Erika Alfieri (they/them) is a graduate student at Florida State University pursuing a degree in Information Science. They are working on an oral history project based in Jacksonville, Florida covering the experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Amy C. Vo (she/her) is a Processing Archivist at Princeton University Library. She served as the Newsletter Editor for the Archivists and Archives of Color Roundtable from 2019-2020, co-chaired the MARAC Finding Aids Award Committee from 2020-2023, and is a Caucus Archival Projects Evaluation Service (CAPES) Consultant. She has worked at New York University, Rutgers University, the Monmouth County Historical Association, and the City of Austin.
The Society of American Archivists’ Mentoring Program welcomes applications throughout the year. In this blog series, mentoring participants share about their experience in the program. Would you like to write a post? Let us know at email@example.com.
What are some aspects that you most enjoy about working with your mentoring partner?
I really enjoy Amy’s perspective and support; she’s been through many of the experiences that I’m going through now: graduation, job hunting, the interview process. It’s incredibly useful to get her input or to hear that she felt similarly during her professional journey and I’m very grateful to have access to the opinion of someone who’s active in the archiving field. We’re also fortunate that our personalities and interests mesh well which has helped to strengthen our mentor/mentee relationship.
From our first few meetings, Erika has impressed me with their hard work and commitment to their professional development. They never cease to amaze me with all of the updates on the progress they have made with their oral history project, and the technologies that they are learning. Erika will bring these projects, thoughts, and ideas to our meetings, as well as a sensitivity that I deeply appreciate. Mentorship extends far beyond sharing skills and knowledge, but is also an opportunity to reflect on our vulnerability and experiences, and to offer connection and support to someone else.
What have you learned from your mentoring partner so far?
Amy has been hugely helpful as a sounding board for my oral history project. When you’re working on a project solo you can often question if you’re going in the right direction and meeting with Amy has given me such a boost in confidence. She always has level-headed, thoughtful input and she’s inspired me to keep my project grounded in my community by reaching out to members and organizations when I get stuck. I’ve learned that even if you’re working alone, archiving is always better when it’s a group effort.
Part of what has made our mentoring relationship so successful is that both Erika and I were figuring out how to navigate oral history projects for the first time. I have learned so much from them! These are oral history projects that we are working on out of love for our communities, and each week we meet, Erika demonstrates their determination with lists of steps they have taken to develop their project. Their persistence and ambition is inspiring to me, and supported me in moving forward as well.
What inspired you to sign up for the SAA Mentoring Program?
As I began working on my oral history project I felt so disconnected from the world of professional archiving. I questioned myself constantly: Do I know everything I need to do to begin? Is this really the right approach? I had an inkling that a mentor might be able to guide me toward the right path – and I feel lucky and grateful that I was right!
I have had many moments in the early parts of my career where I wished I had a mentor to reach out to for support. I had participated in this Mentorship Program when I was in the first few years of my career, and while the experience didn’t give me what I needed, I wanted to be able to give what I could to the program from where I am now.
Do you have tips for participants in the Mentoring Program and others thinking about participation?
Go in with a goal in mind. This doesn’t have to be anything lofty; maybe you just want to work on your resume and interviewing skills, grow your understanding of the backend of archives, or investigate how your current skills can help your community. Knowing how you want to grow will help you get the most out of your mentor/mentee relationship. It also helps to come to meetings prepared. I like to jot down ideas and questions as they occur to me in our Google Doc agenda. I’m always surprised at the end of the month that it’s enough for another full meeting.
I think that there are various approaches that could work for different people. What made my relationship with Erika successful was our shared goal (learning about and developing oral history projects), and I think too, our openness with one another. Our notes document is filled with links, resources, and information about oral histories, job searches, grants, and notes from readings, but also with notes about our personal lives — video games we’ve played and recommend, new activities we’ve tried, books and music we recommend. I think that mentoring relationships can vary so widely, and look so different. There is always something that we can learn from one another.