The Career Crisis

I shared in my last post my general feelings about the state of my career. As I sat in therapy this past weekend, I had a realization, which one often does in that space: I never addressed my career crisis.

What was the moment?

I spent my entire grad school career striving for a particular goal: working for the National Archives. I made that ambition known early. In 2010, I interned at the Seattle branch to fulfill my MLIS requirement. I loved the work.

My first job out of grad school was a strategic choice. I took a one-year archives processing position at Death Valley National Park in Death Valley, CA, some 3,000 miles away from home, because it was federal government-adjacent and, I believed, would demonstrate substantive archival work. By month four, I had begun to circulate my resume to park employees to get their feedback. What was I doing wrong with my resume? Why was I not advancing to an interview. I took their recommendations and tweaked my resume. By month nine, I was actively applying. AND, I was getting interviews.  

My contract ended. I moved back to the East Coast. In August 2012, I got THE interview: an archives technician position at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

A week later, when I heard the words “we would like to offer you the position” I was in shock but also experiencing the unmitigated joy of a plan for my life coming together.

I *thoroughly* loved my time in Philadelphia, for professional and personal reasons. In spite of the 2013 federal government shutdown, I was still all in. But, in 2014-2015, government bureaucracy reared its head and my idealistic view of NARA became muddied.

In time, it came crashing down.

Rather than address the end of an idealistic dream, I ran. Running looked like applying for other jobs. I didn’t know what I wanted to do anymore as I had wrapped my whole identity in working for NARA.

I was NARA. NARA was me.

Without it, who was I?

Now that the fog of a two year depression has lifted, I see the toxicity built in wrapping up my identity, let alone my professional identity, in a place. In something external to me.

My heart, in spite of the hurt, still cares deeply for NARA, especially the people. I am still invested in its success even if that means being at odds with its leadership. For example, at SAA 2018, I took the time to address its leadership during their August 17 session regarding NARA’s “digital future” and its strategic plan. I even talked afterward with Micah Cheatham, the Chief Management and Administration, much to the chagrin of some of leaderships most ardent supporters. I have reservations and many of them grave. Why? Because I love NARA. I want the best for it. I want it to do right by the American public and its hardworking employees.

The question now is what can I do in archives? How do I channel the things I love, the causes that are important to me, and who I am now (and who I have always been) to reimagine a career that enables me to create something exciting and helps others?

So here I am, four years in the making, ready to face it.

*deep breath*

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Career Inertia

Time to name the thing. I do not purport to know physics but as I sat down to draft this blog post, I thought of Sir Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion. Here he introduces us to “inertia.” Essentially, an object at rest will stay at rest and an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

When I graduated in 2008 from the University of South Carolina, I felt very much “in motion.” Big dreams and even bolder ambitions. An object in motion. Multiple moves and a painful romantic breakup didn’t stop the motion. Didn’t halt my trajectory.

A career crisis and subsequent depressive episode that hovered for two years did that. I became an object “at rest.”

Naming the thing is saying, I’m at rest and I don’t know how to get back in motion. Eight years in the archives profession, some dodgy experiences along the way, I’m a little worn in places, grizzled in others, stupidly idealistic in others but I feel it.

I’m stuck.

I am unsure of what to move toward. Depression compromised my ability to trust my inner voice because for a number of years it put me down. I have questions and doubts where I once had certainty.

My passion for archives still exists. New ideas and online conversations raise issues and concerns I spend a great deal of time off-line thinking about.

Archives. Environmental Sustainability. Black Feminist Theory. Records Management. Electronic Records. Community Archives. All compelling pieces to an internal puzzle I’m trying to put together.

I am inert.

But, I don’t want to be.


#thatarchiveslife building community one snarky tweet at a time

I created the hashtag #thatarchiveslife as a way to curate my call for assistance and random thoughts. I then began to expand it to include snarky comments and quirky observations of this archives game. In doing so, I’ve found a community of sorts.

A delightfully, snarky bunch of archivists. My people. The type of archivist that lurks in us all (or anyone that works in customer service). The one who screams internally when a potential donor wants to donate a stack of newspapers (read: acidic).

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Or, find yourself in yet. another. meeting. Or, to share your triumph after floating in a sea of limited time, resources, and people. Hey, even snarky people look for the rainbow after a rainstorm.

To my archivists out there, I hope you’ll consider joining my little community and add #thatarchiveslife to your tweets.



 

P.S. - #WakandaForever

Web Archiving Resources for Writers, Artists, and Other Creatives

Congratulations! You’ve gotten your work published online. Now what? The following is a list of free and not-so-free resources available to archives your work.

Please note: this does not constitute an endorsement of these sites and their products nor an exhaustive list of what is currently available. Rather the purpose of this list is to help guide you in the creation of your personal archive.

According to their site, they help individuals and organizations creation a link to an archived record of that page. Regardless of what happens to that page or the content on it, the archived record as it was captured at the time will be available through the Perma.cc link.

Typically used by academics to preserve a copy of a webpage they can cite in papers.

Requirement: Sign up for a free account. There is a 10 links per month limit on the free accounts.

According to their site, websites are more than a static page. This site is tantamount to hitting record on your web browsing experience. Go to a website, hit record and then you can move through that page clicking on links, watching videos, and it will records that session. It creates a file of that recorded experience.

