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On shortchanging one’s own institution

October 4, 2010

[A.N: So much outrage about this job posting, two different bloggers complained about it! Meredith Lowe and I apparently wrote posts about the Lesley University Archivist position more-or-less simultaneously, and because our posts get reviewed before being posted, neither noticed that the other had mentioned it! As a compromise, I am integrating Meredith’s post into mine, making this monster-of-a-rant even longer. Oh well. She did actual research on HER post, so she should be recognized. My original is in black; Meredith’s content is in red.]

The point has been made in various of the comment threads below that the anger at many of the jobs with which we concern ourselves on this blog is misplaced, because these jobs are not FOR us. The reason for the terrible compensation, super-high qualifications, part-time hours, etc. is that the job in question has been tailor-made for an existing staffer, who has circumstances which preclude him/her from taking a full-time position (semi-retired, maternity leave, etc.). The job posting we see in the greater archival community is a formality; of COURSE nobody is going to apply to a job where you need to be a CRM for $10/hour and no benefits, so when there is only one applicant (who presumably is in a situation where he/she doesn’t need the money or benefits to survive), the HR department exaggeratedly shrugs its shoulders, perhaps bemoans the lack of interest in employment in a sluggish economy if they want to really sell it, and gives the job to the person to whom it wanted to give the job. This happens all the time, and not just in the Library/Archives world.

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I hate this practice. I realize that it is a practice born out of necessity in response to laws, regulations, and general red tape that surrounds the accepted procedures for creating a new position or repurposing an old one, but it still smacks of nepotism and fundamental dishonesty, particularly if there are people desperate enough to apply for the job ANYWAY, terrible compensation aside. There is nothing more disheartening, if you are unemployed and buried in student loan debt,  than to realize after poring over your cover letter and C.V., conducting numerous interviews with search and screen committees, possibly making a site visit, that you were never going to get the job in the first place. Not to mention the number of times I am sure this practice is done to get around Equal Employment Opportunity provisions. Unfortunately, at this point the practice is so established that barring a fundamental change in HR culture there is little one blogger on a group-blog is going to do to change it. So it goes.

Anyway, all of this serves as preamble to my real point, which is this: at what point does the practice of creating a narrowly defined position actually hurt the institution which is ostensibly advertising it?

Meredith notes re: today’s offering: “The Lesley University Archives Homepage lists a pretty comprehensive array of services provided by the Archives (research services, instruction in primary source documents for classes, records management). It’s also home to a small digital collection, which is powered by Archon. It’s a little unclear about the extent of the Archives’ physical collection, but they hold a pretty standard variety of formats: papers, photos, AV materials, oral histories, objects. The Archive also sponsors internships for students at Lesley and in the surrounding area, giving those students the opportunity to learn about archives work while earning course credit. The Archives at Lesley almost certainly had an archivist with formal archival training employed in the recent past.

So it looks like this is the kind of place that would have a lone arranger set-up: one full-time archivist who pretty much wears every archival hat.”

This is what I thought too. Then I re-read the posting.

http://lesley.interviewexchange.com/jobofferdetails.jsp;jsessionid=F0DFAC7379459188B9B8EB11B3DC146F?JOBID=21272

Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts is seeking a University Archivist. This is a part-time position for ten hours per week. The successful candidate will be responsible for acquiring, organizing, maintaining and preserving collections that document Lesley University history in a variety of formats, for making available University publications, for providing basic reference services to members of the University community and for developing guidelines for digitalization of archival material. S/He will also administer the online database of archival materials and participate in the development of an institutional repository.

Requirements:
Master’s degree from an ALA accredited school with a concentration in archive management; at least one year experience working in archive management; current knowledge of best practices in preservation of primary sources in a variety of formats; thorough knowledge of Microsoft Office applications; knowledge of information technology trends and applications; demonstrated experience with digitalization programs; ability to work collaboratively with others, as well as the ability to work independently; excellent verbal and written communication skills, interpersonal and organizational skills.


