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.
I am the Special Collections Librarian at the University of Saint Mary, a non-profit, private Catholic liberal arts university in Leavenworth, KS. The De Paul Library has three full time librarians and two part-time library research assistants. We have a handful of student workers and a Graduate Assistant who works closely with me in Special Collections. I am the first Special Collections Librarian in over 20 years. De Paul Library has gone through such a transformation in the past 3 years, from a 1950 traditional-style library structure to a vibrant, student centered learning commons. My position includes collection care and management, digital curation and preservation, outreach and exhibits, instruction and program development, and special collections library administrative tasks.
I was attracted to this position initially because it was a preservation librarian’s dream (or nightmare). The three large collections holding over 15,000 bound material, 1,000 flatworks and framed artwork, 1,000+ artifacts scattered in various cubbies, and 1,000+ manuscripts that were not accessible, housed properly, or known to much of the faculty and university community. I spent much of my first year getting acquainted with the collections, the library and university, and writing grants to fund a renovation that was on the campus plan. At the same time, I started digital humanities initiatives and digitizing several collections as well as introducing the collections in analog and digital format to faculty and partnering with several for class projects. During this time the library itself was introducing information literacy, technology, and makerspaces to campus. It has been the most productive, innovative almost-two years of my first professional job. There have been several lows as well, such as figuring out how to juggle so many projects, manage volunteers and staff, and participate in general library projects. Prioritizing and task lists have become my sweet recipe to keeping me sane. It has been a huge learning curve, especially since I wanted to stay active in professional development, present at conferences, research and being to think about publishing. The challenges that enticed me in the beginning have become loved projects that are well streamlined at this point but the challenges that keep me staying are blossoming on a regular basis. I have become more invested in higher education, special collections and archive information literacy is something I am devoted to, and connecting the students, faculty, and the community with the collections through exhibits and program development is deeply valued by me. I have learned that creativity, communication, innovation, and passion for what you do is all you need to survive. Those four traits will motivate you to be organized, motivated, successful, and provide gratitude, mindfulness, and awareness of what the next step is.
Being with a small institution, I wear many hats. I am a librarian, curator, preservationist, archivist, digital curator, instructional designer, and educator. I am very happy with learning and growing as all of these professional identities. When you apply for positions, make sure the position fits your needs as much as it fits theirs. If you don’t work well handling multiple jobs, then don’t apply at small institutions. If you want to be a specialist in one specific area, find a larger institution where they have the funds to hire multiple people. Go out and explore, especially now when you are in school. Volunteer at every place that may be of interest to you so you can really understand what direction you want to go. It’s all about balance in life and work. Don’t be extremely picky when applying for your first job but don’t apply for everything under the sun just to apply. Be open to moving to a different location for your first job. Know that your first job, for majority of folk, won’t be your last position. This is a stepping stone in your journey. Work really hard and be open to try new things. Also, bring creativity into your position in every way possible. I am extremely lucky to work with fun, creative colleagues who like to try out new programs, work with what we have in a new way, and find opportunities everywhere we turn. It’s what makes any position exciting and you learn the most about how you work and challenge yourself in these moments. I encourage everyone to stay active in your field through professional development. I was able to create a sustainable preservation program poster that made its way to ALA Annual of 2016 and received a professional development award to attend. Lastly, observe and listen to your peers and colleagues. I’ve learned so much about higher education, administration, program development, and curation from listening and observing. Best of luck and feel free to contact me if you have questions! “Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know” -Pema Chodron