Archivists on the Issues: Where are all the California Archivists?

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.

It started with a discriminatory “bathroom bill” and ended with the absence of almost an entire state’s worth of SAA members. For this upcoming SAA 2019 annual conference in Austin, TX, there will be a considerable gap in representation from California-based archivists, most of whom are employed by the State of California.

Many of us recall in 2017 when the issue was first brought to the attention of SAA members. After the SAA Council narrowly voted to move forward with holding the 2019 annual conference in Texas – a state where legislators tried passing “bathroom bill” SB6[1] and, when that failed, passed HB 3859[2] which allows child welfare providers to refuse adoptions to LGBTQ individuals based on “sincerely held religious beliefs” – the SAA Council acknowledged[3] that Californians will be subject to California State Assembly Bill 1887,[4] which bans California State employees from traveling on business to Texas. This ban extends to the SAA 2019 annual conference.

Putting aside the appalling nature of HB 3859 and how social justice intersects with the archival profession (which the SAA AGM Program Committee Co-chairs acknowledge here), little attention has been given by SAA leadership on the impact of California archivists’ absence from this year’s conference. Beyond loose commitments to implement “live-streaming and/or other virtual conferencing options”[5] for those who cannot travel, and with limited evidence[6] two weeks before the annual conference that this commitment will be adequately honored, the exclusion of most California SAA members should be of concern to all members who value diverse perspectives and inclusion within the organization.

Each SAA annual conference is a chance to share professional values, build partnerships, and exchange ideas. It is one of the most prominent opportunities of the year for members to introduce themselves to greater diversity within the profession. The SAA Archives Records 2019 program website states:[7]

By attending the Joint Annual Meeting, you can:

  • Bring back fresh ideas and new knowledge to benefit all of your colleagues;
  • Discover cutting-edge tools and resources in the Exhibit Hall;
  • Enhance your professional development by attending a pre-conference course;
  • Become a better advocate for the archives, records, and information profession;
  • Network with colleagues, who may share new ideas you can implement at your institution or in your classroom; and
  • Promote your institution’s profile in the archives community!

But without the attendance of most California archivists – one of the most diverse blocks of archivists in the world – SAA members should consider how this absence limits perspectives within the conference itself and hinders the exchange of information within the profession as a whole. California is home to some of the most forward-thinking archivists in SAA, but how will their knowledge reach other members? How do California archivists build partnerships with other institutions when most are excluded from this year’s primary networking event? As one archivist from the University of California library system told me last month, “As archivists, we like to discuss inclusivity, but I do not find anything inclusive about holding our national meeting in a place where the majority of the archivists from our largest and most diverse state are unable to attend.”

As a California-based archivist, I am one of the lucky few who will be attending the conference this year (I am not a California State employee). I will be representing my institution as well as all my California colleagues who can not attend. As I prepare to be “on the front line”[8] of activism in Texas, I reflect on SAA’s Statement on Diversity and Inclusion. Diversity, it reads, encompasses not just “socio-cultural factors” but “professional and geographic factors” that reflect SAA’s “desire for broad participation from archivists working in various locations, repository types and sizes, and professional specializations.”[9] With little support offered to those California-based archivists excluded from the conference this year, SAA is falling short of its own commitment to “promote diversity and inclusion in all of [SAA’s] professional activities with an eye to ensuring effective representation of our members.”[10]

The SAA 2019 annual conference promises to address the intersection of social and political issues with the work of archives and archivists.[11] This also extends to the ways SAA members are able to show up, participate, and grow within the organization and its events. All SAA members should be cognizant of our colleagues, whether from California or elsewhere, who cannot attend the 2019 annual conference. When conference goers come together in Austin next month, let us support not only those whose lives are negatively impacted by the bigotry steeped in bills like HB 3859 but our archivist colleagues as well who, by extension of discriminatory legislation, have been excluded from this year’s gathering.


[1] Alexa Ura and Ryan Murphy, “Here’s what the Texas bathroom bill means in plain English,”, (July 13, 2019).

[2] Legislature Of The State Of Texas, Chapter 45. Protection Of Rights Of Conscience For Child Welfare

Services Providers, – navpanes=0, (July 13, 2019).

[3] Tanya Zanish-Belcher, “An Open Letter to SAA Members Regarding the Location of the 2019 Annual Meeting,”, (July 13, 2019).

[4] State Of California Department Of Justice Office Of The Attorney General, Prohibition on State-Funded and State-Sponsored Travel to States with Discriminatory Laws, Xavier Becerra. Assembly Bill No. 1887. (July 13, 2019).

[5] Zanish-Belcher,

[6] There is no mention on the program website that any virtual conferencing options will be available to members. However, after reaching out to Carlos R. Salgado, Manager of SAA’s Service Center, regarding the virtual conferencing option, I was told that SAA “will be introducing live streaming this year and will be posting information to the conference website this week” (email received Jul 15, 2019).

[7] “‘Making Your Case’ to Attend,” (July 13, 2019).

[8] Zanish-Belcher,

[9]  SAA Council, “SAA Statement on Diversity and Inclusion,” (July 13, 2019).

