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Imagining a Labor Market in Archives that Works for Everyone

April 25, 2012

The following is the text from my talk at the Spring 2012 MARAC meeting in Cape May, New Jersey. I look forward to your comments, unless you’re a self-identified MRA. I’m not joking.

Today I’m going to talk about things I’ve noticed about being an archives worker.

I speak from my position as an interested participant-observer. There are people who are experts in these kinds of labor issues, and while I’m conversant in them, I’m not a scholar. Like Tom mentioned, I earned my degree in 2008 and I’ve been working as an archivist since then. At the University of Michigan, I did graduate coursework on gender and labor and did a directed reading course about librarians and labor. I’m also part of the group blog called “you ought to be ashamed”. I think that some of my fellow contributors may be in the room today, which is awesome. I’ve learned a lot from all of you.

Our blog posts tend to critique exploitative job advertisements and talk about the larger labor challenges that young professionals face. In the past, contributors have talked about the casualization of professional labor, the casualization of academic labor, the pitfalls of performing beyond one’s stated job duties without the formal structures to support and reward that work, how to sniff out whether an institution’s organizational culture is broken, negotiation, supply and demand in the labor market, and gender and technology. By the way, if you’re interested in writing for the blog, everyone is welcome.

I think that for me, the real power behind the blog is not that we’re going to critique anyone into changing. It’s that we’re building solidarity. We’re helping each other create a sense of what is appropriate and reasonable in our relations with our employers. And yes, people will sometimes still be forced to take jobs where they aren’t supported and don’t have the resources to do all of the work that’s expected of them (which is a disservice to both the collections under their care and, more importantly, the researchers they serve), but at least, hopefully, they won’t think that this is the way it has to be. And when they’re in a position of power, where they can be more thoughtful about resource allocation than the people who came before them, they can make different decisions.

The list of topics that I mentioned above could keep us here all day (which would be okay with me – I would love to talk about any of these things at the reception), so I’m going to narrow my comments to the topic of gender and money. I’ll explore the data that overwhelmingly demonstrates that a pay equity problem persists, even in our profession, and that we should pause and check the data when we start congratulating ourselves for making progress. I’ll talk about some of the research that I’ve encountered that addresses what workers can do to gain leverage on this situation. I’ll also discuss what institutions can do to cease being complicit in a system that doesn’t reward workers for their labor fairly.

By the way, the research that I’ve seen and that I’m focusing on talks about women and pay equity, but there’s good reason to believe that this is a problem for all kinds of people — people who are the first in their families to graduate from college, for instance, or people of color or non-US country of origin.

Gender, Archives, and Money

Some really great work has been done by the SAA women archivists roundtable and the folks behind A*Census to figure out where we are with compensation issues. Buuuut, if you look at the literature, the most substantive interpretive work about gender, labor and archives was done in the 1970s and 1980s, [5] and I’m not aware of a recent treatment of this issue that comes from a place that understands that systematic pay inequality is real, pernicious, insidious and is based on choices that decision-makers often don’t realize that they’re making.

Please bear with me while I talk through some numbers. My data comes from the United States Department of Labor, the ALA Committee on Pay Equity, the National Committee on Pay Equity, the A*Census, and the Association of Research Libraries. I’ll be posting my talk on our blog, with footnotes, if you would like to learn more.

According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, the wage gap remains at a standstill with women earning 77¢ for every dollar a man earns. The U.S. Census from 2003 reports that the average salary of men with master’s degrees was $75,950 (median $61,634), while women earned only $46,961 (median $41,185)—a difference of almost $29,000 (62 percent). [1] Pay inequity also exists within librarianship. The Association of Research Libraries, in its Annual Salary Survey 2005-6, reported that the average salary for male academic librarians in member libraries was $63,984, while the average for female academic librarians was $61,083. [2]

Library Journal reported that new library school graduates finally crossed the $40,000 mark as an average salary, but the gender split had women below that point with $39,587 and men at $42,143. [3]

In 1982, in his survey of the archival profession, David Bearman [4] calculated the spread between men’s and women’s salaries and found that men were making an average of 25% more than women in 1982; in 2003, twenty years later, the A*Census discovered that that differential was still at 15%. [6]

The writers of the A*Census go on to say that “the gender equity trend is heading in the right direction based on when respondents entered the field. Among those starting their first archival jobs within the last 5 years, men reported earning only 2% more than women”. [6] Unfortunately, I think that the authors of this report may be over-interpreting what the data is showing them. It may be true that the pay differential for entry-level jobs between men and women is low, but it is also a well-understood sociological phenomenon that men in women-dominated professions are promoted far more quickly than their peers in proportion to their performance and abilities, that men receive greater pay bumps when they are promoted, and are systematically given greater access to mentoring and networking opportunities. The phenomenon is called the “glass escalator” and was first documented by the sociologist Christine Williams, [7] although this phenomenon has been studied by others.

And let’s be clear — as she explains, this isn’t because some fat cat at the top of the organization is twirling his mustache and saying that he must have men in power. If sexism were this overt, it would have been much easier to neutralize by now. Instead, there’s a subtle and complex interplay of implicit expectations that men are natural leaders, that all else being equal men are better suited for responsibility, and a situation where people in power tend to mentor younger professionals who remind them of themselves, which perpetuates patterns of power that already exist. [13]

Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever talk about a related phenomenon — the fact that men are far more likely to ask for things in their jobs than women are. In one study, eight times as many men as women graduating with master’s degrees from Carnegie Mellon negotiated their salaries. The men who negotiated were able to increase their starting salaries by an average of 7.4 percent, or about $4,000. In the same study, men’s starting salaries were about $4,000 higher than the women’s on average, suggesting that the gender gap between men and women might have been closed if more of the women had negotiated their starting salaries. [8]

Studies also show that by not negotiating a first salary, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60—and men are more than four times as likely as women to negotiate a first salary.

Now, I’m not suggesting that women are to blame for this gap, or that institutions shouldn’t be doing more to normalize this kind of discrepancy. But if we’re looking for things that individuals can do to ameliorate a systematic problem, this is one thing. You can negotiate. You must negotiate. Like the studies cited above suggested, this will dramatically increase your lifetime earning potential. But also, I think that it’s important to negotiate because this is what professionals do, and it’s important to get folks in the profession used to the idea that specialized labor requires professional compensation. One of the reasons that unpaid internships are so toxic for the profession, beyond the fact that it privileges folks who can somehow afford to work for no money, is that it sends the message to the people who allocate resources in our institutions that our labor isn’t very valuable. So, having the conversation about the value of your labor is important, because it’s an opportunity to articulate your skills, your strengths, and what you’re working on.

