Archivists on the Issues: Discussion and Disagreement in Good Faith

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. The following post is from Bradley J. Wiles, a PhD student in Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, School of Information Studies. 

In August of 2019, I rejoined SAA and the general archives fold after several years away due to professional and personal factors that diverted my time and energy into other areas. I immediately second guessed this decision after reading about what happened at the SAA annual meeting with the cancelled Brown Bag Lunch discussion on Frank Boles’ unpublished article, “To Everything There is a Season.” I was not at the meeting, so I can’t speak firsthand about the “pall” cast over the proceedings by the session or whatever other immediate fallout resulted from the decision to cancel it. However, the subsequent explanations by the SAA council and American Archivist editors, along with the apparently unquestioning acceptance by the membership at large, demonstrated what has become so disappointing about discourse in academy-dominated professions like archives. Or, in this case, the resoundingly negative discourse on social media that seemed satisfied with mostly attacking Boles’ character while providing minimal analysis of the article or its arguments.[1]

In any event, when it comes to instances like the session cancellation, I would never accuse anyone of acting in bad faith nor would I question anyone’s motives for defending their principles and doing what they think is right. I have no doubt that there are many valid points that people could make and did make from a variety of perspectives. Specific responses to the Boles article recently made available on the American Archivist website offer some illumination from an oppositional standpoint.[2] My disappointment stems from the apparent inability or unwillingness to engage with ideas or opinions that do not fit prescribed insider viewpoints or that might merely suggest the slightest deviation from a set of rigid premises that now seem to dominate the professional discourse. Heck, I probably even agree with most of these premises, but the notion that I should not be spoiled by other views that disagree with them is absurd. I read the Boles article and there were some things that I liked in his argument and other things that I didn’t. Imagine my surprise when my brain didn’t explode upon this realization.

On the one hand, I can understand the distaste of highlighting controversy for its own sake, as expressed in the statement by the Archivists and Archives of Color Section. But it stretches credulity to claim that the article and lunch session were categorically divisive in intent, design, and execution. As far as I can tell, other reasons for it being canceled were flawed planning and because it was deemed incompatible with the program requirements for inclusivity. Ostensibly, it failed to adequately question how archivists are “navigating power dynamics, facilitating transparency, preserving the history of transgender and other marginalized communities, or researching transnational records to actively transform our pedagogy and practice, and how do our actions affect the people and communities we serve.” In my reading, Boles’ article generally fits within the spirit of this statement, but apparently his approach or conclusions did not properly align with how the program committee and others thought this should be expressed. Although, it’s not clear if anyone who made the decision to cancel the session had a problem with the article until the social media backlash began.

Unsurprisingly, Boles’ account anticipated the reaction that unfolded at the meeting. All official responding parties made it a point to say they reject censorship, welcome vigorous debate, and appreciate multiple viewpoints, but the cancellation makes clear that this is only true to a certain extent. And if Boles’ article represents the intellectual tolerance threshold or demarcates what is or is not acceptable in disciplinary discussions, then the profession and our institutions are in big trouble. In so many ways, the archives profession has gladly assumed many of the highly caricatured qualities of the academic left, but we’ve really leaned-in to the ideological calcification aspect of it without generating the commensurate usable knowledge an applied discipline demands. The resulting self-congratulatory spiral of conspicuous wokeness is both exhausting and meaningless, offering the veneer of intellectual robustness and social value without the substance. The admirable and necessary impulse to rethink and reform institutions and practices in the name of inclusivity, representation, and justice too often shifts into a knee-jerk rejection of anything that smacks of convention or tradition.

In a telling sign of these Trumpian times, the archives profession appears more likely than at any other point in my career to embrace a narrow orthodoxy that leaves little room for criticism or consideration of frameworks that do not mirror the inviolable beliefs of those now making the rules. I suppose that’s where my regret mostly resides—not because I reject those frameworks or beliefs out of hand, or because I think there is something so important or essential about Boles’ perspective or the cancelled discussion, but that this incident further galvanizes a standard that can be easily applied against anyone else who finds themselves out of step with that orthodoxy or the hashtag warriors enforcing it. And let’s be honest: it’s not like we’re shouting down neo-Nazis or tangling with fascists in the streets here. Attempting to spare the archives world from Boles’ perspective perfectly embodies the half-baked approach by the academic left to policing itself through speech and thought codes. At the end of the day it allows the archives profession to do what it has become so good at: patting ourselves on one side of our back, while flogging ourselves on the other.

