Positioning Herself to Preserve Archives with Sara Morrison
“There’s no need to be anxious or worried about succeeding because I feel like with the help available to me personally, it would be impossible for me to not succeed in this program.”
Sara Morrison, MARA (anticipated Dec. 2023)
Sara Morrison’s path toward archives comes from a passion for film that developed during her undergraduate years at Washington State University. She’d already chosen English as her course of study, and though she had taken a break from school, it had only made sense for her to finish her degree.
Finding a way to work in the film industry without going back to school to get a second BA seemed challenging, but then she discovered a new possible path: film restoration. It was all thanks to a post on the iSchool website from a former student that had gone on to work in the field. The rest is history. Knowing that the iSchool could help her use her background and provide new skills made Sara apply right away.
The fact that the iSchool also offered a fully online, flexible MARA degree program was just an added bonus. Soon after, Sara was accepted, and her SJSU journey began.
Master’s of Archives and Records Administration
In reflecting on the courses she has taken so far, Sara notes all of them have been really valuable in their own way.
“I believe every class has taught me something I’ve never even considered before, which is really exciting. But my favorite class that I’ve taken so far was actually an Informatics class: INFO 284: Seminar in Archives and Records Management: Photographic Preservation.
It had to do with the preservation and archiving of still photography and about the history of photographs and how to preserve and recognize them in an archive, so that was really cool. I learned a lot.”
Since starting her MARA program, Sara has started working at the University of Washington Medical Center where she hopes to develop some transferable skills toward her ultimate career goal.
“I’m a medical records auditor, so I’m making sure that the records that clinics are using use the right forms with the approved language and then making sure that those forms are making their way into the correct place in the patient’s chart. If they’re not, then I make those corrections.”
Sara knows that finding a path in film restoration after her degree may be a challenge living outside of Hollywood or Los Angeles.
“I definitely have a little bit of work to do to get to my ultimate career goal. But I kind of view it as just one step at a time and I’m confident about the step I’m currently taking with this degree. I know that it will get me to the next place that will put me one step further and one step further.”
Finding New Opportunities
Last semester, Sara took MARA 295 – Organizational Consulting Project with MARA advisor Dr. Darra Hoffman, a course that is intended to help students strengthen their skills to be applied practically in the professional world.
For Sara, she chose to focus on her current employer, both to utilize her established working relationship with UW Medicine and help them out to a greater extent than she was already doing.
“The project was about the disposition of paper records,” Sara explained. “A lot of the MARA program is focused on digital records and information, and that’s super useful for the future, but a lot of places still have tons and tons of paper records with unique needs and preferences for managing them. So it was interesting to see what that actually looks like in an organizational setting and the challenges that come along with that.”
In the archival world, when a record has reached the end of its life in circulation, it is called dispositioning, which means either putting the record in archives or destroying it.
Positioning Herself to Help
Sara’s internship experience involved mostly coming up with ideas for positioning or dispositioning her workplace’s paper records.
“I wasn’t physically handling anything. Which was kind of a relief because of the sheer scope of it. Basically, I was just suggesting potential improvements or changes that could be made, but not necessarily making those changes myself. The challenge is knowing when to keep things and when to get rid of them. The majority of my time was spent learning more than actually creating the policy. So I spent a lot of time talking to my stakeholders and learning from them and hearing what their thoughts were and building off of that.”
As someone new to the world of archives, Sara feels her advice was fairly general; yet having a second opinion can be just what an organization needs.
“The more that I work with records, the more I realize that it may not ever happen that we get away from paper records entirely. A lot of people really want to hold on to those paper records for one reason or another and continue creating new documents so it’s definitely very useful practical knowledge that can be applied.”
Advice for the Future
Looking back to her time before she even started as a MARA student, Sara knows how intimidating it can be to apply to a graduate program.
“Before I started the program, I was expecting grad school to be the most challenging thing in the world and just for every class to be grueling… and in reality, it is a challenge but the professors are all intelligent and willing to help you and are really thorough. So there’s no need to be anxious or worried about succeeding because I feel like with the help available to me personally, it would be impossible for me to not succeed in this program.”
She also advises that any students take electives in subjects that they are interested in along with courses on computer applications like Sharepoint and even Google applications that may be used in records management, especially if they are not familiar with the current (and sometimes complicated) software that exists in the workplace.
“I would also recommend during their time in the program [to] get a job or start volunteering with a records or archives center, just to get some practical experience. A lot of the terminology can be difficult to fully grasp until you see it in motion – and just makes it easier for you after graduation, so you’re not just kind of scrambling like ‘well, I’ve never worked anywhere but I have this degree…’ in some places, that’s maybe not enough. I feel even just volunteering is super helpful.”
Since presenting her ideas to UW Medicine, Sara hopes that she will still be able to help out in whatever way they need as they begin to implement their plans.
“I would love to continue to be involved in any way possible, really.”
As she looks to graduate in December, Sara looks forward to new opportunities wherever they may develop.
Check This Out!
Sara recommends The Criterion Channel for anyone interested in film restoration. It offers short films and documentaries where experts talk about the film restoration process, and of course, old films themselves.