After 26 dedicated and passionate years, Utah State University’s Fife Folklore Archives Curator and Oral History Specialist, Randy Williams, is set to retire at the end of the year. Though, much like her work would illustrate, she’s not going out quietly.
Williams was presented the prestigious 2019 Dr. Everett L Cooley Distinguished Archival Career Award on October 25, an award reserved for those that have truly excelled in archival work.
“When the Utah Manuscripts Association met to talk about possible recipients for the Cooley Award, Randy was unanimously chosen to be this year’s recipient,” digitization program specialist at Utah State History Melissa Coy wrote. “Her professionalism and the respect she has for her fellow archivists inspire all of us.”
While Williams was the sole person named for this award, she said it wasn’t just a reflection of her work.
“This award is such a great honor which I share with everyone I have worked with over the years,” Williams said. “I feel honored to have associated with so many people who were so generous and willing to share their story.”
Throughout her career, Williams, who is an associate librarian at USU’s Special Collections, has worked on numerous ethnographic projects including Ranch Family Documentation Project and the Veterans History Project. Since 2006, her work has focused on preserving the voices of marginalized communities. From Voices from Drug Court to the Cache Valley Refugee Oral History Project, William says her proudest accomplishment is “partnering to give voice to the excluded in an effort to make space for all people to have a presence in the archives. If we ignore overlooked or new community populations, then we are not telling and preserving the full story of our community and our historical record will be lacking.”
While this is her crowning achievement, it’s not something Williams takes lightly.
“We don’t want to be a part of further marginalizing or demeaning anyone’s culture,” Williams said. “At USU Libraries we work diligently to situate our community-driven ethnographic work within the context it lives, and that includes full community partnerships for all our projects. It also includes the metadata we use to describe the information – images, interviews, audio, documents – we collect. We want our descriptions to be as accurate as possible.”
“Sometimes we just don’t have the right words to describe an object or story so we rely on our community partners to guide our efforts. Diversity of lens is so important and we work very diligently at the USU Library to improve our best practice continually.”
Williams credits the people who came before her in the Fife Folklore Archives for setting a gold standard, especially Austin and Alta Fife who founded both USU’s Fife Folklore Archives and Folklore Program, and of course her mentor Barre Toelken. She feels fortunate to have worked with collaborative USU Library and Folklore program colleagues and students.
“USU truly has the best people engaged in ethnographic endeavors,” she said. “I was taught impeccable ethics and I feel proud of the work we do in the Library and in the Folklore program. My advice for the next person would be to find their passion with this work.”
Though Williams is retiring from Utah State University, she has no plans to slow down. She will continue to serve as vice president of the Cache Refugee Immigrant Connection and as board chair of Utah Humanities. She also plans to complete a book about Utah’s opioid crisis, situated from the voices of those most affected, with her research partner Sandra Sulzer and many community scholars. She also plans to continue to facilitate the Recovery Book Group with Jessie Schiess, be a social justice warrior, travel with her husband and enjoy her 10 grandchildren.
“I’m excited about the future and opportunities to learn and grow as a person,” Williams said.
Coy said the community will feel a loss as Williams retires her archival work.
“No one will be able to fill those shoes,” Coy said.
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