It comes down to this: a judgement was made in the service of zero-sum identity politics that preempted anyone from having to think about the matter any more than necessary. But that’s just the world we live in now and I regret re-entering the archives professional fray in an atmosphere where intellectual freedom has become so loaded with preconditions and unwritten rules that are arbitrarily applied. But I also know that my regret—my ability to have it and express it—is tied to the relative privileges that I enjoy and I do not take this for granted, nor do I begrudge anyone’s right to be offended. My hope is that good faith professional discussions can still occur even if they are uncomfortable or contentious. Good faith assumes civility or at least the lack of malign intent. I don’t see how archivists advance as a profession if we cannot move forward on this basis, especially if our default reaction is umbrage against those with whom we might disagree, effectively killing necessary conversations before they begin.

[1] See the Twitter hashtag #thatdarnarticle for the tenor of the discussion, and for substantive analysis in other non-SAA venues see these blog posts by Geof Huth and Eira Tansey.

[2] See the responses by George, Inefuku, and Stuchel.

Archivists on the Issues: More than a warehouse: why the closure of Seattle’s National Archives facility matters

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. The following is from Burkely Hermann, recent graduate of the University of Maryland – College Park’s graduate program in Library and Information Science, with a concentration in Archives and Digital Curation.

On January 26, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved the sale of the 157,000 square foot National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Seattle facility, which holds permanent federal records for Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. This decision raises the question: which is more important, access to historic records or selling a public facility in a high-value real estate market? There has been fierce opposition from historical societies in Alaska and Seattle, historical researchers, genealogical groups, indigenous leaders, university professors, archivists, and historians. They were joined by a bipartisan group of eight Alaskan state legislators and 16 Congress members. The latter, comprising Washingtonian, Alaskan, Idahoan, and Montanan politicians, was also bipartisan. Washington Governor Jay Inslee also opposed the decision, as did Washington’s Secretary of State Kim Wyman. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is considering suing the federal government over the closure. He reportedly submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the five-person Public Buildings Reform Board (PBRB), OMB, NARA, and the General Services Administration (GSA) regarding the closure. The Washington State Archives even created a page about the topic.

History Associates Incorporated, which cautioned their clients to plan ahead for the facility’s closure, noted the process would take 18 months. They also included the estimate from Susan Karren, NARA’s Seattle director that only “.001% of the facility’s 56,000 cubic feet of records are digitized and available online,” and stated that permanent records may be inaccessible when transferred between facilities. According to NARA, no actions are being taken imminently which affect users of the facility, and NARA has requested to stay in the facility for three years following the sale. With such hullabaloo on this topic, one question is relevant: why does this closure matter to us, as fellow archivists?

NARA’s Seattle facility in Sand Point is more than a “giant U.S. government warehouse” or “excess property” as described in bureaucratic language. This facility holds records on indigenous people in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. It also holds: Chinese Exclusion Act case files which have been diligently indexed by local volunteers for the past 28 years; Forest Service teletypes about the Mount St. Helens explosion in 1980; federal case records from the early 1900s; and other important local documents. Such records make the NARA facility part of the “historical ecosystem” in the Northwestern United States, providing the public “direct access to government documents, from genealogical records to court files.” These aspects make the facility a “high value” federal property (or “asset”) which has a “deferred maintenance backlog of $2.5 million.” Additionally, no public PBRB meeting transcripts showed discussion of the closure. In one meeting, “warehouse[s]” used by NARA for “long-term storage” was touched on and at another there was a passing mention of Seattle.

Some may point to existing digitization efforts. Sure, some of Alaska’s records have been digitized, but record series are often digitized by FamilySearch and the project is only five years old. For instance, some records relating to Alaska have been digitized like crew lists, immigrant lists, draft cards, and naturalization records, as is the case with Washington and Idaho. But these are primarily 20th century records, with very few 19th century records. The letter from congress members criticizing the decision also called this out, stating that “NARA’s partnership with FamilySearch to digitize records has…not resulted in actual access to records that have been prioritized by stakeholders,” a unique and rare criticism of the NARA-FamilySearch partnership. The limitations of existing digitization undermines NARA’s reasoning that some of their “popular records” are already digitized or available online, asserting that public access to their archival records will stay in place.