Babcock and Laschever talk about how this asking/negotiating phenomenon follows workers throughout their careers — that men are more likely to ask for promotions, ask to be participants in exciting projects, ask for networking and mentoring opportunities, and ask for other perks. They suggest that often, when a role needs to be filled, a supervisor is far likelier to give it to the person who asks for it than to evaluate who would actually be best for the job. Over the course of a career, this kind of asking can really add up. [9]

Now, let’s be real. The fear that women have of negotiating their salaries and asking for opportunities is rational; studies report that negotiation tactics that men commonly use are not deemed acceptable when used by women. [10] [11] But obviously, we have to do the best we can in the context in which we live. “Women can ask for what they want in ways that feel comfortable to them and that society will accept. By not seeming overly aggressive, women can actually remain tough on the issues they’re negotiating—they just need to be gentle with the people involved.” [9] Of course, I would prefer that everyone just took a moment and stopped applying a double standard to men and women, but in the meantime, being aware of these obstacles and performing in a socially-sanctioned way, even if scary, can make a huge difference in an individual’s career.

There’s a role for the organization in this, too. Managers need to realize the impact of the different rates at which men and women ask for rewards and opportunities. They can then mentor women in their organizations about the importance of letting their supervisors know what they want and what would help them do their jobs better. When a man asks for something, they can stop to consider whether a woman in the organization might be equally interested in that opportunity and possibly more qualified to make the most of it. They can also attempt to change their organizational culture to make it more acceptable for women to assert their professional goals and ask for what they want. If organizations were interested in addressing this divide, they could track men and women in an organization and make managers accountable for women’s advancement—make the progress of the women they supervise part of their own performance evaluations. This can create a powerful incentive for managers to correct the inequities over which they preside.

I’m going to conclude by sharing an anecdote that was posted to our blog. A young woman coming out of a very good archives program with very good experience was offered a job with an archives across the country. The pay they mentioned was $32,000 per year, which she knew wasn’t enough money to move across the country for, but they had mentioned that the details were negotiable. Let me finish with her words:

In a far less articulate way than planned, I manage to convey I was actually hoping for more, which is inline with the market, my skills, blah, blah.  Supervisor says she needs to check and will get back to me.  She calls me back, can’t do it, $35k’s the max.  I think about it, decide it’s close enough to what I wanted and that I’ll accept, but that I am going to use the tip from that workshop to see if I can get that extra $1,000 in relocation or a trip to SAA.  I ask for that, supervisor tells me she has to check and will call me back.  Finally, she calls back and let’s me know that based on my high concern for salary I’m probably not the candidate they wanted and that they are rescinding the job offer.  Bam, ask for a trip to SAA and lose a job.

Moral of the story: Archives are not like normal institutions and may feel threatened when you try to act like a professional, but you probably don’t want to work there anyway.  Also, the career services people who put on the negotiation workshop assured me I am the only person they have ever heard of having an offer rescinded.  So you shouldn’t read this and think that it’s a bad idea to negotiate salary – you should just read this and understand that archives sometimes don’t work the same way as everywhere else.  This is why we work to set expectations of professionalism; if you’re in charge of hiring, do a better job than the people who hired you.

This story, and stories like it, are why I find the blog so powerful and useful. If you’re interested in contributing, we would love to share your stories too.

Thank you very much.

U.S. Census Bureau, “Educational Attainment in the United States: 2004,”

Association of Research Libraries. Annual Salary Survey 2005–2006,

Maatta, Stephanie. “Placements & Salaries 2006: What’s an MLIS Worth? A picture of overall growth is marred by fissures in job outlook.” Library Journal (10/15/2007)

Bearman, David. “1982 Survey of The Archival Profession.” American Archivist 46, no. 2 (April 1, 1983): 233–241.

“Society of American Archivists: Women Archivists’ Roundtable”, n.d.

“A*CENSUS: Archival Census & Education Needs Survey in the United States | Society of American Archivists”, n.d.

Williams, C. L. “The Glass Escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the‘ Female’ Professions.” Social Problems (1992): 253–267.

“Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide”, n.d.

Babcock, Linda, and Sara Laschever. Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Costrich, Norma, Joan Feinstein, Louise Kidder, Jeanne Marecek, and Linda Pascale. “When Stereotypes Hurt: Three Studies of Penalties for Sex-role Reversals.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 11, no. 6 (November 1975): 520–530.

Burgoon, Michael, James P Dillard, Noel E Ooran, Michael Burgoon, James P Dillard, and Noel E Ooran. “Friendly or Unfriendly Persuasion: The Effects of Violations of Expectations by Males and Females.” Human Communication Research, Human Communication Research 10, 10, no. 2, 2 (December 1, 1983): 283–294.

Crosby, Faye. “The Denial of Personal Discrimination.” American Behavioral Scientist 27, no. 3 (January 1, 1984): 371–386.

  1. Brad H. permalink*
    April 25, 2012 10:33 am

    I am ashamed on behalf of my entire gender that MRA is a thing.

    Anyway, I like this a lot and wish I could have seen the talk live. I will note that despite being male, this really spoke to me, because in a lot of ways I took sort of a similar attitude towards salary negotiation when I accepted my current job, out of fear that I would end up in a similar situation as the person whose anecdote you mentioned. I wonder to what extent the recession and slow recovery have affected the percentage of people in entry-level jobs who negotiate their first salaries, considering that it is very much a buyer’s market in most professions, and many people are just happy to have a job at all.

    • Maureen Callahan permalink*
      April 25, 2012 10:41 am

      Thanks, Brad! You know, my supervisor was on the panel with me, and he mentioned in his remarks that he knows that a lot of folks DON’T negotiate their salaries and here, at least, we’re not allowed to rescind offers once they’re given.

      I also think that the negotiation is a good time to give the employer/supervisor/HR person a reality check about what is and isn’t appropriate. But like we all keep saying here, the most we can do is build consensus and solidarity about what is and isn’t appropriate.

