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.


Steering Share: The Spousal Subsidy: Gender and Low Wages in the Archives Profession

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.

One of the things I have enjoyed most about Issues and Advocacy Steering Committee meetings is the interest we all seem to have in labor and wage issues. I can attest from personal experience that this is something that needs to be addressed throughout our profession. I also wonder frequently why this is still an issue. Most archivist positions require at least one advanced degree and a very specific skill set, so why aren’t wages on par with education and abilities?

I don’t believe there is just one answer to the question above. There are a number of factors contributing to low wages in the archives profession. The Society of Southwest Archivist’s recently released an article that addresses the inequity in pay between directors and staff, which is certainly one explanation. I’m sure that the survey our section recently released will shed light on other factors, too, but in the meantime, I wanted to know if there was more information already out there. When I did some digging, I found out that low wages are, unsurprisingly, an issue among museum professionals as well. And although there are obvious differences between our professions, there is also some overlap, and one author mentioned something that rang true for archivists, museum workers, and librarians: the spousal subsidy.

The spousal subsidy is the idea that some jobs can have a lower salary because the person in that position is married to someone else in a higher-paying career. Most of the time, in the past, the man made a higher salary, so women could afford to take jobs with lower pay.

The spousal subsidy is a result of the perception that certain jobs are “women’s work.” The phrase “pink-collar” was coined to describe professions that have a large percentage of female workers. Sometimes, that term was applied because the job had a large caretaking component; nurses and teachers are the obvious examples. Caretaking and child-rearing were seen as something inherently female, so these jobs were feminized. Other jobs with large percentages of women workers fell victim to this mentality as well; libraries, which have had a majority of female workers for years, are the classic example, but since the 1980s, this has also been true of archives.

Marital status is obviously no reason to discriminate against anyone. As someone who is divorced and has had the experience of living in both two-income and one-income households, however, I can tell you that the second income makes a big difference. Many employers have taken advantage of gender gap in wages over the years, and the majority of women in archives jobs has undoubtedly contributed to low salaries. Positions that are perceived as being “women’s work” fall victim to the spousal subsidy mentality: women can be paid less, because they have the support of their husband’s income. This type of archaic thinking may be one factor that continues to drive down wages and keep new employees’ pay low.

The spousal subsidy attitude hits emerging professionals particularly hard. Many recent graduates are young, single adults. Student loan debt is also a problem among this group, which has been saddled with this burden more than previous generations. On top of these issues, new professionals are facing outdated and sexist attitudes about salaries. When institutions have been able to get away with offering low wages for decades, convincing them to change is difficult.

I believe I have demonstrated that there is some deeply entrenched gender bias behind archivists’ low pay. I also think, from what I’ve observed on SAA listservs, that there are plenty of people within our profession that agree that these antiquated notions about wages need to go. I hope we can come together to affect positive change within our profession for everyone.


Steering Share: Thoughts on the Idea of Professionalism

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.

I want to talk about professionalism, or more specifically, the idea of professionalism and how it can (and often is) used to make people conform and can be a tool that hinders diversity and creativity. I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while – partly due to personal experiences – and then “the incident” with April Hathcock took place at ALA Midwinter. I knew it wasn’t just me and felt this post could take one of her many salient points and focus on a large set of the archival profession.

I, like many of you, work in academia. And even many of you who don’t work in academia are likely impacted by the practices of it. I often find myself rubbing up against some of these norms. The ones that work slowly and through long conversations in multiple committees and working groups. The ones that use policies to explain choices, but break those policies when they really want something. The ones where people like to complain about people, but not to people. And yes, these are gross generalizations, but they are also sometimes just gross.

Our profession also talks all the time about how homogenous we are and struggles to find ways to change it, ways to diversify the profession or our collections or our outreach. But I’m not sure if the desire for more diversity is stronger than the desire to maintain this air of academic … politeness.

