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so, how much can you make as an archivist, really?

August 23, 2011

I completed my grad degree in library and information studies over five years ago. I do not have a permanent, full-time job as an archivist, and I am about to be unemployed self-employed again in two weeks, when my current (part-time!) contract ends. It wasn’t my intention to do a whole lot of freelance copy-editing, proofreading — and some writing — while looking for a full-time job for half a decade, but life has a way of making things kind of wild and random. Predictability is boring, right?

Hunting for a job is all about smoke and mirrors: isn’t that what all this job searching crap teaches you, anyway? Play the game the employers want you to: we’re all a bunch of multi-tasking team players who also work well independently, right?

I’m re-posting something I wrote long before I was invited to contribute to this collective blog. It’s still relevant:  after half a decade of scanning job ads, composing cover letters and reconfiguring resumes, I’m feeling a whole lot of righteous anger whenever a ridiculous job posting appears on a job board or listserv.

The original post can be found here, but I’m re-posting in its entirety, so no need to aggravate any pre-existing repetitive stress injuries you may have developed by endless clicking, clicking, clicking….

Originally posted on Thursday, April 14, 2011:

It’s spring, so it’s time for a shitload of employers to post their Young Canada Works jobs: jobs that are partially funded by the government for students between the ages of 15 and 30. The employer pays half, the government pays half, and a student gets a job that is related to his or her career goals. The pay varies wildly, depending on how much money the institution has.

I recently heard a random statistic on the radio that a living wage in Vancouver is determined to be around the $18/hr mark. That’s $10 more an hour than the current minimum wage in British Columbia, and $8 more than what the minimum wage will be around this time next year. A living wage is what you need to cover basic expenses. The average hourly wage in BC is $23.16.

Here is one full-time position, posted to a listserv. They are paying $13 an hour.

Job Posting: Archive Digitizaion Assistant/Library Assistant

Position: Archive Digitization Assistant/Library Assistant
Duration: 14 weeks, 35 hours per week, Monday-Friday 9AM-5PM, $13/hr
Eligibility: Full-time post-secondary student returning to full-time studies in the Fall, aged 15-30
Start date: To be arranged no later than May 30th, 2011

And here is another full-time position, for $23.96 an hour:

That second job posting? It pays more than my current job. I make less than the average hourly wage in BC. I’m also throwing 63% of what I earn towards rent right now — financial experts say you shouldn’t be paying more than 30-35% of your income towards rent/mortgage.

My current job requires a graduate degree in library and/or archives studies. That job listed above — no graduate degree necessary, but they still pay $1.00 + more an hour than what I am getting right now, with my fancy degrees. The City of Vancouver is currently advertising a position for a Parking Enforcement Officer: $23.96 per hour, and a high school diploma is the only educational requirement.

In 2005/06, I had a student job at McGill University that paid $9/hr.

The job wasn’t bad and at times it was really awesome, but the pay was terrible. I was 31 years old (too old to apply for any Young Canada Works jobs) and making $9 an hour, which was 50 cents more an hour than I had made 12 years previous, just out of high school, working in a chocolate store.

But I figured it was all temporary. $9 was a terrible wage, considering my education and skills, but it was in the field I wanted to be in, and hey! It’s just a student job! I’ll be making craploads in no time! [by “craploads” I figured I would be in the $45,000 to $55,000 range by year 5 of my life as an archivist — entry level positions at Library and Archives Canada were being offered at $50,000 in 2006.] I will get a good job and pay back those loans, go on regular vacations, have a social life … I certainly didn’t anticipate developing an electrifying case of burnout during my first job out of grad school, or my brother-in-law killing himself and thereby shattering my family, or what all of the aforementioned would do to my world-view.

I have a job right now, and I am very, very grateful for it. But sometimes, I wish I could go back in time and make a different decision, one that didn’t include grad school. If I had stayed at the convenience store I was working at when I decided I needed to get more education, I would be earning more than what I am earning now (good union).

Or I would be in jail, because that job made me want to kill people. Or….. it doesn’t matter. I don’t have the money to get the supplies to build the time machine. But when my contract is done at the end of the summer, I’ll probably have the time to pursue a little physics research. We’ll see.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Marie permalink
    August 23, 2011 3:50 pm

    Wow, I don’t know what else to say other than AMEN. Here I sit day after day thinking I’m the only one wondering why I got this Masters degree to only sit and troll through jobs that pay less than a janitor (no offense to janitors, I’d probably take a janitorial job at this point).

    • Carrie permalink*
      August 23, 2011 10:06 pm

      I like to look back and chuckle at my naive self: ha ha! you’re so adorable, you actually believed that more education would mean a greater rate of pay! hilarious! an investment in your future, huh? cute silly thing!

