Just the Facts:
- Expecting to graduate from the UMD iSchool in December 2013.
- MLS specializing in archives.
- Strong interest in archival metadata and EAD. Created EADiva.com to help myself and others understand EAD better.
- Trying to learn how to become a better information professional for persons with disabilities and sharing what I find.
- Currently working at GWU’s Jacob Burns Law Library.
- Serials, cataloging, and supervisory experience. (Also paging, circulation, quasi-reference, XML/HTML/CSS/some PHP/SQL.)
- I’m on Twitter as @ruthbrarian.
- And I’m on LinkedIn.
Or Stay for the Story…
My first library boss told me that I was a library patron well before I was born. She’d only been a page, then, working at my hometown library, but by the time I was old enough to page myself, she was supervising the library’s paraprofessional staff. I’d grown up going to the library at least once a week, and as a devourer of books it just made sense to me to work there. And yet, despite my early inclinations to become a librarian, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to pursue it as a career. I preferred the idea of being a page for the rest of my life, of keeping the library neat and orderly, to the thought of spending all my time on the reference desk.
In 2007, I graduated college with a B.A. in English Literature and no concrete career paths. After marrying and moving to DC, I had a patchwork of part-time jobs, including library circulation work, working as a newborn hearing screener, and curating a blog while doing technical work for other people’s WordPress-based websites. 18 months after I moved to DC, I began working at the Jacob Burns Law Library as the serials specialist and supervising the day-to-day work of the Technical Services student workers. It was at this point, that I confirmed my desire to work in the information profession and, more specifically, in archives.
At the JBLL, we have a magnificent collection of rare French law books. We also have a somewhat less impressive bound collection of old legal newspapers (because, let’s be honest, newspapers from the 1800s shed EVERYWHERE…it’s rather awful). As these came through Technical Services and I worked with the students who processed them, I began to stop and read a few of the French ones. I was intrigued by the court reports of mundane activities; not the flashy murder cases, but the day-to-day names of people who quite likely appear nowhere else in the written historical record.
These papers were evidence that they lived, where they lived, and that they participated in civic life. Perhaps one was noted as inheriting property. Another may have left an endowment to the church for a priest to be paid 56 francs and 20 centimes per annum—why such a specific number? Why not 55 or 56?
While I don’t believe archives can provide the answer to that question, I believe they exist to help people ask it and find what answers they can. I believe in preserving information and making it accessible to people who want it, whether one works in arranging and describing, processing, web experience, or reference services…or something else. I wanted to be able to make this happen for information that wasn’t held by every law library in America (although I appreciate the importance of my current work as well).
It was then that I decided that I was going to library school and that I wanted to specialize in archives. Instead of going immediately, I dedicated myself to earning money for the degree through after-hours blogging and WordPress consulting. Before going to school, I was able to sell my side blogs and business for enough money to pay for the rest of my library degree. I appreciated that experience, learning how to run an engaging blog, how to handle WordPress, and how to do back-end work for it.
It’s a longer story, which I’ve written about here, but the same things drew me to accessibility as to archives. In both cases, you have information which is in some ways unavailable to some members of the public. Perhaps it’s unique materials in a repository, or perhaps it’s a book which the library only has in print form. I want to be the person who finds ways to make that kind of thing available. In my research, I’m focusing on accessibility in archives because it’s such a complex issue, but I’m also reading about accessibility in libraries, which I think is immensely valuable.
Where to next?
At this point, I’m looking forward to finishing my final semester in December 2013 and moving onward into archives. I’ve been active even while taking classes, presenting a paper at MARAC, teaching myself about Archivists’ Toolkit, and rewriting the EAD tag library in a friendlier format. I love making information available. Whether it’s in an almost-meta fashion like rewriting a metadata tag library or concrete like my field study project arranging and describing GWU’s law school miscellanea, I want to do it and I want to get better at it. I’m open to this being in the back room, at a reference desk, handling a website, digitizing materials, improving archival or library accessibility, or, ideally, some mix of all these. More information, greater availability.