Katie Rojas is the newest participant in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. We will be following Katie for a year. You can read the Katie’s previous posts here.
In a recent post I mentioned that I had experienced an uptick in demand from researchers. The past couple of months have really seen a continuation of that trend! The early portion of this year has brought in (and seen emails from) researchers from a myriad of paths: university professors, students, outside professionals, curious individuals, local news columnists, and internal employees.
Earlier in my position, assisting a researcher would often take me a long time. After speaking with them to pinpoint what they were looking for, I would have to do further research to determine if we even had what they were looking for. In the past couple of weeks, I feel like there has been a positive shift in my ability to respond to researchers in a timelier manner. I feel like this is due to a combination of factors. I’m becoming more and more familiar and comfortable with the scope of our holdings, and have learned where to look for things. I’ve also gained more experience working with researchers, and better understand what questions to ask them to hone in on their information needs. It’s difficult to describe exactly what “clicked” this month to make this happen, but it’s a really nice feeling to be able to help our researchers with a greater measure of confidence.
One of the researchers I helped recently wanted to listen to a reel-to-reel audiotape. We do have a reel-to-reel player, but I had never used one before! (Our reel-to-reels aren’t requested much.) I took a good look at our player and did some research on the model since we didn’t have the manual for it. I also looked into reel-to-reel audio in general to get a better understanding of the medium. There were some helpful YouTube videos I watched, especially ones that showed me how to threat the tape into the machine. Previous archivists had also done some digitization work, which was thankfully well documented. My research and the digitization documentation allowed me to hook up the reel-to-reel machine to the computer and digitize the requested reel (which is really what the researcher wanted). I used Audacity for recording and editing the tracks. One of my previous instructors had us do an audio editing assignment using Audacity, so this was a great example of grad school skills in practice! I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get it done on my own – setting up the machine, getting the tape threaded right, making sound actually come out of the speakers, not being able to digitize – I’m really happy it all worked out!
Speaking of learning new things, this spring I have had the privilege of occasionally sitting in on an undergraduate class that covers the history of our geographic region. One of the university professors who has come in to do research a lot lately is co-teaching it, which is how I found out about the class and was able to sit in. Though the 300-year history was condensed into a handful of lectures, it has still been an absolute boon to attend and to get a holistic sense of things. I’ve certainly learned new things, and some of my new knowledge has already been put to use in helping researchers better. And perhaps best of all, I was able to see how his research with my organization’s resources was incorporated into his lecture and shared with students. I feel very lucky to see this whole process. It’s given me some great perspective to see things from the “other side” and experience the great potential of primary sources put into motion.