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.
Rossy Mendez is caribbean by birth but a true New Yorker at heart. She is currently completing an MSLIS and an Archives certificate at Pratt Institute. She is a worker bee and works part time at the NYC Department of Environmental Protection Archives as well as working as a reference intern at Lehman College and a processing intern at the Esteban Vicente Archives. She is also a volunteer Head Editor for the INALJ (I Need a Library Job) website and the event coordinator of the SAA student chapter at Pratt.
1. What year will you graduate?
I cannot believe I am almost done! I will graduate May of this year.
2. How did you end up in this field?
Funny story. I actually applied to PhD programs in Art History and was rejected. This prompted me to evaluate the skills I had to offer and the interests that I had. I thought about how I could mold these things into a career that I would love. A professor I took a class with suggested I look into library science. I decided it was the best fit and applied to school.
While in my first semester at Pratt I learned about archives and fell in love with the field. So it was not like I dreamed of being an archivist since I was a child. It was a gradual discovery.
3. What do you wish you had known before you started graduate school?
In all honesty I wish that I had learned about the scholarship opportunities earlier. There are a number of travel awards and scholarships but I had no idea! Graduate school is expensive and some assistance would have been nice.
I also wish that I knew how essential networking and professional development are to this field. The professionals skills I have learned by being involved in student government and other professional organizations would have been useful in my previous positions and degrees.
4. Did you have any experience in libraries or archives before you started graduate school?
Yes, actually throughout college and graduate school I worked in a small departmental library. The library did not have a librarian therefore I learned about a great number of things including copy cataloging,classification systems and even collection development. With no library background I did the best I could essentially managing the place but none of what I did made sense until I came to library school.
5. Have you (or will you) completed any internships or practicums as part of your studies?
Yes, actually for the Archives certificate it is required. My practicum is as a Reference intern at Lehman College. I wanted something non-archive related because I previously completed a processing internship in the Burke Library archive at Union Theological Seminary and currently work part time at an archive.
I chose this internship because I believe archivists should know have experience with patrons and learn how to handle different situations.This was something I felt I would learn best from working in a busy reference environment.
6. What classes have been most valuable to you so far?
I took a class in Projects in Digital Archives which was extremely valuable in that we not only learned about digitization and born digital materials but had practical experience creating online exhibitions and digitizing audio.
My records management class was also very useful. It was one of those classes I found boring and was not sure of its value until I started encountering what I learned in the field. Knowing about managing risks, protecting records and retention schedules is not only useful but essential in order to be a successful archivist.
7. What does your program do best?
I think the best thing about my program is the emphasis on being active in the field. From the very beginning of my study, professors encouraged me to think of assignments as resume builders and to submit my projects and research to publications, conferences and other events. The most valuable thing I have learned here is how to market myself as a professional.
8. What could your program do better?
One of the things that I wish could be improved is networking. Pratt has a good reputation and a great number of its alumni are employed in local organizations yet for the most part I do not know who they are. Usually the way I come to find out who went to Pratt is through conferences or other events. This can be improved through networking events or mentor program.
9. How do you stay informed about trends in the profession?
Gosh, I do love conferences! Of course, funds do not allow me to go to most of them so I stay connected to the field by attending local events hosted by the local chapters and other related organizations.
Another thing I learned from one of my professors is to keep track of job postings. Observe what requirements are listed for different institutions/positions then whenever possible see what kind of person obtained the position. Looking at job postings have helped me selected relevant coursework and understand what is happening in the field.
10. What would you tell a prospective student who is thinking about becoming an archivist?
You must gain some experience. While each archive is different, most of the basic principles remain the same and nothing can replace actually writing finding aids and handling archival materials. I know this is difficult, it was for me. I decided to leave my job of six years and take on more debt but I do not regret it. Not only will you be more marketable when you graduate but you will also expand your network of contacts.
Additionally, having actual experience will let you know if you like working with this type of materials. I have met some people that after completing an internship in archives decided it was not what they wanted to do.
Lastly, realize that being an archivist is more than having a passion for cool old stuff. We are not historians or conservators; while we provide information and take care of materials our focus is on facilitating access to information. We also wear many hats and are often involved in collection development, advocacy and even complying with legal requirements.
For more posts in this series, check back here.