Dara Baker didn’t intend to become an archivist, but life had other plans. Baker, the archivist and legislative researcher at the Export- Import Bank of the U.S. and chair of SAA’s Communications Task Force (CTF), shares her thoughts on starting a career, the CTF’s recommendations, and traveling back in time. SAA: At what point did you realize that you wanted to become an archivist, and what drew you to the profession? DB: I didn’t know I wanted to be an archivist until the first internship I did while pursuing my master of library science (MLS) degree. Prior to that, I had spent a decade as a researcher and counted a number of archivists as good friends. I trained as a historian and was working as an assistant historian for the federal judiciary on a term appointment. When it came time to find a new job, all the jobs that interested me were library and archives jobs. That led me to apply to an MLS program with an archives concentration. It was the classes and the professors at University of Maryland–College Park that nurtured my half-formed ideas about what archivists do. SAA: What was your first job in the field? DB: My current job is my first job in the field. I work as the archivist and legislative researcher at the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., working under contract for Library Systems and Services, LLC. I have been in the position since May 2011 and was hired a week before I graduated with my MLS. I also had a number of fantastic internships, including at the Royal College of Physicians, London; the Center for Legislative Archives; and the office of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Before becoming an archivist, I taught history at Harvard (as a graduate student), at Princeton (as a lecturer), and as an adjunct at Dowling College. SAA: What advice would you give to new archivists entering the field? DB: Keep an open mind. I never intended to work with twentiethand twenty-first–century sources, and I didn’t expect to be a lone arranger. Take every technology class you can, even though it might negatively affect your GPA. (I still remember having to be Shown how to open Notepad in my introduction to HTML class.) Do research in archival collections. I think it makes me a much better archivist to know what it’s like to use and analyze historical materials. In my job, every day is different, technology is intrinsic to everything I do, and every research project makes me a better archivist. I’ve grown into my job and absolutely love it—even if I seldom get to use my paleography skills. SAA: As chair of SAA’s Communications Task Force, what’s the most important idea in the recommendations? DB: We’re still finalizing our recommendations, but I hope you’ve seen (and responded to) the call for feedback on our preliminary recommendations that came out in April. Although the CTF has some great shortand long-term recommendations for SAA, I think our most important idea is to reinforce that each communication channel has a different purpose and different audience. SAA should take the time to consider whether its needs are well matched to their communication channels. Being on the bleeding edge of communication technology only works when the organization maximizes the effectiveness and user-friendly nature of any communication format. SAA: If you had to sum up the importance of archives in one sentence, what would it be? DB: This is what the future sees—make it the best representation of the present that you can. SAA: If you could witness any moment in history, what would it be and why? DB: I’ve spent days thinking about this, bouncing back and forth between wanting to witness the Gettysburg Address to being with Marco Polo as he traveled the Silk Road to China. But as a nineteenth-century political historian at heart, I would want to witness the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, because the convention was secret and the record shows us only tantalizing hints as to interactions, personalities, and conversations. The Constitution and our incomplete knowledge of what went on that summer have led us to where we are now. On a much less serious note, can you imagine being the first person to watch TV?
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