Fellow: L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin

L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin, manuscripts librarian and curator of the Joseph R. Biden, Jr., senatorial papers at the University of Delaware, will be inducted as a Fellow of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) during a ceremony at the SAA Annual Meeting. The distinction of Fellow is the highest honor bestowed on individuals by SAA and is awarded for outstanding contributions to the archives profession.

An insightful educator, advocate for archival employees, and leader in the realm of congressional papers, Johnson Melvin’s work has crossed many boundaries, from archives to political science to library management. After completing a master of information and library studies from the University of Michigan, she began working in Special Collections at the University of Delaware, where she has held a variety of roles. For more than two decades, she has curated many exhibits, written widely on subjects within archives, and presented about archives multiple times a year. She was also co-editor with Karen D. Paul and Glenn R. Gray of An American Political Archives Reader, which received the SAA Waldo Gifford Leland Award in 2010.

Johnson Melvin’s continual mentorship and instruction has supported many members of the archival community and archives users. Johnson Melvin has made between six and nineteen visits to University of Delaware classes every year since 2006 and has taught on topics ranging from conservation in photographic works to gender studies to environmental politics. Her instruction is not limited to college students—she has also visited elementary and middle school classrooms to teach on primary sources and engage younger students with archives.

Her leadership is particularly evident in her work to elevate women’s history and role in archives. One notable effort was her recent collaboration with University of Delaware historian Anne Boylan to develop “Votes for Delaware Women,” an extensive online exploration of suffrage in the state. This collaboration earned Johnson Melvin and Boylan the prestigious Leab Exhibition Award from the American Libraries Association’s Rare Books and Manuscript Section in 2021. Within SAA, Johnson Melvin was selected as one of ten leaders to plan and moderate “Women’s Archives: What Does the Future Hold?”, which took place just prior to and in conjunction with the 2013 SAA Annual Meeting and for which she advocated for financial support to increase accessibility to the event. Additionally, she has been active in local historical and genealogical societies, serving as president of the Association of American University Women, Newark Branch, from 2008 to 2010.

Johnson Melvin has been an influential leader in SAA’s Congressional Papers Section. She has also been active in the Description Section, Manuscript Repositories Section, and Women’s Collections Section, serving on steering committees for all these groups. She designed SAA’s continuing education course “Managing Literary Manuscripts: Identification, Description, Preservation” in collaboration with Sue Hamburger. They taught the course in New Orleans, Texas A&M, and New York Public Library. When Johnson Melvin could not attend the course at the University of Utah, she provided extensive notes of best practices for keeping attendees engaged and learning.

In addition, after noticing the proliferation of temporary appointments for archivists in recent years, Johnson Melvin worked with fellow SAA members Sheridan Sayles and Amy Vo to design and conduct two comparative surveys: one for employees and one for employers of archival project positions. The team reported on their findings during the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) and SAA’s Research Forum in 2019. Johnson Melvin has persisted in her research past this initial survey, continuing to advocate for archivists in the workplace.

One of her supporters says, “At both the individual and collective levels, Johnson Melvin’s work has always been creative, generous, genuine, and humble.” Of Johnson Melvin’s expertise in congressional papers, one of her recommenders writes: “She has successfully expanded the universe of research use of congressional collections through outreach. It is not an exaggeration to say that, before her involvement, this was a community with little use for these wonderful and significant materials.” Another adds: “Johnson Melvin’s expertise is so highly regarded that most institutions that initiate a congressional papers collecting program typically begin the process by consulting her for advice and guidance.”

Johnson Melvin is one of six new Fellows named in 2022. There are currently 195 Fellows of the Society of American Archivists.