[10] ibid.

[11] Zanish-Belcher,

Steering Share: Stability Matters

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.

This blog post was prompted by a conversation I had with another archivist. It also addresses the use of temporary labor.

If you are reading this, you are almost certainly a regular reader of the Issues and Advocacy blog. That means you are likely aware of the survey studying temporary labor that our section recently created. You may have even taken the survey, or held one, or multiple, temporary jobs within the archival profession, and are probably very familiar with the frustrations of working in a temporary position. You might be surprised to learn, then, that at least one employer believes that archivists prefer temporary positions.

The archivist I was chatting with had recently learned about the temporary labor survey. They were unaware of it when we initially requested respondents, but were happy to hear that our section had started the project. They agreed with me that the survey was a useful and important undertaking. One of their reasons for this, however, was news to me.

“My boss thinks younger archivists prefer temporary positions,” said the other archivist. “She thinks they don’t want to be tied down, and want to have freedom to move around.”

I was aghast.

Yes, there are some archivists who like the flexibility of temporary positions. I don’t mean to disparage them. Some archivists can afford to have that freedom, due to a breadwinning spouse or another means of income. If you are one of these people, that’s great. Our survey indicates, however, that this is by far the exception rather than the rule.

A theme that ran consistently through the survey responses was one of instability, and the frustrations it creates. “I’m ready to start having children, but I don’t know if I’ll have a job in a year” or “My partner and I would like to buy a house, but we might have to move for my job” were” were some responses that stood out to me. Several people mentioned delaying one major life decision or another and cited the uncertainty of their position as the reason why.

Another thing I noticed was the use of the word “anxiety.” It was everywhere. Many respondents used it. Would their job be renewed for another year? Would they be able to find another job if it wasn’t? Would they have to move again? What about all the time they would have to devote to the application process itself? Anxiety seems like a very appropriate word to describe these responses, and one that just begins to scratch the surface.

Responses like the ones above far outweighed the responses that expressed a preference for temporary jobs. There were several hundred responses, too, which is an amount that seems to be a decent sample of archivists in general. Based on that information alone, I believe it’s fair to say that a desire for a stable, permanent position is definitely the norm.

I don’t know that other archivist’s supervisor, or how widespread their assumption is that there is a preference for temporary positions among archivists. I do, however, feel like I should dispel that notion immediately. The ubiquity of temporary jobs in the archives profession is taking a toll on us, mentally and financially. We need to have many more conversations about how we can address this.

Archivists on the Issues: The Values First Approach

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Emily Gibson, a processing archivist at Hoover Institution Library & Archives on the campus of Stanford University. She has also worked as an archivist in the U.K. at Roehampton University, and in Miami Florida at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, the University of Miami, and the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida, Inc. 

Whenever I see Elsevier in the headlines I think back to a symposium I attended a few years ago on the publishing house’s namesake, Elzevir. Presentations by book historians from St. Andrews and Oxford, among other well-known British universities, were given in a combination of English, Latin and French. I had hoped to brush up on my knowledge of the history of the book, but what I took away from the experience was how esoteric the study of the history of the book is.

Fast forward to December 2018 and Elsevier was in the headlines as universities across Europe ended their contracts with the notorious science publishing house. I gathered that the two Elseviers had more in common than their name – that the history of the subscription model of distributing primary source research may end up a sub-branch of the study of the history of the book.

In September of 2019, the European Commission and the European Research Council initiated a project to put in place systems that would make all publicly funded research freely accessible at the point of publication by 2020, called “Plan S.” The “S” stands for “science” and includes the humanities as well as hard sciences. It’s slogan is, “Making full and immediate open access a reality,” and their goal is to eliminate the publication paywalls associated with subscription-based publishing models in order to promote “universality,” which is a fundamental scientific principle that declares that “only results that can be discussed, challenged, and, where appropriate, tested and reproduced by others qualify as scientific.”

Driven by this initiative, around 300 European universities and institutions were ending their contracts with Elsevier. Germany’s Max Planck Society said upon ending their contract that, “The system of scholarly publishing today is a relic of the print era […] We want to activate a real paradigm shift in order to finally utilise the opportunities of the digital age.”

In the United States a similar shift is taking place. In April 2018, Florida State University announced that it would be ending its comprehensive subscription to Elsevier journals. And in March 2019, the University of California announced that they too were ending their contract. The University of California publishes nearly 10% of US research papers and 18% of them are in Elsevier journals. Both universities cited excessive subscription fees as the reason for ending their contracts.

“Within scholarly communications, Elsevier has perhaps the single worst reputation,” according to an article published by the Guardian in June of 2018. “With profit margins around 37%, larger than Apple and big oil companies, Elsevier dominate the publishing landscape by selling research back to the same institutes that carried out the work.”

It’s all hands on deck at the archive where I work, where a “Digital First” initiative is slowly transforming the landscape. Space, equipment, staff, workflows and the terminology we use to talk about them are evolving to meet the needs of a community of users seeking the paradigm shift the Max Planck Society articulated so well: a system of radically expanded access to primary source documents that utilizes the opportunities of the digital age. Scrawled somewhere in the middle of a page of notes that I took during a meeting on “Systems Infrastructure/Conceptual Design,” are the words “access is our ultimate goal.” As I wrote them, I remember thinking, “Hasn’t access always been our goal?”

