Jessica Crosby
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Polina Ilieva to be Inducted as Society of American Archives Fellow

Polina Ilieva
Image by Susan Merrell

On August 15, 2024, the Associate University Librarian for Collections and University Archivist, Polina Ilieva, MA, will be inducted as a Fellow of the Society of American Archives (SAA) during an award ceremony at the annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois. The SAA bestows the distinction of fellow (the highest honor) on individuals who demonstrate outstanding contributions to the organization and the archives profession.

Ilieva is a certified archivist with over 25 years of archival experience. She received her MA in international relations (the international equivalent of a doctoral degree in history) at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). She began her career as a research fellow for international research at MGIMO. Afterward, she immigrated to the United States and accepted a research associate position at the Center for Southeast Asia Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2000, she became an archival specialist at the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University. Her work focused on documenting the Russian diaspora and arranging and processing materials from the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Collection. Six years later, Ilieva accepted a position with the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents (TTID, formerly Legacy Tobacco Documents Library) at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Championing UCSF’s archives and special collections

Ilieva was appointed the university archivist at UCSF in 2012 and associate university librarian for collections in 2021. Her work at UCSF has resulted in an impressive expansion of the archives program and the continued growth of the UCSF Industry Documents Library (IDL). Under Ilieva’s tutelage, the IDL has expanded from an initial focus on the tobacco industry’s impact on American public policy and health to other archives that impact public health, such as the opioid, chemical, food, drug, and fossil fuel industries.

Ilieva’s commitment to diversity and accessibility is apparent in her mentorship and teaching. From 2018 to 2020, she initiated and led two internship task forces, created guidelines and best practices for the program, and advocated for and secured permanent funding. As she strives to increase the diversity of archival collections, Ilieva is committed to including the voices of all people experiencing healthcare and institutional inequity. Furthermore, she has developed a robust exhibition program at UCSF and launched a public lecture series where researchers discussed their interaction with the University’s collections. In 2019, Ilieva initiated the UCSF Library’s Artist in Residence program to promote the health humanities by exposing and repurposing historical materials from UCSF’s holdings. Artist Farah Hamade created the first project from the residency, “The City is a Body: System Vulnerabilities in the Time of COVID-19,” in 2020. The program will host its fifth artist as of July 2024.

A successful grant writer, Ilieva obtained a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to unite three San Francisco institutions – UCSF, the San Francisco Public Library, and the GLBT Historical Society – to more fully document the biomedical, social, cultural, and economic legacy of the AIDS epidemic. Most recently, Ilieva initiated the UCSF Digital Health Humanities program to provide educational resources to encourage and develop researcher capabilities using data science and humanistic methods to analyze “archives as data.” She also collaborated with UCSF faculty to design and teach the ”Anatomy of an Archive” course, which builds graduate students’ competency in archival science and understanding of historical records.

Dedication to the archives community

Within SAA, Ilieva has had a profound impact. She has served on numerous committees and sections and received an appointment to the Committee on Ethics and Professional Conduct in 2020, first as a member and then as co-chair. During that time, the committee reviewed and revised SAA’s Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics. Furthermore, Ilieva is active in the Society of California Archivists and has significantly contributed to the Medical Heritage Library (MHL). During her tenure as president of Librarians, Archivists, and Museum Professionals in the History of Health Sciences (LAMPHS), Ilieva convened two significant committees: one to develop guidelines for handling hazardous materials in collections, and the second to focus on the ethical management of historical human remains in archives, libraries, and museums dedicated to the history of health sciences.

“[She has] a fundamentally humanistic outlook and empathy that has prompted her to take on some complex projects that many might have tried to avoid.”

A nominator of Ilieva

One supporter of Ilieva’s work noted that she has “a fundamentally humanistic outlook and empathy that has prompted her to take on some complex projects that many might have tried to avoid.” Another supporter remarked, “Polina was a supportive and encouraging mentor who taught me many valuable lessons in leadership. She helped me develop skills that have been invaluable in my professional development, and she illustrated to me the importance of building community within the field and participating in professional organizations and community outreach.”

Ilieva is one of seven new fellows the SAA will honor in 2024. There are currently 198 Fellows of the Society of American Archivists.