[Ask an Archivist] Q: No longer a newbie, not yet an elder

Have a SNAP-related question for the archivists? Check out our anonymous submission form here.

Ask an Archivist Question:

How can mid-career archivists grow and advance? When you’re no longer a newbie but not yet an elder, what should you focus on?

Ask an Archivist Answers:

When you’re no longer a newbie but not yet an elder, you get to focus on what you want. Think about what you want to do long-term. If you are interested in management, then take some supervisory courses, or management/business classes. If you want to focus on a specific area, then get those skills. Continue to network, join an organization. Have fun.

– Gerrianne Schaad

This is something I think about all the time! One of the ways I have tried to focus my efforts is to choose the things I really want to do and which will have the most impact, as opposed to volunteering for everything. Here is my list of how I currently prioritize my professional activities:

Focus on giving back to the profession through mentoring or other service activities. For me, being a member of the Archives Leadership Institute Steering Committee is my way of accomplishing this goal. I think I get just as much out of the experience by meeting other archivists and sharing my experiences, and being a resource for others.

Publishing and presenting: while I can’t do as much of this at the moment as I would like, it is always possible to organize a session (MAC Annual Meeting, 2015), write a case study (Final version sent to editor), and facilitate a forum on organizing your professional career (MAC Annual Meeting, 2015).

Continuing education: another area where I hope to focus more time in the next couple of years, is concentrating on taking classes and courses I think will help me grow as an archivist and as a human being. These range from signing up for university courses on personnel and supervision, taking the Myers-Briggs test again (ESTJ, if you want to know), and registering for archives workshops. I also hope to schedule time for reading about the current changes in academic libraries.

– Tanya Zanish-Belcher

I would advise keeping up with reading the field literature and with current tech stuff – whether it’s following a blog or several, taking con’t ed workshops, etc., at least know what is developing in the field, because before you know it, you will need to do it, and it’s better to learn it earlier then try to catch up.

– Michala Biondi

I would differentiate between growth (which I see as personal professional development) and advancement (moving up the administrative ladder to upper-level management). Growth and skill development are important throughout your career. As a mid-career archivist, I found the Archives Leadership Institute valuable in terms of developing leadership skills and networking with other professionals. These leadership skills can prove valuable regardless of your position title or management status.

In terms of advancement to higher positions, however, I’d say that mid-career professionals face many of the same challenges as early-career professionals. Upper-level administrator retirements were slowed by the bad economy. Flexibility in terms of location is often necessary to move into a management role. At least in academia, it’s unlikely you would move from a starting position up to department head all at the same place. Not impossible, but not extremely common.

– Erin Lawrimore

This is a great question. It was certainly the place where I made some major decisions about what to do with my career.

I’d say that the differentiation between grow and advance is an important one. Mid-career archivists (10 years in or so) have anough experience and seniority to consider alternatives in their career paths. Advancement, to me anyway, means moving into positions with increasing authority and responsibility. To assess how that might happen, you need to factor in several things.

First is what you imagine your terminal position to look like — archivist with mostly professional responsibilities? Manager over a distinct program? Executive over a broader set of programs? This assessment will let you begin to build a resume and skill set that would enhance your ability to successfully apply for those positions.

Second, you need to assess the probability that your current insitution can provide advancement paths. You have to take an honest look at other coworkers, people in the positions you’d like to advance into, and the liklihood that new positions could be created. This is directly related to your love of place. Some people (myself included) are hopelessly in love with a location. Others have family ties. If you current job doesn’t have an advancement path, you have to consider how advancement relates to other life desires.

Third, you need to honestly assess you abilities and desires. People often advance because they believe it is the natural order of things but end up working beyond their skills and in areas that have little meaning to them.

There are also occupational related issues — what are your compensation needs? Can they be fulfilled without advancing to other positions? Are there other perks that are only available through advancement?

So that’s a quick hit on advancement.

Growth in the profession is another issue to me. In my mind that refers to deeper understanding of your work, your collections, your users, and your colleagues and how that can be parlayed into actions that improve your community(s). I would say that, for me anyway, professional growth has been tied to a combination of opportunity, initiative, and mentoring. I was lucky to have great mentors come into my professional life at the right time (after 6 years in the biz) and got some opportunities (camp pitt, staff work for a legislative committee, etc) that really stretched the way I thought about being an archivist and the relationship of archives to the broader world.

Mid-career archivists are in a good place to push themselves. They have built a netwrok of connections, both with other archivists and with their work and home communities. They are more likely to have work stability and the opportunity to engage in professional organization work. They are also experienced enough to have a great theoretical and practical balance.

– Terry Baxter