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Why I’m Here

September 26, 2010

I saw this job ad a few days ago on one of the myriad of job hunting RSS feeds/listservs that I subscribe to, just as other archivists on Twitter were talking about other terrible job ads out there. There are many job ads that have brought us together to create this blog; this is the one that brought me here. You can read the whole job ad here.

FYI: I’m going to be structuring my posts Fire Joe Morgan style; for those of you who don’t read defunct sports blogs, this means that the original post is in bold and my commentary is in regular weight.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a new, part-time (20 hours/week) position.

That’s a good sign right there; 20 hr/wk is how much I worked as a graduate assistant and all I did was process collections.  But let’s see what kinds of duties this position requires at that 20 hr/wk level.

DUTIES INCLUDE: Responsible for the arrangement and description of scientific collections in accordance with approved plans. Screens for potentially sensitive material, weeds extraneous material, recommends appropriate preservation and conservation procedures, and copies or reformats materials for preservation, access, and distribution. Selects collections for digitization, taking into account factors such as scholarly impact, fragility of materials, copyright, and privacy.

Responsible for maintaining archival materials (paper and digital) according to recognized archival standards, including, assessing condition of materials and needs for remediation and repair, creating DACS-compliant EAD finding aids, and organizing for optimal storage and access. Prepares electronic finding aids for processed materials, including a biographical statement, scope and content note, and appropriate listing of materials. Prepares or updates archival catalog records in accordance with archive and library standards and enters data into national and local databases.

Provides a variety of reference services, including researching and answering reference questions for staff and external researchers.

Helps maintain and expand the UCAR Archives website using emerging web technologies and best practices that serve a growing online user community.

Wow. They must be hiring for two separate full time positions: one providing research and references services and maintaining and expanding the repository’s website as well as dealing with emerging technologies, and the other job arranging, describing, weeding, screening, reformatting, and digitizing.  Oh wait, this is only a 20 hr/wk position? Somebody must have done their math wrong.

Education and Experience:

  • ALA-accredited Master’s degree in library science, or
  • an equivalent education and experience, and experience working with digital libraries.
  • Certification by the Academy of Certified Archivists

So, for a 20 hr/wk position you want me to have gone to four years of undergraduate and 1.5/2 years of grad school, with the ensuing debt? And besides that, I have to pay a $50 application fee, a certification fee of $150, and $50 per year in dues, as well as taking a test that might not be given anywhere near me to get my CA?

  • Knowledge of current archival arrangement and description standards and relevant descriptive standards (AACR2, DACS, LCSH), including experience creating finding aids and encoding them in EAD.
  • Strong knowledge of archival or manuscript processing and the principles of archival management.
  • Skill in digitization in a library/archives setting, including digitizing documents, oral histories, and other audio-visual materials.
  • Ability to lead and coordinate projects effectively, including organization, prioritization, and goal-setting skills.
  • Commitment to providing superior user-centered services.
  • Excellent interpersonal, oral and written communication skills.
  • Ability to work collaboratively with both library/archives staff and users
  • Working knowledge of digital preservation standards.
  • Working knowledge of metadata schemas such as Dublin Core, METS, MODS, PREMIS, TEI.
  • Working knowledge of Archon and Drupal.
  • Digital Library experience.
  • Demonstrated ability to make public presentations.

Its hard to imagine any right out of graduate school that has all of these characteristics; and those who do have all of those qualifications would be at the top of the list of getting many full-time positions. As we all know, however, is that people who do have these qualifications will apply for and probably get this position.  And I bet this repository knows it too; thats how they can get away with hiring a part time position.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Peterk permalink
    September 26, 2010 4:21 pm

    two things, the ad is probably written for an individual who is currently at the archive. the job post is a formality as I suspect they won’t get many applications that satisfy the requirements or are willing to uproot for a PT job
    secondly the way to change the situation is to not apply. if no one applies then the organization needs to change the requirements until they start to attract applicants. that’s how it works in the private sector

    • September 26, 2010 5:32 pm


      I think the idea that this is intended for an internal candidate (that is your guess of course) and that the all-knowing market will correct any problems with the requirements (an assertion I strongly disagree with) are beside the point. I think the real damage with positions like these is the impact on the value of graduate level education and professional experience. The more employers create disproportionate relationships between requirements and compensation, the less value those requirements carry. This eventually affects the entire profession in ways like salary over a lifetime and what kind of expertise we can attract to our ranks.

      If you cannot afford to hire a professional, then do not post professional requirements. “The market will bear it” is not an excuse.

