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Not music to my ears

November 15, 2010

I read the job description for the recently-opened Associate Archivist at the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (which is available at the SFSO website in PDF form, or at Archives Gig), because I know the previous incumbent and hey, it’s San Francisco. Since you’re reading this here, you know I wasn’t exactly happy with what I read. Let’s take the job responsibilities first:

Assist all departments in maintaining the organization’s records management program by identifying existing and newly created records, and executing a retention policy to archive and destroy records according to operational needs.

Manage on-going digitization of archival material for reproduction and reference purposes.

Act as liaison to the IT Department for the maintenance and management of archival databases and born-digital records.

Partner with the IT Department to develop enterprise-wide data lifecycle management standards and policies.

Process non-current and semi-current records of the organization. Maintain Inventories and catalogs of on-site and off-site archival material.

Provide information/reference/research services to the SFS staff and public. Assist on in-house special projects including exhibits and the oral history program.

Represent the organization in promoting its historical heritage to the community, including, but not limited to, curating exhibits, addressing in-house and community groups, and offering slide presentations.

Keep current with and participate in the archives community, networking regularly with other archivists.

A lot of new archivists get suckered into these kind of positions because they think they’ll get to do a lot of different things and expand their skill set with a lot of responsibilities. What they don’t know is that they won’t get credit for anything they do. I’ve worked in a few of these positions, and I know. I’m not even going to to get into the assumption that the most junior person on the archives staff is supposed to be the liaison to the IT department, other than to say it’s a situation that’s all too common. Strike one.

Moving on to the qualifications:

Masters of Library Science, History, or related field and 2-3 years experience in an archive or manuscript repository or a bachelor’s degree with 3-5 years experience in an archive or manuscript repository.

Experience with Records Management and Documents Retention procedures and policies.

Strong computer skills: Windows, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Excel, Adobe Photoshop Elements, FileMaker Pro, Inmagic Presto, familiarity with HTML, XML, and FTP software. Knowledge of Microsoft SharePoint and MSSQL a plus.

Experience with digitization projects and workflow with a demonstrated understanding of the value of metadata associated with digital archival assets.

Excellent verbal and written communication skills.

Certification through the Academy of Certified Archivists preferred.

Basic knowledge of arts and culture, with an interest in classical music.

Ability to work well with diverse personalities.

Strong organizational skills.

Ability to lift and shift boxes weighing up to 15 lbs.

All pretty standard (if, ahem, diverse) requirements. It’s pretty obvious they’re looking for a “computer-savvy” person, which is fine. Then you get to “Certification through the Academy of Certified Archivists preferred.” There’s another blog post (or ten) to be written about the Certified Archivist racket, but for the purposes of this post I’ll simply say that expecting archivists straight out of library school – who have probably put themselves in significant debt to get their degree(s) and been working for free in crappy internships so they’ll have some experience on their resume – to shell out the money and invest the time studying to become Certified Archivists is laughable if it weren’t criminal. Strike two.

And now, for the final strike. Buried at the end of the second paragraph, as a clause attached to the introduction to the job requirements is this zinger: “…this regular, part-time position…”

Really? You want all of those skills, and you want to give your new employee all of that responsibility, for a part time job? Strike three.

As if that weren’t enough, there’s a glaring omission in this posting of a) salary or b) a benefits package. I know that institutions often have rules that prevent them from posting specifics of salaries or benefits in job listings, but in that case there’s usually some sort of boilerplate language like “Salary dependent on experience and qualifications” and “Excellent benefits package.” I’m guessing that the reason salary and benefits aren’t mentioned here is because the former isn’t very good and the latter don’t exist.

I know times are tough for cultural institutions, whether they’re archives, libraries, museums or symphony orchestras. But that’s no excuse to exploit your employees (or potential employees).

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Peterk permalink
    November 15, 2010 8:44 pm

    “I’ll simply say that expecting archivists straight out of library school – who have probably put themselves in significant debt to get their degree(s) and been working for free in crappy internships so they’ll have some experience on their resume – to shell out the money and invest the time studying to become Certified Archivists is laughable if it weren’t criminal. Strike two.”

    considering that it is a single exam made up of multiple choice questions I’ve never understood why archivists fresh out of graduate school get themselves tied in a knot over it. Try the Certified Records Manager exams – 5 qualifying exams followed by sixth exam consisting of two case studies.
    as for cost $50 is not much when one looks at what one pays for a daily barista made coffee or a monthly cellphone bill

    • helrond permalink*
      November 16, 2010 9:28 am

      As I said, the CA exam probably deserves its own posting by someone more well-informed that I. In the context of this post, however, it seems ridiculous to add that as a preferred qualification for a part-time job which probably doesn’t pay all that much and doesn’t have great benefits.

    • Jennifer permalink
      November 16, 2010 3:40 pm

      Technically, all archivists straight out of library school can’t take the exam, unless their program has an official archives track or program. They have to wait until they have worked two years in a full-time archives position. So, that limits it even further to those who have those programs. (Yes, there are those of us in archives who haven’t gone to the official schools. That is the subject of another post on another blog, I suppose.)

