Archivists on the Issues: Archivists: The Superheroes of Time Travel

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Joanna Black, the Digital Archivist at the Sierra Club’s William E. Colby Memorial Library.

 

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Woman Data entry clerk entering data for legitimate online jobs. Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

I am incredibly honored to release my first blog post as a contributor to the SAA Issues and Advocacy Section Archivists on the Issues Blog Series. In joining a distinguished pool of past writers, I hope to build on existing perspectives and suggest topics that reflect some of the broader issues archivists confront within an incredibly diverse profession. Whether one is a cataloger, digital asset specialist, processing archivist, or somewhere in between, it is imperative that archival professionals align the job with their own core values. As I reflect on the ways the archival profession creates positive change in the world and how many other livelihoods simply don’t — specifically those that utilize cheating, harming, or killing to advance a “bottom-line” — I can’t help but ask, “How do I hold my values in one hand and perform hours of data entry with the other, without losing sight of the greater goal?

 

It is early afternoon toward the end of a long work week. A spreadsheet stretches wide across two oversized computer monitors. I am dizzy from scanning rows, columns, and boxes, inputting endless metadata. I pause, close my eyes to reset my vision, and gaze back at my sheet. Though at times I crave a good spreadsheet, I can only sit with one for so long until I think, “What am I doing with my life?” I have to step back and remind myself that although the spreadsheet may sometimes be a challenging part of my job, it has great significance. In preserving the “stuff” of the past — context, provenance, metadata, the nitty, gritty details that breathe life into collections — I can draw a direct connection between the duties of my nine-to-five job and the values that drive my life.

 

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Time Travel by Randall Munroe

Without knowing it, time travel is what led me to a career in archives. While pursuing a creative writing degree at San Francisco State University and interning at the Poetry Center & American Poetry Archives, I became enthralled with archives and the notion ofaccessibility. In working with my first archival object — a 1967 recording of Allen Ginsberg chanting the “Wichita Vortex Sutra” — it became immediately clear to me that people need to know these materials from the past exist; otherwise, what’s the point of preserving them? At that moment, I knew working with archival materials had some kind of intrinsic positive power to connect people across time. By recognizing archivists’ ability to time travel through memory, my drive to correct the wrongs of the past by amplifying experiences of the historically silenced took on new momentum.

 

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LGBT families for immigration reform, by Christopher Edwards

As an archivist today, I’ve built upon my roots in creative writing and pursue work that supports positive social and environmental justice reform. For three years, I served as the head archivist at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society, an LGBTQ non-profit that “collects, preserves, exhibits and makes accessible to the public materials and knowledge to support and promote understanding of LGBTQ history, culture and arts in all their diversity.” Since summer 2018, I have been serving as the first staff archivist at the Sierra Club’s William E. Colby Memorial Library, a special collections library documenting the club’s 127 year history in environmental justice. In both positions, I have been able to merge my personal and professional passions to build a more equitable, inclusive, and just world by protecting and disseminating truth through the archival record. Whereas creative writing was an early mode for these intentions to manifest, archival work serves my passions even more broadly. Archivists, much like poets, are truth tellers; we share not just the loud truths, but the quiet truths whispered by those whom history often erases.

 

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Photos taken at the 2017 DC Climate March on April 29, 2017, by Mark Dixon

At a Sierra Club staff meeting last month, the Executive Director of the organization spoke about some of the club’s most recent victories. At the conclusion of his speech he said, “Our job is to change what people think is possible.” For archivists — the superheroes of time travel, the truth tellers of the past — it is especially relevant. Our individual pasts, stories, and experiences have enriched an increasingly diverse profession strengthened by differences in perspective. And with these differences, we each come to the profession out of a personal desire to make the world a more equitable, honest place. When archivists uncover truths, they stitch a small thread into a massive cultural and historic fabric, changing the pattern of that fabric for centuries to come.

 

Any time the spreadsheet doldrums get me down, I take a moment to remind myself of why I got into the archives profession all those years ago. Being an archivist is more than just a job; it is a means of traveling through collective memory and defending truths. Knowing that the ramifications of archival work stretch across space and time, archival professionals can be secure in knowing that we are true time travelers fueled by a passion to spread truth and promote greater justice. This is our professional foundation. The spreadsheet is simply a brick.

