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SCRC Behind the Scenes

What I Do: The Archivist Edition

March 23rd, 2012 by Michele Combs

A “meme” has been circulating on the Interwebz lately called “What I Do” (or sometimes, “What People Think I Do”), which highlights the gap between one’s actual professional life and the way in which that particular profession is perceived and/or portrayed by others.  The meme consists of five pictures labeled as follows:  What my parents think I do, What my friends think I do, What my co-workers think I do, What I wish I did, and What I really do.  It’s been applied to a broad range of professions from Teacher to Actor to Architect to Stay-At-Home Mom (see here for a sampling).

After much searching, I tracked down “What I Do” for Archivists:

What I Do: Archivist EditionWhen I compared our set of images to those of other professions, I realized that we may be unique in that “What we actually do” actually partakes of a little of all of these pictures.  We frequently serve as History Detectives who track down strange and obscure facts for researchers.  We do, on occasion, burrow through decaying file cabinets overflowing with rotting papers and disintegrating clippings.  Once in a while (though without guns or battling bad guys), we unearth a “national treasure” such as the audio-recording of Malcolm X’s speech found in the Brown University archives, or the trove of new old fairy tales found in the archives in Regensburg, Germany, or our own Mary Queen of Scots letter.  Not a few of us  handle old ledgers and volumes suffering from red rot on a regular basis.  And every so often (for example, when we are faced with enormous new challenges such as how to archive and maintain emails, websites and blogs) we may feel as though we have no idea what we’re doing.  (I did notice that there’s no computer in any of the pictures — by rights that last one should have a workstation in the background with a digital image or an EAD finding aid displayed on the monitor!)

As it turns out, “What I actually do” belongs under every one of those photos, because “What I actually do” is all of this.  And more.

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One Response to “What I Do: The Archivist Edition”

  1. Lisa Bankert Says:

    Michele, I love this post! It is challenging enough to explain to my family what a 21st century public librarian does on a daily basis. Archivist? No clue. And it’s not all glitz and glamour either. But I still feel wistful now and again when I think of my days interning in SCRC. P.S. You have a Mary Queen of Scots letter? Whoa!

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