This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. In this article, Mott Linn talks about his role leading one of the world’s larger scientific research archives.
Mott, thanks for talking with us. Please tell us a little about yourself.
ML: My BA is from the University of Delaware, I have master’s degrees in history (University of Wisconsin – Madison), librarianship (Drexel University), and nonprofit management (Clark University), and my doctorate in library management is from Simmons College. I am also a Certified Archivist.
My first archives job was with the Philadelphia Flyers and after that I created the NHL’s video library. I spent 10 years at Clark University in charge of their archives before 10 years leading the collection services half of their library. I am now the Chief Librarian of the National Security Research Center (NSRC) at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
How did you get into archives?
ML: By replying to a blind ad in a newspaper (how times have changed!).
Today, the archival profession’s biggest problem is having too many archival education programs training far too many people to be archivists, who then have great difficulty finding jobs; this is our profession’s great tragedy. When I started my career, the opposite was true: there were very few education programs. The good news is that over those decades the quality of archivists has improved; back in the 1970s a major goal of SAA was to do just that. Because of that, SAA started offering workshops, began publishing manuals and books, established the standards process, and created the Academy of Certified Archivists.
So, it was not unusual back when I was first hired that I had no training to work in an archives. However, I did have considerable experience doing research in archives. Furthermore, I had played, refereed, and coached ice hockey, which meant I had the desired subject expertise for my first job.
How did you get your current job?
ML: A headhunter contacted me. They hired me because not many archivists also have the managerial experience that I have; for example, at the time I was overseeing a $2 million dollar budget. It also helped that I had overseen the collection of a famous scientist, Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry.
Tell us about your organization.
ML: LANL is a United States Department of Energy laboratory. It was created during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project to design the first nuclear weapons. Los Alamos is now one of the largest science and technology institutions in the world and conducts research in a wide array of scientific fields. It is located in the beautiful mountains of northern New Mexico, which is a wonderful location for outdoor activities.
Could you describe your collections?
ML: The NSRC collects scientific research materials related to the nation’s defense. I dare say that we have one of the largest archives in the US. For comparison, we have a larger collection than most, if not every one, of the presidential libraries.
We house both a large number and a wide array of materials. For example, we have over 3 million radiographs, almost a million aperture cards, and a half million engineering drawings.
Despite our size, the NSRC is only a couple of years old. Previously, the materials that make up our collection were either in records management or being held by the various LANL lab buildings. Since we are a new archives, we are still expanding our collections and have been growing our staff.
Although our collections are used for historical research, they are more heavily used by the lab’s scientists to further their research. For example, a scientist recently found the results of a series of experiments from years ago that their lab was planning to conduct. Because we found the previous results, we saved the lab millions of dollars since they did not have to conduct the experiments again. It is great to both save the US taxpayers money and find the data that our scientists want.
What are some of the challenges unique to your collections?
ML: Depending on where our acquisitions are coming from, they might have to be tested for hazardous materials. Another facility that had created an environmental disaster recently sent us hundreds of boxes. Those boxes were tested.
In addition, there is the red tape dealing with security and safety regulations. For example, because of national security reasons, every person on my staff and each of our customers need to have security clearance.
What is the favorite part of your job?
ML: I was hired to turn the NSRC into a properly functioning archives. Additionally, I really like recruiting new archivists to add to my team and helping my staff improve themselves with professional development activities.
What advice do you have for aspiring archivists?
ML: First, since too many people are being trained to be archivists, I would ask if they are up to doing the needed training with the possibility of not being able to find a job afterwards. As I said, there are too many archival education programs training too many archivists; that so many of them cannot find jobs is tragic.
Second, if they still want to be archivists, when earning your master’s degree, create a backup plan via your choice of classes. For example, somebody getting a library degree could also take a few cataloging and metadata classes, thereby creating the possibility of getting cataloging jobs.
Third, expect to continue to grow professionally after graduation because professionals are expected to keep up with improvements in their field. This is all the more true because of the stiff competition for archives jobs. You could earn a second master’s degree, go to conferences, and/or take some workshops in an area that you want or need to know more about.
The most important part of that is becoming a Certified Archivist. Most professions, such as doctors, lawyers, appraisers, records managers, and accountants, have a way of both certifying who is competent to practice that profession and a method of recertifying who continues to have that competence as that profession evolves. The Certified Archivist designation serves that purpose in the archives profession. So, prove your competence to yourself and others, including employers, by becoming a Certified Archivist.