Career Journeys: Jennifer Thompson

Jennifer Thompson is the Records Analyst and Archivist at the J. Paul Getty Trust.

What are your main responsibilities as an archivist?

I serve as the organization’s Records Management and Information Management specialist, as well as Program Liaison for Trust Administration (the Trust oversees the four Getty programs – Museum, Conservation Institute, Foundation, and Research Library).

As the Records Management and Information specialist, I am the organization’s knowledge resource on the topic. I’m also responsible for maintaining the organization’s Records Retention Schedule, including coordinating bi-annual schedule updates and overseeing our in-house Records Center.

As the Trust liaison I work with staff to apply and implement records and information management policies, identify and appraise records for transfer to Institutional Archives, and process Trust collections.

What is a typical day (or week) like for you?

Each week I have a tentative work plan, but the unexpected inevitably comes up. At the moment I’m deeply involved in an acquisition project for an electronic records management system, which requires some kind of task to be completed every day. I try to get at least a small amount of appraisal, accessioning, and/or processing done each week. There are always questions about the process, scheduling, logistics, how to find materials, and anything you can think of…I’ve come to expect the unexpected. There are also meetings to attend. My favorite meetings, and the most important, are with my department contacts in Trust Administration. They are the people who collaborate with me to get their department’s materials into Institutional Archives, and I couldn’t do it without them. Making time for face-time (either live or Zoom) is so important.

What do you like most about your work? What’s most challenging?

I like the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve helped departments identify archival records, and then knowing that I preserve those records in Institutional Archives. The great work of the departments becomes part of the organization’s permanent historical record. I want those records to be as complete as possible, which is why I’m so committed to working with staff. I also like finding fun stuff, like photographs from the Getty Holiday party from 10 years ago (in which I recognize some of my present-day colleagues)!

What kinds of problems do you deal with? What kinds of decisions do you make?

I like to think of problems as challenges to be solved or, in the case of working with my Trust department contacts, Customer Service. The questions I’m asked, which I referred to in an earlier question, often turn into challenges to be solved. One of my recurring challenges is to help staff retain information about how to “do” records management. Since it’s not their primary function and they don’t do it all the time, they easily (and understandably) forget what to do. So I’m repeating myself a lot of the time.

I also make appraisal decisions, both deciding what gets put in the shredder and what is transferred to Institutional Archives. Destroying materials can be as important as preserving important records because you don’t want the organization’s confidential information to fall into an outsider’s custody.

How have your responsibilities changed throughout your career?

I started in the department as an administrative assistant and advanced through the ranks (Records Coordinator, Records Analyst, Records Analyst, and Archivist) so my responsibilities have increased accordingly with the expectations of each position.

What current issues and trends in the field should readers know about/be aware of?

Working with electronic records! Also DEI issues and the reparative work that archivists can achieve through both descriptive practice and making “hidden histories” accessible to wider audiences.

What changes have you observed in the field or your organization in the past five years? What changes do you think might happen in the next five years?

Same – electronic records, electronic records, electronic records! In the next five years, I think it will probably be all about keeping up with the technological environments that electronic records reside in.

What are some career accomplishments you’re most proud of?

I’m most proud of the work I’ve put in to get to the position I’m in today. I started this job with no sense that I would become an archivist and I didn’t have an MLIS. I began online library school at San Jose State University School of Information in 2008 just after my second child was born. Because I continued working and was taking care of my family, I was on the “one-course-a-semester-for-seven years” schedule until graduating in 2015. Looking back, I’m not quite sure how I achieved that!

What related fields might aspiring archivists consider looking into?

If someone is interested in Institutional Archives or Business Archives, definitely Records and Information Management. And I know that the Special Collections department at Getty is definitely keen on hiring archivists who are fluent in the languages of its collections.

What education, skills, and training have been essential to your success in this field?

Hands-on, practical knowledge gained by working in the field. And communication skills. There came a point in my career where I needed an MLIS to advance, so I went out and obtained that. It was necessary to gain academic knowledge, of course, but I cannot stress how important it is to have on-the-ground experience working in records management and archives. Stuff happens in the “real world” that you would never be taught about at school.

What advice would you give someone who is considering this type of job (or field)?

Volunteer work, internships, anything you can do to gain practical experience. Get your foot in the door and demonstrate your value.

If you could start all over again, would you change your career path in any way? Why?

No, it all turned out great for me!

In a perfect world at some point in the future, what would you like to be doing?

I would like to be administering our perfectly operational electronic records management system and have the entire organization be compliant! Haha.

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