What’s a new archivist, anyway?

In order to propose a roundtable for new archivists, we have to define what we mean, exactly, by “new archivists.” The RT will be open to anyone, but we need to define the subset of archivists that our RT aims to serve. I would also like to see leadership roles limited to people who meet our definition of new archivists.

There are a few ways to define new archivists:

  • Number of years as a professional
  • Number of years since graduation from a master’s program
  • Number of jobs held (e.g., someone in his/her first professional job is a new archivist)

(And maybe others? Add your ideas in the comments!)

Below I have some fictional examples of people who might consider themselves new archivists, based on the criteria above. As you can see, it gets complicated fast! Which of these people would you consider “new archivists”? Are there any useful examples I left out? If so, please add them in the comments! (I will add your suggestions to the list below.)

  1. John is currently a student in a master’s program with a concentration in archives. He’s not working in the field yet.
  2. Maygene is still in college, but she wants to eventually get her master’s and become an archivist.
  3. Peter has been a professional archivist for 20 years, and is now working on his master’s with a concentration in archives.
  4. Brenda has been a professional archivist for X years. (How big does X have to be before Brenda isn’t a new archivist anymore?)
  5. Nicholas graduated with his master’s X years ago. (How big does X have to be before Nicholas isn’t a new archivist anymore?)
  6. William has only been a professional archivist for 2 years, but in that time he has worked 5 different project positions.
  7. Frank graduated with his master’s 5 years ago and has been working as an archives assistant (paraprofessional) for the last 10 years. He is looking for a professional position
  8. Mark graduated with his master’s 5 years ago and is still looking for a job in the field.
  9. Richard graduated with a master’s in archives 5 years ago and has been a reference librarian in a public library ever since. He is now looking for his first archives job.
  10. Elizabeth has been a part-time archivist for 5 years (in number of hours, about 2 years of full-time experience).
  11. Rebecca (that’s me!) worked as an archives assistant for 3 years and has been a librarian (who does some archives things and some non-archives things) for six weeks.

Guest post: Getting students and new archivists involved in SAA

Today we have a guest post from Rebecca Weintraub, Queens College library school student, SAA Queens College student chapter secretary, and excellent-first-name-haver. Follow her on Twitter @BeckAW and @SAAatQC. Want to write your own guest post? Comment here or contact us.

There I was – bright-eyed, bushy-tailed – totally ready for my first professional conference. I was going to hob-nob with archives all-stars, network successfully with hundreds of people, and run completely out of business cards because I was oh-so-popular.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that this was the case. As an M.L.I.S. candidate and total newbie to the profession, I didn’t anticipate how tough it would be to enmesh myself in the sea of never-ending archivists. I did, however, have high hopes that the “New Member / First-Timer Orientation” would at least point me in the right direction. Billed as a “casual conversation about how to make the most of your time at the conference,” I was expecting just that. Instead, the President made a quick speech and introduced representatives from the Membership Committee. After about 15 minutes or so, it was over. I distinctly remember the other girls at my table looking around and asking, “Was that it?”The reason I bring this up is because I think it illustrates how badly students (future archivists!) and new archivists alike need their own support system. It’s not enough to throw us in a room together, feed us (though that does have its appeal), and give us a short speech. Where’s the orientation? Where’s the “I know what you’re going through, here are the things you need to know about being here”? In short, I felt that their attempt to reach out to us wasn’t successful because there really wasn’t much effort to reach out to us at all.

This is where the New Archivists Roundtable would come in. It’s my hope that this body could assist events such as these and really make a student or new archivist feel not too horribly overwhelmed – inside and outside of the conference setting. We’re all in the same boat and we all can learn from each other as we embark on this new career path. Being a student, my most vested interest is in the student body of SAA. It would be great if this proposed roundtable could reach out to SAA Student Chapters (such as mine at Queens College – hi guys!) and start getting students involved from the get-go. Initiate student contacts at individual chapters. Make them a co-chair. Get them involved in leadership and committees early on. Create a newsletter and have students write for it. Make them feel like they actually have a place and purpose in this organization, besides a 1 ½ hour block presenting posters at the Graduate Student Poster Session. Make them feel included!These are all a start, but it can’t happen without a group like this – a group where students and new archivists don’t have to feel like small fish in a very big pond. This roundtable, in my opinion, can go a long way in keeping both future and new archivists interested and involved in the profession for years to come.

What’s in a name?

