ARCHIVES 2015: Observe (Re-educate…Reason…Re-identify) AND Report

Posted: September 5, 2015 by saacua in Sharing
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Guest Post by: Jenna Tenaglio

Soaked in the hydralicious air of Lake Erie, Cleveland sure smells sweet in the morning-especially when it’s packed with hundreds of archivists. The city is a beautiful place, certainly much more pleasing than I’d imagined during my hour-long day-dreamy flight from Washington, DC. I was living the life: attending a national conference for archivists and related professionals; networking over dessert at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame; pitching in during meetings with other student SAA leaders. My only regret? Traveling via an enjoyable 60 minute plane ride instead of an enjoyable five hour plane ride. I just can’t get enough of soaring through the air at hundreds of kilometers per hour, miles above earth’s surface.

Wait…wait that’s not right. What am I doing risking my neck to fly an hour out of my way to a city I’ve never been to before? Sure, I’m attending the SAA Annual Meeting, but do I even want to be an archivist? Why am I headed to Cleveland? Or, at this point, why was I ever in Cleveland?

That latter question is really the most pivotal: “Why was I ever in Cleveland?” I’m not suggesting that my attendance at ARCHIVES 2015 was necessarily surprising, but simply that, a short year ago, I would not have considered SAA as an organization especially suited to my interests. And yet it’s funny how 12 months of classes and serendipitous opportunities can turn your original expectations and perspectives on their, proverbial, heads.

Allow me to begin at the beginning. I’ve been an LIS student at CUA for the past year, specializing in Cultural Heritage Information Management. Outreach is the name of my game. More specifically, my professional interests lie in outreach, engagement, and educational programming…for public cultural heritage institutions.

I have never self-identified as an archivist, never as a librarian. As far as student groups go, I spent my first year of graduate school dabbling in the official CUA student chapter of the American Library Association (AGLISS). The fit just wasn’t right, so I began considering other possibilities. Still, I wasn’t sure that an archives centered group was right for me. But a few months into the Spring semester, I was effectively talked into joining SAA@CUA. Within a few weeks, I was Vice President-elect.

By mid-summer 2015, attending the Annual Meeting was not on my radar. Busy completing my program practicum at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, I was happy and content formulating outreach and engagement strategies for the Smithsonian Transcription Center. In fact, it was this experience, coupled with some exploration and inquisition of my own, that led me down the tarmac to Cleveland. Spurred on by my academic and practical work, I began to see that professional roles meld, and that the important questions and areas of research in this field cross titular and institutional boundaries. Not surprisingly then, when I began familiarizing myself with the specific purview of ARCHIVES 2015, and with the persistent issues generally of interest to SAA, I found most to be very close to my own professional heart. As Fall 2015-effective Vice President, I already needed to step up my SAA game; so this newly realized relevancy of my own passions put the clincher on the deal. Mind made up, I registered for the conference and booked myself a two-way plane ticket.

The 2015 Annual Meeting is the first national LIS field conference I’ve been lucky enough to attend. I learned a great deal regarding the professional climate, contemporary practices, and research areas. Moreover, ARCHIVES 2015 expanded and challenged my personal preconceptions, inspiring me to change the way I contextualize myself, and my interests, within the LIS field. Below, I’ve selected four general lessons I learned.

1. Observe as much as, if not more than, you contribute. When you’re experiencing a conference for the first time, you’re trying to get your bearings, choose exhibits and educational panels you’d like to see, and identify those professionals with whom you’d like to network, to name only a few activities. As a student, you’ll also realize that you’re surrounded by practicing professionals: some new, but many seasoned, long-active professionals. The sooner that you realize you probably have more to learn than to contribute, you’ll be more likely to garner the best, and most informative experience possible. When you’re always busy contributing, you miss out on vital information…including how to key in on the right times to quiet down and tune up your awareness.

2. Social trends impact the degree to which professional previews overlap. As budding LIS professionals, we’re always taking current social advances and trends into account when it comes to adapting practices and meeting changing informational needs. You’ll also notice that, as trends take shape, they begin to affect all areas of the field: from archives to museums to academic institutions. With specific trends on the radar, professionals from across the field focus on best practices and researching relevancies and new applications. Social media engagement and outreach, for example, is a hot button topic in the field today. Most institutions are using it, and most academics are doing some type of research on its use. Unsurprisingly, the element of digital outreach reigned across this year’s Annual Meeting, and more and more professionals from different backgrounds were able to relate to a wide array of panels. Keep in mind, then, that staying up to date, and well-versed in, current social trends will serve you well across professional disciplines.

3. Question often and trust yourself. Maintain your original point of view, and make sure that you take on new information with a grain of salt. We all come from different backgrounds so, more importantly, we all approach new information, situations, and encounters with a different set of thoughts and beliefs. That’s okay. Remember that your own worldview has taken you this far; it’s what endows you with that special sense of yourself, and gives you a different perspective from everyone else. I find that it can be alluring to ascribe to popular thought, or groupthink, especially at conferences..and especially if you’re “the new kid on the block.” In reality, though, it’s your fresh perspective that makes you such a valuable asset to the field-you’re a new set of eyes. That said, use your unique perspective to learn a lot, and to ask questions. Every new situation represents an opportunity to learn; make the most of each one, and ask the questions you need to seek out the best lesson for yourself. Sometimes you’ll find that it’s more appropriate to contemplate your own perspective from within. Other times you will feel moved to question out loud. The choice to question publicly or not will depend on yourself, the situation, and the topic at hand. In any case, whether you decide to speak out or not, maintain that questioning attitude in your personal observations and ruminations. Never take information, even that presented by professionals, at face value. Do your own research, ask your own questions. Above all, never feel inadequate or incorrect because your own perspective leads you in a different direction. Leverage your unique point of view and allow it to take you outside of the box!

4. Catch up with your own “professional demographic”. Most of the “student” attendees of ARCHIVES 2015 paraded about emblazoned with a purple ribbon, reading Student, attached to their badges. I proudly wore the purple ribbon myself. During a week filled with panel discussions, plenary speakers, and more vendor booths than you’ll see at a county fair, being reminded that you aren’t the lonely representative of your professional demographic is oddly reassuring.

It was after a particularly troubling session that I first became aware of the importance of having a peer group directly available for “consultation”. I left the session in question burning with indignation at the-repeated-suggestion that volunteers in archives are, even when holding relevant graduate degrees, somehow inferior to the gainfully employed. As a student, I know all too well that volunteering is often the only way to rake in those required 1-3 years of “professional” experience before “becoming” employable. Almost like a blessing from above, my next session was the SAA Student Chapter Leader’s Meeting. A roundtable with my counterparts from across the country was exactly what the doctor prescribed for the cynicism and (dare I say it) apathy that seemed to be setting in. Together, we reinforced one another’s ideals of budding professionalism, and so ignited a hope for a shift that might just start with us.

So, if you’re feeling a page or two behind everyone else, take a step back and reevaluate your role at the conference, and your current role in the professional landscape. Find your peers, ask them out for dinner or a quick chat over some coffee, and then hash things out together. You may be surprised to find that, while most of them are probably strangers, you’ll have an easier time networking and being an awesome ambassador for your institution.

Apart from these general lessons, the most important point I arrived at concerns my own self-perception. Professional self-identification as an “archivist,” and membership in, or mere interest in, a body such as SAA, are not mutually inclusive. As a budding information professional, don’t pigeonhole yourself – and certainly don’t allow others to pigeonhole you into a specific role. Your interests will probably cross field boundaries; you might be a little undecided; you may need to do some exploring. And guess what? All of that is okay! In fact, it’s more than okay – it’s perfectly you.


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