Steering Share: Meet Sara DeCaro

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of committee member Sara DeCaro, the university archivist at Baker University Library. 


Profile Pic Greece1) What was your first experience working with archives?

I was lucky enough receive the Mary Louise Meder Internship in the State Archives division of the Kansas Historical Society when I was working on my MLS. It was a great introduction to archives, and it was paid! I wrote finding aids for two collections of personal papers and did some work with Kansas Memory, the KSHS’ digital image website. I enjoyed every minute of it, too. It reaffirmed my decision to pursue a career in archives.


2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

I initially became a part of I&A because I had never served on a committee in any of the professional organizations I belong to, and I&A seemed to match my interests. This is my second year on the steering committee, and I already feel like I’ve gained a lot. Having the opportunity to work on our temporary labor survey was meaningful to me personally, as someone who has held temporary positions in the past, and although analyzing all that data was a bit challenging, I learned a great deal. One of my Steering Shares from last year also led to participation in a panel discussion at the Annual Meeting in July, which was also a very worthwhile experience.


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

Low wages in the archives profession is a very important issue, in my opinion, and one that I’ve been able to explore as a result of my involvement in this committee. That was the focus of the panel discussion I mentioned before. It’s a widespread problem in the archives world, for a number of reasons. I knew that after reading the responses to our survey, but listening to the other panelists and hearing their stories made the scope of the problem very clear. I like being able to contribute to a solution, even if it is in a small way.


4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

I’ve recently started volunteering with Kansas City Pet Project, my local animal shelter. I wasn’t ready for a new pet when my cat passed away, but I missed cats and wanted to be around them. Shelter environments can be stressful for cats, so I’m glad I can give them a little comfort.

Steering Share: Meet Courtney Dean

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of the past-chair of the I&A committee, Courtney Dean, the head of the Center for Primary Research and Training in UCLA Library Special Collections.


1) What was your first experience working with archives?

As an undergrad I wrote a paper on the history of May Day in Boston using mircrofilm copies of old newspapers, but that’s as close I got to anything remotely archival for a long time. When I was thinking about grad school I came across the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) and the Riot Grrrl collection at Fales and was disabused of the notion that archives are stuffy and elite. Then I found out “archivist” was an actual job and was completely sold. My grad school internships were at the Wende Museum of the Cold War, Pacifica Radio Archives, and LACMA. I worked with artifacts and artworks; ¼ inch audiotapes; and institutional records. While in grad school I also worked in the Center for Primary Research and Training in UCLA Library Special Collections, a program I now head. There I had the opportunity to work on collections from the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives as part of their partnership with UCLA Library.  

2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

This is my third(!) and last year on the Steering Committee and I hope to contribute to both the continuity and sustainability of the section and its ongoing work. So much volunteer work is thankless and burnout-prone, but I’ve always appreciated how I&A’s charge is broad enough for folks to pursue issues of importance to them. The enthusiasm of my fellow steering committee members is infectious, and I look forward to pushing forward conversations around issues facing the profession. 

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

Fair and ethical archival labor has been something I’ve been passionate about for a long time- everything from paid internships to temp labor to salary transparency and barriers to entry in the profession. Aside from I&A, I participate in the Digital Library Federation’s (DLF) Labor Working group, co-chair the Society of California Archivists (SCA) Labor Issues Task Force, and am on the organizing and issues committees for the librarian unit of my union. Right now a lot of this work involves data collection, which can hopefully be leveraged to better advocate for change. Like others have mentioned, I’ve also started thinking more and more about the environmental impact of the profession- flying to conferences, digital storage, etc. 

4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

Way too much of my free time has been devoted to archives adjacent activities, but I’m trying to get better with boundaries and work life balance. I play guitar in a punk band called Red Rot, just joined a rad book club, and am obsessed with my cat, Walrus. (My other feline bff Potato just passed away last week which was really hard.) I’m also currently watching Deadwood for the first time.


Steering Share: Meet Genna Duplisea

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of committee member Genna Duplisea, archivist and special collections librarian at Salve Regina University.


1) What was your first experience working with archives?

After working in the library stacks my first year of college, I transferred my work-study to the Special Collections and Archives department because when I often walked by its glass doors and beautiful sculptural gates, I thought it looked interesting. For the rest of my time at Bowdoin, I was an assistant there, learning how to handle and organize everything from architectural plans to brittle folded nineteenth-century correspondence to newspaper clippings to masses of trophies. The collection was robust and the department busy, so I got to see the variety of research primary sources could provide. My supervisors encouraged enthusiasm about the collection and the environment allowed me to take joy in my work. One year for my grandfather’s birthday I found for him the alumnus file for a doctor from our family lore – he had delivered one of my ancestors on a kitchen table!