Access to “archived knowledge” is vital and inherent to archival ethics. Moving records away from those who can use it, dividing it between two existing facilities in Riverside, California, and Kansas City, Missouri, is an act of cruel inaccessibility. Furthermore, splitting the records between two locations, regardless of the reason, leads to a strain on those facilities, which need additional storage space. NARA itself admits that the closure will negatively affect those who use the facility. They pledge to engage with researchers in a “smooth” transition when the facility is shuttered, even though this change will undoubtedly disadvantage various stakeholders, whether state archivists, government employees, scientists, students, or others. In a recent invitation-only meeting, they showed their commitment to the closure of the facility, pledging to work with indigenous groups.

The PBRB’s executive director Adam Bodner claimed that the closure of the facility was a decision by NARA staff. If true, this would put them at odds with users and stakeholders who want the facility to remain open. On pages A-68 to A-71 of their report, the PBRB concluded that NARA wanted to move to a more modern facility and that the 10 acres the facility sat on would be great for residential housing, apparently worth tens of millions of dollars as one article claimed. The PBRB also stated that NARA could only fulfill its storage needs at another facility because the current facility does not meet NARA’s “long-term storage needs.” In the process, some records will be moved to a temporary facility. Reportedly, NARA justified the closure by the fact that the facility is the third-least visited NARA site in the country and has “high operating costs.” Such arguments don’t consider the fact that the 73-year-old building could be retrofitted for the agency’s needs or records could be moved closer rather than split between two locations. This closure also stands against NARA’s stated goal that public access is part of its core mission and violates the Society of American Archivists’ Code of Ethics, stating that archivists “promote and provide the widest accessibility of materials.”

In coming days, NARA will be submitting a Report of Excess to the GSA, headed by Administrator Emily Murphy, which will collaborate with the PBRB and OMB to help “offload” properties like this facility. As such, to speak out against the closure, you could email Emily Murphy at emily.murphy@gsa.gov, the GSA’s Deputy Administrator at Allison Brigati at allison.brigati@gsa.gov, call 1-844-GSA-4111 or contact the GSA’s Office of Real Property Utilization and Disposal at 202-501-0084 and at realestate.buildingdisposal@gsa.gov. Alternatively, you could contact the OMB’s Russell Vought at Russell.t.vought@omb.eop.gov or Archivist David Ferriero at David.Ferriero@nara.gov.

Steering Share: Meet Sara DeCaro

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of committee member Sara DeCaro, the university archivist at Baker University Library. 

 

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I was lucky enough receive the Mary Louise Meder Internship in the State Archives division of the Kansas Historical Society when I was working on my MLS. It was a great introduction to archives, and it was paid! I wrote finding aids for two collections of personal papers and did some work with Kansas Memory, the KSHS’ digital image website. I enjoyed every minute of it, too. It reaffirmed my decision to pursue a career in archives.

 

2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

I initially became a part of I&A because I had never served on a committee in any of the professional organizations I belong to, and I&A seemed to match my interests. This is my second year on the steering committee, and I already feel like I’ve gained a lot. Having the opportunity to work on our temporary labor survey was meaningful to me personally, as someone who has held temporary positions in the past, and although analyzing all that data was a bit challenging, I learned a great deal. One of my Steering Shares from last year also led to participation in a panel discussion at the Annual Meeting in July, which was also a very worthwhile experience.

 

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

Low wages in the archives profession is a very important issue, in my opinion, and one that I’ve been able to explore as a result of my involvement in this committee. That was the focus of the panel discussion I mentioned before. It’s a widespread problem in the archives world, for a number of reasons. I knew that after reading the responses to our survey, but listening to the other panelists and hearing their stories made the scope of the problem very clear. I like being able to contribute to a solution, even if it is in a small way.

 

4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

I’ve recently started volunteering with Kansas City Pet Project, my local animal shelter. I wasn’t ready for a new pet when my cat passed away, but I missed cats and wanted to be around them. Shelter environments can be stressful for cats, so I’m glad I can give them a little comfort.

Steering Share: Meet Courtney Dean

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of the past-chair of the I&A committee, Courtney Dean, the head of the Center for Primary Research and Training in UCLA Library Special Collections.

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1) What was your first experience working with archives?

