Laws a-mercy, y’all, I do not post here enough. In another effort to encourage me to remain engaged in learning more about what I do, I’m starting a new series of book reviews. Call me old fashioned, but I have found that when I want to educate myself about an aspect of archives mangement, books are the way to go. I frequently find something devoted to the subject at hand and it’s so easy to tote a book around. Journal articles serve me well, too, but nothing is easier than a book (at least, so far!).
This month’s book review looks at Christina Zamon’s The Lone Arranger : Succeeding in a Small Repository, published by the Society of American Archivists in 2012. I remember when the book came out, since I was still at Simmons and regularly attending NEA events. Christina is the Archivist and Records Manager for Emerson College in downtown Boston, and this book had quite the buzz! You know, amongst archivists. Unlike some of my friends, I had little interest at that time in becoming a lone arranger, so it was in one ear and out the other (sorry, Ms. Zamon).
But thanks to the job hunt, my interest was soon piqued in learning more the day-to-day of a lone arranger. And nothing beats the perspective of a current practitioner. Especially this current practitioner. I loved reading this book! She has essentially provided a training manual and a support group for lone arrangers in this relatively brief workbook. The tone is realistic, the subjects cover a great deal. Without my own L.A. experience, I can’t say that it is everything, but I CAN say that if I ever land a solo archivist gig, purchasing The Lone Arranger will be my first act. It covers the “grad school” subjects (records management, IT, collections management, reference, administration), but Zamon knows her audience: she addresses those day-to-day questions that pop up and provides a good sense of what needs to happen and what is simply nice to have.
Side note: the Lone Arranger Roundtable website has great resources that address most archival tasks, simply because that’s … what lone arrangers do and need support for. I suppose sometimes deeper knowledge is necessary, but I’ve become a LART #1 fan between this book and that website. If you have questions about the whats and hows of archives, start with those two sources!
I’m sure that I am not the first person to laud this book, but it’s worth doing anyway. For newly minted archivists or those who are a little bit further on in their careers, Zamon’s The Lone Arranger acts as a good mentor for the 11 months of the year that you’re not amongst other archivists.
I have never had that much time or interest in working on Wikipedia articles. There are a wealth of things to do on the internet, including reading Wikipedia articles, and I generally look up things that I don’t know, rather than things that I do.
This trend has shifted a bit since starting my new position at Iowa State University, where I find myself looking up people and places that might have small stub articles or fuzzy/incorrect information. While I still don’t have a ton of time to correct articles, particularly at work where it’s full-throttle most days, I do what I can to flesh out or correct information.And I’ve added a Wiki-themed to my mental to-do list (which I mean to one day turn into a REAL to-do list): adding finding aids to Wikipedia articles and biographical information or “where are they now?!” information where possible.
It serves two purposes: (1) adding to the collective knowledge of the intarwebs, and (2) promoting our collections for whomever is looking up these sometimes random characters. If someone is googling some of my subjects, they much *really* be looking for them!
If there are other archives-centric reasons to update Wikipedia articles or other information that you include in your edits, please comment! I’d love to up my editing skills since I’m new to the game. Thankfully, I have years of Wiki-reading experience behind me, which is as good as it gets.
Every few months, I am reminded of the biggest unanswered question that I had before I went off to grad school. What was preservation and what was conservation? Was there that much of a difference? What was the deal with one needing chemistry (gross)? It’s cute in retrospect, but as I was trying to determine the aspects of the field that interested me the most, I was frustrated.
Library school students, or even future library school students: if you’re out there and you’re confused, I’m writing this for you, because I searched high and low – well, via Google and various databases – and eventually had to ask my Fairy GodArchivist, who nicely answered my question in detail.
Preservation: tasks, varying in complexity, that preserve the objects. Technically, rehousing items, uncurling corners, removing rusty fasteners, and removing those really gross acidic items all count as preservation. If it extends something’s life, you’re doing basic preservation tasks. Of course, conservators do things like flatten objects with added moisture/humidity or cleaning items that shouldn’t be done without supervision and specialized skill. The Northeast Document Conservation Center (popularly known as NEDCC) has a great set of resources that decode basic preservation tasks, as do others – the National Park Service’s version is user-friendly and educational as well. You’ll see job ads asking for experience with basic preservation tasks, but take a look at the resources and see. It’s easier to have that experience than it seems.
Conservation: a specialized, interesting, science-heavy field. Conservators do things like write articles about flattening paper with humidity like this, though from what I can tell that’s the least of their tasks. They analyze paint samples and research bindings to decode books further (interns for the Boston College conservator did such projects under her supervision), even recreating books or making books that are bound in similar styles. In my year of processing work, she mended photos and built housing for intricate or specialized items, managed mold removal from an off-site contractor – we didn’t have the hood exhaust equipment needed. Our conservator and her students do preservation work, as well, working with bindings to make sure they last as long as possible. I myself, having worked in universities with big conservation departments, still feel there’s plenty to learn about what and how conservators do their work.
Consternation about preservation and conservation no more! Google, be sure to put this at the top of the search results please. Posterity, you’re welcome. Go forth and care for your vast array of analog materials, friends. I cannot help you with those e-records juuuust yet.
This past Wednesday, August 14, I took the Certified Archivists exam, in order to become a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists. It sounds so fancy, right?
