The New Professional Transition

The transition from student to worker is one that many people struggle with. The transition from new professional to full-fledged member of a profession can be just as challenging at times. New professional groups and grants specifically geared to new professionals can help ease the transition into professional life.  But, what defines a new professional? Years in the field? Years since graduation? Type of position?

The National Council on Public History (NCPH) defines new professionals  as”individuals, such as recent graduates of public history programs, who have been working within the public history profession for less than three years.”  Conversely, the advocacy of the Society of American Archivists roundtable, Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) focuses on “students, interns, new professionals, early-career project archivists, and archivists who are still looking for their first professional jobs.”

Most professional associations have variations on these definitions of new professionals.  Personally I prefer the SNAP definition of new professional as it does not assign an arbitrary timeline to the new professional transition period.   Depending on circumstances becoming fulling emerged in a profession can take as little as a year or as long as several years.  Circumstances which can impact this development might include: type of employment, opportunities for professional development, and opportunities for interaction with others in the field. 

I don’t think there is a magic cut off point where you stop being a new professional.  But, I think over time as your experiences continue to grow, you begin to realize that you have knowledge which others in the field could benefit from.  Perhaps, the biggest part of this transition is gaining confidence in your skills and place inside the profession.  Even the newest professionals have perspectives that are worth sharing — it sometimes just takes awhile for them to gain the courage to share it.

Personally, I had an ‘okay, so maybe I’m further along than I thought I was’ moment when speaking with undergrad and graduate students who are looking at their career and education prospects. I’m at the point where, I can begin to provide some anecdotal examples of job successes and failures, job milestones, and valuable skill building.  I’ve held a number of volunteer and paid positions which emphasize different aspects of public history and I’ve come to realize what type or work I enjoy and what type bores me to tears.  I think this realization is partially what made more confident in my place within the public history profession.  

Mentor programs, professional development courses, and ongoing education have also helped me gain my footing in a new professional world.  Some programs have definitely been more worthwhile than others, but I think talking to other people and continuing to learn new skills are something which all new professionals can engaging in to make their transition easier.

How do you define the term ‘new professional’?  What programs helped you as a new professional? 

Making History Child Friendly

The August/September issue of Canada’s History recently landed in my mailbox.  A short article, “Genealogy Can be Child’s Play” by Paul Jones inspired me to spend some time considering children and public history.  Jones’ article talks about interesting children in family history through the use of age appropriate activities that are engaging, active, and ultimately easy to undertake for the whole family.

I agree with Jones that inspiring a sense of family history and understanding of ones roots can be a very valuable part of any upbringing.  I also think it is important for children of all ages to be exposed to local and national historical narratives. Looking back at my childhood makes me extremely grateful for my parents attempts to make history and learning fun, even during the summertime. 

One of my earliest memories of experiencing history as a child involves my parents taking me and my siblings to the Dufferin County Museum which was ten minutes from our home.  I don’t remember many details about the trip, but I do remember being fascinated by an exhibit on old toys and how different those toys were from the ones I played with at home. 

Fast forward a few years and my Brownie troop made a trip to the same museum.  This time in addition to being able to look at the collection on display the group was given a ‘behind the scenes’ tour that included being able to see the archival and artifact storage areas.   Seeing something that was normally off limits definitely tickled my childhood interest.  These early positive experiences at the Dufferin County Museum are one of the many reasons why later volunteered at the Museum and eventually became involved in public history.

Not all public history spaces are immediately conducive to children.  Living museums and historic sites with interpreters tend to have more hands on activities that appeal to the tactile nature of many kids.  More traditional archives and museums need to work at making their spaces kid friendly.  Text panels and things secured in display cases can be interesting, but getting an eight year old to stand and look at them is almost impossible at times. 

Running children specific programming and workshops can be a huge step towards making history accessible to children.  However, not all museums and archives have the staff or resources to make this possible.  Even offering small dress-up or colouring stations amongst other exhibits can help make a trip to the museum enjoyable for children.  Similarly, including outdoor space or outdoor activities as part of the standard tour can help make a museum visit child friendly.

Developing a teaching collection of duplicate or replica artifacts can allow children to actually touch and hold things.  For example, setting up a bunch of old typewriters (duplicate or not historically significant ones) for children to type on can be a great way for children to see an old form of technology in use. Teaching collections can work in museums or as part of an archives program.

Archives do not immediately scream children play space.  But it is possible to run programming out of archives that is geared to children.  Many archives have school instruction programs, behind the scenes tours, or introduction to local history programs that expose children to history in a fun way.  Many of these
programs do require staff time, but the partnerships and future patrons that can develop out of these outreach activities are well worth the effort.

What are some of your most memorable childhood history moments?