  2. Mara Lina permalink
    April 25, 2012 11:06 am

    I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say except I thought this post was very well-written and relevant not just to archives but the entire LIS profession.

    I will add that when I accepted my current job (not in archives), I found negotiating salary to be painful and embarrassing and ultimately didn’t pursue it to the extent that is probably recommended. Granted I was happy with the salary offer to begin with, but I do wonder if I lost out on potential earnings by making such a feeble effort. I don’t know if this is a gender thing or a cultural thing or what, but talking about money and asking for things always feels kind of shameful. So I wonder what role shame might play in other young professionals attempts, or lack thereof, to negotiate salary. It really does take a healthy self-worth to baldly say “I am worth more”.

    • Maureen Callahan permalink*
      April 25, 2012 11:41 am

      Thanks for your comment, Mara. I sometimes wonder how people learn these kinds of career skills, or this sense of self-worth, as you call it. There’s a lot out there about the mentoring gap — most of what I’ve learned about empowering myself and surviving in the workplace was learned by one great mentor, and I don’t know where I would be without her.

      And my understanding is that this is definitely how men learn — someone in power sees himself in an up-and-comer, and teaches him the ropes. We obviously have a leadership gender gap in libraries and archives. It’s reasonable to think, then, that a male library or archives director is less likely to see himself in a young woman, and women therefore don’t get this kind of help.

      • Mentoring and gender permalink
        April 25, 2012 1:59 pm

        Loved the talk, was glad to see it in person. Powerful and thought-provoking contributions from all three, and led to some great discussion afterwards.

        Regarding mentoring, can I stick up for the dudes, here, though, or at least this dude? All the mentoring I have done has been with women. All of my interns except for one has been a woman. I was mentored by a woman. I like to work with and learn from ambitious, creative thinkers, regardless of gender. In fact, if anything, based on my personal observations (which is maybe anomalous based on other comments?), most of the archivists i have encountered who fit the above description have been women. So you go, girls!

      • April 25, 2012 5:22 pm

        Great blog post (and MARAC talk — congrats! I just wanted to follow up on the Mentoring and Gender comment to say that my best supervisory experiences over my 20 or so year archival career have been with 3 kick-ass women supervisors. I’d love to see a session on the topic of gender inequity at SAA and think we need to hear from some of the very high-powered and high-profile women in leadership positions in our profession on this topic and ideas they might have on addressing it. I’d be willing to help put a proposal together if you’re interested and need help doing it.

      • Maureen Callahan permalink*
        April 26, 2012 2:01 pm

        @Mentoring and Gender — thanks much for your comments. And I ABSOLUTELY agree that there are some amazing women in the profession!! I think that sometimes, we’re all used to talking about problem-solving in terms of bad guys and good guys. And I don’t think that there are too many bad guys to be found…. but the data shows that we still have a problem. So it would be really good to not worry too much about which individual is (or isn’t) being sexist to whom, and worry more about how and why we still have these problems.

        @Bill I would love to talk more about this, in a more systematic way, and I would love to help with a session. Again, I think it would be great to frame it in a way that demonstrates that this is EVERYONE’s problem when people are prevented from making meaningful contributions, and that this is about how we make our policies rather than being about who the good guys and bad guys are.

  3. Christina permalink
    April 25, 2012 1:18 pm

    I had a similar experience to the person who has the job offer recinded. I once went on an interview that went very well and basically had the job. I was told that I was the candidate they were looking for. I was called back for a second interview and at the end the interviewer wanted to discuss salary. She mentioned that my current salary (which was already terrible and below $40k in DC) was at the top of their salary range for the position. I was so desperate to get out of my old job I said that I would be happy to make a lateral move in terms of salary. She continued to push me with things like, “well, are you going to want money to go to conferences or pay for memberships?” Of course I said yes. The interview ended abruptly and I was told she would give me a call in a week. No call, so after 10 days I called and left a message, no response. Called again a week later and left a message, no response. Finally, six weeks later, I got a form letter that said “thank you for applying for this position,” as if I hadn’t even gotten an interview!!

  4. April 25, 2012 6:33 pm

    I think the core problem with archival salaries is that archivists continue to accept poverty level wages. Yes, it has to do with supply and demand. Big supply, low demand. People need to work. But every archivist who accepts a poverty level wage does the profession a huge disservice. There’s a reason that I went into records management from archives. The pay is (modestly) better.

    The problem compounds itself. Once your peers in other organizations accept poverty level salaries, when compensation experts looks at those salaries in a study, they decide that is the going rate and the problem reinforces itself. They don’t know how to compare an archivist to any other kind of job, so you get comparables of people in similar circumstances. If all your peers are paid $30K to $40K a year, you’re going to get something in that range, no matter that other people holding advanced degrees in the same organization make double or triple that salary. And HR will tell you that they have studied the market and that’s that.

    You do yourself and your profession a disservice when you accept a ridiculous wage.

    On the matter of gender-oriented salary inequality, as much as I would like to call “BS”, I know I’ll get flamed. But I’m certain that overt gender discrimination, as such, is a thing of the past. That said, there are clear statistically proven studies that show discrepancies in wages between sexes. I simply find it hard to believe that the root cause is overt discrimination. I think it is a complicated problem with many factors at work. I would suggest that at least in the organizations where I have worked, we have promoted and paid based upon merit. I’m very concerned that the references in this post point to many studies performed between 10 and 30 years ago. Having been in the workplace most of that time, I’d suggest that the workplace has changed significantly over the past 30 years. It isn’t perfect, but it has changed, hopefully for the better. And another factor to consider in that time is the rise of sexual harassment awareness while gender equality was coming into play. That has tended to put some distance between men and women in the workplace and that could be a limiting factor. If you are a man and you are paying special attention to a woman on your team, regardless of merit, people are going to talk. So some men will shy away from those situations. I suppose that many of you will disagree with my viewpoint here, but I calls ’em as I sees ’em.

