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 (http://blogs.simmons.edu/slis/jobline/), ArchivesGig (https://archivesgig.com/), 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: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YglMlu_SOIUXyknVzTvxiJSj_VC9v-Pb/view?usp=sharing.
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.
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.
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.
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 (https://www.southwestarchivists.org/poor-pay-in-archives-how-top-archives-directors-and-our-national-organizations-are-failing-us/). 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 (https://www.southwestarchivists.org/home/archives-regional-salary-research/). At its spring 2019 meeting, the Society of Southwest Archivists voted to stop posting or sharing job advertisements that did not include salary information (https://www.southwestarchivists.org/salary-information-now-required-in-job-postings/). 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 (https://harvard.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_efCj42MurbrLAj3), 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. (https://www2.archivists.org/news/2018/saa-council-affirms-strategic-goals-creates-research-committee)
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 (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1aFVWuA6zJsrTGFoPuKeU8K6SJ1Sggv2h/view). In response to the UCLA Special Collections Librarians open letter on contingent employment published in June 2018, NEA released a statement later that year (https://www.newenglandarchivists.org/Official-Statements/6814976).
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 (http://eiratansey.com/2018/05/01/mayday-on-may-day/). 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.