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:


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