To answer my question, I consulted the Theodore Calvin Pease Award-winning article by Judith Panitch, “Liberty, Equality, Posterity?: Some Archival Lessons from the Case of the French Revolution.” Pantich explains that the term “archives,” as it was used from the 10th through the 15th century, described the titles or charters upon which rested the entire legal, political, and economic legitimacy of the monarchy and nobility, and that these documents were maintained in secrecy. “State archives were understood to constitute the personal documentation of the sovereign and to remain at his personal disposition,” Pantich explained.

In the United States, the National Archives formulated a “forceful enunciation of a theory of access to records” in the 1960s, according to Trudy Huskamp Peterson. In “The National Archives and the Archival Theorist Revisited, 1954-1984,” Peterson explains that the theory had two major premises: researchers have a right to know what records exist, and researchers have a right to know which extant records are available for research use and which are restricted for some period of time. According to Peterson, “These premises culminated in the assertion that records are available on terms of equal access for all users […] and a philosophic commitment to the free exchange of information and ideas as the underpinning of society.”

As a method of distributing knowledge, American archives have been practicing a doctrine of equal access that resembles Plan S for many decades. A co-leader of the task force to implement Plan S described its goal as “making publicly funded research a global public good that can be utilized by anyone.” Today, the SAA’s statement on access and use described in its “Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics” reflects the values formulated in the 1960s and also asks us to be cognizant of the goal of access and use – to provide a public good: “Even individuals who do not directly use archival materials benefit indirectly from research, public programs, and other forms of archival use, including the symbolic value of knowing that such records exist and can be accessed when needed.”

In an online world of post-truth, alternative facts, disinformation and personalized click-bait, archival values are more important than ever. I often hear colleagues say that we’re behind the game, that the technology we employ to create access to our collections is not as good as the technology employed by other sectors, but I would argue that we’re ahead of the game, that values like equal access ensure that our work contributes to the public good as we grapple with the challenges and opportunities of the digital age, so that primary source information can continue to be discussed, challenged, and tested no matter how esoteric the subject matter.

Resources Consulted:

Akst, Jef. “Open-Access Program Plan S Relaxes Rules.” The Scientist, May 31, 2019.

Buranyi, Stephen. “Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?” The Guardian, Jun 27, 2017.

Kwon, Diana. “Plan S: The Ambitious Initiative to End the Reign of Paywalls.” The Scientist, Dec 19, 2019.–the-ambitious-initiative-to-end-the-reign-of-paywalls-65231

Lippard, Kelsey Lovewell. “Open Archives.” UARK Libraries, Oct 26, 2017.

Panitch, Judith. “Liberty, Equality, Posterity?: Some Archival Lessons from the Case of the French Revolution.” The American Archivist 59, no. 1 (1996): 30-47.

Peterson, Trudy. “The National Archives and the Archival Theorist Revisited, 1954-1984.” The American Archivist 49, no. 2 (1986): 125-33.

Schlitz, Marc. “Why Plan S: Open Access is Foundational to the Scientific Enterprise.” Coalition S, Sept 4, 2018.

Taylor, Ashley P. “Max Planck Society Ends Elsevier Subscription.” The Scientist, Dec 20, 2018.

Archivists on the Issues: Building a Community of Loners

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.

When graduating with my MLIS about nine years ago — deep in the trenches of the economic recession — I had a very difficult time breaking into the professional archives world. Applications went out, nothing came back. I felt disheartened, inadequate, unprepared, and increasingly isolated. Amidst these difficult feelings, I recalled the guidance of the wise whose voices rang out in my ear, “Network! Connect! Participate!” 3b48729vSo I did what my introverted self was so hesitant to do: I reached out. I joined the SAA mentoring program and the Society of California Archivists Publications Committee. I started an archives-focused blog (very outdated now) to discuss issues in the field. I set up informational interviews at collecting institutions. I helped friends and family tackle their own archives. I did anything I could to get my foot in the door and move my career forward.

I eventually snagged a job. And a few year later, another, and another. As my professional experiences expanded, so too did my instincts for archival practice. So when I was thrown into a lone arranger position without notice, I wasn’t entirely unprepared. “You’ve got good instincts,” my colleague and friend Marjorie Bryer once told me, “you’ll make the right decisions.” But being a lone arranger can be difficult and, well, lonely. YOU make the decisions. YOU endure the consequences. YOU advocate for yourself. And although our professional organizations do provide some support, it is hard to resist falling victim to imposter syndrome from time to time.


