This post is part of our Student Experience Series, which features current and former archives students as they reflect on graduate school, internships, and early career issues. If you would like to contribute a post for this series, please email me.
Caitlin Christian-Lamb is the Associate Archivist of Davidson College, a small liberal arts college near Charlotte, North Carolina. She previously held positions as the project producer of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society’s metaLAB (at) Harvard project, as a research associate at the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Adams Papers, and as the first on-staff archivist of the Nichols House Museum. Caitlin completed a M.S. in Library and Information Science (with a concentration in archives management) and a M.A. in History at Simmons College in May 2013. You can find out more about her work at her website: www.caitlinchristianlamb.com.
1. What year will you graduate?
I graduated in May 2013.
2. How did you end up in this field?
I have a BA in history, and while contemplating what career path(s) I might want to go down after graduation, I interned in the library and collections departments of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC. Working there convinced me that a career in archives/ libraries would make me happy, so I applied to graduate programs. Three years later, here I am!
3. What do you wish you had known before you started graduate school?
How terrible the job market really is – I thought I knew, but it didn’t really register until I began seriously looking for post grad school work. And how working in an academic library means being mistaken for a student or an intern nearly everyday.
4. Did you have any experience in libraries or archives before you started graduate school?
A little – my internship at USHMM was my only work experience in a library or an archive, but I had also been to several repositories while researching my undergraduate thesis.
5. Have you (or will you) completed any internships or practicums as part of your studies?
My program at Simmons required two internships for the archives concentration – a 60 hour one attached to an introduction to archives course, and a 130 hour one paired with a field experience course. I also held a few jobs, internships, and volunteer positions outside of the requirements while in the program.
6. What classes have been most valuable to you so far?
The most interesting classes I took were: Digital Stewardship (LIS 531W, with Ross Harvey), Community Archives (LIS 605, with Jeannette Bastian and Patty Condon),Digital Libraries (LIS 462, with Candy Schwartz), and Archives, History & Collective Memory (LIS 443/ HIST 527, with Jeannette Bastian and Steve Ortega). The ones that have been most useful to me in my career so far and Digital Stewardship, Digital Libraries, Archival Access and Use (LIS 440, with Kathy Wisser), and the thesis required for my MA in history.
7. What does your program do best?
The faculty is amazing – everyone I took a class with or interacted with in some way was incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about their subject, as well as open and available to students. Building a relationship with my advisor was one of the best parts of my experience in grad school. The archives concentration also does a great job of finding internship sites for the required practicums, and students benefit from being in an area where there are tons of places to gain experience and lots of professionals to look to for mentorship. The GSLIS community is also pretty amazing – lots of smart, funny, friendly people.
8. What could your program do better?
Honestly, the biggest downside to my program was cost – it’s a very pricey school. I also think there needs to be more development of digital skills within the curriculum – I know this is being changed with new course options within the core requirements, but while I was there it was very easy for students to graduate with little or no technological skills if they didn’t seek out training or electives on their own. A capstone/ thesis is now a requirement, but wasn’t while I was a student (I completed a thesis for the other half of my dual-degree program), and I think that that’s a definite step in the right direction. I also recognize that, though my personal experience was incredibly positive, I know many students who felt their own advising was uneven.
9. How do you stay informed about trends in the profession?
Primarily though listservs (SAA A&A, Lone Arrangers, and College & University Archives; ALA collib-l and digipres; Digital-Humanities-L; Library Link of the Day; Oberlin Group; HASTAC; and DHSI are some of my most read). I also check dh+lib and DH Now fairly often, and Twitter and Zotero have both been a great resources for finding news and interesting blogs or papers.
10. What would you tell a prospective student who is thinking about becoming an archivist?
To try to get some work/ internship/ volunteer experience before going to graduate school – I think that’s definitely the best way to determine if you really want to be in this profession before committing to further study (and probably further loans). Also, to really hustle and try to go to conferences and network as much as possible while a student – you get access to discounts and scholarships that you won’t have later, and it’s a great way to learn new skills and potentially get a job. I also think that having broad interests and skills can be really helpful – be flexible and work in non-traditional environments because you might learn unexpected things.
For more posts in this series, check back here.
“And how working in an academic library means being mistaken for a student or an intern nearly everyday.”
Yup. As a petite young professional -even while dressing professionally and acting confidently- this will likely happen to me for many, many more years. You’re not alone.