Student Snippets


Libraries or Archives?

As you may know, Simmons has one of the highest-rated Archives Management programs in the country. This was a major factor in my decision to choose Simmons because the idea of an MLIS with a focus in archives interested me much more than a standard MLIS. I felt like it would give me more options - I would graduate with the qualifications to work in both libraries and archives. And frankly, I wasn't sure I was 100% on board with libraries. My interest in the MLIS degree came in a roundabout way as I chased my dreams of working in museums/cultural institutions while maintaining a connection to the world of academia. I knew I wanted to work in a museum or an archives, but I also thought that library jobs would be easier to come by and that I might be just as content to work in an academic library.

The happy news is, I've thoroughly enjoyed all of my classes at SLIS West so far, and only one out of five has been an archives class. Since I'm right in the thick of my archives internship and finally learning more about this profession, I've decided to do a post about some of the ways that libraries and archives are different - and similar. By the way, the title of this post is kind of a trick question. I think you can have and do both. My supervisor at the internship is both archivist and librarian and the two roles are separate but collaborative.

Collections: Both libraries and archives have collection development and management at the heart of what they do, and it is important for both to have well-defined collection policies. The critical difference here is in the nature of the materials they collect, which constitutes the most defining characteristic of archives: archival materials are unique. Therefore, archivists must protect and preserve their materials while also providing access.

Services: Libraries have patrons, archives have users (though I couldn't tell you the reason for different terms). Patrons to the library are free to browse the collection and flip through books, and may find what they need without ever speaking to a librarian. Visitors to the archives must consult with an archivist, who will help them identify records to look at and retrieve the materials. Visitors can use the materials in the archives only, and will be kept under close supervision.  

Observations: Archivists work closely with their donors, spend time carefully arranging and describing their holdings, and participate in the work of the researchers who use the material. It is detailed and sometimes painstaking work, and I think it could be said that archivists are much more involved with their collections than librarians. Of course librarians are thoroughly involved in their work as well, but with more focus on services and instruction. I'm also pretty pleased to find that the archives profession has a distinctly scholarly feel to it, with a knowledge and understanding of historical research methods coming into play. Most of what I've learned in class and experienced in my internship have confirmed what I always suspected: that archives are right up my alley.