I say this because I see many of our attempts at diversity as a form of tokenism, with the most frequent offering being something like a two-year “diversity” position for people fresh out of their Master’s program. While it’s helpful, it doesn’t change our culture. It looks at this “diverse” person and says, ‘We’re going to teach you how to be one of us’ or ‘We’re going to hire you to solve all of our diversity problems,’ but we’re not going to commit to you. It doesn’t look at our practices and offer ‘Perhaps we should be more accepting of different styles of interaction’ or ‘Let’s listen to some new ideas and actually try them out.’ It doesn’t change us, it just looks good on paper and makes us feel like we’re helping.

We invite people for day-long (sometimes 2!) interviews and see it as a test of their endurance or stamina, but we don’t make the effort to inform the candidates about this practice they may never have been through. We continue to ask surprise questions in interviews, and then judge people who are likely nervous (and quite possibly introverted) if they can’t come up with perfect answers on the spot. Our MLIS programs overwhelmingly do not to teach any aspect of the job searching and interviewing process. They teach the theory, sometimes the practice, and send you out without even a functional résumé or any clue about just how many jobs you may apply for before even getting an interview.

What we need is more compassion and more care about the people we say we want as our colleagues. As someone in a position to hire a new librarian, recall your own job search and look for new ways to make the interview process more inviting. Be more open-minded about professional backgrounds and embrace ideas that may be unfamiliar to you. When someone directly speaks to an offense against them, investigate it; if they offer an opposing viewpoint, consider it before dismissing it. If you are witness to bigotry, speak up. All of these things can be done respectfully if we respect each other. But respect comes in many forms, and that, too, should be respected.

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:

Steering Share from Ruth Slagle

Steering Sharesare an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of I&A committee member Ruth Slagle, the Instruction and Outreach Librarian at the Baptist College of Florida.


What is your favorite thing about your job or the archives profession?

The variety! Well I might have a plan for the week, but it always changes. Currently, I do not work in an archive, but I emphasize with lone arrangers because I am solo librarian. The past 6 months has been a whirlwind of change for me since becoming a solo librarian and a natural disaster misplacing the library into another building. In my current position, I am multiple departments rolled into one, perks of working at a small school. I have enjoyed consulting with the archives on campus and giving advice on standards. For the future, I look forward to working with students and connecting with others.

What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?

As a member of the committee, I would like to take away useful strategies and methods for further advocating the presence of archives in our society and local influences. As a newer member and professional, I want to connect with other archivists in this section and gain a ready knowledge of best practices.

What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

Education. In light of the recent Hurricane Michael, which affected the library where I work, it has become more obvious to me the importance of advocacy. Salvaging our collection and workflow has only happened because of myself advocating for the library and its employees. This past fall, I taught an Archives Management course for undergraduates. My teaching experience, taught me the importance of educating non-archival users. By opening their eyes to the archival world. I would love to teach again because the diversity the archival profession opens so many doors to users. As an archivist and librarian, I am my own advocate working with students and faculty. Without archivists, advocating our field, how will the world know our value?

Steering Share from Rachel Mandell

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of I&A committee past-chair, Rachel Mandell, Metadata Librarian at the USC Digital Library.

What is your favorite thing about your job or the archives profession?

Currently, my favorite aspect of my job is being able to train and hopefully mentor new librarians/archivists. From chairing the search committee to training, to answering daily questions, I have been given the opportunity to reexamine my own practices and gain a fresh perspective on the field from someone who graduated from library school recently. Before accepting my current position, I worked a series of temporary jobs. During those project positions, I was never given the chance to train and supervise a new librarian. This has been an extremely rewarding experience and I am looking forward to taking on more leadership roles in the future.

Enjoying the desert sun!

What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?

