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Why should you be ashamed?

September 24, 2010

The blog operates under three premises.

  1. Every single one of us makes choices that affect the betterment or detriment of the profession. Professionals advance or flounder in their careers because of the influence of their mentors and the institution’s investment in their professional development. If we’re interested in being well-regarded in our larger institutions and in society, we have to do our best to nurture young professionals. YOU need to do a better job of explaining to your institution that part-time work, temporary work, and underfunded work are the scourge of the profession and are systematically unsustainable.
  2. Since archivists and librarians must have professional degrees to be taken seriously in the job market, they must be compensated appropriately. Professional degrees are rarely funded, and often come with crushing debt. We must structure the profession so that the entry barriers are not insurmountable and so that we can pay our debt and still enjoy a reasonable quality of life. We all deserve to be able to feed ourselves. It might even be reasonable to expect to be able to support a family. What we don’t want is an entire profession of people who can only become archivists and librarians because their families can support them.
  3. If you’re a terrible employer, expect for perspective employees to find out about it. It’s a small community of archivists. We went to school together. We drink together. And we are not afraid to talk about how unsupportive, unfair, or abusive our institutions have been. The time for public shaming starts now.

This is a forum to list TERRIBLE job ads (with commentary!), job horror stories, and more encouragingly, stories of excellent employers and strategies for positive professional development that help us all. We’re much more interested in structural injustices than had-a-bad-day stories, but all content is more or less welcome. Be sure to email any of the owners or contributors to this blog if you want to add content (either under your own name or anonymously). And be sure to check back often!

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Richard Cox permalink
    September 28, 2010 2:12 pm

    A couple of comments. First, there are many programs that do hire individuals to work as archivists and do not require graduate degrees; of course, many of them advertise locally and so won’t be captured on listservs, etc. These jobs can be great places for individuals interested in archival work to test out their assumptions about wanting to pursue such a career. In fact, we have now made it a requirement for admissions to our graduate program that you have a year’s experience and that you can write a statement reflecting some understanding of archival work and the profession. Second, these kinds of positions have existed since the beginning of the field, and the fact that they keep being advertised suggest that there are people to fill them — sometimes as a stopgap in their career or as an effort to gain some additional experience. Yes, the qualifications compared to salaries or lack of benefits can be frustrating, but there may be more useful means of dealing with these positions than public shame. I suggest embracing these as opportunities to gain some professional experience (especially since the high level of qualifications are probably seldom met). One of the problems we face in graduate programs are individuals coming in as students who lack knowledge about the nature of the field. I counsel some people away from the program and suggest they volunteer (and these jobs are pretty close to volunteering, aren’t they?) and get some level of experience before they commit to expensive grad programs.

    Besides, there are lots of other issues to get angry about — problems of leadership in the field, weak ethical standards and principles, spending more time and resources on issues like trading cards, etc. Way back in 1984 I made a presentation at a regional conference, and a senior individual in the field told me we needed to have angry young people in the field. I channelled that into an academic position and a career in research and writing about concerns such as ethics, public policy, leadership, etc. Anger can be good. Perhaps some of you concerned about such job ads should gather the data systematically and draft some proposed standards for the relationship between qualifications and compensation, factoring in all the other variables such as type of institution, geographic location, and economic trends. This could be a useful exercise and lead to some productive discourse that would be more useful than what could be perceived as whining and complaining.

    • Maureen Callahan permalink*
      September 29, 2010 1:17 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Richard. I’ve talked with other early-career archivists who agree that within the context of a very tight job market, we too often experience employers who are willing to race to the bottom — high job requirements, low salaries, little support, and no apologies. Frankly, I see very little support from leaders in the profession for the idea that we all need to hold out for more and make our parent organizations understand that we are highly-skilled labor, who deserve to be compensated appropriately. (See my post about this on my other blog — )

      So really, I hope that young professionals will look at this and understand that even if things are tight, even if they really really really need a job and have to go with a sucktastic one like those listed here, THIS IS NOT NORMAL and it’s not okay. They will approach salary negotiations from (perhaps) a position of greater strength and more importantly, when they’re in a position to hire someday, they will set the expectation that archivists deserve a living wage, fair benefits, mentoring, professional support, and professional development resources.

      • September 29, 2010 1:44 pm

        Well said, Maureen!

      • September 29, 2010 7:39 pm

        yes yes yes! maureen is basically speaking about ME. I knew it wasn’t ok to be working as a ‘temporary’ employee for 5 years, and I knew I was doing work that required a full-time position, but I didn’t even conceive of things like “professional development”, because I just assumed that it was something for the already-privileged “REAL employees”(just like health care). It’s really important to keep our standards high and to be vocal about them. because otherwise your staff will be made entirely of helpful “volunteers”, who are living in mom’s basement and leaving after 6 months when they can’t defer their student loans any more. and then who’s there when you want to retire?

    • September 29, 2010 4:22 pm

      “Perhaps some of you concerned about such job ads should gather the data systematically and draft some proposed standards for the relationship between qualifications and compensation, factoring in all the other variables such as type of institution, geographic location, and economic trends.”

      FWIW I am as we speak working with a number of other young or young-at-heart archivists to do just this. The project is still very much in the planning stages but we’re hoping to examine a lot of the variables you mention, focusing specifically on prospects for and attitudes among young archivists. So it’s not a matter of “whining” vs. systematic data collection or analysis. We can do both! 😉

      In all seriousness, I think the tagline is the important bit of this blog: “You were unemployed once too, man.” I have a job I love in the archives field. So do Maureen and Mark and any number of the other contributors to this site. We write to ‘pay it forward’, so to speak, because we see these terrible, terrible positions being advertised and we take a look at where we were not-so-long ago and say ‘this could have been me.’ As noted in my reply to Ben’s post, I am personally insulted by these ads. They say to me “we don’t value your degree or qualifications enough to pay you a reasonable wage for the work performed.” They say to other employers “people are taking these jobs, therefore we too can grossly underpay for archival work.” Job ads like these hurt the profession as a whole, at least in my opinion.

      Far be it for me to claim that archives is the only field with this problem– my brother, job hunting last month in an unrelated field, complained about the same, to which my response was ‘take a number’– but certainly if we are going to talk about ethical standards and principles, it seems like a moral imperative to keep employers accountable by calling out job postings like this.

      …Aaand it’s another novel-length response. Maureen, Twitter hates me but I will get you that email address eventually so I can actually write posts!

      • September 29, 2010 5:22 pm

        (Note too that the project to which I refer was not my idea, and I am pretty sure all of the other people involved are more on top of the ball than I am 😉 I may be reading too much into what I wrote but I don’t want to take credit where credit is undue.)

    • September 29, 2010 5:29 pm

      I agree with Mr. Cox’s point that some of these positions could be good for a starting archivist. Unfortunately, most of the bad postings we see do not want starting archivists. According to their descriptions they want archivists with experience and degrees to do what is truly entry level work. As Maureen says, part of the reason for this blog is to let people know that this situation is not OK.

      Also, it seems to me that telling people to volunteer or take a terrible paying position with lack of benefits in exchange for experience assumes that these individuals can afford such situations. How many people are we barring from the profession on that act alone? As long as we keep demanding this kind of experience as an entry fee to the profession I do not think we can truly say we are interested in diversifying.

      • September 29, 2010 7:55 pm

        HEAR HEAR! volunteer time is an entry fee that not everyone can pay.

      • Lindsey permalink
        September 29, 2010 8:21 pm

        We need to be careful that “great for a starting archivist” doesn’t become code for positions that have no redeeming or lasting value, or similarly, positions that people continually cycle out of or use as a stepping stone to something better. If you find yourself thinking, “I certainly would never consider taking that job, but I bet some newbie would…” then that’s not a great position, for anyone!

        What qualities do you think a job should have that would make it legitimately great for a person that is new to the profession? Assuming the basics are covered (living wage and safe locale). I would volunteer that the position should have a good support structure, room for growth in responsibility, built in professional development opportunities, and exposure to a variety of tasks so that the person can experience all the varied aspects of being an archivist.

  2. October 2, 2010 4:53 am

    What exactly do you consider a living wage?

    Many times a college degree is simply an excuse to over compensate someone with mediocre talent who takes the easy path of managing the lesser educated employees who do all the work yet are paid less and get none of the credit.

    As to temp positions many companies including the one where I’m employed use temps to weed out the lazy undesirables who are only there for a paycheck and could care less about their quality of their production. It saves on the paperwork and prevents the wasting of benefits on those useless individuals who either walk away and/or are fired because they are unwilling to do what is necessary to get the job done. I myself started out as a temp and was hired on permanently after a few months 13 yrs ago and last year I survived four layoffs, when the company was forced to shrink itself to survive this long term downturn in the economy, simply because I strive to do my job as well as possible and am flexible {which means that I’ll work in another dept. when needed without complaint and still do my level best to get the job done whether I want to or not}. As a result I’m still working while many of those who had been there a lot longer then I have were let go in the layoffs.

  3. October 3, 2010 10:56 am

    You also have to remember that the space for archivists in the employment field is relatively small and limited to two major entities:

    Government archives and educational archives. The former suffers notorious budget issues and therefore offers no stability, while the latter is notoriously cheap when it comes to pay scale.

    I’m in the IT field. Worked for both government and educational and with archivists in both so that is where my info comes from.

    Of course right now I’m in the corporate world, being bored but paid well.


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