When I was in grad school (*library school), I quickly learned the types of archivist positions available. Like government archivists, corporate archivists, county archivists, historical society archivists, college/university archivists, and lone archivists. During a grad assistantship at the State Archives, I noticed how bureaucracy slows down any work in government archives. And I realized I did not want to be a government archivist.
I also did not want to be a lone archivist. I’m an extrovert, strange I know, for someone whose job it is to work alone with books and papers, but I love talking and listening to people. The storytelling from researchers is what I love the most about working in archives. So, I did not want to be completely alone in a job.
Well, when you are job hunting and just moved to a new city, you cannot be so picky. And when only one place offers you a job, you fucking take it. So here I am, five years later, as a lone archivist. Not only did I get a lone archivist position, but I also started during a pandemic and worked from home for the first 6 months of my job. I started in April but didn’t step foot on campus until June and didn’t meet my colleagues in person until August.
Quick disclaimer: While I am a lone archivist, I am also the Scholarly Communications Librarian. I work with six other librarians. Two of which left us for better opportunities in December and January so our small staff became short staff. That’s another blog post for later time.
After meeting my colleagues in person and getting settled into my office (for a second time- I moved offices because of a mold issue- archives problems, am I right?), I decided to make some changes to my work ethic. Starting with asking for help.
What do you do when you are a lone and alone? Well, you ask for help. I’ll be the first person to admit, I’m not great at asking for help. I never was. Even when I need it the most, I won’t ask. The first three months of working from home, I never asked for help. I asked a million questions about ships or who’s who in the college, but never help. Not once did I ask someone to look over my LibGuides. Which I regret now because they are trash!
For some reason, I associate myself asking for help as a weakness. This is silly because I’m a librarian/archivist and people are constantly asking for my help. But for some reason, I could not allow myself to seek someone else’s help. When people seek you for answers, it’s hard to admit that you need answers too. Maybe I don’t believe my needs are important? Maybe I don’t trust people? Honestly, it’s a little of both (hello low self-esteem, it’s me).
Deep down, I knew I could not start this job without a shred of help. So, when the call for mentees came up from SAA. I took it. Great, someone else can ask for help on behalf of me! At first, I was a little worried when I realized my mentor worked for a large university system. How can someone who works with a team of archivists help someone who is a lone archivist? I’ve worked in government archives and university archives. I know what it’s like, each person has one or two roles they are experts at. While a lone archivist has to be the expert at everything (at least I am still assuming- also working on that).
But my mentor is fantastic! I’m fortunate to have one who is dedicated to the mentor/mentee relationship. Our talks are usually about the issues I’m dealing with (i.e. me asking for help) and they connect me to a colleague or someone they know who can help me. They are also constantly encouraging me – like a personal cheerleader. Being able to trust someone has helped my confidence and self-esteem in my position.
A Lone Archivist?
One of the first significant assignments my director asked me was to write up an National Endowment for the Humanities grant proposal for the archives. I had just gotten myself in the archives room (literally) in August and the proposal was due by January. I only had a few months to think of something the archives needed, research the collections, and write a grant proposal. This grant proposal became my white whale and honestly, it still is- the grant is awarded in August, so I have eight months to still think about it.
All grant applications are submitted by the Finances Department on campus. When I handed in the paperwork to the department, I thanked the person assigned to submit the application. They quickly reminded me that I did all the work, they just click submit. As I walked away, I felt proud of myself for the first time in my life. Of all the things I have done on my own, this grant proposal was my proudest accomplishment. God, I hope I get it.
I also realized during my shiny moment of pride, that I never asked for help. The library director volunteered to read over the proposal for grammar edits. While some might think “wow, that’s overbearing”, please understand they volunteered because they knew I wouldn’t ask. I couldn’t even ask the person who hired me for help.
Small But Strong
I guess this could be considered a New Years Resolution, I started asking for help. Since there hasn’t been an archivist since 2018, the Acquisitions Coordinator has been working on archives requests and found some great gems too. We’ve started collaborating on the Library’s Instagram page (@SBLuceLibrary) and display cases. It is so much fun collaborating with them! They find the best little gems in the archives and are so talented at designing posts.
I’m also being proactive in asking my director for help as well. Since I am new to the ScholComm part of my job, and frankly so is the college, there is a lot of trial and error. In March, I am scheduled to chat about OER (Open Educational Resources) to faculty. Not only am I already nervous, I have no clue how to approach this with faculty. Last week, I ask my director if they would help me create a mini pitch deck for the presentation. They quickly said yes with a smiley face (social distancing teamwork via Slack)!
Being a lone (alone) Archivist and ScholComm Librarian is a lot for one person. And while my library team has shrunk, I am learning how to work with them and learning to ask for help.