Expanding definitions of “digital library”

As one member of the inaugural group of Museum Cross-Pollinator Fellows, the Digital Library Federation generously covered my travel and registration expenses for the DLF Forum, making it possible for me to attend the conference for the first time. By creating this new fellowship, the DLF has sent a clear message that there is value in expanding conversations around digital libraries to include the broader digital collections landscape—a landscape that encompasses all institutions and professionals that are actively engaged in making our digital and digitized cultural heritage available online.

But despite the clear vote of confidence that the DLF made in me by investing in my attendance, I still found myself second-guessing the value of my potential contributions as I sat in the Grand Ballroom of the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center on the first morning. As Archivist at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, I manage over 130 years of institutional records—physical, born-digital, and digitized. Digital collections work has been a major component of my first year in this new position, as I am currently managing the completion of a 3-year, NEH-funded digitization grant. While the majority of my time at work is spent digitizing material and creating digital object records with rich metadata in preparation for the release of this collection in the spring of 2015, I am fortunate to have a group of digital strategists, developers, and designers from the in-house IMA Lab who handle what I considered to be “the tech side” of the project.

And therein lies the rub.

Though I didn’t realize it before attending the DLF Forum, I had perceived—and therefore created—a divide between myself and the people who I saw as the true practitioners (read: doers) of digital collections work: the professionals building the systems and shaping end-user experience through programming and design.

So while I knew that I had the knowledge and vocabulary to understand the conversations that I expected to encounter at the Form, I had lower expectations of my ability to make meaningful contributions to the DLF community. That is, until I actually attended the DLF Forum.

“We at the DLF Forum—unlike so many specialized tech and academic conferences—are at once a gathering of generalists and of experts.”

This statement, made by Bethany Nowviskie during the Welcome and Keynote Address, completely changed the approach that I would take to my first DLF Forum. Bethany not only acknowledged that attendees came to the Forum with varying levels of experience and knowledge of the topics that were going to be presented and discussed, but she also encouraged us to embrace this variety and to recognize that this is one of the Forum’s greatest strengths.

“I’m pretty sure you’ll feel that balance as you move from session to session this week, hopefully finding conversations that deepen your own considerable expertise and allow you to share it, and also those that happily expose your ignorance…”

With a deeper understanding and awareness of my roles as a generalist within the digital library world and as an expert on archival principles and practices, I abandoned many of my reservations and dove head-first into my first DLF Forum. I kept Bethany’s words in mind throughout the rest of the conference, and found them to be completely true—having a balance between generalists and experts in every aspect of digital collections work can lead to some amazing outcomes. The presentations were a testament to that fact. I was encouraged to hear from the professionals on “the tech side” of digital libraries about the valuable role that archivists and librarians had played in the development and success of their projects. And I was even more encouraged to see that many of these librarians and archivists were in attendance and presenting on their work in the realm of digital collections.

I’m not sure when or if I’ll be able to attend another DLF Forum, but I certainly hope that more professionals outside of the traditional digital library roles will be encouraged and supported to attend. The creation of the Museum Cross-Pollinator Fellowship is a great first step towards breaking down the perceived barriers between the academia-centric digital library realm and the broader digital collections landscape that also encompasses museums, archives, historical societies, and a variety of other organizations. There are many benefits of bringing together all types of digital library practitioners—both generalists and experts—in the setting of the DLF Forum, but there are even more benefits to be derived from expanding the definition of a “digital library” to include the full spectrum of digital cultural heritage collections.

Posted in Archives, Digital History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Joint SNAP & Lone Arrangers RT meeting summary

Last month I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC (my old stomping grounds!) to attend the Society of American Archivists annual meeting. Prior to the meeting, the Student and New Archives Professionals Roundtable (SNAPRT) solicited volunteers to summarize select sessions. I signed up for two, including the SNAPRT’s joint business meeting with the Lone Arrangers RT. Those who were there and even some who weren’t know that the session sparked some very intense conversation/debate on some of today’s most hot button issues in archives: internships (paid v. unpaid), poor employment practices, and archival education standards. Below is my attempt to summarize the meeting in under 1500 words.

Additional session summaries are available on the SNAP Blog.

SNAP/Lone Arrangers Joint Roundtable Meeting
(see also: review by Monte Abbott)

At the Society of American Archivists annual meeting this year, the Students and New Archives Professionals Roundtable (SNAPRT) and the Lone Arrangers Roundtable (LART) joined forces for their business meetings. As a SNAPer AND Lone Arranger, I could not have been happier about this arrangement, as it saved me from having to make yet another hard decision when scheduling my annual meeting time. Not only was this convenient for a number of attendees, but the joint format was very appropriate at a time when SAA is reevaluating the structure of its affinity groups.

The leadership of these roundtables scheduled two mini panels with topics and speakers that appealed to members of both groups. The panels, coupled with a spontaneous and engaging discussion that took place at the end of the meeting, highlighted the value in breaking down some of the self-imposed barriers that we have created within our professional organization by establishing so many component groups.

The meeting began, as all section and roundtable meetings do, with a report from the SAA Council liaison. This report included a mention of the work that Bill Maher, as a representative of the Society and of American archivists in general, is currently involved in at the World Intellectual Property Organization’s recent meeting in Geneva to discuss international copyright law treaties—a news piece definitely worth following! A representative from the Program Committee followed with an announcement about Archives 2015: “There is no theme but if there was. it would be ‘Let’s try something different.’

