When I used to think about networking, images that jumped to mind were always very professional. Picture formal introductions to senior members of the field, business cards changing hands, semi-awkward but pleasant enough conversations with people who could one day, maybe, possibly provide you employment. (Although you’d never say you were talking to people to try to get a job – too frank by far!)
That part of networking is important in any field, to be sure, especially ones that operate in smaller spheres (archives) and where you wouldn’t necessarily describe the job prospects as “overly abundant” (archives again – sorry). As a freshly-minted archivist, knowing that other people in the field were keeping an eye out for opportunities for me was tremendously helpful. And, frankly, there are just a lot of cool archivists it’s very fun to talk to occasionally on Twitter.
All of that is wonderful and helpful and good. But there was an aspect to it that I found myself encountering that I’d never heard discussed openly before, one that I craved until it led me to make a Twitter account devoted to churning out more of it: the power of laughing together.
Make no mistake, there is a power there. It’s quieter on some days, easy to miss in a rapid-fire of delightfully silly internet nonsense. But it’s there, and it’s got something important at its core, especially for archivists.
I love what I do, and I love the people I do it with. I’m lucky enough that those people – and the people who brought me into the field – have also helped to encourage me to be very open about the parts of the field that suck. Wherever you are, whatever kind of archival work you’re doing, there is something that will make you say, “Yeah, sure, this isn’t always the easiest field to be in.” The work is never as funded as it should be. Fixed-term labor is widespread. We pour our hearts and souls into our work, and still every day a major news outlet will publish an article talking about a researcher “discovering” something in a collection even though IT WAS IN A FINDING AID FIRST, PERFECTLY DESCRIBED BY AN ARCHIVIST, AND WHAT THE RESEARCHER DID WAS ACCESS IT AND WRITE ABOUT IT, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
(Sorry. Pet peeve.)
Laughter can’t change those kinds of field-wide problems. But what laughter can do, and what laughter has done for me, is to take away some of the sting of dealing with them.
Particularly early on, saddled with student debt and a load of imposter syndrome, the failures that come about from those problems can feel so achingly personal. When the only internships that are calling you back are unpaid, when your term gig doesn’t turn into a permanent position, when the salary you can secure is barely enough to get by, it can be near-impossible to keep perspective on the matter. (I should know: I was rejected from a term gig and bawled to “Stand by Me” on repeat for so long that Spotify put it on my top hits for that year. Ouch.)
I think it’s in these times, when you feel the least like laughing, that laughter can be the most powerful. It’s a painful laugh, sure, a barely-there smile, but it’s there, and it comes with the reassurance that you aren’t the only one going through what you’re going through. It’s a reminder that your problem is part of a bigger problem. You aren’t the first one who’s been in your situation, and you certainly won’t be the last. We’re all working on it. Sit with us a minute. Have a meme. Laugh a bit.
So, hoorah to networking in all its forms. I’ll go on to have many more semi-awkward but pleasant enough conversations, and continue to be introduced to senior members of the field until, through time’s slow machinations, I ascend and become one myself. But throughout my journey, I’m going to keep the lighter side of the field with me, too. It’s little, but for me, it really does help.