Requirement: Sign up for a free account. Each registered user will get up to 5GB of free storage. Webrecorder.io hosts the content on their site.

According to their site the WayBack Machine, archives webpages. It takes a snapshot of the page. The WBM collects web pages that are publically available. On their FAQs, they note that not all publicly available sites are captured as their web crawlers may not be aware of the site’s existence. Additionally, creators of sites can send an email to WBM to have their site excluded from searches.

Requirement: None, as far as I can tell. There is the option to create an account but unclear what that entails.

According to their site, this is a Google Chrome extension. Individuals can navigate to their favorite websites and it will alert you to if there is an archived copy of the site. You have the option to view the archived copy. If no archived copy exists, it will alert you to this and give you the option to create an archived copy.  It is recommended as an up and coming option but some users are experiencing issues with it.

Requirements: Download from Chrome Web Store

Similar to Mink, this is a Google Chrome extension. It operates similar to Mink. It is relatively new and evolving. It generates WARC files that need software to open and replay. The site recommends using Web Archiving Integration Layer (WAIL), a software suite that came about because of WARcreate.

Requirement: Download from Chrome Web Store.

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This list was created in response to the ongoing issue faced by writers, artists, and other creatives as a result of Universal Fan Con.

It was made possible by the many archivists on Twitter who answered the call for web archiving resources.

We're archivists. We're out there and we're here to help.

A Day In the Life: A frigid day in January

I start my morning by being late to work. Just a little. Like 10 minutes. At my job, we have two historic house museums but they are on opposite sides of town. Technically, they are in neighboring cities that sit outside of Detroit. On the day that I’m going to the west side location, I realize that I left important paperwork + my laptop charger at the east side location.

FML.

I give my boss a heads up and leave ridiculously early to avoid being late.

I end up being late anyway. So, I do what any person who is late does. I don’t rush myself and I pick up coffee for my coworkers at Starbucks.

I get to the historic house. Snow is falling fast. I’m loaded down with stuff: my purse, lunch bag, laptop, and bag full of books. (I promised myself I would read at lunch) Oh yeah, and coffee. I load up my stuff unevenly on my person and start trudging to the house. I have to stop about halfway to reshift everything.

God bless the security person who saw me lumbering toward the house. They opened the door so I wouldn’t have to stop, unload everything, and swipe my key card.

Cut to I’m now settled, warm, and sipping coffee as I have my first meeting of the day.

We’re renovating our storage facility. I have a ton of questions but underneath each question is the building excitement. I’ve been a part of records moves and I know the headache involved but that doesn’t deter me. What excites me is the idea of designing an archival storage space.

Who me? I think to myself: How did I get so luck?

Meeting is over and now I shift gears. Time to tackle the emails. I generally answer the easiest ones first. The harder ones OR the ones I procrastinate on come last. Always.

Check up on the status of my purchase orders. I register for and book travel for the Midwest Archives Conference in Chicago. I go over the conference program again. That excitement builds again. So many helpful sessions on a professional and personal level. I wish, for a moment, that it was already March and I was in Chicago.

But, its January and I’m in Dearborn.

Now I turn my attention to the records. Specifically, the administrative records of the house archives. The process is similar to what is being executed in the house archives of the other house. Pull back together the scattered administrative records. You won’t believe where you find finding aids, donor files, accession records, and other archives-related correspondence.

The challenge at this house is that its changed hands several times over the years. So records are literally scattered all over this small room. I find binders. I find stray folders, I find unfoldered paperwork. It’s a headache and a half, time consuming, and it requires use of my whole brain to troubleshoot, but the collections - what we have & how it came to be at the house - start to make sense.

This project, at this house, comes in fits and starts. Partly because I only come to this location once a week and the archival needs aren’t so pressing. Admittedly, I look forward to this weekly visit because I’m an archivist again. At the other house, my archivist tackles that collection. I juggle multiple hats: administrator, pseudo-librarian and records manager.

At this house, I’m an archivist. Putting the puzzle back together. Opening drawers, cabinets, checking stacks of paper, leaving no stone unturned.

About mid-morning, I have my first archives rant. Not like a crazy person. More of a “what were they doing?,” shakes fist in the air, kind of rant. All archivists have this moment. All of us.

I break for lunch. I grab my lunch bag, my bag o’ books, and turn on the classical music on my iPhone. I alternate between three books I’m reading in 15 minute increments:

Lunch is over and I’m back at it. This time I’ve moved to foldering and/or refoldering the administrative records and placing them in neat little stacks. We’ve (my archivist and I) devised a filing system for these disorganized records. Bringing order to chaos.

I chat with coworkers for a spell. Return to the records only to stop and go more thoroughly though our oral history files. This ends up turning into a mini-side project.

Late afternoon rant. More of a “I’m losing steam and why isn’t this over yet” moment.

My head is hurting from a day spent thinking and trying to make sense of past recordkeeping practices or lack thereof. I take a moment to jot down what needs to be accomplished next time and what supplies to bring or order. Luckily for me, this is a special week. I’ll be back for a second visit.

I check my email again. Respond to a couple.

I glance outside to see the snow is really coming down. Snow + headache = no supermarket visit. Instead, I pick up dinner from my favorite Chinese restaurant and head home.

Thaddeus, aka my fat man, is waiting for me.

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