LART Chair, Michelle Gaines, and SNAPRT Chair, Michelle Gonzales, took turns leading their respective (shortened) business meetings. Of note in the business portion was the announcement that Provenance: Journal of the Society of Georgia Archivists is planning an entire issue produced by SNAPers! They are currently soliciting article submissions and volunteers to serve as editors.

The first of two scheduled mini-panels at the joint SNAPRT/LART meeting focused on archives consulting, and was put together to introduce attendees to consulting as a career option, or as a supplement to income, especially in today’s competitive job market. The three panelists were all archival consultants, but pursued varying types and levels of consulting work. For example, Rachel Binnington purposely keeps her consulting business at a low level to maintain her tax status (and enjoy her free time!). On the other hand, Elizabeth Keathley has taken her consulting business to the next level, and even employs multiple term archivists for some of her projects. Each panelist had an area of archival work that they specialize in, such as Danielle Cuniff Plumer’s focus on digital archives work, but their presentations displayed a wide array of knowledge and experience that covered many facets of archival work. I came away from this first panel with one key take-away from each consultant, which should give an insight into the wealth of knowledge that they shared:

Rachel Binnington: Trust your gut – do not turn down a job you feel very passionately about. That being said, if something doesn’t feel right, DON’T DO IT!

Elizabeth Keathley: No matter what environment you are working in, with whatever system, professionals working on digital asset management (DAM) are doing the same basic tasks using same skills on a daily basis (archives work applied to digital). Also, DAM Foundation survey results showed that people with “digital” in their title make an average of $20,000 more per year.

Danielle Cuniff Plumer: Archival consultants do a lot of marketing and networking. One great marketing tool is to help institutions write grant proposals that include funding for an archivist and then hope that you will be hired for that work if the grant is successful.

Of course, there was so much more about consultant work that was discussed in this panel that cannot possibly be summarized here in full. Both Elizabeth Keathley (@EinAtlanta) and Danielle Cuniff Plumer (@dcplumer) are active in the archival Twittersphere and could likely answer additional questions there!

The archival consulting mini-panel was followed by another group of perfectly-selected panelists. The topic for this second group was the always-contentious archival internship, with an intended focus on the role and responsibilities of internship supervisors as mentors. The panel was stacked with experienced internship supervisors who were selected for their success in providing comprehensive educational experiences for their interns:

Susan Malbin, Director of Library & Archives-American Jewish Historical Society

Nicole Menchise, Archivist/Librarian-Oyster Bay Historical Society

Gerrianne Schaad, Director, Dickinson Research Center @ The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Director, SPCO & University Archivist-Wake Forest University

Though they were tackling a very sensitive subject, the panelists provided some very sage advice for potential archival interns and supervisors. The following are some key points that stood out to me during the discussion:

– To interns: Develop good writing skills early –it is not going to do you good to produce a finding aid for an internship that is written poorly – will result in a bad recommendation and work that may need to be redone by institution.

– To supervisors: If you are going to take on an intern, you need to take that seriously.

– To interns: Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it is best to get clarification and assistance before a mistake is made than to face any consequences after.

– The best intern/supervisor relationships begin with an intern who comes to the project/position knowing what they want to learn and/or accomplish. Conversely, the supervisor should solicit this information from the intern and do their best to make that happen. A clear vision/plan is key.

– One component of archival internships at the Oyster Bay Historical Society is to review and edit the intern’s resume with the supervisor at the end of the internship.

– Interviewing for a job/internship goes both ways – be sure to interview your prospective supervisor and evaluate how the position/institution fill your needs.

While the panelists certainly provided some great advice and examples of successful internship relationships and projects within their institutions, any discussion of archival internships naturally touches on the contentious topics of unpaid labor, the fine lines between intern, volunteer, and entry-level work, bad employment practices, and the devaluation of archival work. Because these issues were not the focus of the panel, they were not addressed fully when referenced in the course of each individual presentation. As a result, there was some tension that grew during the mini panel, which was evident in some of the tweets with #snaplar that were being displayed in real-time on a screen at the meeting.

This tension came to the surface when an audience question (delivered anonymously via index card) was posed to the panelists: “Do you believe that archives is a profession if you do not pay entry level work?” The question was an extension of conversations that have been going on within SAA for years (especially within SNAPRT), and a natural result of the tension that had built throughout the panel, but it felt to me like an inappropriate time and forum for that particular question to be asked, and of that particular group of panelists. It certainly put them in a position that they had not signed up for—they were asked to answer a question with implications larger even than the archives profession, with a myriad of internal and external factors and situations that could come into play. As difficult as that question was, the panelists handled it well, and their responses included the following statement (unfortunately I cannot attribute it to one panelist, as I was still reeling a bit from the turn that the Q&A portion had taken):

“I would love to pay my interns, but there are some things beyond my ability – but I promise that if you do a good job, work with me, communicate with me, then I will make sure you have an educational experience, I will be a good reference, network for you, etc.”

I would like to say that the panel ended there, on a relatively positive note and with the focus brought back to the topic at hand: models for developing and supervising educational internship opportunities. But unfortunately AND fortunately, the discussion continued when the consultants joined the supervisors on stage for the last part of the meeting. What resulted was a conversation of the major issues and tensions mentioned above, but without the preparation, moderation, and time that is absolutely essential to a constructive discussion of these multi-faceted, complicated, and sensitive issues.

Don’t get me wrong—it was absolutely invigorating to be present during this conversation, and encouraging to see similar discussions in other sessions at SAA14. But a conversation of this magnitude requires a lot of forethought, consent and preparation on the part of the participants, and some level of moderation before any constructive result(s) could possibly come of it.

