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Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself

November 23, 2011
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ETA: It has come to my attention that as of 11:00 or so on November 23, this post has been removed from Drexel’s iSchool job site. I have no idea what, if any, effect this post may have had on that decision, but if the two events are related I am very appreciative towards the Drexel folks for at least taking these points into consideration.

Today’s doozy of a job posting is brought to you by Drexel University. Let’s take a look, shall we:

Title: Archives Technician
Employer: Drexel University Libraries
Location(s):
Philadelphia, PA — USA

Hours: Full-time
Salary: Commensurate with experience

Duties:
The Archives Technician supports the work of the University Archives and Special Collections by providing patron assistance; accessioning, arranging, describing and preserving print and electronic collections; and coordinating outreach efforts.

– Provide patron assistance to onsite and remote patrons, including maintaining the reference database, performing research, providing and scheduling reading room service
– Accession, arrange and describe archival collections, including creating finding aids
– Maintain the Archives’ desc-riptive tools, including its website, finding aids, style-sheets, web archive, and digital collections. Add content to iDEA, Drexel’s institutional repository.
– Plan and promote exhibitions, open houses, and other educational outreach events. Coordinate these outreach efforts and Archives’ social media (Web 2.0) activities with the Libraries’ Marketing & Events Associate
– Assist the Records Management Archivist in acquiring and accessioning electronic and print records generated by University offices and scholarly work created by faculty and students
– Train and supervise scanning technicians
– Other duties as assigned

Qualifications:
– Bachelor’s degree required
– Familiarity with the functions of an archives, library or information organization
– Superior organizational and communication skills and demonstrated service orientation
– Eager engagement in an environment of organizational change with a commitment to growth in skills and responsibilities
– Experience working in a collaborative environment, including working with people with diverse backgrounds.
– Sound judgment and the ability to handle responsibilities with both discretion and independence.
– Demonstrated appropriate initiative with the highest degree of integrity.

Ahh, the infamous “Archives Technician” position title. Back when I was a wee archivling, still in Library School but at the point where I began to think “Oh hay, I should start looking for that ‘job’ thing”, I would see “Archives Technician” positions all the time on USAJobs and other similar, bureaucracy-based job sites. I quickly learned that “archives technician” was code for “We don’t have to pay you as much money as we would if we called you an archivist, even though we’re going to make you do as much work as an archivist.” The above posting doesn’t disappoint on that front! It is a full-time job, for which the archives technician is expected to perform all of the traditional archivist duties: not just collections management and processing, but outreach and digital assets management, including responsibility for management of the archives’ web presence. (Is this full responsibility? Partial responsibility, e.g. for their particular unit? The ad doesn’t say.)  But I digress; expecting a technician to do an archivist’s work is so common it’s almost routine at this point.

No, the sticking point in my craw for this particular ad is the following:

Qualifications:

-Bachelor’s degree required

Sorry, I think I read that wrong. WHAT kind of degree?

-Bachelor’s degree required

Oh, for the love of Buddha.

So, let me qualify my impending rant thusly: I do not think that the MLS ipso facto qualifies or disqualifies any particular person for any particular position. It is to a certain extent a “gatekeeper” qualification– you want to be able to see, at a glance, that your applicant has put in the time and training for a professional position– but its absence does not necessarily mean that the person is unqualified for the job (think of the library paraprofessionals who are more familiar with database searching than the “full” librarians). So I really am not trying to be elitist here.

Having said that.

It is incredible to me that this position only requires a B.A. as its educational qualification. The job description is, as noted, a description that would fit a “regular” archivist for all but a few job duties (mostly administrative in nature), and most institutions would want their candidates to have a M.L.S. Come to that, Drexel may also want their “ideal” candidate to have a M.L.S. But by making the B.A. the minimum qualification, the hiring authorities there have cleverly set themselves up for one of the two following scenarios:

a) The position is filled by someone without an M.L.S. Because the candidate does not have “full” qualifications as an archivist, it is deemed “reasonable” to pay them less than they would be paid in a comparable position elsewhere.

b) The position is filled by someone WITH an M.L.S. Because the minimum qualification for this job is a B.A., it is deemed “reasonable” to pay them less than they would be paid in a comparable position elsewhere, because they are “overqualified”– nobody made them get that graduate degree. They will probably be paid more than person a), but not much more.

Now, I admit that this is just one institution that is shortchanging one archives position. Hell, on the Records Management side, the M.L.S. is USUALLY seen as an added bonus, rather than as a requirement for the job. The thing is…I paid a lot of money for my M.L.S. (Probably too much money, but that’s another story.) The M.L.S.’s return on investment is not wonderful to begin with, but the one expectation that one DOES have from this degree is that it qualifies one to do the kind of archival management jobs that pay a wage you can at least live on. The message being sent by this ad is that “we don’t value the M.L.S. as an indicator of professional training and experience.” And the more institutions that post jobs like this, the less that the degree is going to be worth. What’s more, this is from an institution WITH an archives program–you would expect the institutional archives to work to INCREASE the value of a degree from said program.

Yes, this is an entry-level position, and so you don’t expect to see “Ph.D. and 15 years of experience” and all of that stuff. But it would be nice of them to at least pretend that you need to have at least a minimal professional training qualification before you can jump right in to a professional-level position.

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24 Comments leave one →
  1. Caitlin permalink
    November 23, 2011 9:44 am

    Also worth noting: The job category is “Clerical and Secretarial.”

  2. Emily permalink
    November 23, 2011 10:21 am

    I rather enjoy that ‘Other duties as assigned’ bit. I bet they have baking cookies in mind, but really it could be anything. And that part will be overlooked by all parties involved until you balk at whatever fantastical task they have assigned you and then they can point to your job description that says you signed up for abuse.

  3. Zardra permalink
    November 23, 2011 10:27 am

    Sadly, I’ve seen more than a few job descriptions like this during my job hint over the last year of unemploymen.

  4. modest-goddess permalink
    November 23, 2011 11:09 am

    reminds me of this recent job posting

    Subject: Job Posting – Cartographic Reference and Preservation
    Assistant at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library
    Date: Fri, 18 Nov 2011 11:20:38 -0500
    From: Cyr, Stephanie
    To: maps-l@listserv.uga.edu

    The Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library seeks a full-time Cartographic Reference and Preservation Assistant who, under the direction of the Curator, will provide reference and research services to Library patrons and assist with processing and sorting the map and atlas collection.

    The Leventhal Map Center is located in the BPL’s Copley Square central branch. It is a nonprofit organization that catalogs, conserves, digitizes, researches, exhibits and publishes the Library’s collection of 200,000 maps and 5,000 atlases dating from the 15th c. to the present. It presents educational programs for students and teachers in grades K to 12. The website, maps.bpl.org includes 100 lesson plans and 3,600 digitized maps. The new gallery features changing exhibitions of the collection.

    Schedule: 40 hours per week, includes one evening and Saturdays.

    Qualifications: Bachelor’s degree, progress toward a Master’s degree in Library Science preferred. Reference experience and familiarity with online bibliographic data bases and Microsoft Office programs including Word, Access, Excel. Ability to recognize and transcribe European languages and Latin desirable. Basic map reading skills.

    Salary: $40,000 plus benefits

    Closing Date: December 2, 2011

    Please send cover letter and resume to maps@bpl.org
    ——————————————————————————

    basically they are trying to hire someone right before they complete their MLS so they can pay them the wage for only having a Bachelor’s degree

    • Carrie permalink*
      November 23, 2011 5:19 pm

      I must be missing something; I don’t see the problem with this at all. I would love to earn $40,000 + benefits. I’ve had an MLIS for 5 years. My best year post-grad was just under $32K, and my worst year post-grad was the year I “earned” under $2000.

      Securing a job at 40K while still in school sounds pretty sweet to me.

      Are other archivists expecting to make more than $40K immediately after graduating?

      • Dejah permalink
        November 26, 2011 9:10 am

        Hell, I was told I’d make at least that when I graduated in 2009! Almost 3 years out and still can’t find a FT job. Best money I’ve made in the last 10 years was breaking $20,000 when I was in pest control sales, the job I held before going to graduate school. And I’m no slacker either. I’ve been working multiple PT jobs continuously, volunteering, and publishing since graduation to no avail. Definitely would go for this job for a few years if I wasn’t “overqualified” already.

      • Laura permalink
        November 26, 2011 3:32 pm

        I agree I wish this job was closer to me I wouldn’t mind 40K

      • Brad H. permalink*
        November 28, 2011 9:48 am

        Here’s the thing– it’s 40K in BOSTON. In a lot of cities, such as my own, 40K is a fine salary and gives you a modicum of economic security/freedom. In Boston, not so much. Check out a cost-of-living calculator– http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/savings/moving-cost-of-living-calculator.aspx is a decent one– and unless you already live in a city like New York or San Francisco I bet you’ll be surprised.

