Friday with Primary Sources: An SAA Experience

For a relatively new member to the archives field, it was the early pinnacle of my experiences in the occupation to be able to attend my first ever Society of American Archivists conference in D.C. last week (August 10-16). Due to conflicts with my schedule and other responsibilities, I was able to only attend for one day, that being Friday, August 15. However, I was still able to experience in a brief period most of the daytime events that the conference had to offer: presentation sessions, poster sessions, vendor exhibits (with free food!), the bookstore, and, perhaps most important for me that day, the career center, which will I speak on later.

The other benefit for me going on Friday was that I was able to use the morning sessions I attended for two purposes. Obviously, the sessions were part of my conference experience and useful to my future work in the archival field, but it also served to provide information for a project I have recently been asked to undertake as part of my position as a graduate research assistant at the Catholic University Archives. Our archivist and director Dr. Timothy Meagher has asked me to research the websites of other archives offering digital primary materials, either as part of an educational program or simply a digital repository, and examine literature on archives and education in an effort to compare these examples with our own program, the American Catholic History Classroom, a series of digital primary source exhibits that provide a Catholic perspective on topics in U.S. history. The two sessions I attended on Friday both concerned this issue, at least tangentially. In session 304, Reach Them and They Will Come: New Approaches for the Archival Educator, educators from institutions of higher education and K-12 schools, offered their ideas on how they used primary sources in their instruction. Malinda R. Triller Doran of Dickinson College described a program in which primary materials from the campus archives were set up in stations with students asked to match related items and place them in order by date at a way to show how information is communicated through various formats. Jeffrey W. McClurken of the University of Mary Washington described a digital project in his U.S. Women’s History courses, wherein students researched archival materials at the university to learn what life was like at the formerly all-women’s college in the mid-20th century and create a website of these experiences. 

The second session, Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn: Instruction and the Use of Primary Sources, archivists and special collections practitioners presented ideas they used for providing instruction in the use of primary sources to students, as well as instructing archivists on how to provide such information. Mattie Taormina of Stanford University argued on this latter point that there should be more of a focus on instructional pedagogy for archivists, either through self-education (online courses, workshops, etc.) or, perhaps even more revolutionary, adding a focus on pedagogy as a core element to a archival graduate program. Anne Bahde of Oregon State University discussed a program in primary source literacy skills for U.S. history classes that taught students to identify and evaluate primary sources, focusing not only on source content but also on archival techniques involved in preserving those materials. Elizabeth Yakel of the University of Michigan discussed evaluating primary source instruction, arguing that such as evolved from orienting students to the archives to primary source introduction and now to ensuring that students engage in critical thinking with sources. 

The sessions were integral to work, and also provided me with ideas to consider as far as what I can offer as a professional once I attain the position(s) that I want after school. My time at the career center, however, provided perhaps much more from a practical standpoint. While I didn’t have the chance to interview with any organizations, I did get the chance for the first time to have a professional review and give me tips on creating a proper archival-focused resume. I want to thank here and give credit to Lauren Goodley from Texas State University for taking time to show me what was good and (mostly) what was not in my current resume so as to make it more readable and more likely to not be overlooked due to length and unnecessary information. It is my hope that such assistance will prove valuable in my search for full-time employment in the field.

In addition to the above, I had the opportunity to spend time with fellow CUA LIS students, exchanging ideas and experiences over coffee and tea (and music from the 1980s that was playing just across the street). It was a worthwhile experience that I encourage anyone in the field to attend whenever possible. The information, career advice, and camaraderie cannot be measured in dollars or time; I believe I will measure it in the coming months and years in terms of knowledge acquisition and career success. 

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