Fellow: Deborra A. Richardson

Deborra A. Richardson, chair of the Archives Center at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (NMAH), will be inducted as a Fellow of the Society of American Archivists (SAA). The distinction of Fellow is the highest honor bestowed on individuals by SAA and is awarded for outstanding contributions to the archives profession.

Richardson received a bachelor of music degree from Howard University and a master of library science degree from the University of Maryland, College Park. Richardson has worked at NMAH for twenty-three years, previously serving as the assistant chair of the Archives Center and archives specialist for the Duke Ellington Collection. During her time at NMAH, Richardson has implemented projects to educate young adults about the profession through internships and volunteer opportunities. She also has worked with Archives Center colleagues who teach an “Archival Practises” class, introducing students in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University to the profession and to archival theory and practice using hands-on experience with archival materials.

Richardson has served the profession in a variety of leadership positions; she was a member of the SAA Council from 2009 to 2012 and she helped bridge the gap between affiliated professional organizations as a representative and then chair on the American Library Association / SAA / Association of American Museums Joint Committee on Archives, Libraries, and Museums from 2004 to 2008. Richardson continues her supervisory and management training; recently, she attended the Archives Leadership Institute, which instilled the knowledge that in-reach is all important, and the Institute for Cultural Entrepreneurship, which drilled home the need for nonprofit units to become self-sustaining.

Richardson began her career at the Moorland Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, which sparked her passion to provide archival community service to individuals and organizations. For her most recent work, she contributed to the New York metropolitan area hip hop symposium “Documenting History in Your Own Backyard” held at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, for which she and colleagues introduced participants to new issues in documenting and preserving the history of hip hop culture.

In 2011, she published Treasures at the Museum, a children’s book targeting students in grades K–4 that encourages intergenerational interaction among family members as they learn together about archives and museums. The book also has been used as a basis for in-school and after-school activities as well as museum visits for students in grades K–6 in the Philadelphia and Washington, DC metropolitan areas.

One recommender noted that Richardson is “a fine exemplar of the importance of diversity in the field of archives and a strong advocate for a more participatory and outreach-oriented profession.” 

Richardson is one of four new Fellows named in 2013. There are currently 175 Fellows of the Society of American Archivists.