  2. Brad H. permalink*
    November 16, 2010 11:08 am

    I considered writing a post about this one but ultimately decided it was marginal and maybe not worth showcasing here. Certainly not going to argue about its inclusion, however. My ratings:

    Salary: Meep. No MENTION of it? Not even “salary commensurate with experience”? I must have missed that one. Not even mentioning compensation seems like an automatic 2 Gates of Professional Hell.

    Job Description: Hmm. I suppose it might be possible to run the records management program on half time. It may also be possible to be the IT liaison and still have time to do basic reference, outreach, and processing. But that person is going to be veeery busy. Mitigated because the position is only associate archivist, and so doesn’t have to deal with administrative stuff for the department. 1 GoPH.

    Requirements: Degree requirements are not too bad. Things like “Basic knowledge of classical music” and “strong organizational skills” are also pretty standard. The computer skills are pretty broad (how does one learn Sharepoint unless one has already worked in an organization using it?) but at least you can learn them on the job if necessary. The CA requirement, as noted, is problematic, because even if it IS significantly easier than the CRM, it is still an investment of time and resources that may not be ‘worth it’ for a part-time position. It is serving here mainly as an artificial barrier to entry since the test is only offered once a year and full certification is contingent on professional experience. 1 GoPH

    Intangibles: As noted, the position to me seems marginal– they want a lot of qualifications and are expecting the applicant to perform a number of time-intensive duties, but are only giving the person 20 (or fewer) hours a week in which to perform them. On the other hand, I suppose it is theoretically POSSIBLE to get through all of that in 20 hours or less, and the fact that the position is not the only person in the Archives mitigates it as well. On the OTHER other hand, The lack of salary or benefit information is a real problem. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, as well as 1/2 GoPH.

    Final Score: 1/2.

    I probably wouldn’t apply for this position but I can see doing so given the appropriate circumstances. Of course, a lot depends on the work environment, so knowing the incumbent may make helrond privy to additional information.

    • helrond permalink*
      November 16, 2010 11:13 am

      I actually haven’t had any conversations with the person who previously held this job about the work environment, etc. I meant to mention that as a disclaimer in the post, but obviously didn’t get around to it.

      I should be clear, also, that I don’t think this is the worst job in the world. It’s not. But it *is* very typical of the kind of jobs a lot of new archivists take, and I think it’s worth knowing what you’re getting into…

  3. November 16, 2010 8:06 pm

    Unfortunately, the omission of salary and benefits information isn’t really all that uncommon, based on the job descriptions I’ve seen.

    Is this the only archives staff at the SFSO, or is this position the only one? You’re right that it’s a pretty broad list of responsibilities, but not really an unreasonable one. Where it does get unreasonable is the expectation of that amount of work at a part-time level. Even at 30 hours/week (a generous assumption), that’s not enough time to do all of that stuff.

    Assuming that there’s a decent salary and benefits attached to this position (and I’m not sure if they are), my problem with this is less that it’s a part-time job and more that the many responsibilities of the position don’t lend themselves to part-time work. After all, there are people out there who are looking for a part-time gig. If a decent salary and benefits are not attached to this job, then the problem is much, much greater.

  4. November 17, 2010 8:16 am

    I’m not a certified archivist (when I worked in the field, certification wasn’t yet a big issue). But I looked at the application for taking the certification exam after I read this post. It’s available at

    Sure enough, the application for certification requires a year of qualifying experience. If an employer prefers full certification, only, that might limit some of the people who otherwise might apply for a job posting. (Of course, stating “preferred” rather than “required” leaves some wiggle room.

    There also is a type of “provisional certification” offered, for people with less than a year of experience. So employers really need to state “full or provisional certification preferred,” if they don’t want to exclude those who just are starting out and don’t yet have a full year in.

    The records management field is very different from the archival so its hard to compare the certification processes (How people regard the fees is going to vary, no way to impose a template there; people know their own budget situations and I totally respect that.) Some organizations are more highly regulated than others. Their records may be more in demand by the public than others, also. So records managers have to be aware of the regulatory environment that applies in various sectors and attuned to the different types of record keeping cultures. Some records managers end up working in environments that largely are hostile to the retention of all but the most necessary records for the shortest period of time. The existence of records may be viewed by corporate counsel as problematic, if risk of litigation is high. On the other hand, knowledge oriented organizations at low risk of litigation may exhibit less of a fear factor regarding recorded institutional memory.

    By contrast, archivists mostly work with records that have been designated as having permanent retention value, although intake processes and the extent to which later weeding occurs is going to vary. So the focus is more on knowledge, not litigation and fear of exposure. Well, most of the time, anyway. I have worked with people who definitely exhibit fear of exposure. . . .

    Interesting site, kudos to the Justice League. It’s nice to have a place to gather and to discuss employment issues.

  5. Kate Bowers permalink
    November 28, 2012 5:32 pm

    9-year old offers to be science museum curator for free (not so depressing as it might seem, but I don’t like where this is trending…)

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