Organizing Archives with Sereen Suleiman

Community Profile
Sereen Suleiman

“That’s the beauty of the Library and Information Science profession. It’s a very versatile field. You don’t have to work specifically in a library to apply your skill set. You don’t even have to be known as a librarian. You could have a title such as Information Architect or Taxonomist to apply your skills into practice, and that’s an amazing feeling to know that if you don’t get into a library, it’s not the end of the world.”

Sereen Suleiman
SJSU MLIS, December 2023

Sereen Suleiman compares her career journey to a roller coaster ride: it has its ups and downs.

Starting as a B.S. in Pharmaceutical Sciences at UC Irvine, Sereen discovered during her undergraduate years that she always had an interest in student services and libraries. Though she would go on to work as a pharmacy technician for a year after graduation, she realized quickly that it was not what she ultimately wanted to do for her career.

“I guess part of the reason why I was always drawn to the library [was] because it was a relaxing place to study. Whenever I faced any hardships in my life, I always flocked to the library just to clear my head and take the time to scroll through information sources like books, databases, encyclopedias, dictionaries,” Sereen said. “Over time, I got really fascinated with all the information out there, and I realized ‘Wow, I’m actually really good at seeking information.’”

That led Sereen to explore the library and information science (LIS) field even further, volunteering as an associate in her local public library’s friends’ bookstore.

“It was wonderful. Not only did I expose myself to so many books, authors, and compassionate patrons, but I got a glimpse of what it means to work in a library and more importantly, how being an information professional can really go a long way to helping others.”

The memory of that library experience is what Sereen reflected on after changing her career path — just before COVID hit. 

“I took the pandemic lockdown period to reflect on what I truly wanted to do, and I remembered my experience in the library and all the people I’ve helped. That made me feel so overjoyed, that I ultimately made the decision to pursue a Master’s of Library and Information Science (MLIS).”

Finding Her Path 

Like many people, Sereen discovered SJSU’s iSchool in her search for library school programs and was drawn to it for its online flexibility which would allow her to work and study simultaneously. 

“I made the decision to apply in the fall of 2020, and then I started in spring 2021. I’m now in my final year, and I can’t believe how fast time has flown by.”

Though Sereen initially had an interest in academic libraries, she’s tried to keep her options open during her time at the iSchool. Consequently, her pathway changed after taking Professor Lawrimore’s INFO 256: Intro to Archives which helped change her perspective on what archivists do. 

“Although yes, it’s important for them to preserve documents, they do so because they want to share the knowledge with everyone,” Sereen said. “It’s all about information access. And it feels like a lifelong mission to just always keep pursuing how to best preserve the materials so that they could be accessible for this generation as well as future generations to come.”

For Sereen, this newer definition of archivists fits in with her core values of what it means to be an information professional, and it helps her feel like she’s giving back to communities all over the world. 

In Fall 2021, Sereen joined the Society of American Archivists Student Chapter (SAASC) as the Blog Editor. Earlier, in Spring 2021, she joined the Special Libraries Association Student Chapter (SLASC) first as the second-assistant blog editor, then promoted to blog director, and finally nominated as the Archivist. 

“SLASC really did help me push myself into networking and getting involved with the SLA professional organization itself. And by doing so I was able to become a blog contributor for SLA’s Taxonomy Times” — a quarterly newsletter published on the taxonomy forum. 

Sereen is especially proud of her recent contribution to the Summer 2023 edition of the Society of California Archivists Newsletter, which is interested in highlighting archive experiences in our home state. 

“I thought it was an amazing opportunity to not just get myself out there, but also advocate for my community college archive because, to be honest, if you don’t really venture onto Saddleback College’s website and really do a thorough exploration of the site, especially its library pages, the archive is relatively unknown. So I thought the newsletter would be a great opportunity to really market and advocate for my archive and get the word out.”

Sereen has also enjoyed contributing to SLASC and SAASC blogs as well as SAASC’s very own student publication, Archeota — she believes that publishing her work is another great way to advocate for open access to information and providing information to various communities.

Archiving at Saddleback College 

Sereen found her position at her former community college at the Saddleback Library Digital Archive, digitizing historical documents from the college’s founding in 1968 to the present day. 

“As the Digital Archives Project Specialist for the Saddleback College Library, I am responsible for digitizing the collection materials, including college catalogs, schedules of classes, images, videos, and oral histories.”

This involves scanning records, labeling and numbering pages, and then preparing them to be uploaded into the CONTENTdm (cataloging software that utilizes Dublin Core and follows its metadata initiative).