    I’m not a huge fan of negotiating pay. I probably have undersold myself in a number of instances, but I generally wanted the job and didn’t want to make waves. I think a lot of people are like that. Today, if I were to consider another opportunity, I would put a number on the table before the first interview simply so we don’t waste each other’s time. I have the latitude to do that because I am employed and because I make a very healthy salary. If things were in a different direction, I might not be so forward. But on the topic of professional meetings and dues included in the package, I personally find it reprehensible that an organization would find it a deal-breaker when a professional asks about conferences and dues. That said, If you ask to join six associations and attend the same number of conferences, you may have some issues. The right answer would be to turn the tables on the interviewer and find out what they consider to be appropriate. Maybe they have a policy or financial considerations that limit that sort of thing. So the correct answer to the question of, “So I expect that you will want money for conferences and dues?” is, “As a professional, I feel that continuing education is an important aspect of my development for the organization. I have found value in a variety of means to obtain professional education, with the greatest value coming from my professional affiliations. That said, I’d like to understand the organization’s approach to continuing professional education and discuss the limits and bounds set by the organization.” It is entirely possible that the previous person holding the job spent thousands of dollars on “education” and only feathered his or her own nest, never adding value back to the organization that paid the bills. So a lot really hinges there on how you answer that question and where the interviewer is coming from. If the organization flat out says, “Nah, we don’t believe in that stuff. It’s just a free junket to go sightseeing on our dime.” then perhaps you need to see if they are ignorant or have had bad prior experiences. If they are ignorant, move along; if they have had bad prior experiences, you’re going to have to win back trust.

    • Re: water cooler gossip permalink
      April 26, 2012 9:18 am

      Lots of great points here. Re: the specter of sexual harassment when mentoring colleagues of the opposite sex, while I don’t see the organizational culture as you characterize it, I would say that if this indeed the case where one works, don’t let childish gossip get in the way of doing the right thing. That’s what being a leader is about.

    • helrond permalink*
      April 26, 2012 9:23 am

      Well, I’m going to call BS on your dismissal of gender discrimination. Just because it looks different than it did 30 years ago certainly doesn’t mean it’s not discrimination, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any better.
      When we talk about discrimination, we have a tendency to think about it only in personal rather than systemic terms. The thing is that a pervasive system of discrimination of any sort is so much worse and so much harder to sniff out (especially if you’re on the privileged end of the equation) than overly personal instances of sexism, racism or any other form of discrimination you can think of.
      Also, the whole “I can’t have close relationships with women I work with because I’ll get slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit” argument is totally ludicrous. I don’t feel like I need to say anything further about it.

      • April 26, 2012 6:29 pm

        A couple of counterpoints.

        I did say that there is clear data that shows differences broadly in wages between men and women performing the same jobs. Those numbers have gotten better over time, but there still is an issue. I’m not denying that. What I am saying is that there is much more to this than throwing the blanket of discrimination on top of the issue. In my experience, the organizations that I have worked in are very sensitized to any perception of discrimination and take considerable effort to ensure fairness in wages. That may well not be the case everywhere, and again, many factors come into play when determining compensation for employees. By way of example (and this in no way represents any real people that I work with):

        Employee 1 is dedicated and consistent. He comes is at 7:30 and leaves at 4:00 every day. He periodically stays home with a sick child and considers the hours outside of his normal working hours as “family time”. He’s productive, but seldom goes out of his way to go the extra mile.

        Employee 2 is also dedicated. She’s not as consistent, but works all sorts of crazy hours to deliver work no matter what. She will drop everything to meet a travel requirement, has cancelled vacations when needed, and has been known to pound out email responses in the middle of the night. She manages to get to most of her kids’ events, but tends to be emailing from her smartphone. If her kids are sick, she works from home.

        When a manager decides how to allocate a pool of incentive pay and salary increases, which employee likely gets the larger share? Each employee has made certain choices. Sometimes the choices made have more value than a paycheck.

        Let’s look at a less extreme example.

        Employee A is a dedicated professional. She is involved in her profession and has been elected to various boards and volunteers for committees. She’s very well known in the profession and invited to speak at conferences. She returns from meetings with a stack of business cards and a stack of note cards filled with benchmarking ideas that she then builds into action plans for her organization. She’s always tapping out email and is seen as productive even on the road.

        Employee B goes to conferences and training almost as much as Employee A. He never presents at these conferences. His expenses are modest, preferring to find a Subway and bring a sandwich back to the hotel room. Sometimes he uses his vacation time to go to a conference that interests him. He comes back from conferences with a notebook full of notes and talks to his manager about all that he has learned. He’s implemented many new processes and technologies based upon what he’s learned.

        Now who is more valuable? That might be hard to say. Employee A brings visibility to the organization and herself. She has lots of ideas, but does she actually deliver results? Employee B is clearly quieter, but it appears that he delivers results from what he has learned.

        People make choices. Managers have to discern value in evaluating employees. Sometimes, the crazy person who works ridiculous hours gets compensated more than the person who chooses to put family first. Sometimes the association gadfly gets compensated more because she is great at marketing herself. There’s not always a lot of science in making that call.

        As for the harassment and mentoring comment that I made. Yes, people should be bigger than office gossip. But I can tell you from years of having this stuff pounded into my head, managers become sensitized to perceptions of favoritism and often have to remain aloof from their staff. So while you certainly want to mentor the younger staff members as a manager, you also have to weigh perceptions. What that means is that you may refer a staff person to another manager in the organization or perhaps to a colleague in another organization to get the insights that they need.

        That said, I’m also finding, in my advanced age, that often the best mentoring is giving a capable person the opportunity to grow. We often don’t want to see someone make mistakes, but those mistakes are what make you grow. The bigger leadership failure is not allowing employees to fail once in a while. And within this lesson, a manager also finds out which employees are willing to stretch themselves and which ones never come out of their comfort zone. That also is a factor that gets considered when compensation decisions are made.

        The point is that there are a lot of factors that go into compensation. I’m not certain that any of them are directly tied inherently to gender. Could there be bias? Absolutely. If a person suspects bias or discrimination, what should they do? Well, I would expect that most organizations have a process to report ethics complaints. It is, however, a very difficult thing to prove. But if you remain silent, there’s no chance that the problem will get corrected.

        To this quote: “Instead, there’s a subtle and complex interplay of implicit expectations that men are natural leaders, that all else being equal men are better suited for responsibility, and a situation where people in power tend to mentor younger professionals who remind them of themselves, which perpetuates patterns of power that already exist.” I would counter that I find even this sort of statement to represent overt discrimination. I have worked for many female bosses in my career, all of whom were natural leaders. I have worked for men that couldn’t lead hungry employees to the company cafeteria. In my opinion, institutional culture that allows that behavior is as overtly discriminatory as the mustache-twirler. Likewise, an opinion of, “She’s just going to get married / have a baby / want to be home when the kids get home from school” is equally abhorrent. You can’t ever think that way.