Additional Information:

Availability: Preference given to applications received by October 25, 2010.

To apply: Send cover letter, resume, and three references.

Grade: 25 Salary Range: $12,730.16- $17,567.68 (part-time, 10 hours/ week)

Hoo boy. Let’s take this bit by bit, shall we?

Grade: 25 Salary Range: $12,730.16- $17,567.68 (part-time, 10 hours/ week)

At least the price is right!12,730.16/52/10= 24.48 an hour at minimum! Seems OK if it is one of a couple of jobs this person is going to have. Unless they mean that this job will be compensated the hourly wage assuming the person in the position works full-time. In which case the maximum wage is 17,567/52/40= 8.45 an hour. Which is a key indicator of a job that, well, deserves to be showcased on this blog.

Meredith adds: “I’m pretty comfortable guessing that benefits won’t be provided. In an area of the country (Cambridge, MA) with a pretty high cost of living, this job isn’t sustainable for the employee (this can’t be a living wage for that area)…. I can’t imagine that any professional development support will be provided for this position, either.”

Requirements:
Master’s degree from an ALA accredited school with a concentration in archive management; at least one year experience working in archive management; current knowledge of best practices in preservation of primary sources in a variety of formats; thorough knowledge of Microsoft Office applications; knowledge of information technology trends and applications; demonstrated experience with digitalization programs; ability to work collaboratively with others, as well as the ability to work independently; excellent verbal and written communication skills, interpersonal and organizational skills.

Immodest job requirements for a modest job, check. Actually this is probably the least offensive part of this ad, because it only(!) requires an MLS and a year of archival experience for specialized skills. As we all know, people can get the MLS in their spare time and never incur student loans or anything.

Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts is seeking a University Archivist. This is a part-time position for ten hours per week. The successful candidate will be responsible for acquiring, organizing, maintaining and preserving collections that document Lesley University history in a variety of formats, for making available University publications, for providing basic reference services to members of the University community and for developing guidelines for digitalization of archival material. S/He will also administer the online database of archival materials and participate in the development of an institutional repository.

Wait. Time out. I think I missed a word in there. The title for the position they are offering is clearly “University Archives Assistant”, because nobody would possibly expect someone to administer an archives program on 10 hours a week, would they?

Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts is seeking a University Archivist. This is a part-time position for ten hours per week.

Oh dear God.

Quoth Meredith: “The hours of this job were so ridiculous that I phoned the Lesley HR office and asked whether this was a supplemental assistant position to another full-time archivist. Nope, this is it, folks. One fully-qualified archivist at 10 hours per week. I wasn’t able to find out whether the previous archivist had been full time or not (HR wasn’t really forthcoming with that info), but judging from the Archives’ website, they must have had full or nearly full time staff in the archives at some point in the recent past. A quarter-time person providing the scope of services outline in the website is pretty unimaginable, anyway.”

You said it. Here’s the fundamental problem with this ad: it is not humanly possible to administer a University Archives program in 10 hours per week. Well, I suppose it IS possible, but not to administer it well. In my own professional position (which I like!), I perform about half of the duties of a full-on University Archivist. I do appraisal for campus offices, perform reference and outreach using university records, and process and maintain university archives collections. (The other half of my job, for the record, is records management for the university, which does keep me busy as well.) I do NOT create departmental budgets, coordinate departmental development or grant-writing, take ultimate responsibility for access and cataloging, or any of the million other things that my boss, the actual University Archivist, has to do in order to keep the University Archives running smoothly.

So performing half of the duties of a full-blown university archivist… working 40 hours a week… and if I have a particularly RM-light work week (few or no surveys, policy meetings, etc.)… I can just about finish everything I have to do on the archives side of my job.

