An Archives Kid behind the Circ Desk?: Gaining Meaningful Experience at the Social Law Library
posted March 14, 2012 10:56 AM by Elise Dunham
Today marks six months that Ive been a Patron Services Assistant at the Social Law Library. I have to say, Im still surprised at the fact that my venture to Boston led me behind the circulation desk of a law library; as an archives concentrator with no prior interest in law or law librarianship, it seems like quite the anomaly! As unexpected as it is, Im quite grateful for the opportunities and experiences I have had at Social Law.
When I was making plans to move to Boston and attend Simmons, I was hesitant at the prospect of working and going to school at the same time. Many of the graduate school workshops I attended as an undergrad emphasized that, for a graduate student, school is your job, and warned that working during grad school would be too overwhelming. Im glad I realized that this advice was usually geared toward students pursuing academic degrees rather than professional ones. In the library science field, gaining experience in and outside of the classroom is incredibly important. Not only does it beef up resumes, but it also allows for personal development as students figure out how their classroom work can directly translate into the real world work. Simmons GSLIS responds to students need for real world experience by incorporating internship courses into its curriculums, but Im generally of the mind that more is better in this situation and am very glad I chose to apply for jobs in Boston.
I learned of the open position at the Social Law Library thanks to a listserv maintained by GSLIS. Instructions on how to sign up for the listserv come at you right after you make arrangements to attend Simmons GSLIS. Each week the listserv sends out an E-mail containing listings for professional and pre-professional jobs and opportunities in and outside of the New England area. Its obviously a great resource for discovering library and archives jobs and internships, and its also quite useful because it gives you the ability to peruse professional job descriptions and make note of what skills employers are emphasizing in their search for hires. I am thankful for the services the Simmons GSLIS job listings provide, especially because they led me directly to my position at the Social Law Library.
One of the most important lessons Ive learned so far in my time at Social Law is that its completely possible to gain skills and experience relevant to your desired career even in an environment thats not exactly in line with your long-term plans. Id like to end up working as a university archivist, so the crossovers between my current job and plans for the future are not obvious. Even so, I find there are many:
- I interact with and assist patrons on a regular basis, which is a crucial element of most professional archives jobs.
- Occasionally, I provide basic reference services, and when I do so I genuinely feel excited about helping patrons fulfill their information needs. This is good practice and a nice reminder of the fact that Im in the right field!
- I had to start cold in a collection with which Id had no prior experience and learn to familiarize myself with it. Its quite likely that Ill begin my career as an archivist in a repository where I will need to do exactly that.
- Fixing things that break! My co-workers and I often joke about the things they dont teach you library school: how to fix photocopiers, staplers, keyboards the list goes on. I cant likely throw this onto my resume, but I can walk into any job feeling confident in my abilities to un-jam a printer, and thats important to me.
Overall, I appreciate that my job at Social Law has helped me to think more broadly about information services and my place in the field than I was before. I never thought I would step foot into a law library, much less work at one, but Ive quickly found myself enjoying the challenge of working with legal resources. Even though I still hope to one day work as a university archivist, my experience at the Social Law Library has helped me realize that I can flourish in information services environments outside of that narrow scope. Once I earn my degree and embark upon my first professional job hunt, Ill be willing and able to cast a wide net, and for that Ill have my unexpected law library job to thank.