Where can I volunteer at an archive in NYC? (I have no experience.)
January 7, 2014 10:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm starting to explore a career change and I want to figure out whether I'd enjoy being an archivist. I'm 40, but I don't have any experience in archiving, so first I want to find out whether I'd like it. I live in Manhattan and have a regular 9-5 day job. I currently work as an editor at a legal publishing company and I'm a former lawyer. I enjoy American political and social history. I also like the arts (especially old movies and theater). I'm interested in working with historical documents and/or digital archives. I understand that not every volunteer experience might include access to those; I'm just trying to give a sense of my interests. I also wouldn't mind talking to a working archivist to get a sense of what the work is like.
posted by Tin Man to Work & Money (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in museums, which is sort of an allied field in which archivists often work. You should feel free to call or email archivisits at institutions near you to ask for an informational interview. You can use the interview to ask about volunteer work or internships which might help you learn more about whether the field is for you. People in that line of work are very collegial and will mostly be happy to talk with you. If one person doesn't get back to you, they're probably just swamped, so keep on going and find some others to strike up a conversation with.

Also check out the resources at the Society of American Archivists .
posted by Miko at 10:57 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had some wonderful experiences in the Roundabout Theatre Company's Archives a few years back. It looks like they are still going strong, and the website has info to "Contact the Archivist" you could try, either to ask about volunteering or just to chat about what it's like being an archivist.
posted by Zephyrial at 11:05 AM on January 7, 2014

The Center for Jewish History on W16th street has open volunteer positions for library assistants, which I realize is not precisely what you are looking for. I mention this only because the people who work in their archives and preservation department were very happy to spend time answering my questions and assisting me, but I approached them as a donor.

At that same location is also the Yeshiva University Museum and the Leo Baeck Institute and the American Jewish Historical Society, all of which also have comprehensive digital archiving programs and a huge amount of historical documents, so it might be worthwhile to call and see if any of them need volunteer work.

It's okay if you are not jewish.
posted by elizardbits at 11:20 AM on January 7, 2014

If you are interested in film, you might want to contact the Anthology Film Archives on 2nd Ave. They have a full time archivist who is a generally good guy. I don't know if they have any need or opportunity for volunteers, but perhaps someone there would be willing to talk to you about the work or recommend another organization.
posted by voiceofreason at 11:56 AM on January 7, 2014

I was also going to suggest the Anthology Film Archives - it looks as though they take volunteers but that you must be a current student to apply. Note that - archival of film generally requires a specific type of post-graduate work related to moving image and is different from one you'd receive with an MLS degree say.

You might want to try reaching out to professors of archives at the local grad programs - I took a class with Dr. Cucciolo at Pratt Institute who really gave us a great picture of the type of work we'd be doing if we chose that field.
posted by rdnnyc at 1:12 PM on January 7, 2014

The Tamiment Library and Labor Archives at NYU may have opportunities for people who want to help sort and scan stuff. I wish I had a contact there directly.
posted by jessamyn at 1:39 PM on January 7, 2014

One great organization you might be interested in given your self-description is The Interference Archive in Gowanus. They've a politically progressive ideology (if that matters one way or another to you) and rely on very hands-on volunteers.
posted by stagewhisper at 6:20 PM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips, everyone.
posted by Tin Man at 12:49 PM on January 8, 2014

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