  2. Catherine Lakenwood permalink
    August 23, 2011 6:37 pm

    what really distrubs me are the serious archive positions, requiring serious training, asking one to volunteer….

    • Carrie permalink*
      August 23, 2011 10:03 pm

      Yes. Disturbing, I agree. Even more so when they start throwing that whole “learn new skills while gaining practical work experience!” bleh.

  3. August 23, 2011 8:01 pm

    This is really not my place to say, but I think that people who’ve spent that much time sharpening their brains and skills should receive what they’re worth.
    I found a federal job that pays $74.8 to 97.3k /yr.
    It’s for the Office of the Secretary. You probably have to archive boring emails and shopping sprees by federal workers. The opening is for ‘a few vacancies’…

    My apologies if this is out of place. You would get paid what you’re worth and receive major benefits.
    The Job Announcement Number:
    Control Number: 2360525

    • Carrie permalink*
      August 23, 2011 9:54 pm

      Of course it is your place to not only state your opinion, but let the people know about job opportunities! Thanks for the tip — part of my personal job search problem is that I have geographical restrictions (family stuff) so this wouldn’t be something for me, but maybe this will be a fit for someone reading this…..

      • August 24, 2011 7:20 am

        Federal jobs are nation-wide. If you’re a good writer – you stand a MUCH better chance getting a very well-paying job. Not guaranteed, but neither is having degree these days. Here’s some tips, don’t take my word; give it a try on your own.
        THE website for federal jobs is The ‘keyword’ I search was library science. I didn’t limit to a location, but there’s no reason you can’t. Archivist, as a key workd, didn’t get me much when I looked. Things change all the time, so that doesn’t mean it will never come up. The ‘hiring season’ is usually around September, when the new fiscal year starts. High paying jobs are there – the stats are in this generations favor. Baby boomers are retiring, so I think in this case, knowing where to look and knowing that you need a narrative resume (where you tell a story about your experience that really parallels the job description), you can get a really rewarding career.

        • Carrie permalink*
          August 24, 2011 11:34 am

          Hi — thanks again for the tip re: federal jobs, I appreciate the encouragement however, I am personally geographically restricted to looking for work in the Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada area. Though I know that it is easy for someone like myself (Canadian, master’s in information studies) to move between borders, it’s simply not an option for me right now to look for work in the US (or Europe, or Saudi Arabia…). Federal jobs are also available nation-wide in Canada, and I was in the running for a position at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa a few years ago…… but that didn’t pan out.

          Other keywords that can be used to search for federal, provincial, municipal and private sector positions: library, library studies, information management, records management, knowledge management, project management, research, research officer, archives, digital records, digitization, content management….

          Grad schools have been barking out the baby boomer line for about 15, 20 years now — and I’ve been hearing it from a whole lot of other sectors as well. Still doesn’t mean that someone fresh out of grad school, or even with a few years of experience, will be able to walk into a position left open by someone with decades of experience. And a lot of positions just kind of disappear after some folks retire…….. However, I do appreciate your optimism!

    • NARA seeker permalink
      August 26, 2011 8:37 am

      I’ve applied to numerous federal archiving jobs, all at NARA. I’ve ranged from well qualified to over qualified for these positions. I haven’t been able to get an interview. I can make it past the initial weed-out but the hiring manager never seems to take notice. I wonder what you need to do to find employment with NARA. I think their Federal Career Internship Program is the best way to get in the door, but I’ve been turned down for that too. Maybe NARA isn’t for me.

      • August 26, 2011 10:33 pm

        I I think this maybe an issue with interviewing? If so, I have two suggestions: 1) create a list of questions you would ask if you were hiring for this position in two tiers, (a) one of a hiring manager who’s doing their first interview and (b) a hiring manager who’s been doing their job for a long time; 2) practice answering these questions you created – but video yourself. Be very present when you do this. It gives you a refreshing perspective on yourself. If that’s not possible, ask someone to interview you with your questions. Ask them to score you, based on your responses, appearance, poise, likability.
        I have two other approaches if I’m off the mark.
        One approach is to re-think your skill-set. I’m sure you skill-set is amazing, adaptable, and saturated in research experience and excellent writing skills – apply for another agency or apply for a different job title. Since you’ve only applied at NARA, I’m concerned you haven’t considered the power of your transferable skill-set.
        If you really need to solve the NARA puzzle, I have a final and a more ‘out of the box’ idea: eat lunch around the area of the NARA building. Better yet, eat lunch in the NARA building. Every federal building has a lunch place. Bring a book on archiving (or what you feel could spark a conversation) and find out how they got hired. You may not think this is a good idea, but it is a way to get a foot in the door. There are so many hiring managers. If you hit it off, they may help you. You may have to do this a few times to find someone who’ll help, someone you’ll hit it off with, or the nerve to strike up a conversation with a stranger. I have personally done all of these things. I know you can do it, too.

