Today’s post comes to us from Mark Greene, whom you are undoubtedly familiar with through his countless archival publications, perhaps most notably MPLP with Dennis Meissner. You can read more about him in his SAA bio. Mark has offered to write a series of three posts for us addressing the job market, internships, and preparation for entry into the archives profession.
My name is Mark Greene, and for the past decade I’ve been director the American Heritage Center (University of Wyoming), a 75,000 cu. ft. mss collection, university archives, and 60,000 rare book library. We serve 5-6,000 researchers each year, from all 50 states and a dozen nations. Our digital collections, mostly with metadata at the folder level, total north of 100,000 items. Prior to arriving in Laramie I was Head of Research Center Programs at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, curator of mss at the Minnesota Historical Society, and lone arranger as archivist for Carleton College. I have been in positions to do a fair amount of hiring and I have also been an official SAA Mentor (and for several years have helped staff the career fair booth at the SAA annual meeting). I also spent some time in SAA leadership in the 2010s, after serving as a Section and Roundtable chair in the previous decade.
I occasionally monitor the SNAP discussion list (there’s a LOT of traffic, which I’m afraid I can’t always keep up with) and read the most recent newsletter. Based on these experiences, and over the next three posts, I’d like to offer some thoughts about best pathways into the archival profession, internships, and hiring practices. Speaking as someone with a quarter century plus in the profession, who’s repository supports (usually) one or two interns a year, who’s been hiring other archivists since the mid-80s—and as someone who does sometimes monitor the job postings on the SAA site, I am willing to say that there seems to be some misconception (or perhaps misperception) about these matters that, with luck, I can help to clear up.
Let me start with an important caveat. While what I am about to say in these three blogs is, to the best of my knowledge, largely accurate for a significant majority of hiring scenarios, no such account can be universally relevant. It is least pertinent, perhaps, to situations where non-archivists are hiring archivists and in some government employment situations, where antiquated (in my opinion) personnel practices hold sway. And even among archivists hiring archivists there are outliers who do not conform to what I’d consider usual practices. But just because one or two institutions may have frustrating, illogical, or infuriating hiring practices does not mean that such practices are common throughout the profession.
So, you want to get your first professional archival job? Should you get an MLS w/concentration in archives administration? Yes. This has become the de facto entry-level credential for most positions, plus it gives you the flexibility of a library position if, as seems true, there are too many MLS/archivists coming out of grad programs for the number of entry-level positions available. Should you get a joint MLS/MA (history, public history, American Studies) with concentration in archives administration? Yes, this will give you even more flexibility in the overall job market, but it often comes at the cost of an extra semester or year of grad school.
What about an MA in history or public history with a concentration in archives administration? Yes, but I’d be careful here; there are only a handful of existing programs with sufficient stature to ensure the marketability of their graduates. In any of these scenarios, including a practicum or internship is a good thing. What about a public history, history, or American Studies MA with no archival concentration but an internship in an archives? I wouldn’t advise it, even if you’re able to qualify for archival certification. Graduate archival education is almost a universal requirement. I’m not saying this is good or bad, only that in my experience it’s the way it is.
Stay tuned for two most posts on this subject by Mark Greene. Please utilize the comments to have an open, honest conversation about these topics.