Talking about . . .

the Peace Corps Collection
an interview by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962–64)

IN 1986 AT THE CELEBRATION at the of the twenty-fifty anniversary of the Peace Corps, I put together the first panel discussion on books written by Peace Corps writers. In the large tent on the Mall in Washington, D.C., those RPCVs who love great books and good writing gathered to discuss what RPCVs had written. It was at this meeting that novelist Suzy McKee Charnes (Nigeria 1961–62) asked if there was a library or museum collecting the writings of RPCVs. [Then (as now) the official records of the Peace Corps are preserved in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. No institution, however, had been systematically saving personal papers and documents of the former Volunteers and staff, and consequently, there was relatively little published on their actual work and experiences.]
     As a result of that panel discussion, and the creation of the National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (NCRPCV — now the NPCA) I was put on a panel of RPCVs to find a home for our writing. The panel was made up of Suzy McKee Charnes, Roger Landrum (Nigeria 1961–63), Margaret Pollock (Korea 1978–81) and one or two others, including, as I recall, Bob Cohen (Nigeria 1962–64), and myself.
     I began to contact, as did others on the panel, colleges, universities and museums seeking a home for our collection. I can’t remember what other institutions volunteered to house our documents, but I convinced Notre Dame University and the Kennedy Library in Boston that our work belonged in their libraries.
     Father Ted Hesburgh, then in his last year as President of Notre Dame, wrote that ND would be pleased to have the collection. Hesburgh was a great friend of the agency and his university had trained many Volunteers.
     When I contacted the Kennedy Library, RPCV Henry Gwiazda (India 1964–66) was a curator there and he helped to secure the collection for the library. The NCRPCV, then under the leadership of Tim Carroll (Nigeria 1963-65), decided to place the collection in the Kennedy Library.
     Recently I emailed the current curator of our Peace Corps Collection, Jaimie Quaglino, at the Kennedy Library about it, her background, and how RPCVs and PCVs can contribute to the Peace Corps Archives. Here’s what Jaimie had to say.

Jaimie, how long have you been at the Library and with the Collection?
I have worked as an archivist at the Kennedy Library since 2005 and with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) Collection since the beginning of this year. Before that, from 2001–2003, I worked part time assisting with archival work at the Kennedy Library while obtaining my double masters degrees in Archives Management and History at Simmons College in Boston, MA. Both my experience working with a variety of collections at the Kennedy Library, as well as my background in American 20th century history, have given me a good foundation to administer the RPCV Collection.

What is the history of the Peace Corps Collection?
The Collection has two major components to it — we collect both the Personal Papers of RPCVs and Oral Histories of RPCVs. The Personal Papers collection was established here about 25 years ago as the result of a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer reunion by the director of the Kennedy Library at that time, Dan Fenn. The Oral Histories have a different story. In 2000, Robert Klein (Ghana 1961–63), a member of Ghana I, who had been conducting interviews with other Ghana I members in order to write his memoir, approached the library with the idea of conducting interviews with RPCVs from all countries, and creating a more formal Oral History Program that could document all RPCV experiences.

    What is in the Collection? And who uses it?

    A variety of material comprises the body of work held here. We have letters to friends and family from Volunteers, memos and training guides, newspaper articles documenting Volunteer efforts, postcards, memoirs, and photographs.

    How many people use the Collection? And who are they?

    We don’t collect independent statistics for use of specific collections, so I am not able to provide a concrete number. Generally speaking, however, most users of the collection are RPCVs themselves, or friends and family of RPCVs.

    How does the Collection fit in with the whole scheme of the Library?
    The mission of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library is to collect material that documents the life and times of President John F. Kennedy. The Peace Corps Collection documents the efforts of a program that began during Kennedy’s administration, yet still continues today.

    What is the Library looking for from Returned Peace Corps Volunteers?
    The Library is especially interested in original materials (Personal Papers) and Oral Histories from the early Volunteers and years of the Peace Corps — the 1960s in particular. Because of the passing of time, and because of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the program in 2011, it is crucial to document the efforts and experiences of the first Volunteers while their stories and mementos are still available. We are interested only in original materials rather than copies of documents — so if you aren’t ready to part with your mementos yet, we don’t want to take them from you! Types of documents can include letters you might have sent to your family documenting your experiences, guides or memos you used during training, photographs relating to your work, and other materials that document your personal experiences working as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

    How does one give documents to the Library to be included in the Collection?
    Before documents can be accepted into the Collection, we need to know how much material the RPCV has (100 letters in a large box, etc.), the dates of the material, and how the materials specifically relate to their Peace Corps experience in the country in which a volunteer was assigned to. We narrow and focus the materials to document the RPCV experience, while maintaining archival quality documentation. Currently, we collect representative sets (usually limiting them to less than 50) of photographs and slides. We also accept only the original documents rather than photocopies of letters. We request the dates of the RPCV’s service, title, and/or a brief description of their duties in the Peace Corps as well.
         Once we have more information and make a decision to accept the materials, we ask the RPCV to send the material to me. I create a deed of gift with an Appendix that describes the donation and send the RPCV two copies that must be hand-signed. We use a standard deed of gift for donations of personal papers.
         The major purposes of the deed of gift are to transfer title to the historical materials along to the Government and to establish the terms of access to the materials. The deed of gift provides for unrestricted transfer of title to the United States, a guarantee to the donor that the materials will be preserved in an appropriate depository and that the donor will have access to these materials on request during business hours, the terms of access, permission to dispose of materials deemed physically harmful to other items or historically insignificant, assignment of copyright, and a brief appendix that describes the materials being donated.
         We ask the RPCV to sign and date two copies of the deed of gift and return them to me so we can pass them on to the Archivist of the United States to countersign. When we receive the deeds back from the Archivist, we send the RPCV a signed deed and retain one for our records.
         While there are many steps in this process, they all work to ensure that documents are well-cared for and accounted for and available for research at the Kennedy Library.

    Thank you, Jaimie, for your time with this interview and for your work with our Peace Corps history.
    Thank you. It is my pleasure. It’s a great job.