At the Society of California Archivists (SCA) annual general meeting this last April, I attended a wonderful session called “Solution Room: Archivist at Work / as Workers.” As pexels-photo-935870part of the session, participants identified one of five key topics listed on the screen and broke into groups to discuss the one that resonated with them most. Topics ranged from wages and working conditions to supporting a more diverse profession. Although all the topics were significant, I was personally drawn to Group 1: Communities of Support which asked, “How can we create communities of support, and find common cause? How can SCA support archivists working in isolation?” Our small group burst with ideas for creating more communities of support within our profession, such as establishing an SCA mentoring program, providing a “helpline” for lone arrangers to call if a question comes up, and coordinating virtual and in-person meet ups for lone arrangers to support one another. As the session ended, I felt grateful knowing I was not alone and professional organizations want to do more to support lone arranger archivists. I felt grateful knowing that there is a larger dialog taking place about the need for community building in the archival profession. The implications of networking go so much farther than just snagging a job; they also ensure that once we have a job we’re able to sustain it.

Cultivating relationships with other archivists outside our institutions can be a form of survival for lone arrangers. When we have a problem, we can ask someone who has solved it before. When we are pushed to the brink of what we can accomplish on a shoestring budget, we can lean on our colleagues for support. When we feel like frauds, 3b50247rour archivist colleagues dispel that falesy and remind us of our worth. Especially for lone arrangers, being part of a “community of loners” can provide camaraderie and shared experience within an otherwise isolated environment.

When I pushed my shy, naive self to network with colleagues after graduating all those years ago, I thought the point was to gain employment. I didn’t realize I was also cultivating friendships that I would one day rely on for professional growth and support. I didn’t realize that by engaging with other professionals, I was laying the groundwork for my future membership in a community of lone arrangers.

For archivists, jobs can be few and far between. We may not choose to be lone arrangers but nonetheless find ourselves in that position at some point in our career. As if advocating for our work is not hard enough, doing so alone can feel near impossible. But having a professional community to lean on helps alleviate some of these challenges and provides a sense of connectedness. Belonging to a community is such an essential element of life outside of work, why not do more to establish them within our careers? If we can be advocates for our colleagues, those outside of the profession will begin to know our value too.


Archivists on the Issues: Rare & Ephemeral: a snapshot of full-time New England archives jobs, 2018-2019

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Genna Duplisea, the Archivist and Special Collections Librarian at Salve Regina University. Genna would like to send special thanks to Caitlin Birch, Jaimie Fritz, and Olivia Mandica-Hart for reading and commenting on this piece, and to Suzy Morgan and everyone else who gave feedback during the initial data collection phase.


At the university where I currently work, there is a small but enthusiastic contingent of undergraduate students in the cultural and historic preservation and history majors interested in pursuing library school. As I am asked to give a picture of the archives profession to newly-declared majors every year, I think of the inadequate job market and question whether I am advising them well. This spring, feeling disheartened by what seemed like very few job postings and a rash of term positions, I found myself wondering if the data supported my perception that there weren’t enough opportunities for all the archivists in the region.


I compiled information on full-time archives positions in the six New England states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont) posted between April 1, 2018 and April 1, 2019. My sources were the Simmons University Jobline (, ArchivesGig (, and the New England Archivists and Society of American Archivists listservs.

Compiling this data required making decisions about what constituted an archives job. I included any position shared through archivist professional venues, even if it was unclear whether most archival training would be appropriate to the position. I included museum positions that related to collections care, digital collections, or other skill sets that overlap with archives training (but not positions unrelated to archives work, such as development). I included corporate positions as well as public, academic, government, or non-profit positions. A position needed to dedicate at least half of its time to archival work to be included. Temporary positions were included if those postings were full-time, as were positions that did not require a Master’s degree.

Because I began this project after many job postings had expired, some information is missing. In some cases I had to make assumptions about whether a salary grade was posted, after reviewing the institution’s general practices in job postings. (For example, I knew several larger institutions (such as Harvard and Yale Universities) always post salary grades; conversely, if a review of an institution’s current positions generally did not include salary information, then I assumed that there had not been any in the post I was researching.) Future research would be more effective if job posting information were to be downloaded and recorded as it is posted, so that original postings can serve as reference points and more information can be gathered before the removal of inactive positions from job boards.

This study is a snapshot of a year in the New England archives profession, allowing for some broad conclusions rather than a statistically significant analysis. Undoubtedly, I have still missed a few, but positions I hope to draw useful conclusions from the data. The full table is available here:

The survey found 115 full-time archives jobs at institutions within the six New England states posted between April 1, 2018 and April 1, 2019.

Salary information

Most of the job postings did not include any salary information at all, whether a flat number, a grade, or a range. Of the 115 total positions, posting information was insufficient in 30 of them and it was impossible to tell whether salary information had originally been present. Of the remaining 85 positions, 47 (55.3%) included salary information, and 38 (44.7%) did not.

If we exclude Harvard and Yale, the two largest employers in this survey, then the salary information becomes paltry — only 17 positions at other institutions included salary information. There was not enough information on salary amounts to conclude anything substantial.


Of the 115 positions, 30 of them (26%) were at Harvard or Yale Universities, meaning that over a quarter of all archives jobs posted in New England last year were at one of those institutions. The state with the highest number of postings was Massachusetts with 73 (63.4%). Connecticut had 25 (21.7%) postings, and Rhode Island had nine (8%). Vermont and Maine each had three postings (2.6% each) for the entire year, and New Hampshire had two (1.7%).

