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So, what do you do?

August 22, 2012

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.

Image from the Randolph County, Arkansas, archives web site.

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.

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