This post is the second in a series highlighting our recently-elected section leadership.
Christy Fic is the University Archivist & Special Collections Librarian at Shippensburg University of PA. She received her MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh and her MA in Applied History from Shippensburg University. Prior to joining the faculty at Shippensburg she worked as a contract processing archivist for the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian Institution.
Why or how did you find your way to becoming an archivist?
I’ve always been interested in history, but never wanted to teach K-12. During undergrad, I worked as a research assistant for a History professor conducting extensive primary and secondary source research for his book project, and I loved it. I had been seriously considering going for my doctorate, but the summer before senior year I decided I wasn’t ready to make that commitment, so I was seeking alternative career paths. I wound up talking to a variety of folks on campus, and got connected with our college archivist. She had me read John Fleckner’s “Dear Mary Jane” and a few other intro to archives articles, and I was hooked. I was drawn to the idea of having a career that would allow me to conduct research, work with interesting collections, and help others with their research. I spoke to a few alums who had pursued their MLS and gone on to work in archives, and that was it for me.
Can you share a success you have had in your repository of late?
We’ve been collaborating more and more with different groups on and off campus, which has brought about some very exciting opportunities. We were recently asked to participate in a collaborative effort to create a documentary series about the railroad in our local community (which used to run right through campus, and there was even a stop for the school). The documentary series is part of a broader initiative that’s underway to bring the community and the campus together through our shared heritage. We look forward to seeing all the pieces fall into place, and are so glad to be supporting our community and campus partners in this endeavor.
What project are you most excited about in your archives?
We’re in the early stages of planning a complete renovation of the archives, and I am extremely excited to see that come to fruition. While the renovation is still a few years away, the planning process has been a wonderful opportunity to talk about the role of the archives with constituents across campus, and to really think about what we want for the future of the archives. This renovation will provide our students, faculty, and community patrons with an amazing place to learn, collaborate, and grow.
You moved from a contract archivist position at the Smithsonian into an academic library position. What advice might you give to individuals making transitions to academic library settings?
There is so much I wish I had known!
1: Learn to set your own agenda! At my university, librarians have full faculty status. We go up for tenure and promotion just like all the other faculty on campus. I never would have imagined that I would have this kind of opportunity at such an early point in my career. I had assumed that I would be working under a more experienced archivist or supervisor for awhile before I was “in charge.” As a faculty librarian, you have a lot of freedom to decide what work you will do, and that can be daunting at first. You need to be able to act strategically for the long haul, and that’s not something you do when you’re working in a contract or temporary position.
2. Find mentors: inside your department and outside your department. While you might get assigned an official mentor, and that person may be great, they will not be enough. Universities are complex ecosystems and you will need to navigate paths you never even knew existed. Get involved, learn who the players are, and find folks who can teach you to be the faculty member you want to be.
3. Get comfortable with instruction. When I was working on my MLIS, no one ever told me I would have to teach a class. Academic libraries are often looking for archivists and librarians with instruction experience (or at least ability). Find ways to demonstrate you know how to teach.
4. Become involved in the profession. When you’re a contractor, you work your hours and then you go home. In academia, the expectation is that you will be serving professional associations in various capacities, publishing, presenting, etc. You need to show that you’re interested in engaging with the field in a meaningful way.
You teach library instruction classes to undergraduate and graduate students and have coordinated reference for the library. Given this background, what tips might you have for archivists who do instruction?
I teach a lot, and I have both general bibliographic instruction and archival instruction as part of my duties. Regardless of what you are teaching, it is important to remember that while you are very familiar with research, archives, etc. and could do X, Y, or Z in your sleep, your students are students. You need to meet them where they are. Determining how to frame a lesson is a crucial first step and will involve open communication with the course instructor. Do your students even know what archives are? If not, you can’t start off by talking about finding aids. They will be lost, and you will have missed an opportunity to provide them with what they need to be successful. Teaching is a service to your students. If you are new to teaching, or just looking to freshen up your routine, observe others who teach, talk to colleagues, and try different methods until you find something that clicks for you and the students. I have found that it is important to listen. You might have ideas about what you want to get across to your students, but you have to learn what they need from you first. I touch base with students individually to make sure they “got it,” and my door is always open if they want to follow up. This is crucial. While you may not be a course instructor, you play a part in getting students from welcome week to graduation. Last thought: some of your faculty may ask you to do big favors with regard to instruction (e.g., can you teach my class for 2 weeks while I’m away on a research trip?). Your gut might say “no, I don’t have time for this,” but think about the bigger picture. This could be an amazing opportunity for you, the students, and the instructor. My most interesting and creative instruction experiences have come out of these types of requests.
What would you like to see the section concentrate on during your three-year term?
I’m interested to see what we can do as a section to engage our students – those who work for us and those who conduct research in our collections. Many of my students are first-generation college students and I have seen how archival work has made them feel more confident and encouraged them to be more academically ambitious. I would like to see the section develop a set of resources that university archivists can use to assist our under-served populations.