As soon as I have extensive RM stuff to do, since technically my title is “University Records Officer” and thus the RM comes first, Archives falls by the wayside and things get missed. Catalog entries don’t get uploaded or passed on for review. Sloppy inventorying on the part of my student supervisees gets overlooked. An outreach project on which I had hoped to get a head start gets pushed off to next week, when I will be rushed to complete it. And so on. I shudder to think of the state of the University Archives side of our holdings if I were only allowed to work on Archives for 10 hours a week.

Meredith again:  “The circumstances under which someone with a Master’s degree would want to work 10 hours per week are hard to imagine. A cursory search of Lesley University’s website doesn’t yield much information about the state of the institution’s finances, so I’m not sure whether there’s some sort of financial crisis going on that’s affecting their hiring budget. However, the idea that 10 hours of staff time a week would suffice for their entire archives program is unbelievable.”

Here’s the thing… even if we assume that this is a position ultimately intended for an internal hire, by making it a 10-hour/week position, Lesley University is short-changing its own Archives program. Ten hours a week may be great for this person. More power to him/her. But what about the Archives program itself? At 10 hours a week, that program is going to have to cut more corners than a kid making snowflakes out of a sheet of paper. Reference will be bare minimum. Processing will certainly be minimal, though the “M” in “MPLP” is questionable at 10 hours a week. Acquisition will be even more opportunistic than usual; in all likelihood the Archivist won’t have time to perform the kinds of surveys and solicitation that make for a good collection development process. (Appraisal, it goes without saying, will be virtually non-existent. Who has time to go through materials and risk offending donors by saying they DON’T want something?)  Development of an Institutional Repository? Maybe if that’s the only thing he/she works on that week.

After enough of this, departments on campus will know the score. “The Archives is a black hole” will be whispered around offices. “We can provide more consistent access to records if we keep them on-site,” some will conclude. Archives have enough of a credibility problem as it is when they DO have a full-time archivist available to work on collection development and outreach.

Best case scenario, the incumbent becomes frustrated because departments, having been burned by inadequate archival support in the past, are unwilling or unable to work with him/her. Worst case scenario, University administration sees the ineffectiveness of this position and concludes that “in these tough economic times”, it may be better to allocate even this amount of funding to a campus unit which can actually make effective use of it.

As noted in a comment I wrote earlier, part-time positions are not ipso facto bad. They can be great for archivists looking to supplement their income, or archivists who for whatever reason can only work those hours, or any of the myriad other reasons people take part-time jobs. Where they are bad is when the position description is written in such a way to indicate that the incumbent is expected to take on full-time responsibilities. This expectation is bad enough when the job is for half-time; when it is for quarter time, it just becomes laughable.

Then again, we come back to the start of this post, where it is posited that some positions of this ilk are written in such a way that they discourage all but a pre-selected candidate from applying. This position may very well be one of these, but even if this is so, the person seems likely to burn out very quickly from lack of respect/resources. With estimates that in the professional world  it takes 150% of yearly salary to re-fill a position, after the second burnout it makes more sense for the institution to have offered reasonable hours at a reasonable salary to begin with.

The other possibility, assuming a tailored position, is that the actual position’s responsibilities will be considerably less than what is advertised in the position description. But that is pure speculation, and opens up a can of worms that I don’t even want to touch.

Brad’s Takeaway:

This ad says to me, “We value our university archives program, but not enough to provide enough funding to administer the program at even a pretense of adequacy.”

Meredith’s Takeaway:

“Job announcements like this make me very sad, because I know that some people out there may be desperate enough to apply – even for such an unacceptable job. This is not right, Lesley University.”

Rating:

I propose a rating system to standardize how we discuss these ads. Traditionally, the Gates of Hell are emblazoned with the legend “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.” I posit that the Gates of Professional Hell are emblazoned with a similar legend:

“Abandon Self-Respect All Ye Who Enter Here”

I can think of no better way to rate these postings than by such a standard, since presumably if you are applying for one of these jobs you don’t feel like you can do better. (And yes, that includes the people for whom the job is ‘intended’.)

