Amber Harrison is a 2021 graduate of the MLIS/MAPH (Master in Public History) dual degree program.
She is currently working as the history academic services assistant for the University of Michigan’s History Department.
As a student, Harrison worked for the School of Information Sciences in a variety of roles, including office assistant and library circulation assistant.
Harrison was chosen to speak at the virtual Graduation Celebration event for Winter and Spring 2021 SIS graduates where she offered an insightful perspective on the challenges of completing coursework during unprecedented and challenging times.
“We successfully completed our graduate programs in the midst of local and national upheaval, and of course a global pandemic. On top of the strenuous work that is graduate school, we were required to make drastic changes to how we went about our daily lives, both professionally and personally. Many lost normalcy, structure, jobs, even loved ones. It wasn’t easy. It took a lot for us to get to this very moment. So be proud. Be proud that we pushed through adversity, that we found inventive ways to stay the course. Be proud that we are here, that we got here and, though remotely, can celebrate a life-changing accomplishment.”
Read Harrison’s complete remarks here and learn a more about their experiences at Wayne State below.
Q. Why did you choose Wayne State’s School of Information Sciences?
A. I am a native Detroiter. Having pursued several degrees here already (a Bachelor of Music in Music Education degree and a Master of Arts in Music History degree), attending Wayne State felt very much like coming back home. I was initially planning to pursue a doctorate degree in historical musicology. But over the years I began to realize that I did not want to pursue a traditionally “academic” field or career. Community engagement slowly became a passionate area for me. When I realized I needed to make a career transition, I met with the history department and learned not only about their fairly new public history program, but that Wayne State was in the process of creating the dual library and public history degree program. I immediately knew that this was the right path to take, that I had to come back to Wayne State once again.
Q. What area did you specialize in? Why?
A. For my public history degree, I chose the Gender, Sexuality, and Women Studies track. For the library degree, I chose the Archives track (but am also interested in academic libraries). I chose these specific tracks because I wanted to learn the ways in which one can pursue community engagement, as well as how to be an ally and supporter of underserved communities, and to share and preserve their stories and knowledge.
Q. Where/What format did you take most of your classes?
A. The public history degree was only offered on campus while the library and information science degree is online. I found a comfortable medium between the two programs that is both unique and refreshing.
Q. Were you active in any student organizations?
A. I served as the President for Wayne State’s Society of American Archivists Student Chapter, the social media manager for Wayne State’s American Library Association Student Chapter, and the secretary for Wayne State’s National Digital Stewardship Alliance Student Chapter. I was also the vice president of Social Media for Wayne State’s History Graduate Students Association. Additionally, between both departments, I served on several academic/administrative committees as a student representative.
Q. How did involvement in student organizations impacted your SIS experience?
A. Being involved in student organizations helped me expand: my understanding of the information science field, the ways in which students and professionals alike can learn from each other, creating safe spaces for students to engage and explore their career options, as well as professional development opportunities.
Q. Are you currently doing any library, digital content management, archives or information management related work? If so, how has the program prepared you for it?
A. I am working on my Master’s Project for my public history program. The project focuses on Detroit’s Black queer history via the Reuther Library. The project format? A podcast! However, due to the pandemic, I have been unable to visit the Reuther to explore their collections more thoroughly, so this project has been put on hold for longer than anticipated. But, with the availability of vaccines and everything opening back up, I will finally get to visit the Reuther sooner rather than later! Focusing on archival administration for my MLIS program most certainly guided my project’s framework. The podcast will highlight several of the Reuther’s LGBTQIA+ collections, including their LGBT Detroit collection. Because of our archives program, I have a better understanding of the central functions of an archive and am well-equipped to interpret and share these skills and information with the greater public. The Oral History, Archival Administration, and Archival Reference courses were especially helpful. The final goal is to record and contribute a podcast episode to the Reuther’s “Tales from the Reuther” podcast program.
Q. What are you most proud of in your time as a student at SIS?
A. I am proud that I stepped out of my comfort zone to explore what’s out there for information professionals and public historians. I spent most of my life dedicated to the study and performance of music. I was worried that I might not succeed in this restructuring of my career goals.
Q. Is there a professor who has really impacted your journey into becoming an information professional?
A. My first course at SIS was one that I did not originally choose to take. I was initially registered for a museum culture course, but it was cancelled days before the fall semester was to begin. My public history advisor said I should enroll in the Oral History course taught by Kim Schroeder. Prior to this class, not only did I not have experience with oral histories but barely knew anything about them. I didn’t see the connection between it and the kind of work I wished to pursue. In its beginning, I was terrified of being in the class, but Kim did an excellent job of guiding us through the ins and outs of oral history. By the end of that term, I was armed and ready to take on the world. I came to thoroughly enjoy conducting oral history interviews and plan to pursue that method (among others) of preserving history and contributing to community engagement.
Q. What do you feel is the most important or surprising thing you’ve learned about the library and information science profession?
A. The most important and surprising thing I have learned about the information profession is its diversity of career opportunities. I chose the public history and library dual degree program because I never want to be in a box, and pursuing these programs is helping me realize the numerous possibilities.
Q. Do you feel well prepared for a career in the information profession? Any long-term professional goals?
A. I know that what I have learned will help me pursue work in community engagement. Whether that be in an academic library or a historical museum, I am confident that my studies here have more than prepared me for the outside world.
Q. What advice would you give to someone considering SIS to pursue their master(s) degrees?
A. Don’t worry, and don’t compare yourself to others! We all come from diverse backgrounds and therefore can contribute in a variety of seen and unseen ways. Pursuing an MLIS (or MSIM) does not mean that you can only find work in public libraries (but if that’s your chosen track, then by all means pursue it!). I spent over 20 years studying music and thought I’d be the odd person out. Celebrate your uniqueness and know that you have an essential role in the information world.