PHS Staff Profile: David Staniunas | Presbyterian Historical Society

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PHS Staff Profile: David Staniunas

March 19, 2023

What is your role at PHS? What do you do from day-to-day?

I’ve been Records Archivist here since 2011, and the role exists to accession incoming archival collections. That means that any box of stuff that comes in, I’m the person who unpacks it, separates out non-permanent stuff for return or disposal, describes the permanent stuff, takes some very basic preservation actions (usually pulling vinyl binders or old plastic, adding acid free folders or sleeves) and gets the new collection on the shelf.

More than a third of our incoming collections come from PC(USA) mid councils and from active churches. Because they make up so much of our intake, I have been the chief person to train congregations and presbyteries about good recordskeeping. Most importantly, I am one of the people who intentionally seeks out new records for the collection--from African American leaders, from LGBTQ activists, from Sanctuary workers, and from Presbyterians who support the churches of the Middle East.

Also I write stuff.

How does your work support the mission of PHS?

Annoyingly, I’m going to answer a question with a question. Why do we have “collect” up front in our mission statements? Like, why is that first? We could--it’s technically possible and a lot of archives work this way--have zero ingest. We have such a wealth of material on-site already, available for researchers in the reading room, available to be digitized, a lot still yet to be processed (that’s the physical and intellectual work that makes digitization and research easy) that we would have decades of labor available to us without new collections incoming.

We collect records for reasons that support the witness and the business of the PC(USA). We seek out records that are new to us to diversify our holdings and to represent Presbyterianism in its full flower. We connect our collections to newsworthy events in the life of the church. We serve as legacy-bearer for congregations who’ve come to the end of their ministry. And we help streamline the operations of mid councils, being their back office, so they can focus on more “abundant life” type stuff.

Why do you love working at PHS?

When the rest of the workload permits, I have a big degree of autonomy to pursue stories in the collections, or to track down people in our constituency who are interesting, or go somewhere and empty out a garage for a day.

What do you find most inspiring about PHS?

If you want to learn how United States Protestants undertook to change the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, there are basically four places you can go for research: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and us. We are an archives with a global footprint, that also collects at the local US level. And because we’re a church entity there is a greater leeway to speak freely on social causes than many people in academia have.

Please share an interesting fact about yourself.

I’m a daily bicycle commuter. I did an MFA in Painting at Indiana University and I still get to fiddle around with paint occasionally. Lately I’ve been into music of the Sahel--mostly from Mali, Niger, and the Western Sahara.