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Archivists on the News: “Hidden in Plain Sight”: Institutional Amnesia and the Archives

Archivists on the News is a series where archivists share their perspectives on current news topics. This post comes courtesy of Alex Bision, Lead Processing Archivist and Assistant Librarian at the University of Oregon.

Late February’s news cycle was dominated by yet another political scandal. Rather than the now familiar chorus of collusion, corruption, and congressional gridlock, this state-level scandal turned the national conversation toward personal accountability and the pervasiveness of racism in American culture, particularly in the recent past. The governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, was discovered having allegedly appeared in blackface with a classmate dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan at a medical school party, which was documented in a photograph that was later published in the school’s 1984 yearbook.  Northam first confirmed and then denied that he was the individual in the yearbook picture. It was later discovered that two other individuals in the Virginia government had their racist actions preserved in their own college yearbooks.

White America took yet another moment to be aghast at the “revelation” that even as recently as the 1980s blatant celebrations of racism have been, and still are, incredibly common on college campuses all over the country. In this case, it could be cynically said, white America may have been more aghast at the revelation that evidence of these celebrations can easily be found by anyone at any college library or archive.

Indeed, this event in Virginia politics sent scores of student journalists to their own libraries and institutional archives, where many learned not only about past campus culture’s ties to racism, but about where that information could be located. “These documents are easily available,” wrote the editorial board of the Minnesota Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, “All yearbooks are available publically, free of charge, in the basement of the Anderson Library. Examples of racial bigotry are hidden in plain sight and no one really talks about them.” 1

Students weren’t the only ones who were prompted to start looking at how evidence of racism has been preserved in the historical record on college campuses. Administrators at several universities, possibly eager to “get out in front” of a potential scandal of their own, were quick to make statements condemning their institution’s racist past. A few universities have set up taskforces of administrators, faculty, and librarians to specifically examine yearbooks, both digitized and print, for what one university euphemistically termed “images of concern.” 2 It is unclear, however, what will be done with the images when the reviews are completed. Other institutions preemptively published statements regarding the potential for offensive content in their holdings while defending the practices of preserving their history. 3

Perhaps surprisingly, none of the institutions that reviewed yearbook content suggested removing historical student publications from the web or the stacks. On the contrary, many were vehemently opposed to doing so. “The offensive and racist images in our yearbooks cannot be erased any more than they can be forgotten. They are a permanent part of our record,” wrote Emory University President Claire E. Sterk in an email to her campus community, “Much as I despise what those images represent, I think it is important that Emory’s yearbooks continue to be accessible online.” 4

Certainly, it is encouraging to see college students and administrators working with librarians, archivists, and historians to confront the sins of the past rather than bury or deny them. However, the documents that reveal evidence of the often racist, sexist, and classist culture that has flourished in some of the most hallowed halls of higher education in America, were never hidden. College and university archives have been actively maintaining these kinds of documents and making them available to the concerned, or simply curious, for decades. Archivists are, furthermore, becoming more visible participants in these important conversations about the preservation and presentation of American history and culture. Is the specter of scandal, and the desire to control the media narrative surrounding that scandal, really the only time stakeholders will highlight the value of archival resources and demonstrate how institutional archives inform, and sometimes complicate, the place of campus culture in broader conversations about race, sex, and class in American history?

While it seems as if little has truly resulted from February’s media frenzy, (Ralph Northam, for example, has refused to resign from office) we can hope that white Americans will not settle back into a kind of collective amnesia about racism’s fervent hold on American institutions, even the progressive intuitions that claim to know better. We must also hope that if and when this kind of scandal floods media outlets again, that people in higher education, particularly administrators, will not suffer from the same amnesia. If we are genuine about our commitment to confronting the history of prejudice and inequality on American college campuses and dealing with the legacy in a tangible way, we cannot act surprised that these problematic documents exist and attempt to deal with the fallout as a public relations crisis. We cannot distance ourselves from the past and forget about the pain we have inflicted, only to remember when it is politically convenient to do so.

Footnotes:

“Editorial: Acknowledging Racial, Discriminatory Historical Practices on UMN Campus.” The Minnesota Daily. February 17, 2019. https://www.mndaily.com/article/2019/02/o-editorial-acknowledging-racial-discriminatory-historical-practices-on-umn-campus.

