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.
Dan Bullman is a MLIS student, concentrating in archives management, at Simmons College. Dan recently began at Tufts University as an Archives and Research Assistant. He is also active in New England Archivists, particularly the Roundtable for Early Professionals and Students (REPS).
1. What year will you graduate?
Depending on how many summer courses I enroll in, I should graduate in 2015 or 2016.
2. How did you end up in this field?
Like many other folks in the field, I got my B.A. in history but didn’t know what to do with myself after graduation. I ended up working for an academic publishing company, where I got to create descriptions/finding aids for a lot of archival collections on microfilm (yes, microfilm, that’s not a typo). Through this work I was fortunate enough to take some research trips to a few archives, including Columbia University and Smith College, when I realized that the archival world was the ideal work environment for me.
3. What do you wish you had known before you started graduate school?
I wish I had known how expensive it was going to be and that I was going to have to foot the entire bill myself. Perhaps I would have went to a more inexpensive undergraduate university, had I known I was going to be taking my education this far. I cringe when I think about how long I’ll be paying off my student loans.
4. Did you have any experience in libraries or archives before you started graduate school?
I did have a little, but no paid experience. When I was applying for graduate school I started volunteering at the University of Connecticut’s main library on a newspaper digitization project. I’d definitely advise aspiring archivists/students to gain as much experience as they can before and during graduate school. Even if you’re only doing a few hours a week, you’ll be making important contacts and learning things you wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Plus, this will enhance your resume when you’re looking for jobs in the future.
5. Have you (or will you) completed any internships or practicums as part of your studies?
My program requires two internships (a 60 hour internship at the start and a 120-130 hour practicum in the final semester). Both of these are typically unpaid, but I was fortunate enough to interview for and land a paid internship at Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections. That internship has been a fantastic experience for me, as I’ve been given a lot of initiative to work on a variety of different projects (processing, electronic records management, reference, and usability testing).
6. What classes have been most valuable to you so far?
I’m only in my second semester and I’m a part-time student so I’ve only taken four classes. Introduction to Archives (LIS 438) was obviously helpful, particularly because it exposed me to a lot of archival literature I hadn’t read yet. I’m also planning to take Digital Libraries (LIS 462), which involves a classwide project where the students actually digitize materials from the Simmons College Archives and create a digital exhibit online.
7. What does your program do best?
Simmons is really good at adapting to trends in the field and making sure their curriculum reflects skills and issues that archivists and librarians need in today’s world. They are also really good, particularly in the archives concentration program, of connecting students with employers through internships and other opportunities. The program even maintains a website where they post job opportunities (both within New England and throughout the country), internships, and other opportunities. Simmons really seems built to make their graduates competitive in the job market.
8. What could your program do better?
I think they could do a better job of providing funding for graduate students. This is an issue across many LIS graduate programs. I don’t know exactly how they could go about this, but a lot of graduate programs in other fields provide stipends and other cost-deferments so their students don’t leave school with mountains of debt..
9. How do you stay informed about trends in the profession?
I mostly stay informed through internet sources like email listserves (SAA, New England Archivists, etc), Twitter pages, and blogs. I hear quite a few things through word of mouth too.
10. What would you tell a prospective student who is thinking about becoming an archivist?
Put yourself out there as much as humanly possible. Attend events, join professional organizations, and get out there and meet other people in the field (and follow up periodically to keep in touch). This is so insanely important and I can’t emphasize it enough. You’re going to have a better chance of breaking into the field if some people actually know who you are. If you’re nervous about networking or don’t know the best way to go about it, then check out Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty by Harvey Mackay.
For more posts in this series, check back here.