Monday, July 07, 2008
What’s it like to be a .....Curator of Archives?
Check out the following for a glimpse into a curator’s world, where multi-tasking and creative thinking are essential survival tools:
Q. What does your typical day look like?
A.Typically I spend the first hour of the day answering email, which comes from around the world; usually inquiring about resources available in our collections.
○ Then I move on to specific projects underway, which can range from reviewing finding aids for processed collections, to producing reports (including statistical summaries) of date we collect for the college, the seminary, or the denomination (we serve as the archives for all three).
○Probably ten percent of my time every week is spent in some sort of committee related function.
○ Throughout the day I am on-call for researchers who come in and have questions about the collections – from genealogists to post-doctoral scholars.
○ I determine which collections to acquire and then spend time working on acquiring those collections. This requires a sense of what data is or may become of interest to the wide range of researchers that will visit our collection.
○ I work on the various administrative functions (budget, personnel, etc.) necessary to run the department.
○I spend time researching and doing some writing on the history of the three member institutions (denomination, college, seminary), some of this writing is intended for publication.
○ Public relations work included outreach and speaking engagements to groups ranging from the general public to academics, conducting workshops, and hosting tour groups from around the world
○ I am the designer and author of the department’s web presence, which service is focused on making our most popular data available via the web.
○ Since much of our material is in Dutch, I spend time translating, or proofing the translations of these items into English.
○ Some time is devoted to design digital means for storing, sorting, and extracting research data – particularly when it comes to digital resources.
○ I am responsible for editing and producing a historical periodical geared to an audience of non-professionals.
○ I participate in institutional, professional and public service groups focused on history, public history and archives.
○Outside of my formal working day, I maintain history research and publication projects.
Q. What other positions have you held prior to your current job?
A. Assistant City Historian and Archivist, Grand Rapids Public Library.
○ Cultural Resource Specialist, State of Michigan
○ Archivist, Michigan State University
○ Adjunct faculty at numerous college and University teaching US and Michigan history
Q. What kind of training or education did you have? What skills or attributes make someone successful in this position?
A. An MA or MLS degree is necessary for an entry-level position in most places
○ A doctorate is often necessary to move into top administrative positions in academic settings
○ Civil service rating is necessary for public sector jobs at some local, all state and federal levels
○ Private sector positions are more flexible when it come to degrees, and often put a greater emphasis on experience
○ On-going training to stay current is absolutely necessary
○ Good writing and English skills are necessary
○ As in life, flexibility and creativity are absolute musts
Q. What are the rewards in your position? Challenges?
A. A good day is one during which I accomplish what I set out to do, but given the ebb and flow of work, there can be interruption to these goals. With patrons, providing the information that they need is satisfying, which may not be part of my goals at the beginning of the day, but was added when the patrons entered.
Q. What trends do you foresee in the next 5-10 years?
A. The move is toward more digital records and digital storage of records so staying current is crucial.
Q. How could a person find out more about your field?
A. There are a number of schools with such programs (U of M and Wayne State in Michigan, for example), professional organizations like the Society of American Archivists, Midwest Archives Conference, Michigan Archival Association, etc.
Q. When you were growing up, did you have any interests that are now built into your current work?
A. I have always had the interest and raw skills, but it wasn’t until college that these were make plain and honed by fine instructors. A willingness to attempt new things was important – during my career I moved from typewriters to computers.
Q. What obstacles have you overcome to get to where you are today?
A. Obtaining the necessary training was important; early on there were also financial sacrifices since the first jobs do not pay much in the way of salaries. Support from family and friends helped greatly during these times. Throughout it all I had a sense of calling and that more than anything kept me going through the “hard times.”
Q. What was your first job like after college?
A. My first job was entry-level; often drudge work for a less-than-pleasant supervisor. The pay was low and there was little in the way of professionalism and support from my supervisor. But I learned the fundamentals of the profession there, was able to find good learning and professional opportunities, and from a negative example saw the qualities of an effective supervisor. I was part of a good team at work and a good circle of friends, both of which helped me deal with some of the more negative aspects of the job.
Every job has tasks that are not pleasant and enjoyable, but with aptitude, a sense of calling, creativity, and flexibility every job can be satisfying and fulfilling.