  2. Casey permalink
    September 26, 2010 7:46 pm

    This would clearly be an unattractive job for most mid-career archivists, who aren’t likely to relocate for a part-time, unbenefited position, and there can’t be many recent library school graduates who’d meet the requirements outlined. But it’s not impossible to imagine the person for whom this is an ideal job: an experienced archivist who’d prefer to shift to a part-time position (for example, in order to care for a child or sick relative), who’s already on someone else’s health plan (presumably a spouse’s), and who already lives in the Boulder area.

    Those three conditions can’t apply to very many people. If this position was crafted with a single, specific archivist in mind — perhaps someone who’s been working for this institution in a different role — she’s probably the only one in the world who meets those three conditions, has the Master’s and the certification, and has all of the knowledge, skills, and abilities listed in the job description. And it’s so specific as to be deliberately unattractive, and to discourage applications from nearly anyone.

    As you say, Lance, this is just a guess. But if they’re required to post the job announcement publicly, when they really want to hire one specific person, the best way for them to accomplish it is to set the bar for applicants ridiculously high, advertise it only in-house (is this job posting showing up anywhere else?), set a short period of time for the search (October 8 is only two weeks away), and then shrug resignedly when only one qualified candidate applies.

    The rest of us can be insulted, but we’re not being injured, if the job’s already reserved for the person for whom it was created.

  3. Lindsey permalink
    September 27, 2010 12:59 pm

    Are we saying that any part-time professional level work is inherently bad for the profession? I know it’s not the ideal for the majority of applicants, but it can work. This ad is pretty similar to what you would find for most full-time positions with only the hours per week reduced. If this is the major problem then maybe we should focus on discussing why that doesn’t work – and why so many archives and historical organizations seem to offer these part-time positions.
    (The required CA seems off mark too, but that’s a whole other discussion.)

    • Ben Bromley permalink*
      September 27, 2010 1:37 pm

      I think that requiring all of this experience and degree requirements for part time work is a problem. While part-time professional work is not inherently bad, job postings do not occur in a vacuum. Even if they are intended for one internal candidate, they get picked up by other job posting sites and other repositories look at what their peer institutions have used as a starting point for their own job ads. For example, I know that this job ad got picked up by at least Archives Gig, Simply Hired, and A&A.

  4. September 27, 2010 2:03 pm

    The comments about the position being intended for a particular person, leading to unrealistic requirements, perhaps have some merit (although this particular hiring practice irks me as well, though that’s a separate rant). I am less impressed by the “Market will self-correct these positions out” argument, largely as a result of this little gem:

    This ad has all of the winning qualities of the one Lance posted (high experience level required, part-time position for complex project, etc.). It also requires significant travel to gather data, though to their credit they appear to give travel compensation. Then there is this item:
    “Salary: $15 hour”

    Even if we assume that the requirements are so stringent because this is intended to be an internal position, that salary is really insultingly low. Assuming the intended hiree works the full 10 months at 20/hrs a week, he/she is clearing a grand total of $12,000 for the work. Putting aside the lower-cost-of-living-in-the-area-of-concern argument, and putting aside the argument that yes, this is a part-time job and thus will pay less almost by definition, a salary this low devalues the MA/MLS for which the position calls.

    As Lance noted in his response to Peter, this salary says to the applicant, “We don’t respect you enough to pay you commensurate with your training and experience.” When someone inevitably takes the job at this salary, because in this economy SOMEONE will swallow their pride and take it, it says to the employing institution and other institutions following its progress, “If an archivist is willing to take this salary, we can continue to offer positions like this with terrible salary without repercussion.” The correcting influence of the free market only works if, you know, people can afford not to take the job full stop.

    @Lindsay: Part-time positions are not ipso facto problematic so much as part-time positions that require the work of a full-time position, as do the positions cited by Lance and me. There are certainly reasons that people would prefer a part-time position to a full-time position, as Casey points out, but it is naive to think that currently-unemployed archivists are also not applying to these jobs on the theory that even a part-time, grossly-underpaying job is better than no job at all. I have noticed in the past year a significant uptick of the number of Archives jobs that are posted in various fora and venues, but there are still many, many more archivists than there are jobs and as such many, many opportunities for this blog to snark about. People who throw around Adam Smith and Milton Friedman would also do well to remember David Ricardo.

  5. September 27, 2010 2:11 pm

    Doh, Ben authored this post and not Lance. This is what I get for only reading comments. I are smart. Sorry Ben!

