At the most recent SAA annual meeting (thanks for all the fish tacos, San Diego), I had the opportunity to attend section meetings. Last year, I was a little overwhelmed by the conference and stuck to the sessions, but this year I figured I would jump in with two feet.
My favorite session was for the Public Library Archives and Special Collections Roundtable - aka PLASC. The group is new to SAA but one close to my heart as an archivist and as a reader. I am a lifelong public libraries user, from the days of Babysitters’ Club Little Sister books on up. I was excited to hear about the archives faction of public librarians. The group did not disappoint.
Attendance was not huge – the Reference, Access, and Outreach Section meeting on Friday was unbelievably full in comparison – but the public library archivists and their staff are doing some inspiring work. Also, though I am familiar with the small-staffed history rooms, I don’t know how they think about their archives work and their programming. What is similar to the university special collections where I work? More than I thought. What differs? Not much, actually.
A bonus: these folks love the work they do. Some spoke about a variety of user groups that come through their doors and the multitude of education opportunities. Some institutions are very established, like the Denver Public Library, but others are just getting off the ground or still working to prove their value to the larger library institution and surrounding community. Many people spoke of the privilege of working with the public and the caliber of their colleagues. Go #teamlibrary! Or rather, #teamlibraryarchives!
I’m working to get more involved with PLASC, though I know that since I am not actually a public library archivist, I am not the group’s target demographic. But I cannot pass up the opportunity to see how public library archives do our work.
A common question to ask, oh, anyone is “So, what do you do?” As a former research analyst for a company that was sorta consulting, sorta just research, I have had more than my fair share of awkward moments trying to explain what I do. Thankfully, in the world at large, there’s a basic understanding of consulting and/or writing research papers. As an archivist/librarian/information professional, I can no longer fake it.
Now I get to tell people, “I am a processing archivist.” In return, I get blank looks or, even worse, people who are clearly trying to decipher my words. What’s processing? What’s an archivist? Crap.
Everyone imagines piles of paper, so in some ways processing is not a far jump – analog processing, at least. I was explaining that I work with collections of papers to my roommate and he somehow made the leap to papers, like the kind published in journals. There was an awkward moment where I danced around the difference between journal access and processed archival collections. Any librarian knows that the gulf between those two things is wide; but how do we help a casual information user paddle across?
Baby archivist, get ready: these conversations are just around the corner. Around every corner. Some cliffsnotes for you: No, archivists are not librarians. No, you don’t have to be an old lady. No, archives are not dying – publishing models are just changing. Be sure to reference Salman Rushdie’s archives at Emory. I do use a computer at work. I can write in code, probably better than you.
And if I meet you in a bar, please do not tell me a Dewey Decimal joke. But you will, and I won’t hold it against you.
Indeed, I did drop off the face of the known world for the completion of my graduate school experience. It turns out that two part-time jobs, one part-time internship, and a full course load equal near insanity. Sleep? For fools and drunkards. Isn’t that how that saying goes?
Now I’m back, and I’ve got plenty to say! I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be “Steph Bennett, MSLIS.” I am very lucky to have a nice big office (well, big to me) full of librarians and archivists who can talk shop and nerd-joke with. But even that delightful space is not on par with the energy and excitement that my professors and classmates frequently brought to class.
I hope this blog can become that space for energy and excitement, although I’m no Kathy Wisser. I am a processing archivist currently, so I imagine that will come into play considerably. I also have some unexplored questions and topics from grad school, so I’ll finally get around to those too.
If you have questions about archives or are curious about an aspect of LIFE AFTER GRADUATION (eek! yay!), feel free to ask.
It took me three years to get from “starting to think about library science” to “starting library and information science school to become an archivist.” I’m a late bloomer, what can I say? But when it comes down to it, this is how I got from “that could be cool” to “this is my life.
Why Library and Information Science?
The People. Truly, this was my gateway into the field. I have spent a lot of time at bookstores and libraries, across the US, and my key takeaway: I like people who like books. I took the next step and started volunteering at my local public library; I discovered that I liked shelving books and helping people find what books. I also talked with archivists during this period and took an informal trip to visit Simmons College GSLIS, my current school. What I heard clicked with my interests and aspirations, and – deal clincher – everyone was nice.
