Year in the Life: Katie Rojas, Pt. 11

Katie Rojas is the newest participant in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. We will be following Katie for a year. You can read the Katie’s previous posts here.

I am many thousands of feet in the air right now, as I write this, traveling to Milwaukee for graduation with a few days tacked on as a mini vacation with my husband. My supervisor and coworkers put on an incredible graduation celebration for me at work, and even surprise-decorated my desk and gave me flowers! I’m very excited, but it also hasn’t quite “hit” me yet that I’m done. With my graduation trip out of state and the upcoming professional conference, I still feel like I’m in go-mode!

Decorations prepared by Katie's coworkers to celebrate her upcoming graduation.

Decorations prepared by Katie’s coworkers to celebrate her graduation.

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Transitions Series: Andrea Belair

This post is part of our “Transitions” Series, which highlights the experiences of recent graduates and early career archivists. If you are an early career archivist (0-5 years in the field) who would like to participate in this series, please contact us

Guest author Andrea Belair, Archivist at Yale University’s Office of the President

When I hear about how people became involved in archiving, they often start off with their love of history. For me it’s a little bit different. I went to a small liberal arts college set upon the sloping hills of Vermont, and my love was not history—at all, really. My love was music and the Arts. I did not become acquainted with archiving through working in archives, unfortunately; rather, I heard about archivists and what they did through friends, and I was definitely intrigued by the idea.

I moved to New Haven after college, and I worked for a term at Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library sorting and shelving books. I ended up loving that job. I had wanted to be involved in writing and my thesis project was in creative writing and literature, but I loved being surrounded by books. The job appealed to me, as well, when I could watch my progress, like you might watch your progress as you stack wood and watch one pile reduce to grow in a neat stack in another place. There was something satisfying about it. More than that, the place was calm and beautiful. It was this job that led me to ask other people how I could work in a library in a more steady position, and I was told to pursue a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. What about working in an archive? Don’t spend a lot of money on your education, I was told. So, after moving to New Jersey and gaining residency in that state, I enrolled in Rutgers University’s MLIS program.

The thing about Rutgers, though, is that they don’t have a specialization in archiving. Those of us who wanted to be archivists were on our own to a certain extent. I became involved in SOURCE, an acronym that stands for Student Organization for Unique and Rare Collections Everywhere, and this allowed me to tour archives and special collections. I organized a tour to Yale University’s archives at both the Beinecke and the Department of Manuscripts and Archives. At Rutgers, I took as many archiving courses as I could—there aren’t many, though. I took courses on Preservation, and I was accepted into a great internship at the Morristown Library’s North Jersey History and Genealogical Center, where I was able to archive digital and analog materials, as well as catalog photograph collections and create a finding aid. This was a great internship and I’d recommend a similar one to any student—one that introduces you to a host of direct and practical applications to what you’ve learned, and gives you a wide variety of skills to have under your belt for when you begin your job search. In addition, I surveyed a fire department museum in New Brunswick, New Jersey—fascinating, but with quickly deteriorating collections. In short, I did what I could with the resources that I had, and I focused on special collections and archives. I tried to be as expansive as possible, though, since I’d been told that archiving jobs were few and far between, so I wanted to prepare myself to work in another capacity as a librarian.

I’ve been pretty fortunate with my career. During school, I worked as a reference librarian, which is very important to anyone looking for an archives position, since these positions will almost always require research and working with many sorts of people. If you are a student and your school offers the such a position, I would definitely recommend having solid skills in reference. After graduating from Rutgers, I worked as Team Leader for a contracting company that reorganized the special collections held at Teachers College at Columbia University. This position, combined with my education and the internship experience, not only helped me gain practical skills like cataloguing and preservation; they sharpened my “people skills” as well. I would recommend finding a job or volunteer position that requires some amount of management of other people or resources, as well as a good deal of information retrieval. And, like most positions, it’s important to be able to work with others and have a good deal of patience working with the public. I’ve encountered many archivists who are less-than welcoming, and I think that we all need to work to make the our interactions as pleasant as possible.

It took a little while, but I was fortunate enough to land a position at Yale University’s Office of the President as an archiving assistant. This way, I came full circle back to Yale University and New Haven, which is where I’d first become interested in working with archiving. The first year was challenging, and I continue to face challenges as my role and duties expand. I know, for example, that my I was not entirely familiar with archival terminology to start off with, and this could make me feel awkward and out of place amongst well-seasoned colleagues. Even now, a couple years later, we’ve been working on a retention schedule in our office, or archiving born-digital records, and I’m constantly finding new challenges when I run across new collections and new ways of preserving or describing information. Professional development, then, is a must for the new archivist, since you’ll constantly encounter things you haven’t learned or applied in school as applications are updated.

