How Being a Researcher Has Made Me a Better Archivist

by Gabrielle Spiers, Head Editor, INALJ Montana

How Being a Researcher Has Made Me a Better Archivist

gabriellespiersI do research for a living, more specifically I do historical research with primary sources – mostly military history with some genealogy as well as anything else that comes my way. As with many things in life, I sort of fell into this work. So how does this tie into being an archivist or a special collections librarian? Well I think it has helped because we talk about serving our patrons and what better way to do that than to actually be a patron? Or in the case of an archive being a researcher rather than a patron. So how has this helped me?

The Reference Interview – Sometimes people don’t know what they want and sometimes they do. It can be frustrating as a researcher when you know what you are looking for and you are treated like you have no idea about the collection. The flip side of that is that it is frustrating when you don’t know what you are looking for and you are looking for guidance and the person you are looking for guidance for is unable to help you.

Finding aids, and arrangement, and description – It comes as no real surprise that these range from institution to institution and they can be horribly confusing for the researcher. They aren’t always arranged in a manner that means they are easy for people to use. One of the places I do research at has books arranged by state and within the state by county. Which means you have to know what county you are looking for. Military research can also be perplexing if you haven’t done it before.

A different way of looking at the documents – Instead of looking through the documents to create finding aids I am looking at them for the research that I am doing. So I am appreciating the documents in a different way.

Being nit picky about nonfiction history – This one might just be me and not specifically related to being an archivist. Now whenever someone publishes a book about history and I see it in Barnes & Noble (or Target) I look at the sources. If it is on something I know there is information on at the National Archives or the Library of Congress I get even pickier if there is no evidence of research having been done there.

So there you have it. I think that having a different perspective has helped me a lot. I know a lot of archivists might have gotten that if they have a history background but I don’t so this was all new to me.