Friday, May 10, 2024
Photograph of Kery Lawson

There are numerous career opportunities for SLIS graduates outside of traditional library roles, and Kery Lawson has shown that for students who are actively looking, there are opportunities everywhere! 

Upon graduating in 2017, Lawson dove back into academia working toward her Ph. D. in History. Then, through her coursework, secured a graduate assistantship role where she helped assemble, catalog, and shelve approximately 2,000 books from around the Nemours Estate, all from scratch. Flash forward to 2022, when the estate began its search for a professional archivist of its own, and the staff remembered Lawson, prompting them to reach out. The rest, they say, is history (or perhaps archival!).

“I’d like students and potential students to know that what I do is mostly in the realm of what I thought I’d be doing, but it’s also quite different,” said Lawson. “I guess I’d say take all the opportunities you can, soak up all the knowledge you can in classes, and in your jobs outside of class (also very important). Few of us end up in jobs that stay within the neatly-defined parameters that we tend to draw while we’re in school. We usually end up taking on a variety of roles, so embrace it!”

During her SLIS coursework, Lawson focused on the Archival track, taking courses with Jennifer Burek Pierce, and working with the University of Iowa Special Collections department and Iowa Women’s Archives team. According to Lawson, it's the foundation she built throughout her SLIS education that gave her the knowledge and the courage to tackle the archival work of an entire organization. 

“My library degree and training in both the practical and intellectual dimensions of library and archival work formed the foundation of what I’m currently doing. I’m a “lone arranger” or “solo archivist” here, the first ever at my organization, so I’ve had to build Nemours Special Collections from the ground up, both intellectually and physically (including a collections move to a new building six months in),” said Lawson. “Because I have this background, I’ve felt secure and confident in mapping out the future of these collections and in communicating my role, needs, and value to other departments in the organization.”

Today, Lawson is only weeks away from receiving her Ph. D. in History, while continually building up the Nemours Estate Special Collections in Wilmington, Delaware. She encourages current and prospective SLIS students to look into archival opportunities in addition to other GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) organizations within both the public and private sectors. 

“This field is also more important than ever, as we strive to provide our communities with research skills, quality sources of information, and opportunities to experience other perspectives and ways of life,” said Lawson. “This is at the heart of what we do.” 

With a SLIS degree in hand, and a good amount of curiosity, Lawson says there’s no limit to students’ career potential. The world is full of opportunities for those who have the courage to seek them out.