Between filing birth and death certificates, researching events for town officials, and handling requests from residents, Scituate Town Archivist Elizabeth Foster has a lot on her plate.
It’s an important, though unpaid, job, and one that is growing more demanding.
“It’s difficult in the archives,” said Town Clerk Bernice Brown. “They are only open on Wednesdays, and there isn’t any staff or other times ... So there is an overload on the archivist when she is here, and people have to wait until the archives are open.”
It’s a problem compounded by the fact that two of the archivist’s assistants, who also used to deal with outside requests, have departed, leaving Foster to handle requests one at a time.
“We happened to have two people who left this year who were outstanding,” Brown said. “They were very committed to the time … when you have a small group like that, that’s a big loss.”
Currently, a few volunteers help with transcribing records into the digital database; however, there is no one else with the experience, time, or patience do help Foster with the bulk of the work.
Despite the challenges of the unpaid work, it’s a situation Brown hopes to soon change.
Brown advertised for archivist assistants on the back of the town census forms.
And with the upcoming Volunteer Expo at Scituate Town Library on March 2 from 5 to 7 p.m., Brown hopes to find residents interested in town government, genealogy, and history, and with the time to dedicate to the job.
“You need to find the right person, you need to find someone who has the time and inclination to do it,” Brown said.
According to Brown, the archivist puts in more than just the 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. hours on Wednesdays. The archivist also attends conferences, researches procedures, and does a lot of outside work just to stay on top of things
Yet it might not just be the time commitment that is problematic in finding archivist help.
“It’s the fact that people are very, very busy, and the types of people that would have the background most useful downstairs may also be useful in another field, and may be occupied by something else [in town government],” Brown said.
Still, Brown remains optimistic.
“To be an archivist to the level [Foster] is, it’s a lot of time and effort. [But] I’m very hopeful,” she said.