School of Information Alumnus and Archivist Hosts Genealogy Event and Looks Ahead
“I think the number of interesting dead people is greater than the number of interesting living people. I value the opportunity to help keep alive the memories of previous generations by arranging and describing historic records.”
MLIS Graduate 2007
School of Information alumnus Sebastian Nelson (MLIS, ’07) has a keen interest in keeping the memories and people of the past alive in both memory and record. “I think the number of interesting dead people is greater than the number of interesting living people,” says Nelson. This idea and interest drove Nelson to pursue his MA in History, followed by his MLIS at SJSU’s School of Information with a focus on archival studies. “I value the opportunity,” says Nelson, “to help keep alive the memories of previous generations by arranging and describing historic records.”
Today, Nelson works at the California State Archive as an archivist. “I’m a member of the Reference, Education and Outreach team,” says Nelson, “where I help researchers and other members of the public use our collections of inactive records of state government that have enduring historic value.” Nelson also helps put together exhibits and other programs for the public. Classes like iSchool faculty member Lori Lindberg’s INFO 256: Archives and Manuscripts and INFO 284: Seminar on Archives and Record Management at the School of Information helped immensely in giving Nelson the skills he needed to obtain a career in the archival field. As well, the internship at History San José Nelson obtained through SJSU provided him integral hand-on experience with processing records
Although Nelson attended the SJSU’s MLIS program before it became the iSchool proper and moved towards a flexible, one hundred percent online platform, he does recognize the benefits of online learning. “I’m a San José native,” Nelson says, “but many of my classmates were from different parts of California and even out-of-state, so I think the flexibility of online classes makes a lot of sense for them.”
Heraldry, History and Dark Ages
In addition to his work at the California State Archives, Nelson often has opportunities to host events and lectures on subjects in which he has a substantial interest. “A few weeks ago,” says Nelson, “I gave a lecture with the Davis Genealogy Club about heraldry and how genealogists can use coats of arms to help understand family histories. It was successful!” While heraldry is more of a hobby to Nelson than a core part of his work, he works alongside many genealogists in a field that promotes open sharing of insight and knowledge to build a better and more informative future.
As for his own future and the ideal future of his field, Nelson is concerned with the “digital dark ages,” referring to the lack of historical information in this digital age as a direct result of outdated file formats, software or hardware that becomes corrupt, scarce or inaccessible as tech evolve and data decays. “An ideal future for the archival profession in America is one without that threat of the digital dark ages,” Nelson says. “Unfortunately, I believe that it’s pretty much unavoidable in all aspects of American society by this point.” For the record, Nelson hopes he is wrong. However, if he’s right he believes the archival profession should focus not completely on prevention, but instead on mitigation. These are the kinds of issues archivists like Nelson need to consider in this modern age of information and recordkeeping. With the information management and critical thinking skills nurtured by SJSU’s School of Information, though, Nelson seems prepared for whatever the future may bring.