    • April 26, 2012 9:38 am

      When you say that “[you] simply find it hard to believe that the root cause is overt discrimination,” I’d love to know what you think qualifies as “overt” and not “overt.” +1 to the points that helrond made.

      I also think the argument about having men having close, professional relationships with women is totally bogus. If you’re concerned about how the “special attention” you’re giving to any staff member is perceived, then consider that there might be something wrong with that special attention.

      • Jordon permalink
        April 26, 2012 9:48 am

        I think what anarchivist’s and Patrick’s comments suggest is an absence of data that 1) provides strong evidence suggesting that gender discrimination exists in the archives profession 2) if it does, if the type of discrimination is overt, covert, systemic and 3) what these terms really mean. I welcome such a study. Maureen’s analysis of pay inequity was excellent in that it served to get us to a higher level of discussion than personal conjecture.

      • Brad H. permalink*
        April 26, 2012 10:43 am

        I’d go even farther and say that to even bring up “overt discrimination” represents a fundamental misreading of that part of Maureen’s post. To wit, this paragraph:

        “And let’s be clear — as she explains, this isn’t because some fat cat at the top of the organization is twirling his mustache and saying that he must have men in power. If sexism were this overt, it would have been much easier to neutralize by now. Instead, there’s a subtle and complex interplay of implicit expectations that men are natural leaders, that all else being equal men are better suited for responsibility, and a situation where people in power tend to mentor younger professionals who remind them of themselves, which perpetuates patterns of power that already exist.”

        Seems pretty clear to me that she’s talking about institutional culture rather than some guy saying “MUAHAHAHA, I WILL PAY YOU LESS MONEY AND FEWER BENEFITS FOR YOU ARE A WOMAN.” As she notes, the former is if anything more insidious because the latter has an easy and obvious solution.

        Also, what Eira said. This blog exists because many young archivists feel like they HAVE to take these jobs for ridiculously low pay (because it beats starving). As I’ve noted elsewhere, fundamentally the issue is that there are more newly-minted archivists than there are available positions, which will naturally depress wages, but it is absurd to suggest that these young professionals are in a position where they can do anything about that. In my understanding, we highlight the positions we do in order to make established professionals aware of the borderline-exploitative nature of these job openings, and to advocate for fair wages and working conditions for both themselves and any of their institutions’ new hires. It’s “You Ought to be Ashamed,” not “You Ought to Not Take This Job Because It’s Beneath You.” New graduates with piles of student loan debt and rent to pay often can’t afford to take that particular stand.

    • April 26, 2012 9:51 am

      “But every archivist who accepts a poverty level wage does the profession a huge disservice.”

      While I think the sentiment here is “United we stand, divided we fall” I’m troubled by this phrasing, as it veers pretty close to victim-blaming for my tastes. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and if your choice is between a job paying a low salary and none at all, why is it OK to point the finger at the individual making the rational economic choice to go with a meh job than none at all?

      I am all for negotiating, proving your worth, and advocating for the best working conditions for professional, paraprofessional staff, and interns, but sometimes people have to pay the bills, and it seems awfully judgmental to castigate these people as devaluing the profession. The problem doesn’t start with them, it starts elsewhere (as the title of this blog suggests)

      • Sarah permalink
        April 26, 2012 11:06 am


        I completely agree that the existence of low-paying jobs and volunteers doing the work of archivists (and archivists with graduate degrees working for free/experience) devalues the profession as a whole. But these discussions always make me feel very, very helpless.

        They’re pitched towards the people making the jobs, not taking them — which they should be, since that’s where the changes in pay have to start. But it puts archivists like me in an ethical bind. (Or maybe just me? Am I over-personalizing the political?) We’re the strikebreakers to your union strike.

        I’d love to see this discussion expand to what people in my situation can do to get those permanent jobs that pay 40k (!) that doesn’t involve doing labor that undermines this profession that I love so much.

      • April 26, 2012 7:16 pm

        I have an undergraduate degree in History and a Master’s degree in Public History (yes, I’m one of “those”). I would have loved to be an archivist. I hang with our company’s Archivist from time to time and use my education to appraise records that I come across. That said, I made a choice a long time ago to earn a living wage. Some of us get to work in a profession that engages us each and every day and get compensated at a level that pays all the bills and lets us live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. Other folks have the house and neighborhood, but hate their jobs. Still others ride the bus, rent a studio, and whistle all the way to work (except on pay day). Everyone makes choices. Reading some of this, I feel that some folks feel that they have a god-given right to work in the profession that they have chosen. The laws of supply and demand simply do not allow that. As I have said before, “supply, meet demand”. The jobs aren’t there and the pay is certainly not there. I guess some folks are willing to take any job out there in the hopes that things will get better and you want to be in the mix when the tide turns.

        I doubt that will ever happen. That supply and demand thing rules. Am I blaming victims here? Unfortunately, yes. Are they solely to blame? Of course not. The organizations that pay these wages are responsible for these decisions, as are the hiring managers, many of whom are supposed to be professionals in the very same (or a related) profession. This blog has drawn attention to this problem. I raised the issue several months ago when I pointed to the B&O Museum’s job postings in my own blog.

        I have the ability to pick and choose opportunities because I expanded my horizons a long time ago. I moved over to records management and then increased my knowledge of technology, law, and now, information security. Did I plan this career? Heck no. Has it worked out for me? Absolutely. Would I go back and be an archivist? Nope.

        Maybe some of you simply can’t handle the truth and are unwilling to let your dream die. Good luck with that. I’m sorry that you are where you are, but you’ve made your choice. This is how capitalism and the free market works. It sucks sometimes. But if you have drive and intelligence and a willingness to stretch yourself, you can find yourself doing things that you never imagined doing. And somehow, some way, that isn’t a bad thing.

