Mentoring Partnerships: Mary Jackson and Steven D. Booth

Mary Jackson is currently working on a cataloging project at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and a community preservation project, African Americans in Berkeley’s History and Legacy. She was a member of the SAA Host Committee in 2008 and has been an SAA member since 2018. Mary received her master’s degree in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) from New York University in September 2020.

Steven D. Booth is the Archivist/Project Manager for the Johnson Publishing Co. Archive at the Getty Research Institute. He has been an SAA member since 2008; served on the SAA Council from 2017 to 2020, co-chaired the Awards Committee from 2013–2016, co-chaired the Archivists and Archives of Color Roundtable from 2011 to 2013, served on the Harold T. Pinkett Minority Student Award Selection Committee from 2011 to 2012, and chaired the committee from 2012-2013.

Booth volunteered as a mentor and worked with Jackson this past year, and they generously answered some questions to share their experience with the SAA community.

What are some aspects that you’ve most enjoyed about working with your mentoring partner?

Mary Jackson

What I’ve enjoyed most about working with Steven is the encouragement and support I’ve received. He’s helped me navigate through a challenging time in which to begin a new career and conduct a job search. Steven is very approachable and welcoming and it’s been so helpful to have someone to go to with questions, concerns, review my resume, practice interviewing with, for guidance, and to gain insights into the archival field in general.

Steven Booth

Well, it has been 12 years since I graduated from my LIS program. So what I have enjoyed the most is learning from Mary and hearing about what has improved about the profession (curriculum, paid internships) and what remains an issue and needs to change (job precarity). Mary has a great sense of humor! I also admire her ambition, perseverance, and willingness to work at different institutions to gain new skill sets. 

What have you learned from your mentoring partner so far?

Mary Jackson

Steven helped me clarify my career goals and broaden my ideas about where my skills and experience could be a fit given my interests and goals.

Steven Booth

As a mid-career professional, I often forget how important it is to stay open to different possibilities and opportunities. Working with Mary has helped me remember that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. 

What inspired you to sign up for the SAA Mentoring Program?

Mary Jackson

There were a variety of reasons. Several years ago, when I was exploring the possibility of a career change, I joined SAA and signed up for the mentorship program. While I ultimately wasn’t ready to change careers at that time, I knew participating in the program in the future would help prepare me for a career transition. Now as a new graduate, I wanted to learn from an experienced professional; someone who could help me develop a roadmap for my professional development. Additionally, for me, networking requires a lot of courage and networking at professional conferences is daunting. The SAA Mentoring Program and meeting with someone one-on-one was a great workaround to traditional networking. 

Steven Booth

Well, this is my second time participating in the mentoring program. My first experience did not go well. Because of this, I was hesitant to participate again. But, while serving on SAA Council, Dr. Evans challenged us as leaders to be part of the mentoring program. At the time, I knew I couldn’t participate. So, I signed up after I finished my term on Council as a way to not only stay connected to SAA but also reach and give back. I have been fortunate to have many mentors who have poured into me. And I’m at a point in my career where I feel I can help new graduates/early-career professionals in a meaningful way. I believe it’s much easier to navigate the field when you have a support system or are part of a community of practitioners. 

How do you communicate with your mentoring partner?

Mary Jackson

At the beginning of the mentorship partnership, during the height of my job search, we met twice a month via Google Hangouts. After the new year, we started meeting once a month but I often send questions and seek advice from Steven in between meetings. He’s always available and responsive.

Steven Booth

We communicate regularly, at least a few times a month, via email and Google Hangouts. Our check-ins are structured but flexible and led by Mary. Since we typically only meet for 30 minutes, we must maximize the time. So, we talk about whatever Mary wants to discuss. At the end of each check-in, we sketch out what we will talk about during the next one. 

Do you have tips for participants in the Mentoring Program and others thinking about participation?

Mary Jackson

Before we developed a formal mentorship meeting plan, we had a couple of get to know each other conversations, which included learning about Steven’s career path. I found those helpful, particularly since a lot of the work Steven has done aligns with my career interests. Also, I’d keep a running list of questions so our meetings were focused, and take notes during our meetings because Steven always shares a lot of great tips and resources. After each meeting, I could take those notes and develop an action plan for myself for the next week(s).

Steven Booth

Listening is key. While I have been in the profession for some time now, I didn’t know what it’s currently like to be a recent graduate and early-career professional until I met Mary. I could assume based on my experience. But, before I could give her any advice or guidance, I had to check my preconceived thoughts, actively listen, be vulnerable, and show empathy. Navigating the field as a new professional is already hard enough. So, reiterate to your mentee that they are doing their best and that’s good enough. 

How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your mentoring relationship?

Mary Jackson

Not much. We would’ve had the opportunity to meet in-person at conferences if not for the pandemic. However, we’re located in different states so even without a shutdown, we’d meet virtually anyway. I don’t feel it’s negatively impacted my mentorship experience in any way.

Steven Booth

I agree with Mary. I don’t think the pandemic has affected our mentoring relationship. If anything, we have stayed connected and in regular communication because of it. 

How has your mentorship affected your outlook on the archival profession? How has it changed from your perspective prior to participation in the program?

Mary Jackson

I mentioned this earlier, but this mentorship has enabled me to broaden my ideas about where my archival skills and experience are a fit, and look at opportunities in the field that I never considered or knew were available. It’s also helped me with identifying the ways I can leverage my past work experience in my new career.

Steven Booth

The future is bright! Mary is part of a generation of archivists and memory workers who have different perspectives, viewpoints, and experiences about archival work: what it is, what it looks like, how it’s done, and who it’s for. They are our leaders. And we need to follow them if we want the profession to remain vibrant, engaged, and most importantly relevant. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Mary Jackson

The SAA Mentorship Program has been a very positive experience for me. I’d highly recommend participating if you’re a new graduate or early-career professional. It’s been a great way to transition into the archival field and cultivate connections.

Steven Booth

For mid-career professionals who would like to be involved in SAA but may not know how I think the Mentoring Program is a great place to start. You will be surprised to learn exactly how knowledgeable you are about the profession. Helping the new generation navigate the complexities of archival specializations, job hunting, resume writing, salary negotiations, and other areas is one of the most impactful ways you can advance the profession and strengthen the archival community. 

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