Help Support an Archivist

Kate Theimer has a wonderful idea to start a scholarship fund to help fellow professionals by paying the registration fee for SAA’s annual conference. The conference can be such a great learning and networking experience for a new archivist. It can also be an expensive endeavor, especially for someone just starting out or is currently un- or under-employed. So far in my young career I have been lucky enough to have generous support from my employers. However, not enough of us are this lucky. SAA currently has one scholarship to help students travel to it’s annual conference. It is fantastic that Kate’s idea will expand the number of professionals that will receive assistance.

Now, as great as her idea is, the idea alone is not enough. The pot of money used for these scholarships will be funded by us, other archivists. See Kate’s post for more details on the scholarships, how to contribute, and how to apply (application deadline is midnight on Friday, July 8th). She has made it nice and easy, so please give what you can and help to support a fellow archivist.

UPDATE: Kate has posted that she extended the donation deadline and she will keep sponsoring conference fees until the fund is dry. The deadline to apply remains the same.  Also, archivists on Twitter f-ing rule!!!!

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Hotel Sharing for SAA 2011

I tired to make a sweet spreadsheet for this year’s Hotel Sharing post, but I could not get the form to work for some reason. So we are going low tech again.

If you are looking to split a hotel room with someone for the 2011 SAA Conference in awesome Chicago, please use the comment section of this post as a way to find people also looking.

Some useful info to add in your comment might be:

  • The dates you will be attending the conference
  • The hotel you have reserved or prefer to stay at (conference hotel, other area place, etc.)
  • Anything general you think is important for others to know (you prefer a female or male roommate, non smoker, early riser, you do that thing where you subconsciously binge eat at night, etc.)

If you add your email address to the comment form you will be contacted if someone responds.

Don’t forget that if you are a Chicago area archivist with some room for a person to stay with you during the conference, please add yourself to Crash Space for Archivists.

I will delete all of the comments to this post after the conference.

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Thankful Archivist: 2010

Last year I wrote a post on the things that made my archivist heart thankful. I thought I would recycle that old idea revisit that favorite holiday tradition and update it for 2010. As an archivist, I am thankful for:

Archives that Share One of the projects we are tackling at work is the creation of EAD compliant finding aids. To help facilitate that, we have been working on drafting a finding aid manual to guide our archivists and volunteers. Luckily, there are some great examples out there, like the Finding Aid Style Guide [PDF] from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University; the Processing Guide [DOC] and Tag Set from the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, and the University of Maryland Libraries’ Processing Manual [PDF]. I know that it is easier for larger institutions like these to create such guides as they often have more staff and resources than smaller archives, but the fact that they share the results of their work helps the entire community. If we had to create a manual from scratch, well, I don’t think we would, as we have larger and more pressing projects to deal with. I hope more places follow suit and share things like manuals, policies, and implementations with the community.

Deferment of Student Loans I plan on deferring these suckers until I have time to sit down and hatch an elaborate plan where I fake my own disappearance. I will then live the remainder of my years riding the rails, with only my freedom and whatever fits into my hobo bindle to weigh me down.

Archive Standards Yeah yeah, I know these are uber-boring. In grad school the acronyms all ran together: AACR2, EAD, DACS, OAIS, etc., etc., etc. But now I realize the inherent awesomeness of these things. This is specifically directed to all you students out there. When they start talking about DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard) in your class listen up because it completely kicks ass! I refer to it almost every day as we get our finding aid project off the ground (my only complaint is that it is not online, getting it out there will only increase its value, SAA!). And OAIS (Open Archival Information System)? This thing allows for the conceptualization of everything from what metadata you store and deliver to your freaking technological infrastructure. I dare you to come up with a digital preservation program without it, I dare you! I have no idea who works on these things. I am assuming they toil away in a dark room somewhere, and when they do get a break they speak in some kind of xml tagged language or draw a model explaining what they want for dinner. I for one thank them, as we are all better for their work.

A Job My first job out of school was grant-funded and expired at the end of this past summer. My wife and I wanted to stay in Michigan, and then she got a job in Ann Arbor (because she is awesome), meaning I needed to find something in the area too. This was daunting (hard to find employment to begin with, really hard in Michigan). However, I was able to land a job as a digital project archivist in the archive of The Henry Ford. Followers of this blog know I do not usually talk about work specifically, but I will say that this job feels like a perfect fit for me. It is just what I want to be doing.

I have been working on a post with more detail on my job hunt. I have been working on this post now for almost three months. I am obviously having a very difficult time with it. I think the big reason for my troubles is that the job hunt can be so humiliating sometimes. Even though it worked out better than I could have hoped for and I have a job I really like, I just do not like to reflect all that much on the disappointments of the search. Personal disappointments because of positions I did not receive but more than that, disappointments in how some in the profession treat applicants. But this is a positive post, so I will leave this for another time..

I am now off to gorge myself on more deviled eggs, and wonder what I did to have so much to be thankful for…

Deviled Eggs

Deviled Eggs are Still Freakin' Awesome

Deviled Eggs image courtesy of Flickr member csharrisonphoto / CC-BY-SA

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Once More Unto the Breach

I am sorry that I have not posted in so long. I promise that I will get on a more regular schedule now that I am settled into my new job and college football is almost over (a guy can have his guilty pleasures, right?) ~ed.

There has been a lot of talk lately about some of the challenges of our profession, this blog included. But it also got me wondering if the pendulum has now swung too far to the negative. I mean, why do we do it? Why do we go against the advice and become archivists? Why do most of the profession’s critics (me included) remain in the profession? The answer, for me, lies in two completely unrelated things that I came across over the past few weeks.