    • December 5, 2011 7:02 pm

      I applied to this job, though I’m not sure I will get it. While $40k a year isn’t great in Boston, when you are a student it’s almost unattainable. Obviously, I go to Simmons, and I would say most students make the same as me, unless they already were employed in full-time jobs before entering the program: peanuts. I currently work two part time jobs and make somewhere around $12k a year, if that. I can’t even afford an apartment; I live with my partner’s family in a town which is a $210-a-month commuter rail pass a way. If I got that job, I probably couldn’t afford to live in Back Bay, but I could live in a suburb closer to the city now.

      If this job were an entry-level position requiring an MLIS, then it’d be a bit suspect, but as it is, I’ve only ever seen one student-aimed archives position in the city this good, and I’ve applied to a lot of jobs here in the past year.

  5. John Street permalink
    November 23, 2011 11:54 am

    stop whining. no wonder you all can’t get a job.

  6. Jessica permalink
    November 23, 2011 1:57 pm

    I think the kicker here is that, as you mentioned, Drexel HAS an MLIS program and yet this job announcement still contributes to the problem- representing archival work as something that requires little qualification and can, in fact, be filled by any old para-professional off the street.

    (And- to Mr. Street- I, for one, have a job, but I still care about the way our profession is represented and the way we set and meet standards and help others to do the same. This isn’t whining, it’s pointing out and doing a small part to resolve the problem.)

  7. Peterk permalink
    November 24, 2011 10:03 am

    Not unusual have seen similar problems with job descriptions for records management positions.
    For example I’ve seen positions titled “Records Manager” but after reading the position description one realized the employer was seeking a file room supervisor

    Seeing technician in the title I see nothing wrong with a Bachelor’s as being the degree required as I see a technician as being just below a professional position

    ARMA International several years back developed RIM Core Competencies that were also tied back to RIM Job descriptions. http://www.arma.org/competencies/document.cfm as well as a self assessment http://www.arma.org/competencies/index.cfm

    Does SAA have a similar competencies document?

    • Rebecca permalink*
      November 26, 2011 12:23 pm

      What makes this job posting different, as Brad and Jessica have already pointed out, is that it comes from an institution that grants the MSLIS as a precursor to archival work: http://www.ischool.drexel.edu/CS/GraduatePrograms/MS/ArchivalStudies. I find it difficult to believe that at a university with both an institutional archives and a graduate archives program, whoever wrote the job description was unaware of what a professional archivist does.

      • Peterk permalink
        November 26, 2011 12:29 pm

        Actually i’m not job descriptions are done by the Human Resources folks who rarely if ever understand the requirements for the job. The best thing is for the hiring department to draft the job description and review it with the HR dept.. The ARMA competencies and job descriptions were developed because there was such a wide spread between job titles and job descriptions. classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing

  8. Peterk permalink
    November 26, 2011 12:31 pm

    “Hell, on the Records Management side, the M.L.S. is USUALLY seen as an added bonus, rather than as a requirement for the job.” not that i’m aware of unless the individual has taken records management specific coursework while working on their degree.

  9. arlene permalink
    November 26, 2011 1:51 pm

    Hmmm… I would note that this is not far off the last job posting I created for my department and I certainly thought a masters degree was required. And it IS required. The reason you demand a masters degree in archival studies for an entry level position including those without a management component is so that you get pre-prepared employees who have already read the major texts in the field. So you don’t have to spend time explaining things like appraisal theory. And, if they’ve come out of a good school, they already have some hands-on experience through practicums or internships. I know of no bachelor’s degree that is offering archival education at a level that would suffice. I’d much rather spend my time training the new employee to do things my way than to have them spend three months reading Posner, Boles, Danielson, etc, just to get the concepts.

    • Maureen Callahan permalink*
      November 28, 2011 10:14 am

      Thank you for making the very important point that the archives profession has a body of professional literature. We go to graduate school so that we can be fluent with this literature and understand the theory behind our practices.