Professional Principles. I am a proponent of literacy and education; I think they are the building blocks of success. I believe in access for all, because I know that everyone does not have the benefit of high-quality education or home technology. I believe that bad books are great conversation starters, and good books are even better. I believe that if I can’t afford to go on a vacation, a good book is the next best thing. I believe that everyone can learn something at the library about themselves or the world they live in; or at least check out that movie they keep missing on TV.
My Background. I was an English major in college, and minored in Political Science and International Studies; I considered going into publishing and the Foreign Service, but ended up in the research/consulting industry after I graduated. My interests, as you can see, are broad, as are my skill sets. Research taught me how to organize my thoughts well, organize documents according to how people would read them, and to determine what people are looking for when they ask broad questions like, “What’s the best way to manage performance?” Little did I know, these are information science skills.
The Documents. In college, I feel in love with the personal letters of authors and fiction written in that form. My family has an extensive history that is recorded in the stories my grandmother tells and the family letters and photos that remain. I myself love sending letters and postcards; I find physically writing so much more therapeutic than word-processing. The history and personality of those items is exquisite, even when they don’t belong to Ben Franklin or Steve Jobs.
The Field. I enjoy the way librarians and archivists think about access, as the field evolves to apply technology. And books are cool, as are documents, but information organization is so much cooler. How will people search for this item? How can I title it and organize it to make it accessible? What’s the best way to advertise this item and the collection as a whole? Libraries encompass some of these issues as well, but letters and records and other documents – all that knowledge management comes in handy.
In conclusion: Let’s be clear, I cannot be sure if I’ve chosen my future profession exactly; I’m very much a believer in working hard, asking lots of questions, and taking opportunities when I find them or they come my way. But I’m headed in the right direction, even if the road is paved with chapters upon chapters of reading about different paper types.
I had my first Evaluation of Information Services class today and it brings to mind questions about how I picked library & information science, how I picked Simmons College GSLIS, and how I picked archives (shout-out to Justin de la Cruz for the idea!).
In honor of the start of my second semester at school today, I’m starting with how I chose Simmons College.
Full disclosure: it was very easy for me to pick Simmons in the end, because of the three institutions that I applied to, it was the only one I actually got in to. Sigh. I’m smart and focused and motivated, I swear! However, I put a lot of thought into my applications, and I over-thought my (imagined) acceptances.
I applied to three institutions: all chosen from the east coast, where my nuclear family and friends are; all chosen for the caliber of their programs, particularly in archives (UNC, UMD, Simmons). I didn’t apply to more schools because I’m about quality over quantity as far as application time and costs go.
Each institutionl had bonus points. UNC for being in my home state, the in-state tuition I’d receive, and the study abroad that I’d be able to afford with in-state tuition; UMD for its proximity to my DC-tastic homeland and NARA; Simmons for its excellent program, especially the two internship opportunities, and the engaged, supportive staff and faculty that I met during my visit there six months before I sent in my application.
With the pros come cons. UNC was not as well known for archives and was it too close to my family? UMD would present financial challenges (even moreso than Boston, in my opinion) and I really do like College Park (it’s fine if you do). Simmons was a world away from my life in DC and cost was an issue, although I was convinced it was the best program for me – I’m a small school kind of girl.
It’s all about evaluation. What’s important to you? Location, cost, alumni connections, support network, internship opportunities, student groups? Consider it all and decide on your dealbreakers. Talk to current grad students at all the schools, even if they aren’t in library programs. Call the school’s LIS department and ask questions of the staff. I did all of the above and am as happy as a pig in slop (as Southerners say) up here at Simmons. Winter is long but the opportunities make it go by fast.
Next up: why LIS in the first place?!
I’m re-starting my volunteer internship at a local high school on Wednesday; starting a new semester next Tuesday, during which I am taking an internship class; and am pushing myself to learn as much about archives and archival tools and access and advocacy as I can.
So it seems like a good time to start a blog too, yes?
My goal is to blog once a week (gulp). If you have any questions about library school or archives school, please ask! I’m worried about running out of topics, so I’ll be taking questions from the audience. (Do I have an audience?)