Guest author: Adam Minakowski
Reference & Special Collections Librarian, U.S. Naval Academy
Formerly: Reference Archivist, National Anthropological Archives.”
This blog post comes at a good time for me as I feel I’ve reached a kind of milestone. Archives is a second career for me (well, third or fourth for those keeping score), and after reaching a certain level in terms of responsibility and salary in my prior marketing/communications career, I’ve achieved a goal by making it back to the equivalent level in my library/archives career. Looking back at the five years it took to get there from the time I entered the iSchool at University of Maryland, College Park in 2010 to joining the U.S. Naval Academy as Special Collections & Reference Librarian in 2015, I can see a lot of things I did right and some things I can do better in the years ahead.
For starters, it’s time to start paying more attention to archival theory. With no library or archives experience when I came to the iSchool, I quickly made the decision that my classes would be of secondary importance to the internships, part-time jobs, and assistantships I would be pursuing while getting my MLS. I wasn’t going to get hired based on the classes I took but on the work I performed in libraries and archives. I stand by this approach and think it was my graduate assistantship in the archives at the University of Maryland’s David C. Driskell Center and part-time positions at the National Archives while attending the iSchool that help me land the position of Reference Archivist at the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives (NAA) during the final semester of my MLS program.
But the trade-off for my decision became readily apparent at NAA when I was immediately challenged to prepare for an event that, for a two-week period, would triple the number of researchers we could normally accommodate. This entailed setting up satellite research rooms and hiring and supervising interns to help monitor those rooms. My practical experience gave me good knowledge of the rules to operating a research room, but lacking theoretical background made it harder to adapt those rules to the extraordinary circumstances of the event and provide proper guidance to the interns.
Fortunately, the event had occurred once before, so I could fall back on the arrangements made the last time around, and I was assisted by top-notch interns who probably knew the theory better than me and didn’t require much guidance. I also was never afraid to admit my knowledge was lacking to my more-experienced colleagues, who were happy to help me fill in the gaps. While there are always exceptions who are easy to spot, most of your colleagues want to see you succeed and don’t mind helping to put you in position to do so.
Still, I always promised myself that I would not only go back and read all the texts and articles I was supposed to have read during grad school, but also keep abreast of the new literature and theory. To date, that hasn’t happened, and I’m running the risk of inhibiting further growth and advancement in the field.
At least I attend archive conferences and keep up with the connections I made throughout my career, right? Well, yes, I initially did a pretty good job of staying in touch with former coworkers and other contacts. After all, my current supervisor was someone I met and interviewed with during a field study at the University of Baltimore while I was still in school. I kept up with her just enough that I knew she had moved on to the Naval Academy and could reach out to her when I saw an open position there.
But now is the challenging time when the comfort and security of my current position encourages laziness in keeping in touch. I never viewed my contacts as just job leads, but meeting them for lunch or coffee doesn’t seem as urgent when you’re settled. Sure I see some at conferences, especially the semi-annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, but there are many who don’t attend these conferences. I need to make time to see these others because there’s collaboration to be done, ideas to be exchanged, potential interns and students who need breaks, and just darn good people to catch up with.
Another activity that’s fallen by the wayside as I’ve become more settled is keeping my resume updated with accomplishments supported as much as possible by quantifiable statistics. A lot of resume tips advise using stats, and I acknowledge that it’s not so easy to do in this profession. But that didn’t stop me from looking at my tasks and responsibilities for numbers that I could incorporate into my resume, and I ended up with good bullet points that tout the volume of reference inquiries and researchers I served at NAA. Even as a student at the National Archives, I paid attention to the number of followers we had on the social media channels I monitored so I could use the data to demonstrate my impact.
A side benefit to these periodic updates was they encouraged me to think about how I could approach my daily tasks and responsibilities in a way that would turn them into good resume bullets. I didn’t want to put something as mundane as handling NAA’s photocopy requests on my resume, but that occupied a significant chunk of time each week, so I couldn’t ignore it. Instead, I developed a workflow that let us start scanning the photocopy requests instead of making paper copies. It was still a mundane process, but one which I could point to as an example of initiative, planning, and willingness to depart from the way things have always been done.
These days, I don’t think too much about my resume, and the occasional job applications aren’t there to prompt periodic updates. One of the great things about getting my MLS and going to work at NAA was that, despite still monitoring my RSS feeds with new job listings on a daily basis, I could be a lot more selective of which ones I’d pursue. At the Naval Academy, I still have the feeds set up, but I’m rarely checking now. Fortunately, the mindset of taking the initiative and trying new things is ingrained enough that it still influences my work at the Academy, but I need to make sure that continues and that I’m looking for ways to incorporate stats and numbers down the road.
It’s been great to look back and more importantly, re-center myself as I move forward. Comfort and stability are wonderful things that I’m grateful for, but with them comes the challenge of avoiding complacency which will do neither me nor my institution any good. It all serves as a reminder that there are always new challenges and obstacles to face no matter where we are in our careers.