SAA Committee Member Highlights: Caitlin Birch

This post is from Caitlin Birch. Caitlin is a member of the SAA Mentoring Program Subcommittee; the Assistant Archivist for Digital Collections at Dartmouth College.

What drew you to archives? 

My initial interest in archives grew out of my experiences in journalism. I worked as a newspaper reporter, editor, and designer throughout and after college, and while it became apparent after a few years that it wasn’t quite the right career path for me, there were aspects of it that I valued and wanted to incorporate into whatever profession I did ultimately choose. I liked working in a space that felt so integral to the historical record and I liked that my work could help people learn new things and connect with information. As I began exploring other career paths that might incorporate these elements, I learned about the work of archivists and it really began to click that archives could be where I belonged. After a lot of research, I decided to apply to library school and ended up attending Simmons College (now Simmons University) to earn my MSLIS in Archives Management and MA in History. It’s been 10 years since I set out on the archives career path and it’s been an incredibly rewarding journey so far.

Why did you get involved with the Committee or Subcommittee? 

In my final year of grad school, I had the opportunity to co-found the Roundtable for Early Professionals and Students (REPS) within the New England Archivists (NEA) regional organization. My co-founders were Michelle Chiles and Camille Torres Hoven. One of the first projects that Michelle and Camille and I launched for REPS was a mentoring program. Our program used a cohort model — mentoring circles composed of two NEA members from different career stages serving as co-mentors and four to six early-career mentees from the REPS membership. The REPS pilot program did well and the NEA Executive Board asked us to expand it into a permanent offering to all NEA members. The experience of working on what became the NEA Mentoring Program was such an instructive one for me. I saw not only the difference mentoring in general could make, but the impact of cohort mentoring specifically. Learning in community and learning in all directions are key parts of cohort mentoring and I saw firsthand the positive effects they produced for program participants. When I learned that SAA’s Mentoring Subcommittee was thinking about piloting a cohort program, I knew I wanted to contribute if I could. Although I had been involved for years by this point in NEA service, I hadn’t volunteered with SAA yet. Joining the Mentoring Subcommittee was a great way to build on past service experiences and contribute to an organization that has been an important part of my development as an archivist.

What’s your favorite thing about your work on the Committee or Subcommittee?

My favorite part of working on the Subcommittee so far is the collaboration with thoughtful, creative colleagues who share my enthusiasm for mentoring. Everything about the Subcommittee’s work really is a team effort, and all of it really is in service of creating positive mentoring opportunities for SAA members. I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues on the Subcommittee and their ideas consistently encourage me to look at mentoring in new ways, or to consider aspects of program development that I hadn’t considered before. It’s rewarding to be able to contribute to professional growth for other SAA members while also growing myself, and I have the other members of the Subcommittee to thank for that.

What do you wish SAA members knew about your Committee or Subcommittee or its work?

I think the top thing I’d like SAA members to know is that we really do welcome and rely on feedback. If you haven’t participated in the program and there are things we could do to make participation a good option for you, we want to know what those things are. If you have participated in the program, we really benefit from knowing what the experience was like for you. (And we survey everyone at the end to find out!) We also strive to make successful mentoring matches, so if a mentoring partnership isn’t working out well for whatever reason, we truly want to know. Every SAA member has something to contribute in a program like ours, but not every match will be the right fit. What this all boils down to is: we’re here and we’re listening. Members can always reach the Subcommittee through the contact form on our website:

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