Deranging the Archives

I am once again very happy to have a contribution from Derangement and Description‘s Rebecca Goldman. This time, Rebecca is following up to her comic heard around the archival world, Post-SAA Howl. As DnD returns to the funnier side of archives, NewArchivist is excited to host this already rich conversation and begin the quest for some solutions. ~Lance

(Disclaimer: All views are my own and do not represent the positions of Drexel University, the Drexel University Libraries, or the Drexel iSchool.)

I used to worry that if I was known as a webcomic author, no one would take me seriously as an archivist. Now I worry that people will take me seriously as an archivist because I’m a webcomic author, and that’s no good either. You should listen to to me because I’ve been in archives long enough to speak from experience, but not so long that I don’t feel like an outsider sometimes. Because I have a MLS, but I’m still a student, and I’ll be starting archives classes in the fall. Because I work at a university that has an archives program, which is where most of the interns at my archives come from. And because I presented at SAA this year–as a last-minute addition to my panel, replacing an archivist who had to leave the field for financial reasons.

So! Some of you may have read a little photocomic last week about the plight of some of our new archivists. I really meant it only as a reflection of my own frustration, both with the difficult situation facing new archivists and my inability to do anything about it. And so I asked for ideas. To say that I was overwhelmed by the response would be an understatement. I expected some comments, and maybe even a little controversy; what I did not expect was a call to action.

Here is the primary reason for my surprise: I didn’t think I was saying anything new. Isn’t it obvious to anyone looking for a job, or looking for an employee, that the supply of applicants far exceeds the number of open positions? Isn’t it common for new archivists to start out in part-time or grant-funded jobs? Haven’t we argued about this on A&A already? (Regarding that last one–apparently not.)

The discussion surrounding the post-SAA Howl has been amazingly productive, and even in discussing issues that are highly emotional for many archivists, the conversations have remained polite and respectful. Gold star for everyone! I have some ideas that haven’t yet been mentioned by others, so I thought I’d share them here.

1. The problems facing entry-level archivists are not unique to the archives field. There’s a recession on, jobs are being cut across the board, and employers have many talented candidates to choose from. We should be concerned about what will happen when the recession ends. Companies and institutions will start hiring again when the economy improves, but will they replace the archives positions and funding that have been cut? Will organizations that have never had an archives see the value in starting one?

2. The state of the field hurts all archivists, not just the un(der)employed ones. Those of us who are employed, especially in entry-level positions, know that what separates us from the unemployed is often merely luck, or geographic flexibility, or knowing the right people. (And if you don’t know that–well, you do now.) There’s some survivor’s guilt there. And we can share our favorite food and music and hobbies with our friends, but we can’t so easily share our love of archives, knowing the challenges awaiting anyone entering the field.

3. Unpaid interns should be free as in kittens, not free as in beer. Archivists have used the expression “free as in kittens” to discuss the responsibilities that patrons should take on as part of the reference services they receive. (Chela Scott Weber provided great context in her SAA presentation–I’ll add a link here if it goes online.) Grad students may come to you with sad kitten eyes, begging you to take them on as interns, but you should only accept them if you are willing to take responsibility for training, mentoring, and supervising. (Whether or not archives should accept unpaid grad school interns at all is a separate issue, and certainly worthy of discussion.)

4. How can we be advocates for the profession? Many commenters have cited the need for increased advocacy. But do we know what effective advocacy for the archives looks like? Who is in a good position to advocate?

I’m glad that my post has inspired so many archivists to start asking what we can do for our profession, and that responses have come from archivists at various stages in their careers and with connections to a variety of institutions and professional associations. (Still no comments from professors or staff at library/archives schools. I hope some of you will weigh in soon at NewArchivist!) And it’s certainly flattering (not to mention a little intimidating) that a picture I made could become the basis for a movement. I’m not sure what such a movement should look like, and I’m certainly not the person to lead it, but I have a few thoughts on how it might stay true to the spirit of the original post and the commentary it generated.

1. Include everyone, everywhere, as much as possible. For in-person meetings, try to hold them in multiple cities, and help attendees find cheap housing and transportation. Also consider online meetings. They can become unwieldy very quickly as the number of attendees grows, but if you find a way to make it work, let SAA and the other associations know how you did it! And make the records of your meetings, wherever and however they happen, available online and accessible to all.

2. Some archivists want to take action. Some just need to vent. Both reactions are valid, but they’re best expressed in separate settings. Don’t let the ranters derail your business meetings, but do provide them with a space to rant.

3. Your enemies are potential partners. You can blame the archives programs, the professors, the employers, the professional associations, all of the above–or, you can work with them to improve the field for all archivists.

Derangement and Description would like to revert back to being a humor blog, but let’s keep the discussion and planning going here at NewArchivist.



Filed under By-Guest_Contributor, By-Rebecca

2 responses to “Deranging the Archives

  1. terryx

    “3. Your enemies are potential partners. You can blame the archives programs, the professors, the employers, the professional associations, all of the above–or, you can work with them to improve the field for all archivists.” Much love for this!

  2. Pingback: Howled Migration « Derangement and Description