Student Katrina O’Brien Hits Career Fast Track with Archival Skills

Community Profile

San José State University School of Information student Katrina O’Brien is using her expertise in archives and records management to build an archive for a unique new museum dedicated to preserving the history of motorsports. She has worked for about six months as the archives and collections manager for World of Speed, a racecar museum under development in Wilsonville, Oregon, just outside Portland.

O’Brien, who graduated from our school’s Master of Archives and Records Administration (MARA) program in May 2014, built the museum’s archive from scratch. It now holds more than 1,000 items, including books, films, magazines, photographs and other racing-related ephemera.

She’s had to set up contracts, develop a collection management plan, and build a database. She also creates policies and procedures for acquisition, accession, and processing; and works with construction designers to define storage and reading room requirements for the 600,000-square-foot facility. The museum is expected to open to the public in 2015.

O’Brien got the job through her volunteer work for the Oregon Historical Society. Her supervisor there recommended her to the museum’s executive director, who was looking for someone to assess and organize the museum’s collections.

As a volunteer at the historical society, O’Brien processed a collection of more than 300 films for its film preservation department, including re-canning, splicing, arranging, accessioning, and creating an EAD finding aid. She also processed more than 35 boxes of materials for the society’s Research Library.

During the final year of her MARA program, O’Brien had an opportunity to combine her studies with her background in performing arts for her MARA 295 Organizational Consulting Project (OCP). At a local American Theatre Archive Project workshop, she met the head of the Oregon Multicultural Archives, who mentioned that a theater group needed someone to prepare its archived materials for inclusion in the Oregon Multicultural Archives.

So O’Brien’s OCP involved working with Miracle Theatre Group (MTG), sifting through its roughly 100 boxes and 75 binders to organize the material into a cohesive collection and use active records management tools for future accessibility. The project included building an electronic records inventory, creating a records retention schedule, and training the MTG staff for future archiving and active records maintenance.

This work inspired O’Brien to launch the Northwest Performing Arts Archive, or NWPAA, in January 2014. She envisions it as a hub that can help artists and arts organizations in the Pacific Northwest preserve their materials and make them available as artistic and educational resources.

She wrote the NWPAA into her final OCP report as part of an action plan to help the theater company manage, preserve and make accessible both its active and archived records.

 “Like World of Speed, NWPAA is under development,” she said. Starting with workshops and client projects, O’Brien hopes to eventually grow it into a larger organization.

O’Brien earned a bachelor’s in dance and sociology at Middlebury College in Vermont. As the artistic director of a modern dance company for 10 years, she also did freelance fact checking and copy editing. She describes her interest in archives from both a dance perspective, where she saw artists losing their work because they didn’t know how to preserve it, and from a copy editing perspective, seeing the need to organize, catalog and make information accessible.

“When I found the MARA program, what I really liked as I was reading the course catalog was that it offered courses in both archives and managing active records,” she said. “It had the full spectrum.” O’Brien started the MARA program in August 2011.

Influential Instructors

Lisa Daulby helped me through the year as my advisor on my OCP, and she was a huge help. She’s been an amazing support, offering helpful information and resources. She’s also been helpful in discussion boards and one-on-one support. Jason Kaltenbacher is another instructor who lets you figure out where you need to go but still keeps you on track. He’s also an awesome support.”

Career Tips

“Especially starting out, don’t worry so much about your niche. There’ll be companies that might feel like they don’t quite fit what you’re interested in or know. World of Speed was definitely outside my knowledge base, but just take a chance, because you have so much to offer, and allow yourself to see the full possibility of what’s there. The job title for an archivist or records manager is rare, but a lot of companies may need something like that, so reach out to organizations and sell what you have to offer.

“For me, an internship was extremely helpful. It helped me get my feet in the water, so going out into the job world, I feel much more confident.”

Tech Tips

“Know retention schedules! And get to know what products and services are out there. It’s constant learning. Things are constantly evolving. Keeping an eye on that evolution is going to help you a lot.”

Professional Affiliations

Society of American Archivists, its Performing Arts Roundtable and Lone Arrangers Roundtable; ARMA International; Northwest Archivists Inc.

Favorite Blog

Students and New Archive Professionals Roundtable