As an undergrad I wrote a paper on the history of May Day in Boston using mircrofilm copies of old newspapers, but that’s as close I got to anything remotely archival for a long time. When I was thinking about grad school I came across the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) and the Riot Grrrl collection at Fales and was disabused of the notion that archives are stuffy and elite. Then I found out “archivist” was an actual job and was completely sold. My grad school internships were at the Wende Museum of the Cold War, Pacifica Radio Archives, and LACMA. I worked with artifacts and artworks; ¼ inch audiotapes; and institutional records. While in grad school I also worked in the Center for Primary Research and Training in UCLA Library Special Collections, a program I now head. There I had the opportunity to work on collections from the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives as part of their partnership with UCLA Library.  

2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

This is my third(!) and last year on the Steering Committee and I hope to contribute to both the continuity and sustainability of the section and its ongoing work. So much volunteer work is thankless and burnout-prone, but I’ve always appreciated how I&A’s charge is broad enough for folks to pursue issues of importance to them. The enthusiasm of my fellow steering committee members is infectious, and I look forward to pushing forward conversations around issues facing the profession. 

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

Fair and ethical archival labor has been something I’ve been passionate about for a long time- everything from paid internships to temp labor to salary transparency and barriers to entry in the profession. Aside from I&A, I participate in the Digital Library Federation’s (DLF) Labor Working group, co-chair the Society of California Archivists (SCA) Labor Issues Task Force, and am on the organizing and issues committees for the librarian unit of my union. Right now a lot of this work involves data collection, which can hopefully be leveraged to better advocate for change. Like others have mentioned, I’ve also started thinking more and more about the environmental impact of the profession- flying to conferences, digital storage, etc. 

4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

Way too much of my free time has been devoted to archives adjacent activities, but I’m trying to get better with boundaries and work life balance. I play guitar in a punk band called Red Rot, just joined a rad book club, and am obsessed with my cat, Walrus. (My other feline bff Potato just passed away last week which was really hard.) I’m also currently watching Deadwood for the first time.

 

Steering Share: Meet Genna Duplisea

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of committee member Genna Duplisea, archivist and special collections librarian at Salve Regina University.

genna_IAheadshot

1) What was your first experience working with archives?

After working in the library stacks my first year of college, I transferred my work-study to the Special Collections and Archives department because when I often walked by its glass doors and beautiful sculptural gates, I thought it looked interesting. For the rest of my time at Bowdoin, I was an assistant there, learning how to handle and organize everything from architectural plans to brittle folded nineteenth-century correspondence to newspaper clippings to masses of trophies. The collection was robust and the department busy, so I got to see the variety of research primary sources could provide. My supervisors encouraged enthusiasm about the collection and the environment allowed me to take joy in my work. One year for my grandfather’s birthday I found for him the alumnus file for a doctor from our family lore – he had delivered one of my ancestors on a kitchen table!

2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

Much of my reasoning for pursuing a career in archives is my desire to contribute positively to human rights and the environment. It can be difficult and overwhelming at work to stay grounded in the ever-changing landscape of concerns and ideas linking archives to social justice. Attending to the role of archives in combating prejudice and harm means advocating for our labor, too. Serving on the I&A Steering Committee will, I hope, help me do the things I entered this profession to do, by connecting me more closely to the work addressing social and environmental justice issues and placing me in a position to support or join in archival activism.


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

I see climate change as underpinning every problem and political issue because it affects every community. Archivists have a role in helping communities preserve and protect their heritage as the climate becomes more unpredictable, and we also have lot to do in addressing our profession’s carbon footprint. How do we perform memory work for changing and disappearing communities without further contributing to the source of that change? As part of Archivists Responding to Climate Change (ProjectARCC), I recently collaborated with other archivists on hosting Climate Teach-ins and hope to contribute to the growing body of writing on archives and climate change in the coming year.


4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

Reading, writing, and basic fiber crafting are also among my hobbies, which almost goes without saying in this profession. It cracks me up to around the room of archivists and seeing a bunch of people knitting during a presentation, which I have been known to do. Additionally, I’m not very sporty, but I love going for walks. There is a land trust in my community that maintains beautiful walking trails. I’m trying to learn more about the plants and birds I see and develop a stronger knowledge of the natural world. My houseplants are also doing all right

ICYMI: Introducing the A4BLiP Anti-Racist Description Resources

Our ICYMI series provide summaries of presentations, publications, webinars, and other educational opportunities that are of interest to I&A members. If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email archivesissues@gmail.com. The following is from Annalise Berdini, Digital Archivist at Princeton University’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library and member of A4BLiP. 

Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia (A4BLiP) is a loose association of archivists, librarians, and allied professionals in the Philadelphia region responding to the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. The A4BLiP Anti-Racist Description Resources project began as an initiative formed by various A4BLiP members in fall of 2017, specifically after a presentation they collaborated on at the 2017 SAA Liberated Archive forum with Teressa Raiford. Teressa is a Portland-based activist and founder of the organization Don’t Shoot PDX. Following the presentation, Teressa asked the group for recommendations for how she might approach a catalog audit. She wanted to initiate a project at Oregon State Library after learning about a racist subject catalog card there that a staff member had posted on Twitter. (The card read, “Negroes see also Crime and criminals. Portland.”)  

After some discussion, A4BLiP members realized that this was an area that lacked guidance for those doing archival description; many could recount instances of seeing description applied in ways that were racist, but none of us knew of any specific recommendations for how to address this in a programmatic way. As a way to both provide a framework for our own audits of racist description and to hopefully provide guidance that would be useful to other (white) archivists, we decided to create a set of recommendations collated from existing resources that we gathered for an extensive literature review, and enhanced by some of our own experiences. Additionally, the working group felt strongly that due to the fact that most of us were white women, we needed to ask for help from Black archivists to ensure that our recommendations did not cause harm and that we were, in fact, helping other archivists create more inclusive description. We created a GoFundMe for the project so that we could pay these reviewers for their time and expertise, and successfully funded enough to recruit nine reviewers, who contributed extensive recommendations and additional resources to the project. We are incredibly grateful for their assistance, which created a much stronger and more thoughtful product. 

The A4BLiP Anti-Racist Description Resources are broken up into three sections: a set of metadata recommendations, an annotated bibliography, and an extensive bibliography. The extensive bibliography was gathered first, reviewed in detail by members of the working group, and informed the other two sections.

The metadata recommendations are comprised of practical examples for anti-racist description that we hope can be put into practice across a wide array of institutions. The section is broken up into seven areas of focus, including Voice and Style, Community Collaboration and Expanding Audiences, Auditing Legacy Description and Reparative Processing, Handling Racist Folder Titles and Creator-Supplied Description, Describing Slavery Records, Subjects and Classification, and Transparency. Our recommendations in each of these sections were informed by our literature review as well as examples from our own experiences and the experiences and recommendations of our reviewers. Some recommendations should be fairly easy to apply day-to-day, like removing flowery and valorizing language in biographical notes or using accurate strong language like ‘rape’ or ‘lynching’ when appropriate. Others are more difficult and will require institutional change, like developing and maintaining ongoing relationships with collection creators in order to learn the language they use to describe themselves —  and to use that language in our description of their records. We hope that these recommendations will give others practical places from which to start their own descriptive review processes. They are by no means exhaustive, but include what we thought to be the most helpful and important recommendations.

The annotated bibliography includes a selection of theory-focused articles from the extensive bibliography that we chose to highlight based on their critique of descriptive practice and theory. Some of the articles, blogs, and presentations included do not necessarily focus on Black experiences or collections in the pursuit of highlighting shared strategies for anti-oppressive description. Our review in preparation for developing this resource reinforced our understanding that there is a wealth of research and dozens of important contributions to rectifying archival erasure and white supremacist description. But we recognize that few of us have as much time as we would like to read all of these works, and so we created the annotated bibliography in the hopes that it would help others quickly find resources that would help them rethink archival description.

For those looking to get started on creating more inclusive description, we recommend checking out the metadata recommendations first, particularly the sections on Voice and Style, Auditing Legacy Description, and Handling Racist Folder Titles and Creator-Supplied Description. These are probably the sections that will be most immediately applicable to most archives — how many of us have seen overly flowery and glowing biography notes of ‘great white men’, or passive language used to describe atrocities or distance humanity? How often do slavery records prioritize the enslavers before the enslaved? This is work that we as archivists can address quickly and which (hopefully) does not require overarching institutional change. 

We acknowledge that our recommendations are a starting point that highlights the work that other archivists have already done, but we hope that by gathering some of these practical recommendations, more of us can begin to undo the harm that our description often causes. The recommendations can be found through the A4BLiP site.

Steering Share: Meet Steering Committee Member Holly Croft

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of committee member Holly Croft, the digital archivist at Georgia College. 