        Think about how many young men and women dream of careers in professional sports or the chance for Olympic gold. They live for their sport for years. They forego the education handed to them in college to play their sport. Then they blow out their knee or fail to be drafted. Some hang out on the periphery for a while. And then they wake up and the money is gone, they failed to get a degree, and all they know is their sport. Each of you reading this is chasing a similar dream. But for most of you, you will have an education, a degree, and perhaps some interesting and novel perspectives on managing and utilizing the information that fuels society today. You can find ways to leverage that or you can hang around in the minor leagues, hoping for a break into the “show”. Your choice. Flame on.

      • April 27, 2012 9:26 am

        @Patrick Cunningham

        “I would have loved to be an archivist….That said, I made a choice a long time ago to earn a living wage. ” Do you not see the massive and horrible problem inherent in this idea, reasoning, and situation? This ” Everyone makes choices.” mentality is, frankly, a cop out to allow poor conditions to persist. It’s not about “god-given right” it’s about earned respect, about, yknow, being treated like a human being instead of a commodity or a cog under a labor-theory of value…. I mean, really, look at what you’re saying, it’s at a point that you’re comparing getting a chance to play in professional sports to becoming an archivist with a living wage. Those are “similar dreams”? How absurd is that? That’s okay? That’s just the “truth” that people must accept because, welp, so goes the market? Baloney (or should i say “cake” as in “let them eat”). The point here is that people ARE applying drive and intelligence, that they have legitimate skills to apply to legitimate circumstances BUT the people with the power to make the decision to compensate these people in an appropriate way are NOT feeling the need to do so (and yes, they need to do so or it is, frankly, not just). So, if they don’t feel that need they need pressure from the sort of movement within the profession that I see this blog encouraging… As Studs Turkel put it, “Hope has never trickled down. It has always sprung up.”

        I’d also like to say that I think this conversation got a bit derailed by this “supply and demand” assumption that I frankly don’t buy, a lot of Econ 101/Neoclassical Economics assumptions that you’re conditioned to accept that aren’t really sturdy under scrutiny (within the Big-Ol-Economy as a whole, much less in our little world). The money is there, the question is where else it’s going and why. And the MORE IMPORTANT question is why it should EVER be ok to pay someone less than they deserve. Yes, DESERVE.

        OH and if this truly is “how capitalism and the free market works”, if THAT’S the excuse well then, down with Capitalism, right? Because Eff. that. Noise. And in the MEAN time, let’s not let a paltry excuse like “Well, that’s Capitalism!” get in the way of moving towards treating people the way they deserve to be treated. Hate the player or hate the game? Well, I’m gonna go ahead and hate and try to change BOTH, one for it’s systemic oppression and the other because of its agency as an actor within it, doesn’t that make much more sense? Wouldn’t THAT be justice?

        (P.S. inserting comments like ” I know I’ll get flamed” and “Flame on” is a great way to try and do a dismissive wave-of-the-hand at all possible criticism, legit or otherwise, before you’ve even heard it. And by “great way” i mean “Kinda childish and passive aggressive”)

      • April 27, 2012 9:46 am

        @Patrick I just want to make a quick comment that I think you differ from a lot of us here in that 1) we are still in the profession and 2) we want to use our positions in the profession to enact change (or at least get the discussion started). I, for one, don’t think we can wait for the “market” to save us all. One more difference, I like taking the bus, no matter my salary.

        @CPS Word! Especially your point on the “supply and demand” assumptions being made here.

        • Larry Medina permalink
          April 27, 2012 10:35 am

          Seems as if the “supply and demand” issue has raised some hackles here. In support of what’s been said (about “demand” at least) there are regular posts on the A&A list where people are trying to locate or contact the “XYZ Corporation/Company Archivist”. Most of these requests for location go unanswered, simply because NOT ALL Corporations/Companies HAVE an Archivist, or an Archive. Why? There is no requirement for it. And if organizations don’t see a bottom line benefit (or no requirement exists) to staff a function, then they don’t.
          Given the age old model presented by NARA (and yes, I understand this is the Federal realm and volumes/ratios MAY be different) only 2-3% of records generated by an Agency will meet the criteria established for “Permanent”. These are the type of records that would end up in an archive program- the records that have met their retention and satisfied all business needs, and then are deemed to have added “enduring, historical or intrinsic value” to an organization.
          And in current business practices, with the majority of records being generated and managed electronically, few organizations see the need for someone who is a “classically trained archivist” to manage these bits and bytes. They simply convert them to PDF, PDF/A, XML or whatever format de jour they elect for long-term retention, copy the files (and possibly the native files as well) to whatever media form/s they elect to use for long term retention, and then move them out of the routine records store. And yes, they establish a practice/process/procedure for periodic conversion/migration to avoid obsolescence of format and degradation of media.
          There ARE requirements for managing records and having them available to support business decisions and/or defend against legal actions, which is why SOME, but not ALL organizations have RM Programs and records managers… but the same can’t be said for archivists.
          I think (and I’m sure he will correct me if I’m wrong) THIS is what Patrick was talking about when he said supply is outpacing demand and what was meant by the need to settle for what someone is willing to offer archivists in the Corporate World.

      • Angelique (@RandomArchivist) permalink
        April 27, 2012 3:02 pm

        “Maybe some of you simply can’t handle the truth and are unwilling to let your dream die. Good luck with that. I’m sorry that you are where you are, but you’ve made your choice. This is how capitalism and the free market works”

        I call bullshit. I don’t think any one of us on here is so idealistic that we dream of this fantastic paying archives job straight out of grad school that fulfills all of our wishes. We are being as realistic as we can. No one could have predicted the economy would tank as horribly as it did, thereby causing a lot of people to put off retirement.

        Yes, I will say the supply of new archives graduates far exceeds the demand for professional archivists. You could compare it to the housing market, in that it’s a seller’s market. The sellers, aka institutions hiring archivists, have the control to a certain extent because the number of buyers, aka professional archivists, far exceeds the number of houses. More people are competing for a smaller pool of houses (or jobs).

        Does that situation cause a lowering in starting salaries and fewer job openings? Of course. In a capatalist society, there will always be fluctuations in salaries based on supply and demand. However, I don’t think that excuses institutions for offering the pathetically low ($30,000 and lower) starting salaries for positions REQUIRING a Master’s degree. That’s not ethically or morally right. We as an archives community should be doing something to advocate for higher wages. (For instance, the UK Archives Association won’t post job openings in their newsletter unless they meet a minimum salary requirement as laid out by the association.)

