John Bence named University Archivist

Bence will assume the role on Aug. 1 as the chief administrator responsible for the University Archives and Records Center program to collect, manage, and preserve Archives materials.

(name) Bence.
John Bence will oversee all operations of the University Archives and Records Center beginning August 1. (Image: Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Libraries)

The University of Pennsylvania Libraries is pleased to announce that John Bence has been named University archivist, effective Aug. 1, 2023.

In this role Bence will oversee all operations of the University Archives and Records Center (UARC), including its outreach initiatives and fundraising program. As the chief administrator responsible for UARC’s program to collect, manage, preserve, and make accessible materials of operational and historical value, he will lead a team that serves the Penn community; scholars interested in the history of the University, institutions of higher learning in the United States, and American intellectual life; and the Philadelphia community.

“As University archivist, John will play a very prominent role in both Penn Libraries leadership and the life of the University,” says Constantia Constantinou, H. Carton Rogers III Vice Provost and Director of Libraries. “His depth of experience and his connections to national archival communities will be an asset as we continue working to open information and resources to the Penn community, our region, and the world.”

Bence is currently assistant director and University archivist in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University. Over his 12-year tenure at Emory, he has reestablished the University’s records management program and renewed engagement with stakeholders to raise visibility of the archives. He has also provided leadership in building, preserving, and making available collections connected with Emory’s history.

In 2017 Bence collaborated on preserving an oral history project with first-generation college students, which eventually led him to administering a new service-oriented oral history program integrated with Emory’s academic mission. More recently he has collaborated with stakeholders to examine Emory’s connections to slavery, dispossession, and its relationship to issues of social justice, including creation of an online, public-facing portal that highlights the work of Black student activists at Emory from the 1960s through 2010s.

Bence has played a variety of leadership roles both at Emory and nationally. At Emory, he served as president of the Employee Council from 2018 to 2020. Nationally he was co-chair of the Standards Committee of the Society of American Archivists from 2017 to 2019. He was also a member of the 2015 cohort of the Archives Leadership Institute funded by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.

In his new role as University archivist at Penn, one of Bence’s priorities will be overseeing the continued integration of UARC with Penn’s library system. On Jan. 1, 2022, UARC become part of the Penn Libraries’ Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. The two organizations had collaborated closely for many years, and the shift was made to formally recognize and capitalize on the natural synergies between them.

“Few American universities have a history as deep and rich as Penn. Fewer still have been as committed to preserving and providing access to that history,” says Sean Quimby, associate University librarian for special collections and director of the Kislak Center. “John’s combination of experience and ingenuity will ensure that we build upon this distinguished tradition. I would like to thank assistant University archivist J.M. Duffin for the extraordinary commitment that he has shown in filling the interim role these past few years.”

Bence will work with Duffin and the staff of Penn Libraries to collect, manage, catalog, and preserve the University’s administrative records as well as the personal and professional papers of its faculty, students, alumni, and benefactors, as well as other historical material relevant to Penn’s history.

As information ecosystems continue to evolve, Bence will also be responsible for identifying new avenues and technologies for storing records that include—in addition to born digital materials—collections in other mediums, audiovisual collections, and computer emulation.

“I am absolutely delighted to be joining Penn Libraries and to be working with the UARC team,” says Bence. “UARC is a robust university archives and records management program, and I am excited to help build upon this strong foundation. With the integration of UARC into the Penn Libraries, there are many opportunities to move the program forward, and getting to be part of such progress is a great privilege.”

Bence holds an M.A. in archives and public history from New York University and a B.A. in history from Kenyon College.