I first joined the I&A Steering Committee 3 years ago as the I&A intern. I had never served on an SAA Section and figured it would be a good opportunity to get a sense of what that would be like without too much commitment. At the time, I was working as a contract employee and had very little institutional support for any sort of professional development or any activities outside of my clearly defined job duties. That first year, I worked on a survey to figure out how to improve the Toolkit. By the time the election cycle for the next year came around, I had found myself in a permanent position, which encouraged library faculty to seek opportunities to serve on national committees. I spent the next two years serving as Vice-Chair and then Chair of Issues and Advocacy. It’s a great section, with broad interest and capabilities. As the current Past Chair, I am excited to see where the Steering Committee decides to focus its efforts.

What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

In echoing the sentiments of many of my fellow steering committee members—the issue of relaying on contract employment and exploitative labor practices is one of the most pressing issues facing our profession. While we have a long road ahead in terms of shifting our own practices and beliefs regarding this situation, I feel reinvigorated by the statement issued by the Society of California Archivists for support of the open letter distributed by the temporary archivists from the UCLA special collections.


Steering share from Sara DeCaro

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.

What is your favorite thing about your job or the archives profession?

There are some great things about being a “lone arranger” at a small private college. I have a lot of control over what we collect and projects we choose to take on. I also have a good idea of where the gaps are in representation, and I can actively take steps to fill in those gaps. I noticed, for example, that we don’t have a lot of records from student organizations on campus. These can be a very rich source of information because student organizations often form to meet the needs of historically marginalized groups; that was definitely the case when our African-American student group formed here in the 1970s. I’ve had conversations with them and our fairly new LGTBQIA group about future donations, and the response has been positive.

What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?

Archives and archivists, generally speaking, seem to be chronically underfunded and viewed as somehow lesser, or not essential. I’m really tired of that, and I want to do something about it. I know that’s a broad statement, but even if this is just a small thing I can do to enact change, it’s important to me.

What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

Diversity and inclusion, in both our collections and employment practices. I think one of the most basic things we can do as a society to correct years of injustice towards marginalized people is to make sure their legacies are preserved. Labor issues are also very important to me; I often feel that wages for archivists don’t reflect the level of training and education we have.

Intern Share from Kristin Hare

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of I&A Intern Kristin Hare.

What is your favorite thing about your job or the archives profession?

My favorite thing about the archives profession is archivists! I’ve reached out to total strangers through Twitter, listservs, and professional organizations for career advice, graduate school assignments, or with processing questions and I’ve never encountered anything but encouragement and a genuine willingness to offer any help they can. The archival profession is full of hardworking, kind professionals that will go out of their way to assist the new kids.

I also love the chaos of introducing yourself to an institutional archive for the first time. I interned with the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina and my first encounter with their institutional archive was a rollercoaster of confusion, excitement, and feelings of rage towards scotch tape and paperclips.

What made you want to join the I&A steering committee?

I have a strong interest in the role of archivists as advocates for marginalized people, their histories, and records. The shift towards equitable access rather than equal access within the field is a movement that I firmly believe in and I’ve really enjoyed watching archives professionals advocate for change. I also feel a responsibility to consider how my own identity and values impact my work within the field. I think most would agree that neutrality as an archivist is nearly impossible. Getting involved with the I&A steering committee seemed like a great way to continue to learn about the diverse issues within archives and challenge myself professionally.

What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

The inclusion and preservation of LGBT materials within archives is an issue that means a lot to me. During my graduate program, I researched the unique challenges archivists face when working with LGBT materials, including ethical concerns, cataloging and copyright issues, and privacy. I designed a research study to explore the information seeking behavior of transgender, intersex, and non-binary persons within South Carolina and I currently serve as a member of the South Carolina Library Association’s GLBT roundtable. I’m interested in the lack of representation and safe access to information within archives and libraries faced by LGBT persons and the steps professionals can take to bridge those gaps and improve services and programs for the public.

Steering Share from Samantha Brown

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

What is your favorite thing about your job or the archives profession?

