Organizing Archives with Junia Papas
“I’m just so grateful to San José State University. I think they prepared me very well. That’s something I really wanted to say because there was all this vast information I didn’t know and they really got me prepared correctly so when I got on the scene, working a real job, I felt really confident that I’d be able to do it.”
Junia Papas, ‘18 MARA
Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan
Junia Papas came to SJSU’s Master’s in Archives and Records Administration (MARA) program through her two decades of experience working as a professional genealogist — a path she had originally found from her personal genealogical research for her family.
“When I was researching genealogy, I found that I was quite good at it. Then I ended up doing it for other people as a business. So what was more of a personal hobby, in the beginning, turned into my career. During this time, I extensively used the archives, and I respected the archivists’ work. Over time I thought, ‘I’d really like to be an archivist.’”
By 2015, Junia had made up her mind. The iSchool fit well into her life as she was moving and wanted an online program.
“I saw how San José was affiliated with the Society of American Archivists and their ads in the marketplace. I thought, ‘I want to be involved with a program that people know.’ And so that’s why I chose it.”
Finding Her Path
When she got to SJSU, Junia originally intended on following the path to work in record services — the reference part of archives, but that was before learning about preservation.
“I was very fascinated to learn preservation techniques, the reason for humidity and temperature levels at certain ranges, digitization, and records management in the vault.”
Bringing her own history and experience to her studies, Junia was grateful to discover she had a keen interest in all of the archival classes that helped expand her ideas about what she might be able to do with her degree when she finished.
“I was scared. I really was. I was 48 when I started, so it was very daunting. But at the same time, I thought that I wanted to work at a job that I love so much – so that it’s not really a job, you know? It was worth it. It was hard. I won’t deny it, but it was totally worth it.”
Junia also volunteered at two different archives to ensure she was interested in the practical work and to make sure she liked it. She discovered she loved it and was ultimately hired on by the Archives of Michigan.
Working at the reference desk at the Archives in Michigan, she learned about how the vault works, the numbering system for shelving and recording group numbers, and so on, so that she was able to replicate that level of order at her next position after graduating with her degree.
When Junia entered her position as the Director of Archives at the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph in 2018, she could immediately see how much work she would have to do.
“It was really a disaster, honestly. It was just like a storage room. There was stuff on the floor, definitely not in boxes, so I had to start from the ground up there. Now it looks so much like the Archives of Michigan only on a smaller scale. I scanned over 13,000 photographs, and then over 50,000 images of documents which I organized into the records management system.”
Part of the job of organizing these archives was to ensure that they would be easily accessible and searchable, which included creating finding aids (which help explain each record, group, and collection) for 137 collections and creating a digital shelving system. Thankfully, Junia felt her time at the iSchool prepared her for such a large task.
“My employer was so happy because they didn’t know what to do with the archive. They just wanted someone to come in and fix it. So it was a really good thing that I knew what to do because I certainly didn’t have anyone to ask. Through this knowledge, I created an organized and efficient archive.”
Though that was a large effort, Junia created two presentations about that experience which has now led to her opening her own business providing archival consulting services: Junia Papas Archival Consulting LLC.
“I really love it. I love going in and helping people preserve their institution’s legacy. It has an intrinsic quality of fulfillment for me.”
What it Takes
For current and future students wondering what it takes to work in archives, Junia states that detail orientation, organization, and even perfectionism are all useful traits, as far as archival work is concerned.
“You need to be into redundancy, making sure you make copies of digital records kept in multiple places. Also, you need to be able to explain your findings to someone in a relevant way. For instance, I could send 200 pages of scanned information to somebody; but at the same time, I have to be able to make sure they can understand what I sent them.”
Tech skills help, too. Junia knows that people can romanticize the idea of working in archives as working with physical materials, but that most things are digitized or soon will be.
“There’s a lot of different ways that you can still access the same information – this isn’t the sort of job where you’re just working with rare books or relics. You imagine someone like that, but honestly, you need to be very techy. You really have to be very good with lots of different software and data curation.”
This includes transferring records from old software systems or databases to new archival software systems and setting up cross-referencing for them.
“You just have to be cognizant of how you’re going to store the information, how you’re going to keep a backup, how you’re going to secure the information, how you’re going to make it accessible, how to access it when you are not in the office, etc.”
Advice for the Future
Looking back on her time as a student, Junia is glad she chose to take the risk of going back to school.
“I’m just so grateful to San José State University. I think they prepared me very well. There was all this vast information I didn’t know, and they really got me prepared correctly. Therefore, when I got on the scene working a real archival job, I felt confident that I’d be able to excel in it.”
Junia recommends that any future students pay attention to what part of the industry captures their attention most, whether that’s museums, reference, conservation, or something else in archives to see what would be a good fit, both in terms of specialization and size and scope of the future company they might work for.
She also recommends that anyone in the MARA program take classes on information governance to learn about the balance between access and security, especially when it comes to restrictions to reference and the laws involved with certain levels of information.
“If you’re the one-man band, you’re doing everything: budgets, managing staff, volunteers, and that kind of thing. If you’re a large institution, then you can specialize in reference, preservation, processing, etc.”
Junia also joined the Society of American Archivists in 2015 and also got certified through the Academy of Certified Archivists in 2020, to stay connected and credentialed in her field.
Today, her consulting work involves helping institutions to upgrade their preservation techniques and to recommend other solutions for their archive. It’s something she really loves to do. “There’s never a day that I dread it. Never even one. I love it.”
Check This Out!
For anyone interested in learning more about archives beyond what’s in their textbooks, Junia recommends the Encyclopedia of Archival Science.