The exam itself was a mystery to me beforehand. Some people said it was pretty difficult, others told me that it was unnecessary to study really. Most of the people I spoke with about it – many archivists who haven’t taken it are curious! – assumed that it would be easier for people to take it as soon as possible after they received their MS in library science.
Here’s how I studied and prepared mentally for the exam:
- I read everything I could about the exam. This meant (1) the organization’s exam handbook and (2) all the blog posts I could find through the google. The blogs were older but I found them reassuring.
- I read Audra’s excellent (if dated) post about her experience. It was nice to “hear” the experience of someone that I know and respect. Unfortunately, some of the links to her study sites are broken now, but you get a good idea
- I talked to everyone I met about it. Like I said, a lot of people haven’t taken it but are curious about the test, and what it means. Some people, including some former bosses, had advice and encouragement. No one I spoke to in real life said it was scary-hard, but they did encourage me to study.
- I studied! For me, that was one of the benefits of taking the test: catching up on reading I didn’t do as a student, or going back over familiar materials.
- I joined a study group, taken over by Brad Houston (aka @herodotusjr) from a past test taker. I did not contribute nearly enough to the group, but it was encouragement when I needed it while studying all by myself.
- I learned for other reasons. In prep for several job interviews I had across the spring, I read Zamon’s The Lone Arranger and Wythe’s Museum Archives, which covered several (all?) of the knowledge areas tested by the exam.
I’m sure you read through all of this to learn more about the actual test. I wish I could tell you that it’s easy, but I didn’t find it all that cut and dried and I can understand why some people find it really difficult. The technical questions were difficult, and I’m torn as to whether I wished I read more about storage media… I just don’t use that information in my daily work. And some of the practical questions were difficult as well; what the archivist should do and what the archivist will do can diverge. The handbook did address questions like this, which is just one reason why you should definitely read the handbook.
I’m glad I took the test. It’s not impossible, and I do feel good about my decision to get a CA despite indications that it’s not perceived well, or even useful. The review of the literature and the community (we all know I’m in to that) around it are valuable to me. In four to six weeks, I’ll know if I passed (eek!). If not, I have a whole year to decide if I want to take it again.
Please ask if you have other questions about the test – I know first-hand how difficult can be to find someone to chat about it with, especially via the internet!
What I learned in my Masters program, and why I understand that the experience was not the same for every person in my program.
Here’s the thing about grad school: it is expensive, at least for those humanities-type fields that I love so much. I think it’s really important to go into graduate school of any kind understanding a few things:
(a) its expense to you, and in relation to other graduate schools of similar caliber. I did not do my due diligence here, and oh how I wish I had.
(b) the program’s objectives and people. Are they more theory-oriented? How do they talk about post-graduate jobs and students’ futures? For me, the end game was always a JOB in a place I wanted to be; theory was necessary but I was very VERY interested in hands-on work and experience.
(c) your expectations of the degree. Gotta be realistic here, and the best way to make sure that you’re being realistic is to gut-check yourself. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t think of my MS as a panacea, because we all know there’s not a one-step solution to life’s problems.
Simmons GSLIS had all the things that I wanted: the face-to-face community, the passionate educators, the openness, the cultural opportunities in the Boston community, the emphasis on practical experience. Obviously all these things do not extend to ALL people and ALL classes, but they were not hard to find. So again, know your goals before you go to grad school, because then you know what to look for and ask when you’re picking out classes and specialties and internships. I always say that any undergraduate college can suit your needs if you look hard enough; I knew plenty of prepstars, but I also tried to get to know the creative types, like the writers and photographers, and the non-Greek kids. Graduate school is only two years, so there’s less time to figure it all out, but asking questions of strangers (fellow students and administrators alike) doesn’t hurt. Every day provides an opportunity to be on either side of reference interview!
I have been out of school for a year now, but my love for the Simmons community continues. I just spent five days in New Orleans at the Society of American Archivists annual meeting, which reminds me how much my library/archives community means to me. This community is made up of Simmons grads, New England Archivists members, SAA attendees, even people who have interviewed me for jobs.
Yes, I made this. But so many of my professors at Simmons encouraged us to join professional organizations. My classmates attended meetings with me, so we could all get comfortable and share our connections. Other NEA and SAA members encouraged me to speak up, get involved, and do the work. I have emailed classmates for job interview advice; professors for job negotiation advice; NEA members for their take on positions at their former repositories.
Could I have gotten this far without them? Possibly, I can be pretty awesome. But with their help, I was able to learn more about myself and my profession, and to feel confident as I make a place for myself in a new profession.
So here’s to Simmons College GSLIS and its hard-working faculty and staff; New England Archivists; and SAA. Here’s to the students and new professionals who jump in to the sometimes-overwhelming conference world, and to the archivists who make time and give smiles to the babyarchivists. (I know, it’s not a professional term, but babies are cute!)
Okay, so the next post was not on “why LIS” – it was radio silence. That was a foreshadowing misstep, I think we can agree. But There will be more posting here in the upcoming months as I spend more time explaining what archivists do and why we do it, the tools and jargon that we use to do it, and also my road in the archives profession. I love that it is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” profession – it leads to a lot of different stories about why and how people do what they do.
So watch this space, professionals
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.