April 20, 2018

Laurel McPhee | Movers & Shakers 2006

The Art of Discovery


While interning at several major archives, Laurel McPhee felt the thrill of discovery, a sense of history coming alive in her hands as she ‘rehoused, -described, and -arranged’ the papers of an anthropology professor and research materials on Mark Rothko. She still feels that thrill when she examines manuscripts and documents no scholar has ever seen.

Happily, as coordinator for UCLA Library’s Center for Primary Research and Training, she gets to do that routinely and show aspiring scholars the joys of ‘doing original research in interesting collections, making discoveries, connecting the dots.’ McPhee selects graduate students and matches them with uncataloged collections in their academic specialty. She then trains them to describe and process the collections and create online finding aids.

She likes seeing grad students make the mental shift from ‘these amazing manuscripts are so precious’ to ‘these amazing manuscripts can support my dissertation research.’ Once they’ve finished their projects, students possess both previously unknown knowledge and pride in their contribution to scholarship; the center gets more neatly cataloged collections, including a Hollywood set designer’s papers, a collection of 19th-century broadside ballads, and the papers of Kenneth Rexroth and Henry Miller.

McPhee was new to supervision, but now that she’s trained over 32 students, she’s also begun to mentor MLIS students and train archival studies interns. She can’t get enough of educating people about archives. For her, the only thing more exciting than uncovering hidden knowledge is passing that excitement on to young scholars.



Current Position Coordinator, Center for Primary Research and Training, UCLA Library
Degrees MLIS, UCLA, 2004; Academy of Certified Archivists degree, expected 2006