The first problem that I noticed was my loss of respect for the archival profession. This realization puzzled me because I had a tremendous amount of respect for all of the archivists and librarians that I had known (and continue to meet). At which point I realized that I had known the archivists as professionals. In school, I was encountering them as academics.
As academics, I found archivists to lack scholarly rigor. Research papers required no more than 10 sources, all of which were secondary research. Few of the articles that comprised this “research” involved any rigorous research themselves, most being little more than memoirs of collection processing. In class, discussion was discouraged and I was reduced to raising my hand to make a comment. The lectures were little more than text-based PowerPoint presentations, with no intellectual depth. Classes were run much like high school classes and the level of scholarship expected was not much better. Academic advising was non-existent. Advisors seldom knew their advisees, and acted aggrieved if those advisees made themselves known. This was probably a mercy because, I soon realized, they could give little advice about being an archivist. Few had actually practiced the profession in the previous twenty years, and in one or two instances, never at all. By the graduation, I felt as if I had purchased a credential rather than received an education.
Of course, I had not entered library school to become educated in the classical sense of the word. I had gone to be trained, as one would for a vocation. I expected to learn how to do the work of an archivist. I expected to learn how to encode finding aids. I expected to learn how to create databases. I expected to learn how to catalog collections. I expected to learn how to preserve collections, and I expected to learn how to find funding for collections. I took classes toward these goals. Indeed, the most successful courses, or class sessions within a course, were those that actually involved learning how to do something. These included cataloging, which was the sole exception to the lack-of-intellectual-rigor rule, the day in which our class encoded finding aids into eXtensible Markup Language (XML), and the book repair mini-course. In 36 semester hours of coursework, 9 semester hours and one class session taught me how to do anything useful. (I suppose that I should include the Reference course, but that merely taught me how to do poor research for other people.). The rest of the course work consisted of learning about the subject matter rather than how to do the subject manner. Thus, in this respect, I again felt as if I had purchase a credential rather than received training.
Graduate school in library science clearly left me bitter and skeptical about the academic training for the profession. The price of the training exacerbated the bitterness because I just gone heavily into debt to earn this credential, but had learned nothing that would place me beyond the sort of entry-level jobs at which I was already working before and during graduate school. Indeed, in my list of useful training above, I do not include the internships in my evaluation of my training because they did not teach me how to do anything new. While they perhaps were the most important component of my schoolwork because they gave me practical experience and sources for references, I was being paid for the same work at various and sundry part-time jobs. The training that I have received in these jobs has been much more useful than all of my coursework. This is the training that will allow me to advance in this field, should I so desire.
Perhaps, eventually, I shall see that the library science degree has been useful if for no other reason than that its appearance on my resume will have earned me an interview. Right now, I feel as if the degree was a colossal waste of money and time relative to my ability to find employment as an archivist. I feel that it could have easily been an undergraduate degree, that I might have appreciated it more as an undergraduate degree. In fact, library science might be more practical as an undergraduate degree given that its attainment does not lead to much more than entry-level positions and that, as with most undergraduate degrees, work experience in the field advances a person in the profession faster than the degree.
Despite my frustration and disappointment with my archival education, I still do respect archivist as professionals. My respect is a response to their work experience and their abilities as professionals. That they have a master’s degree is immaterial to me as long as they are making archival materials ever more accessible to the public and as they are making the tools to search those materials more efficient. The master’s degree did not teach them to do any of this. Their job did.
If, however, on-the-job training is more important than the degree, and if I actually have a job in an archive, then most of my bitterness should dissipate as my career advances. The worst is over and happy endings are just ahead. Except, I find that, despite my respect for archivist, and perhaps a bit because of my terrible experience in my education to become an archivist myself, I am not satisfied in being one. When I wrote that something had gone terribly awry, this is really what I meant. The archival education may have been poor, but I did learn a few unintended lessons. Those lessons have led me to this current crisis.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Posted by Clio Bluestocking at 8:10 PM