Renee Neely 2014-02-11 11:12:04
Commuting on the 6:58 a.m. train from Providence, Rhode Island, to Boston one morning, a fellow commuter struck up a conversation with me. “What are you studying?” he asked. “I’m studying to become an archivist.” “Like Tom Hanks or Nicolas Cage?” he inquired, referencing the characters the actors play in The Da Vinci Code and the National Treasure films, respectively. (The actors didn’t actually portray archivists in the films, but I did like the commuter’s perception of me being a “super sleuth.”) “Not quite . . .” I ventured, and continued to speak with the commuter about historical societies, libraries, museums, and collecting “old stuff.” Like the commuter, I was unfamiliar with the archives field until not that long ago, but quickly learned that being an archivist means so much more than any film could convey. Today I’m a graduate student in the Archives Management Program at Simmons College. When I started the program last summer, I had never been to Boston. I remember drinking ginger ale to calm my nerves the first day. It was all very new. Finding the Archives Profession I stumbled into my interest in archives. I recently returned to Brown University after thirty years to complete my bachelor’s degree in English literature and cultures. While researching a play I was writing about four African American sculptors, my playwriting professor and collaborator asked if I could help initiate a digital archive for the Rites and Reason Theatre at Brown that dated back to 1969. I became the archivist for the project. There were materials in Various formats: photographs, scripts, playbills, VHS, and DVD. I created a database of twenty-seven descriptors (which I now know as “metadata”). The archive was accepted into a digital repository at the University of Southern California in January 2012. My work provided essential data, but I knew I was winging it. How much would I have contributed to the project with professional training? I wondered. I needed answers. While expressing post-graduation anxieties over coffee with my American civilization professor, she suggested I consider the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons. It seemed daunting, but I accepted the rigor it would entail. I was infinitely excited. Learning to Think Like an Archivist Whether passionately debating MPLP with classmates; lamenting nights plowing through MARC, FRBR, LCSH, or EAD assignments; or posting to forums about digital stewardship, I am constantly in awe of the vibrant and determined community I’ve joined. Last fall, I completed my first internship at the Women’s Feminist Theory Archive at Brown. I surveyed, developed a processing plan, foldered, and wrote a scope note and abstracts for two oral histories. I met the university’s manuscript processing archivist, who helped me survey my collection, and the preservation archivist, who invited me to her lab. I sat in on a presentation of university librarians and archivists discussing their recent conference experiences. These hands-on opportunities have been vital to my development. As I posed observations to my professor each week, I realized that I had been using classroom theories in the “real world” through my internship and other experiences. Out of the foldering and rusty staples came a consciousness that I was learning how to think as an archives professional. When I receive confirmation of my scholarship and abilities, I feel invigorated. A fellow classmate and I recently presented at our first graduate symposium; our topic, The Post-Colonial Archive: Accountability, Memory, and Activist—The Knowledge Shift was well received. After many hours on Skype discussing our PowerPoint and wardrobe choices, we felt relieved and happy. With every opportunity, I talk about preservation and knowledge facilitation (much to the wonderment of some of my friends!). I have been asked to attend meetings of the Rhode Island Black and Latino Caucus. A community theater asked me for help in developing literacy plans. I’m proud to say, “I’m studying to be an archivist.”
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