Recent Discussion with Archival Professional Features University Archivist Laken Smith (MLIS ’18)

In the latest installment of “Discussions with Archival Professionals” on March 16, Laken Smith, the University Archivist at Athens State University, spent time talking with students about her career path, her current job position now, and unexpected challenges she has encountered since entering the field. Smith is a 2018 UA SLIS graduate and it is always a delight to get updates from our alumni, and provide students the chance to interact with professionals outside of UA SLIS.

Smith provided extensive detail about her job as a University Archivist, especially during COVID-19. “We’ve been getting a lot of donations right now, as Athens State is in its bicentennial period, so there’s a lot of committee work going on and outreach too,” she explained. Smith worked in a public library for two years before becoming a library support specialist at Athens State, and then eventually transitioning to the University Archivist position. She sees a convergence of values, having worked both in the public library and in the archives, and that is to ensure representation in the collections. “It’s important to do weeding to close those archival gaps, to make sure people can see themselves in the collections.”

Smith wears many hats as the University Archivist, including being thrust into a role as a museum curator as well. Athens State University has several museums that are affiliated with the institution and Smith explained that she had to broaden her knowledge base to make more people feel represented in those spaces. “It can be a real challenge, but I like that,” she said. The MLIS degree program is a short one, and Smith explained that there were just some things that could not be prepared for through the program, namely the unique day-to-day challenges in the public library. “You never know what is going to happen or who will walk through those doors.” She talked about a course she took during her time at UA SLIS that covered homelessness in the library and how beneficial it was during her time working in a public library.

She also emphasized the importance of students being able to find a mentor to model themselves after, even citing how her predecessor as University Archivist was essential in helping her gain a better understanding of what she is and is not responsible for in her current role. Laken is excited to see how her position will change when the threat of COVID-19 has been mitigated and is less of a determining factor of in-person interaction.

We appreciate Ms. Laken Smith for taking the time to talk with current students and wish her the best in her future endeavors!