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Chris Jones: Archivist Extraordinaire

Chris Jones near the Burling Library bookshelves, with his car keys back. Photo by Alex Fontana.

By Libby Eggert

When a job came open for a staff position in the Special Collections office at Grinnell College, Chris Jones’ mom took his car keys and hid them until he banged out a resume, cover letter and application for the job. Jones had been working at the Special Collection Library at his graduate school, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Now, Jones has been at Grinnell for seven years as both the Special Collections librarian and archivist of the College. He held that initial Special Collections staff position for four years before his boss retired and encouraged him to apply for the spot. In his new spot, he assumes many roles and responsibilities for the college’s invaluable archive.  

Jones grew up in Iowa City. He received his B.A. in French with an emphasis in business at University of Northern Iowa.  He knew he wanted to be a librarian, so immediately he got his Master’s of Library and Information Science from UIUC.  

“I went into librarianship to help people,” said Jones. “One of the biggest boosts I get is … the reaction that people give sometimes being introduced to something that is so old, so rare or so beautiful, but so much outside of their realm of experience thus far that their reaction is ‘oh my gosh.’”  

To Jones, Grinnell is unique in its archival collection because of how much the school values precedent and history. 

“There’s a very clear reliance on what has come before,” he said. One example he gave is the medallion ceremony, where students receive a half dollar coin engraved with their class year during their welcome ceremony. None of these traditions would be possible without archives, Jones said. 

A major part of Jones’ job is interacting with other departments and faculty members. He worked with an English course to explore Korean literature, as well as a tutorial class to look at the history of books in the West. He is also a liaison to the History Department, and works with them regularly.  

“No two days are the same,” said Jones. His days consist of meeting with his colleagues, helping students learn how to use materials or teaching seminars to classes.  

One of the biggest boosts I get is … the reaction that people give sometimes being introduced to something that is so old, so rare or so beautiful, but so much outside of their realm of experience thus far that their reaction is ‘oh my gosh. – Chris Jones, Library Archivist

Currently Jones is working on a grant with Iowa State University called “Digitizing Collections and Archives: Amplifying Unheard Voices.” He also is working with Grinnell’s project archivist, Laura Michaelson, to catalog and digitize the Salisbury House Library Collection.  

Jones also serves on the library’s outreach team, which works on social media presence and planning events for the library.  

But when his days are unscheduled, Jones likes to “take a deep breath and do a dive into our rare book collection, which is probably my favorite aspect of Special Collections.” 

For Jones, Grinnell is uniquely small and tight-knit compared to the larger public schools he attended, which has pros and cons for the self-described introvert. 

“It’s really hard sometimes to remember that pretty much everybody knows who you are … [but] it’s a much tighter community which makes it actually a lot easier to learn … about events or whatever is happening in the community,” said Jones.

When he’s not hosting walk-in hours from 1:30-5 p.m. in the basement of Burling, or digitizing every book in Special Collections, you might find Jones reading, playing video games or spending time with his new puppy Indie or his seven cats.  

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