Samsel, Haley. “In Review of Yearbooks, American University Officials Uncover Fifteen Photos ‘of Concern.’” The Eagle. February 12, 2019. https://www.theeagleonline.com/article/2019/02/in-review-of-yearbooks-american-university-officials-uncover-fifteen-photos-of-concern.

“Offensive Content in Our Collections.” UMD Special Collections & University Archives (blog), February 26, 2019.   https://hornbakelibrary.wordpress.com/2019/02/26/offensive-content-in-our-collections/.

Stirgus, Eric. “Emory University to Create Commission to Review Racist Yearbook Photos.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 20, 2019. https://www.ajc.com/news/local-education/emory-university-creates-commission-review-racist-yearbook-photos/fmIbZdVCMdt2jAhhpUsKtK/.

Steering Share: The Spousal Subsidy: Gender and Low Wages in the Archives Profession

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of I&A committee member, Sara DeCaro, University Archivist and Old Castle Museum Director at Baker University Library.

One of the things I have enjoyed most about Issues and Advocacy Steering Committee meetings is the interest we all seem to have in labor and wage issues. I can attest from personal experience that this is something that needs to be addressed throughout our profession. I also wonder frequently why this is still an issue. Most archivist positions require at least one advanced degree and a very specific skill set, so why aren’t wages on par with education and abilities?

I don’t believe there is just one answer to the question above. There are a number of factors contributing to low wages in the archives profession. The Society of Southwest Archivist’s recently released an article that addresses the inequity in pay between directors and staff, which is certainly one explanation. I’m sure that the survey our section recently released will shed light on other factors, too, but in the meantime, I wanted to know if there was more information already out there. When I did some digging, I found out that low wages are, unsurprisingly, an issue among museum professionals as well. And although there are obvious differences between our professions, there is also some overlap, and one author mentioned something that rang true for archivists, museum workers, and librarians: the spousal subsidy.

The spousal subsidy is the idea that some jobs can have a lower salary because the person in that position is married to someone else in a higher-paying career. Most of the time, in the past, the man made a higher salary, so women could afford to take jobs with lower pay.

The spousal subsidy is a result of the perception that certain jobs are “women’s work.” The phrase “pink-collar” was coined to describe professions that have a large percentage of female workers. Sometimes, that term was applied because the job had a large caretaking component; nurses and teachers are the obvious examples. Caretaking and child-rearing were seen as something inherently female, so these jobs were feminized. Other jobs with large percentages of women workers fell victim to this mentality as well; libraries, which have had a majority of female workers for years, are the classic example, but since the 1980s, this has also been true of archives.

Marital status is obviously no reason to discriminate against anyone. As someone who is divorced and has had the experience of living in both two-income and one-income households, however, I can tell you that the second income makes a big difference. Many employers have taken advantage of gender gap in wages over the years, and the majority of women in archives jobs has undoubtedly contributed to low salaries. Positions that are perceived as being “women’s work” fall victim to the spousal subsidy mentality: women can be paid less, because they have the support of their husband’s income. This type of archaic thinking may be one factor that continues to drive down wages and keep new employees’ pay low.

The spousal subsidy attitude hits emerging professionals particularly hard. Many recent graduates are young, single adults. Student loan debt is also a problem among this group, which has been saddled with this burden more than previous generations. On top of these issues, new professionals are facing outdated and sexist attitudes about salaries. When institutions have been able to get away with offering low wages for decades, convincing them to change is difficult.

I believe I have demonstrated that there is some deeply entrenched gender bias behind archivists’ low pay. I also think, from what I’ve observed on SAA listservs, that there are plenty of people within our profession that agree that these antiquated notions about wages need to go. I hope we can come together to affect positive change within our profession for everyone.

 

Archivists on the Issues: An Update on UCLA temporary librarians

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from current and former UCLA Temporary Librarians. While all the contributors to this post currently hold or held archivist positions at UCLA, the term “librarian” is used since that is way the institution classifies these positions.  At UCLA, the term librarian is used to refer to a variety of academic staff. All staff under this umbrella term are afforded the same protections. For these reasons, the terms archivist and librarian are used interchangeably throughout the text.