Temporary & Contingent Positions

The permanency of 11 positions was unclear. Of the remaining 104 positions, 72 (69.2%) were permanent. The rest were temporary positions, with terms ranging from two months to five years but mostly appointments lasting less than two years.

The value of the MS or MSLIS

Of the 115 positions, it was unclear in 25 of them whether a Master’s degree was required. Of the remaining 90, 61 (67.7%) required a Master’s or higher (one position required a Ph. D). Twenty-nine positions (27.7%) did not require it, and of those, 12 positions did not require a Master’s but preferred it.

Archives grads

For context, I was interested in finding out how many new archivists there were every year. The only archives management degree in an ALA-accredited LIS program in the New England region is at Simmons University in Boston. The Simmons University Office of Institutional Research provided information regarding the number of graduates with the archives management concentration. This includes graduates who earned the concentration in-person or online, and also includes graduates who pursued the dual-Master’s MS/MA program in Archives Management and History. (I myself am a graduate of this program.) Of course, not all archivists have Master’s degrees; not all Simmons University graduates stay in the region; not all archives graduates seek jobs in the archives field; and not all archivists in New England went to Simmons. The University of Rhode Island also has a library school (though not an archives-focused degree), and there are several public history Master’s programs in the region; all of these, as well as online programs, also train area professionals who work in archives, but the number of archivist graduates would be more difficult to track. Still, Simmons’s data provides an idea of how many new archivists enter the job market in the region annually.

Graph created by the author using data from the Simmons University Office of Institutional Research.

For the past ten years, the annual number of Simmons archives graduates has more than doubled, from 56 in 2008 to 121 in 2017. (The latest figure for archives degrees awarded in academic year 2018-2019 is 38, but this does not include the 2019 spring semester.) The increase has not been steady, with a drop between 2012 and 2014, but the program has consistently grown since then. The online program began awarding degrees in 2014, and represents a substantial minority of those degrees. All told, 872 professionals have graduated with archives degrees from Simmons in the past decade.


It does not seem that the job market in New England is supporting the influx of new graduates, or emerging and seasoned professionals. The exponential annual increase of digital information alone means, in my view, that society needs more archivists. A separate but related conversation with current archivists would surely conclude that people in this profession are overworked and understaffed, with job responsibilities ranging from processing to digitization to records management to teaching to digital preservation.

The Society of Southwest Archivists (SSA) has demonstrated concern for a dearth of salary information and low pay. SSA President Mark Lambert has published a series on the failure of national organizations and top archives directors are failing the profession ( Lack of transparency about archivist salaries allows institutions to avoid providing competitive compensation, and can generate huge wastes of time for candidates and hiring committees when applicants do not know whether a position will compensate them adequately. Last fall, SSA began collecting regional salary data ( At its spring 2019 meeting, the Society of Southwest Archivists voted to stop posting or sharing job advertisements that did not include salary information ( As of this writing, a group of archivists is collecting information for a proposal to SAA Council to require the organization to require salaries in job postings (, and New England Archivists is considering a similar change. More regional and national organizations, not to mention library schools, could make similar statements and take action to support its communities of learners and professionals.

It has been a decade and a half since the Society of American Archivists conducted A*CENSUS (Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States), which revealed trends about the archival profession and archival education. The SAA annual meeting this year includes a task force on A*CENSUS II. Pre-planning for the survey will be complete by early 2020, with the Committee on Research, Data, and Assessment (CoRDA) implementing it thereafter. (

The frequency of temporary and project postings demonstrates how dependent the archives profession is on external or limited funding. It is alarming that nearly a third of the archives positions posted last year were term-limited. I focused on full-time positions because I wanted to get a grasp on the types of positions people graduating from archives programs ideally want — secure, full-time, in a relevant field. Yet even this set of supposedly ideal positions show that job insecurity prevails. Professional organizations have a role to play in supporting the creation of stable, benefited, appropriately-compensated positions for its members. New England Archivists supported a study on contingent employment, released in January 2017 ( In response to the UCLA Special Collections Librarians open letter on contingent employment published in June 2018, NEA released a statement later that year (

A trend of precarious stewardship threatens archival collections, to say nothing of the impact on individuals struggling for economic stability. Eira Tansey’s recent May Day blog post pointed out that the best way to protect collections is to secure stable, ongoing support for staff ( Yet the inadequate number of new positions, combined with the trends of salary secrecy and contingent positions, seem to demonstrate that archives are not valued as core functions necessitating ongoing operational funding within an organization. If the collections that archivists steward have enduring value to their institutions, then the staff should experience similar value and respect for their work.



End of Year Steering Share: Thoughts on the Archival Job Market

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

As this committee year comes to an end, I have begun thinking about the issues that our committee and SAA at large will be facing in the coming years. While questions of accessibility and preservation will still be looming far into the future, the biggest problem our profession will face in the years to come is retention. How does our field retain talented and enthusiastic young archivists when their career prospects are so uncertain?