When it comes to tips for students, I think that there are several things that I found helpful in my own job search and student experience. Find an internship that has lots of different duties, like cataloging, retrieval and digitization. If you can’t find an internship, try finding a place where you can volunteer your efforts and possibly challenge yourself in the process. In school, they always talked about networking, which has turned out to be helpful, and you can do this by becoming involved in a regional archiving organization, many of which offer mentorship programs. Before I went to school for my MLIS, I made some inquiries as to how to become an archivist, and one that stood out to me was about money. Don’t spend a lot of money to go to school, if you can avoid it, and be prepared to move for an ideal position. Get involved in a student organization dealing with archives and special collections. And finally, as I’ve mentioned already, get reference experience—archivists often have reference and retrieval duties, and it helps to know how the searching process works.

When I think about what I wish I’d learned in school, I have a hard time coming up with anything solid. Most of what I’ve learned and most of the challenges I have faced have been through active participation, and much of this has been through employment. I know one area that I wish I’d gotten more experience in during my education is in writing–whether it be making policies, sharpening my resume, or just writing for a blog like this SNAP article. In this way, then, getting involved with SNAP can be especially beneficial, since it can really help you gain confidence in your writing skills. I’ve lost a lot of my writing skills after leaving the secluded space of Vermont, but I’ve gained mountains of experience in other ways, and I’m very excited about what lies ahead.

[Guest Post] The Mysterious World of Paper Conservation Unveiled

Matthew Cresson is in his second year of the Masters of Science in Library Science program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is concentrating in archives and records management. Matthew is interning this summer at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland, and is Vice President of the Student Chapter of the Society of American Archivists. You can follow UNC-SCOSAA on Facebook and Twitter.

In the past month UNC’s Student Chapter of the Society of American Archivists took a trip to the ECS Conservation lab in Browns Summit, North Carolina. Browns Summit is one of two of ECS Conservation locations; the other is a Midwest location in Northern Manchester, Indianapolis. ECS Conservation was originally created in 1987 and was originally known as the Conservation Division of Information Conservation, Inc. (ICI). In 2005, ICI merged with Heckman Bindery, creating a parent organization, HF Group, as well as ECS Conservation as it stands today. ECS Conservation is a major conservation company in the United States. While the majority of the Brown Summit location’s work comes from the East Coast of the U.S., this is their main location, so they often get work from the Midwest and West Coast when the Indianapolis location does not have the capacity for the job. The content they receive ranges from manuscript material from the 1400’s to more common material from the 1900’s. They work for both individuals and institutions to properly restore and conserve material. The laboratory in Browns Summit is set up to deal with two major types of material: rare books and manuscripts. Continue reading

[Guest Post] Public History Brings the Archives at Sutter’s Fort to Life

Amanda Berkson-Brand is finishing up her classwork at California State University, Sacramento and is looking forward to spending the summer completing her thesis, a collection of oral histories regarding the founding of the California State Railroad Museum. You can follow the CSUS SAA on Twitter.

Located in the heart of California, students in the Public History program at California State University, Sacramento are lucky in lots of ways — we are surrounded by great food, great craft beer, quick access to the mountains and the ocean, and that’s not even to mention our almost oppressively cheery weather. But more importantly, students in the Capitol Campus Public History Program have access to great archives and historic sites. Libraries, museums, government offices, seats of power high and low… we have it all. The SAA CSUS student chapter simply seeks to make the most of our lucky situation and seek out archival and historic resources wherever we can. Continue reading

Transitions Series: Stephanie Bennett

This post is part of our “Transitions” Series, which highlights the experiences of recent graduates and early career archivists. If you are an early career archivist (0-5 years in the field) who would like to participate in this series, please contact us

Guest author Stephanie Bennett

When I was approached to write about the transition from student to new professional, my first thought was “which transition?” In the not-quite three years since I graduated from Simmons College School of Library and Information Science, I have held three positions. That sounds more traumatic than the experiences have been, but at the same time – whew, y’all, I’m a little tired (of packing boxes).

A little bit of background on my transitions: when I graduated from Simmons, I was not ready to let go of Boston yet; still so many cannoli much to explore. I took a one-year position as an archives assistant at Boston College, processing personal manuscript and institutional collections related to Boston. As that position was ending, I took another project position – this time, as a two-year project archivist at Iowa State University. I was not on a specific project, per se, but helping to staff the department. It was a great opportunity to stretch my legs with tasks beyond processing. After nearly a year and a half in Ames, I accepted a full-time permanent position as Collections Archivist of Wake Forest University Special Collections and Archives.

I am not known for irrepressible optimism, but I do believe in learning from the opportunities that I am given. In the three job searches that I conducted and the jobs that I held, I learned about so many facets of the job hunt: for example, how to handle all-day interviews mentally, emotionally, and nutritionally; how to approach salary/position conversations that are hard and awkward (for me, anyway!); and the types of institutions, teams, and positions that I could succeed with. I am by no means an expert in any of these skills, but thanks to my searches and the work that I accomplished in my positions, I know more and now trust myself to figure out any situations that will come up in the future. I also have lists of job wants, job deal-breakers, and areas of personal development now that can inform future career moves, in concert with mentor advice and whatever life brings.

