Why did I become a librarian (or, archivist)?

In response to Greyson’s audience-participation post about why we became librarians, I thought I’d chime in with thoughts of my own. It’s been great to read the comments from others, and I probably should have put this in the comments, as she requested, but figured it might run to post length. So here it is, taking up a lot of its own space…

I first worked in an archives for Greyson, actually, at a cooperative summer camp. I was in college, with little idea that “archivist” was a job title. Instead, what I saw was an attic with lots of papers, and kids. And over the summer, those papers became records, and some of those kids became interested in history. And I saw the direct link between shaping of the way we understand history and the interest of people in that history.

Another college job in an archive followed that, but was, again, just a college job. I left, worked in fundraising, but kept thinking back to both the impact of archives, and the injustice done when the experiences of groups or political viewpoints are left out of The Historical Record.  I also have to admit that I looked back fondly on the relative peace and quiet of working with records. For some reason, that seemed very appealing during the time I spent cold-calling and schmoozing donors at after-work events.

The peace and quiet part is funny now, three years into library school and on my way to a degree that will allow me (hopefully) to teach and do research about the social impact of archives. Because as soon as I got an archive internship in graduate school, I realized I didn’t want to the peace and quiet of archival processing. I wanted to tell people about archives, and ask people about archives, and question how we build them and why. I realized archives were growing in an area I had never considered: who tells our stories and how they will be told looms large as we increasingly record our history in digital forms and distributed digital places.

The definition and formation of archives are being reinvented in the digital era. I had no idea that this was happening when I began school. Shaping digital archives has such potential to, as Arjun Appadurai writes, “restore the deep link of the archive to popular memory and its practices, returning to the non-official actor the capability to choose the way in which traces and documents shall be formed into archives…”¹ But issues of inequitable digital access, inequitable digital literacy, and the logistics of digital preservation plague digital archives. I had no idea of the scope of this when I entered library school, but that’s why I’m still here.

I am at times delighted with the thought that goes into building just, equitable archives (and digital archives) in my program: there are a number of students, and a wonderful faculty mentor, focused on just these issues. But as Greyson and the posters in the comments have pointed out, it is certainly not universal to library school or librarians/archivists.  Yet another reason I want to go into archival education – I think a lot of this work has to be done in library school.

1. Appadurai, A. (2003). Archive and aspiration. In J. Brouwer & A. Mulder (Eds.), Information is Alive (pp. 14-25). Rotterdam: V2_Publishing/NAI Publishers.




Filed under archives, LIS education, The Profession

2 responses to “Why did I become a librarian (or, archivist)?

  1. Ian

    It’s funny you should mention your fundraising job in your thought process, Katie. I worked with a gifts officer who was also the organization’s unofficial archivist — she was always making us aware of moments that were historic for the organization, but these moments were only landmarks because she knew the entire narrative of the org’s lifespan. I don’t know if the staff (or the donors) would have had a consciousness around the life of the organization without her instinct to photograph and save everything.

  2. Pingback: Why I am Pursuing an MLIS | afternoonmilktoast

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