HERRON: How do you deal with what's not there anymore, like the historically black neighborhoods that were displaced on and around Indiana Avenue?

JORDAN RYAN: I did a lot of work with the late anthropologist Paul Mullins at the School of Liberal Arts—he’s been my research better half for about the last seven years. We did a lot of work on erasure and displacement. How do you find those lost and subverted histories? Just because a place is gone doesn’t mean the cultural history has been erased—you can look at archival materials like newspaper clippings, oral histories, a flyer, demographics, land use reports—there are so many ways to bring that culture back to life and tell the story of the neighborhood’s change over time.

HERRON: How do scholars or members of the community access the archives you work on?

JORDAN RYAN: I have a reference room, so city staff or the public can come visit me and I can pull the materials out of my vaults and we can hang out in the archives and you can look at things that have been inventoried and archived. I've been setting up the archive space for about the last six months. I took over vacated courtrooms in the city-county building when all the courts went to the Community Justice Center and I'm about ready to open! It’s taken some time because I'm a department of one with a 200-year backlog.

HERRON: What advice would you give young art historians or students interested in this kind of work?

JORDAN RYAN: Try anything. Take advantage of this time when you're young and have more time. I'm glad that I took a long journey to get where I am because it allowed me to figure out what I liked, but also what I didn't like doing which I think is just as important. I don't have a library science degree, which is kind of nontraditional. I have a public history master’s degree, so I had to learn the archival skills I needed on the job. Working at the Herron art library set me up for success, too, because it got me thinking about reference, circulation, metadata, and digital collections.

HERRON: What’s your pep talk for starting work that’s difficult?

JORDAN RYAN: We need to give ourselves more credit than we do. We talk ourselves out of things—impostor syndrome is so real. Remember that it doesn't hurt to try, because even if you don't succeed on your terms, you probably learned something that's going to set you up for the next thing. So much of this work is about taking a chance, it's about following through, and about building relationships.

You don't have to have the best grades, you just need to follow through with people, not only in terms of the work itself but follow up with folks. It takes five minutes to send an e-mail or a text that can set you up for success for something else. I’m happiest just organizing things in folders and playing Roxy Music all by myself in the archives. But I know I have to talk to people, I have to behave.

HERRON: What’s your advice for folks like you who aren’t naturally extroverted when it comes to networking?

JORDAN RYAN: It’s awkward and it can be uncomfortable to put yourself out there but if you do it enough you will find your people. For me that's librarians, archivists, anthropologists, cemetery people—people who are really interested in civic mindfulness.

HERRON: What's next for you and your career?  

JORDAN RYAN: Can I just sleep for a little bit? [laughter] I’m focusing on building the city-county archive and building up the collections with high research value materials that can help us understand the city's history better. I never thought I would be here, but I'm having so much fun.