While many of us enter the field with big hopes and dreams, we’re soon confronted with the reality of the limited positions available in our profession. Job applicants soon discover that jobs are hard to come by and the ones that are available are either part-time or contract gigs. Even though securing one these positions feels like a success the reality of the position soon becomes evident. You might have a job now but positions is temporary and you need to start applying for new positions immediately. Unless you’re lucky enough to find a permanent job, you’re constantly in a cycle of applying and reapplying for new positions. This situation begs the question of whether it’s ethical to have a field that largely consists of part-time and temporary positions. Is it right to allow people to enter a field that has such limited options?

When discussing this dilemma, people have suggested that universities should limit the amount of students allowed to enter archival studies tracks. As of right now, it’s unknown whether less students entering the archival field would fix the jobs problem. However, what we do know is that limiting entry into the field creates a whole new set of problems. When setting limits, universities must create a set of criteria that students must meet to enter a university’s program. Unless universities develop a way to do blind admissions, these criteria could very well reinforce biases that already exist within the profession and prevent underrepresented groups from being able to enter the profession.

Another issue with limiting entry into archival studies programs is that it just deals with the surface issue of our profession. While there will be less people fighting and competing for jobs, there is no guarantee that more permanent, full-time jobs will be created or that higher wages will be offered. While there is definitely a pool of people applying for archives positions, the issue isn’t the number of people searching or the number of jobs available but how institutions value archival labor. Since archival work isn’t seen as valuable to the institutions that employ us, our employers don’t see the need to provide decent compensations. Unless we can convince people that the work we do is important and contributes something positive to the world, no one will want to create jobs for us. In order for our profession to thrive and grow, we need others to see our value and desire to employ us so that archivists can stay in the field rather than having to leave and find other work to support themselves.

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.

ICYMI: Society of California Archivists Annual General Meeting

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 The following is from Rachel Mandell, I&A’s past-chair and Metadata Librarian at the USC Digital Library.



Last month I attended the Society of California Archivists Annual General Meeting, which was held in Long Beach, California from April 24-27, 2019. I found much of the program to be of interest to our Issues & Advocacy members as many of the presentations and events were focused on inclusivity and diversity. The reception for the event was held on the Queen Mary ocean liner, which was fun for archivists and ghosts alike.

        One of the highlights of the conference was Michelle Caswell’s plenary discussing a feminist standpoint appraisal of archival materials. She argued that instead of continuing to allow historically dominant perspectives of what should, and should not, be considered of significant archival value, we ought to adopt a new way of appraising archival materials. The historically dominant perspective– which favors white, English-speaking, straight, men—continues to dominate when archivists from oppressed communities are left out of appraisal discussions and policies. What is even more likely than archivists from the underrepresented or oppressed perspectives being left out of the conversation, is archivists’ attempt to achieve a “value neutral” view of archival materials. Professor Caswell completely dismantles this belief that neutrality can be achieved and adds that this goal of neutrality in fact reinforces the current, oppressive structure.  Boom! I am so inspired to read forthcoming publications and eventually put into practice a new set of questions that we need to ask ourselves when conducting archival appraisal.

        Another exciting event that I want to highlight was the Labor Brown Bag lunch! In the last year, Issues and Advocacy has been very focused on labor issues faced by archivists. SCA is also joining the conversation! This brown bag lunch was an informal discussion and brainstorming session about forming a new SCA working group to monitor and address ongoing labor issues.

        Other talks related to inclusivity and diversity included:

“Building Belonging: Strategies for Diverse and Inclusive Collection Development, Inreach, Outreach, and Instruction”     
Zayda Delgao, Sonoma County Library
Robin M. Katz, University of California, Riverside
Craig Simpson, Son Jose State University

“Putting it Out There: Engaging Communities and Enhancing Access to LGBT Collections”

“Campfire: Practicing Inclusive Archival Description”
Noah Geraci, University of California, Riverside
Cyndi Shein, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

“Empowering Indigenous Communities through Inclusion”
Kelsey Martin
Stefani Baldivia, California State University, Chico
Celestina Castillo, Occidental College
Lylliam Posadas

“No Reprocessing Without Representation! Discovering Hidden Narratives During Routine Work”
Linh Gavin Do, Go For Broke National Education Center
Jamie Henricks, Japanese American National Museum
Lauren Longwell, Loyola Marymount University
Kate Wilson, Saint Mary’s College of California

Steering Share: A Reading List for Practicing Allyship 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.


For the final Steering Share of my term as I&A Chair I was planning to provide an update on our section’s temporary labor survey which closed earlier this month. (We had 412 responses!) Instead, when I sat down to write last evening, I quickly found myself going down the wormhole of comments about a recent blog post that was shared via Library Journal’s Twitter account. I won’t go into too much detail (you can look it up yourself) but for those unfamiliar with the situation, a WOC librarian wrote a blog post about the whiteness of library collections, and as so often happens when POC speak truth about racism, the internet trolls came out en masse. (I encourage those of you on Twitter to go in and report them. It’s a quick and somewhat satisfying process.) Appalling enough as it is to have THOUSANDS of strangers leaving vitriolic, hateful, and blatantly racist comments, while also posting photos of the author and details about her workplace, it was especially reprehensible to see other librarians attacking her.

