking for information about the good ol’ years. Curbow also uses the archives to set up historical exhibits around campus. 

Morin sees Curbow’s work ethic as part of the secret to her success.  “She takes on everything, so if she is not comfortable with something or doesn’t have much background in it, she is doing webinars, she’s educating herself, she’s going to conferences.” Curbow is one of those people where even just talking to her makes you feel more productive, and you’ll often walk away with more answers than you thought you had questions. 

Morin added, “What we had was nothing when she became an archivist here. We had a room with some shelves in it. So she’s really built everything that’s there … from nothing to what it is now.” 

As the world continues to digitize its information, archivists like Curbow are challenged to create new kinds of spaces in order to preserve histories. Curbow stands ready.  And if our school motto is true, and beavers really do build, then Joan Curbow is the ultimate beaver. 

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