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: Jane Thaler
Post-Holocaust American Judaism Project Archivist, University of Colorado Boulder Special Collections and Archives
I earned my MLIS from the University of Denver (DU) in Spring 2016 and am now the Project Archivist for the Post-Holocaust American Judaism Collections at the University of Colorado Boulder. Due to taking this position, I am also currently on leave of absence from the LIS PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh (they have been wonderfully supportive about me taking this opportunity).
I graduated undergrad with a major in Art History and minors in Philosophy and Religious Studies. Had a year in between undergrad and graduate school to flesh out my personal and academic goals, then decided to get my MLIS. While in the program, I volunteered at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science Archives, interned in the Exhibitions Department at the Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG) as a collections management intern of non-living collections, helped rehouse and process several private archival collections, was a graduate assistant, was the SAA chapter president, and snagged a job as an archival assistant in the DU Special Collections and Archives. As soon as I graduated, I continued my position at DU and took a paid position at the DBG as an exhibitions project associate until I left for the PhD program at Pitt in August of 2016. I completed one term of the doctoral program and am planning on returning, but my current position was an offer that I simply could not refuse.
So, here I am… Working as a full-time archivist on some really amazing collections and continuing to learn something new every single day! I will definitely be the first to say that I am not an expert, but, from my experience, here are a few things I have found valuable:
- I hate to say it, but network, network, network.
If there are archivist groups in your area, go to their meetings and events. Keep your face and qualifications fresh in their minds. If you are a student, be a part of student groups not only to boost your resume, but to meet your peers outside of a classroom setting. Many of these groups offer tours and events that help you meet professionals in your area as well.
Building relationships with other archivists in the community not only helps to put you in a better position when applying to jobs, but it can also be pivotal for staying on top of the latest technologies and processes that can help your work. While we would all love to have the time to read every single article published about archives, it can be faster and even more fun to learn directly from the experience of those around you.
Most of my jobs in archives or museums have come about because I kept in touch with professionals in my community and they were well aware of what I was capable of when it came to their needs.
- Don’t be afraid to market anything and everything about yourself.
You never know when your experience as, let’s say, an alpine ski coach or administrator for a custom architectural signage firm can tip the scales in your favor (both of which have done the trick for me on more than one occasion). Every single thing you do, see, touch, or hear that even remotely relates to archival work can be useful for your future. Your uniqueness and versatility can go a long way when showcasing your skills. For example, I was recently offered a position as a museum preparator simply because I not only knew how to handle materials properly from my experience as an archivist, but I also had experience working with power tools.
To that end, if you are still in school, take full advantage of the cognate courses outside your program that you are allowed to take. Being well-rounded with your knowledge and making connections with those outside your specific discipline can inform your process and thinking more than you might expect. Especially in archives where your collections can range so drastically, having some knowledge of other fields goes a long way.
- As many other bloggers for the “Transitions” series have noted, apply everywhere that could be even remotely interesting you (and be prepared to move for those positions).
You may get many more “no” responses that you will want, but all you need is one “yes” to get your career started. With all of the opportunities I have been offered, I have had at least as many people tell me “no” or, more frequently, say nothing at all. By opening my mind to the possibilities though, I have been able to work at a few really amazing institutions that I never dreamed would be possible simply by applying.