As archivists we’re sometimes inclined to think we don’t have a similar whiteness problem in our field, however one only needs to look at the numbers, or recall the backlash to Dr. Michelle Caswell’s Dismantling White Supremacy session at SAA a few years ago. For all of our talk of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we still struggle to recruit and retain archivists of color, and to acknowledge bias in our collecting practices. To this day I have colleagues who refuse to recognize that archives are not neutral.

Instead of continuing to rely on the on the intellectual and emotional labor of POC colleagues to tirelessly critique and challenge this problematic myth of neutrality, I encourage my fellow white archivists to check out the reading list below and start practicing allyship. We can all be doing better.

Below is a brief reading list in no particular order:

Issues and Advocacy: Archivists On The Issues: Answering The Call For Inclusivity, Summer Espinoza

Issues and Advocacy: Archivists on the Issues: Reflections on Privilege in the Archives, Summer Espinoza

Issues and Advocacy: #ARCHIVESSOWHITE In The Words Of Jarrett Drake

Honma, T. (2005). Trippin’ Over the Color Line: The Invisibility of Race in Library and Information Studies. InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 1(2). Retrieved from

Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook, “Archives, records, and power: The making of modern memory” Archival Science (2002) 2: 1,

Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, “Moving Toward a Reparative Archive: A Roadmap for a Holistic Approach to Disrupting Homogenous Histories in Academic Repositories and Creating Inclusive Spaces for Marginalized Voices” Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies vol. 5, (2018)

Nicole A. Cook Information Services to Diverse Populations: Developing Culturally Competent Library Professionals (California: ABC-CLIO, 2017)

Mario H. Ramirez (2015) Being Assumed Not to Be: A Critique of Whiteness as an Archival Imperative. The American Archivist: Fall/Winter 2015, Vol. 78, No. 2, pp. 339-356.

Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archival Repositories, Jarrett Drake, June 27, 2016.

Caswell, Michelle (2017).  Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in Archives.Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 87(3) 223-235.

Caswell, Michelle & Brilmyer, Gracen (2016).  Identifying & Dismantling White Supremacy in Archives: An Incomplete List of White Privileges in Archives and Action Items for Dismantling Them.  

Taylor, Chris (2017). Getting Our House in Order: Moving from Diversity to Inclusion. The American Archivist, 80(1), 19-29.

Archivists on the News: Desiring Tumblr, Porn, and the Archives

Archivists on the News is a series where archivists share their perspectives on current news topics. This post comes courtesy of  Dani Stuchel, a Tuscon-based archivist and artist. Dani has performed and exhibited video work internationally, including the Andy Warhol Museum, Mattress Factory (Pittsburgh, PA), Human Resources (Los Angeles), Whippersnapper Gallery (Toronto), University of Arizona Museum of Art, and Shot Tower Gallery (Columbus, OH). Dani’s writing has appeared in the Journal of Critual Library & Information Studies, Smithsonian Collections Blog, Cactus Heart, Steer Queer Art Zine, and Sundog Lit.  Alongside Dr. Time Haggerty and Harrison Apple, Dani serves as a volunteer archivist for the Pittsburgh Queer History Project, an oral history and media project focused on preserving the history of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s gay and lesbian after-hours nightlife from 1950 through 1990. To find out more about their work, you can find additional information at


“Are archivists ready for porn?”

The above question came to me as I read about Jason Scott’s plan to save Tumblr blogs from the platform’s 2018 ‘porn ban.’ In December 2018, Tumblr announced it would use algorithms to seek out, “photos, videos, or GIFs that showed real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content—including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations—that depicts sex acts.” Algorithmically-marked content would then be hidden from everyone except the original poster. Tumblr had become something akin to storing your bookmarks in the cloud: effective, but dull. As porn studies scholar Brian M. Watson offers, “Their pornography ban [was] a betrayal to their entire fanbase,” and Tumblr users have subsequently exited the platform en masse.

Soon after Tumblr’s announcement, Archive Team – led by Jason Scott – shared a plan to make backup copies of various Tumblr accounts and add them to the Internet Archive. Archive Team’s goal was to circumvent Tumblr’s planned un-publishing of content by creating an uncensored copy elsewhere. However, it quickly became clear that individual users would not have control over what content was included in the backup. On one hand was Tumblr, threatening to suppress your content. On the other was Scott, promising to share your content but without giving you clear-cut control over it in the future.

Tumblr’s policy and Scott’s solution were both roundly critiqued by users, activists, and scholars, who noted that both tactics undermined the autonomy and free expression of sex workers, LGBT persons, women, fetishists, and every intersecting permutation. While Tumblr was denying users a highly-valued means of sharing positive depictions of bodies which diverge from ‘the norm,’ Scott’s approach threatened to divorce sensitive, personal, and complex exchanges from their context and put them on public display. If Tumblr was suppressing circulation, then Scott was threatening to make living relationships into a digital cabinet of curiosities.

