Tara Laver likes to tell people she gets to read other people’s letters and diaries for a living. As Curator of Manuscripts in the LSU Libraries Special Collections, that is part of her job. Whether it’s the diary of a young woman experiencing the Civil War in her Louisiana hometown, a government official writing in 1805 from Natchitoches on the then-U.S. frontier, or an LSU cadet describing college life in 1912, it’s documents like these, which tell the stories of people and their times, that hooked Laver on becoming an archivist.
Her current research project reflects this interest. Laver is editing for publication the diary of Eliza Magruder (1803-1876), an unmarried native of Maryland who moved to her aunt and uncle’s cotton plantation outside of Natchez, Mississippi, after her father died bankrupt. The diary spans 1846-1857, with some interruptions, and records the day to day life of Eliza and her aunt; their interaction with and attitudes about the slaves on the plantation; their intellectual, social, and church life; the extended familial and geographic community of which they were a part; the role Eliza played on the plantation and in the community as a caregiver; and her place in society as a dependent, unmarried woman.
As Curator of Manuscripts, Laver is responsible for acquiring new collections of historical documents or manuscripts for the Libraries’ Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, a research collection comprised of published and unpublished materials about Louisiana and the geographic region surrounding the lower Mississippi River. She works with families, organizations, and individuals to secure donations of collections, as well as with manuscript dealers to acquire materials through purchase. She also oversees how those materials are processed, cataloged, and preserved once they are received so that patrons can access them. In addition, Laver has responsibility for the University Archives, the records of LSU that have long-term historic or administrative value, presents orientation and instruction sessions about how to do research in Special Collections, provides reference assistance to patrons, and participates in the overall management of Special Collections as a department head. Her favorite aspects of the work are discovering new and interesting materials in the collections, meeting donors and hearing their stories, and helping undergraduates learn about and use the unique holdings in Hill Memorial Library.
A native of Sulphur, La., Laver earned a B.A. with a double major in history and broadcast journalism and an MLIS from LSU, where she also took graduate courses in American history. Her first position was as archivist at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. She returned to LSU in her current capacity in 2000.