April 10, 2024

Derek Potts, DePaul University

Derek Potts, Instruction and Outreach Archivist at DePaul University.

This tenth installment of CCC's Member Spotlight series features an interview with Derek Potts, Instruction and Outreach Archivist, DePaul University.

Tell us about yourself and your role.

I am the Instruction and Outreach Archivist, helping to connect our materials to students, community members, and advocacy groups through instruction sessions, outreach events, and archives initiatives. I began working in Special Collections and Archives (SPCA) in 2014 while pursuing my undergrad degree in History at DePaul. Through processing collections and monitoring the reading room, I quickly developed an interest in the “access part” of engaging with historical materials. This led me to pursue a Master of Science in Library and Information Science degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with an emphasis on archives and community outreach. I continued processing community collections, assisting with instruction, and mounting exhibits, before transitioning into my current role last fall.

How did you become involved in the work of Chicago Collections?

I have been aware of Chicago Collections since the 2015 launch because DePaul University is a governing member of the organization. Inspired by Chicago Collections and its first public exhibition in August 2015, Raw Material: Uncovering Chicago’s Historical Collections, I created and mounted a companion exhibit that same fall in our reading room entitled Chicago: Urban Artifacts. The DePaul SPCA exhibit featured a curation of items specifically chosen from our collections that would be discoverable through the CCC online portal. More recently, I have led historical walking tours of Lincoln Park as part of CCC programming for students with My Block, My Hood, My City.

What are some of the interesting things your institution has on EXPLORE?

DePaul has finding aids for dozens of collections on EXPLORE, along with roughly two hundred digitized images of Lincoln Park buildings. Researchers will discover several collections documenting the Lincoln Park neighborhood, with a significant amount of material related to Urban Renewal in the 1960s. The Young Lords Organization formed in Lincoln Park during this time as well – we have their records including newspapers, photographs, flyers, and oral histories highlighting YLO advocacy and activism supporting poor people and people of color. Beyond Lincoln Park, DePaul also has thousands of zines in several individual collections, many related to Chicago and the surrounding areas.

What have you liked about EXPLORE?

I regularly use the EXPLORE portal for personal and professional projects, discovering the location(s) of materials and answers to reference questions. However, my favorite way to engage with EXPLORE is sharing it with others! 

The CCC online portal is my go-to for researchers and others who are looking for materials or information related to Chicago history. I routinely share links to the site and demonstrate how to use the portal on a monitor in our reading room. The ability to search across institutional collections is an invaluable way to locate things outside of our collecting scope as well as materials that supplement the collections we do house and manage at DePaul.

What is the best part of your job?

My job is largely a continuous series of “best parts,” but I will say that I am motivated by helping people find what they are looking for, and I particularly enjoy promoting the use of collections related to social justice causes. Whether in the classroom, reading room, or tabling at an event, I enjoy being a part of people’s engagement with historical materials.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I spend as much time as possible experiencing live music in Chicago. In addition to catching touring artists, I especially love supporting local musicians and bands. We have a truly exciting local scene with fantastic artists across genres and a variety of great venues. Beyond music, I spend a lot of free time hiking and traveling.