Perhaps just such a conversation could be a possibility for a joint SNAPRT/LART meeting next year?

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COPA Or: How I Learned to Stop Apologizing and Love My Profession.

A few weeks have passed since the first meeting of the Society of American Archivists‘ new Committee on Public Awareness (COPA), of which I am a member. It has taken this time for me to fully process the experience of my first meeting in an appointed position, and to wait for the dust to settle after the group, charged with a pretty weighty task, tackled a number of pressing issues and took our first steps as a group. Now that a summary of our meeting is available to SAA Members as an item for the SAA Council to review at their upcoming meeting during #SAA14, and in anticipation of the annual meeting next week, I figured that it was about time for me to share my thoughts on the committee and our work thus far.

The full description of COPA can be found here but, in short, we are tasked with identifying key audiences that SAA should target its advocacy efforts toward, and to help the SAA Council shape the form, content, and messages presented in those efforts. While there is some overlap with the established Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy (CAPP), they focus specifically on opportunities for SAA to shape public policy (legislation) that affects archivists and our profession, institutions, and stakeholders. COPA’s brand of “advocacy” focuses on how we, as individuals and through our professional society, can promote awareness of archivists, archival work, and archives to various audiences.

The Committee on Public Awareness is a direct product of SAA’s Strategic Plan for 2014-2018, which places advocacy and raising public awareness as priority No. 1.

SAA Strategic Plan Goals
The Strategic Plan outlines four ways in which SAA will work to reach this goal–three of which relate directly to the work that COPA has been asked to complete:

1.1. Provide leadership in promoting the value of archives and archivists to institutions, communities, and society.

1.2. Educate and influence decision makers about the importance of archives and archivists.

1.4. Strengthen the ability of those who manage and use archival material to articulate the value of archives.

Prior to the meeting, the SAA Council generated a list of possible activities that COPA could pursue to help reach these strategic goals. The list included:

  • craft compelling messages aimed at key audiences,
  • compile and distribute stories that demonstrate the value of archives,
  • develop an array of practical resources to help individual archivists promote awareness in their communities,
  • and many more.

But the most important take-away stressed to the eight committee members* as we reviewed COPA’s purpose and possible plans of action was to BE CREATIVE. From the brief introductions we had had up to that point, it was clear that the room was full of archivists who had expressed a desire to do just that when responding to Kathleen Roe’s call for volunteers.

No ice-breaker was necessary after a torrential downpour on the walk to the meeting led to a room full of soaked and therefore partially-undressed archivists (read: most of us spent the morning sans socks and shoes).

With the formalities of introductions thrown completely out of the window, we were ready to get to work.

I entered into this committee appointment fully expecting that the process of developing awareness resources, messages, and/or campaigns would be lengthier than I could imagine, with some very difficult and even unpleasant parts, but I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting the intense groundwork that would have to be laid before we could proceed with any actual planning–groundwork that required us to face head-on some of the most difficult questions about the work that we do and the issues that we all encounter as members of a profession with a surprisingly low level of public visibility.

To help the committee members through this process, SAA brought in a communications counselor with years of experience in helping clients to develop communications and marketing strategies. The Society of American Archivists has worked with her for years, and she facilitated the creation of SAA’s current Strategic Plan and the “I Found It in the Archives!” contest. She posed the question,

“What does success in public awareness work look like?,”

and promptly let us know that while we do a (relatively) good job at communicating to each other about the work that we do, the roles we play professionally, and even a bit about the value of archives and archivists, we are terrible at effectively communicating this to outsiders. My hackles went up for a moment, but the truth was undeniable. After all, archivists’ and SAA’s previous lack of success in marketing (yes, marketing) ourselves to the public was the reason that COPA was formed in the first place. The good news is that we DO belong to an inherently interesting and important profession (and that’s not just something we tell ourselves as we work through grad school or the tedious parts of daily archives work, all while facing poor employment prospects and practices).

After our facilitator successfully hyped us back up on the importance of our profession, we set to the task of identifying two key audiences that we wanted to focus our efforts on first. If given the opportunity, we could have generated an insurmountable list of potential audiences that we would like to reach (and we were halfway there after ten minutes), but there were two audiences that clearly held the most favor among the group: SAA Members and the monolithic “Public.” While the second target audience may seem overwhelmingly vague, we recognized that raising public awareness was, after all, the ultimate purpose of our committee and that a broad focus on the general public was not as paralyzing of a task as it may seem. In fact, some interesting suggestions for ways that SAA and individual archivists could reach both audiences were thrown out in the process of generating the list.

Once we had our two priority audiences identified, we spent some time talking about some of SAA’s current vehicles for archival awareness: the Society’s website, American Archives Month, and the I Found It in the Archives! contest. I’m not going to go into more detail here about these conversations (more information is available in the summary of our meeting provided to the SAA Council) but welcome any and all thoughts and suggestions regarding these public awareness vehicles in the comments below. Your thoughts will not fall on deaf ears–COPA is eager for feedback and ideas from the SAA membership and those interested in archival advocacy.

Day One ended with a bit of exploration into the realm of message-crafting (I swear I just felt the collective shudder of everyone who has ever been involved in the writing of mission statements or vision and strategic plans). I can’t speak for the other members of the committee, but one of the last (of many) questions posed by our facilitator stuck with me overnight:

“If there can only be one thing, what do you want
your audience to remember?”

…or so I thought. Turns out that drafting an initial action plan that ten people felt confident in and stood behind would not be possible until the question of message had been addressed more fully. Even though the message- and slogan-crafting was a part of the committee’s work that I would have put in the “unpleasant” category mentioned earlier, we felt that moving on to the planning stage without at least a rough message was not possible–it felt like doing things backwards.

So far, none of this committee work may have seemed like the “intense groundwork” that I claimed we laid, but it was in the process of message-crafting that we really got into some of the issues that many of us come up against at some point in our careers–issues that are both a product of and contribute to our inability to successfully convey to the public who we are, what we do, and why it is important. You’d think an answer to the question,

“What is an archivist?”

would come easily to a room full of professional archivists with a dizzying number of combined, and very diverse, years of experience (of which I can claim approx. 3). The Catch-22 in this is that the diversity of our pathways into, and our experiences within the profession lead to difficulty and even some tension when trying to answer this question as a group. Unfortunately, developing an answer to this question that accurately represents SAA’s diverse membership is one of our primary goals, not to mention a key to the success of any actions that we may take.

After we each made some attempts at responding to “What is an archivist?”, with varying degrees of success, the conversation naturally turned to personal experiences of responding to this question in real life. Whether we answered the question as posed by family members, friends, acquaintances, curious strangers, or EVEN COWORKERS (shout out to the lone arranger, fish-out-of-water archivists of the world!), there is one response that the members of COPA always anticipate, and almost always get in return. Emily Chicorli, “The Ardent Archivist,” recently explained this phenomena, and I’m going to defer to her on this:

“I used to moan, out loud, whenever my mom bragged about me going to grad school to a family member or a stranger because as soon as they asked me what I was studying, and I’d say archives, their smiles of adoration faded into frowns and their eyes glazed over (I don’t think my family truly understands it, even at this point).”

Well Emily, I am sad to say that you are not alone. And even sadder to say that it is partially our fault, as a profession, that this is the typical response. The general public just does not know much about what we do or why we do it, and they usually do not have a sense that it is exciting or important in any way. In lieu of discussing the reasons for this lack of public understanding in this blog post, I will instead point you to Rand Jimerson’s Archives Power. In this book, Jimerson presents a very thorough account of the history and development of our profession with a focus on both the potential and actual roles/importance of archives and archivists in/to society. He offers up a number of advocacy-related thoughts and suggestions for archivists today, and I highly suggest getting yourself a copy!

But back to the topic at hand…

“What is an archivist?”

After receiving this response dozens of times when telling somebody that I am an archivist (usually accompanied by some combination of the “glazed eyes” that Emily mentioned, and/or disinterested, confused, embarrassed looks–take your pick), I have to admit that I have come to anticipate that the person I am talking to will not know what an archivist is, or have a vague idea at best. As a result, I’ve taken to telling people what I do who I am in an almost apologetic way (picture: sheepish expression; shrugged shoulders thrown in for good measure, etc.). I’ve adopted this approach to be sure that I won’t make the person I am talking to feel uninformed or unintelligent (and therefore uncomfortable) in any way, which has been the result on more than one occasion when I responded more naturally.

This approach sounds so ridiculous now that I am typing it out, but I was not the only person at the meeting who expressed a similar desire to adopt this defeatist/apologetic attitude. (And of course this is not universal; I’m positive that there are many archivists out there who approach this conversation completely different; I used to be one of them. Over time, as a result of a handful of awkward conversations and some disheartening responses to what I feel should be a great conversation starter, I made the decision to temper my expectations when talking about my profession with non-archivists.)

COPA’s chair, Peter Gottlieb, brought us to an “ah-ha!” moment by breaking down these interactions and taking them a step further. He prompted the group to fill in our usual responses for “Archivist”:

Rando: What do you do?
Archivist: (with an individual flavor of defeatist attitude) I’m an archivist.
Rando: What is an archivist?
Archivist: [insert generic response to the question – we all have our go-to elevator speech]
Rando: Oh, really?! That sounds very interesting!
Archivist: (suddenly excited) It is! Let me tell you…

And that’s where Peter turned the conversation on its head, because it’s true: we live for this kind of response. We don’t get it as often as we’d like, and we hardly ever expect it (depending on our audience), but this is an ideal path for the conversation to take–but WE didn’t take it there. In this scenario, “Archivist” is feeding off of the enthusiasm of the audience. Instead, we should be communicating enthusiasm to our audience(s) from the start.

While we still did not have a concise draft message aimed at introducing the general public to archivists and archives, this revelation did bring me to an important realization: the message is secondary to the delivery. Considering how varied the SAA membership truly is–comprised of professionals who are engaged in a dizzying variety of tasks, drawing on a multitude of different skills in every setting imaginable–it would be unrealistic to think that all SAA members will feel that our proposed message represents them 100%. I would like to think that everybody will be able to identify with at least some part of the message that may accompany SAA’s advocacy efforts in the near future but, failing that, I am confident that any advocacy vehicle(s) that come out of COPA’s work will inspire the enthusiasm that is key to successfully advocating for archives.

The work of the Committee on Public Awareness is just beginning, but I think that our first meeting has given us a very solid foundation to move forward from over the next year. At this stage, we are all working to generate ideas and get conversations started about archival advocacy. The success of any campaign, tools, messages, etc. that we may produce will rely heavily on input and support from SAA members and archivists at large. I strongly encourage anybody who has made it this far through my lengthy summary of our meeting to share your thoughts on our work, along with any and all ideas that you may have about how SAA can support archival advocacy on national, local, and individual levels. Please feel free to do so in the comments below, reach out on Twitter or, better yet, keep an eye out for COPA members at the annual meeting next week and let’s talk archival advocacy in person!

