Work Culture at SIA

(reflective report for school)

For this week’s report, I wanted to reflect a little on the work culture and management of the archives at the Smithsonian. The other archive I had worked in prior to this internship was my undergraduate college’s archive. While the students there were allowed to dress casually, for the most part, it was a formal environment to work in with a hands-on management style. The Smithsonian archives takes a much more casual, hands-off approach to management that creates a very casual, very relaxed work culture where there is little difference between the manager and the intern in how you interact.

In terms of management, which in turn creates the work culture, there is very little “intense” management. My supervisor works on the opposite side of the building from where the scanning room, where I spend most of my time, is located. She comes over to see me maybe twice a day if she is even in the office. Often much of the staff is out of the office at other archive locations or involved in work at other museums for the Smithsonian. Because of this, I am in charge of my time management and project advancement. I have no manager breathing down my neck if I get a bit behind on a box because there were more pictures in some of the folders than usual. I have no deadline except what I myself set. For my work style, this type of management is perfect. I have a lot of independence in how I structure my days. On certain days that I am out of the scanning room and either out at the Fullerton warehouse or working on a different collection at Capital Gallery, I am always given instructions first and ask any questions before I am set loose and once again, I set my own pace. This works very well for me, as I stated before. I do not hesitate to ask questions if I get stuck or confused but I am not left feeling like my supervisor will be constantly looking over my shoulder either. For me, this means I enjoy the work more, learn more and work harder. I am my hardest taskmaster. A more controlling management style would get me nervous and flustered and I would enjoy the work less.

That said I found having my work checked over is a good thing for me. A fellow intern is doing quality control on my work in the scanning room, making sure my entries in the database are filled out correctly and match up to the digital image. Being my own taskmaster so often means I can get a little sloppy. I think I tend to get into a zone of repetition and stop paying as much attention as I need to the details. Having my work checked this past week reminded me that, while I enjoy my independence at work, I also need to police myself a bit better in general. I am trying to check over my entries at the end of the day to make sure I did not forget something silly like changing a folder name or not putting a “dr.” before someone’s name where it belongs. If I take the time to do this, most of the mistakes my fellow intern is finding would disappear.

Because of this management system, the work culture at SIA is very casual and informal. The director of the archives is approachable by everyone and anyone in her office. All have an open-door policy. I joke and laugh with my supervisor a lot and they encourage all the interns to discuss our projects but also just to talk in general. We have the Internet radio playing when I am over in the archives offices, working on a collection. We share fun or weird discoveries in our collections with each other and our supervisors. The dress code is very casual so I personally am even more in a comfort zone at work. The Records management side tends to be a bit more formal so I am definitely more comfortable in the archives offices even if I spend the most time on the records management side in the scanning room. It is an interesting office because of the physical split in where the archives have their offices and workspace and where the records management teams have offices. However, while more formal in dress, the records management people are just as casual in manner and also add their own radio and stories to the atmosphere of the office. Overall, I find it a very comfortable and relaxing place to work. I like being able to set my pace and be my own manager for the most part around people who are encouraging and helpful as well as genuinely interested in sharing their experiences and learning mine.

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