 

1) What was your first experience working with archives?

Archiving is a second career for me, and I quit the first without a clear plan with what I wanted to do next. I started volunteering on an indexing project for a nonprofit where I would attach metadata to digital versions of their collection materials. It was extremely calming in a time where I felt that many things were up in the air, and I would spend hours working on the indexes.

Because it was a volunteer position, I didn’t catch on immediately that the indexing project was part of a larger career field, but I eventually researched it and learned the avenues through which one becomes an archivist. The following fall, I applied to graduate school, and I have never looked back!

2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

I am so delighted to be a part of the I&A Steering Committee, and I am looking forward to working with the rest of the committee to assist archivists who need support in a variety of ways. As Joanna mentioned in her Steering Share, this is a small community, so it only makes sense that we’re stronger together.

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

Recently, this committee has taken a look at labor practices particularly surrounding temporary positions and the precarity they create for those who end up taking them. This is, unfortunately, an ongoing concern.

I also am increasingly uneasy with additional labor dumped on archivists, particularly under the guise of “other duties as assigned” and “doing less with more.” This is a topic that hits labor markets well beyond archives, but I’ll bet the majority of archivists have a story about these phrases biting them in some way at their jobs.

These are only two of a myriad of topics affecting archivists today, and I am looking forward to being able to assist where possible.

4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

I have become the crazy cat lady people warn you about becoming in library school! Two months ago, I had two cats. I took in a stray that looked a little rotund at the beginning of October, and mid-October, I suddenly had six cats.

Just kidding – I could tell there were kittens coming when I took in the third. So, I’m spending a lot of time socializing these little ones and getting them ready for their forever homes.

Additionally, I love cooking and preserving food, gardening, and reading.

ICYMI: I&A’s Temp Labor Survey

Our ICYMI series provide summaries of presentations, publications, webinars, and other educational opportunities that are of interest to I&A members. If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email archivesissues@gmail.com. The following is from Courtney Dean,  Head of the Center for Primary Research and Training in UCLA Library Special Collections. 

Some of you may remember that I&A launched a survey earlier this year to gather preliminary data about the state of temporary labor in archives. (A PDF of the questions can be found via our public facing survey documentation: https://tinyurl.com/TempArchives. We intended for this data to gird conversations about archival labor and to serve as one piece of a series of ongoing labor advocacy efforts across LAM professions. 

A subteam of the I&A Steering Committee- Sara DeCaro, Steve Duckworth, Rachel Mandell, and me, along with I&A member Angel Diaz, took a DIY approach to both developing and analyzing the survey. (Many thanks to Lana Munip, Analysis and Planning Consultant, Pennsylvania State University, for her assistance.) Major themes and takeaways were shared out at the joint I&A/SNAP section meeting at SAA’s Annual Meeting in Austin. Since two of us are from California, and one of us was getting married, Steve Duckworth kindly presented on the results, on his birthday. (Thanks again, Steve!) Those slides are available here: I-A-Survey-presentation

Not surprisingly, many of the results supported current assumptions- archivists in precarious positions are for the most part anxious, stressed, and actively looking for work, even while temporarily employed. Academic libraries create the most temp positions, and interestingly, funding for temp positions, over half of the time, comes from the institution itself, not grant funding. What this means is that that the widespread perception of temp labor being caused by overreliance on grant funding is patently false. (For the raw quantitative survey data see the full spreadsheet: https://tinyurl.com/TempArchives)

Angel Diaz and I also shared out the results of I&A’s survey during a panel on the state of temporary labor at the DLF Forum in Tampa, FL last month. I&A’s findings are congruent with the results of the Collective Responsibility project’s survey and white paper which focus on the experiences of grant-funded digital LAM workers. In other words, we’re all in this together. 

Many of us have been thinking a lot about how to move forward from data and information gathering into future advocacy phases. How do we leverage what we now know? 

In the immediate future, we can inspire and support others to do more in-depth research and amplify these conversations. Sheridan Sayles, a new member of the I&A Steering Committee, has been working with colleagues at the University of Delaware and NYU on a research project into the status of term-limited (project) archivists to help define the scope of project positions.

