My Library Hero: Cathy Zdonawicz

Today’s post comes to us from one of our community members, Fiona Blackburn:

Cathy Zdanowicz

Cathy Zdanowicz

Professionalism, persistence and achievement – four years with a manuscript collection

When Cathy Zdanowicz got a contract as Archives Officer here at the Australian institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, she had a library technician qualification but no archiving experience. With another library officer, and guidance from the archivist, she started work on the large Jon Altman Research Collection.

The archivist made a preliminary breakdown of the collection, provided initial guidance, showed Cathy how to rehouse papers and outlined the principles underlying assessment and description of manuscripts. Then the archivist position became vacant and wasn’t filled. The other library officer didn’t renew her contract and so Cathy began learning the next steps in archives administration pretty much on her own.

Four years, more than 249 archive boxes, 44 metres of shelf space and a 400 page finding aid, later, Cathy’s work with the Jon Altman Research Papers collection was done. During that time she trained herself through referring to senior staff and professionals from other institutions, the Keeping Archives text, and short courses. She ordered supplies (first learning what archival supplies were available and necessary for the job), wrestled the Archivist Toolkit software and trained two others in the basic skills first imparted to her, supervising their work and ensuring consistency in their output. When she was telling me this story she said, “It was bigger than Ben Hur.”

I asked her how she kept herself going, largely on her own in an unfamiliar field, for so long. Sometimes she would think, “I want this finished!” A couple of times she was asked if it would be finished in six months, to which she replied, “Hell no!” She tried condensing the process but that reduced discoverability. She would say to herself, “I don’t have to hurry, the main thing is sorting these papers properly. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ll keep thinking how to streamline it but I have the time to do it.”

Cathy doesn’t see herself as a hero – she was just doing her job as it is meant to be done, following organisational norms and industry best practice. As an example of motivation, professionalism, patience and achievement, I think it’s impressive.

Posted in Discussion topics and tagged , , .


  1. Fantastic work Cathy. You are so meticulous and that’s the name of the game. By the way, you haven’t changed a bit. They are lucky to have you and your skills and patience!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *