This post is my attempt to add to the already wonderful discussion sparked by Rebecca Goldman’s Howl. If you have not read it, I strongly urge you to, as well as her followup here on NewArchivist. We hope the contribution by NewArchivist to be one of suggested improvements that we can discuss and perhaps get on the table to address some of the issues Rebecca and her commentors bring up. I really hope we can continue this important discussion. Thanks to Rebecca and Emi Hastings for their invaluable help with this post.
It seems to me that the least we can do is attempt to create a baseline of what we expect from our profession. This post is an attempt to get that discussion off the ground. I am focusing on two areas here, education and employment. There have been other important points raised as well, such as the level of engagement and cost of the SAA conference. I have been working on a post about that and will try to get it up soon.
At the end of each section, I identify groups that I think can be agents of change in this area. This is not an issue for just educators, or new professionals, or students, or SAA, but the profession as a whole. It will take all of us to advocate for change.
Clearly, there is a feeling right now that master’s degree-granting institutions are contributing to the difficulty of finding employment, especially early in a person’s career, in two ways: by graduating more archivists than the current job market can support, and by not providing enough practical training. I propose that schools devoted to archival training do the following to address these concerns:
Give an Accurate Picture of the Archival Job Market Many schools tout their placement numbers. However, they do not qualify those numbers by telling people how many graduates will be looking for employment again in 1 or 2 years because they are in grant-funded or other short-term positions. Turning to my own experience and that of my graduate cohort, I would think that number would be quite high, perhaps well over half. Incoming students should have this information. While this may make it harder to recruit, it will create a more informed incoming class of students that will be aware of the challenges facing them. My alma mater puts out annual employment reports that have a lot of good information, but do not include the number or percentage of archives students receiving short-term employment. Lets give incoming students all the information they need to decide if the archives profession is indeed for them.
Address How Schools Factor the Job Market vs. Recruitment What is recruitment based on? Do people look at the positions available when determining incoming class size? These might be naive questions, but part of me does think that our schools are concerned with more than money, new buildings, and tenure. I believe most are very concerned with their students getting employment. I know my professors were. I just wonder what it will take to have a school actually reduce the number of students it enrolls due to the job market (you still think I am naive, don’t you).
Provide Managed Practical Experience This is an applied profession and we need more than theory. Most schools provide credit for and/or require some sort of experience in the “real world.” However, they should not stop at making students find internships. When I was in school I took a practicum, which was part internship and part class and discussion managed by working archivists. It was invaluable to me to be placed in a working archive and then have a chance to discuss issues that arose with my fellow students and other experienced archivists. This class is no longer offered in that format, which I think is a shame. I know it takes a lot of resources to find local opportunities for your students. However, if you cannot provide this level of experience and education to your students, perhaps it is because you have too many students!
Agents of Change: Alumni Those of us that are alums of these schools should be able to leverage that status to at least open a dialog on these matters. Recently, a colleague and I had a very productive sit down with the dean of our alma mater. We were able to raise concerns about the job market, giving incoming students all the needed information, and designing a practical curriculum, among other things. I urge you all to talk to your deans and alumni groups about the issues you feel they need to address. They need to hear from the front lines of the professional job hunt, and you are the best people to give them that information.
Agents of Change: Students Ask your prospective school how they are addressing these issues. If they do not tell you, demand it. If they still do not tell you, I would have serious doubts about going there. If you are a current student, ask the same questions and give them feedback as to the difficulty you are finding in the job market. Then tell them again.
Agents of Change: Hiring Archivists If you are a professional archivist who sees a huge number of applications for one position, or thinks that the applicants are not as strong as they should be, let the schools know. As the people who give graduates jobs, you have a lot of juice with the schools: use it!