In addition to knowing more about my “career self,” I know a lot about – I’m not sure how to phrase this, but something like – being an adult, living life in sometimes-uncomfortable experiences, establishing living conditions that are palatable to me, or some combination of the above. My moves to Boston, and Iowa, and now NC were tough in their own ways. Like Steven, I needed time to adjust to my new locales (except in my case it takes a year to feel at home). In the meantime, I know how to find fun on my own and seek out new friends, even if I don’t always want to. Having lived in different types of housing situations, I know more about what I’ll look for in a home to purchase one day. Having criss-crossed a bit of the U.S., I know there are a million cool road trip destinations that I haven’t seen yet. I know how to keep myself entertained and I’ve learned how to befriend both Midwesterners and New Englanders.

The most comforting thing through all these transitions has been knowing that, even when I cannot see my next step coming, I know that is it coming. I’m not so naïve that I believe that every cat lands on her feet, but in my career hops, my life and career choices have built up into each subsequent role. These choices could have landed me somewhere else; in a Sliding Doors world, I’m a writing coach and researcher for Oprah. But for now, my choices and experiences have prepared me for my current role, and my current role is preparing me for what comes next. It is really really hard to believe this on the hard days, when job applications furnish zero responses. On those days, I recommend that you call your best friend so she can remind you that you are awesome, you have been working hard, and your next (proverbial or actual) move is coming even if it’s farther off than you’d like it to be.

I can’t say that my archivist certification (CA) did not help me earn my most recent position. I can’t say that it did. I got my jobs by applying to lots of places where I thought I could get valuable experience; by being willing to move out of my comfort zones; by believing in my abilities and/or listening to people I trusted who believed in my abilities; asking for help and input from people that were successful – including folks that I didn’t know all that well; giving myself breaks when I needed them; and pushing through when there were no alternatives. At some point this summer, I had a number of interviews on my calendar, some of which I figured were not going to work out. Keeping track of all the details was difficult, but I conducted all the interviews, because I learned in Post-Grad Job Hunt #1 that taking myself out of the running for jobs affects me worse than not being asked for a second interview.

I think there are two things that newer professionals, particularly people trying to break into full-time, permanent positions, can do for themselves that will not cost any money:

  1. Do everything you can to feed yourself positive messages. Loved ones are valuable supports, but also helpful are sticky notes with uplifting messages around your house, coffee mug designs that make you laugh, walks outside on beautiful days, the right YouTube videos. Every amazing person that I know has had moments on the job hunt where everything goes dark. Set yourself up to counteract those days in simple ways.
  1. We are humans; there will be mistakes. I can guarantee that every job will have its drawbacks slipped into the spoonful of sugar (I hope that there’s sugar). But you’re a smart, capable cookie who made it through school with at least two degrees in hand. It might take some time to adjust and recalibrate, but you overcome mistakes. Also, to live the life you want, you may one day decide to step back from archival work. It hurts me to type that, but we all know people who have made this decision – and lived to tell the tale! They even have rewarding careers in other fields! Trust the skills you have gained, the knowledge you possess, the valuable advice you seek out, the person that you are. Few things comfort me as much as a deep breath, a final decision, and the knowledge that whatever happens, I can handle it. Trust. Yo. Self.

Best of luck to all the transitioning archivists out there! You’ve got this. And if you’re feeling adrift, I am so sorry, but I know that there is a shoreline for you somewhere. Feel free to email me in the meantime.

[Guest Post] Creating a Local Archives Blitz

Shae Rafferty, Karen Obermeyer-Kolb, Alix Norton, and Jean Hardy are all graduating with their MSI in May 2015 and are the officers for the UM-SAA chapter for the 2014-2015 school year. Jean will be starting his PhD program at Michigan in the fall, Shae is employed as an archivist at the Bentley Historical Library on campus, and Karen and Alix are still on the job market. Follow UM-SAA on Facebook and Twitter.

In October of 2014 a group of University of Michigan School of Information students celebrated American Archives month with public service and an exciting new event.  Shae Rafferty, one of the four officers of the University of Michigan’s student chapter of the Society of American Archivists (UM-SAA), had participated in an Archives Blitz with the Yellowstone National Park Archives during her summer internship.  Yellowstone had just launched the program that year with the hopes of bringing in people for a prescribed period of time (i.e. a week) to work on important projects in archives that traditionally do not have access to a large staff or consistent volunteer base. Seeing how a significant impact can be made in short amounts of time, the UM-SAA student chapter reached out to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and organized an Archives Blitz of their own.

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Year in the Life: Katie Rojas, Pt. 10

Katie Rojas is the newest participant in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. We will be following Katie for a year. You can read the Katie’s previous posts here.

Well, it seems that the heightened amount of researchers and research requests has waned this past month. It’s a shame because I was enjoying it so much, but there are other things I enjoy about archives just as well.  Last month, I wrote about how things have begun to “click” for me and how I’ve become much more comfortable in my position. Those feelings have generally continued and I’m happy to report that I think they’re here to stay!

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