So, this roundtable needs a name. My suggestion, New Archivists Zealous for Improvement, has already been shot down. Post suggestions here! Some things to consider:

  • It should acronym well. New Archivists’ Roundtable –> NART = no good.
  • This group aims to serve the needs of archivists new to the profession, students in archives programs, archivists early in their archives careers, archivists who haven’t found jobs yet, and archives-minded people in related careers (like librarians and records managers). It would be awesome if our group name could reflect all of these constituencies without being ridiculously long.
  • This group is for new archivists, but not necessarily young archivists. Any name with young in it is right out.
  • Also, no miscellaneous in the title. This one should be obvious.
Note: you do NOT have to be a new archivist, or even a prospective member, to suggest a name!

Well, what will come next?

Kate Theimer, master of all things Archives and Next, rightly asks, “What’s next for this group?” Below is sort of an outline of the topics we need to discuss as we put together a proposal. In the coming weeks, we’ll have a whole post dedicated to each of these topics.

Do suggest additional topics in the comments, and if you’d like to write a guest post about any of these, let us know!

  • Name: What should we call this group? New Archivists Round Table doesn’t acronym well.
  • Purpose: Why does SAA need a roundtable for new archivists? (We sort of answered this one in the last post, but we need to create a formal statement of purpose.)
  • Activities: What activities will this group engage in?
  • Relationships: How can the group work with other SAA groups, like sections, other roundtables, and student chapters?
  • Leadership: What administrative positions should we have? How should we choose leaders?
  • Defining “new”: The group will be open to anyone, including non-SAA members, but I’d like to see leadership roles reserved for new archivists. How should we define new archivists for this purpose? (Age is not an acceptable criterion–we’re new archivists, but not necessarily young archivists.)
  • Annual meeting: What should we use our annual meeting time for?
  • Remote participation: How will RT members who can’t come to SAA participate in our meeting? How will members participate the rest of the year?

Why we need a new archivists roundtable

Friday morning, those of us attending SAA heard outgoing president Helen Tibbo talk about the future of the archives profession, and the problems it currently faces. She talked about the archivists who have been laid off, or who have had to lay off employees, or who have lost their jobs and been unable to find new ones. And I applaud her for reminding the audience about our colleagues who are struggling.

But conspicuously absent from this talk about the future of archives was any mention of new and future archivists. The archivists who wonder why they’re taking on tens of thousands of dollars in debt to enter a profession that doesn’t seem to have room for them. The archivists who are 6 months or a year or more than a year out of school who still can’t find jobs within the profession. The archivists who spend years in project positions and have no job security. The archivists who have the tech skills that our profession needs, but can’t break into the field to use them. The archivists who can’t afford to come to the annual meeting.*

New archivists are a growing force within SAA. At the business meeting on Saturday, we heard that 27% of SAA’s members are students. Add to that the number of members who are new professionals or still looking for their first professional job, and the ratio becomes even more significant.

We are the future of the archives profession. We are the future of SAA. And without official representation within SAA, which this roundtable would provide, I worry that our current and future leaders will keep ignoring us.


*(Obviously, some of these apply to less-than-new archivists too.)

Update: No RT meeting, come to the SAA Tweetup/Beer RT instead

I don’t think there’s a time that works for everyone, or almost everyone, for an informal RT meeting at SAA this year. But Lance, Jessica, and I will all be at the SAA Tweetup/Beer RT, so if you’re interested in this RT, please come find us there! (No Twitter account necessary to attend or RSVP.)

What’s the value of an in-person meeting?

So, that last post generated a few comments about organizing an informal meeting at SAA to discuss this roundtable in progress. I’ll be at SAA, and so will Lance and Jessica, and we’re all open to the idea (as long as it doesn’t conflict with the SAA 2011 Tweetup and Beer Roundtable). Please post your ideas for times and/or locations in the comments!


But I also want to use this post to talk about the value of meeting in person. One of the benefits of getting this group approved by SAA by January (we hope!) is that we can request a roundtable meeting room and time at SAA12. And it’s an especially important topic for a group for new archivists, because many of us can’t afford to attend the SAA annual meeting or other professional events in person.


So I pose the question: what can this group accomplish with an in-person meeting at SAA–either an informal one, like we’d have this year, or a formal one, like we might be able to have next year–that we can’t accomplish remotely? If we do have an in-person meeting, formal or informal, how can we make sure that archivists who can’t attend aren’t out of the loop?