University of Wisconsin–Madison

Rachel Vagts (MA’97) Heads SAA as President

Rachel Vagts did not anticipate that serving as the president of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) would involve responding to a global pandemic, but she has successfully helped the organization through the unprecedented circumstances. This meant moving educational offerings and annual meetings to virtual formats and adjusting the budget to avoid employee layoffs. The organization has been having overdue conversations about systemic racism and organized a successful members-driven fundraiser for archival workers in pandemic-related financial challenges.

The variety of Rachel’s experiences at the iSchool has helped her be adaptable as SAA’s president. “I knew I wanted to be an archivist, but also did a practicum at the reference desk at College Library. I’ve never had a job exclusively as a librarian, but I definitely used those versatile skills during my career.” She encourages current students to keep their options open by taking advantage of the many opportunities available during the master’s program.  

Between learning theory in the classroom and working at the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS), Rachel made connections with mentors and classmates she is still in contact with to this day. “It’s been really good to see how our lives have taken us to academic institutions, business, public libraries…even into municipal administration. Our education at Madison definitely prepared us for lots of options.” Classes led by Dee Michel, Louise Robbins and Wayne Wiegand were especially memorable. Rick Pifer at WHS taught her the importance of being engaged in a professional organization, which has been critical for career development and creating an incredible network of friends.

Rachel has applied her professional skills to institutions all over the country. As a student, she worked as a project archivist preparing advertising scrapbooks for microfilm, which led to her first job preparing Katherine Anne Porter’s papers for microfilm at the University of Maryland. Following, she spent fifteen years as the College Archivist at Luther College in Iowa before moving to Berea College in Kentucky. At Berea, she led two major projects: implementing an archives management system for finding aids and guiding a digital preservation solution to provide access to digital collections.

Currently, Rachel is the manager of Special Collections and Digital Archives at the Denver Public Library and stays connected to Madison through her deep loyalty to Badger basketball (Thank goodness for the Big Ten Network!) She will lead SAA as president until August 2021.