As I noted in a previous post, a challenge potential authors face when writing is “others know more than I do” or “I don’t know enough about a topic.” We read tons in grad school, but who remembers everything? How do the “experts” become experts? There’s so much out there, it’s impossible to read it all.
Of course, graduate school is the first introduction to scholarship. However, it’s easier to focus on getting through the semester and forgetting what you when starting classes the next semester. Students have to read so much that it’s overwhelming to try to think of the resources post-grad school. I know I remember very little about what I read in library school. After graduation, who wants to spend their free time reading archives books and journals? It’s good to take a break. But it’s hard to get back into reading a full issue of a journal, pick up a book, etc.
So how does one start? It depends on what your ultimate goals are. One way is to read material that relates directly to your job. When I had my first processing position, I read about hidden collections and other articles about processing. Reading about what you do helps the knowledge stick because you can apply it. You could also read about what you aspire to do. Building a core knowledge may help in an interview.
Writing and reading book reviews are also a good way. Some journals put out a call, but if you’re interested directly contact reviews editors to let them know of your interest. You may not always get your first choice, but reading anything is helpful. Alexandra Orchard wrote a post here recently explaining the American Archivist reviews portal. Remember, reviews need not be solely for books. The SNAP issue of Provenance has great reviews about conferences and other resources. If you come across any resource, ask a reviews editor if you can review it.
One way I learned about various resources was through teaching graduate classes. It prompted me to look at a wide variety of books and journals to find appropriate and informative reading for the students. Not everyone has an opportunity to create a syllabus, but you could use that idea. For example, if you weren’t able to take a class on digital forensics, start searching and skimming articles to build your own reading list. Or, look for syllabi online. Use Google to search for syllabi and limit to site:.edu. I frequently used that strategy to find sources for classes I taught.
It’s daunting to think about reading books and articles to keep up. One could spend hours every day reading and still not keep up. However, reading reviews, scanning tables of contents, reading abstracts, or just skimming the first few pages can be a good introduction. Then, you might remember the source and read it in full later if you need/want to. It can give you a breadth of knowledge, or at least an awareness of what is out there.
This is also a good strategy when embarking on a research and writing project. Trying to read every word written on a topic would be either impossible or take too long. Start with a few sources and use the footnotes to read a few other related items. Look at a book index or TOC to read about specific topics of interest. Then write about it. Even if your goal isn’t publication, writing out your thoughts can help. Don’t try to remember everything. Instead, focus on synthesizing ideas, practices, and theories.
Also, don’t limit yourself to scholarly sources. There are so many blogs, presentations, and other online writing that possibly synthesized the information for you. SAA provides access to some past conference recordings. More Podcast, Less Process provides interviews where archivists share their experiences. Read reports and other publications from organizations such as OCLC and CLIR.
There is so much out there and it’s hard to know where to start. Becoming an “expert” takes time. And, truly, few people know everything about all aspects of archives. So start slow, pick one or two topics you want to learn about, and dig in. Over time, through reading, attending conferences, work experience, and talking with colleagues, you will build great knowledge.
And if you have other tips please share in the comments!