Student Desiree Wallen Creates Guide to National Archives’ Civil War Collections

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Student Desiree Wallen is gaining real-world experience managing archives and records through an internship with the National Archives and Records Administration in Philadelphia. Currently, she’s working on a project to support people doing research on the Civil War.

A student in the San José State University School of Information’s Master of Archives and Records Management (MARA) program, Wallen has worked as a student trainee at the National Archives in Philadelphia since October 2013. The position is a paid internship through the institution’s Pathways program. “I’ve experienced every stage of records here,” she said. “I’ve processed, I’ve helped with accessioning, I’ve done finding aids.” She has also digitized records for reproduction requests and selected records to spotlight on social media.

During the fall 2014 semester, Wallen is also working on her MARA 293 Professional Project at the National Archives. She’s creating a subject guide for the Civil War that links to the National Archives catalog. “I’m trying to make a guide for the holdings we have here in Philadelphia that links to the descriptions in the central catalog used by the National Archives field offices,” she said.

Wallen, who expects to graduate in May 2015, was awarded an iSchool scholarship in spring 2014 from the ARMA Silicon Valley Chapter. In her scholarship application, she described her feeling that she’d found the field where she will be successful, and will love working. “Not only am I carrying a 4.0 GPA because I worked hard to earn it, but because I am so eager to embrace the archives and records management field that I want to learn as much as I can during this time in the program,” she wrote.

Between her coursework and her internship, Wallen feels she’s getting all the experience she could wish for. “I can definitely apply what I’m learning in school to what I’m doing right now, in the real world,” she said.

As an assistant librarian at Runnemede Library, near Camden, New Jersey, Wallen processes new books, weeds the collections, and edits catalog entries for the library’s 20,000-something books. She started working there full time in August 2012, but cut back to part time when she entered the MARA program a year later.

Wallen earned a bachelor’s degree in literature, with a concentration in creative writing, from Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in 2011. Her literature background helped her get her current library job, and she then began exploring graduate school options.

After initially looking into library and information science programs, “I stumbled across archives and records management, and thought it was a better fit for me,” Wallen said. She enjoys helping people and likes history, but had never realized she could combine those in a career such as special collections or records preservation. And the fully online format of SJSU’s MARA program made it possible for her to pursue a MARA degree from her home in New Jersey. 

Wallen’s future career goals include helping a small institution create a digital preservation plan.  I don’t know where exactly that will be, though,” she said. “I’m pretty much open to moving anywhere.”

Favorite Things about the MARA Program

“I like how well-rounded the program is. Instructors seem to really want to teach you different avenues of theory, and want to let you know what your options are. They want you to have real-world experience.”

Influential Classes

“I took INFO 256 Archives and Manuscripts, which I thought kind of straddled the old school/new school ways of thinking about archives.” (MARA students can take electives in the school’s fully online Master of Library and Information Science program.)

“MARA 249 Electronic Recordkeeping Systems was another course that sort of bridged that gap between physical and electronic records. MARA 293 Professional Projects is probably the most helpful course of the MARA program, because I have to do a project from start to finish.”

Tech Tips

“Get to know Encoded Archival Description (EAD). It’s going to be a requirement for every archival position out there. Also, I think a familiarity with the different kinds of databases is helpful too, especially ones that can archive records like emails and Word documents.”

Professional Affiliations

ARMA International; the iSchool’s Society of American Archivists Student Chapter (SAASC)

Best Conference

“I’m hoping to go to SAA next year.”

Favorite Blog

Archives Gig