Resident of the Month: Magee Lawhorn

Magee Lawhorn headshot

Magee Lawhorn was the Project Archivist, (ACRL Resident and Administrative Fellowship Program Fellow) while at the Houghton Library at Harvard University from September 2017- May 2019. She is currently the Head of Archives & Special Collections at the Class of 1945 Library, Phillips Exeter Academy (PEA), located in Exeter, New Hampshire.

Tell me a little bit about your background. Where did you attend college? What degrees do you have? What programs (undergraduate or graduate) prepared you for your current position? Tell me about your position and what you do.

I studied archaeology and concentrated in music for undergrad at Cornell University. For a time, I was assisting with archaeological research and excavating while singing in local bands. After some time I went on to get my MLIS from St. John’s University with a concentration is archive management. A combination of my experiences prepared me for my current position, each building upon the one before, allowing me to accumulate transferrable skills. I worked at a non-profit called the Yale-China Association that helped develop my skills when it comes to managing up and laterally, how to cater to different sets of people associated with the institution (e.g. trustees, potential donors, volunteers, fellows, etc.) as well as how to organize and plan events. I have many fond memories working as an Information Services Assistant at the Farmington Public Libraries (Farmington, CT). I discovered my love for public librarianship working directly with patrons during one-on-one instructional sessions, through makerspace events, ordering adult fiction for the branch library, assisting someone with a genealogical inquiry, accepting passport applications as an acceptance agent, or simply helping a patron make photocopies. My last job before my current position was at Houghton Library, as a full-time Project Archivist (AFP Fellow and ACRL Resident) working with the accessioning archivist. The experience I had at Houghton Library was pivotal to the trajectory of my career. The work I did at Houghton provided the guidance that cemented what knowledge and training I needed to gain in order to step into an administrative role. As the Head of Archives & Special Collections at PEA I wear many hats. I am the manager for the collections, I accession and process materials, assist researchers (internal and external), help faculty members embed archival materials into their classes, curate exhibits, and assist my library colleagues with circulation/reference duties. Besides my library related duties, I am one of many Academic Coaches that provide students with time management and note-talking advice, and have a plethora of duties assigned to my docket as needed due to my administrative faculty member status (e.g. member of certain committees, participation in faculty events, chaperoning, etc.).

What caught your interest about the residency that you were a part of?

Houghton drew my attention because it differentiated itself from other opportunities. It coupled the residency with the Administrative Fellowship Program (AFP) that had been around for several decades. AFP was created to help professionals from historically underrepresented groups develop leadership skills. My AFP cohort was especially helpful to my professional development because I was with engaging with people outside my field about how to become a more affective manager. I was learning how to be both a better archivist and administrator by learning from my peers who were engineers, human resources representatives, architects, lawyers, educators, business analyst, non-profit workers, and more. Besides being around individuals outside of my field of expertise we were all at various stages in our careers, which I think really allowed us to have very fruitful conversations. Without having the privilege of being in the room with my 2017-18 cohort I would not be where I am today. Leadership skills allowed me to explore new management styles, negotiating skills, and navigating sometimes tumultuous situations and spaces. I was able to build skills that are not taught in the library and information science community, but are extremely useful. I am appreciative that Houghton Library saw that a residency, and an archival project, should be combined with high-level leadership programming.

Before you became a resident, what were you thinking about doing professionally or academically?

I wanted to be an archivist, but I would have been happy being an information services librarian at a public library. Perhaps one day I will go back to public librarianship, I don’t believe in resigning myself to one aspect in LIS, I think the LIS profession should be less rigid and more fluid.

How was the residency or job application process for you?

If I recall correctly it was a couple rounds of interviews. I applied to the project archivist job via one application, but I had to also fill out other documents for the AFP portion of position and ask people to submit references on my behalf about my work ethic and capabilities. First round interview was just by phone with the HR representative and the questioning was mostly about the fellowship part of the position. Second round was by phone with a part of the Houghton Library search committee. Third round interview was a full day, onsite with the Houghton Library search committee and representatives of various internal and external departments throughout the day. A full day interviews can be quite exhausting, I believe I met about 40 people that day. This interview style can be overwhelming so you really have to prep yourself beforehand.

Do you have any comments or advice for current residents?

Try to make the most of your residency. Make all the mistakes you can and learn from them. Be brave! Explore public services, outreach, cataloging, anything they will allow you to get your hands on and wrap your mind around. Be kind! But remember to push forward, ask for what you deserve and don’t feel bad about it. As you move through the field, remember to make connections and help others when you can.

How are you becoming or staying involved with the wider profession?

I continue to participate in conferences when I can, specifically New England Archivist (NEA) and Society of American Archivists (SAA) related gatherings. I also continue to reach out and check-in with former colleagues. I try to meet up with the LIS professionals from my cohort and other AFP cohorts as much as possible. And in the future I am hoping to meet up with other archivists, special collections librarians, and records managers at other secondary schools.

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