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Papers, Please

All the data and documents produced by a congressional office represent a little slice of history, and Jan Zastrow is doing her best to ensure that at least some of the mountain of paperwork on Capitol Hill is properly preserved.

Zastrow, head of the archives and manuscripts department at the University of Hawaii Library, is in the second year of a sabbatical as archivist for Senate Majority Leader Reid, who decided in 2008 to beef up his office's records management.


"There are not many of us in the Senate," said Zastrow, noting only about a dozen senators' offices and five committees have hired archivists to organize and maintain records.

Another one is Nan Wood Mosher, archivist for Senate Minority Leader McConnell. Mosher and Zastrow have jointly written a paper on Senate archivists that they will present this week at a meeting of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress being held at the National Archives.

Much of an archivist's job is consultative, Zastrow said. "Basically, I train staff on what is a historical document," she said. "I've spent a lot of time advising staff on how to save electronic messages, how to weed out the 'Where should we go to lunch?' e-mails."


Zastrow was born in Hawaii when her father was in the military there, and she graduated from Punahou School in Honolulu, which also boasts President Obama as an alumnus. She got into the records business working at the library while attending Columbus College [now Columbus State University] after her family moved to Georgia, but she put her career on hold for a six-year residency in Greece, including work in a tourist shop at the base of the Acropolis.

She returned to Hawaii for her 15-year reunion at Punahou in 1989 and decided to stay, taking a job at the state archives. Later, after stints at a publishing company and running her own business, Zastrow became a certified archivist and landed at the University of Hawaii in 2002. One of her duties was archiving the papers of the Hawaii congressional delegation, which involved regular trips to Washington to meet with staffs. Those connections led her to apply for the Senate position in 2008, when she was due for a sabbatical.

In her short tenure with Reid, Zastrow has also formed a support group for others in her profession called Capitol Hill Archivists and Records Managers, or CHARM.

This article appears in the May 22, 2010 edition of NJ Daily.

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