#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.”

No caption, #nofilter necessary.

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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


About Sami Norling

MA History/MLS, Indiana University, Indianapolis - Archivist at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and fledgling library historian, blogging about all things related to the history of libraries/archives and current innovations in the LIS profession. Opinions are my own.
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