Career Journeys: Cindy Summers

Cindy Summers has worked in many libraries and library positions over the years. She has been employed at the Cline Library of Northern Arizona University for 23 years in numerous capacities. Five years ago she began working in Special Collections and Archives (SCA) as a classified staff member and found her true calling. She works closely with the archivists in the department, and provide reference service to researchers and our local community.

What are your main responsibilities as an archivist?

Just to be clear, I am not an archivist. I am a paraprofessional. I work closely with our Archivist for Discovery, arranging and describing collections. I also manage our student employees, interns and volunteers, and I’m responsible for rights and reproductions of our collections material in addition to a host of other things.

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

I enjoy working with a great team of people who love what they do. I also enjoy those interactions when I can connect a community member with a family photo, or a researcher with material that supports their work.

The most challenging part of my position is probably not unique to our institution, and that is being understaffed and underfunded. Always being asked to do more with less leads to constantly changing priorities, and frequently leaving things unfinished knowing that there won’t be time to return to them. Learning to accept “good enough” is a hard reality in archives.

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

It’s more about the little wins that make me proud. Over time I’ve gone from being intimidated by the size and scope of our collections to feeling confident assisting researchers with reference questions. I focused a lot of my attention on re-organizing our map collections to make them more accessible when I arrived in the department. Now, when I am called to the front desk by a colleague and introduced to a researcher as “our map expert,” I don’t cringe and fear living up to the title. I know I can help them find what they need.

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

I had worked in libraries my entire adult life and found myself in a position sitting at a service desk, without the right projects to keep me busy when I wasn’t assisting the public. I offered to work on metadata tagging of images for Special Collections and Archives (SCA), which turned into a one semester fellowship where I spent ten hours per week helping and learning in SCA. I enjoyed it so much that I was desperate to make it my full time work. I waited until a position opened up in the department and applied.

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

If you are looking for a career that is intellectually stimulating, personally rewarding, and different every day, you should consider archives. You need to know that you won’t be financially rich, but your life will be rich in so many other ways that can’t be measured.

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

I absolutely would. I would have completed my bachelor’s degree and gone directly into an MLIS program with an emphasis on archival work. As a paraprofessional, I do very similar work to my archivist colleagues, but without the degree, my earning potential is far less. I have enjoyed my career working in libraries, but it wasn’t until I joined Special Collections and Archives that I found my niche. I tell our student employees frequently that I envy them coming into the field so early in their lives. If I had it to do over, I would have been an archivist all along.

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