2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

Much of my reasoning for pursuing a career in archives is my desire to contribute positively to human rights and the environment. It can be difficult and overwhelming at work to stay grounded in the ever-changing landscape of concerns and ideas linking archives to social justice. Attending to the role of archives in combating prejudice and harm means advocating for our labor, too. Serving on the I&A Steering Committee will, I hope, help me do the things I entered this profession to do, by connecting me more closely to the work addressing social and environmental justice issues and placing me in a position to support or join in archival activism.

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

I see climate change as underpinning every problem and political issue because it affects every community. Archivists have a role in helping communities preserve and protect their heritage as the climate becomes more unpredictable, and we also have lot to do in addressing our profession’s carbon footprint. How do we perform memory work for changing and disappearing communities without further contributing to the source of that change? As part of Archivists Responding to Climate Change (ProjectARCC), I recently collaborated with other archivists on hosting Climate Teach-ins and hope to contribute to the growing body of writing on archives and climate change in the coming year.

4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

Reading, writing, and basic fiber crafting are also among my hobbies, which almost goes without saying in this profession. It cracks me up to around the room of archivists and seeing a bunch of people knitting during a presentation, which I have been known to do. Additionally, I’m not very sporty, but I love going for walks. There is a land trust in my community that maintains beautiful walking trails. I’m trying to learn more about the plants and birds I see and develop a stronger knowledge of the natural world. My houseplants are also doing all right

Steering Share: Meet Steering Committee Member Holly Croft

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of committee member Holly Croft, the digital archivist at Georgia College. 


1) What was your first experience working with archives?

Archiving is a second career for me, and I quit the first without a clear plan with what I wanted to do next. I started volunteering on an indexing project for a nonprofit where I would attach metadata to digital versions of their collection materials. It was extremely calming in a time where I felt that many things were up in the air, and I would spend hours working on the indexes.

Because it was a volunteer position, I didn’t catch on immediately that the indexing project was part of a larger career field, but I eventually researched it and learned the avenues through which one becomes an archivist. The following fall, I applied to graduate school, and I have never looked back!

2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

I am so delighted to be a part of the I&A Steering Committee, and I am looking forward to working with the rest of the committee to assist archivists who need support in a variety of ways. As Joanna mentioned in her Steering Share, this is a small community, so it only makes sense that we’re stronger together.

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

Recently, this committee has taken a look at labor practices particularly surrounding temporary positions and the precarity they create for those who end up taking them. This is, unfortunately, an ongoing concern.

I also am increasingly uneasy with additional labor dumped on archivists, particularly under the guise of “other duties as assigned” and “doing less with more.” This is a topic that hits labor markets well beyond archives, but I’ll bet the majority of archivists have a story about these phrases biting them in some way at their jobs.

These are only two of a myriad of topics affecting archivists today, and I am looking forward to being able to assist where possible.

4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

I have become the crazy cat lady people warn you about becoming in library school! Two months ago, I had two cats. I took in a stray that looked a little rotund at the beginning of October, and mid-October, I suddenly had six cats.

Just kidding – I could tell there were kittens coming when I took in the third. So, I’m spending a lot of time socializing these little ones and getting them ready for their forever homes.

Additionally, I love cooking and preserving food, gardening, and reading.

Steering Share: Meet Committee Member Sheridan Leigh Sayles

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of committee member Sheridan Leigh Sayles, technical services archivist at Seton Hall University.

1) What was your first experience working with archives

SpringShare profile picI grew up in a town rooted in history—Richmond, VA—and always had a love and fascination with old things. When I went to undergrad, I started working in the Library and that inspired me to look into all aspects of heritage work. I enrolled in the Museum Studies minor and learned about exhibit design, preservation, and got the opportunity to intersperse practical work with my studies. I fell in love with the practice of handling the objects—I remember one day getting to see the preservation housing for an outfit worn by President James Monroe in Paris, and I knew I’d found the right career!

2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

This is my first year on the Steering Committee, so I am still learning about what the committee does and how we affect SAA policy and all that good stuff, but I feel like we are in a good position to connect archivists with resources that can help them in their careers and with their interests. Through our blog and other resources, we can connect archivists at all stages of their careers with material to help them do their jobs better, or advocate for themselves and the practices they’d like to uphold. And I’m thrilled to be working with the I&A veterans and learning from them on how to affect change.

