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.