In the address he gave at University College in London in 1947 titled “The English Archivist: A New Profession,” Sir Hilary Jenkinson stated that the “Archivist’s career…is one of service…His Creed, the Sanctity of Evidence; his Task, the conservation of every scrap of Evidence attaching to the Documents committed to his charge; his Aim to provide, without prejudice or thought, for all who wish to know the Means of Knowledge.” I believe that no truer statement could be made of the archivist than Sir Hilary’s.
For many years I have carried on a passionate love affair with history. I was fortunate to grow up the child of an Army officer, which afforded me the luxury of traveling to places of immense historical import. And when I couldn’t physically be there, I read about it. But it was only when I enrolled in San Jose State University’s Masters of Archives and Records Administration program that I allowed my love of history to lead me professionally. The archival profession, to me, is an opportunity to immerse myself in the past while acting on behalf of the future.
My original concept of the profession was that archivists were a cross between a librarian and an historian, but now, nearing the end of the MARA program, I’ve come to realize that this is an over-simplification of the responsibilities of an archivist. Closer to the truth, perhaps, was what a friend of mine remarked after I’d attempted to explain what an archivist was: “so you’re like Indiana Jones.” It is true that archivists are the custodians of historical evidence, tasked with maintaining, organizing, and providing access to archival collections. My view of the profession today, informed by MARA coursework and my experiences as a volunteer and intern, is one of continual awe at the underestimated importance of the role of archivists in the preservation of human history and experiences. It is an innate feature of man to want to leave behind a record of their existence, and so it is inevitable that there will be an innate desire to preserve that record. Archivists are, all at once, guardians of the human experience, social historians, and the Indiana Joneses of record retention and preservation – each collection is an opportunity for an adventure.
My focus throughout the MARA program has been on the role of Archivist rather than records manager. For this express purpose, the majority of my work exhibited in this e-Portfolio focuses on archives rather than corporate records management, and the emphasis of each competency as it relates to an historical archive. I have chosen evidence for each competency from my personal portfolio of work I’ve completed throughout the program, both for courses and as a product of my efforts as a volunteer and intern. These items of evidence – which include academic papers, finding aids, and professional projects – reflect my preference for historical archives, but also demonstrate an understanding of corporate records management practices, resulting in a well-rounded comprehension and mastery of archival practices regardless of the focus of the collection.
To supplement the MARA program, I have sought out every opportunity available to immerse myself in the archival field. I left my full-time job so that I could volunteer at the Maine Historical Society’s archive, where I flexed my processing muscles. Volunteering under the tutelage of the Archivist at MHS provided me with a clearer vision of my concept of archival work and what I want my role to be in the archive. Processing has emerged as my strongest talent when it comes to archive work, and it is my sincerest desire to work as a processing archivist for an historical archive.
During my time at the Maine Historical Society I had many opportunities to witness the practical application of course learnings. I can recall working with my first archival collection, an assortment of business ledgers, correspondence, and other materials belonging to a prominent family in Portland, which I was tasked with processing, including arrangement and the creation of a comprehensive finding aid. Working with this collection was my first opportunity to make decisions regarding the best arrangement of materials, perform preservation activities, and write up a finding aid that will assist in future research endeavors. The importance of establishing a useable order as dictated during classroom instruction became a reality during this first project, and applying classroom learning to this collection set a precedent for my future work.
During the arrangement of one collection in particular I had an epiphanous moment when I realized the importance of records classification for the creation of records series in order to arrange the collection’s many interconnected categories. By adjusting my approach to arrangement based on course learnings, I was able to organize the collection to maximize its usability for future users. The combination of fundamentals of classroom learning and prior experience as applied to real-world situations allows for a balanced archival approach to processing.
Throughout the program, assigned readings have had a considerable impact on the learning experience and the application of archival concepts during my volunteer work and internships. I have found Leading and Managing Archives and Records Programs: Strategies for Success edited by Bruce W. Dearstyne and Managing Records: A Handbook of Principles and Practice by Elizabeth Shepherd and Geoffrey Yeo particularly helpful in conveying strategies required for the implementation of effective records management practices. In furthering my understanding the necessities of security and the importance of establishing security procedures, I have found Principles of Information Security by Michael E. Whitman and Herbert J. Mattord and Information Governance: Concepts, Strategies, and Best Practices by Robert F. Smallwood quite informative. A Modern Archives Reader: Basic Readings on Archival Theory and Practice edited by Maygene F. Daniels and Timothy Walch has been indispensable to me during the program. This text has been my favorite, as it has guided me during my time processing archival collections as a volunteer and intern as it provided practical information for putting archival theory into practice. In addition to academic texts, I am continuously inspired by the history texts of Alison Weir, English historian and author, whose meticulously researched histories rely on archive collections.
In composing this statement of professional philosophy, I am finding it difficult to articulate my concept of the profession and the level of devotion to the profession I so desperately want to impart. When I interviewed for an internship at the archive at George Vanderbilt’s resplendent Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, I was wracked with nerves and was barely able to remember the responses I procured for each question asked. But I was able to impress upon them my passion for archival work – a passion that I was able to articulate adequately enough for them to offer the internship to me, which I joyfully accepted. Interning at Biltmore has been one of the most thrilling experiences in my life, and reinforced for me my commitment to the archival profession. Devoting my professional career to the archival field would, for me, be the definition of the catch-phrase ‘do what you love.’
Upon graduating from the MARA program, I will seek employment with an historic agency, such as a museum or historical society. I specifically chose the Maine Historical Society as the site for my internships and volunteering in order to attain experience in an institution whose primary directives are historic preservation and focus on histories relevant to its mission. This was also the purpose of applying for the internship at the Biltmore Estate, where I gained experience working in a private archive with very specific goals in terms of historic preservation and an archive catering to an internal user base. All of my extracurricular archival activities have been carefully orchestrated to furnish me with experience in my chosen area of the archive profession. Moving forward, I wish to continue working with historical collections in an archive that values preservation and historical relevance.
I entered the MARA program with a specific direction in mind, albeit a loosely formed direction, since I’d taken an archival introductory course as an undergraduate. But as I continued on in the program, that direction solidified – what began as a lightly trampled path through unknown terrain transformed into a firm road paved with cobblestones illuminated by glowing streetlamps. Armed with the knowledge imparted by enthusiastic professors and experience from volunteering in an archive, I am ready to take that road, the one lit by experience, paved by knowledge, and shaped by desire. I am an Archivist.