By: Eira Tansey
Twenty-five archivists, five and a half days, and untold quantities of coffee: these are the basics that make up the annual Archives Leadership Institute (ALI). ALI is a week-long leadership training institute for a cohort of 25 archivists, selected each year following an extensive application and review process. The institute is funded by a 3-year grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC), and is currently located at Berea College (Kentucky).
ALI recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, and the competition to get into ALI is usually fierce – only 1/3 of applications are accepted, and many applicants apply multiple times before acceptance. The vast majority of ALI’s costs (lodging, food, transportation, instruction, and materials) are subsidized through the NHPRC grant, and the attendees pay the final share of $700. I was very fortunate to be in this year’s cohort, and grateful for the assistance provided by the UC Library Faculty Development Committee for my tuition costs.
In addition to the 25 members of the cohort, there are several facilitators, cohort mentors (many of whom are also ALI alumni), and faculty members. We were also fortunate to have the assistance of a couple of Berea College’s students who were critical to ensuring smooth logistics throughout the week.
ALI days are very long – breakfast starts at 7:15, and dinners usually end around 8. Every meal and virtually the entire day is spent with the big cohort, or within an assigned mini-cohort of 4-5 led by a designated cohort mentor. Each day is divided into a morning and afternoon workshop. Workshops covered the following topics:
- Leadership Skills
- Project Management
- Cultural Competency
- Strategic Planning
- Archival Ethics
In addition to the workshops, we participated in many team-building exercises and activities that took advantage of the unique history and culture of Berea. Berea is known for keeping Appalachian crafts and woodworking traditions alive, and our group got a small taste of this in a broom-making workshop. Another highlight was hiking to the top of Indian Fort outlook, which is part of the College’s Forest. We also spent time with many of the people who make the College such a wonderful place – from students who took us on morning running tours to author bell hooks.
All ALI cohort members are required to develop a practicum project. The practicum is intended to be a practical project that serves your institution or the larger profession. The first version of the practicum project is part of the application package for ALI. The practicum is then refined during the week within your mini-cohort, and every cohort member has an opportunity to “pitch” their idea to the larger cohort and receive valuable feedback. My practicum project is to develop better documentation of student life – particularly campus-based activism – in the University Archives at the Archives and Rare Books Library. The workshops on advocacy and project management were especially useful in helping me fine-tune my plans to pursue this important project.
Archivists in the United States come from a wide variety of disciplinary backgrounds, work in diverse settings, and take different routes towards training and professionalization. While this means few of us have identical experiences as archivists, we all face similar challenges associated with having more great ideas and critical priorities than we have resources to tackle. This means that it is incumbent for all archivists to develop skills for advocating for the work of archivists and the records in our care. Opportunities like ALI that give archivists a focused place to learn and recharge our careers to better serve both our institutions and the profession are vitally important.