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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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