***This summary of COPA’s first meeting was completely filtered through my lens, and focused on the points that I got the most excited about. For a more complete account of the meeting, please check out the summary that Peter Gottlieb, Chair, produced for SAA Council’s upcoming meeting. It does include a draft message that the group developed, along with some preliminary ideas for advocacy vehicles, for Council to review.***

*COPA Roster:
Peter Gottlieb, Chair
David Carmichael, Atlanta Housing Authority
Scott Grimwood, SSM Health Care Corporate Archives
Shaun Hayes, American Heritage Center, University of Wyomying
Bergis Jules, University of California, Riverside (@BergisJules)
Erin Lawrimore, University of North Carolina at Greensboro (@barkivist)
Sami Norling, Indianapolis Museum of Art (@SamiNorling)
Jill Severn, University of Georgia (@jsevern)

**Also in attendance and facilitated the meeting:
Nancy Beaumont, SAA Executive Director (@SAA_Nancy)
Teresa Brinati, SAA Director of Publishing

Posted in Archives | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Paid internships FTW

This week the National Council on Public History (NCPH) annual meeting will be taking place in Monterey, CA. The director of my Public History program at IUPUI, Philip Scarpino, will be presenting on a topic that is of interest to many people in and outside of the PH field: paid v. unpaid internships. Taking place on Saturday morning, here is the session description:

S52. Internships: To Pay, Or Not to Pay

This session continues an ongoing discussion between NCPH and the American Association for State and Local History on training the next generation of public history professionals. Panelists will discuss paid/unpaid internships in the development of well-rounded, prepared program graduates.

Bob Beatty, American Association for State and Local History
Linnea Grim, Monticello
Emily Hopkins, Cooperstown Graduate Program/AASLH
Philip Scarpino, Indiana Univ.-Purdue Univ. Indianapolis

In the archives realm, the debate surrounding compensating interns ebbs and flows; an SAA annual meeting session or address, one stand-out blog post, or message sent to the A&A listerv and the conversation takes off yet again (on Twitter, you can usually follow #thatdarnlist), until the generally circular discussion dies down. As the conversation develops, the debate over compensating interns is usually one part in a larger discussion of the job market and archival education as a whole.

Naturally, when the dialog does die down, it always takes me a few days to recover, to continue processing the many comments made in a number of venues (blogs, Twitter, listservs, conversations with coworkers and archivist friends). Ultimately, it feels as though we’ve run a marathon but gained little ground in the course of the discussion.

But we do gain ground. And there are very constructive comments and illustrative experiences that get shared in the process. Following the most recent discussion, and the variety of responses to Jackie Dooley’s Presidential Address at SAA 2013 before that, I think that we are starting to see concerted steps being made by the SAA Council to develop and stand behind concrete positions on such issues as compensating interns, utilizing volunteers, what constitutes an “entry level” job, bad employment and compensation practices, etc.

While this is encouraging, I hope that individual archivists do not see the actions and statements of the SAA Council on behalf of the US archives profession as the end game. As professionals, we are in a position to make statements and set policy (or at the very least, precedent) at our workplaces on a day-to-day basis and regarding a number of the issues mentioned above.

I recently initiated the process to host a paid archives intern during the next academic year, and have opted to pursue a partnership with my graduate Public History program at IUPUI. They have a well-established paid internship program which places their students in historical and cultural organizations around Indianapolis. The interns work 20 hrs./week from August 1 through May 31 in exchange for a monthly stipend and the cost of some course credits covered. This model was one of the main reasons that I selected the IUPUI Public History program, and it is a model that I have very strongly supported in a number of forums, including the panel session “Archival Education from the Student Perspecitve” at SAA 2013.

We are still in the process of getting this paid internship approved, both on my institution’s end and on the side of the graduate program, but I am very hopeful that we can make this work. In the process, Philip Scarpino asked me to answer some questions and make a general statement about my support for paid internships and reasoning for pursuing this partnership. His questions were very thoughtful:

Why did you consider participating in an internship program that costs money?

How did you “sell” it to those higher up who have final budget approval?

What value do you believe that your office might accrue from the presence of public history interns on staff?

What contributions do you expect an intern will make to the work and mission of your “shop?”

Do you see yourself and your institution as participating in training the next generation of public historians?

I welcome anybody reading this post to take on some of these questions in the comments, or to share your more general thoughts and experiences on paid v. unpaid interns in archives and elsewhere. The following is the statement that I sent to Dr. Scarpino:

As a graduate of IUPUI’s Public History program, I had the opportunity to see and experience first-hand the benefits of being part of an established paid internship program. These benefits extended to the institutional partners just as much as to the graduate students. While interning at the Indiana State House Tour Office through the Public History department, the shared benefits were made very clear at every meeting of the “history collective” that I was able to attend. The group was made up of representatives from historical and cultural institutions around Indianapolis, coming together to plan collective events to celebrate Statehood Day, Hoosier Heritage Day at the Indiana State Fair, events surrounding the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and many others. At any given meeting, there were at least three IUPUI Public History interns in attendance, representing their institutional partners. Witnessing the involvement of my fellow students, and having the chance to take part in these meetings myself, I was impressed with how the interns were integrated so successfully in the work of these historical organizations.

