Steering Share: Reflections on the Archival Profession

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.

It’s my last Steering Share! Until a week ago, I thought I had another year left in my term and now that I find I’m about to be off the team, my perspective on what to write today has changed. I’ve been asked to run for chair or vice-chair for the section to help keep the momentum going, but I’m now really looking forward to a year off (at least) from SAA service. I&A has focused a lot on issues around labor and equity within the profession. I think we’ve raised some good questions and hopefully we’ve helped get people thinking about these big issues.

But personally, I’m conflicted. We have a problem with diversity in the profession (admit it or not – it’s there and don’t come at me with your rebuttals to this claim). We’re underpaid. We’re frequently undervalued. There is a large focus on temporary and other project-based work. And, on the positive side, there is professional movement against all of this. However, I’m not sure where best to focus to help make meaningful change.

Should we try to “diversify” the profession? Should I really be encouraging more people to come into a profession with a fairly limited market for jobs that are also generally underpaid?

Should we try to tamp down on temporary jobs? Does that mean that – overall – even fewer people will be employed? Will it be even harder for recent graduates to get a foot in the door? Will more records go unprocessed and hidden?

Should we advocate for more visibility and better funding? If we are paid better for our work, where does that money come from? Budgets always have trade-offs. Do I get more money but less staff? Does higher pay necessitate higher workload and stress level? Given our high percentage of academic affiliation, as we push up our requirements, do we also raise qualifications? Will archivists eventually all need a PhD – raising the bar for entrance to the profession even higher?

These are some thoughts that go through my head when someone asks me to serve on a committee or a career panel or teach a course. I honestly really enjoy the work I do and I’d love to have more cool people in the profession, but I’m not sure the profession is one that I can squarely get behind and encourage people to enter. I don’t know.

So this is why I’m looking forward to a little bit of down time. I mean – I’ve been out of library school for just over 5 years and in that time, I’ve held 4 (or so) archival jobs in Philadelphia, PA; Anchorage, AK; Gainesville, FL; and Portland, OR (in that order – that’s a lot of moving). I’ve served on SAA’s Diversity Committee and the I&A Steering Committee (plus local and regional group work). I’ve published articles and written blog posts. I’ve presented at over 10 conferences. I’ve mentored 8 or so other budding archival professionals. And in two weeks I’ll begin teaching an introductory archives course (ironic, right?).

I’m tired! And we all need to take time to clear our heads now and then.

So, thank you to I&A for the chance to meet some amazing people, provide some service to this profession (which I do really enjoy despite what some may think after reading this), and open my eyes to a lot of things I wish I could change.

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One thought on “Steering Share: Reflections on the Archival Profession

  1. “We’re underpaid” no you’re being paid the market rate. the archival community needs to understand that the demand for archivists is not high. The LIS schools are pumping out more and more archivists for which there are no entry-level positions. These schools need to be honest with their students, just as students need to do background research on the availability of entry-level positions. Maybe SAA should do a survey that shows how many actual full-time archival positions out there.

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