It would be difficult for me to pinpoint a collegiate academic mentor. Many of my professors, even ones I have thoroughly enjoyed classes with, I have had for only one semester, and while I enjoy learning from all of my professors, no deeper guiding relationship has been fostered with any of them.
Professionally, however, the same is not quite true. Though quite new to campus, having been hired in the fall of 2016, UNL’s digital archivist Blake Graham has become a mentor of sorts. Because I work in the UNL Archives and Special Collections, I speak with him frequently, and recently began working directly under him as a result of my newest assignment in the archives. Because my supervisors know I’m a digital humanities minor, they encouraged me to work with Blake on a new web project for the archives. The project is to build a web archive for UNL, which will ideally focus on both the materials related and produced by the Board of Regents as well as by the individual colleges within the university; it should be accessible to the public in March of 2018.
I began working with Blake near the start of March, studying copyright law for libraries and archives and metadata standards in order to prepare for building the collections the web archive will be composed of. Throughout the time we’ve spent working together, he’s provided answers to my questions and guidance and advice in regards to my chosen career path.
After completing his undergraduate career, Blake pursued two master’s degrees, one in history and the other in library science. His motivation to begin graduate coursework was a bit bleak- unsuccessful job searches and interviews prompted him to return to school. Coincidentally, he began part-time work as a grad student worker in a university archive, processing rare nineteenth century materials related to slavery in the antebellum South, which was the same subject he was exploring in his coursework. “For the next two years I studied historiography and southern identities, which was coupled with 900 cubic feet of unseen and untouched documents that revealed the profits of inhuman bondage and the legacy of racism in the South. This humbling and transformative experience is the bedrock for my decision to pursue a career in collecting and preserving cultural heritage and archival documents.”
While completing the programs that would lead him to his two degrees, he did encounter some difficulty. Though his MLIS program was offered as a distance education program, his history program was an on-site program. This on-site program was more of a challenge to Blake as result of his discomfort with face-to-face intellectual discussion; one of the facets of the program was constructive confrontation, a practice that relied on students reading different history books and explaining and defending the arguments of the respective authors.
I deeply empathize with Blake, as I never feel comfortable delivering off-the-cuff statements in class at the risk of sounding inarticulate and uncomposed, and so am typically a very quiet student. The added component of inevitable verbal conflict in the classroom makes the practice sound even more unenjoyable, but ultimately, this immersive style of open, yet collaborative, study and discussion was Blake’s most rewarding academic experience. As a result, he believes his ability to interpret and respond to ongoing challenges in many different work settings has improved.
Before his graduation, he collected the CV’s and resumes of other digital archivists in order to better prepare himself for a job search, and he monitored job postings related to the work of digital archiving and digital asset managers. Unfortunately, he learned that there aren’t many positions for digital archivists, and there are virtually no internships or apprenticeships available to gain experience in.
However, because of his CV and resume collecting, he learned many began in assistant archivist positions or in processing and digitization positions. While in graduate school he had his part-time position with a university archive as well as a volunteer position at a museum. He was able to find work in Colorado as an assistant archivist in a public library, helping historical societies write basic archives policy and documentation- after submitting 60 applications to find work. He also aided in digitization projects in the office, and when he was promoted he shifted his focus to local writing publications and improving metadata management. “In hindsight, it seems like relocation, writing, and volunteerism were the three consistent components that helped me achieve progress and eventually acquire a digital archivist position,” he said.
I’m hopeful that further discussion with Blake will provide me with even more light on my chosen career path and possible future experiences.