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Since writing an open letter to UCLA Library administration in June 2018, we have received support from colleagues from all over the country. Thank you. Our situation at UCLA, and the grievance filed on our behalf by our union UC-AFT, are still unresolved and we wanted to post a brief update.

The Situation

2013 MTV Movie Awards - Red Carpet

As archivists who are classified as temporary librarians, we are well acquainted with the many reasons why the practice of hiring on temporary contracts is problematic. Over the past five years, and maybe more, our department Library Special Collections (LSC) has had more temporary archivists than permanent. This undermines the professionalism, expertise, and worth of archivists, it damages our personal lives, it diminishes institutional knowledge, it inhibits long-term decision making, and it disrespects our donors, users, and collections. These reasons and more are detailed further in the temporary archivists’ open letter to UCLA Library administrators.

LSC is continuing to capitalize on promises of “processing, preserving, and making [collections] accessible” to attract funding during UCLA’s Centennial Campaign. LSC’s funding and staffing priorities, however, tell a different story: one in which curatorial and collection development positions are given the lion’s share of endowments and funding, while archival work is addressed only once, through the creation of a relatively paltry general “fund to support the processing of high-priority collections.” (And let’s call that what it is: funding for more temporary hires to deal with processing that administration has promised to high-priority donors without regard for our staffing constraints and existing priorities.) The UCLA Library continues to respond to core and ongoing departmental needs by systematically under-staffing the Collection Management unit of LSC, which manages the work of archivists and catalogers, with precarious temporary positions, while ignoring and denying the effects of such a practice.

LSC continues to create and fill curatorial positions while its Collection Management staffing reaches critically low levels, as archivists’ contracts continue to expire. Administration has attempted to obscure this by blurring archival responsibilities in the department’s recent positions, in this way undermining professional boundaries and devaluing the work of processing archivists, as well as creating an undue burden for these positions and providing no roadmap for processing work in the long term. The concentrated effect of these decisions and hiring practices is to deprofessionalize our jobs as archivists- and, given UCLA’s size and status, is bound to have far-reaching effects on our profession as a whole.

Grievance process

Our union UC-AFT filed a grievance on our behalf in May 2018. The grievance alleges that UCLA Library is in violation of Article 18 of our contract, which details specific conditions for the hiring of temporary librarians. We have exhausted Steps 1-3 of the grievance process, as well as a preliminary “informal” meeting that occurs prior to Step 1. At each step of this process, we have reiterated the ongoing and permanent nature of our work and cited the widespread professional support that our case has garnered. At each step, Library Human Resources (LHR), UC Labor Relations, and, most recently, the UC Office of the President (UCOP) have denied our requests, citing a variety of ever-changing justifications. As of earlier this month, UC-AFT has voted to bring our grievance to arbitration.  

To date, we have not received any direct response or acknowledgment from library administration. This lack of response has been particularly disappointing.

UC-AFT includes abuse of temporary appointments in bargaining

UC-AFT Unit 17 Librarians have been engaged in bargaining with the University of California since April 2018. At its fourth bargaining session in July, UC-AFT proposed changes to Article 18 of our MOU, regarding Temporary Librarian appointments. Drawing on our experience, the Temporary Librarians helped draft the language changes and gave testimony on the necessity of the proposed changes.

The current contract language on Temporary Appointees addresses the issue by attempting to limit the scenarios in which temporary appointees are appropriate. However, UCLA continues to abuse and misapply this article by exploiting various loopholes, which we felt were necessary to close. The suggested changes include limiting the situations in which hiring temporary appointments are appropriate to three scenarios: filling in for a librarian on leave, filling in for a temporarily assigned librarian, and time-limited projects fully funded by extramural funding (i.e., grant funding) or external funding (e.g., donor-funded). They also seek to require UC to inform temporary appointees whether they will be re-appointed within a specific timeframe, as well as give more notice if they will be released early — the latter coming with the right for the employee to have an informal hearing before the release. We felt it was important for the UCOP team to hear firsthand from temporary librarians about the deleterious effects of exploiting the temporary provision and hope that the UCOP team values hearing directly from affected staff.

