Before coming to the University of Texas at Austin School of Information in the fall of 2015, I had been working full time as a cultural arts programmer, community organizing, and overall “Jill of all trades” at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in San Antonio. I found my passion for archives at the Esperanza when I first stumbled upon their overly chaotic, but invaluable collection of materials documenting their plight as a women of color, feminist, womynist, radical, Latinx and Chicana grassroots organization. With this newfound interest, I came to the iSchool hoping to learn about community histories, how archives play a role in documenting those histories, and how communities can learn to play an active role in the archival practice.
I grew up in a working class environment and I can only remember one instance in my life in which I had the privilege of not working during my studies. Currently, I hold two part time jobs at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Special Collection on campus and at the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I also work on countless side projects, some unpaid and others paid on a contract basis. I go to school full time, hold a board position on the Society of American Archivists student chapter commonly known as SAA-UT and a student position in the Association of Moving Image Archivists student chapter known as AMIA. When needed, I also copy edit articles for the University of Texas Information & Culture: A Journal of History as well as serve as a student member for the iSchool curriculum committee. Sounds like a handful, doesn’t it? Well it is.
My usual day starts with a bike ride to work or school on the very bumpy, if not dangerous, streets of Guadalupe. This summer, I took one course so each day I woke up at 8 am, rushed out the door, and started my day with a 9 am class. Since my summer course lasted about three hours a day for five days a week, I would usually leave class around 11:45 am, grab a quick lunch, and hurry to either the seminary or the Benson.
When I go to the seminary, I usually work on various projects simultaneously as an assistant to the archivist. The ability to explore and contribute to the different tasks of running a repository is one of the best perks of working at a lone arranger archive. My supervisor, Kristy, has always granted me the freedom to explore different aspects of the archival profession. Part of my responsibilities include oversight of the seminary’s web archives program as well as processing paper or photographic collections, writing grant applications for projects, and providing assistance to the archivist regarding research requests.
The days I work at the Benson, I serve as the Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) for reference services. As the GRA, I work with research requests, assist scholars with finding information, and help with daily responsibilities of working at the circulation desk. After work and when classes are in session, I spend my evenings reading articles, researching topics of interest, or meeting classmates for group work. I struggle with studying at home, so I can usually be found at local coffee shops such as Bennu in the east side or Tazza Fresca in north campus.
Occasionally, I meet with my other board members for SAA-UT to plan summer social events for our membership or to brainstorm other ideas such as a student archives conference or cemetery tour. I attend our social events and other student activities as a way to meet and get to know my iSchool and UT peers.
This summer, I also spent my extra hours working on a grant funded digitization project and the redevelopment of a website. When I first started working at my old job, we had initiated a project to redesign the organizational website from scratch. Over the year, I transitioned into the lead project coordinator in charge of handling, interpreting, and gathering structural and aesthetic input from the staff and conveying that to the development team. For the digitization project, I worked as the consulting archivist in helping plan, implement, and coordinate the newly digitized audiovisual collection into an online resource web page and into their existing database system.
No matter what I do throughout my day, you will always see me heading home on my bike or on the public bus. Last semester, I would head straight home to finish my readings before going to bed, but now I make an effort to squeeze in at least an hour to go Pokemon hunting for my own mental health and relief. My schedule seems crazy and chaotic, and I enjoy every minute of it. To me, this is just a usual day as an iSchool student.