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Women to Watch at UA Little Rock 2022: Erin Fehr

In celebration of Women’s History Month, UA Little Rock is profiling women in leadership positions who are making a difference at UA Little Rock and in the community.

The next Woman to Watch at UA Little Rock of 2022 is Erin Fehr, assistant director and archivist for the Sequoyah National Research Center.

Tell us about yourself and your background?

I was born and raised in Arkansas as the oldest of four girls. My father was born in Anchorage, Alaska, to a father from Watson, Arkansas, working on the Alaska Railroad, and a full-blooded Yup’ik mother from Hooper Bay, Alaska. Growing up, I always knew about my Yup’ik heritage, but it wasn’t until I got to college and graduate school that I became more interested.

I attended Central Baptist College in Conway for my undergrad, where I majored in piano performance. Then I graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a Master of Library and Information Studies and a Master of Music in Musicology. I had plans to work in a music library or archive upon graduation, but the job market was tight in 2010.

What is your current position and professional duties at UA Little Rock?

As the assistant director and archivist at the Sequoyah National Research Center (SNRC), I have had a wide range of duties over the past decade. When I came on board in September 2011, I was the first professional archivist to work at SNRC, and my task was immense.

I created policies and procedures to guide the archives and jumped in head first to begin the job of processing the collections. Processing happens when collections are organized into a meaningful order that scholars can then use for their research. Records are placed into acid-free folders; staples and paper clips are removed; and finding aids are created online. I work with researchers all over the world that come to us via phone, email, and in person. A number of books have been published using the resources found right here at SNRC.

Our director encouraged me from day one to become involved in archival organizations and conferences, so I regularly present at local, regional, and international conferences about SNRC’s projects and personal research projects, on average about four per year.

Part of my job responsibilities are to maintain accession records for archival materials that are donated to SNRC. I also regularly communicate with donors about their donations and arrange for their acquisition, whether that means receiving them through the mail or traveling to pick them up in person. I also have the pleasure of supervising our graduate assistants and interns. Over the past decade, we have had some outstanding GAs and interns. The best part is seeing how they succeed after they leave SNRC.

Since 2017, we have been involved with commemorating the military service of American Indians and Alaska Natives in World War I through an exhibit and a searchable database called Modern Warriors of World War I. We created the “American Indians in World War I” webpage for the United States World War I Centennial Commission that has since been archived by the Library of Congress. Currently, we are a research partner with the George S. Robb Centre for the Study of the Great War at Park University as they conduct research for the Valor Medals Review, which seeks to determine if minority World War I service members should receive a posthumous Medal of Honor.

How did you arrive at UA Little Rock?

I came to UA Little Rock as an American Indian/Alaska Native Summer Intern for the Sequoyah National Research Center in 2010. I had just graduated and wanted to gain more experience while I continued my search for a full-time job in my field. The two months I was here made me fall in love with the center. I found a position at the Arkansas History Commission, now the Arkansas State Archives, in microphotography. When I found out that SNRC was looking for an archivist, I jumped at the chance to work at SNRC again. I applied and started Sept. 1, 2011.

The Sequoyah National Research Center is undergoing some exciting changes. Can you tell us what’s next for the center?

The past two years have been eventful in more ways than one. We are currently in the process of moving from University Plaza to a new location in the Fine Arts Building. The task of moving an archive has been a monumental task involving over 10,000 boxes, not to mention the shelving on which the boxes reside. We are looking forward to completing the task of moving, so that we can settle into our new space and regain the momentum we’ve lost over the last two years.

Be on the lookout for a grand reopening, probably this coming fall semester. During the pandemic, we completed a touchscreen table project “Journey of Survival: Indian Removal through Arkansas,” and we have had very few people see it. We are very excited for the campus to see the story of Indian Removal come to life in this interactive format.

What woman has inspired you the most and why?

While this seems like a cliché answer, it’s the truth; my mom has been my biggest inspiration. She has always been my biggest supporter and believed that I could do anything that I put my mind to. She taught by example and has the best work ethic of anyone I know. She raised four girls while my dad was a long-haul truck driver, homeschooled us all, and gave us a head on our shoulders to think for ourselves and not to worry about what the rest of the world said or did. She taught me to be my own person—that I didn’t need to look to anyone outside of God for approval.

How have you adapted to working in a world with COVID-19?

When we first went home to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, I began the task of cataloging our collection of over 1,200 digitized videos from the Jeanie Greene Heartbeat Alaska Film Collection. While the collection was digitized in 2016, we had not been able to catalog them in our online catalog due to time constraints. I was able to complete that project this January, and all the videos are now available on our YouTube channel as well.

Since we came back to work in the office, it has been a vastly different place. We have had to suspend our American Indian/Alaska Native Summer Internship program due to the pandemic and the move. We are hoping that Summer 2023 will bring back our summer interns. We have only had a couple of in-person researchers in the past two years, so we look forward to their return. We’ve had an increase in questions via email and over the phone though.

I also had several conference presentations canceled or postponed like so many others. I’ve learned to make virtual presentations, but they aren’t the same. I’m looking forward to the return of in-person conferences and symposia very soon.

Name something about yourself that most people would be surprised to learn. 

Two of my sisters, my mom, and I have a booth at the Cotton Shed Vintage Market in Bryant. I’ve always loved flea markets and estate sales, and we always talked about the possibility of opening a booth. During the pandemic, we just decided to go for it. The thrill of the find is what keeps us going. I’m working on my depression glass collection while we’re at it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Dr. Littlefield is the best boss I’ve ever had!