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

I’m really invested in archival labor and supporting early career professionals! I’m currently working with colleagues at University of Delaware and NYU on a research project into the status of term-limited (project) archivists and I’m hoping that our data can help define the scope of project positions. I think a big part of this question starts with ethical internships and making sure that the work they are doing will ultimately translate into success on the job market. Beyond that, I’ve been following the research on archivists and climate change and seeing recommendations on that.
4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

I was a competitive figure skater in a past life, so you can often find me in an ice rink jumping, spinning, and all that good stuff, or coaching youngsters. It’s so rewarding taking my students to their first competitions, not only to see how much they’ve grown as skaters, but also to show them how hard work can pay off.

Steering Sharing: Meet I&A Committee Member 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.

1) What was your first experience working with archives?

IMG_20180510_195725578_2My first experience working in an archive was in graduate school. During my second semester, I had taken a processing class where you split your time between the classroom and a field site. While at the field site, I had a friendly relationship with the archivists and assisted them with a project. A few months after the class ended, out of the blue, I received an email from the supervisory archivist at the field site asking if I was interested in a job. Being a grad student, and constantly in need of money, I excitedly jumped at the chance to gain more experience in my chosen profession while also gaining a bit of money to help pay my mounting bills. 

The job itself gave me a wide range of experiences. The focus of the job was on processing but I also gained experience providing reference services in a university setting and digitizing a wide range of documents. Getting to work in a professional setting during grad school was incredibly help. I was able to learn what the job was like on a day to day basis and learn about what parts of the profession fit me and my skills best. 

2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

During my first year on the committee, I feel like I was just trying to get a hold on what the expectations for me were. While I had previously served on the committee as an intern, being a full committee member is a different experience and comes with a new set of rules. Now that I’m in my second year, I want to work on building connections between archivists. Many of us seem to be struggling with our jobs for one reason or another and it would be great if we could find a way to support each other, to help others out during times of strife. 

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

As a profession, I feel like there are many issues that were facing. One problem that I was confronted with recently is legitimizing our profession to people that don’t use our services. Of course historians, social scientists, and genealogists will see the value of archives and archivists but how do you get scientists or engineers to care about what your doing. Historical records aren’t things they need to deal with on a daily basis and, because of this, many people in those fields see our work as something unimportant.If we want to continue our work and receive the funding that we so desperately need then we need to find a way to reach people who don’t use archives and teach them about the inherent value of historical records. We can’t spend all of our time educating people, of course, but if people keep thinking of history as an unknowable and unreachable thing then they won’t value what we can provide them.

4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

Outside of work, I’m a bit of a nerd. I enjoy playing Dungeons Dragons, reading scifi and fantasy novels, and playing video games. Nothing beats getting together with a group of friends and fighting off a dragon. 

Steering Share: Meet I&A’s New Chair Joanna Black

JoJoBlackMy name is Joanna Black, and I am the 2019-2020 chair of SAA’s Issues & Advocacy section. What an honor it is to be part of such an impactful and meaningful section, and it’s an equal honor to be working alongside very talented professionals in the section’s Steering Committee.

This is the first Steering Share blog post of the season, so please let me take a moment with the rest of my colleagues to tell you a little bit more about myself.

1) What was your first experience working with archives?

My first experience working with archives was in 2008 as an undergraduate student at San Francisco State University. I was looking for an internship and came across a listing for an “Archives Intern” at the University’s Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives. I didn’t know anything about archives, but it sounded mysterious enough for me to take a chance. Upon working with my first “archival object” – a 60 year old recording of an on-campus poetry reading from Allen Ginsberg – I knew immediately that there was something special about working with archival materials. I was hooked, and off to an MLIS program I went!

2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

Actively participating in the I&A Steering Committee is such a privilege, and I hope to learn from my colleagues and fellow section members more about the issues that are most impactful to our profession. Additionally, I hope to learn some of the creative ways in which those issues are being tackled both inside and outside of SAA. Being part of a small profession places extra importance on building strong professional communities, and I aim to build this with fellow section members as well as with SAA members more broadly. By the end of my tenure as chair, I hope to know many more SAA members on a first name basis and learn more about their experiences working in the archives profession.

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

Advocating for the importance of the archival profession is a really important issue to me. Our jobs are made so much more difficult when, on top of our impossible workloads, we are tasked with advocating for our positions – even within our own organizations! Each of us entered the archival profession because the work means something significant to us, and communicating that passion to others is an important way to strengthen public awareness around the significance of our work. As much as I like being a secret superhero of cultural heritage, broader awareness of the archives profession would help ensure job and funding stability, public engagement with cultural and historical resources, and a possible societal shift in how we think about our past, present, and future heritage.

4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

When I’m not thinking about memory, metadata, or manuscripts, I enjoy the simpler things in domestic life: writing, reading, gardening, listening to music, playing with my two cats, and taking walks through the gorgeous California redwoods surrounding my home in Oakland, California. I also really love sleeping. 

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.

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.