How do I find a career mentor in the archives/preservation field?
July 19, 2014 4:10 PM Subscribe
I've had difficulty finding a career mentor in the archives/preservation field because of a lack of local resources and the fact that I obtained my Masters degree online, which was rather 'alienating' and didn't really allow for the kind of student-professor relationship that blooms into recommendation letters and networking. Are there ways of seeking out (real, committed) mentors either online, or in my area (northern Virginia/Washington DC), preferably involving me providing volunteer work?
I recently obtained my Masters in Archives, Preservation and Records Management from a prestigious university in said field, but I obtained the degree through their online program. It was no less rigorous than it was for on-site students, and online students were expected to spend one weekend on campus per semester for a special weekend class session in which you met with your fellow online students and your professors.
Sadly, the archives program decided not to participate in these on-site sessions after the first two (the rest of the library program still brought their online students to campus). Although my grades were very good, I never built that close relationship with any of my professors (or even TAs or fellow students) that I know I would have had we all been in a physical classroom together during those two years.
I recently tried to volunteer at my local library's archival room for local history, but that turned into a disaster because it was being run by a set of people who were more concerned with a non-archives project at the time and were not receptive to my offers to provide volunteer (free!) assistance with many of the archival projects they had in need of serious work - i.e. transcribing oral history audio recordings, writing up finding aids to assist researchers, conducting preservation surveys to determine what preservation needs existed for their books, microfilm and other collections.
My understanding is that when you volunteer, the organization is expected to help find you work that not only helps them, but also helps YOU the volunteer achieve your personal end goals for your career or other objectives. This is unlike a paid position, where you'd obviously have to do whatever project they ask you to do because they're paying you to do it. A volunteer relationship should be more reciprocal. In my case, it was not and so I passed on it.
I just feel lost - I've got my degree, but no practical work experience (I work in a professional but completely unrelated field) and I'm very eager to do whatever practical work experience I can find. I applied last night for a volunteer position as an archivist for a local opera that may or may not work out, but I'd still like to know what other options I have to find a rewarding volunteer experience in the archives (my personal interest is audio/film preservation and conservation) or, better yet, a mentor who can guide me on what I need to do to bulk up my practical experience/resume and also act, potentially, as a reference for me when applying for positions.