      • August 26, 2011 10:53 pm

        Sorry, I was way off the mark with my reply. I think you’re looking for a strategy to get through the HR screeners. I just read the NARA hiring manager’s bio It looks like she’s new to the NARA and has a just launched NARA’s first Strategic Human Capital Plan. I would read that just to get the feel of the Mission Statement she’s trying to create. Also, I would Google the GS-1420 Archivist Series and see what criteria (scoring) are used to determine your qualifications. When you find out what these exact criteria are, use that as the base for your examples from your personal experience. Include solid and interesting examples (this is for the hiring manager). Make sure to parallel (use the exact word phrase) the wording from the job announcement and the questionnaires (this is for the HR screening hurdle). This is a solid strategy for getting through to first hurdle.

  4. katyv permalink
    August 23, 2011 11:36 pm

    Ok, this is scary. I’m earning my MLIS degree while working in a chocolate shop. My interest is in archives. Those are some weird coincidences between you and me. Of course, in this economy I’d be happy to get a job that lets me scrape by and make payments on my student loans (after graduation, of course. Right now I’m stuck in the “volunteer” position). So the major difference in our stories is that I have less hope starting out than you did. That’s jolly.
    Good luck to you. If you make it, maybe I will too.

    • Carrie permalink*
      August 24, 2011 11:42 am

      Ah, volunteering. I worked two volunteer gigs in between maternity leave contracts. There is something distinctly humbling about volunteering for a job that you would rather be getting paid for, but are keeping that upper lip all stiff and attempting to maintain a positive outlook. Chit-chat with one’s colleagues at the place of volunteering is also humbling:

      “So, you’re a student? When do you graduate?”
      “No, I finished my graduate degree 3 years ago and have worked professionally since then. The job market isn’t so great right now, and I’m hoping to gain local experience.”

      Thanks for luck, right back at you.

      • Dejah permalink
        August 24, 2011 12:39 pm

        Been there, Carrie! Michigan is pretty bad job market right now but I’ve been applying nationally for 2 years post-grad school too with no results. I’m lucky in that I’ve been able to cobble together 2-3 part-time jobs at once but it is getting pretty frustrating considering I have solid experience, great references, and an article published in a peer-reviewed journal. I don’t want to leave the field though and I am getting weary of hearing the whole “Search wider, you have an Information Science degree!” argument. I got into my field because I wanted to work in it, NOT be a records manager (no offense, took RM and learned it wasn’t for me) or corporate information aggregator.

        So, I’m going to keep hanging in there. I just wish that the government would reallocate some of the military spending to a modern WPA that would provide grants to cultural agencies for digitization and/or finding aids before we lose important assets like sound recordings on obsolete media. But that’s pretty radical 🙂

        • Carrie permalink*
          August 24, 2011 1:35 pm

          Yes, I still enjoy those random moment of goosebumpiness when I dig up some centuries-old material for a researcher or a project. Makes me remember why I chose this in the first place. I hear you about records management — I’m totally willing to give it a try, just as I’d like to try public librarianship — but my resume screams “archivist” and seems to have pigeonholed me. But you raise a good point — to keep on repeating what you’ve stated: I also have good experience, good references, published articles, have taken professional development courses and workshops and have attended conferences at my own expense. It’ll pay off, right? Right? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

  5. Marielb permalink
    November 1, 2011 2:55 pm

    To have a job and $, I accepted a position as a Record Manager. I miss RAD, finding aids, finding treasures, etc., but I couldn’t afford to wait for an Archivist position in Ontario (that I was qualified for and since I graduated a year ago, I don’t have lots of experience). I am affraid of being off the radar too long or being perceived only as a RM.

  6. November 23, 2011 4:58 pm

    I thought I would add this to your collection…job sounds interesting until the $16 per hour part. It is truly depressing.

  7. Siya permalink
    June 1, 2015 11:22 am

    Oh shit you are saying archival jobs are scarce

  8. Chloe Grey permalink
    March 24, 2017 10:34 am

    I realize this post is 6 years old at this point, but if you’re comparing jobs in Vancouver, remember how high the cost of living in Vancouver is. It’s more costly than Downtown Toronto in most neighborhoods. Also I wouldn’t even compare government jobs like Parking Enforcement, they are never paralleling real markets because they are paid with tax dollars, so they can pay whatever they want, it’s not like the government is going out of business.

    I am still appalled by the rate archivists make. I appened to move to the US 5 years ago. I have no degree in library sciences. My background is in art collection managament, but was given a job as an archivist and my starting pay was $52,000US, which is as of today’s date, $69,000CAD

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