Primary Sources

Hands-on research led Karen Adler Abramson ’99MS to a career in archives.

Karen Adler Abramson ’99MS is passionate about her job as director of archives at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. And she’s grateful for the circuitous path that led her to the post—and to archives as a profession. She had a light-bulb moment on her way to a different career.

“I was pursuing a doctorate in social welfare policy. Halfway through my program, I thought, ‘Wow, I really love spending time in all these wonderful archives, and I’m getting this degree that may or may not allow me to teach history, but I’d love to continue doing this.’” So she switched gears, got a master’s instead of a doctorate, and then pursued the archives management track at the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS). 

“I should have decided I was going to be an archivist by the time I was five,” says Karen Adler Abramson ’99MS.

“When I look back on my life, and the things that always have interested me, I should have decided I was going to be an archivist by the time I was five, because even then I was a collector,” says Abramson, with a laugh. 

At the Library, she oversees a team of 13 responsible for every aspect of President Kennedy’s archives. Abramson notes the collection includes material people might not expect, such as constituent letters. “They tell you about everyday people, what was on their mind during his presidency, and the struggles they were having. It’s fascinating.” Another surprise: The Library has the largest collection of Ernest Hemingway’s papers in the world. 

Abramson is actively involved in the Northeast Document Conservation Center, and New England Archivists, in which she recently served as president. 

Earlier this year, the SLIS Alumni Executive Board honored Abramson with the Distinguished Alumni Award. “I was shocked—but it was one of the most meaningful awards I’ve ever gotten.”