I propose 4 categories of Gates of Professional Hell, using this ad as an example. The maximum is 8; anything over 3 seems more than a little sketchy:

Salary: This job gets 0 Gates of Professional Hell if it is using the calculation that gives a salary of $24/hr (which is more than I make hourly based on my salary). If it is using the calculation that gives a salary of $8/hr, it gets 2 Gates of Professional Hell.

Job Description: 2 Gates of Professional Hell for expecting the incumbent to perform the duties of a full-time job in a quarter-time position. Yikes.

Requirements: Despite its implication that the MLS is something you can do on a weekend, that plus 1 year of professional experience and some general office skills is pretty reasonable for a position like this. 1/2 Gate of Professional Hell.

 

Intangibles: This is where the writer gets to insert his/her general feeling about this position. Mine is that the ad is either for a tailor-made position (Strike 1), is being dishonest about what it actually expects the incumbent to do (Strike 2), or that the HR department so fundamentally misunderstands the requirements of running a university archives that it thinks this is actually reasonable (Strike 3). In any case, 2 Gates of Professional Hell.

Total: nullnullnullnull 1/2, if generous (out of 8 possible)

null nullnull null null null 1/2, if not generous

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Maureen Callahan permalink*
    October 4, 2010 11:51 pm

    Okay, Meredith and Brad, this is officially the most brilliant thing I have read all week. WELL DONE. And thank you for the rating system, since this is the worst job ad I’ve ever seen in my career as an infopro, and I worry about other crappy crappy crappy jobs looking good in comparison.

    • October 5, 2010 12:05 am

      Thanks, Maureen! Brad deserves credit for the Dante-inspired rating system and a thanks for integrating our comments into one long superpost.

    • October 5, 2010 3:50 pm

      Agreed. Very thorough post. This job posting still leaves me completely baffled as to how this person could do their job. I agree that the participation in developing an institutional repository alone (1 or 2 meetings a week) would completely occupy this person’s time.

  2. October 5, 2010 1:33 am

    A thought: perhaps this thing ISN’T an announcement that’s tailored to a specific person. When my own institution has put up announcements for jobs that are really for pre-selected candidates, it goes out of its way not to publicize said announcements outside the normal HR site, and keep that announcement up for the minimum number of days required by law. The ethics of that hiring practice aside, my theory about this job not targeting a specific person is tied to to the fact that I have now seen it on many job announcement sites: Museum Professionals, LISjobs, and HigherEdJobs. Now, it’s totally possible that a third party site or person picked up the job announcement from the Lesley employment page, or that it’s HR policy to post on these third party sites as part of their hiring strategy. But it seems to be a pretty strange move if Lesley is trying to limit the applicant pool, which they would be trying to do if this job for a pre-selected candidate.

  3. Alison Langmead permalink
    October 5, 2010 3:27 pm

    While we’re on the subject…a University Records Officer who can only devote 50% of his time to actual records managment does not necessarily sound like he is being allotted sufficient time to devote to the maintenance of an entire active record system at a large (?) institution.

    • Brad H. permalink*
      October 5, 2010 5:18 pm

      It’s actually not that bad. The thing about my institution is that a lot of the components of “Records Management” are spread out– Purchasing coordinates with our Off-Site storage contract, a person in the Chancellor’s Office does public records requests, Facilities Management coordinates our secure document disposal program for large pickups, etc. Most of what I do is scheduling, surveys, RM education, and policy development/consultation, which to me is the ‘fun bits’ of RM anyway 😉 Once I’ve convinced the relevant deans and trained the relevant program assistants you’d be surprised at the extent to which the program runs itself, at least in its everyday activities.

