The Archivist Leaves the Nest

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.

  1. Leaving one’s comfort zone is a good thing. It’s how we figure out who we are and what we can do.
  2. No two archives are the same. Watch, listen, learn and explore.
  3. 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.

Strategic Planning

I don’t love buzzwords but I do love strategic planning. Actually, I love plans in general. Strategy is a whole other beast. Strategy forces us to choose specific decisions that explicitly cut off possibilities and options. As someone who has never beaten anyone at a game of checkers in her life, perhaps my love of strategy is a bit…incongruous.

Continue reading “Strategic Planning”

A Makeshift Survey Instrument

As Special Collections prepares to undergo a massive collection survey during the summer of 2015 (the first since the big reorganization – whoa!) we’ve been wondering: exactly what kind of instrument do we want which will satisfy the descriptive needs of a very large, very diverse collection? Continue reading “A Makeshift Survey Instrument”

Crash Course in Digital Preservation

An archivist serves as a steward of the past; we preserve and make accessible unique resources, winnowing out masses of material to bring to light amazing narratives. I love the prospect of building and developing the collection of the future, expanding successful strategic alliances, forging effective courses of action to get my program out there, and aligning my cataloging and acquisition priorities to the current community needs. However, and I am being absolutely real, I don’t especially love the learning curve.

What’s an archivist to do? Continue reading “Crash Course in Digital Preservation”

“to the left, to the left”: A Philosophical Week in the Stacks

Much of my archival training was strongly influenced by the seminal article published by Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner back in 2005. “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing” was such an influential work that MPLP is probably the one acronym universally recognized by archivists. Being my organization’s resident millennial and recent graduate, it’s expected of me to adhere to the MPLP model as it is ostensibly the archival theory du jour. Continue reading ““to the left, to the left”: A Philosophical Week in the Stacks”