Never Enough Time: How to Keep Up the Pace in the Archives

Day one of the Great Fall Research Trip down, one day left.  (Hey, it’s Fall Break, not Spring Break, or Summer Holidays. Fall-only-two-days-Break.)  Things have changed since the first time I entered an archives.  Sure, pencils still rule the day, but now one can use digital camera things to take pictures! (As long as they are approved by the archives.  Don’t go snapping pictures unless you have permission!)

The trouble with archives is that they are full of cool things to read and look at.  Yes, this is a true statement.  Now, do all those cool things apply to one’s current research? No.  Of course not.  They may however be of use at some point.  Or they may have the potential to be of use.  Or they are just very interesting and therefore the shiny object which could drag a researcher down a rabbit hole.  It is important to stay focused and keep moving.

And now we have digital cameras to take pictures of the shiny things for free!  But no, we will stay time-on-task because if the copies are free, my time is not and cannot afford to come back before I need to produce a conference paper.  Here, however, are a few helpful tips for keeping up the pace:

  1. Skim and search for keywords: Most historians learn (especially in graduate school) to read quickly.  If you have any sense of what you want to find or explore, look for those keywords. And the copy everything around it. (Remember, with digital camera, you can read that document in full later.)
  2. Get the full citation: Make sure you get the whole citation for future reference.  Literally.  Sure, sure, you may think you will remember it or have everything you need, but you will one day need to email all of your friends and listservs and then maybe grovel to the archivist to find that source’s citation and you will waste time.  Trust me.
  3. Bring mints: You don’t have time to take a break for snacks or lunch or whatever.  Keep your head down and your blood sugar up.  If you must break for lunch, make it quick. If you can, bring food that doesn’t require refrigeration.  Unless you go to a religious archives where they invite you to lunch at the convent, which is really awesome.  Again, religious archives have cool things.
  4. Don’t hydrate too much: This seems self-explanatory and slightly indelicate to explain why.  Besides you aren’t supposed to have liquids in the archives. This is not one of those new-styled libraries where there aren’t any books, but they have coffee shops. (To be honest, I do like that I can get coffee in libraries, but I am morally opposed to having the coffee, or any other food or beverage, near books.)
  5. Occasionally stretch your legs: You may find yourself getting tired when you spend eight hours in an archives.  Stand up, stretch, maybe take a quick stroll down the hall (especially if you didn’t heed the above advice).

The first day also reminded me (as if I needed reminding!) how good religious archives are.  There are wonders to be explored and there are good people working in these archives.  The Mercy Heritage Center has lots of cool things and I would highly recommend it.

Time Management

With vacation in our rear view window, I am compelled to turn my attention to work.  As any good historian (or academically minded soul) knows, one rarely ever goes on complete vacation.  Time off from work means more time for research and writing.  The end of the school year is more eagerly anticipated by my professor husband than his students.  It means no more paper work and correcting and he is free to read, write, and move forward on projects he has been nursing along throughout the school year.  Now, I understand that there are such things as sabbaticals, but he works for an institution which does not give them very much and currently one must compete for them.  Needless to say, he likes his summers.  (During our vacation, I wrote one book review and made a serious effort to write a second, which is very much due and possibly late.)

One of the concerns I had before I took my current position was that I would have time to continue my own research agenda (whatever that may be).  The regular week-day schedule for professors is generally very busy and full, but there is a built in sense that research and producing articles, books, what have you, is expected and supported.  One may have a 4-4 load, but one may not teach every day.  Certainly that other time is for office hours and class prep, but one can also carve out a regular schedule of writing.  In theory.  With an administrative job, one is to work in an office something similar to 9 to 5, every day of the week (I know, it is so weird.)  Again, I am not suggesting I work more than a professor; I just work in a more traditional office setting now.  Compounded with that is finding the time to do my own research and writing, which brings me to time management.

Everyone has to do it.  Everyone has their way of working, finding time to write, whether that is the morning in wee hours before they leave the house, or possibly the evenings.  Finding that time and sticking with it, keeping a regular schedule for writing, has to be one the hardest thing to do.  Ever.  We get tired.  We worked all day already.  Our spouses and/or families oddly enough want to spend time with us (or at the very least, would like us to contribute to the general upkeep of the house).  Why do I have to get up at 3 am just to be a productive scholar?  Wouldn’t it be a better idea to take a nap, or even better, watch a stupid movie on the TV?

I bring this up because that pesky old vacation has ended and I have before me a large chunk of work, both for my day job and for my research.  I have revisions on my book, Led by Mercy, to complete before the fall really gets in full swing. I have to prepare for a class I will teach as well.  I will not panic.  Nope.  I will set up a writing schedule and I will stick to it.  (I think I will ask my mother to say a novena for me.)