University of Michigan School of Information
Alumni Snapshot: Eve Neiger
MSI ’14 (Archives and Records Management / Preservation of Information)
Lead Archivist at Boston Public Library
I currently serve as lead archivist at Boston Public Library, a new BPL position which I started in September 2020 after six years as a visual materials archivist at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. At BPL I am building a new archives department within BPL’s special collections department. This is the first department at BPL dedicated to stewardship of BPL’s rich archival holdings and it is part of a multi-year restructuring and reimagining of special collections stewardship and care. We are currently defining our work, responsibilities and place in the organization by building a new infrastructure for archival description, processes and workflows that enable increased access to archival holdings across curatorial areas. I am also implementing ArchivesSpace as a tool for collections management and public discovery. New descriptive practices, workflows and discovery tools like this online platform for finding aids will make our collections more accessible for the people of Boston and communities of learners everywhere.
UMSI skills in work
Though we had to take introductory programing and web-design courses at UMSI, I never really thought I would make use of those skills beyond communicating with developers. However, implementing ArchiveSpace and customizing it for our needs, I found myself doing far more software development than I ever thought I would be doing. The solid foundation in programming I learned at UMSI has given me a head start in building the skills I need to customize and adapt the open-source ArchivesSpace platform. The required Contextual Inquiry course, though sometimes painful to get through, has been a surprising life-saver. I cannot count how many times I have used the techniques taught in the class, including the lessons on working with a group. I’ve used user-centered qualitative research, affinity diagramming, and project management skills from that class throughout my career so far and continue to turn to them for many projects. The UMSI curriculum, across the board, emphasized teamwork, innovative problem solving, and a user-centered perspective on all aspects of librarianship and information management. The UMSI approach focuses on innovation and current professional practice, but also projects forward, ahead of current practice. UMSI teaches its students to have a flexible, creative, team-based approach towards the work that makes UMSI students especially successful and effective in their workspaces.
Motivation for pursuing Information
I came to the archives field in a bit of a roundabout way, but realized that it was a perfect fit for my skills, interest and work style. I decided I wanted to be a photo archivist after doing image research and production design for a magazine. I loved the adventure of tracking down an image and the story behind it. Growing up, I was always interested in history, but not “history with a big H,” or political history, but personal histories; people’s stories and experiences. My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, and I was always interested in his experiences and how his childhood in Berlin was, in a sense, preserved, in this one photo album he had of a few dozen photographs. I have a background in fine arts, photography and graphic design, and have always been drawn to the stories told through historic images. I was specifically interested in the UMSI program because of the breadth of classes on preservation and visual materials. I was drawn to Paul Conway’s research and courses on the digitization of visual materials for preservation and access and description of digitized photograph collections. The other benefit that sold me on UMSI was the robust career center, and the high rate of employment for UMSI graduates.
Most valuable UMSI experience
I believe that UMSI’s requirement of 350 hours of practical experience, which builds on the more theoretical focus of archives courses, was one of the most important parts of the curriculum. Also, in most courses, we were able to structure our assignments around our areas of interest. This allowed me to build experiences around describing and managing visual materials collections, particularly photographs. In Shannon Zachery’s preservation course, we did a preservation needs assessment for a real-world repository. My team worked with the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology which eventually led me to a part-time job where I co-authored a NEH grant proposal to rehouse the museum’s historic photographic collection. This practical real-world experience -—something I had in most classes in addition to my internship — was incredibly valuable post-graduation.
Advice for students
My advice for students would be to take advantage of every opportunity for real-world practical experience, from internships to part-time jobs to class exercises. Just get as much experience with collections as possible and ask questions during your internships! Understand why your colleagues and mentors make certain decisions within and among collections, and what needs to be weighed in prioritization. Also really pay attention to the programming and project management classes. Even though it might not be the most interesting part of the curriculum for you, it is incredibly valuable once you are on the job. For students who want to be archivists, I would highly recommend cataloging and processing experience, which is what employers will want to see. And, of course, hone those technology skills so you can take an active role in building the tools that help you do your job.
Published June 30, 2021
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