I strongly believe that the success of the department in integrating its students into the professional community of public historians in Indianapolis lay in the fact that both the institutional partners and the graduate program were supporting their interns financially. By providing a generous stipend, student insurance, and covering the cost of course credits, the department is making a clear statement on the value of the education and skills that students gain in graduate Public History programs. On the side of the institutional partners, their financial support makes a statement as to the value of professional work in our field. While it can be difficult to secure funding for internships in the midst of broader financial difficulties in the historical/cultural community, we have to be mindful of the message that unpaid work sends to the general public and to the stakeholders and the managers of our institutions. When it comes time for important budget and staffing decisions to be made, these individuals rely on their understanding of the work that we do as public historians, and the value that they perceive in our unique skills and education, to make decisions that will likely impact us the most.

In my case, an outside donation to support professional development and special projects has enabled us to consider hosting an IUPUI Public History intern during the 2014-2015 academic year. My positive experience in the intern program led me to suggest the use of some of the funds for this position. Knowing that we are making a financial investment in this intern, we have carefully developed a comprehensive intern project that will allow the student to gain a variety of archival skills and experience during the 10-month internship. In return, we will have an important archival collection completely processed, and a significant portion of the collection digitized and made available online.

Posted in Archives, Indianapolis, Library Historian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

#HLSDITL, of sorts

Disclaimer: This post ended up being quite a bit longer than I had envisioned it, mainly because it includes the content of what I had originally planned as being two or three separate posts reflecting on my time in library school, the post-grad job hunt, and the archival profession. As some of you may know, I was a member of the panel “Archival Education from the Student Perspective” at this year’s Society of American Archivists annual meeting, and in many ways this post echoes a lot of the themes from our panel.


A few weeks ago one of my favorite blogs, Hack Library School, hosted a second round of Library Student Day in the Life, during which library students representing all schools and all specialties were invited to tweet, blog, facebook, and generally take over social media with updates on their daily lives, accompanied by #HLSDITL. I have to admit that I missed out on the first round in March 2013, when I would have been able to more actively participate as a student. However, the stream of posts that I read that week provided me with the necessary kick-in-the-pants to blog a bit about my post-MLS job hunt and professional doings while reflecting on my program and it’s value/relevance to what I’ve faced since finishing school (proof that I officially hold an MLS arrived in the mail just last week):

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But first, a bit of context. My interest in special collections first developed in a museum setting, while (as an undergrad) I had the opportunity to intern at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry Museum and Library in Washington, DC. At the time, I was certain that a Masters in Museum Studies was in the cards for me. But after a bit of research about Masters programs and my options, and as a result of my exposure to a special library at the Scottish Rite, I decided that a dual program in Public History and Library Science would be the best fit for me. Not only was this path a fit for my professional goals, but it also seemed like a good choice when considering my marketability after school (I know it’s not always kosher to admit to these considerations, esp. in a field full of passionate professionals, but I’m going to put it out there because the multiple-career-possibilities aspect of the dual degree was a big selling point). Luckily, I was accepted into both the MA Public History program and the School of Library and Information Science at the only school that I applied to, Indiana University – Indianapolis.

As I made my plans for grad school, I was still very focused on special collections, but the archives field was not quite on my radar yet. I was working PT as Rare Books Cataloger at the Old Cathedral Library in Vincennes, IN and I was quickly developing a passion for that. The launching point for my archives career still seems like the craziest stroke of luck to me, especially now that I’m looking back on my time in library school (though after meeting and talking with many fellow library students and professionals both in-person and in the Twittersphere, I know that many of us have had at least one very serendipitous aligning of the stars in our careers). The Indiana Historical Society was hiring a Project Archivist to process their backlogged Jewish-related collections, and somehow with little-to-no knowledge of archival work I was selected. My boyfriend and I packed up our stuff and moved to Indianapolis more than two months before our original plan to head there so that I could begin my work at IHS and in the ILL department of my university library (we still affectionately refer to the mouse-infested furnished sublet in Indy that we found at the very last minute as “June House” because all we could handle was one month there).

And now I want to share one tweet of the many that came out of Hack Library School Day in the Life, Round 2. I think that it perfectly summarizes my entry into the archives field and the reason that my dedication to and passion for this community of professionals and our vocational calling has grown over the past two years:

My entrance into the archival profession, and that of many of peers, has been furthered by my interactions with established archivists and with the community of Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAPers) that has grown within and out of its roundtable in the Society of American Archivists (SAA).

While I began my job at the Indiana Historical Society with some special collections experience, but no archives-specific experience or knowledge of the relevant theory, I found myself surrounded by a staff of extremely knowledgeable and helpful archivists, special collections/reference librarians, and historians who helped me to learn more about the how and why of what archivists do on a daily basis. After completing my first project at the IHS, I found myself continually welcomed back there to work on various projects, even after leaving twice for summer internships in DC. I was also very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with and learn from very dedicated and helpful supervisors during these summer internship experiences (first in 2012 as a Junior Fellow in the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress and more recently in 2013 as the Archives Intern at the Association of American Medical Colleges – both internships that I cannot possibly say enough good things about).

As I’m sure you can tell from the content of this post thus far, I consider my internship and work experience to have been integral to my training AND education as an archivist. The opportunities that I was able to pursue both in Indianapolis and DC really supplemented my program in very important ways. While I selected a dual program in History and Library Science, it is not the typical dual program that many library students will be familiar with, especially those pursuing archival tracks, because my library program did not offer an archives specialty. At the time that I applied for my program, I had some vague ideas about pursuing a career in archives, but really as more of an offshoot of the special collections world, as I understood it at the time. As a result, I found myself continually questioning my decision to select the program that I did, as I became more and more convinced that the archives world was for me. I feared that I had unintentionally placed myself at a disadvantage, destined to never be quite qualified for the many positions with a minimal qualification of “Master of Library Science with a concentration in archives management.”