Archival Outreach and Community Based Heritage

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the role archives can play in community based heritage initiatives.  The bulk of my thoughts have centered on the idea that archives have the potential to become community heritage hubs and places of active history. Of course, just because archives have the potential to do this doesn’t mean they instantly become centers for community heritage.  A tremendous amount of effort, planning, and outreach needs to occur for archives to become more than repositories and facilities for occasional researchers.

 A colleague and I recently ran a professional development workshop on community based heritage projects.  The workshop spent a great deal of time focusing on outreach and education programming our archive has undertaken in the past; while highlighting the resulting successes and failures of these efforts.

This presentation and audience questions pointed out the importance of archives knowing their audience and creating outreach geared to their audience.  Similarly, most archives serve more than one type of patron and as such they require more than one type of outreach if they wish to appeal to a range of people.   That being said, due to limited budgets and staff time a lot of archival outreach has a tendency to be broad ranging and not geared to a particular user group.

How can archives and other heritage organizations take an existing outreach initiative and efficiently make that initiative tailored to a range of users? Content development is probably the most important part of this process. It also tends to be the most labour intensive process. If you only have one handout for your archive or one set of research guidelines, consider spending some time creating additional content which can supplement existing handouts.

This might be as simple as creating different archive worksheets for genealogists, professional researchers, and students.  Front-line staff most likely already know which resources are used most by each of these groups and what common questions are asked by each group – it is a matter of committing it to paper or online resources.

Picking the right medium for their message can be just as important as the content archives with to deliver.  Paper resources are good for onsite visitors, digital content tends to appeal to students and distance researchers, interactive workshops may appeal more to community based researchers and genealogists than to academic researchers.

It might be tempting to do so for cost saving and efficiency’s sake but creating all your content in one medium simply doesn’t work.   Different user groups want different types of information.  It might be useful to conduct a user survey or to have front-line staff share user observations over a period of time prior to selecting a medium.  There is no point in creating content in a format that people don’t find accessible.

Keep it simple.  Outreach activities do not need to be these elaborately complex schemes that take years to bring to fruition.  Start small and work towards larger outreach goals.  This could mean starting by creating a facebook page, creating bookmarks with hours/archive info on them, or creating simple handouts that are given to new researchers when they arrive at the archive. 

Outreach has the potential to be an enlightening and rewarding experience. Planning, thought, and time is required to create successful archival outreach programs.  But, increased outreach can help archives learn more about how to better cater to their users, can help increase use of the archive, and can raise awareness about historical issues.  

Photo credit: artofdreaming,…tanja…, and nick wright planning

Collection Glimpse: The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Arcvhies

This is the first post in a new series of posts entitled “Collection Glimpses.”  Each post in the series will focus on a unique collection, innovative repository, or a not well known cultural heritage institution.

We are family button- Karen Andrews. CLGA

The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) is located in Toronto, Ontario and was founded in 1979.  CLGA aims to “acquire, preserve, organize, and give public access to information and materials in any medium, by and about LGBT people, primarily produced in or concerning Canada.”  Currently CLGA is the second largest LGBT archive in the world.

The CLGA’s archival holdings are unique not only in their subject matter but in the inclusion of nontraditional archival material types.  For example, the CLGA has an extensive collection of t-shirts, buttons, matchbooks, erotica, and other material related the the Canadian LGBT community.  The CLGA also has a variety of more traditional archival material including personal and organizational records, photographs, artwork, cartographic material, and audio-visual items.

 In addition to the extensive holdings of the CLGA, the Archives has an rich publication history. Since 1979, the CLGA has published or helped publish 15 works  on Gay and Lesbian heritage and culture.

The current downside of the CLGA is the limited hours the Archive is open to the public.  Recently, this lack of on site availability has been partially compensated by the digitized holdings which can be browsed and searched online.  However, currently only a small percentage of items have been made available online and most researchers are still reliant on the physical holdings of the CLGA.

Despite the limited hours, the CLGA is the best resource for primary source material on the Canadian LGBT heritage.  The grassroots and community based nature of the CLGA is evident in its holdings, collection policies, and outreach.

Photo credit: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives

Heritage Gift Giving

Tree of books

It’s that time of year where many of us are scrambling to find the perfect gift for a loved one.  Recently, a number of blogs and organizations have been posting gift suggestions for the heritage lovers in your life. Some of my favourite posted so far, include:

  Additionally, any of the heritage aficionados I know would love:

  • A subscription to Canada’s History Magazine.  It’s a great read for people inside and outside academia interested in Canadian History.
  • An annual membership to a local museum, art gallery, or heritage site. 
  • For the archival minded: a copy of Closed Stacks, Open Shutters. 

 Photo credit: flickr (shawncalhoun)