        And I’d like to say that I agree with Larry when he said corporations should be required to have an archives. I’ve worked in a corporate archives for the last three years and did my internships in corporate archives. The Business Archives Section of SAA tries its best to help corporate archivists advocate for themselves. This is one area in which I think SAA should be getting involved and maybe teaming up with NARA in promoting corporate archives. The UK National Archives has a whole program buillt around assisting corporations in setting up their own corporate archives. WE should be doing the same thing. However, it’s difficult because the US doesn’t have the same historical culture that much of Europe does and majority of US corporations don’t see the need to keep their history. It’s a sad state of affairs because many times it comes back to bite them.

    • April 26, 2012 10:37 am

      So, the reason for low wages in the profession is the fact that all these unemployed archivists are taking positions that do not pay well? The thing is, there are many, many professionals that are not able to pick and choose employment opportunities because they already make “a very healthy salary.” In fact, many of us (especially those just out of school) are often faced with the choice between low salaries and unemployment. Often lower wages are taken so people can, you know, eat.

      If we, as a profession, want to change the pay dynamic it will take a much more thoughtful approach. As the below comment “Managers need to do more” mentions, advocacy needs to take place at the institutional and professional organization level. And even beyond that, we as a community need to take responsibility for the inequity and unfairness amongst us. Rather than blaming people who have to take positions to work in a field they love and to put food on the table, we need to identify unethical practice and call people on it. If only people got together and made a blog to help start this process. Oh wait…

      • PeterK permalink
        April 26, 2012 11:49 am

        “the reason for low wages in the profession is the fact that all these unemployed archivists are taking positions that do not pay well? ”

        the facts are the facts. I remember several years back an institution advertised for an archivist. They posted the job at least 3 times and each time the salary level was increased until they started to receive applications

        as Patrick pointed out HR departments benchmark positions. they ask other organizations first of all do you have an archivist? and if so what are you paying them. The same thing happened for years with the records management profession, but as the demand for RM professionals grew and the labor supply was small the salaries offered increased.

      • Brad H. permalink*
        April 26, 2012 12:35 pm

        “The same thing happened for years with the records management profession, but as the demand for RM professionals grew and the labor supply was small the salaries offered increased.”

        The second half of this sentence suggests that the situation you describe is not analogous to the situation that Lance and I are talking about. You have admitted elsewhere that there is a demonstrable mismatch between the number of people coming out of MLIS programs with archives degrees and the number of entry-level jobs available, and said mismatch does not favor the job seekers. In such an environment, there will ALWAYS be someone willing to take a job for poverty wages, unless those wages are not just low, but insultingly so (offering $20,000 for a full time Archivist position in Boston or DC, for example). There are ultimately three solutions to this problem:

        1)Throttle the number of Archivists being graduated from information schools, thus lowering supply. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, this is not always feasible for Deans looking to hold on to an increasingly-shrinking piece of an increasingly-shrinking budget pie, though to be fair some schools have done so anyway (UW-Madison, Maryland, etc.) which is commendable.

        2) Increase the number of positions available, thus increasing demand. For the most part, in a political environment hostile to increasing funding to higher education and “non-essential” government operations such as state libraries, this option is a non-starter in the public sector. That leaves the private sector, which is what I think you’re getting at in your comment as to what happened with Records Management– as laws such as SOx or GLB and court cases such as Zubulake presented new challenges for and liabilities to companies, RM organizations did a lot of advocacy about the need for appropriate records management, positions were created, and RMs were in enough demand to negotiate better salaries. Making arguments about the value-add of Archives is something archivists could do a lot better, but it’s also not the point of this blog. Which takes us to:

        3) Change the organizational culture, which IS the point of this blog. Established archivists should be challenging the people who make the decisions about compensation and benefits about the moral and ethical implications of underpaying entry-level professionals or writing job descriptions that expect too much for too little. They should also be pushing SAA and other Archives organizations for advocacy of the same sort in general. These efforts may or may not be successful, but as the “unofficial” title of the blog implies (“Eating Our Young”), we owe it to our successors to at least talk about them.

      • April 26, 2012 1:54 pm

        @Brad True that.

  5. April 25, 2012 9:11 pm

    When I was offered the job I have now (academic library), the salary negotiation was between my future boss and HR, not between me and my future boss. Which meant that my boss was motivated to ask for as much as he thought he could justify based on my qualifications, rather than as little as he thought he could get away with paying me. I ended up with a higher salary than I would have negotiated for myself. I wish more institutions operated this way.

    • Managers need to do more permalink
      April 26, 2012 9:11 am

      This is a great point, and speaks to Patrick’s comment above that asks the important question, what change can we really effect about salaries when the market will bear low wages. At the MARAC talk during the Q and A, there was acknowledgment that professional organizations need to lobby for fairer, higher wages for its members. I would put the onus on hiring managers themselves. Having just gone through a recruitment process where well-meaning people above me felt obligated to raise the question, “Can we get by with spending less,” I spent a lot of time advocating for why we needed this type of person, why the position needed to be permanent and full-time, and why we needed a salary range at X level. Fortunately, I was successful. But even if I wasn’t, the point is that if we are given the opportunity to fight for our colleagues (and recruit a better candidate in the process), we need to take this opportunity. We owe it to our parent organizations and our profession. If you are management at any level, you are not being paid to move widgets for 40 years and retire. There are bigger fish to fry.

  6. amc permalink
    April 26, 2012 8:40 am

    Regarding salary negotiations, depending on where you work and what type of job it is, you may not have the option. I interviewed for several grant positions, they stated up front this is the maximum salary we can pay. In my current job as a government employee, the state legislature determines pay grades. I got the maximum amount mentioned in the job ad’s hiring range, which from what I gathered was pretty much set in stone. From what I can tell, no one here has gotten a raise in about four years…If I want to make more money, I will probably have to look for another job.

  7. Angelique (@RandomArchivist) permalink
    April 26, 2012 11:43 am

    I’m getting ready to begin my 2nd job after grad school and with both jobs I negotiated a pay increase. Yes it was uncomfortable. Mostly because, like a lot of archivists, I’m introverted and being forward like that is against my nature. However, unlike most archivists, my undergrad is in business, so I knew negotions needed to be made if I ever wanted to earn enough money. I also knew before they offered me both of my positions, how much I wanted (ideally) and how much I could realistically live on.

