SAA Candidate Interview: Eira Tansey

Eira Tansey
Digital Archivist/Records Manager, Archives and Rare Books Library, University of Cincinnati
Candidate for Nominating Committee
Read her bio and response to questions posed by the Nominating Committee here.


How did you get your start in the archives field?

During undergrad, I was a student worker at the University of Cincinnati’s Archives and Rare Books library, and became totally fascinated with archival work. After graduating in 2008, I looked for paraprofessional jobs in order to gain experience and decide if library school and this career path was right for me. I was profoundly lucky that even as the economy fell apart right as I graduated, I found a staff position at Tulane University’s Louisiana Research Collection. I went to library school through San Jose State’s online program, and after receiving my MLIS in 2012, went on the job market in 2013. I recently returned to the University of Cincinnati as the new Digital Archivist/Records Manager.

How do you see the SNAP Roundtable within the larger picture of SAA?

SNAP holds a unique position within SAA, since it was formed specifically for the advancement and support of new archivists and students. In its first two years, SNAP has filled a much-needed niche for new archivists to find their footing within a much larger organization. Ultimately I would like to see SNAP forge deep and long-lasting partnerships with related groups such as the Archival Management Roundtable, and the Archival Educators Roundtable.

What do you feel is the responsibility of SAA leadership, and your leadership role in particular, to students and new archives professionals?

SAA leadership should continue to recognize students and new archives professionals’ vulnerability to early career barriers, such as juggling grad school and internships/jobs, student loan debt, and a crushingly competitive job market. SAA cannot solve these issues alone since they are bigger than our profession, but there are opportunities to strengthen existing organizational activities. There is a lot of untapped potential within the student chapters, and opportunities for increased student member outreach. An example of increased outreach would be to develop a speakers’ bank of professional archivists willing to speak to student organizations. I was the 2010-2011 San Jose State student chapter chair, and something like this would have made event planning much easier. The mentor program is a great resource for new archivists, but more professional archivists should be recruited to match demand.

The role I’m running for – Nominating Committee – is responsible for identifying the slate of candidates (i.e., Vice-President/President-Elect, Council, Nominating Committee, and when the office opens, Treasurer) for the next SAA election. More information about the Committee’s responsibilities can be found here and here.

Since Nominating Committee is charged with identifying who may be SAA’s next leaders, it has a particular responsibility to find candidates who will move SAA’s work forward in positive ways. If elected, this is a charge I will take very seriously. As a SNAP member, I want to see SAA become the kind of organization that students and new archives professionals view as working on their behalf. I also believe there is a moral imperative to push towards a more diverse SAA leadership.

If elected to Nominating Committee, I would look for the following criteria when evaluating potential candidates:

➢ What work have they done to reduce barriers to archival employment for new archivists?
➢ How do they navigate potentially divisive issues within our profession and organization? Do they have a record of working to find common cause in strained situations?
➢ Are they visible in a way that makes them accessible to the larger membership, particularly those who have difficulty attending the annual meeting? For example, do they blog about professional issues, participate in Twitter SNAPchats, etc.

What steps can SAA take to improve the perception of the archives profession in a variety of settings (academics, business, government, etc.)?

In addition to the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable, SAA recently convened the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy. There is a growing awareness of the role of advocacy in our profession, particularly in light of recent events such as the Georgia state archives cuts and partial restoration.

It’s important to keep in mind that SAA can only do so much in the advocacy arena due to resources and the frequently local level in which archival crises occur. Advocating for the profession is most effective when every archivist advocates for our institutions and our colleagues. Although SAA often responds swiftly to state or local archival crises, a professional organization response is much more likely to be heard when affected archivists contact their politicians as affected constituents. Advocacy should not be expected to be handled solely by SAA and archival leaders, it is a fundamental responsibility of everyone who wants to continue to be an archivist and to see future generations of archivists.

What role do you think SAA can play in ensuring MLS programs are producing the archivists employers need?

There’s been a major shift in many fields from expecting workplaces to provide significant on-the-job training to expecting higher education to produce work-ready individuals. While philosophically I don’t think job training is the raison d’être for universities, labor market trends and changes in business practice have put pressure on universities to demonstrate job training capabilities. There is also an expectation that MLS programs must produce immediately employable information professionals, since the MLS is generally positioned as a professional degree.

SAA’s guidelines for Graduate Programs in Archival Studies are included on the American Library Association’s page for competencies developed by professional organizations. The internship guidelines recently approved by SAA are a step forward to encouraging institutions to design ethical and educational internships. Again, I think there is significant opportunity for SAA to increase its ties to student chapter organizations.

Given the current nature of the job market, I don’t believe the problem is necessarily one of large numbers of underprepared archivists, but the unbelievable competition for the small number of permanent professional jobs.

How do you plan to engage new and young professionals in SAA?

The most important thing that SAA leaders can do for new and young professionals is to listen as much as possible to their needs, and to use their leadership positions to mobilize resources and policy in response. If elected, I would continue to do many of the same things I have already been doing as a young professional myself – participating in SNAPchats and other spontaneous Twitter discussions, promoting the SAA Lunch Buddy program, and attending SNAPpy hours at conferences.

What advice do you have for new professionals in our field?

It’s critically important that all new professionals develop a network of other archivists from around the country (and the world!) who are at different stages of their careers. Ask your supervisor, mentor, or professor to introduce you to the archivists they know at meetings and conferences. Ask for an SAA mentor or annual meeting navigator. It’s so important to make connections to archivists from a wide variety of sectors and experience, particularly when you need outside advice, or simply an answer to “Is this situation I’m in normal?”

Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions. Chances are that someone else is wondering the same thing, but too afraid to ask. Don’t be shy about asking for help.

Participate in your professional organizations as much as you can afford, especially the governance aspects (i.e., business meetings, council meetings that are open to the public, etc). It breaks my heart when I see students and new professionals who skip these because they think they’re boring. I’ve been in many SAA business meetings where major issues that affect students and new professionals are being discussed, and sometimes I’m one of the few from this demographic present to vote on said issue. Professional organizations will never fully represent the interests of student and new archivists until we claim our spots at the table.

And don’t forget to VOTE in your professional organization elections – including SAA!

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This entry was posted in Candidate Interviews 2014 and tagged , , on by .

About Lisa H

Lisa is the archivist/librarian at the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College. She stumbled into archival work by way of the museum world and is always seeking ways to break down the silos of these professions. Lisa has worked in museums, libraries, and archives in Illinois, New York, and Alaska. While not at work, Lisa spends her free time biking, working on art projects, and putting her useless knowledge to good use on bar trivia teams. You can find her on Twitter @lisahuntsha.

One thought on “SAA Candidate Interview: Eira Tansey

  1. Pingback: Transitions Series: Eira Tansey | SNAP roundtable

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