“What Are You Working On, Ernest Webby?” Volunteer Edition!
In early December, the Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, awarded Weidman Outstanding Volunteer Service Awards to three National Archives volunteers. Ernest Webby was honored for his ingenuity and achievement in establishing a program to enhance Web resources for the John F. Kennedy Library.
What’s your name and where do you volunteer at NARA?
My name is Ernest J. Webby, Jr. I perform volunteer work in the Research Room at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
How long have you been a volunteer?
I have been a volunteer at the JFK Library since 2007.
Why did you start volunteering for NARA?
I retired from my full-time position as a School Librarian in June 2003. I knew that I was not cut out to be 100 percent retired and working on projects in my home. I immediately went out and secured a part-time Reference Librarian position in a highly regarded public library just outside of Boston. I enjoyed the work enormously, but I was looking for something else to do.
My wife and a friend have attended many, many wonderful programs at the JFK Library. Each time that we attended a program, I kept thinking that I might be able to help in some way, given my library science/Reference Librarian background. I was delighted that my letter and resume offering to work as a volunteer was answered immediately and I was offered a position as a volunteer in a very short time.
What project are you currently working on?
As a volunteer, I am working with Stephen Plotkin, Archivist, and Sharon Kelly, Archive Technician, in the Research Room. I am heading up a group of volunteer typists in the John F. Kennedy Speech Re-Typing Project, which was authorized by the JFK Library administration in June 2007.
The poor condition of the vast majority of the pre-presidential speeches made it almost impossible to use a scanner to create an electronic copy of the speeches. When it became apparent that each speech would have to be retyped, I first thought that this would be my volunteer work – re-typing the speeches one at a time, starting with the 1960 primary election speeches. The more that I thought about it, I began to think that I might be able to recruit relatives and friends as volunteer typists. My hope turned to reality as nearly everyone I spoke to agreed to do some of the work. Over time, volunteers dropped out after they had typed one or many speeches. However, other volunteers stepped forward as they learned about the Re-Typing Project.
A big boost to the project came when I read in a national publication about VolunteerMatch, a national non-profit organization (on the Web at www.volunteermatch.org), which publicizes volunteer opportunities in non-profit organizations across the country. Some 36 individuals from across the country saw the announcement posted on the VolunteerMatch Web site and have become volunteer typists.
Since the start of the Re-typing Project in 2007, we have enlisted 65 volunteer typists – including my wife.
Working with Stephen Plotkin and Sharon Kelly, we identify appropriate speeches in the files at the JFK Library archives that can be re-typed. Interns in the Research Room or I then photocopy the identified speech and make a second copy of the title page, which is retained for inventory purposes with the name of the typist. One or two of the speeches along with typing and procedure instructions are then mailed out to the volunteer typist. All volunteers are told that the finished document must be typed on a PC computer as a Microsoft Word document. They are emphatically told that there is no deadline for the typing work to be completed and that they are free to work at their own pace.
When the re-typed document is finished, the typist is asked to proof-read the speech and then send it to me as an E-Mail attachment.
The re-typed speech attachment is then saved in “Incoming Speech” folders. With the speech now saved in the JFK Library’s data storage, the staff, interns, and I can perform the necessary editorial and procedural steps leading to placing the pre-presidential speeches on the JFK Library’s Web site.
All of us the JFK Library are very pleased with the results of the Re-Typing Project. When the Re-Typing Project started, there were only 10 1960 speech and debate documents on the JFK Library Web site. Today there are 282 1960 speeches, debates, and interviews posted so that the American public, students, researchers and people from all over the world can read the words of John F. Kennedy as he sought the office of President of the United States.
The typists work on the 1960 speeches is done. Now they are working on the 1959 and 1958 speeches. There is plenty of work to be done as we all strive to place all of the pre-presidential speeches from 1946 to 1960 on the JFK Library Web site.
What has changed since you started volunteering at NARA?
I appreciate the growing respect and latitude that the staff in the Research Room has given to me as I have worked with the speech files.
What’s your favorite project at NARA?
My personal favorite project is the JFK Speech Re-Typing Project, which I have described above. Also, from the window next to my desk, I can see the large addition that is being constructed for the JFK Library and, in the distance, I can see the area where construction will begin shortly on the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. Both building projects will benefit the general public.
Why did you choose to volunteer at NARA, and what keeps you coming back?
I was a Connecticut college student during the 1960 election period and, in fact, I was a cub reporter for a Bridgeport newspaper in relaying results from the college town’s Elections Office. I was a great supporter of the first Catholic President. In approaching the JFK Library’s administration, I wanted to do something to help perpetuate the memories and accomplishments of the young president.
What would you recommend to others who might be interested in becoming a volunteer?
I would tell them to look around their community to see what needs to be done and then taking steps to see how the individual help meet that need. The opportunities are great in number.
What has been the most rewarding part about being a NARA volunteer?
I have graphically seen that my work has directly resulted in helping the JFK Library administration and staff accomplish their mission of the Library.
How does it feel to be recognized by NARA for your outstanding service?
I was thrilled when I was notified of my selection for this award. I have gotten GREAT satisfaction as I have seen the progress of the Re-Typing Project. However, to feel such satisfaction and also to receive such national recognition is just wonderful. This truly is a highlight of my life. For this I can only give thanks to Stephen Plotkin, Sharon Kelly, JFK Library Deputy Director James Roth, and JFK Library Director Tom Putnam for nominating me for this wonderful award.
What other projects or hobbies are you involved in?
I have very much enjoyed creating a family tree document for my extended family, whose forbearers came from Lebanon to America in the 1890s. With the help of a cousin, who I have never met, we have created a document that goes back to 1535.
Also, my wife and I very much enjoy the opportunity to attend public forums at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and also at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in Cambridge. We have had a chance to see, hear, and, in many cases, meet many New Frontier era newsmakers as well as newsmakers of today.
What’s the last book you read or the last book you loved?
It has been quite a while since I read Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton. I was never that impressed with Hamilton. I cannot tell you why I picked the book up. But I can tell you that the book was absolutely fascinating as written by a master biographer. When I learned that Chernow had just published a new biography of George Washington, I immediately put in a reserve for the book at my public library. I am halfway through the book and Washington and his troops have just defeated the British and the Hessians at the Battle of Princeton. I strongly recommend both books. They are truly eye-opening.
The John F. Kennedy Re-Typing Project continues to welcome new volunteers to help with the re-typing work. Potential volunteers can contact Ernie via e-mail at EWebby@NARA.gov for more information.