In about two weeks I’ll be leaving my home in Massachusetts to take on an archival project in Michigan. I can’t decide whether I am thrilled or terrified, but that’s okay as I’m human and we aren’t meant to operate in binary.
The most frequent piece of advice I’ve received as an early career archivist is this: be willing to move. I’ve been hearing this from every direction – I even had three separate horoscopes from three different magazines willing me to make a relocation. I’m more fortunate than a few of my peers in this respect. At this stage of my life, I am answerable to only myself.
I went to graduate school to be a cataloger and to work on digital projects. It just so happened that my projects and internships were all situated in various archives. I remember thinking how odd it was that I was working in this setting; as an undergraduate, working with archives and rare books was moly for English majors. It was a dream job, not something I could ever actually make a living at.
The last class of my graduate career was Introduction to Archives. I felt somehow fraudulent sitting next to my Archives Concentration classmates. My peers were diehard archivists, attending every SAA Student Chapter meeting, visiting regional archival institutions and tweeting community archival initiatives. Me? I decided to be indulgent and take the course as an elective. I had been exposed to archives at this point and felt my ignorance keenly. What is a fonds? What is EAD? Who is Hollinger?
What I learned from the course is that graduate school is a bubble. I am not any less an archivist for not having chosen to be an archivist when I entered graduate school. A series of remarkable events and nurturing professionals helped steer me to a path I am happy to trod. The connections I made in graduate school helped secure me my first paid position in an archival setting.
My first job was not a professional archival position per se. It was a specialist position and I loved it. Eight remarkable women stepped up to the mentorship plate and helped me discover and shape my emerging professional identity. Working at my institution gave me the opportunity to acquire, in an astonishingly short amount of time, a range of skills and experience that I didn’t have before. To me, it provided me the much needed sense of legitimacy and belonging in the profession.
To my family, my moving across the country for a term project position is crazy. Why would I leave my home, family, and friends? Why would I leave my professional network? Surely somebody in my area could help me find a position? The University of Michigan is no small feat. It’s the big leagues in the library and archival world, with one of the top LIS programs in the country. How would I fit in?
It was my former manager who pointed a few truths to me.
- Leaving one’s comfort zone is a good thing. It’s how we figure out who we are and what we can do.
- No two archives are the same. Watch, listen, learn and explore.
- The world is round. The world is big. You’ve gotta step up to the plate and take a chance.
We had a lengthy conversation – or maybe several dozen – but ultimately it boiled down to the bare basics. As I trust and respect her, did I think she would have kept me on and referred me for other positions if I was not an archivist? There it was. Validation. Professional respect. A little confidence.
And so, my friends, the archivist decided to leave the nest.