I recently attended the MARAC meeting in Roanoke, Virginia where I participated in a session on Friday morning called “Mentoring New Archivists: An Open Exchange.” The other professionals in my session were Lloyd Beers, Emily Cottle, and Lynn Eaton with Sarah Denison as our moderator. This was a fun session and set up a bit differently than ones I had participated in before. The first part of the session was dedicated to each of us answering some basic questions like, what’s the best advice you ever (or never) got? What do you wish you’d have known about the profession or life after graduation? What surprised, excited or disappointed you the most about being a new archivist? Can you validate or dispel assumptions and misconceptions?
After this portion, we opened it up to the room at large for questions. We had been advertising on Twitter and other social media outlets to drum up questions prior to the session, and we took “live Twitter participation” during the session as well. The final portion of the session was our break-out sessions where we spoke in smaller groups with the participants.
It was a great session to be a part of and I enjoyed the audience participation immensely. So, how did I answer those questions myself?
Some advice: Be ready! Ten months into my first professional job, where I was the archivist working alongside a librarian and a project archivist, the department had to reorganize and I became the sole staff member, as well as was furloughed and took a 4% pay-cut. I’ve taken on more responsibility now even in my project position.
At the same time: Be Patient! My first professional job, I found the job, applied, interviewed and was hired within two weeks. My second professional job took two years of applications. Now again I have been job searching off and on due to being in an unstable project position. Don’t listen to those people who say there are tons of jobs – there aren’t, but there are other jobs like special collections librarian or similar that you could do. Just because it doesn’t have the word “Archivist” in the title, doesn’t mean you should rule it out.
Networking: Friend or Foe? Networking for a job has never worked for me – all of my jobs, both as a student and as a professional, have been like a “cold call” and I didn’t know anyone there previously. Now, I will say that you should keep your network going: it keeps your morale up by realizing you’re not the only one experiencing your situation. If you have worked with me as one of my students, it keeps you on my radar. If you use me as a reference, it will keep my memory fresh about what you have been doing. I may send along jobs that I think you should apply. I’ve even had headhunters contact me looking for suggestions on who might be interested in certain jobs.
Know Thyself. I believe you don’t need to specialize – I think my being more “open” in terms of my background and interests made me a better archivist when it came to processing missionary, religious and theological materials. Although I haven’t specialized in terms of getting further education in a specific area or topic, I have worked at both universities and historical societies, with a variety of collections - historical society and museum, academic, religious, etc… So, the best advice I can give is to be diverse in the types of organizations you are working in. Think about your skills – what can transfer? So many jobs now are more about the “fit” within the organization rather than if you can complete “xyz” task. Figure out how to stand out and sell yourself.
To grow skills you haven’t had or you believe have grown rusty, take classes. There are also a number of online training options like iTunes U or Lynda.com that you may have access to without having to pay for it out of pocket. Lynda.com may be available via your alumni privileges at school or through your local library. Read twitter and other blogs to see about the current issues. There are even free, open-source journals that are available to you.
Be honest with yourself about those skills, what you like doing, and what you are good at. Just because I am capable of being a cataloger, does not mean that is the right job for me.
I hope my session was useful for those in attendance and those following along via Twitter. I look forward to more interactive sessions and further topics advising those entering in or those who are new to the field.