Badass Archivists: It was recently announced that NARA is investigating the destruction of the so-called CIA torture tapes. This announcement comes on the heels of the Justice Department concluding its own investigation and deciding it will not be taking any further action. The action by NARA prompted a Gawker blogger to declare “the Justice Department may fold like a cheap hooker, but NARA doesn’t fool around. You’ve fucked with the wrong archivists, CIA!”

I usually avoid discussing politics, and I know there certainly are politics at play here. But I am going to give the benefit of the doubt and say that there is also something more going on. Much like the embarrassing Sandy Berger incident, NARA tends to use investigations as a way to call out people or agencies out who are somehow abusing them or the archival record. I do not agree with NARA all the time, and I know it has its issues, but I love in this case they are fighting the good fight.

If I Don’t Do It, Who Will? I recently had a interesting conversation with a corporate archivist. First, a little context. I know the economy is difficult for everyone these days. But we here in Michigan have had it very bad, and the badness started a few years before the rest of the country. My relatively short commute each weekday brings me by shuttered factories, office parks, and homes. It is profoundly sad for a very proud Michigander like myself. The archivist was relating how challenging it is to work in such an environment. This company has fired (I hate the work laid-off) entire departments. Often, the archivist has to go to these departments to save records before they are all destroyed by people who do not see the value, people who view records and archives as just another needless cost that should be cut.

So why does the archivist continue to work here, to work in this environment of too many records and demands, and not nearly enough funding or staff? The answer: “If I don’t do it, who will? Who will save this history?” That statement actually gave me chills when I heard it. This archivist is fighting the good fight.

The Fight: The fight can take many forms. It might be a very public fight for justice and accountability. Or, it might be a private fight to follow one’s own professional standards. Either way that fight is based in principle and the passion for one’s work. It is based in the belief that often “the right thing,” whatever the hell that is, is worth the battle.

I think this passion and principle is at the heart of why we work in this profession and why we try to better it. I want to make things accessible, and this career feeds that passion. That is why I am an archivist rather than something that makes more money or earns more public respect. I think the profession as a whole is grounded, for the most part, in this same principled approach to our work. That is why I bothered to write my manifesto, why Rebbecca proposed her Howl-Up, and why the Justice League writes about crappy jobs, because deep down we believe a profession grounded in ethics and principle can change for the better. It is also why people, no matter how many times they are told not to become archivists, that library school is too crowded, and that they will not find a job, will continue to want to work in this field. It is why most people who complain about the archives profession have no intention of being anything other than archivists.

It is why people keep finding the motivation to fight the good fight. So Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our Archivist dead.

OK, maybe not that last dead-wall part…

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Justice, Archives Style

I have only been in one fight. It was during the time of life where we as a people get the closest to the kind of violence driven societal breakdown depicted in Lord of the Flies: yep, I am talking about middle school gym class. Derek Something-or-other was making fun of my less than stellar volleyball skills. While his criticisms were spot on (I am not a strong volleyball player),  I found them to be a bit much. Now, at that time of my life I was pretty quiet and shy, like Simon (although others may have categorized me as more of a Piggy), but on the bus ride home (also close to a Lord of the Flies type situation) I decided I would channel my inner Jack if it happened again. The next day, it happened again and Derek Something-or-other got the pushing of his lifetime. I had had enough and felt as though I had to act.

I was reminded of this moment of my life when last week, a group of archivists on Twitter reached that point of action as well. There was a job posted on the A&A that, as I have talked about before, I thought was undervaluing our degrees and experience. I tweeted it. Others people, including @benuski, tweeted more terrible positions. Then @meau took the initiative and started the blog You Ought to be Ashamed at http://eatingouryoung.wordpress.com. A group of archivist will be using this blog as a forum to…, well, lets be honest here, we will be using it to call out crappy job postings. I really, really hope this blog wil not be around very long for lack of content, but I have my doubts…

I will be one of the people contributing, so please let me know if you see any bad postings out there. Maureen has dubbed us the Justice League (in case you are wondering which Super Friend I am, the answer is Gleek), and hopefully we will be able to at least point out some of the uninformed and misrepresented postings that appear out there,  some of which even make it to SAA’s job announcement page and the listserv. Professionals should not tolerate part time or intern positions that require degrees, extensive professional experience, or even certification! The people that post these jobs should feel shame.

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Next Steps

Thank you all for the great discussion on the last post. I am going to be writing about some other topics soon but I do not want you to think that I am going to stop using this blog as a forum for discussing the issues raised in the Howl discussion. And while individual efforts are important, I think those of us who are really interested should try our best to act in concert.

So, as a group, what should our next steps look like? Well, my suggestion is actually a modified version of what Rebecca called for in her Howl followup, namely that there should be a meeting of people that are interested in these issues.

I would like to put on the table the formation of such a group, to meet and organize online at first. This group can be inclusive, comprised of not only new professionals but of people interested in improving the job and educational aspect of our profession. We can make goals like getting these issues put before the profession and perhaps having a face to face meeting/forum at the 2011 Annual Meeting.

If people are interested, please leave a comment or drop me an email. If there is a good amount of interest I will make a call for an official sign up and let you all take the lead, with the vast resources of NewArchivist at your disposal.

Even if the group does not form, I encourage us all to keep discussing these issues and keep calling for change!

**UPDATE** Our ever vigilant and plugged-in readers noted in the comment section that Google and Facebook groups have already been formed on this topic. So, I encourage those interested to visit and join those. I will pass along any additional information when I get it. Thanks and sorry for the false group all call thing. ~ed. 9/27/2010

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My Little Manifesto

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.

Education

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.

Employment

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?

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