Year in the Life: Rachel Fellman, part 6

In this month’s Year in the Life, Rachel Fellman reflects on what it means to be welcomed.

I went to my first SAA conference this year. The experience was what David Foster Wallace would call “sort of powerful, actually.” I recommend a trip to SAA, even if you’re a routine attendee of regional conferences; it’s worth the money, or the social capital involved in getting funding. You’ll be part of a critical mass of archivists, each of them talking about the most interesting thing that happened to them this year. I saw panels about the archivist’s role in chronicling the AIDS crisis, about the intersection of trauma and oral history, about archives and labor, about archivists and architects working together. I even presented my own paper about the connections between archival and queer culture.

But as intellectually great as the conference was, it was just as powerful to be welcomed into the profession. Since then, I’ve thought a lot about what it means to welcome new archivists, not just to let them in. This is a tough field which often involves leading an itinerant life, which can be lonely, whose obscurity means that you’ll end up explaining and advocating every time you’re making small talk. It’s important that we support each other both practically and emotionally.

What does that look like? A sharing of jokes. A recognition of common complaints. An honest discussion of what we owe our student workers, volunteers, and interns. Some conversations about non-archival things, too — part of being a community is the pleasure of hearing about people’s projects, bands, and babies. (And these things cross over; everything that we do influences our archival perspective.) I’ll always treasure the memory of my evening visit to the Lincoln Memorial with a bunch of professional rememberers. It wasn’t the same visit I’d have had with anyone else. This awareness of a shared worldview is a special thing for archivists, who — let’s be honest — are disproportionately likely to have been cranky children who owned file cabinets. I know I was a cranky child who owned a file cabinet.

As I begin my new term as SNAP Blog Coordinator, I want to remember that feeling and incorporate it into my work with SNAP. We exist to welcome people to the profession — not to be gatekeepers, but to be friendly guides at the gate. In a profession that’s often associated with obscure stacks and climate-controlled rooms, I want SNAP to be sitting at the archives reference desk, dead center, a team of new archivists ready to help slightly newer archivists. Please leave your worries about bothering us at the door, along with your impostor syndrome, your water, and your pens.

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