UCLA Information Studies: Fields of Endeavor || Featuring Kylie Harris (United Nations Joint Inspection Unit)

SAA @ UCLA presents “UCLA Information Studies: Fields of Endeavor.” The Fields of Endeavor series introduces UCLA Library and Information Studies program graduates and current interns who are out in the field taking knowledge learned in the program and putting it to use! We are pleased to feature international intern Kylie Harris.

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Kylie in Rome, during a research trip for the UN

Name: Kylie Harris
Graduation Year: 2013
MLIS Focus: Archival Studies
Job Title and Site: United Nations  Internship at the Joint Inspection Unit: Archives and Records Management Evaluation in Geneva, Switzerland

What do you do all day?
It all depends on the day, but it could be anything from background research on the records and archives management policies of the different UN entities, designing questionnaires for the units responsible for archives and records management, building a survey on Survey Monkey for staff in all business units to determine actual records management practices, designing and completing tables to compare the different UN entities across a wide variety of archives and records management issues, drafting sections for the report, discussing the project with my supervisor, having team meetings with the Inspector, attending interviews with professionals in the field from the different UN entities, to going on mission with the team to conduct interviews in Rome, Paris, and Brussels.

Most frequent response when you tell people what you do:
When I tell people that I am studying library and information science, specializing in archives, they often respond by saying or asking, “Oh, how interesting…” (whilst looking quite uninterested) or, “So what do you do exactly??” or, “What made you decide to do that??” When I tell people from California about the internship in Geneva they often express excitement and surprise, but when I tell people in Geneva about my internship at the UN they just say “Oh okay, cool” or something like that. So many people in Geneva work for international organizations that to them it’s no big deal.

Most interesting item, record, document, etc. you have come across:
It may seem boring, but for me the most interesting document I worked with was the archives and records management policy document for the UN Secretariat (called the ST/SGB/2007/5). It wasn’t interesting because it’s a great or influential document, but exactly the opposite. The policy has many deficiencies and it lacks the necessary authority to be effective. While thinking about this document and its implementation (or lack thereof) I realized how much I enjoy analyzing and comparing policy documents.

What new skills have you developed through this experience?
One of the most important aspects of this internship was learning how to function in a team with an established hierarchy, and in particular, one led by an elected official. That is not something I’ve ever had to deal with in academic group work before and this experience definitely opened my eyes. It was an exercise of patience, compromise, and deciding how to pick your battles and when to save your energy for the most important issues.

I also learned a lot about jobs within the UN. We had many discussions with supervisors and fellow interns about applying to jobs at the UN. Applying for professional level positions can be a long and involved process, so the insight gained during this internship was invaluable.

Recommendations for students who are interested in your type of internship:
You’re in luck! The JIU is looking for someone with an interest or background in archives and records management to replace me as we speak. The internship would be for this spring or summer (for 2-6 months). Of course, unpaid internships abroad are incredibly difficult and I wish that it wasn’t that way in the UN. But in my experience it was all worth it in the end. I never regretted the decision for even a second. It was an incredible opportunity to learn about archives and records management practices across such a huge swath of the UN and to participate in a project that could potentially have such a beneficial impact on their archives and records management practices by bringing to light important deficiencies and strengths and ultimately by making recommendations for change.

There are often other internships abroad at the various UN offices around the world. You can go to their websites and see if they are currently offering any internships in this field. The UN Office at Geneva was recently offering internships in archives and records management and within the library as well, so it may be worthwhile applying there.

One archival commandment you would establish:
It is a simple and obvious one, but still not well addressed within the UN, ?Don?t take archives and records management for granted!?

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Archives Nationales des France in Pierrefitte-sur-Seine

Favorite archive to visit:                                           In LA, so far my favorite archive to visit has been the Western Costume Company Archives. Seeing all those incredible, one-of-a-kind costumes was really fun. While I was in Europe, the most interesting archive I visited was the Archives Nationales des France. During our team’s working trip to Paris, we visited both the original national archives building in the center of Paris and their state of the art new storage center in Pierrefitte-sur-Seine. The old building houses the ancient collections and the new storage center houses more recent materials (but still very old compared to US standards!) They also gave us a presentation of their current digital preservation efforts, which was fascinating!

Favorite/Most memorable course from UCLA IS Department so far:
There are so many courses that I enjoyed, it’s tough to say which was my favorite, but if I had to choose it would be Professor Gilliland’s Community-Based Archiving course. I learned so much and was exposed to so many different perspectives. It was also because of this course that I decided to further pursue archival studies. The most memorable course was probably Professor Blanchette’s Systems Analysis and Design course. It was a great exercise in presenting your ideas in front of the class. I especially liked how open Professor Blanchette was to our being creative and unconventional! I also really enjoyed Professor Furner’s Museum Informatics course!

Course you wish you had taken at UCLA IS Department:
After seeing so many institutions struggle with electronic records just during my brief stay in Geneva, I now wish I had taken Professor Blanchette’s Digital Preservation course. It would likely have been useful wherever I may end up after graduation.

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About Society of American Archivists at UCLA

Welcome to the Society of American Archivists student chapter at the University of California, Los Angeles! The Chapter is open to all students interested in any aspect of archival management and preservation ranging from traditional materials such as manuscripts, personal papers, and business records to electronic and digital media in all formats.
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