Why Archivists Go To Library School
09/08/2011 § 29 Comments
Stephanie Bennett is entering her second year at Simmons GSLIS, where she will get her MS in Library Science and Archives Management in May 2012. She is formerly a corporate researcher; currently a summer archives intern at the Association of American Medical Colleges; and will be returning to part-time work as a tutor and archives assistant in the fall. Steph loves talking to and learning from information professionals, paying it forward, playing with babies and poodles, and happy hours. Now discussing archives and accepting Boston bar recommendations on Twitter at @stephestellar.
Archivists, in some ways, are fighting a battle even more uphill than librarians. A bold statement, but hear me out. Everyone – well, nearly everyone – has been into a library at some point in their life. Schools of all kinds and for all ages, corporations, not-for-profits, even prisons have libraries. But who goes to the archives? Who even know what to go to the archives for? We archivists appeal to a more niche population. I spend a lot of time trying to explain what archives are and, most importantly, what they can do for “normal people,” because I don’t know how to duck those questions.
As we learn to share the bounties and benefits of archives with a wider public, archives students benefit from working with our library and information colleagues in masters programs. In archives, there is still a preference for history backgrounds, but I believe that as society becomes more digital, other skills of archivists and records managers will become broadly applicable and necessary. These skills are plentiful at LIS schools, and archives coursework is not the only way to get them.
Libraries and archives overlap in some important ways, requiring similar skills. Obviously, information discovered in the archives often fuels book content. Authors and academics need both libraries and archives to create their scholarship. Also, as the economy continues to get thrashed, all library and archives professionals are working harder than ever to demonstrate their value to local budgets and community members. It is not enough to say, don’t you love books and research? Both archivists and librarians must go out and show off our knowledge superpowers; it’s as easy as a quick lesson on Google searching or a new online tool/resource. In these demonstrations of our usefulness, lessons learned in those entry-level LIS courses or used every day in information settings are our greatest tools (well, with a bit of personality/nicety mixed in). Just as librarians and archivists work alongside in our introductory coursework, we can work together on the challenges of digital organization, bringing our different points of view.
Sometimes in practice, librarians and archivists do go their separate ways. I’ve been reminded of this recently at my summer internship in a non-profit’s Reference Center. Records management is particularly important to archives, especially in a busy organization. I don’t know much about collection development, but I imagine that the planning, politics, and legalities inherent in records management is not much like collection development. The way librarians deal with budget issues is probably more comparable to archivists accessioning materials. So, librarians, be thankful that you don’t have to deal with records management, and archivists: get ready!
Despite any differences, we archivists can learn plenty from librarians, and trust me, I’ve been taking notes. Tools in the archives trade are sometimes stodgy and one-dimensional: elaborate finding aid documents that are simply words; no graphics; little signage. I am very excited about the work being done in larger archives to bring our information to the public – for example, the National Archives’ Wikipedian-in-Residence program – but what about the smaller archival repositories like this? Archives generally don’t have a lot of funding, and we’re missing the “instant recognition” of libraries. Archives and their archivists need some pizzazz, ASAP.
As libraries are working hard to be living, breathing educational and community-focused spaces, archives and archivists and especially baby archivists should pay attention. I have already learned a few things from my library/information colleagues through twitter posts and blogs, and I’m looking forward to many more.
So it’s just as well that we all sit together at library school. Thank you, information professionals of all walks, for sharing your knowledge in the classrooms and student organization events of library school. I believe the world’s information will be the better for our time together.