Future updates

If you would like to continue to get updates on the UCLA temporary archivists, please sign up here: https://tinyletter.com/UCLAtemps

Links to additional information/coverage

Daily Bruin articles:

https://dailybruin.com/2018/07/29/submission-ucla-librarys-reliance-on-temporary-workers-is-inefficient-unethical/

https://dailybruin.com/2018/08/05/editorial-uclas-disregard-for-its-librarians-shows-once-again-its-exploitation-of-workers/

https://dailybruin.com/2018/07/27/librarians-bargain-with-ucop-about-academic-freedom-temporary-positions/

Professional support:

Leadership of the DLF Working Group on Labor’s Statement on UCLA Archivists

SCA Statement in Support of Temporary Archivists at UCLA: https://ift.tt/2zpl4bR

 

Steering Share: What Archivists Can Learn From Public Libraries

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of committee member Samantha Brown, Assistant Archivist at the New-York Historical Society.

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    The other day I was having lunch with some colleagues when the conversation inevitably turned to our experiences in graduate school. As per usual, we discussed the classes that were useful, the classes that were useless, and the changes needed to modernize MLIS programs. Most of my colleagues complained that the programs are out of date. The comment that struck me the most was the person who mentioned that their graduate program made them take a class on public libraries that they felt was unnecessary. To them, there was nothing they could possibly learn from that class that would apply to their career in archives. At the time, I wanted to stand against this person but everyone agreed with him and the topic quickly changed.

    I would love to say this was the first time that I’ve heard similar comments but it was not. Even on interviews, people have questioned me about why I would even consider working in archives or special collections when I’ve worked in public libraries for so long. Despite both being information agencies, people see archives and public libraries as disparate entities that can’t possibly have anything in common or benefit each other in any way. Having worked in public libraries for at least seven years before finding work as a professional archivist, I can clearly see how the two could  benefit and learn from each other.

    One of the biggest lessons that public libraries can teach archives is about outreach. In many of the archives I’ve worked in, both in graduate school and now professionally, they treat outreach as something passive. An archive might put out a blog, create an exhibit, or host a talk but most of the outreach depends on the public finding the information themselves. In public libraries, outreach is handled completely differently. A library may have blogs, exhibits, and talks but they don’t depend on people stumbling across these things themselves. The staff goes out into the community around them to try and bring people into their institution. For example, when I worked as a library assistant, a large part of my day consisted of reaching out to community groups and local schools to try and work with them to create library programs and to teach them about how the library can serve their needs. Although archives serve a different role, reaching out to the communities around them creates a beneficial resource to that community. By building relationships outside of your normal circles of interaction, a community outreach program brings in new users and helps people understand the value of the many collections archives house.

          While there may be a number issues facing the library world, division within the ranks shouldn’t be one of them. Archives and public libraries have different functions and serve communities differently, but we need to support each other and learn from  each other so that we can all gain the benefits of sharing information with others outside our normal circles of interaction. If we can see the value in the work others are doing then we can come together and fight against other more pressing issues in the world.

Steering Share: Thoughts on the Idea of Professionalism

Steering Shares  provide an opportunity to learn more about the I&A Steering Committee and the issues that the committee members care about. This post comes courtesy of committee member Steve Duckworth, University Archivist at Oregon Health & Science University.

I want to talk about professionalism, or more specifically, the idea of professionalism and how it can (and often is) used to make people conform and can be a tool that hinders diversity and creativity. I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while – partly due to personal experiences – and then “the incident” with April Hathcock took place at ALA Midwinter. I knew it wasn’t just me and felt this post could take one of her many salient points and focus on a large set of the archival profession.

I, like many of you, work in academia. And even many of you who don’t work in academia are likely impacted by the practices of it. I often find myself rubbing up against some of these norms. The ones that work slowly and through long conversations in multiple committees and working groups. The ones that use policies to explain choices, but break those policies when they really want something. The ones where people like to complain about people, but not to people. And yes, these are gross generalizations, but they are also sometimes just gross.

Our profession also talks all the time about how homogenous we are and struggles to find ways to change it, ways to diversify the profession or our collections or our outreach. But I’m not sure if the desire for more diversity is stronger than the desire to maintain this air of academic … politeness.

