Thoughts on Libraries and Archives

by Gabrielle Spiers, Head Editor, INALJ Montana

Thoughts on Libraries and Archives

gabriellespiersOn Tuesday January 21st there was a post on the Archives and Archivists listserv which is the discussion list for the Society of American Archivists entitled “Do We Eat Our Young?” about the non-sustainable business models of archives and the effect that that has on the future of the profession.  Here is the thesis. The original post provoked a discussion that, unsurprisingly to me at least, turned heated very quickly.  Things were said, people were less than polite and blame was passed around.

Why do I bring this up? Well the archives community is small but it is also affiliated with the library community. Many archivists have MLIS degrees and many librarians work with special collections. While I was reading through the discussion I got a sense of déjà vu because this is similar to the discussions that have happened before in the library and archives worlds. To sum it up briefly, there are too many graduates and not enough jobs. Whose fault that is depends on who you ask. The blame game is easy to play but I don’t think there is one single, easy answer.  The following is not really a response to this but more what it made me think about.

Everyone’s job search is unique: this seems obvious and yet it is overlooked. For instance I got my current job because I interned there. I am not however going to tell you that that is a good way to get a job because it depends on so many things.  People can tell you what worked and didn’t work for them but at the end of the day all of us have unique skills and different backgrounds and experiences. Job-hunting is an art and not a science.  A lot of people who make pronouncements about the job market are not the ones in the job market. I think that when people have not applied for jobs in years they forget how hard it is. Or maybe it was never hard for them in the first place. I know people who got full-time jobs while they were in library school or right after. I also know people who struggled for a long time to find a job. It’s a lot about luck and timing.

Think outside the box: INALJ is big on outside the box thinking and I am definitely a huge advocate of it. There are so many ways that you can use your library skills not in a library.  One of the things I often think about doing is becoming an Independent Information Professional  and launching my own business.  Whether I will actually do it or not is something I am unsure about. I know that it would be very hard to actually do. My experience has been that we don’t end up where we think we are going to be. Some people do and if your dream is to be a children’s librarian and you know with absolute certainty that that is what will make you happy then go for it. I don’t have that kind of certainty. I think I could be happy doing a lot of different things.  

Be an advocate for your institution: this is true of libraries, archives and museums across the board. If you and your coworkers cannot articulate why the work that your institution does is important then why would anyone else think that it is? Don’t assume knowledge.  One of the things that I was constantly surprised at in graduate school was how few undergraduate students knew about the archives or how many didn’t go to any of the libraries. I lived on campus so I got to know undergraduate students outside of the library setting.  

Finally don’t give up! I know that the job market is tough right now and that it can be really hard to look for a job. Technically I spent five months looking for a job after I graduated but really I had started applying a lot sooner than that and it was hard. I was so stressed out and frustrated.

Oh and as an update to my last blog post I did survive Story Time at the American Library in Paris and I must say kudos to all the librarians who do this regularly!

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