Danna C. Bell 2014-05-27 13:00:50
When my predecessor Jackie Dooley launched the Off the Record blog I was concerned. I knew that I would have to write columns for Archival Outlook, but the idea of coming up with ideas for a blog gave me a serious case of the jitters. Now that I’m eight months into the task, I feel more comfortable. Writing about issues of interest and importance has been an enriching experience. I’m grateful to those who have contributed posts. It makes my life easier and allows others to share different points of view. I’m also thankful to those who have made comments on posts. It’s been interesting to see the responses. Your Comments There were two posts that I knew would draw comments. One was on archivists and employment, and the other was about where archivists fit within the realm of history and library science. On the employment post, several people commented that SAA should conduct a salary survey; Executive Director Nancy Beaumont is now working with others to develop one. Other suggestions included working with library associations to develop accreditation criteria that elevate the standing of librarians and archivists; setting guidelines for jobs posted to the SAA Career Center; developing best practices for grant-funded term archivists positions; and researching the length of time it takes new graduates to obtain professional positions in archives—whether or not student members become regular SAA members once they complete their degree—and the job titles used for archives positions. These ideas as well as those submitted to me personally and the SAA office will be reviewed; I’m certain that many will be implemented. Archivists’ Backgrounds The post exploring if archivists should be aligned with librarians, historians, both, or neither was written after seeing the comments from the post on archival employment. I wrote this post in part because of my surprise that many comments encouraged SAA to work with or explore the work done by library-affiliated associations, but there weren’t suggestions for SAA to partner with or explore the work of history-affiliated associations. That made me wonder if more archivists are coming out of library science programs than out of history programs. While some thought I believe that archivists could only come out of a library science program or a history program, I strongly agree with the commenter who said, “We are neither but we are both.” I believe archivists must know the basics of archival arrangement, description, appraisal, reference, and management, as well as the basics of research methodology. But I don’t think one has to be a librarian or historian to be an archivist. People come to the archives profession from a variety of paths; I know archivists with backgrounds in science, music, art, philosophy, and literature. My first master’s degree is in student personnel services. In addition, though I do have an MLS degree, my program did not include archives training. My first job in archives was wonderful and helped me to learn the basics. I also had amazing mentors who trained me on other needed skills. I eventually took postmaster’s courses in archives management and professional development courses. Demonstrating the Value of Archivists I’m not alone in coming to archives in what some would consider a nontraditional way. Commenters lamented that they had trouble applying for jobs because they did not come out of a library science– or history-based archival education program, and the large majority of jobs called for an MLIS or MA in history. Do we need to help hiring officers understand what an archivist is, what training archivists should have, and that having a particular degree does not mean someone will be a successful archivist? Does this lead us back to certification/ accreditation of archivists or archival education programs? We must also show employers that archivists are integral to the success of every organization. One commenter noted that we should look beyond the traditional distinctions of where an archivist works and include areas in IT, corporations, and beyond. This commenter also said we need to be where people are thinking about managing information or caring for materials. Another noted that she is an archivist because she facilitates the access and use of materials, and the skills needed may vary based on where one works. I agree with both of these comments. Archivists and SAA need to demonstrate that archivists provide benefits that can improve the bottom line and the organization as a whole. I have a few more months before I pass the care and feeding of the blog to my successor, Kathleen Roe. In the meantime, I hope that you will take time to read Off the Record and to make comments, ask questions, and suggest other topics for the blog.
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