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MSLIS Student Sarah Denison Named Deputy Director of Archives for the State of Delaware

February 24, 2016

Sarah DenisonCollege of Computing & Informatics’ graduate student, Sarah Denison, was recently named deputy director of archives for the State of Delaware. Denison, who is pursuing a master of science in library and information science (MSLIS) from CCI, serves as an adviser to the State Archivist in her new role.

As Denison embarks on a new, exciting chapter in her career, she recently shared with CCI how her Drexel education helped her to secure her new position, her challenges balancing work and school and her vision for the future of archives.

How did your education help you with your career?
When I started my program at Drexel, I didn’t necessarily know what to expect, but I knew that a formal degree in my field was going to move me down the path to becoming a more focused professional. Before grad school, all of my archival training was on-the-job or facilitated through professional organizations like the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and Council of State Archivists (CoSA) and institutions like the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. After my first few weeks, it all started coming together. This program [helped] me formalize all of this training and experience and provide me with the framework to really explore a lot of the theoretical and practical aspects of being an archival professional.  I’ve tried to select topics for papers and other assignments that give me an opportunity to learn more about something I want to tackle at work, which has been a really good strategy. Being able to apply what I’m learning to the work I’m doing in real time has been the most rewarding part of the process.
How do you balance work and school?
There are some days when I come home from working at an archive and the last thing I want to do is read about working at an archive, but I try to match up professional objectives with my coursework in order to stay engaged. This quarter I’m using my work in INFO755 (Electronic Records Management) to revisit some long-term policy work at my archive. The real key to my success has been my incredibly supportive husband, Doug, who has picked up a lot of the slack at home and who encourages me to aim for balance. It’s easy to cut out hobbies, exercise and quality time with friends to make room for school, but I’ve found that, if you lose those things, it’s even harder to feel good about the demands of grad school.

What are your responsibilities as deputy director of archives for the State of Delaware?
As deputy director, I serve as an adviser to the State Archivist and I am tasked with organizational planning and implementation. I’m going to spend a lot of time over the next year looking at what we do and why we do it and talking to my peers to discover how we can be a better archive. I want our employees to have the tools and support they need to be effective and satisfied with their work, and to create opportunities for people who want to develop their skillsets. I’m also going to be working with another state agency to develop the technological infrastructure we need to move forward with some dynamic big data projects.  
How do you see the future of archives and recordkeeping, considering that the world is going digital?
I think it’s an exciting time to be an archivist, especially with all of the opportunity technology gives us. Now more than ever people are able to easily access information; as a profession we need to use this opportunity to take a good look at our historic mandates and evolving user expectations. We’re going to face a lot of uncertainty and growing pains as we adjust our methodology to accommodate digital records, but I see a future where archival integrity is balanced with creativity and innovation to deliver an unprecedented level of access and engagement.

What is your advice to your fellow students or aspiring archivists?
Get your hands dirty and say “yes” to everything you are offered. I started as a volunteer and worked my way up through the organization by saying “yes” to opportunities that I didn’t sound interesting at first, or were a little scary. Set yourself up to be challenged and don’t get comfortable. I don’t think people often associate archival work with creativity, but we have many opportunities to innovate. Don’t be afraid to take chances — you will make mistakes and you’ll learn a lot from them. Cultivate a community of professional peers from diverse backgrounds who you can rely on for support and inspiration. Never, ever stop learning about your profession because we can always improve our work.