Staff Profile — James Sorrell

Next in our series of staff profiles is James Sorrell.

Tell us a little about your job.

I am presently chief of the Special Collections Section, and I directly supervise a staff of six (there are 10 1/2 positions in the section) at three locations – the State Archives in Raleigh, the Western Regional Archives, and the Outer Banks History Center in Manteo.  The Special Collections Section is tasked with the collection, arrangement and description, and reference (at the WRA and OBHC) of all non-government records and materials in the Division of Archives and Records.

How long have you worked at the State Archives?

I have been a permanent full time employee at the State Archives for 34+ years.  Prior to that I worked as a college intern in the photograph collection for two summers and part-time in the Search Room in graduate school. My first position as a full time employee in 1979 was as a reference archivist in the Archives Search Room.  I then worked in arrangement and description of both county and state agency records for about two years.  After that I was correspondence archivist for six years, then Archives registrar for twelve years. In 2002, I was appointed as head of the Archival Description Unit which later became the Special Collections Branch, and now the Special Collections Section.

Describe your educational or career background prior to working here.

I have a BA (1978) and a MA (1981) in history from North Carolina State University.  I came to work at the State Archives right out of college.  The only other job I’ve ever had was working in the drug store in my hometown in high school.

Are you involved in any professional organizations?

Charter member of SNCA [Society of North Carolina Archivists]; served on the SNCA executive board as secretary/treasurer and, when that position was divided into a treasurer and secretary, as treasurer; also served on the publications committee.

What project(s) have you completed recently or what are you currently working on?

I have recently completed the reclassification and description and indexing in MARS of the Archives map collection.  I am currently editing and providing more robust descriptions of the map entries in MARS.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?

I still enjoy simply being around and handling the archival materials housed here.  That has never gotten old.  I can also say that I have always been well treated by my supervisors and other staff members here.

What skills or traits do you think are needed to be successful at your job?

Patience, ability to motivate people, attention to detail, multi-tasking, and, increasingly, technology.

Is there an aspect of your job that you never thought you would end up doing?

Supervising the OBHC and the WRA.

What work-related accomplishment are you most proud of?

Completing the map collection after 30+ years of starts and stops on that project.  I’m also very proud of the reference work I did, both behind the Search Room desk and as correspondence archivist, and of the skills I acquired while doing it.

What’s the most interesting or unusual thing you’ve come across in a collection?

That’s hard to say.  I’ve touched most everything here at one time or other.

Do you have a favorite collection or set of records?

The maps drawn by Robert Brazier from surveys he conducted as part of an effort to improve the state’s transportation system in the early 1800s by building a system of roads and canals.  These are really works of art as well as being important one of a kind records.  I’ve also always been fond of the Tomato Club booklets in the Jane McKimmon Papers (PC.234).  These are creative, and I like the idea behind them that McKimmon was trying to instill in these young farm women at the turn of the last century that they needed to find a way to make money on their own to give them a measure of economic independence.

What would you want people to know about our collections or services that may not be widely known?

That we are a lot more than a place to do genealogy.  We preserve the records that protect the rights and property of the citizens of North Carolina and that these records help to preserve transparency in state government.