“I’ve handled documents for all time periods. Lately, I’ve been focusing on digitizing the schedules of classes, because the paper material they’ve been printed on has become brittle over time and is the most fragile to handle when scanning.” 

All in all, Sereen enjoys her role at Saddleback and the freedom it allows her to work at her own pace in her own office. She also feels like she’s developed strong trust in her working relationships with her coworkers which has helped the experience overall as well. 

“They know I do an excellent job with all my work and fully trust me to just digitize whatever needs digitization — there is no specific timeline. They understand that digitizing everything can be tedious and slow going. So as a result, they don’t put any unreasonable deadlines on me. But at the same time, I understand that the quicker I send digitized files to my supervisor for approval, the more items will be published and the more information will be readily available to students and faculty, which is what drives me.”

Through her time at Saddleback, Sereen is proud to say she’s archived the entire oral history collection and a significant number of catalogs — and she hopes to finish the schedules of classes before the end of the year.

Advice For Future Archivists  

Sereen recommends that interested archival students make the most of their time at SJSU, especially when it comes to all of the available resources. 

“Be willing to go out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself, because that’s how you really learn new skills and become an even better information professional overall.  Don’t be hesitant to do fieldwork while taking classes, because when you start applying for jobs at libraries, archives, and all sorts of information organizations, they’re going to look for fieldwork experience.”

Whether it’s networking with working professionals, going to conferences, or getting involved in student organizations, it’s all valuable time spent at the iSchool. When it comes to choosing which classes to take, however, she does have some suggestions. 

“The standout course for me is INFO 244: Online Searching with Vicki Steiner. That’s an excellent class to learn about the various search techniques throughout all sorts of databases, including ERIC, Web of Science, and Westlaw, as well for those who are interested in legal databases,” Sereen said.

She also recommends INFO 248: Intro to Cataloging with Mary Bolin, INFO 281: Intro to Metadata, INFO 230: Issues in Academic Libraries, INFO 240: Web Tools, and INFO 254: Instructional Design, all of which are courses that can fill up fast. 

“I would also highly recommend Intro to Copyright, a one-unit INFO 281 course exclusively available in the fall semester taught by Professor Driscoll. It’s a four-week course, but she provides a ton of helpful resources that could serve to benefit you in the future whenever you need to refresh on copyright because it can be a complex topic.”

And of course, INFO 266: Collection Management with Wayne Disher.

“I’m really passionate about collection development and acquisitions, and it’s fascinating cataloging all the information,” Sereen said. 

Furthermore, she likes to learn about the different types of metadata systems such as MARC, RDA, Dublin Core, METS, MODS and PREMIS, along with their standards.

“It’s like having a guideline to follow. You just have to input the data according to those guidelines whereas if you were at a front-facing public library job, every patron is different. You’ll never know who you’re going to come across.” 

Starting Her Next Chapter

As a lifelong learner, Sereen wishes she could take even more courses at the iSchool but ultimately feels that the practical experience through internships and other opportunities has been the most valuable to her. 

She’s both excited and nervous to be finishing graduate school and looking for work, wondering what her next steps will be. 

“I’ve always enjoyed being in school. I love being an academic. I love feeding my brain. With that said, even after I graduate, I will still continue to pursue knowledge wherever my interests lie, whether it’s information science, economics, art, or just any subject from anywhere. In other words, I have a continuous goal of becoming a better person and a better information professional overall.”

Like many soon-to-be-grads, Sereen’s kept an eye out on possible jobs, scouring the forums to see what’s available. 

One thing she has done as well is drive around her area to see what organizations have careers involving cataloging, indexing, and archival work.

“That’s the beauty of the Library and Information Science profession. It’s a very versatile field. You don’t have to work specifically in a library to apply your skill set. You don’t even have to be known as a librarian. You could have a title such as Information Architect or Taxonomist to apply your skills into practice, and that’s an amazing feeling to know that if you don’t get into a library, it’s not the end of the world.”

For Sereen, her ideal career would be in archiving, cataloging, indexing, academic libraries,  collection, and acquisitions, or collection development, and she’s excited to see where she goes next. 

Check this out!

Sereen recommends reading library publications such as the American Libraries magazine by ALA, the SAA’s Archival Outlook, and SLA’s Information Outlook which are accessible online for free.

“There’s also The American Archivist if you want to read more professional archival journal articles, Smithsonian Magazine, and Live at the Library Library of Congress blogs.”

Sereen naturally also recommends the Saddleback College Historical Collections Digital Archive, as well as using the Smart News app to filter news by the topic of libraries to stay on top of everything that happens nationally (and internationally) in the profession.