Career Journeys: Katie Rojas

I’m Katie Rojas, Head of Archival Processing at the University of Virginia’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. My previous positions were as Manuscripts Archivist for the University of Texas at San Antonio and as Municipal Archivist for the City of San Antonio. I earned my MLIS with archives concentration from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and I hold DAS and CA certifications. I currently serve as the Vice-Chair of the SAA Manuscript Repositories Section, and I am Chair of the Scholarships Committee for the Society of Southwest Archivists.

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

My main responsibility is to lead a team of six full time archivists; four permanent and two longer-term project positions. I coordinate accessioning and processing work, and I collaborate with staff across our department to develop workflows and policies.

The most challenging thing for me is managing my bandwidth between meetings and hands-on work (like processing or writing). I’m an introvert who loves long stretches of uninterrupted quiet time alone and meetings are the antithesis of that! If I don’t manage my time well and don’t set firm boundaries for myself then my calendar becomes overrun with meetings and I quickly become frazzled and exhausted with no time or energy for my other duties.

My favorite thing about my work is the people I work with. Cheesy? Yes. True? Also yes. But I stand by my belief that this is one of the things that can make or break a job in any industry. Some of the other things I love include wrangling metadata, mentorship, archival processing, finding new and better ways to do things, writing policies, and seeing a patron’s face light up when they find what they’re looking for.

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

I am proud of myself for getting accepted into and attending the Archives Leadership Institute (ALI). It was a long process! I first applied for the 2019 cohort and was not accepted, but I applied again for the 2020 cohort and was accepted then. Unfortunately ALI was put on hold in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was held in 2022 and I was able to attend then. I have high hopes for ALI to continue. It was an incredibly enriching experience and I highly recommend aspiring and existing leaders to apply.

The other accomplishment I’m proud of is landing my current position at the University of Virginia and everything that has been part of that process. I knew I was ready for the next step in my career a couple years ago, and began to look seriously at applying to other positions. When I made it through two interviews and was offered the position, I did a big happy dance, and then I did something I had never done before: I negotiated my salary and benefits offer before accepting. It was scary, but it was worth it! Finally, I packed up my things and my pets, and my spouse and I drove halfway across the country from Texas to Virginia. I was very homesick for many months, but I’ve finally settled into my role at UVA with my wonderful colleagues and feel more at home now.

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

This is a tough one to answer honestly, but I don’t think I would do things much differently if I had to do it all over again. I did a lot of personal reflection and research before entering the field and truly feel this was the right path for me at the time. I still choose to continue working in archives and will do so for the foreseeable future, but I’m open to the idea that this may not be the work I do for the rest of my working years (of which there are many).

I wish I had talked to more working archivists about their experiences before diving into the field, and I wish I had attended a conference or two to learn more about the realities of the profession. I felt very isolated in the beginning because I lived in an area with no iSchool and had never met an archivist. 

In the archives profession, salaries are typically low, raises are often scarce or scant, and the costs of everyday necessities have risen significantly. In the beginning of my career, I thought I would eventually be offered or ask for a raise, or perhaps apply for a promotion. While I received small merit raises and worked to advance and advocate for myself within my previous roles, I ultimately hit the glass ceiling and realized I would have to move on in order to move up. I genuinely like my job in Virginia, but I do not relish leaving my lifelong home, family, and friends in Texas. My colleague Katrina Spencer recently authored an article about the geographic movements of professionals in the field, which I highly recommend reading: Uprooted, Nomadic, and Displaced: The Unspoken Costs of the Upward Climb

Even knowing all this might not have changed my mind at the outset, however. I’ve always wanted to love my job, and gosh darn it I really love archives. But I think I loved it a little too much in the beginning and put that passion ahead of my own needs. In light of a changing world and my own personal changes, I examined my needs and found that it was time to make a change in my professional life too. In this case it was a new role in archives, but I was and am still open to considering other work that is a good match for my skill set in the future. I’m not the same person I was when I started out in archives, but I still love and believe in this work and I am hopeful that I can continue to grow within the profession in the years to come.

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