Prompt: When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step? (Author: Scott Belsky)
Nike, the Goddess of Tennis Shoes, said it best: "Just do it." This prompt would have been appropriate for me at some point -- many points -- in the past. Now, my aspiration, the idea that I need to make happen, is my book. All that requires is a little ABC. ABC in the archives, ABC to write grants to finance the archive visits, ABC to round out the secondary reading, ABC to just write. I've beaten this one to death.
Apparently others out there have aspirations that they want to make happen in a library school with a specialization in archives. I get this. That was me at one time. That was not the wisest decision for me at the time (I told you that I was not wise, but a fool), but it was really the lesser of two evils and it didn't seem like much of an evil when I made the choice.
I know those people are out there because they come to my blog to read my series of posts on becoming an archivist. It is a tale of woe, and it is not a series that I would classify as "advice." I wrote it to figure out how I had gotten into a particular predicament. I'd say that, had I taken the library school path when I had finished my master's degree, or when I had finished college, or if the library degree was an undergraduate degree (and, trust me, where I went, the degree really was undergraduate level at graduate prices), then the whole story might have worked out differently. But, I didn't, and wandered down the road not taken far too late. I had changed in some fundamental ways that I hadn't anticipated and -- well, you can read the series.
In any case, for those of you who are stumbling across those posts, if you want some real advice, here is about all that I can offer:
1) Don't go to a private school. Seriously. I don't care if they claim to be the only archival program in the region, the price tag of the degree is not worth it, especially if you have to take out loans. Go to a public school.
2) Get a job in an archive or a library. This may be difficult, especially when you see one of the other items further down the list. Volunteer if you have the time. The truth of the matter is that the experience is what will get you a job -- and they want tons of experience and skills for some really sad salaries and hours. The degree is often a formality, at least in my experience. Remember, in my experience, in the last archive job that I had, I was replaced by a volunteer with NO experience.
3) If you have a graduate degree in anything else, keep that to yourself, especially if it is a PhD. There is a lot of bad blood there for lots of reasons.
4) Do not listen to any of your professors' advice about the job market or working in archives unless they are adjunct. I'm not kidding. The adjuncts have the jobs, they have been on the job market, they have been on the search committees. They have an idea about what is in demand in archives and libraries. Your full-time professors only know the academic job market. I even had two professors who had never worked in an archive or a library, ever. Also, all of the really hideous advice that I or fellow archivists got -- advice like "with a PhD you'll be hired right away at a salary of at least $60,000 and perhaps even as a director of an archive" -- came from the full-time professors who hadn't worked in a library in 20 years. So, go to the adjunct or someone actually working in a library for advice. Also remember #2 above.
5) Be aware that, when you get out of the program, you will be entering one of the most ridiculous job markets out there, as evidenced by the posts in the blog You Ought to Be Ashamed. The bloggers are not kidding nor pulling out extreme examples. How many profession would have the gall to offer an hourly wage for a person with a professional degree and however much experience they demand? I read job ads like that back in 2003 and they have only gotten worse. That's not the librarians and archivists doing that, either. Those types of ads result from the same problems with funding that we in the education systems have: people who don't want to pay taxes but want the best public services, then justify not funding those service on the grounds that they aren't giving optimal service, which they can't because they are underfunded.
Don't get me started!
Where was I? Oh yeah.
This is all to say, if you come here looking for advice on becoming an archivist, this is the best I have to offer. In any case, there you are: Actions to or not to take when making this idea of being an archivist happen.
Clearly, this prompt did not serve its intended purpose. Now, I'm trying to come up with one that will serve as a good alternate. Hmmmm. This one is completely unrelated.
Prompt: Why do you specialize in the field that you study? I don't mean in general, like "history" or "literature" or "medicine" or even "library science," I mean the particular specialty in that area? What were you trying to understand and why? Where did that line of inquiry lead you?