This post is the second installment in our “Transitions” Series, which highlights the experiences of recent graduates and early career archivists. If you are an early career archivist (0-5 years in the field) who would like to participate in this series, please contact us.
Guest author Sasha Griffin
My first five years as an archivist were pretty busy and intense. It would be easy for me to sit here and think of all of the things I could have done differently, identify all the hard choices I had to make, and brood about the times where things didn’t go my way. But, for my contribution to the Transitions blog series, I thought I would talk about the lessons I learned in the hopes that it may benefit others starting out.
So, let me start with a quick overview of my first five years as an archivist. I graduated with my MLIS from Kent State University in December 2009. I started working for the Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program at The Ohio State University for a 9 month contract position that continued my work during my graduate internship I had been working on for 3 months. After the end of my term, I moved from Columbus, Ohio to Decorah, Iowa in 2010 to become Luther College’s project cataloging archivist, a 2-year contract position. While there, Rachel Vagts (then College Archivist) and I began conceptualizing the idea of hosting the Archives Leadership Institute at Luther and subsequently wrote a successful grant proposal that extended my employment at Luther for 3 additional years as the ALI program coordinator and as Luther’s newly-created digital archivist. In early 2014, I became the interim College Archivist after Rachel left for a job at Berea College. Ten months later, I moved back to Ohio to accept a job at Denison University as the University Archivist & Special Collections Librarian.
If I could encapsulate my transition from student to professional to three tips that may benefit others, it would be the following:
- Build your professional network:I have been fortunate to work with brilliant archivists who have greatly influenced my career through mentorship. During my last semester of grad school and while at OSU, I had a supervisor that gave me insight into the technical and how-to world of archives, answered my countless questions, and encouraged me to try new projects and ideas. Moving from my contract position at OSU to a grant-funded project archivist position at Luther College, I had a mentor that offered me the opportunity to learn a whole new side of archives: professional development, organizational service, and the benefits of building a network of colleagues. Each year, as my career grew, my network grew as well. Now that I’m in a “lone arranger” position, I’ve realized that I actually have a whole cadre of colleagues, each with their own specializations and expertise, whom I can count on to ask for advice. Of all of the things that I expected in the archives field, this immensely helpful group of colleagues was the most surprising, but also the most vital to my transition from student to professional. And, I fully expect that I will continue asking these wonderful people questions as I continue to seek and find new experiences in my career.
- Contribute back to the profession:One of my favorite high school teachers once told me, “You only get out of it what you put into it” and it couldn’t be more true. I’ve found that the more engaged I got with the profession, the more the profession became engaged with me. For example, I started working with Archon in 2010 and realizing that I would benefit from meeting other Archon users, I slapped together a little Midwest region user group meeting at MAC one year. Granted, I had a lot of help from my mentor (see point # 1 above), but it sort of provided a proof of concept that I had the self agency to act and do. There are many ways that you can get involved with the field, whether it’s answering a question on a listserv, running for a steering committee opening in a roundtable, be a mentor to a current or prospective student, or learn a new skill and share your findings on a blog. I think that everybody has something that they can contribute and by being engaged, we can all help make the profession become more participatory.
- Ask lots of questions and be humble enough to listen:A recent life lesson that I’ve learned is that there is more than one way to be right. As a new professional, this has been one of the hardest things to internalize. Confession: I am a Type-A perfectionist and this way of thinking does not come natural to me. But, the longer that I’m in the profession and the more experience that I gather, I am realizing its truth. Something I try to remind myself often is that while SAA is a professional organization of over 6,000 members, it is still limited by resources and available time that volunteer leaders can invest. What is asked of our organization’s leadership is truly incredible and it’s easy to forget that our leaders do it out of love for the profession. Kathleen Roe recently wrote a blog post in which she states, “We also recognize that, each time, the response may not be what some members might have wanted SAA to put forward. But we are a professional association of 6,200 members. Perfect unanimity of thought is, well, you know the answer…” Our profession is both large enough to incorporate many different voices and also small enough to know many of those voices personally. In my opinion, it’s very easy to build silos, publicly agree/disagree, expect immediate action, and feel misunderstood demographically and individually. But in reality, we all have something to teach each other and we all have something to learn from each other and we must be as quick to listen as we are to speak. There is more than one way to be right and understanding that in each other is one of the characteristics of what being “professional” means.