MARA Student Melissa Shaw Realizes her Lifelong Dream to Study Archives & RIM


Published: August 9, 2017 by Anna Maloney

For Melissa Shaw, enrolling in the MARA program in fall 2016 was an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong passion.

“I love collecting and analyzing data, digitizing documents, and conducting research for others. I aspire to work with an organization that retains records and allows the public to view them.” Her interest in archives first started as an interest in history. Growing up, she would visit her grandparents in the Columbia Gorge region of Oregon (pictured below). “They always took me on hikes to explore the area. We studied petroglyphs and learned about native plants and their uses. We attended local cultural celebrations and visited museums. My grandparents got me hooked on learning.”

After a weekend trip to visit her grandparents turned into a quest to document the lives of the members of her family tree, her interest in history was piqued. “I traveled to archival facilities to locate government records documenting significant events in their lives and began to wish that I could do that full time.”

Although she has spent 16 years teaching social sciences at the elementary school level, the continuing education credits required for her teaching license afforded her the opportunity to enroll in a master’s degree program that supported her enduring interest in archives and genealogy. “I wanted to have the option of taking one class or a full load. Opportunities for internship experiences [also] really influenced my decision to apply to SJSU.” 

After reading alumni feedback and researching graduate employment rates, Shaw selected the MARA program at SJSU—a decision Shaw has been very happy with. “The whole idea of being able to access digital records online is fascinating to me…I have tracked down many records for family members through online finding aids and indexes. Without these tools, I might have never known that those records existed.” The MARA program’s emphasis on the management of electronic records has allowed Shaw to fully explore the challenges and opportunities afforded by technology.

As she approaches her third semester in the MARA program, Shaw has many classes to look forward to, including both MARA and MLIS electives. But so far, one course has been particularly meaningful to her: MARA 285 Research Methods in Records Management and Archival Science, taught by Josh Zimmerman. The course gave Shaw “the opportunity to study one specific topic of my choice throughout the entire course.”

Using her interest in the availability of public records as a starting point, Shaw used the course to explore methods and best practices involved in digitizing and posting public records online. After conducting research about the barriers and restrictions faced by smaller repositories and local governments, the federal legislation and guidelines pertaining to electronic records management, and the various digitization processes and metadata standards, Shaw was able to design a project that could answer an important question: Which digitization strategies are most prevalent among smaller archival and records repositories? “Professor Zimmerman helped me to understand how much background research needs to be conducted before surveying a group. If well-informed, the researcher may ask questions that are new and relevant.”

For students new to the MARA degree program, Shaw has one piece of advice: “Participate and ask questions! MARA professors have a wealth of knowledge to share [and many] of my classmates currently work in records management and archival fields. I have been able to learn a lot about the profession by just asking questions.” And as each new course helps Shaw to “solidify [her] foundational understanding and increase [her] knowledge,” you can bet she will keep finding more great questions to ask.


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