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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Careers in Conservation: Archivist Preserves Service History

By Craig Springer, USFWS 

You can see the pattern: vocare, vocal, vocation. What one chooses to do for a living is a calling. It’s rooted in the Latin, vocare, “to be called to do something.” And so it was for Randi Sue Smith of Spearfish, South Dakota, that she would become an archivist at one of the most unusual field stations of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Smith would be the first to tell you that knowing the present means knowing history.

Randi Sue Smith is passionate about the past -- and the Service's future. (Photo: USFWS)

She works at the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives. The facility holds some 175,000 objects and documents from all over the country, all dealing with fisheries conservation. And all that important historical matter needs a curator.

It’s where Smith makes her mark.

She's even parlayed her conservation knowledge into a book, written in partnership with the station’s friend group, the Booth Society. Spearfish National Fish Hatchery: Images of America, is due in bookstores in July 2013. Readers will learn the intimate history of one of the oldest facilities in the Service and about its new mission carried on daily.

Smith started college majoring in math, but had a change of heart after she found the college Antique Mechanics Club. “I always had a thing for tractors,” said Smith. “The club restored old farm equipment and we went on collecting trips.” The experience inspired her, and thus came along that vocare.

After earning a B.A. in History, Smith worked 15 years for the National Park Service. In 1992, she made the move to the Service to take over the growing collection.

“Bigger museums have specialized workers; one who receives items; one to catalog; and one to exhibit — I do it all,” she says. “I love the variety.”

And that's certainly clear. She’s handled most of the collection over the last 21 years.

“I like old stuff — how things used to be done, how things worked,” she adds.

In the archives, she has her favorites — like a Studebaker dump truck used at William Creek National Fish Hatchery in Arizona.

“These things tell a story. An antique toy found here always makes me think about the children who lived here years ago. One child drowned in 1939, and that always feels sad.”

The archive preserves books, boats, art, photos, reports, and correspondence that offer windows into fisheries conservation work done decades ago. Some items date to the 1850s, the nascent period of conservation in the United States.

Smith plans to wade onward into the fisheries archives. “The objects speak all the time, saying ‘catalog me, store me, put me away’.”

Service employees -- if you have something that belongs in the archives, email randi_smith@fws.gov.

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