This post is part of 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: Shaina Buckles
Librarian/Archivist at The Dali Museum
First off, I never had the intention of becoming an archivist – I was just kind of “thrown” into it. I graduated with my MLIS in August of 2013. During graduate school, I was still trying to find my niche. A lot of librarians and librarians in the making tend to be generalists; therefore, it was difficult for me to decide upon a specialty. I enjoyed cataloging and indexing and took a web archiving course, but I never chose to take a general archiving course.
Luckily for me, while in graduate school I was gaining hands-on experience in the professional world. I landed a graduate assistantship position at a children’s hospital where I learned the ins and outs of medical librarianship. This hospital also had a Family Resource Center, which was very similar to working in the youth department of a public library. At both of these libraries, I learned cataloging, reference services, marketing, circulation, and even marketing! Still, I wanted more experience, so while in school and working as a graduate assistant, I was offered a part time position as a librarian in various law firms. It was obvious I was leaning towards special libraries. Again, I was gaining practical experience for when I graduated.
When I graduated, I thought to myself, “now what?” I left the law firms after 6 months because I knew that was not the path for me. Due to some medical issues, I did not resume any type of library work until March of 2014 when I was hired at The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg as their part-time librarian. The moment I stepped foot in the library and archival room, I knew this was the place for me. My undergraduate degrees in History and French and my graduate degree in Library and Information Sciences prepared me for a librarian position at a museum library.
Of course I could not subsist on something part-time so I sought out additional employment. I became the program coordinator for a brand new initiative with the Sarasota County Public Libraries and the Boys and Girls Club of Sarasota County, but I still knew that the museum library was where I wanted to be full time.
For the first few months at The Dali I was learning about the collection, learning about Salvador Dali and identifying what my predecessors had done in terms of the library collection. In these months I was focused on general library practices – creating procedures for everything, cataloging stacks of resources that had never been cataloged, performing research requests for curators, setting up a WorldCat account and getting the library’s collection onto WorldCat, developing a plan for a digital program and creating relationships with other museum librarians. Essentially, I had set aside the archival room because I did not have the specific training and I was not positive that I would be able to tackle it.
One day, I just set aside the time to start meandering through the archives in order to get a sense of what exactly was in there. The results surprised me! There were bankers boxes full of old correspondence between the museum’s benefactors and gallery owners, file folders jammed with old exhibition records (EVERY exhibition since the museum’s inception – 1971), general correspondence, filing cabinets with exhibition catalogs of every Dali exhibition since 1925, filing cabinets with museum event ephemera, board notes, flat archival boxes with primary resources such as one of Dali’s teen journals, his birth certificate and the list goes on and on. At this moment, I came to the realization that I was no longer just a librarian, I was now an archivist.
Because I had no formal education in archival practices, I did what I do best – I began researching and reading voraciously. I became a member of the Society of American Archivists and the Society of Florida Archivist. I purchased resources on archival methods with, Arranging & Describing Archives & Manuscripts by Kathleen D. Roe becoming my essential source. But most importantly, I reached out to the local archivists in the area. One in particular, Jim Schnur from USFSP, came to the rescue. He visited the library and the archival room, made some quick assessments of the collection and gave me ideas of where to start and how to do it. It was truly invaluable, and I began implementing his suggestions immediately. I identified the priorities, reviewed their general content and conditions, and assessed my future needs for arrangement, description and preservation (Roe, 2005).
There were a lot of identified priorities. In the beginning I was overwhelmed, but I came to the conclusion that if I just followed the proper steps in a systematic order, I would be able to successfully arrange these priority collections and make them accessible.
It has been a slow process, but I have been full-time since May 2015 and I have made a lot of progress in the archival room. Through indexing some of these archival collections, facts that were never known before about some of the museum’s paintings have come to light. In addition, we have even been able to assist with a catalog raisonnée of Yves Tanguy and the provenance of one of his paintings because of a few letters we possessed in the museum’s archival room.
I am four months shy of being the librarian/archivist at The Dali Museum for two years, and I can honestly say that I am glad that I was “thrown” into an archivist position. It certainly was not planned, but I can look back on my experiences during and shortly after graduate school and know for certain, that I was learning practical hands-on experience for a library/archival career in special libraries.
So, new folks – fret not! While in graduate school and before you land your first professional position, volunteer, accept internships and/or assistantships in any and every type of library and archive. Begin making valuable connections with librarians and archivists, pick their brain and ask a lot of questions, because you never know if and when you will be “thrown” into a position that ultimately, will become your life’s work.