I say this because I see many of our attempts at diversity as a form of tokenism, with the most frequent offering being something like a two-year “diversity” position for people fresh out of their Master’s program. While it’s helpful, it doesn’t change our culture. It looks at this “diverse” person and says, ‘We’re going to teach you how to be one of us’ or ‘We’re going to hire you to solve all of our diversity problems,’ but we’re not going to commit to you. It doesn’t look at our practices and offer ‘Perhaps we should be more accepting of different styles of interaction’ or ‘Let’s listen to some new ideas and actually try them out.’ It doesn’t change us, it just looks good on paper and makes us feel like we’re helping.

We invite people for day-long (sometimes 2!) interviews and see it as a test of their endurance or stamina, but we don’t make the effort to inform the candidates about this practice they may never have been through. We continue to ask surprise questions in interviews, and then judge people who are likely nervous (and quite possibly introverted) if they can’t come up with perfect answers on the spot. Our MLIS programs overwhelmingly do not to teach any aspect of the job searching and interviewing process. They teach the theory, sometimes the practice, and send you out without even a functional résumé or any clue about just how many jobs you may apply for before even getting an interview.

What we need is more compassion and more care about the people we say we want as our colleagues. As someone in a position to hire a new librarian, recall your own job search and look for new ways to make the interview process more inviting. Be more open-minded about professional backgrounds and embrace ideas that may be unfamiliar to you. When someone directly speaks to an offense against them, investigate it; if they offer an opposing viewpoint, consider it before dismissing it. If you are witness to bigotry, speak up. All of these things can be done respectfully if we respect each other. But respect comes in many forms, and that, too, should be respected.

Steering Share: Conversations on Labor Practices in Archives

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes from I&A Chair Courtney Dean, Head of the Center for Primary Research and Training in UCLA Library Special Collections.

Despite the continuing prevalence of institutions relying on temporary labor and unpaid internships, and individuals leaving the profession (including I&A’s own Vice-Chair Summer Espinoza) because it simply isn’t a sustainable way to make a living, I am heartened that conversations around labor practices in archives are happening with increased frequency and volume. I expressed a similar sentiment back in October, when I presented as part of a panel entitled “Building Community & Solidarity: Disrupting Exploitative Labor Practices in Libraries and Archives” at the DLF Forum in Las Vegas. The panel briefly explored a number of issues including unpaid internships; the proliferation of temporary, contract, and grant-funded labor; ad hoc and siloed conversations around these issues; the lack of POC in leadership positions; and the problematic expectations of “diversity work.” While current labor practices in GLAM professions disproportionately affect students, new career workers, and POC, it is these same populations who are leading the resistance to traditional white cis hetero patriarchal ableist LIS systems and enacting community building. (Here I’d like to shout out We Here, DERAIL, and the Los Angeles Archivists Collective.)

Building Community & Solidarity: Disrupting Exploitative Labor Practices in Libraries and Archives Panel at DLF in Las Vegas 2018

As Joyce Gabiola mentioned during the panel, the success of this type of organizing has a lot to do with community driven efforts, rather than trickle down initiatives. However, it should not have to be the responsibility of those most affected by a broken system to fix it. To this end, as I’ve mentioned before and will continue to advocate for, we can and should be leveraging our professional organizations to provide a platform, make space, and take a stand on labor issues. The DLF has been an exemplar in this regard, both with their conference programming (last year’s forum also included sessions on “Valuing Labor When You’re ‘The Man’”; student labor; and organizing for change) and through their Working Group on Labor. The latter, has been nothing short of an inspirational and I’d recommend that anyone interested in these issues to refer to their Research Agenda: Valuing Labor in Digital Libraries as well as the draft Guidelines for Developing and Supporting Grant-Funded Positions in Digital Libraries, Archives, and Museums. The Labor Working Group’s Ruth Kitchin Tillman and Sandy Rodriguez also received an IMLS grant for “Collective Responsibility: National Forum on Labor Practices for Grant-Funded Digital Positions” which will host two meetings in the coming months.

I am also thrilled that my state archival org, the Society of California Archivists (SCA), is in the beginning stages of forming their own group to address labor issues. (California archivists should look out for a meetup at the SCA AGM in Long Beach!) Early conversations point towards a project to develop a best practices document for the use of temporary employees in archives. This comes in conjunction with the SCA board’s statement in support of temporary archivists at UCLA in their grievance to the university and current SCA President, Teresa Mora’s President’s Message.

