Three Things I Didn’t Learn in Archives School

First off, I am sorry for the delay in getting fresh material posted, we will be more regular in the future. Thanks to Angelique for reminding us that there are actually people reading this blog, who knew? ~ed.

I have been in my position now for almost nine months, part time from January to my graduation in May, and full time since then. Below I discuss the three biggest things I have learned on the job. Now, this post is not a complaint about my education, I think that these are inherently things that you learn on the job. There is also a distinct possibility that they actually did come up in school and I was not paying attention. On to the list:

3. Technology I think that most archives students in my program are pretty happy with the technological education that we received. I was not very fluent in technology and now I feel that I can converse freely in tech-talk. However, I also feel that perhaps I should have pushed myself harder in that area. Wouldn’t it be great if I had mad programming-skills? Let me answer that rhetorical question with a resounding yes. While I do not want to be a programmer or a IT person, I do think that a more solid base in the area would help me better understand what is required to implement things like digital repository software or other technological solutions. Even in a large organization like where I work, the more skills in this area would help me better communicate to the IT and programming people.

I will continue to work on these skills, both in the class room, on the job, and in everyday life (like, oh I don’t know, working to keep this blog going). The first few months of my employment have shown me that it is very important to keep up with these things. If nothing else, it will help me boost my nerd quotient.

2. Money This may be to be chalked up to complete and total naivety on my part, but I am really surprised how much the question of funding creeps into conversations, both at work and with fellow archivists. At school, we did not talk much about it, but I see that in the real world so much runs on costs and benefits. I think the question of money also goes beyond finding funding to sustain programs, staff, and projects. It seems that striking a balance between the public service orientation of most of our institutions and the real need to make business cases for the projects we undertake is an essential, and at the same time difficult, facet of our professional duties.

For example, I know that there is a frequently reoccurring discussion on the A&A listserv surrounding access. These discussions often outline the tension between access and the need to fund things like digitization efforts. I strongly agree with the assertion that archives have a responsibility to promote as much access as possible and should not exert additional controls, such as fees for high resolution images, on materials. However, I am also not as quick as some on the listserv to label archives that are charging fees as being in the wrong. These decisions must be difficult, and I am starting to realize that, no matter how much we archivist are not about the money, much of what we do requires it. Often that requires a compromise between the ideal and the possible. Note: I was going to make the last link go to that “show me the money” clip, but there is something unsettling about Tom Cruse yelling, unless it is in this.

1. The Management of People This is the big one for me and the thing that got me thinking about writing a post like this. I supervise student employees as part of my duties, as well as, obviously, work with a variety of people throughout my day. My dad, who was a human resources manager for a time, told me once that managing people was the most difficult thing he has ever done. Now, being a rebellious teenager at the time (well, as rebellious as a future archivist and lover of all things Star Wars can be), I thought to myself “How hard can it be?” The answer is: very. I think I am good at it, but it certainly takes much more of my day than I had expected. For me, the stress comes from the fact that I want to make sure that we produce top-quality deliverables and are rigorous in our research, without me coming off like:

Excellent

Excellent

The Simpsons 20th Century Fox Television

So, I have a strategy on how to make myself a better boss/employee/dude-that-people-work-with. I have taken a managers class offered through the university. This was very helpful, especially in the area of how to communicate better (and there was a lunch provided). I have also had several people recommend the book Crucial Confrontations, which has apparently spawned some workshops as well. While it does not really fall into the topics I usually read, I am willing to check it out. Mostly, I want to learn more from my mentors and, as I gain more experience, hopefully become a manager that can help successfully guide a team, without being the kind of boss that everyone (including me) hates.

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8 Comments

Filed under By-Lance

8 responses to “Three Things I Didn’t Learn in Archives School

  1. Liz

    Very good to know! Thank you, Lance, for the head’s up concerning the post-SI world.

  2. This post makes me officially a fan. I’ve been in Archives and special collections for about ten years and had the benefit of that experience to teach me these lessons early. But, I swear, sometimes I listen to other archivists, especially when I hear them clinging to their scrolls of standards, and think, wow, you are going to run into the reality factor like a two by four in the face.

    • Lance

      Thanks for the comment, Alex. I am very happy to hear that someone with much more professional experience than I sees some of the same issues, and a special thanks for your now official fandom!

  3. Angelique

    Thanks for the new post! 🙂 I completely agree with your list. It’s amazing how much budget (even in corporate land) influences the way decisions are made and limits the ability of the archive to do everything they want.

    Oh, and I’m pretty sure that I’ve read that Sophie Jordan book. It’s totally up my alley of books I like to read that don’t require too much brain power. 😉

    • Lance

      Thanks for the comment, Angelique. That is interesting that funding is such a question in the corporate world as well. I guess in a time of economic downturn and budget cuts every place worries about money. As for the book, it actually took me some time to fine a romance novel with a title and cover image that was not too dirty. I might actually start reading them now 🙂

  4. This makes eveyrhtnig so completely painless.