Asserting the Archivist, no. 4

Margot Note--2This post was authored by guest contributor Margot Note, CA, CRM, IGP, PMP. Note is the principal and founder of Margot Note Consulting, LLC, an archives and records management consulting business in New York. She’s a professor in the graduate Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Library and Information Science program at St. John’s University. She’s the author of five books, including her newest Creating Family Archives: A Step‐by‐Step Guide for Saving Your Memories for Future Generations published by the Society of American Archivists.

This is the fourth post in our “Asserting the Archivist” series on the importance of highlighting archivists and archival work in outreach efforts, rather than just focusing on the collections themselves. SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) chose a Q&A style for this post to highlight Note’s work and, specifically, her writing as an outreach mechanism that helps to assert the archivist.

Q. We know your origin story into consulting from the Off the Record guest spot and the Archives in Context podcast. So, I’d like to focus in on your writing for this starter question as you’ve written several books over the course of your career thus far. How did you get into professional writing and what was the impetus for you to write your first book?

I started with book reviews. I’d be reading these books anyway, so I figured that I should receive them for free! A publisher contacted me while I was in graduate school studying the topic of my first book, so I turned my papers into chapters and expanded the manuscript.

My books stem from obsessive curiosity. I write about a topic to understand it. What I discover can help people in similar circumstances.

Q. Your most recent book Creating Family Archives was published by the Society of American Archivists, but you’ve also published with Lucidea Press, and have self-published. Can you speak to what those experiences were like, what you enjoyed, and what was challenging?

Each book experience is unique, especially the level of interventions by publishers, editors, and advisory teams. I enjoy the writing flow and the progress of a manuscript.

The most challenging part of writing is getting feedback. Constructive criticism is an opportunity to communicate better with my readers, and I can fix misunderstandings or errors before the final draft.

Q. What have you found are the benefits of writing books for professional literature?

Beyond learning, a big bonus is status. People who don’t understand archives remember me as “the writer.” Authoring a book makes you an expert in the eyes of many. It’s helped me get hired.

I’m touched by the notes that I’ve received from people who’ve said that my books helped them. I also love to see myself cited!

Q. What is your advice for getting over writer’s block?

Use the Pomodoro Method. Set a timer for 25 minutes and write, then rest for 5 minutes. After four Pomodoros, take a 20-minute break. I promise myself that I can stop after one Pomodoro, but I always want to continue.

For low-energy days, I reduce my time to 15 minutes. I focus on any effort towards a goal without judging the quality.

Done is better than perfect.

I believe in mindset. If you think a writing project will be hard, it will be. I seduce myself into the writing process with tea, candles, incense, lighting, and music.

Drinking 5 Hour Energy helps too!

Q. What advice would you like to share with archivists who are aspiring to write their own books?

To quote the anarcho-punk band Crass, “You alone can do it. There is no authority but yourself.”

Forget gatekeepers or mentors. Make your own opportunities, like self-publishing. My book with SAA grew from an earlier self-published edition. No one deemed me an expert—I did it myself.

The universe rewards action.

Archivists note the lack of diversity in our collections and the profession, but I also want our professional literature to better represent our field through the voices of archivists working in non-traditional ways too.

Q. Are there tips or writing resources you would recommend for those who wish to write about professional topics?

Here’s a blog post with my tips: https://www.margotnote.com/blog/2018/2/5/writing-for-career-success

Find the most enjoyable part of writing. I revise zealously.

I create a list of changes needed to be made in a spreadsheet. For instance, I translate feedback on a peer-reviewed article into action steps. I then tackle the tasks, completing items from the easiest to the hardest. Approaching writing this way takes the emotion out of it.

Q. In the Archives in Context podcast you speak to how you’ve found you needed a different vernacular to convey both archival concepts and the value of archives. This is also demonstrated in Creating Family Archives where you introduce archival concepts and best practices in an approachable manner. What tips would you give an archivist who needs to communicate archival concepts to non-archivists?

I talk about storytelling, memories, or legacy. For people with technical or project management backgrounds, I’ll talk about lessons learned. For executives, I mention institutional knowledge or business insights.

I emphasize enduring over historical or archival value, because people think of archives as being old. They might not realize that archival records can be born-digital in the present.

I show my students that archives are welcoming, that archivists can help them, and that primary sources reveal wonders. I explain just enough about archival principles so that they understand why collections are the way that they are.

I also talk about archives in relation to personal or family items.

Someone may never visit a repository, but they have collections of love letters, emails, or photos that they treasure.

Q. Focusing on conveying the value of archives — a universal struggle — how have you found being a consultant has helped you hone that message, especially as you’re not just selling yourself, but you’re also selling the value of archives?

Selling is helping someone solve a problem. Clients reach out because their problem is painful enough to seek advice. When they talk to an expert who has solved similar issues, they become at ease.

I’m proud of my business. I have a killer work ethic and an iron will. My self-confidence was forged by discovering how strong I am in challenging situations. When you project positivity, clients notice.

Q. What’s next for you? Is there another book in the making or another project you’re looking forward to?

Another book, I’m sure. My focus is on creating a business that supports the life I want to lead and finding a balance between work and play.

Do you have a favorite example of archival repositories or organizations/businesses that “assert the archivist” in their outreach efforts? Or would you like to share your experience incorporating archival work into your outreach? Please share in the comments below or contact archivesaware@archivists.org to be a guest contributor to ArchivesAWARE!

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