ICYMI: Standing Together in AWE

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, UCLA Library Special Collections, and Carli Lowe, University Archivist at San José State University.

AWE Fund Logo

The Archival Workers Emergency Fund (AWE fund) is a mutual aid effort organized by an ad hoc group of archivists and administered by the Society of American Archivists’ (SAA) Foundation. Mutual aid is defined by the Big Door Brigade as people getting together “to meet each other’s basic survival needs with a shared understanding that the systems we live under are not going to meet our needs and we can do it together RIGHT NOW!” The fund launched on April 15, 2020, and at the time of this writing has provided financial support to over 100 archival workers whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The AWE Fund aims to address some of the immediate financial implications of the current economic downturn, while also acknowledging broader systemic issues that have contributed to precarious labor in archives. Because workers are facing layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts at different times, the fund is accepting applications on a rolling basis through the end of December 2020. Allied groups and individuals have been collecting and tracking these job losses through circulating spreadsheets such as Library Layoffs, Archives Staff Impact During COVID 19, and Museum Staff Impact During COVID 19.

The authors of this article have personal experiences with financial precarity and contingent employment, and finding ourselves in positions of relative stability during this chaotic time, we were inspired to act. The Organizing Committee, led by Jessica Chapel of the Harvard Law Library and Lydia Tang of Michigan State University, includes nineteen additional archivists, from across the country. We worked together to outline the scope of the fund, create a rubric for evaluating applications, and submit a proposal to SAA. Our discussions wrestled with questions of who would qualify, how to obtain relevant information without invading privacy or making the application unduly burdensome, and how we might prioritize distributing the funds if applications exceeded donations. We made a conscientious effort to lower barriers for receiving aid, and any archival worker regardless of SAA membership, including student workers, may apply for financial support up to $1,000.

Our first moment of exhilaration came when SAA informed us that they had accepted our proposal. This was immediately followed by the news that the SAA Foundation would generously provide $15,000 of seed funding. Once the fund launched, donations from individuals and organizations rapidly surmounted the Organizing Committee’s expectations. At the time of this writing, over 755 individuals have donated to the fund, in addition to several institutions and regional organizations. This has allowed the Review Committee to provide funding to every qualifying applicant in the first few months. The ultimate goal of the AWE Fund is to provide aid to anyone who needs it, and the message to our colleagues is that we truly have each other’s backs and recognize a sense of shared purpose in seeing one another through this impossible moment.

We are still actively fundraising, and to date have distributed over $131,000. This means that archival workers have received critical aid so they can pay their rent, buy food and medicine, and care for loved ones. You can help provide this direct support by making a donation, spreading the word to your networks, and participating in the upcoming Coffee For Colleagues (Tea On Me) campaign launching September 1st. The AWE Fund organizers have also created a Mutual Aid Match-Up Sheet to allow those in need of tech, career advice, and more to connect with other archival workers offering up those services, similar to efforts underway by MARAC and the BIPOC Library Residents group.

The AWE Fund is an example of the impact individuals can have when united in a common purpose. It exists only because of intensive collaboration, and will survive as long as we continue to work together. While it is considered a pilot project at the moment, it is our intention that it will exist in some form beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. We also share a commitment to working towards the moment when the state of archival labor is such that an emergency fund is no longer necessary for archivists’ survival.

We are always open to new partners in these efforts. You can reach us at awefund@gmail.com and learn more about us and our ongoing projects at https://awefund.wordpress.com/. Follow us on Twitter @awefund2020. If you are an archival worker in need, please visit the SAA site to apply.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Society of California Archivists Newsletter, Summer 2020.

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