We can also collaborate. A lot of labor issues overlap. For example, some of us from I&A have joined recent salary advocacy efforts around SAA job board policies and salary transparency. You may have also seen the archives salary spreadsheet floating around. And recently several folks from the leadership of AMIA (Association of Moving Image Archivists) have plugged into these conversations. I’ll also mention that the Society of California Archivists (SCA) formed a labor issues task-force, and the next Western Archives Meeting (WAM), a joint meeting with several of the western regional archival orgs, has central theme of Labor, Power, and Privilege. In short, these conversations are happening in increasingly more places. Let’s not reinvent the wheel go at it alone. Check out some of the resources below, and let us know who else out there is engaging in similar work. 

Resources

Steering Share: Meet Committee Member Sheridan Leigh Sayles

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of committee member Sheridan Leigh Sayles, technical services archivist at Seton Hall University.

1) What was your first experience working with archives

SpringShare profile picI grew up in a town rooted in history—Richmond, VA—and always had a love and fascination with old things. When I went to undergrad, I started working in the Library and that inspired me to look into all aspects of heritage work. I enrolled in the Museum Studies minor and learned about exhibit design, preservation, and got the opportunity to intersperse practical work with my studies. I fell in love with the practice of handling the objects—I remember one day getting to see the preservation housing for an outfit worn by President James Monroe in Paris, and I knew I’d found the right career!

2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

This is my first year on the Steering Committee, so I am still learning about what the committee does and how we affect SAA policy and all that good stuff, but I feel like we are in a good position to connect archivists with resources that can help them in their careers and with their interests. Through our blog and other resources, we can connect archivists at all stages of their careers with material to help them do their jobs better, or advocate for themselves and the practices they’d like to uphold. And I’m thrilled to be working with the I&A veterans and learning from them on how to affect change.

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

I’m really invested in archival labor and supporting early career professionals! I’m currently working with colleagues at University of Delaware and NYU on a research project into the status of term-limited (project) archivists and I’m hoping that our data can help define the scope of project positions. I think a big part of this question starts with ethical internships and making sure that the work they are doing will ultimately translate into success on the job market. Beyond that, I’ve been following the research on archivists and climate change and seeing recommendations on that.
4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

I was a competitive figure skater in a past life, so you can often find me in an ice rink jumping, spinning, and all that good stuff, or coaching youngsters. It’s so rewarding taking my students to their first competitions, not only to see how much they’ve grown as skaters, but also to show them how hard work can pay off.

Steering Sharing: Meet I&A Committee Member Samantha Brown

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.

1) What was your first experience working with archives?

IMG_20180510_195725578_2My first experience working in an archive was in graduate school. During my second semester, I had taken a processing class where you split your time between the classroom and a field site. While at the field site, I had a friendly relationship with the archivists and assisted them with a project. A few months after the class ended, out of the blue, I received an email from the supervisory archivist at the field site asking if I was interested in a job. Being a grad student, and constantly in need of money, I excitedly jumped at the chance to gain more experience in my chosen profession while also gaining a bit of money to help pay my mounting bills. 

The job itself gave me a wide range of experiences. The focus of the job was on processing but I also gained experience providing reference services in a university setting and digitizing a wide range of documents. Getting to work in a professional setting during grad school was incredibly help. I was able to learn what the job was like on a day to day basis and learn about what parts of the profession fit me and my skills best. 

2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

During my first year on the committee, I feel like I was just trying to get a hold on what the expectations for me were. While I had previously served on the committee as an intern, being a full committee member is a different experience and comes with a new set of rules. Now that I’m in my second year, I want to work on building connections between archivists. Many of us seem to be struggling with our jobs for one reason or another and it would be great if we could find a way to support each other, to help others out during times of strife. 

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

As a profession, I feel like there are many issues that were facing. One problem that I was confronted with recently is legitimizing our profession to people that don’t use our services. Of course historians, social scientists, and genealogists will see the value of archives and archivists but how do you get scientists or engineers to care about what your doing. Historical records aren’t things they need to deal with on a daily basis and, because of this, many people in those fields see our work as something unimportant.If we want to continue our work and receive the funding that we so desperately need then we need to find a way to reach people who don’t use archives and teach them about the inherent value of historical records. We can’t spend all of our time educating people, of course, but if people keep thinking of history as an unknowable and unreachable thing then they won’t value what we can provide them.

4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

Outside of work, I’m a bit of a nerd. I enjoy playing Dungeons Dragons, reading scifi and fantasy novels, and playing video games. Nothing beats getting together with a group of friends and fighting off a dragon.