What can you do with an English major? Well, Valerie Higgins (’08) applied for and got a full-time position as Assistant Archivist at the Ryerson and Burnham Archives of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she says she spends most of her time processing collections and creating finding aids.
“Processing collections entails organizing the materials and physically preparing them for access by researchers,” Valerie writes. “The Ryerson and Burnham Archives collect the papers of artists and architects whose work complements the permanent collections in the Art Institute’s curatorial departments, so I get to work with a wide variety of collections.
“So far, I have processed the papers of a weaver who wrote several significant books in her field and whose work is featured in the museum. I am currently processing the files of a landscape architect who designed landscapes for many buildings in the Chicago area and the papers of an author who wrote several books on Frank Lloyd Wright,” Valerie writes.
“Once I’ve processed a collection, I write a finding aid which contains a brief biographical sketch of the creation of the collection, a description of the scope and content of the materials, and an outline of the materials in the collection. As an archivist, I must constantly determine the significance of groups of materials within the context of the collection based on my analysis of its parts. I feel that I frequently draw on the analytical skills I developed as an English major,” she writes, adding, “My research and writing skills have also assisted me in creating finding aids. I’ve really enjoyed my work so far, and I feel so lucky to get to spend every day at the Art Institute.”