“What’s a typical day like for you at the WLA?” Several weeks ago, a Masters in Information Science (MIS) student asked me that question. I gave her my usual response: “That’s a bit tough as there really isn’t a typical.”
I’ve been an archivist for almost 16 years. At my previous workplace, over the course of my 13 years there, at least six library school students interviewed me. It is a popular assignment in graduate archival classes for a student to interview a professional. In every prior instance, and now twice here at Loyola, I’ve been asked something along the lines of “what do you do in a day?”
The first time someone asked me the question, I distinctly remember looking at the student, and slightly panicking. I felt totally thrown by the question and I believe I stared at her for several seconds with my mouth open. I seemed to have no idea how to answer because I’d never really analyzed what I did in a typical day. Sure, I had a job description and specific duties, however, the days were so varied that I had no idea where to start. I remember stammering something, which I later hoped sounded slightly coherent, about how the work days just were not typical.
I feel the need to explain a bit here about the archival field. Some archivists have more specialized archival jobs than I have had in my two jobs in the field. For instance, there are reference archivists that pretty much only answer reference questions, like in a university/ college setting or a state archives. In addition, there are processing archivists and their jobs are to process (organize) collections and archival records. Archives also run the gamut of large staffs, say ten archivists, to smaller staffs of two or three and down to places like the WLA, that employ one professional archivist. In a larger staff archives, the archivists tend to be more specialized, focusing on just several archival tasks.
At my previous job and now at the WLA, I’ve been a generalist and the only professionally trained archivist. That means my job description includes all types of archival activities such as answering reference questions; processing or overseeing processing; supervising students; conducting programming/outreach activities; dealing with website content; and creating/installing exhibits.
Now back to a typical day for me. Two factors affect my work at the WLA. The first occurs because I’m the Director and the only professionally trained archivist, with a staff of graduate students. I’m the point person for reference requests, some of which can be immediate. It’s not unusual for someone at Loyola, think of the PR department folks, to ask a collection related question and want the answer as soon as possible.
I’m also responsible for administrative details, often time sensitive, involved in running an archive in a university setting. Think now of general paperwork and specific human resource type responses. Plus, I do everything from contacting facilities because a light is burned out in the hallway to dealing with the small amount of water that came into the basement archives after the last heavy rain.
The second factor affecting my work at the WLA is tasks that occur under the category of “duties otherwise not specified,” a term I learned in the 1980s when I worked as a social worker for the state of Iowa. My job description included that phrase and every once in a while my supervisor reminded me of it, particularly when I balked at doing something he wanted me to do. “But it’s not in my job description,” I’d say to him at which time he’d reply back, “Yes it is. It’s under duties otherwise not specified.”
Things come up in the work day that aren’t technically in my job description, however, are still tasks I need or want to do. An example is that every once in a while I run into someone at Piper Hall, where the WLA is located, who wants a tour of the beautiful 1909 mansion. I know pertinent Piper Hall history so I gladly give them tour on the spot. It’s not in my job description to be tour guide, however, I’d have a hard time saying no and besides, it’s fun.
At this point, I’m going to loop back around to the nice MIS student interview several weeks ago and my answer to the usual question. I’ve now done this enough so I didn’t look at her with my mouth open, akin to a deer in the headlights. Instead, I talked about what often happens in a day for me as WLA Director. Before I went into the typical, however, I gave her the caveat of how a planned day’s work can change quickly depending on who e-mails, calls, or walks in the WLA door needing something immediate.
A usual day involves one or two meetings and on average, I have six to eight scheduled meetings per week. The WLA is part of Loyola’s Library system and the Gannon Center for Women, meaning my meeting quotient is higher given my involvement with both entities. Through the Library, I’m on four committees and chair one. Three of the library committees are monthly and sometimes entail tasks be done between meetings. In addition, I may meet with a professor regarding a WLA collaborative class project, talk with a donor at her home, or plan an event with a community group.
Another part of a typical day involves supervising the work of the WLA’s wonderful Graduate Assistants (GAs), without which the Archives could not function as well as it does. There are three GAs and usually two work per day. Their tasks are processing collections, tracking down answers for reference requests, creating web copy, and in general, doing all sorts of needed archival work. Of course, they also have duties otherwise not specified.
I also usually have some type of donor work during a usual day. Donors are the good folks who give the WLA records that make up our collections. What I call donor work includes: talking with a donor; picking up records; deciding what to keep; and doing the legal paperwork to transfer the records to the WLA. There are all sorts of follow-ups, by phone or e-mail, with donors as they progress through the donation process. Donations have increased over the last year so it is becoming a regular part of almost every day.
Lastly, I can’t forget answering e-mails, some of which contain the aforementioned reference requests and/or administrative tasks. On average I spend a good hour or two daily reading and responding to e-mails.
I have a varied work day which is what I like. I’m afraid I’d be bored if I my job entailed just several archival tasks. Instead, I never quite know what will happen in a day at the WLA!
Nancy Freeman became Director of the WLA in spring, 2013. Prior to that, Nancy was an archivist and records manager at a wildlife research facility for the USDA in Colorado. Nancy has worked in the archival field since 1999. When not at the WLA, Nancy enjoys spending time with her family and knitting.
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