  10. Matt permalink
    November 26, 2011 2:51 pm

    One thing that this job description does, like too many archival job postings, is that it leaves out salary information. For the classic “salary commensurate with experience” line, at least post a range (i. e. 35k-40k) so that the applicant has some idea going in. I’ve contacted institutions before and asked HR or the hiring manager what a given salary would be and they were able to give me a range over the phone, if not a precise amount. So save us the time and post the information. At this point, we’re all well aware that archival jobs pay low and sometimes embarrassing/unlivable wages (to specify, I define livable as the bare minimum someone would need to feed, house, and clothe themselves, pay the bills, save for retirement, and have some leftover for general savings). It hasn’t been a secret for a long time now, so why not just post the salary?

  11. November 27, 2011 11:09 am

    As coordinator of the Master of Archives and Records Administration degree at San Jose State University, I’d like to see a requirement for this type of position to read: MLIS, MARA, or equivalent (history and business often provide a very good background for these types of positions, especially when the individual posses one or both CA and CRM certifications). Our MLIS focues on libary, archives, and info tech and our MARA on records, archives, and info tech.

  12. Caitlin permalink
    November 28, 2011 10:17 am

    Re author’s update: It may be off the iSchool’s website, but it’s still posted on the Jobs@Drexel portal. Maybe that’s just because Drexel HR is slower to remove job postings, but it looks like this job is still available for the woeful unemployed and overqualified.

    • Rebecca permalink*
      November 28, 2011 9:07 pm

      Thanks for pointing this out. The job is still on drexeljobs.com (sorry, the site doesn’t allow direct linking) and, apparently, still open. Here’s the job description from there:

      Position Title Technician I – Archives

      Requisition Number 4427

      Job Overview The Archives Technician supports the work of the University Archives and Special Collections by providing patron assistance; accessioning, arranging, describing and preserving print and electronic collections; and coordinating outreach efforts.

      Qualifications Bachelor’s degree required
      Familiarity with the functions of an archives, library or information organization
      Superior organizational and communication skills and demonstrated service orientation
      Eager engagement in an environment of organizational change with a commitment to growth in skills and responsibilities
      Experience working in a collaborative environment, including working with people with diverse backgrounds.
      Sound judgment and the ability to handle responsibilities with both discretion and independence.
      Demonstrated appropriate initiative with the highest degree of integrity.

      Essential Functions Provide patron assistance to onsite and remote patrons, including maintaining the reference database, performing research, providing and scheduling reading room service
      Accession, arrange and describe archival collections, including creating finding aids
      Maintain the Archives’ descriptive tools, including its website, finding aids, style-sheets, web archive, and digital collections. Add content to iDEA, Drexel’s institutional repository.
      Plan and promote exhibitions, open houses, and other educational outreach events. Coordinate these outreach efforts and Archives’ social media (Web 2.0) activities with the Libraries’ Marketing & Events Associate
      Assist the Records Management Archivist in acquiring and accessioning electronic and print records generated by University offices and scholarly work created by faculty and students
      Train and supervise scanning technicians
      Other duties as assigned

      Supplemental Posting Information Drexel University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. The Drexel Libraries are especially interested in qualified candidates who can contribute to the diversity and excellence of our academic community.

      Motor Vehicle Check (MVC) required No

      Employee Type Full Time

      Home Department Name 3626 Library

      Recruiting Salary Commensurate with experience

      Position Location Hagerty Library, Archives

      Job Open Date 11-07-2011

      Job Close Date Open Until Filled

      Job Category 50 Clerical and Secretarial

  13. Renna Tuten permalink
    November 28, 2011 10:26 am

    I’m so glad to see this post and the resulting comments!!!! We have proposed a session at the next SAA meeting about just this issue. If you can afford to make it to San Diego (and if we get on the program), come to the session so that we can get this out into the open. It’s called “The Thin Line Between Supply and Demand: The Pesky Business of Archival Education”

  14. Carrie permalink
    November 28, 2011 10:43 pm

    I work at a certain state archives, doing everything in that Drexel posting except for the scanning part and the exhibits part, but replacing those with project management, retention schedule review, outreach to state agencies and courts, and coordination of an instructional program. I got the job fresh out of college with a B.A. in English, get paid hourly with no benefits, am titled “Archivist Trainee,” and nobody gives a crap that I now have an M.L.S. If I weren’t trying to bridge from archives to libraries, I’d’ve jumped at a job announcement like the one you posted here.

    The sad fact of the matter is, a lot of what we do can be learned on the job just as effectively as in the classroom. We shouldn’t need the intellectual foundations that an M.L.S. gives you until/unless we want to advance to managerial positions.

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