      The one place I wish I did have more control (and would thus probably need more time to devote to RM) is in the area of electronic records management, which has been “ready to roll out in the next year” for about 3 years now. We’re stalled because our IT dept. would need a full time staff to administer the ERMS module, and you can imagine how easy of a sell THAT is in Wisconsin these days. If it ever DOES get off the ground I see myself very busy working on taxonomy development, ‘teaching’ the classification software, managing disposition and transfer of electronic records, etc. But for now it languishes, much to my dismay, and 20 hours on both sides of my job, give or take 10 hours, is about right.

  4. jordon permalink
    October 5, 2010 5:40 pm

    I was reading up on wage stickiness last night in the Wikipedia wormhole (since my concept of marcoeconomic theory is how to balance my checkbook):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sticky_(economics)

    So say the wikigods:

    “Market forces may reduce the real value of labour in an industry, but wages will tend to remain at previous levels in the short run. This can be due to institutional factors such as price regulations, legal contractual commitments (e.g. office leases and employment contracts), labour unions, human stubbornness, or self-interest. Stickiness normally applies in one direction. For example, a variable that is “sticky downward” will be reluctant to drop even if conditions dictate that it should. However, in the long run wages will drop to equilibrium level.”

    Meaning at first, we’re like, “Hey, I’m not working for a pittance,” but after a while, we’re like, “Oh, alright…”

    If someone takes this LU position, sounds like we’re hitting that equilibrium level–i.e. rock bottom.

    • Maureen Callahan permalink*
      October 6, 2010 3:02 pm

      It would be interesting to see which forces are more effective or less effective in changing these factors. I love the work that this blog is doing, but I think that we all have a commitment to un-sucking the archives market that making fun of job postings may not actualize. I don’t know enough about labor economics to know what kinds of actions actually change these conditions, but I would like to know and then I would like to do something about it.

      • Jordon permalink
        October 6, 2010 7:59 pm

        I would say these are three things we can reasonably control:

        “…labour unions, human stubbornness, or self-interest.”

        (Speaking of unions, one thing I learned recently is that a certain archives staff are part of AFSCME (largely paraprofessionals) and not that institution’s librarians’ union. What this means is that while the benefits are good, their starting salaries are at para-pro levels and not professional/faculty levels. There’s a substantial gap in compensation between this institutions’ archives staff and the librarians–and they work in the same building.)

        Related, valuing the work you do to an extent that you’re willing to stick up for fair compensation. I will allow that this is incredibly difficult to do.

  5. Casey permalink
    October 6, 2010 2:03 am

    Meredith’s right — this doesn’t look like a job description that was tailored for one specific candidate. And as Brad points out, certainly it’s not for everyone, but a ten-hours-a-week job could actually be very attractive to some archivists (freelancers, PhD students, new parents). There are probably enough qualified archivists in the metro Boston area, who aren’t looking for a job to pay all their bills and provide health insurance, and who’d appreciate a job paying $1000 a month for less than two days’ work per week, to make up a decent applicant pool.

    Without knowing the extent of Lesley University’s archives, it’s hard to say whether this job would necessarily take more than ten hours a week. Obviously it’s not going to be a very active part of the library, but if it really does come to only ten hours a week, it doesn’t sound like a hellish job. Compared to a graduate assistantship in a university archives, this position pays a lot better, looks fantastic on a resume, and leaves plenty of time for professional development. (In many jobs, support for professional development means time-release.)

    The previous occupant of this position is now, apparently, the archivist for the City of Cambridge. If we really want to know the lowdown about this job, I suppose we could email her and ask.

  6. Willow permalink
    November 10, 2011 7:33 pm

    I know this post is old, but I just got turned onto this site today. I remember when the Lesley Job was posted last winter. What you missed, probably because you are unaware of it, is that Simmons College is right around the corner from Lesley -and Simmons has an MLS program with a concentration in Archives Management. The Lesley job would be perfect for a Simmons student living in the dorms. I also know of several students and recent graduates who are working two part-time jobs. I almost applied to the job myself, but I don’t live in Boston and the commute would have been tough. With that said, I get your point(s)!

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