It was these concerns about my program that led me to pursue various internship/fellowship opportunities in a variety of archival settings, as well as the Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) certification through SAA, and to tailor my course selections to those that were at least peripherally-related to the archives world (unfortunately my choices were quite limited by the dual program requirements and my campus’ lack of specialized courses). At the beginning of my second year in the dual program, I also had to make the difficult decision to turn down an internship offered by my history department in public programs at the Indiana State Supreme Court (along with the accompanying stipend and free course credits) in favor of a part time position digitizing special collections with my university’s Digital Scholarship Team. Luckily, this decision really panned out, and my experience in that position has ended up being one of the most relevant when applying and interviewing for jobs thus far.

While my library school only offered one dedicated archives course, I feel lucky to have gotten something out of that course that I hope many students enjoy in their archival programs: a dedicated mentor actively involved in the archival community. While attending the SAA annual meeting in New Orleans this summer (a trip that I was able to afford in large part thanks to the Donald Peterson Travel Award that my archives professor encouraged me to apply for), I met a handful of students with so many positive things to say about the faculty at their schools. Judging from my conversations with them and from my own experience, I cannot stress how important it is to have that kind of guidance when entering a profession that is so community- and collaboration-based (you don’t need me to tell you that attending your first few conferences and getting involved in the professional conversations taking place constantly via social media, blogs, listservs, and scholarship can be daunting).

Post-library school I experienced an interesting month of unemployment that I hope to never go through again. As all-too-many library school graduates are familiar with, the post-grad job hunt can be a scary, intimidating thing. There were mornings that I woke up feeling completely energized by the thought of the many possibilities that lay before me, but unfortunately there were just as many days where I doubted myself and my chosen career path, leading to multiple depressing days of inactivity (job hunt-wise), which was really the last thing that I needed at that time.

Through a combination of luck and good planning, I found myself back in Indianapolis – a city full of amazing cultural institutions and a dedicated community of library, museum, and history professionals that I counted myself a part of as a result of my work experience while in school. An opening at the Indiana Historical Society led to my return there as both Collections Assistant, Reference Services and Project Archivist (processing the Red Skelton Research Archive which I have been slowly chipping away at for ten hours a week for nearly a year and a half).

Random Minnesota State Fair ephemera found while processing the Red Skelton Research Archive at IHS…never underestimate the power of an interesting archives find to affirm your love of archives.

I have also discovered the joys of working through a temp agency as a part-time Archivist/Historian at Dow AgroSciences, developing an historical archives program. Taking charge of this initiative to preserve their history through artifactual and archival materials has been really amazing. I think that all archives grads should have the opportunity to flex their recently-acquired skills and knowledge in a non-library environment with little-to-no archives culture. I guarantee that they would be constantly surprised and delighted with the confidence and authority that recent grads can and should have when working on such projects.

I had to document the first mystery artifact drop-off while I was away from my desk: groundbreaking shovel and American flag.

While I’ve been finding these two positions very professionally fulfilling, I am well aware that I have to temper my passion for the field with financial considerations. Between my two jobs I am working an average of 41 hours/week and have been able to keep paying rent, student loans, and even enjoy a night out every now-and-then (probably more often than is advisable on a budget). But of course the full-time job hunt has continued, and the confidence in my future as an archivist has continued to grow with every interview and every day at my part-time jobs.

It’s a tough job market that we are all entering, but I do find some comfort in the fact that I am not alone in my efforts to break into this field as a full-fledged professional archivist (that is, when I am not filled with a mixture of anxiety, fear, and doubt about the many recent grads naturally competing for the same or similar positions as me). Luckily, the collaboration that I have witnessed and experienced first-hand between and with other students, recent grads, and both new and established professionals constantly provides me with the encouragement that I need to keep pursuing the title of “Archivist.”

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This view literally took my breath away as I left an interview at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in early November. #JobHuntJoys

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New beginnings

I have to address the obvious fact that this blog has seriously fallen into disuse, primarily because I am no longer in school. Without the excitement of “check-out-what-I-read-for/learned-in-class-today” or “found-this-while-researching-my-seminar-paper-in-the-archives,” I honestly haven’t been inspired very much to blog. Don’t get me wrong–there have been a number of things that I’ve really wanted to write about, but it just never seemed to jive with how I originally conceived of this blog as a place to talk about library history. I’m still very interested in this topic, but am no longer actively engaged in historical research (perhaps this will change soon?).

My school-day pursuits in the realm of library history have since been replaced by my professional pursuits: searching and applying for jobs, attending and presenting at professional conferences, keeping up with the goings-on of other archivists at their institutions via twitter, blogs, listservs, etc. — you get the picture. In navigating the world of professional archivists, finally feeling as though I AM a professional archivist, there have been a number of interesting debates, topics, presentations, projects that I’ve wanted to engage with through this blog, but was always held back by my narrow conception of what this blog is. Well, I say, NO MORE. Starting with this post. And continuing with another one soon after. And so on until it becomes more natural for me to join those conversations through this medium (while still inserting the occasional library history factoid, find, or musing, of course).

So stay tuned for an upcoming post in which I plan to reflect on my time in library school, inspired by last week’s Hack Library School Day in the Life (#HLSDITL)!

