A Chat with Practicum Supervisor and Reference Archivist Jennifer Hecker! (Friday, March 15th)
While pursing my MLS, I concentrated on a general program of study to give me a broader exposure to the general field of library science and also provide me greater flexibility in selecting a career. If all goes well, I’ll be graduating this spring! I hope to find a job as a reference librarian or reference archivist with the City of Austin, but am also open to looking at reference jobs with other institutions if any openings come up. Jennifer has been a wonderful supervisor and mentor, and I really enjoyed our interview. Mostly, I wanted to learn about her background and get her insights about working in a variety of different settings, her thoughts about the importance of professional associations, and get interview tips for Austin Public Library jobs. This is a summary of our Q&A:
1. Tell me about your academic background.
I attended Southwestern University and then transferred to the University of Texas at Austin and received a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies. After two years working, I returned to the University of Texas to obtain my MLIS, focusing on Archival Enterprise.
2. Tell me about your professional background as a librarian and archivist
I have a varied professional background. I worked as an archivist at KLRU, and in the University of Texas Library System, including the Harry Ransom Center. I’ve also worked in various capacities with the Austin Public Libraries, including as a circulation clerk, an archivist, and my current position as the Reference Archivist at the Austin History Center.
3. Tell me about some of the differences in working in these various settings.
In university archives and libraries, there was more support and funding to pursue continuing education and attend conferences, and there were more opportunities to conduct deep research and explore more creative avenues. The public library branch jobs involved a greater range of responsibilities, whereas my work as the reference archivist at the Austin History Center is focused on public services and providing in-person and online reference services to our patrons.
4. Can you talk about some of the professional associations you’ve been involved with and whether you’ve found membership in these associations to be helpful?
Yes, I’ve been a member of the following associations: Archivists of Central Texas; Society of American Archivists; and Society of Southwest Archivists. I was very active and involved in these associations for many years early on in my career. The SAA was especially helpful when I was starting out in my career, and the conferences are great for networking and learning about the latest topics. But membership is expensive and the City of Austin doesn’t fund memberships so cost can be a factor. The more local associations are worth joining because the events are easier to attend and local networking is more beneficial.
5. What skills do you consider to be most important for reference librarians/archivists to possess?
You have to be good with working with people from a variety of backgrounds and interests. You have to like (and be good at!) research! And you have to be a curious, creative, and flexible thinker!
6. Do you have any interview tips for applying for jobs within the Austin Public Library system?
Yes, the City of Austin employs a points-based system when they are interviewing applicants. Every applicant gets the same questions, and the interviewers are required to write down their answers and attribute points to each answer. The more skills you list, the more points you get. For example, if you say you know how to use a copier when they inquire about your technology skills, then you get a point for that! Talk as much as you can about your experiences and skills and be thorough. Finally, it is important to demonstrate that you have a positive attitude.
This interview was informative and made me very excited about the possibilities ahead. It was really helpful for me to hear from someone who has worked in a variety of library settings and I’m now more open to pursuing reference jobs in both public and academic settings. If I get a job in an archive, I’m going to join the Archivists of Central Texas and the Society of Southwest Archivists to start building more connections and learning more about archiving in general. I’m allowed to stay on as an intern at the Austin History Center for six months post-graduation, which is really nice and allows me some time to look for and apply for permanent positions. I’m excited about what the future might hold!