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.
Morgan Sawicki is a new professional in the cultural heritage field, and is currently working as a contract archivist processing organizational records. For her postgraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she focused on library and information science, archives, public history, and museum studies. She is especially interested in technology, diversification and inclusion, and collaborative efforts.
1. What year will you graduate?
I finished my MA in Public History in May of 2012, and my MLIS in May of 2013.
2. How did you end up in this field?
Having planned on being a history professor since early high school, I was fairly crushed when I realized that I might not actually want to go down that road. I tried to figure out what might be a better fit for me, and library and information science just made sense — I’ve always held to the belief that information should be freely available to as many people as possible, and that free information makes for a better society in general. It felt natural to delve into archives from there, with my (still intense) love for history helping to push me in that direction.
3. What do you wish you had known before you started graduate school?
Part of me wishes I had spent more time looking at job postings in the field and getting a better sense of what was really out there, but I doubt that would have changed my mind about attending school, and I certainly don’t regret making the decision to go.
4. Did you have any experience in libraries or archives before you started graduate school?
Nope, not a bit!
5. Have you (or will you) completed any internships or practicums as part of your studies?
My archives program required one internship, while my museum studies program required two — thus, I ended up doing three full internships for credit over my four years of graduate school. I believe the archives program discarded the internship requirement shortly before or after I graduated last year. I also participated in an alternative spring break, and later ended up volunteering at that repository, where I did my first processing project. Additionally, I had a post-graduation paid summer internship/fellowship that was not counted in my coursework, and volunteered with rare books at another repository during the semester before I graduated. I was lucky enough to take advantage of these opportunities, some of which were in different areas of the country, and am very grateful that they all turned out to be fantastic, enriching experiences.
6. What classes have been most valuable to you so far?
Because of the way my LIS program was set up, I didn’t really have room for electives — almost every credit went toward core and archives classes. The introduction class for archival studies was especially enlightening, and I found the appraisal class to be surprisingly engaging and thought-provoking — perhaps this was partially due to the online format of the class, which led to some very rich discussions. I also got a chance to study abroad in South Africa during my program. The course was not specifically related to archives (we studied the effects of information poverty on the AIDS epidemic), but it was an unforgettable experience that taught me a lot about the world and the power of information and got me thinking about some sticky subjects, which is an essential part of any well-rounded education.
7. What does your program do best?
I was particularly happy with the readings assigned in my archives classes. We went over a lot of case studies and talked about real-life problems and solutions, which I believe helped prepare us for entering the field. I also really appreciated the international outreach and focus of the program. We had a number of options to study abroad, and were taught by professors from all over the world. I did find the archives classes in particular to be more rigorous and challenging than most of the other classes (I audited a couple of non-archives classes in addition to taking the four core courses), which was definitely a positive for me.
8. What could your program do better?
In my opinion, most library and archives programs (including the one I attended) would benefit from offering more applied learning opportunities. For example, I’d love to see an archives program that actually takes place in the university archives, is taught by the archivists, and includes actual professional projects as part of the curriculum (students could learn to arrange and describe materials, set up an exhibit together, participate in outreach activities, write grants, &c.). I realize the logistics of this might be much more difficult than I can imagine, but my museum studies program was more along these lines, and I really appreciated the opportunity to learn the practical aspects of the profession in the classes themselves. Theory provides a useful and necessary background, but schools should also be teaching students the actual skills of the profession.
9. How do you stay informed about trends in the profession?
I’m on Twitter (@ElevatrSpeech), so I get a lot of information there. People post useful links and have surprisingly great discussions on Twitter! I also read some blogs and make an effort to meet and connect with other archivists where I work, partially through an archives forum which facilitates conversation through monthly presentations and reading group discussions. Finally, I subscribe to a few listservs through the SAA, including SNAP.
10. What would you tell a prospective student who is thinking about becoming an archivist?
If you’re passionate about this, go for it! Learn as much as you can, read articles (archival articles are surprisingly fun more often than not), network like crazy, and find any way possible to actually enjoy the field. Get experience. Get paid for that experience if it’s at all possible. Advocate for both the profession and yourself. Teach yourself basic HTML and CSS if you don’t already know it. Embrace the thought of working with technology and people as much as you do the thought of working with beautiful old papers that smell like Everything Good in the World. Think outside of the box when you’re looking for jobs. Remember that your life still exists outside of archives, and don’t get too caught up to allow that life to thrive.
For more posts in this series, check back here.