By JoAnn Urban
We reached out to 3 Society of American Archivists Archival listservs with some of our career and archives-related questions. Over 25 archivists across the country responded. Here's what they had to say:
As a recent iSchool graduate looking to stay connected with my peers while also seeking employment opportunities, I decided to reach out to the Archival community for some advice. I was interested in learning how students and recent graduates can gain experience and skills employers look for, in addition to discovering ways to get involved with the profession. I was interested in more general topics, too, and open to advice about anything archives.
In hopes of starting a conversation with the archival community, I put together a questionnaire with topics, specific questions, and open areas for respondents to share their thoughts. The questions ranged from internship tips to class recommendations. I then created a questionnaire using Google Forms, and emailed the link with an attached Word document to three Society of American Archivists Discussion Sections: Women Archivists, Issues & Advocacy, and Metadata and Digital Object. Then, I waited to see what would happen.
To my excitement, I received an overwhelming response from the archival community. I greatly appreciate those Archivists that took time to answer the Google form, email responses, or talk with me by phone. This article is a summary of their responses, as well as a few takeaways from the exercise.
The first major topic I noticed across responses was the importance of experience. During my time at San Jose State University, I developed theoretical knowledge about the archival profession. Many of my assignments even included networking and working directly with Archivists in my state to develop projects and proposals. These experiences greatly deepened my theoretical knowledge and appreciation for archives, and were echoed in respondents emphasizing the importance of practical, hands-on experience at a physical location. Volunteering and internships were the two most frequently listed ways to gain experience as a student or recent graduate. One thing that surprised me was the places respondents listed to volunteer or intern. Museums and historical societies are two places besides archives that can help students and recent graduates gain experience in the field. Other ways to develop skills include attending workshops, facilitating independent studies, and gaining non-archive employment experience. In addition to practical experience, respondents emphasized the importance of building technical skills, such as coding and digitization skills. Many respondents stated not to limit yourself to one area of the profession, nor limit the focus of your skills and development.
Beyond building skills and gaining experience, networking is key to success. Joining a local, regional, and/or national organization, and attending conferences were all listed as excellent ways to get involved with the profession. Presenting posters or research at conferences is also a great networking tool. One respondent also suggested seeking out information professionals’ social groups in your city, starting a virtual reading group, and blogging about either your work as an archivist or your interests in the profession. All are important, innovative, and practical ways to make connections and develop key writing and communication skills. Social media is also a great way to connect with professionals, as well. Finally, conducting informational interviews with Archivists in your area can connect you with your local archival community.
Networking and connecting with the archival community are also key to keeping up with current trends in the field. Networking often leads to the internship or contract positions that are important to your professional development. One respondent stated that she took short-term and contract assignments to fill her skills gaps and to keep large gaps from her employment history. She started at the bottom of the employment rung, but stayed focused on her career goals and worked to get the position she really wanted. Another respondent recommended thinking outside the box when looking for ways to develop skills. For example, digitizing photos for friends and relatives is one way to gain experience digitizing analog photos. In short, professional development of all kinds can be used to advance your career.
Finally, don’t be afraid to get involved. Run for a committee position. Join a student chapter, local, regional, or national professional association. Present or volunteer at a conference. Look for opportunities outside of archives to develop the skills and experience that will help you later in your career. Perhaps the most important takeaway from completing this project is that Archivists are a friendly bunch, and love sharing their knowledge with students and professionals alike.
Thank you again to everyone that participated and helped make this post happen.
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