This month’s Librarian’s Spotlight features someone with a unique perspective—Brittany Murphy. She’s an archivist who loves to chat! Enjoy her enthusiasm!
RO: Please introduce yourself and speak a bit about your background with libraries.
BM: To put it briefly: I’m a dog-lover, avid reader, coffee addict, city-dweller and make a mean mac ‘n cheese! I finished my MLIS in Archives Management in 2012, so I’m still pretty new to the profession. I’ve spent my last four years in Boston working the ever-popular temporary librarian job circuit. I am currently working as a contract records analyst with the City, which means that I am responsible for the management of the City’s digital records.
RO: You are currently working as an archivist. Please talk a bit about the difference between an archivist and a librarian.
BM: Absolutely. At the heart of it, both librarians and archivists are on the same team. Archival work is just a specialty that librarians can learn about. (Kinda like that saying: Every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square.)
My favorite way to look at the distinction between a traditional librarian versus an archivist is this: Libraries collect and make accessible a variety of publications while archives collect and make accessible unpublished, rare or unique materials. Because of this, items found in a traditional library circulate (can be taken out of the library) while items in an archives can only be studied onsite.
It’s also good to keep in mind that there are wide variety of different kinds of librarians and they often will do lots of other jobs in addition to reference or circulation. Some are Early Childhood or Youth Librarians, there are Catalogers, some are focused on Library Instruction or IT, etc.
The same goes for archivists; some work in corporate settings such as law librarians or as part of the IT staff, or in special collections or at museums. The general duties and experience for an archivist depends on the type of institution at which he/she is working. Right now, my position is very tech-heavy; lots of digitization projects and data management databases, and meetings, meetings, meetings. But I have also worked at a museum archives where most of my time was split between organizing and preserving collections and responding to researchers.
RO: What made you want to work in this field?
BM: I sort of fell into library work. When I was in college, I took an internship in the college archives. Mostly I was doing very basic housekeeping: organizing a collection of yearbooks. But the college archivist, my internship advisor, dedicated time each week to educate me all about how archives work and why they are important. I began to realize how all of the stuff in an archives is historically significant and informed culture, society and even the institution that holds it. I loved learning about all the sorts of incredible information that was being cared for in different archives around the world, and that I could look at it myself!
RO: Those that work in libraries have been pegged with several stereotypes. Are there any that you find particularly amusing?
BM: I know a lot of people in the library community get really aggravated by the different librarian stereotypes. In their minds, the stereotypes are detrimental to the profession and can really put us in a box.
But, I kinda love all of them! I guess that I think along the lines of “any publicity is good publicity.” But, I also love that I can put my hair in a bun, pull on my wool tights, a skirt and a white blouse and I’ve got an instant Halloween costume!
If I had to pick one, I think my favorite would be Tammy’s character from Parks and Rec. I mean, c’mon, obviously.
I find that they change for me from position to position. Right now, I am all about Wikipedia. Whenever I come across a tech-related problem, I do a quick Wikipedia search and BAM! I’ve got loads of information and (most importantly!) links to credible sources for more help.
I also frequent library organization web pages. The New England Archivists site (http://www.newenglandarchivists.org/) and the American Libraries site (http://www.americanlibrariesmagazine.org/) are my favorite for catching up on the latest trends and happenings in the field. Sites from organizations also usually have sign-ups for various listservs, which are incredibly helpful when trying to tackle a common (but new-to-you) work issue. Plus, library people are crazy-nice and always happy to help.
RO: Is there any request you have gotten that you found particularly interesting/unconventional? If so, why?
BM: Most of the requests that I get now are from the legal department, so no, not really. Occasionally, I’ll receive a request from a news reporting agency for email correspondence. Typically, these are pretty neat. Sometimes I’ll Google them afterwards and see what’s happening. It’s mostly regarding any legal issues or salary information that is open to the public.
I did work as a processing assistant for a collection of German film stills once. There were all kinds of materials to research, organize and catalog; film stills, film strips, photographs and documentation from movies from the early 1900s to present day. However, the bulk of them were 1980s German pornography. I’ll bet those research requests are pretty interesting!
RO: What book are you currently reading, or have recently read, that you would recommend? Conversely, what book are you currently reading, or have recently read, that you not would recommend?
BM: This could be a long one, but here we go!
Recommendations to read:
Most recently I’ve been re-reading my favorites. Namely, The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood, She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb and before that Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies. I usually make time to re-read these three once a year (nerd alert!). I would recommend anything by these authors – all good stuff!
But I have also gotten into a true-crime kick as of late. I recently read “I: The Creation of a Serial Killer” by Jack Olsen which is a memoir of sorts from the perspective of the Happy Face Killer. And when I finished that one, I came across “Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer’s Daughter” by Melissa G. Moore, which is a memoir written from his daughter about her life, experiences and feelings about being known as the daughter of the Happy Face Killer. I can totally geek out about how fun it was to read these back-to-back, but I’m sure you get the idea.
Recommendations not to read:
I am rarely disappointed in a book, or disappointed in it enough to not recommend it. Plus, what might not totally float my boat, could be the absolute best for someone else! I think I’ll play it safe and pass on this one.
RO: What is something archivists do that, in your opinion, should be considered a superpower?
BM: This is probably something that comes with time, experience, and answering a ton of researcher requests, but I have always been impressed with how an archivist can know so many intricacies about his or her collection. Obviously, archivists (and assistant or student interns) typically have a finding guide to locate things in most collections. But it is not unusual for an archivist to know a collection so thoroughly that he or she can, immediately without thinking, find the tiniest piece of information or ephemera on the spot. Like they have a photographic memory.
RO: Going off of that question, if you could have a skill that is traditionally considered a superpower, what would it be?
BM: It would be pretty neat to be able to move things with my mind. I’d love to be answering an e-mail in my living room, and SWOOSH! here is the box of Thin Mints that I hid in the back of my fridge so that they would stay cool and delicious. Or BOOP! here is the crock pot that I can only fit on the very top of my kitchen cabinet and would have to climb on the counter to get down.
RO: Lastly, what advice would you give to someone who is considering going into the library science field?
BM: High five! Good choice, my friend!
- If you plan to go to library school, make the most of it! Don’t focus too much on a specific field, try to take courses that sound interesting and have fun with them.
- Be friends with your professors, because I swear, they are all awesome.
- Intern or volunteer as much as possible. This is where you’re gonna learn the real stuff. Plus, you’ll meet loads of great people along the way.
- Join some professional organizations, because library conferences are crazy-fun! And you’ll always be in-the-know with new trends and technology.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I e-mail former classmates and colleagues on the reg to ask about all sorts of things. It saves me time, and I get an honest, experienced answer. Plus, I get a chance to catch up with them!
- Librarianship is not for people who want to avoid talking to other people. I went into graduate school thinking “Cool, now I can be a totally bookish introvert and no one will care. I’m allowed to be afraid to talk to people!” This is not true. It took some work and some practice, but I have pulled the extrovert out of me, and use her every single day. From answering phone calls, holding meetings, responding to user requests—I talk a lot.
Thanks, Brittany, for sharing your unique perspective!