I’ve mentioned several of SAA’s efforts before and I’ll just add that Council’s decision to prohibit the posting of unpaid internships on SAA’s Job Board is a great move. To bring it back to I&A, the Steering Committee is (finally!) planning to launch our survey on temp labor in late winter/early spring to obtain some baseline data, and we are continually exploring ways in which we can advocate for ourselves as professional archivists in our capacity as section leaders. We’re aware there are so many other labor issues in our profession that need addressing: salaries; under-classified positions; a turn to using “paraprofessionals” for archival processing; a lack of a national union- the list goes on. We invite guest blog posts, Twitter chats, and any other type of dialogue to highlight and resist exploitative labor practices. You know where to find us.

Further reading and resources:

Steering Share from Ruth Slagle

Steering Sharesare an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of I&A committee member Ruth Slagle, the Instruction and Outreach Librarian at the Baptist College of Florida.

 

What is your favorite thing about your job or the archives profession?

The variety! Well I might have a plan for the week, but it always changes. Currently, I do not work in an archive, but I emphasize with lone arrangers because I am solo librarian. The past 6 months has been a whirlwind of change for me since becoming a solo librarian and a natural disaster misplacing the library into another building. In my current position, I am multiple departments rolled into one, perks of working at a small school. I have enjoyed consulting with the archives on campus and giving advice on standards. For the future, I look forward to working with students and connecting with others.

What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?

As a member of the committee, I would like to take away useful strategies and methods for further advocating the presence of archives in our society and local influences. As a newer member and professional, I want to connect with other archivists in this section and gain a ready knowledge of best practices.

What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

Education. In light of the recent Hurricane Michael, which affected the library where I work, it has become more obvious to me the importance of advocacy. Salvaging our collection and workflow has only happened because of myself advocating for the library and its employees. This past fall, I taught an Archives Management course for undergraduates. My teaching experience, taught me the importance of educating non-archival users. By opening their eyes to the archival world. I would love to teach again because the diversity the archival profession opens so many doors to users. As an archivist and librarian, I am my own advocate working with students and faculty. Without archivists, advocating our field, how will the world know our value?

Archivists on the News: The Archivist in an Accountable World

Archivists on the News is a new series featuring perspectives on current news. Our first post comes from Joel Horowitz, Special Collections Librarian at the Alexandria Library, Local History/Special Collections Branch. You can follow him on Twitter @PurpleArchivist.

“It is your duty to make sure that today’s radicals are not tomorrow’s employees.” So concludes the introductory video of Canary Mission, which seeks to document students and faculty expressing what it classifies as extremist views on college campuses. Users who have chosen to “defend freedom” are invited to submit video and social media evidence and open source records to their site because otherwise “a few years later these individuals are applying for jobs within your company.” Decades-old information has long been sought about political candidates, but preventive collection from college students with the stated goal of creating a blacklist or inspiring retractions is a significant step in that direction, and might face enormous challenges in proving authenticity in the face of politically motivated skepticism (Canary Mission would not comment on the length of time it plans to preserve information).

Canary-Mission
Header image from Canary Mission’s website

In a previous era, personal papers were exactly that, personal. In fact, they were often purged (or “organized”) to remove embarrassing material before becoming available to the public through a professional organization. Today, more and more of our personal records are available in real time, and our lives examined as we live them to be treated as public records by those who choose. SAA advocacy guidelines have long focused on the privacy of information in government hands and letting “public leaders,” “public officials,” and “agencies” be held accountable by citizens. But we must also consider the accountability of citizens by citizens according to their own subjective values through the collection of our records to be preserved for our lifetimes, if not beyond, in public view.

Moving in the opposite direction, some states have banned the practice of demanding access to the social media accounts of job applicants or even taking off-duty political activities into consideration. More notably, groups like Ban the Box have sought to limit the consideration of even criminal records in hiring.

But are there costs to a highly private society? Recent years have seen a rise in the practice of “doxing,” in which an ordinary individual is exposed to public retaliation for acts they performed anonymously or in private. It’s typically associated with outing people from Unite the Right rallies or otherwise deemed racists, but a similar approach has been used for other things like being a gamer or, in an earlier era, being gay. Obviously, the level of stigma attached to the many behaviors and characteristics people are reluctant to admit publicly vary, which can obscure how common they are. A less private “accountability society” could make some stigmas disappear (as gay pride has helped to do), while making others more impactful (as Canary’s slogan hopes). In this way, privacy can be a question of trust in social norms.