Of course, these two oppositional approaches do not represent all possible engagements with porn. As curator of the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies at the University of Minnesota, Rachel Mattson teaches undergraduate and graduate students about histories of sexuality, film circulation, and homemade media — sometimes using analog porn found in the Tretter’s holdings to help students recognize that, “There is no timeless norm of sex,” and that all sex can be understood as historical. A historical, constructivist approach to sex was central to early gay & lesbian liberation movements and the development of LGBT studies as an academic field. This approach continues to influence contemporary queer & trans political organizing and scholarship. Mel Leverich, archivist for the Leather Archives & Museum in Chicago, adds that “By excluding sexually explicit material from the archives, we also deny that people’s private sexual identity and practices are an important part of lived experience, and replicate the stigmatization of non-normative sex.” Contextualized thoughtfully, porn is an invaluable educational resource.

When the term “pornography” was coined in the 19th century, it was a label for artifacts which historians feared would morally imperil, not educate, the general public[1]. Such panic was not new. Brian M. Watson offers that, “When [the printing press] was joined with increasing middle- and lower-class literacy, and book markets such as Holywell Street in London or the Grands-Boulevards area of Paris, it created a type of work that supposedly had an ‘undesirable’ effect upon the general population.”

In other words, the main charge against porn has not been that it is useless, but that its use should be feared. Centuries later, anti-pornography feminists of the 1970s and 1980s would claim porn led to child sex abuse, rape, and violence against women[2]. Tumblr echoed this line of thought when it explained its adult content ban as a means of ridding the platform of child pornography. (Very notably, Tumblr never attempted a similar algorithmic approach to white supremacy on the platform.)  While I cannot wade into these long debates within the space of this blog post, I would suggest that many scholars have come to see porn – like all media, genres, and forms – as neither inherently ‘good’ nor inherently ‘bad.’ Instead, power relationships, aesthetics, and desire unfold inside of porn to create complex documents meriting patient study and appreciation.

Archivists are in a perfect position to think about porn as complex documentation, and to devise strategies for working with porn in the archives. One question will prove critical in the coming decades: How do we tell ‘archive stories’ with porn, sex work, or sex as center – rather than as peripheral? One hypothetical example could be the papers of Colby Keller, a successful gay porn performer who reportedly voted for Donald Trump and who supported many of Trump’s political messages. Keller’s story as a political agent is noteworthy, and I would argue it is important to understanding the complexity of sexual-identities-as-political-identities, but it cannot be divorced from his ongoing work as a porn performer. Separating his politics from the specifics of his career is akin to telling the story of Steven Spielberg sans film. If we imagine a future wherein Keller donates his papers to an archives, many questions arise. How can archives tell stories which have sex work and porn as a center, not as a tangent? How can we think of porn context? How do we talk – with researchers, students, the public – through both the intellectual and erotic content of this work?

Alongside porn’s educational and research value, it is undeniable that porn is also a thing of desire. It is created in response to desires (those of the maker and/or the intended audience), consumed in desire (academic, artistic, sexual). If porn had no allure then its detractors would have nothing to fear. Linda Williams has written that part of watching porn is hoping to see what you don’t want to see, hoping to have your limits and boundaries pushed[3]. Porn is a desire for excess – very untidy, ‘unprofessional.’

“But archives are full of desire already,” Rachel Mattson redirects. Visitors enter all archives with a desire to see, to touch, to know. Not just the visitors – archivists, too. But desire is troublesome. It peregrinates through – but is not subsumed by – identity or selfhood. We desire things that go against our better judgement, that bring our identities into question. We have shameful desires. Desire disrupts the professional / personal boundary. As GVGK Tang puts it, in their discussion of arranging and describing porn, “To process porn, one must consume it and risk internalizing the notion that one is a pervert for doing so.”[4]

Facing sexual desire is a next step for archives which would engage with porn. In our discussion of LGBT archivists and archival collections, it is easy to elide sexual desire in favor of political organizing, creative aesthetics, or cultural traditions. This isn’t to say that sexual identities (including heterosexual identities) can be boiled down to sex acts, but it is to suggest that they can never be fully divorced. Though not an archives in the sense intended by most archivists, Tumblr was a valued space for producing, circulating, organizing, and keeping records of sexual practices. As a private platform, it had the unchecked power to shut out stories of desire despite public outcry. Their policies were unjust, but very telling. In the end, the platform lost the public’s confidence and investment. If we, as archivists, take seriously our mission (desire?) to tell complex stories, we cannot afford to do the same.



[1] David Squires, “Pornography in the Library,” in Porn Archives, eds. Tim Dean, Steven Ruszczycky, and David Squires (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 83.

[2] For a description of the debates of this era, see Gayle S. Rubin, “Blood Under the Bridge: Reflections on ‘Thinking Sex,’” in Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 194-223.

[3] Linda Williams, “Pornography, Porno, Porn: Thoughts on a Weedy Field,” in Porn Archives, eds. Tim Dean, Steven Ruszczycky, and David Squires (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 41.

[4] GVGK Tang, “Sex in the Archives: The Politics of Processing and Preserving Pornography in the Digital Age,” The American Archivist 80, no. 2 (2017): 444.


Many thanks to Mel Leverich, Rachel Mattson, and Brian M. Watson for agreeing to be interviewed for this post and offering their thoughts on the topics discussed.