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DC Summer Hiatus

Whether I intended to or not, I ended up taking a hiatus from blogging during my summer in DC. With the move out of my apartment in Indianapolis, getting settled in a sublet and summer internship in the district, catching up and spending time with friends, and preparing for the Society of American Archivists annual meeting (which is this week!), I was kept extremely busy and had no time left for fun historical research/writing/blogging. Not to mention that my sublet came complete with wireless internet that downloads at less than .5 Mbps…

After this extended break from blogging, I am happy to say that I am back! I’ve got some exciting plans for a series of posts to begin after the Society of American Archivists annual meeting, and I hope to find the time to write at least one blog post while I’m in New Orleans this week. In the meantime, I’m going to share a series of photos to illustrate what I’ve been up to during this summer hiatus.

As our time in Indianapolis was winding down, Jacob and I made a trip that I had been wanting to make for awhile, to Crown Hill Cemetery. The highest point of Indianapolis is located in the cemetery, and at the top of the hill is the grave of the poet, James Whitcomb Riley. The view was amazing:

Crown Hill CemeteryAnd taking a closer look at the Indianapolis skyline, we could see the high-rise apartment complex that we had called home for two years: Riley Towers (named after James Whitcomb, of course). They are the two buildings of equal height off to the left.

Downtown Indy from Crown HillAfter two years of living in Indy and studying the city and Indiana state history, I had become very familiar with many of the historical people buried at Crown Hill, and it was great to see so many familiar names while walking around. But the real reason that we made this trip to the cemetery was to find the grave of Eliza Browning, the subject of my year-long research project, and head librarian of the Indianapolis Public Library for 17 years. I found the record of Browning’s burial location on FindaGrave.com, and after a bit of wandering around in her section, Jacob located her headstone. It was buried under a good amount of cut grass, but after a bit of cleaning, I was sure that I had found the right plot.

Eliza Browning HeadstoneAfter having spent so much time reading Eliza Browning’s personal writings, studying her administrative files as head librarian, discovering her passport and personal photos, and reading behind-the-scenes correspondence related to her campaign to expand the Indianapolis Public Library branch system through Carnegie funds, it was really amazing to visit her final resting place. You can call it morbid if you will, but it was a great way for me to bring my year-long project to a close, and to say goodbye to the city I had lived and studied in for two years. But how I could I ever say goodbye to the amazing view that we had from our balcony??

Apartment view of Downtown IndyShortly after this trip, Jacob and I faced the daunting task of packing up the apartment that we had lived in for so long, and somehow made the majority of our stuff fit into a storage unit in Indy, to wait for our return and future move to wherever we would end up next. Toughest item to leave behind: my bike, the blue one on the right. I cannot express how great it will be to be reunited on the Cultural Trail in Indy by the end of this month. And yes, I do still have a television with a built-in VHS player…I can’t seem to get rid of it when I have so many great VHS tapes that still work!

Storage UnitSince leaving Indianapolis Memorial Day weekend, things have been a blur. Below are some photographic highlights of the last twelve weeks:

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup IGrilled cheese and tomato soup at RFD in Chinatown, our favorite neighborhood spot from the previous summer.

9:30 ClubMountain Goats show at The 9:30 Club in U Street.

National ZooFirst visit to the National Zoo since my Spring Break trip in eighth grade.

Wall Mural at Penn SocialDiscovering new great bars in DC. Wall mural at Penn Social near Metro Center.

AU WONKSStrolling through my undergrad campus, American University. Proud to say that the “wonks” campaign began after my time there…still not sure how I feel about it. Our apartment this summer was close to the AU campus in NW DC, so I’ve made a number of pilgrimages to my old stomping grounds, including some refreshing jogs around the ‘hood.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup IIGrilled cheese and tomato soup, part II. Bourbon in Glover Park. My first real summer living in DC off of campus was spent in this neighborhood (crashing in a two bedroom apartment with at least seven other friends at any given time), so living nearby has made for a lot of reminiscing. But I have to admit that it is a lot better on the 21+ side of things than my underage status the last time I called Glover Park home.

Floral LibraryStumbled upon this Floral Library near the Tidal Basin off the National Mall while heading to play some sand court volleyball.

Pig RoastBirthday pig roast, Georgia Avenue. I still cannot believe that dozens of people voluntarily gathered around a barbecue pit for hours on a 100-degree DC night.

Nationals Park, Navy YardHands down the best night of the summer was spent at Yards Park between Navy Yard and the National Park with Jacob and two of my best friends from my undergraduate days. Picture taken ca. the seventh inning stretch during a home game. It was absolutely beautiful.

Taxation without Representation St SEAnother image from that night to cap this post off: Taxation Without Representation St SE near Nationals Park.

It’s been a great summer, and I will always love DC, but I am really looking forward to the next stage in my life, in which I hope be able to proudly call myself a professional archivist. It’s looking more and more like that stage will be back in the Midwest, either in Indianapolis or my true hometown, Minneapolis. Jacob is already back in Indy, where he is teaching seventh grade Social Studies full time. My internship is winding down, and the Society of American Archivists annual meeting in New Orleans is cutting the rest of my time in the district in half. This will be my first annual meeting, and I am both speaking on a panel (Archival Education from the Student Perspective) and receiving an award (Donald Peterson Student Travel Award). Thankfully the award will cover almost all of my expenses for attending the conference, making that one thing that I don’t have to worry about among the many uncertainties that I’m facing right now.

I’m hopping on a plane to New Orleans this Wednesday, so look for a lot of live tweeting during the panels, roundtable meetings, and various social events that I will be attending! Follow me on Twitter @SamiNorling and keep an eye on the blog for session summaries and general first time attendee thoughts!

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