Historians of privacy remind us that it is in many ways a relatively new thing, a creation of the 19th and 20th centuries that earlier ancestors had limited knowledge or experience with as we understand it. Privacy as a right in the United States has its origins in an 1890 law review article. Balloting became secret in America only gradually over the second half of the 19th century, but is now covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet political parties and their allies have massive databases of public and corporate information that they will probably keep on us forever, eroding the privacy of our political opinions. In a lengthy 2015 piece, Greg Ferenstein argues that privacy was once rare because it was difficult and inconvenient to maintain and is likely to be abandoned if those conditions return, as he expects to result from advances in medicine and other personalization technologies.

Such an outcome is not inevitable, and Europe is at the forefront of cementing the current order through its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The European “right to be forgotten” is essentially a right to erase the history of one’s life, even when lived in public, so long as it is not yet vitally important to that public. Through the GDPR, Europeans are once again able to purge the modern version of their “papers” and present a curated, up-to-date, image of themselves, unless they fall under one of its exceptions.

China appears to be taking the opposite path from Europe. A place where social norms and social cohesion are highly prized, China is promising to restore “trust” in society by assigning a Social Credit Score to every citizen based on an analysis of available data. While a uniform government score based on our histories might prove tyrannical (and China’s isn’t yet), one could theoretically allow a variety of groups, interests, and communities to offer their own methods of scoring data, and each individual to choose the system whose opinion they value or need, which is not far from how we are privately evaluated today for things like credit, jobs, insurance, and dating. American society, too, is still grappling with the basic question of what, if anything, we should know about each other and when.

While a recent article by Ashlyn Velte on activist social media archives does point to emerging ethical debates and standards for donated materials, it may prove difficult for the profession to try to impose these standards on politically motivated collecting organizations pursuing goals many archivists support. Is it unethical for an archivist to participate in an accountability project or a public service for them to do so? Does it depend on the goals? The methods? Is it even our right to shape society so fundamentally by boycotting organizations that operate outside our guidelines, but within our laws? It isn’t clear the profession has official answers to these questions. But if these privately managed public digital archives might end up being assembled for long-term preservation by archival tools, archival methods, and ultimately digital archivists trained for the purpose, how can it not?

Editor’s note: I&A posted about the Right to Be Forgotten in 2016 in this research post.

Steering Share from Rachel Mandell

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of I&A committee past-chair, Rachel Mandell, Metadata Librarian at the USC Digital Library.

What is your favorite thing about your job or the archives profession?

Currently, my favorite aspect of my job is being able to train and hopefully mentor new librarians/archivists. From chairing the search committee to training, to answering daily questions, I have been given the opportunity to reexamine my own practices and gain a fresh perspective on the field from someone who graduated from library school recently. Before accepting my current position, I worked a series of temporary jobs. During those project positions, I was never given the chance to train and supervise a new librarian. This has been an extremely rewarding experience and I am looking forward to taking on more leadership roles in the future.

RM_SteeringShare1
Enjoying the desert sun!

What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?

I first joined the I&A Steering Committee 3 years ago as the I&A intern. I had never served on an SAA Section and figured it would be a good opportunity to get a sense of what that would be like without too much commitment. At the time, I was working as a contract employee and had very little institutional support for any sort of professional development or any activities outside of my clearly defined job duties. That first year, I worked on a survey to figure out how to improve the Toolkit. By the time the election cycle for the next year came around, I had found myself in a permanent position, which encouraged library faculty to seek opportunities to serve on national committees. I spent the next two years serving as Vice-Chair and then Chair of Issues and Advocacy. It’s a great section, with broad interest and capabilities. As the current Past Chair, I am excited to see where the Steering Committee decides to focus its efforts.

What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

In echoing the sentiments of many of my fellow steering committee members—the issue of relaying on contract employment and exploitative labor practices is one of the most pressing issues facing our profession. While we have a long road ahead in terms of shifting our own practices and beliefs regarding this situation, I feel reinvigorated by the statement issued by the Society of California Archivists for support of the open letter distributed by the temporary archivists from the UCLA special collections.