An Interview with Jason Speck

Portrait of Jason Speck, Assistant University Archivist/Special Collections Librarian, University Libraries.

Jason Speck (UMD MLS ’09) is the new Head of Collection Management for Special Collections at Hornbake Library, and the Representative of the Maryland Caucus of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC).  In preparation for next week’s MARAC meeting in Annapolis, SAM Webmaster Eric Hung asked Jason about his experiences at an Archivist and about MARAC.

What led you to become an Archivist?  Was there an “a-ha” moment for you?
I entered library school in 2006 after 12 years doing office management jobs in the private sector.  I wanted to help people find information, which I did a lot, but I’ve also loved history, books, etc.  A half-hour into my first Intro to Archives class I knew I’d discovered what I really wanted to do professionally.

What does the Head of Collection Management for Special Collections do on an everyday basis?
My job is new and is still being refined to a degree.  But any manager’s job is to help their staff be as successful as possible, via support for ideas, obtaining resources, resolving problems, offering perspective.  Collection management can be anything in the cycle of records coming to the archives, from the initial donor contact to appraisal, ingest, and description, to access and long-term preservation issues.  It also includes supervising curators, setting priorities, creating policies. etc.  No two days are ever the same, which I enjoy.

Looking back, what were the most helpful courses in your MLIS degree?  Can you tell a story about a particularly meaningful moment in your MLIS education?  Was there something that you wish you had learned (but didn’t) while you were in the MLIS program?
All of the archival courses were helpful, and I made a point of taking all of them instead of some of the electives I would have personally enjoyed, like the history of the book.  It’s important to get a good theoretical underpinning for what you eventually practice, so you know WHY you’re doing WHAT you’re doing.  As for what I didn’t learn, cataloging and more digital skills.  The former is something that as an academic archivist I encounter in the libraries, and the latter you always feel like you need to know better, or at least I do.

Why did you initially get involved in MARAC?  What do you particularly like about the organization?
MARAC was highly spoken of by the archivists at Maryland where I work, and many of them were actively involved in the organization and explained why it was beneficial.  They also stressed that it would be good for my long-term professional development, which it certainly has been.  I like that the organization is robust but a manageable size.  Conferences are within the region, and they offer all of the same experiences that you get at SAA, but for a fraction of the price, and with the ability to really get to know people quickly.

What goes on in a MARAC conference?
A MARAC conference has timely sessions of interest to the field, meetings with archivists in your state, workshops for continuing education, tours of local repositories, a business meeting open to the entire membership and time for purely social interaction.  You can craft each conference to be exactly what you want it to be, and participate to your comfort level.  It has also been a great place for students to get experience with poster sessions, panel discussions, and other professional opportunities.

For students attending MARAC for the first time, what should they expect?  Any tips on how to network at this conference?
Expect it to be lively and friendly.  There are tons of people there to help offer assistance.  I’m on MARAC’s membership committee, and we offer an orientation session for newcomers at each conference.  I’m also the Maryland Caucus Rep, and I want everyone in my state to feel welcome and comfortable, so if you need me I’ll be all over the place!  Beyond that, you can reach out to speakers who you enjoyed, or perhaps someone whose paper you’ve read (nothing makes an archivist more excited than knowing someone bathed in their genius).  Networking is about putting yourself out there, and just saying hi–the rest is easy (or easier).

Beyond the conference, what are the perks of a MARAC membership?
Being a part of an organization like MARAC helps you stay connected to people within the profession, and keeps you abreast of issues that are important to the profession.  It aids in your professional development, providing service and scholarship opportunities as well as professional training.  It offers scholarships to attend conferences.  Membership also gives you a vote and a voice when we take up organizational matters.

What does MARAC’s Maryland Caucus do?
The Maryland Caucus meets at each MARAC.  The caucus rep also tries to organize social events, repository tours, and other events where MD caucus members can network.  Lastly the MD Caucus Rep represents MD on MARAC’s Steering Committee, and keeps the group informed on any pertinent issues.  I also disseminate information to the caucus at the request of members, such as events, exhibits, publications, etc.  It’s another way of staying informed on topics of potential interest.

Is there something else you would like to tell student archivists at U. of Maryland?
As a former UMD SAM member I can remember the ups and downs of grad school, getting my career started, etc.  I am always happy to offer support an advice where I can to a fellow Terp, so don’t be shy.

 

 

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