The Invisibility of Women Archivists: Statistics, Diversity and Privilege

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Below is a post from Ariel Schudson touching on issues of gender and privilege in the archival profession. 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

Authorial Disclaimer: The words and opinions articulated here are my own. They do not express the views of anyone/organization/company that I am involved with, although they may be parallel at certain points.

Now- let’s discuss archivist issues!

Full disclosure: I am a white, cis-woman moving image archivist. I wish I could say that I am aware of my privilege at all times but if I said that, it would be ridiculous. That is the truth. However, being aware and conscious of my privilege is the best opportunity that I have of providing current colleagues, friends and unmet archival professionals of color a safe and comfortable space to flourish in this community that I love so much.

It is, of course, a complex privileged status, as I am a woman and that in and of itself has a variety of not-so-privileged associations such as lower wages, sexual harassment concerns and a smorgasbord of negative gender-related realities. What I do know is that if these situations are bad for me, they are worse for women of color. For example, the most highly discussed topic for women in the workplace is pay-grade. While I may get paid less than any man, a woman of color would be getting paid even less according to available statistics.

What is striking (though not surprising) is that there are no easily accessible statistics for the pay of women archivists, and none at all for women archivists of color! There is very little statistical data on women within the information science, preservation or curatorial fields. Yet, we exist. Enforce and growing. When I recently participated in the Woman Archivist Roundtable’s livetweet about salary negotiations (hashtag #SAAWAR on twitter), this same issue was raised and the American Association of University Women linked their Spring 2016 edition of “The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap.” This is probably the most helpful publication I have found in establishing some idea of what women (and more importantly, women of color) are being paid but it still never mentions career choices that come close to our world. And we are a highly specialized group.

As information-based professionals, we crave decent analytics to back up our work, apply for grants or to simply help our archival sensibilities be more at peace. While many of us primarily process and restore physical elements, metadata creation and descriptive cataloging are critical aspects of our workflow. So what does it mean when the metadata about our own field and our own descriptive sets are not being ingested in larger reports? Are we made invisible, having to forever gauge our work by “similar careers and statistical evidence”? While I don’t believe that we are special “better than you” snowflakes, the exclusion of our field leaves us with no analytics to work with and continues the assumption that archivists are less important. The lack of information about women of color…well, see previous sentence.

Ariel Schudson is an independent moving image archivist and preservationist who has been involved in the cinema community for over 15 years. She is a long-time member of AMIA (Association of Moving Image archivists) and the Chair of the AMIA Access Committee.