Special Collections and Archives Behind the Scenes – Student Employees

“Can you look at my resume?”  “Can you proofread an email I am sending to my professor?”  “Can I practice my presentation?”

Students and staff collaborateLibrarians and archivists in Special Collections and Archives are often asked questions such as these, not by researchers in our reading room but by our student employees in our workroom.  Few visitors to Special Collections have the opportunity to see the large room situated behind our offices that staff use to sort and arrange archival collections, prepare exhibits, scan documents, and share conversation.  Integral to our staff, student employees contribute their curiosity, enthusiasm, and imagination to our programs and services.  Due to the nature of the projects they work on, there is a high level of collaboration between the student and the librarian or archivist supervising them.  Solving problems and celebrating milestones together presents opportunities for students to consider full and part time staff members as mentors, people they trust to provide them with direction, guidance, and encouragement when they ask us questions about their work, their school projects, and their post-graduation career and education paths.

We believe that the teaching and learning environment we create in Special Collections and Archives supports personal, academic, and professional growth in our student employees.  Their responsibilities give them numerous opportunities to develop transferable skills including communication, critical thinking, research and creativity.

  • Working at our front desk requires students to articulate the guidelines for using collections in our reading room and at times navigate challenging questions about policies and procedures.
  • Students learn how to process archives collections according to professional standards which requires attention to detail, independence, and curiosity.  As they sort through the boxes and files, they develop organizational and analytical skills.
  • To complete this type of project, students write a narrative description summarizing the contents and arrangement of the collection that future researchers will use to request materials.
  • Our student employees are also expert researchers when it comes to finding fun images and stories from the past to share on social media.  Meetings with students are structured by questions we ask about their work and questions they have about resolving roadblocks.

Students at work in Special CollectionsIt is often during these conversations that students ask for suggestions or help beyond the scope of their projects.

Inspired by a recent article in the Society of American Archivists journal, The American Archivist, we turned the tables and asked our student employees a few questions about their experience.

What skills or experience did you hope to receive while working in the library’s Special Collections and Archives Department?  I hoped to gain more hands-on experience pertaining to the process of historical research. I also hoped to develop an understanding of the “behind-the scenes” work that goes in to processing and arranging archival material and historic documents. As a student employee, I definitely gained experience in the process of research through responding to patron requests, and I feel like I developed a basic understanding of archival principles, which will benefit me as I enter the field of social studies education. (Joe Lendabarker, BA History, 2019)

Do you think you increased existing or learned new skills that will help you in school or after you graduate?  I definitely increased my knowledge of the technical side of archives.  I know more about standards and best practices for organizing and describing collections.  I also feel confident using new technology that I had not used prior to my time working in Special Collections and Archives.  Most of all, I feel like I have improved my own research skills.  Assisting students and other patrons with searching our own collections, archival repositories in Chicago, and digital sources will be a great benefit to my own future goals as a researcher.  (Jacqueline Lopez, BA History 2019)

What was your favorite project and why? My favorite project that I have worked on has been the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council. Pilsen is my favorite neighborhood in Chicago, so it was interesting to see the ways in which the residents worked together in the 1970s and 1980s to develop the neighborhood into what it is today.  After I organized the PNCC’s photographs and documents, I felt proud to have contributed to the future research of a neighborhood with such a strong presence of my Mexican culture. (Melissa Calvo, BA English 2022)

What else would you like to share about your experience working in Special Collections and Archives?  My job in Special Collections and Archives has been one of the most rewarding I’ve ever had.  To be constantly surrounded by intelligent, passionate, and genuinely helpful people every day really enriched my time as a student at DePaul, and will continue to influence me as I work toward my next steps in my career. (Jacqueline Lopez, BA History 2019)


One Reply to “Special Collections and Archives Behind the Scenes – Student Employees”

  1. So beautifully and clearly expressed. Great student observations! One of the best parts of working there was/is the interactions with the student assistants.

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