Career Journeys: Lauren White

Lauren White works at the Gerald Ford Presidential Library. Lauren is a member of the SAA Mentoring Subcommittee, Midwest Archives Conference, Nominating Committee member, and a Certified Archivist.

Lauren joined the Gerald Ford Presidential Library in January 2020 after 8 years in academic archives at multiple midwestern universities (with positions at Western Michigan University, Purdue University, the University of Toledo, and the University of Michigan).

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

I can’t claim sole credit for this accomplishment, but being part of the group that joined together in the summer of 2019 to draft a formal petition to SAA to create a new member section focusing on issues of disability is one of my proudest accomplishments. I then served on the first Steering Committee of the new Accessibility and Disability Section (ADS), 2020-2021, and it was a real honor to help craft the new section’s goals and guiding documents like bylaws. As a disability self-advocate, it was wonderful to see SAA recognize the need for a section focused on disability. Although drafting policies and bylaws isn’t glamorous, I’m proud of the work we did to give the ADS a strong foundation to continue great work on advocating for accessibility.

How did you become interested in this field, and how did you begin your career?

I’d always been interested in history and museums as a child, but I didn’t consider archives as a career until I got my first archives job by chance. I was attending the University of Southern Mississippi as an undergraduate and wanted an on-campus job. As anyone who’s spent summers in the southeast knows, it’s hot! I put my resume into the University Library job system in the hopes of an air-conditioned student job and was asked to interview at the McCain Graduate Library Archives. I had no idea what an archive was, but after my first year in the job as a student assistant (digitizing rare children’s literature manuscripts, helping researchers in the reading room, and processing small university history collections), I knew that I wanted a career in archives.

Following my supervisor’s advice, I attended graduate school in information science (University of Michigan) and studied both archival science and preservation. I then got my start in the field with a couple of project archivist positions at Western Michigan University and Purdue University.

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

Of course, my formal graduate education in archival and preservation science has been invaluable: on-the-job training is how you learn to problem solve as an archivist, but the foundation of the formal master’s program is how you learn to think like an archivist.

Beyond that technical training, I have to emphasize the importance of writing and communication in this field. Something I did not realize while in school was the degree to which archivists act as “salespeople:” whether in formal presentations and grant requests or in informal conversations with stakeholders, archivists are often called upon to communicate the value of archives to their organizational leadership, stakeholders, funding organizations, donors, granting agencies, researchers, and the general public. The skills of formal writing, persuasion, and oral presentation that my English BA gave me are ones I use almost daily.

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