  6. September 28, 2010 10:21 am

    PeterK, I lean the other way, that this might not be a pre-selection. Within the federal world, where I work, pre-selection can cause difficulties for those who casually engage in it, including the triggering of Inspector General investigations. This article presents a pretty sobering view of the consequences of relying on pre-selection for certain actions:

    So from where I sit, an employing organization would need to have pretty compelling reasons to pre-select. I don’t discern these here. For starters, the announcement states that this is a “new position.” Pre-selection requires the employer to have a specific individual in mind. If there were an incumbent, that person might currently be in a finite, term-appointment at present and the employer hypothetically might seek to convert that to permanent. Wouldn’t most incumbents in such positions be lobbying for more pay and better working conditions, rather than codification of the status quo? If there is no incumbent, but someone presently on staff in another position or outside for whom the announcement is intended as a promotion or entry-hire, it’s hard to imagine what position or perceived skills might be in play, given the hours and duty requirements of the announced job.

    True, there are situations where part-time work suits people and enables them to earn some money without working 35-40 hours a week. Being a full-time student, having care-giving responsibilities at home but being unable to take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, working in a field that doesn’t lend itself to teleworking. But this announcement presents a mixture of requirements and hours in such a way that I’m having trouble wrapping my head around for whom it might be created as a pre-selection, especially given the risks of using that method.

    Lance, I generally agree that the all self-correcting market is unlikely to fix some of the problems in the employment of people with graduate degrees in library and information science. I agree that this should not be an excuse. People have to support themselves. It’s natural to want to work in one’s own field. I can see people taking part time jobs, and supplementing their incomes by working other, non-field jobs. But holding two jobs, only one in one’s field, hardly is what most people would desire. Rather than trying to influence employers by simply saying people shouldn’t apply for certain jobs, which is easier said than done, I would work to educate them and the public to the importance of archives and data-oriented collections. Challenging, especially in this day and age. But certainly worth doing.

  7. September 28, 2010 4:36 pm

    Great idea to dissect job postings! I saw this particular job post too and was equally dumbfounded by requirements, ed., and especially the compensation and the CA requirement. The actual work seems right-out-of-grad-school type work, but the requirements scream years of experience.

    Another factor is the high cost of living in Boulder, which according to one of the online calculators is 33.40% higher than the US average. I did roughly the same type of work for the same amount of hours/wk. and for the same amount of compensation in a city that was 17.80% higher than the national average. This was 4 years ago as well. It was good experience for being fresh out of grad school, but living on it was pretty hard, even for a frugal person such as myself (mother-in-law apt, grow own food, etc.).

    Ultimately, I think that this is an entry level position where the institution is trying to ask for the world, push the envelope so to speak and they’ll get it because of the terrible state of the economy. What they don’t understand is that when they do hire that person who has been out of work (or has a situation requiring PT work), but has years of experience and a CA, they may not stay very long due to the low salary and PT work. Eventually situations change and kids grow up. The search process will begin all over again and probably quicker at this institution.

  8. Chris permalink
    September 28, 2010 9:44 pm

    Hi — just wanted to chime in with what a previous commenter pointed out: this could be a fantastic position for someone looking for part-time work, such as a consultant who could really use some stable income (like myself, for example) when the freelance stuff dries up. Which it does. Often.

    Or good for someone transitioning out of the archives profession (maybe those other 20 hours per week are needed for re-training).

    The salary isn’t listed here in the post, so it could actually be competitive, even if only for 20 hrs/week. I find it really hard to make an informed judgment if the salary or hourly rate isn’t posted. I recently came across a posting in Canada that was really similar to this, paying $16/hr for one year, full time. Ridiculous, as is the $15/hr job quoted above.

  9. October 1, 2010 8:59 pm

    Or it could be just as simple as plain old discrimination…

    When the civil rights act was passed outlawing discrimination based on sex and race employers who wanted to continue discriminating simply made the ability to read and write along with having a high school diploma a requirement for employment.

    Quite a few years ago the local library where I used to go required two years of college or the equivalent job experience for a nine dollar an hour part time job. I even pointed out to the librarian that in my view it was pretty stupid to require two years of college for a part time job that only paid nine dollars an hour; since having worked in a junior high school library, two high school libraries and a college library I was well aware that anyone off the street who could read and write could easily be trained to do the job.

    Today a college degree is used in exactly the same manor by many employers to discriminate against older and just as qualified applicants and/or employees already employed by the company for management positions. Which is exactly how ya get a wet behind the ears twenty-four year old kid {who though book smart yet lacks the common sense needed to translate book learning to real life} heading up a sales team made up of seasoned professionals who are much older but only have a high school diploma.

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