Archivy etc.

opinions, occasional rants, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with archives at all. Nothing here should be assumed to be reflective of my employer's opinion(s) nor should it be assumed that at anytime afterward, this is what I still think.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Born of frustration, a call to action

A few weeks back, Renna Tuten sent out the annual call for volunteers to work the Career Center at SAA. A point of clarification: this year it's known as the Networking Cafe and encompasses more than just the traditional Career Center functions. (Nice job there, all. Excellent idea.)

At any rate, I always get a kick out of volunteering for this so I semi-promptly sent my dates and times of availability off to Renna. And in response, I received a very kind email back from her, thanking me for volunteering because, as she phrased it: "I'm really excited that you'll be able to be there and lend your expertise - since you are the expert!"

Whoa. I wouldn't be human if I weren't complimented by that. I wouldn't be Attila if I didn't wonder if that were boilerplate language used in every thank you she wrote. But since I am Attila, and decidedly human, I also got to thinking about it. Me? Expert? How does one gain a title like that?

Well, duh, you write a blog. A single topic blog with postings 3+ times weekly for several months. That's how you get a title like that. Whether or not that's fair.

Expert? Sure I'm an expert. If by that you mean somebody who finally got frustrated enough to say something.

You know what? I'm not kidding about that. There's a lot of people out there that have conducted a lot of archival recruitments. A lot of them were kind enough to share their thoughts with me as I worked on the blog. A lot of people have worked on various projects to make jobhunting advice and ideas available to archivists. If you're looking for some of those, switch over to Elusive Archives Job and look around the site. There's some links there that will give you a start.

When I started working on the project? I was pretty burned out on professional involvement. I'd had a few bad experiences in a row with archival association committees or events and simply decided that I needed to go on hiatus.  What I went on was another recruitment. With about 86 applicants. And was reminded of all the things that had annoyed me about so many of the applications I'd received in the previous recruitments. Those who called my institution the University of Alabama Anchorage. The applicants who told me they'd be calling me the following week to check up on the status of their application (and to date I've only ever received one of those calls, and was able to tell them nothing anyway.) The applicants who addressed me as Mrs. Schmuland. The applicants who dedicated 3/4 of their resume space to experience that I wasn't seeking and didn't dedicate 3/4 of their cover letter to explaining why it related to the job we had on offer. The ones who probably were really qualified candidates otherwise, but in their attention to detail failed to mention one of the little skill sets that we listed as a requirement.

Hours, and hours, and hours of reading applications. Closely, thoroughly, occasionally multiple times because how could such an otherwise qualified candidate not know something about running a scanner but somehow they'd failed to mention it... Setting score levels for the various KSAs (this much experience is worth this much, that much is worth that much), adding up totals, reading the applications from people who were apparently applying for architectural work and who had clicked on the wrong job title link to submit their materials.

Some really good candidates submitted really good applications. Some didn't. And I was left wondering why. Why apply for a job and do a bad job of it unless you weren't all that interested in it? And if you weren't interested in it, why were you wasting your time and mine? Or maybe, just maybe, some of the applicants didn't know any better. Maybe not enough training was happening.

Here's an Attila trait. If I'm feeling a certain way, I tend to assume I'm not alone. I tend to assume that a lot of other people feel that way too. I wish I would have figured that out a little earlier in life--say in junior high when we all hated ourselves and thought everybody else was more popular and so forth--but I know it now. So I sent out a call and got tons of responses from other friends and colleagues who were indeed feeling the same way.

At any rate, I'm getting a little off track. Here's the sum of it all: bad applications from good archivists drive archival recruiters nuts and drive good archivists out of the profession when they can't get jobs. This may always be the case, but maybe, just maybe, it doesn't have to happen for everyone anymore. Maybe, just maybe, I can get a better return on applications, a proficiency rate that doesn't force me to cull over half the apps in the first go-round due to missing requirements or badly written documents.  So I spoke up and as a result, got at least one person calling me an expert. And a bad case of professional burnout wound me up in a place where I was getting involved in the profession again.

Am I an expert? Or just the one who spent the most time writing on the topic for public consumption? That's not for me to decide. But what I do know is there's a bunch of other experts out there who year after year after year staff the Career Center/Networking Cafe and make their expertise available on a one-on-one basis to people who want some advice.  I'm betting a bunch of them don't regard themselves as experts either. I'm betting some of them just want to make sure that the people who need some help can get it.

So here's my call to action: are you attending SAA this year? Have you conducted an archival recruitment? Please volunteer at the Networking Cafe, even if it's only an hour. Renna is pretty easy to find online and I'm betting she'd love to get you on the schedule. After all, the frustration you save may be your own.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Put on your glad rags

1998 was the first time I attended a SAA conference. Held in Orlando, the conference organizers did a great deal of work to convince attendees to dress down. You know, casual. Befitting the venue, I suppose.

It's now 13 years later. And I have a proposition for all of you. See, I don't know what it was like before Orlando. For all I know, there was no actual change in what the average archivist wore to one of these things. But a few years ago at one of the receptions I was looking around and just observing archivists in their natural habitat (museums, apparently, with lots of alcohol available) and I realized that the best-dressed people in the room were all the international attendees. Some of the 20-early 30-something domestic archivists had some style going too. But for the most part, casual ruled the day. 

I don't want to change that. Heaven knows, enough of us can't afford much in the way of fancy raiment given the average wage of the average archivist and what conferences cost these days. But wouldn't it be fun--even a little--to see if a few of us could take it up a few notches? Maybe see if we could give some of the international types a little competition? 

So this is my proposal. The Friday evening All-Attendees Reception. It's at the Field Museum this year. Let's make Sue feel a little dowdy, shall we?  I've got just the right floor length black chiffon skirt & I'm betting a bunch of you have more stylin' duds hanging out in your closet too once you dig beyond the boxes of white athletic socks. Bring it on. 

Who's with me?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Dear Auntie Attila

Okay, it's time. Well, it's long overdue.

What could the archival world possibly need more than an advice column?

Don't answer that because I'm starting one anyhow. Have a question, your own, somebody else's, whatever that's been burning a hole in your brain? Need a non-legally-binding opinion on how to handle whatever that situation is that you've been enveloped in? Thinking that archivist talking to the vendor in the exhibits hall is kind of cute and want to know what a great opening line would be?

Here's the deal. Email it to me. Give me a redacted version (at least) with any identifying details you'd don't want public left out of it. You can give me the whole version too, if you like, I am a nice Auntie after all who is very interested in your life, but make sure you've provided at least one version I can go public with.  That way you don't have to worry about Auntie inadvertently releasing some sort of identifying information that she doesn't recognize as identifying.

Here's the other part of the deal. I'm going to be tapping some of my network of colleagues and friends for answers since I'm also a smart Auntie who knows far too well she doesn't know everything. You might well be wondering "but how on earth could Auntie Attila possibly have any thoughts about my problem?" You might well be right, but I'm betting I'll be able to find somebody who does. And even if I do have some opinions, I'll probably still be tapping that network to get a broader answer.

So let's hear from you. The confused, the annoyed, the lovelorn. Little questions or big, same low price. Nothing but an email.