Transitions: Sofía Becerra-Licha

In my current position, I oversee the day-to-day operations of the Berklee Archives, which documents the history and activities of Berklee College of Music (est. 1945) and Boston Conservatory (est. 1867), with additional special collections focusing on popular music and the performing arts. My responsibilities include fielding and managing reference requests and special projects, contributing to the ongoing maintenance and development of our nascent institutional repository, project managing our current GRAMMY grant project, working with departments and donors to develop deeds of gift or transfer agreements, social media, and supervising one full-time professional.

I came to archives following graduate studies in music (ethnomusicology) and entered library school intending to focus on music librarianship and archives, so at Berklee, I’ve gotten all this (and more). You can read more about my background here, peruse my first-year wrap-up post here, or follow my 2012-2013 Year-in-the-Life journey in full here. One huge caveat about my career trajectory: my situation is admittedly rare and I have been fortunate that my original project position (funded by a two-year NHPRC grant) turned permanent and that in the last couple of years the Archives has gained additional space (both for storage as well as processing) and staff (a processing archivist), leading to my promotion.
In reflecting upon what transitional words of “wisdom” I could hope to share here, I revisited my Year-in-the-Life posts, both to remember where I’d left off and out of sheer curiosity (what would stand out to me now?). Five years later, I can definitively report that some aspects remain very similar: there are long stretches where it feels everything’s in flux and very little concrete progress shows in the moment. At the same time, some of the anxieties I had about becoming a proficient subject expert on all things Berklee have lessened — I’ll always be an outsider, but time and exposure have ensured I’ve picked up a remarkable amount of institutional history, memory, and trivia. 
There are obviously both pros and cons to having gotten my start as a lone arranger. Here a few things I’d say to prospective solo archivists entering the field for the first time:
  • Feelings of closure on the job will be rare. Cherish those moments and celebrate your successes. Document them (no joke: I now keep a dedicated email folder). Revisit them.
  • Expertise takes time. Be patient with yourself. Don’t be afraid to say “it depends” and to own it. Don’t be afraid to say “let me do a little research and get back to you.” The sheer breadth of queries you will face can feel overwhelming at first, but it gets better. I promise.  
  • Recognize that you will need to be comfortable with (or at least tolerant of) ambiguity and change to a degree that may feel untenable at times. No two days will be alike. Very little will be under your direct control. Aim for progress, not perfection.
  • Be prepared to listen. A lot. And to compromise. A lot. And to explain. A lot. All three (but especially that first one) will get you far. Trust me.
  • And finally, know yourself and whether this is the right kind of environment for you (in the short and/or long-term). For instance: Do you want to specialize or do you prefer being a generalist? Do you enjoy being part of a large collaborative team or do you like figuring things out for yourself?  

More generally, be intentional about keeping yourself grounded, particularly within a profession that often demands transience of its young professionals or those seeking to advance.

  • Find and prioritize your professional “tribe” (whether individuals and/or organizations) and invest in them as well as mentors.
  • Know your deal-breakers and boundaries. Both on the job market as well as on the job. Be mindful that these will likely evolve and change, but keep them ever-present.

And finally, pace yourself: your career is a marathon and not a sprint. Don’t let the necessary periods of hustling and powering through become a way of life.

  • Identify areas for growth and/or activities that nourish you and work to ensure your extracurricular and/or professional commitments reflect your needs and wants (to the extent possible, obviously). Stretch yourself, but take care of yourself.
  • It may feel foreign at first, but don’t be afraid to say no to optional requests that don’t fit into the above categories, particularly as you gain more experience. The striving, getting-your-foot-in-the-door, period is the means and not the end.