One of my favorite things about working in archives is that you get to be a bit like Sherlock Holmes. It’s the archivist job to go through everything and piece together the clues about who the creator of the collection was and how that creator used and organized the collection. Every item you look at contributes a new detail that you can use to solve your mystery. While solving that mystery, you get to learn about a topic you may never have known about before. An even if the collection deals with topics you’re familiar with, it may come at it from a completely different angle which will show you a new way to contextualize history. The fact that working in archives forces me to constantly learn and explore new ideas is something I love about the job.


What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?

After working as an intern for the committee, I knew that I wanted to join as a full member. My experience getting to work with everyone was so fulfilling that I didn’t want it to end after just one year. Working with the committee has allowed me to connect with other archivists and deal with issues that our profession is facing. Not only do we discuss the issues but we try to come up with concrete ways to solve the problems. While trying to get people who are scattered across the country to work together can be a struggle since we all have differing time zones and responsibilities, we all put in an effort to contribute something.

What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

An issue that I have been thinking a lot about lately is the value of archival labor. It seems like a regular thing at this point to hear a story about how a researcher or historian visited an archive and discovered a lost piece of history. What so many of these stories neglect to say is who enabled that person to find that item. Even if a story acknowledges that the researcher used a finding aid or consulted with an archivist, there never seems to be any acknowledgment of the work that archivists do to make the materials available and accessible. This, to me, shows an inherent problem that archivists face. People may know we exist but they don’t know what we do or why it’s important. If the public at large doesn’t understand our work then they can’t value it. While they may think that the materials we work with are treasures, they fail to understand that those treasures can’t be preserved and accessed unless someone does some kind of work.  This lack of understanding can also contribute to the anger people feel when they can’t access something they want. Without understanding what we do, people can’t understand the framework we work within and how that can restrict use of a collection or material. By helping people understand what we do as archivists, we can help them gain a greater understanding of what archives are and why our work is so valuable.

Steering Share: Steve Duckworth’s second year with I&A

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. his post comes courtesy of committee member Steve Duckworth, University Archivist at Oregon Health & Science University.

Hello again. This is my second year on the I&A Steering Committee and I’m excited to be back and helping continue the work of this group. This year, I’ll continue to oversee our news monitoring efforts, but we’re going to turn away from the monthly list of news reports and have a few people blog on news items of interest to them. This, I hope, will result in a more focused look at a few topics rather than a really shallow overview of a ton of topics.

For my first Steering Share this year, I’ll attempt to avoid repeating my answers from last year, even though my thoughts haven’t really changed much.

Steve having fun with mold.

What is your favorite thing about your job or the archives profession?

I still really enjoy mentoring students and new professionals, and hope to do more of that as my career continues to grow. But another thing I really enjoy about this profession is the archival community. For the most part, I’ve met amazing people with great ideas and a drive to do something about them. I’ve been lucky enough to have great mentors of my own and am constantly meeting people that I want to collaborate with on some project or another. I am learning to limit those projects to what I can actually handle in a given time period, but the ideas are still great and that positive energy helps keep me going.

What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?

I’ve been involved with I&A for a few years and, again, the people have been great to work with and really keep me wanting to stay involved. This committee is involved in a lot of issues that I feel are important not just to archives, but also to humanity – climate change, labor practices, open records, and truth in information exchange. It’s a great way for me to work within the profession, but know that the work I’m doing has some further reach.

What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

Last year, I wrote about labor issues here. This is an area that I’ve continued to focus even more on in the past year – and I think some of these issues are becoming bigger and more widely spoken about. In the past year, the UCLA Project Archivists have spoken out loudly about the structure of that institution’s labor practices. I’ve continued to advocate for better labor practices for student employees. And I even advocated for myself when I felt I was not being fairly paid by my own institution. I think advocating for ourselves may be even harder than advocating for others – people don’t want to come off as needy or pushy or selfish. But I think we need a bit more push in this profession. What we do is important and we need to push others to understand the value of that work and stop accepting the status quo.