Agents of Change: ALA/SAA Like it or not, ALA is the de facto accrediting body for graduate archival education programs. If you are like me, you will find it quite odd that the accreditation standards used to certify archival training programs do not contain the words archivist or archive. However, this is all we have, as currently SAA provides only Guidelines for Archival Continuing Education, not accreditation (there is a report out there as to why but the link was dead on the SAA site; if you know where it is please let me know in the comments). ALA can use its power as the accrediting body to force the schools to follow a set of community agreed upon recommendations. I think we will need to get a pretty good head of steam at the grass roots level before we can get the behemoth that is ALA to take this up. In the meantime, we can yell at SAA to get off the sidelines.
The job situation is the most difficult one facing us as a profession. The lack of positions, and the tenuous funding for existing positions, is at the core why so many archivists, new and established, are howling.
You will notice that in the following list I do not address the fact that we are underpaid as a profession. I believe that is very true. However, I think as far as employment goes, the lack of fairly paid professional positions with benefits far outweighs the overall underpayment issue. I also think it is a bit unfair to compare us with other professions, like technical or records management. People in the for-profit sector will make more than those of us in the non-profit cultural sector every time. I am not saying that is fair, but I knew that going in. We are among many professions that are underpaid, and in my book, social workers, teachers, people helping others combat addiction and sickness, are ahead of us in line. That is just my opinion, of course.
However, I think we can fight to make professional positions the default, while making “paraprofessional” positions or internships fairer and less of an economic burden. I propose we demand the following from our fellow archival professionals:
Professional Compensation for Professional Work We cannot tolerate, as a profession, positions that have all of the requirements and duties of professional positions without full-time pay and benefits. Positions that file papers all day but are called archivists devalue our profession. Non-professional and/or part-time positions that require a master’s degree or previous experience devalue those degrees and experiences. We all see these types of positions, like this recent gem, and we should pick today as the day we stop tolerating them, dammit!
Underpaid/Unpaid Interns/Volunteers Require Other Benefits Readers of my blog know that I have a difficult time working out my feelings on internships. I think that unpaid work of any kind severely limits the diversity and richness of our profession. However, I also do not see it going away as long as people love the work and want to gain experience. I think we can agree that an intern or volunteer should earn much more for their work than a line on their resume. Building on what Rebecca has already said in her post, institutions that hire or accept non-professional workers should provide some sort of combination of the following:
- Formal mentoring programs
- Resume reviews, mock interviews, and job search sessions
- Chances for professional development (conferences, local workshops, etc.)
- Opportunities to be exposed to other professional advice, training, or assistance
- Other career preparation help
This list is just a starter. My point is that interns or volunteers should not be viewed as all the work with no or little pay. They are entering the profession, or are already in it, and should be treated as professionals. Just because you do not have funding does not mean that you can simply create a professional position minus the pay. If you are doing this, you are on the wrong side of ethics–and, in some cases, the law.
Agents of Change: Archive Professionals This one is a no-brainer. If you are creating professional positions without professional compensation, stop. To be fair, the vast majority of archives are not creating positions like these. But I also do not think enough of us are calling out the few that are. If you see an unfair position posted, contact the people posting the position and let them know your feelings. If they are breaking your local law by offered unpaid positions separate from a formal training or education program, let them know that as well. We need to create an atmosphere where it is embarrassing to put positions like these on the Internet.
Agents of Change: SAA SAA should make fair employment practice part of their Code of Ethics for Archivists. This should come as part of a complete reform of the Code in an effort to make it meaningful, with repercussions if it is not followed. I know this used to be the case, but then it was watered down. Perhaps this is something the SAA Issues and Advocacy Roundtable could address?
So there you have it. I hope that did not come off as a rant, although I was kinda ranty there at the end. If you think the posts at Derangement and Description, here, Twitter, and the like are true, if you think that our profession is in need of some reform, then I have a challenge for you. Keep the discussion going, try to work out a common set of reforms, and then act. It is clear that these issues have been around a while, and people were just as fired up about them as we are now, but nothing was done.
Part of our mission as archivists, after all, is to try to prevent repeating mistakes from the past, right?