Tag Archives: howl

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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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.

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The Howling Continues

I am sure that most of you have seen the Post-SAA Howl on Derangement and Description, as well as the amazing discussion that has followed. If you have yet to see it, please check it out.

Rebecca suggested that I put out a call for contributions on this topic. The issues being raised in this discussion hit us new professionals the most, and NewArchivist would be happy to host anyone who would like to post their stories, reflections, or suggestions. I know these topics can be dicey, so I would be happy to facilitate an anonymous posting process. Contact me if you are interested.

I am also working out my personal response to the howling, and that post should be up next week. Most importantly, lets keep this conversation going, no matter the forum!

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