David Peters, head of the Archives Department and longtime contributor to STATE magazine, manages Oklahoma State University’s past and prepares for its future.
One of the most distinctive features of OSU is its sense of tradition, which Peters knows is impossible to embody without an abundant and accurate history. In charge of maintaining over 1,400 collections of archives with new material coming in every day, Peters’ role is organized chaos. Appraising and compiling material that if set in a line would stretch about six miles is overwhelming, but Peters works with joy, calling every day a new adventure. Desiring to tell the most complete story with as many different perspectives as possible, Peters said his greatest challenge isn’t deciding what stays or what goes, but determining what will be needed in the future.
Student and Volunteer
A semester away from graduating from OSU with a bachelor’s in social sciences, he joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Mabonto, Sierra Leone, in West Africa. He fell in love with the sense of collaboration so prevalent in the village, so much so that he intentionally sought out that feeling of partnership when he returned to Stillwater. He found it in the OSU community.
Employee and Writer
After returning to the States, Peters earned his undergraduate degree and started in the graduate program in history at OSU. He began working as a researcher and co-wrote one of 26 volumes in the Centennial Histories Series. During his research, he spent a lot of time in the archives. He was offered and accepted a position at the library, planning to try it out for a year — and now, it’s 34 years later. He would go on to earn a master’s degree in library science with an archives emphasis. In 2001, he started writing articles for STATEmagazine on behalf of the library. “There were all these wonderful individuals and stories I was discovering working in the archives,” Peters said. “This gave me a chance to highlight them.” He has worked under five different presidents of the university.
One of his favorite mementos from Mabonto is a walking stick crafted by his friend, the village blacksmith. It symbolizes the community he found in Africa, the relationships he built and the lessons he learned in life.