    With my first position out of grad school, I knew it would be difficult to negotiate too much more than their offer because I didn’t have a ton of experience. It was tough and uncomfortable, but it turned out wonderfully. My employer split the difference between my ideal and their offer, but took a chance on me and said that if after 6 months my reviews were good, a pay increase would be made. It so happened that they were happy with my work and increased my salary to my original ideal number.

    I just recently went through the interview/offer process a couple months ago and once again took the initiative to negotiate. The original offer was their minimum salary and I knew I couldn’t accept that to move across the country. So I called back after a couple days to discuss the salary. Once I pointed out that I had more experience than they required and I was already certified, they immediately upped the offer to a number that was more in line with what I could live on. (They also threw in moving expenses and professional development was already included.)

    My advice to people approaching salary negotiation (and I’m by no means an expert, so take with a grain of salt!) is to do your research. Know what your ideal goal salary is and what your bare minimum salary is based on cost of living and whatever expenses you have. Always start the negotiation a little higher than your goal salary so that you can compromise. Know that sometimes your boss is restricted by what HR will allow them to offer (usually based on how they code your position). Always, always, always be tactful and polite. To me, negotiation is an art. Have a game plan if they ask you WHY they should increase their offer. Don’t be afraid to brag about your accomplishments.

    P.S. If you’re still in grad school, definitely talk to your career center for information on negotiating salaries. Or even see if the business school has a seminar you can take!

    • April 26, 2012 1:29 pm

      I’d second seeking out information about negotiating. I haven’t had to negotiate yet (still on the job hunt), but I did go to our career center’s presentation on negotiating salaries this past semester. Negotiating is still intimidating, but I already feel a lot more prepared to do it.

  8. Larry Medina permalink
    April 26, 2012 1:09 pm

    I feel Patrick raised many good issues in his post.

    One common thread I read in those replying negatively to his comments was that people in the field are ‘doing the type of work they WANT to do’ and that the salaries they are accepting ‘are the norm in the industry’. As for applying for or accepting Grant funded work or Federal/State/Local positions where you are unable to negotiate salaries beyond posted or fixed ranges, you know that going in when you apply. If you find that unacceptable, DON’T apply. That’s why trained chefs don’t work in fast food.

    But in many cases with public entity jobs, there are other benefits that factor into the “total compensation package” raising the salary. Things like medical benefits, holiday and sick pay, paid vacation, the ability to pay with pre-tax dollars for retirement (or not having to pay for it at all), tuition reimbursement and some of these at higher rates than in a private environment.

    I think most of us (when in school) think about positions we’d like to hold when we graduate and may not do the ‘critical thinking’ that goes along with # of positions available, location of available jobs, salary ranges, and the ability to move between jobs in the field once you accept a position. Classic case when my major was Political Science and my minor was Anthropology… adults in my family would ask “What do you hope to do with that Education?” My answer was “Either teach, deliver mail or work as a Forest Ranger”… but I had no idea that none of the three would pay a living wage… and I didn’t care.

    Oh, btw… I became a Records and Information Manager, started in the field in 1972 as an inventory and mechanical drawing take-off clerk and haven’t REALLY looked back much.

    • Maureen Callahan permalink*
      April 26, 2012 1:31 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Larry.

      Sometimes I wonder if people who have been in the field for a while realize how massively and structurally the labor market has changed. I work at an university that has the largest endowment-per-student of any educational institution on earth. But, even with all of these resources, there are very, very few positions in my department that are non-term limited. In fact, almost every single person doing processing work is on a term-limited job. Even for permanent lines, lines that give off enough money for more than a archivist’s salary will ever be, jobs are term.

      It was not always like this, but instead reflects a conscious decision on the part of library administrators to think of their workers as disposable. My job is up in February, and there’s a reasonable chance that I’ll be able to stay on. I have colleagues that are on one-year term positions that are renewed every year, no problem. But none of us can comfortably buy a house, have children, or ask our partners to commit to the place that we are for the long-term.

      Years ago, a person could come out of a program and get a full-time, permanent job. And it’s not because this person was smarter or better than we are, it’s because this is the way the market was set up. Employers understood that employees could make more meaningful contributions if they had a sense of security and investment.

      I think that my colleagues and I are looking at the market and saying… this isn’t working. And we’re not getting acknowledgement of the fact that it isn’t working from the people who could do something about it.

      I think that there’s some sloppy, magical thinking happening when a person says that “the market decides” or “this is just how it is.” Someone made it this way. And someday, hopefully, my colleagues here and I will be the ones making these decisions, and we’ll do it better.

      • April 26, 2012 2:31 pm

        Don’t get me started on universities. For all the chatter about having the government forgive student loans, I’d like to know why no one is taking on the universities that are unable to manage their costs in a manner that makes a quality education available at a reasonable cost. It sickens me to hear about support staff being treated as contract term employees or adjunct faculty bearing the brunt of teaching loads while tenured faculty teach a section or two and pursue their muse.

        Out here in the business world, we never know when our jobs might be eliminated. I fully recognize that the job markets of the past (where you might work for the same company your entire career) are long gone. I am on my 6th employer in 25+ years of working. I have been fortunate to leave jobs ahead of the hatchet, but I doubt that I will ever really know job security over the final 20 or so years of my working life. Finding an employer that sees job eliminations as a last resort is virtually impossible. What you have to be is versatile and demonstrate value each and every day. Even at that, the hatchet can fall at any time.

        More later on some of the other comments, but I would like to add to Larry’s comments. Back in the day when I chose History as my major, my father said to me, “What are you going to do? Open a History store?” Like Larry, that was a reality check that I missed in chasing my interests. For many folks who would love to be an archivist, at a certain point, you have to realize that the dream may not be realistic. That happened for me very early in my career. It took me quite a while, but I found other things to be engaged by (and paid for doing), while still being able to keep a hand in archives and museums.

      • Lawrence Medina permalink
        April 26, 2012 7:38 pm


        Just to clarify, I’ve been in the field 40 years, but not in the same position or with the same organization, or even in the same industry segment that long. And sadly, unlike Patrick, I haven’t always remained ahead of the hatchet.
        For this reason, I am familiar with changes in the labor market, and from both sides of the hiring table. I had a 9 year period where I ran a Consulting business and employed between 3 and 8 people over that time. The organization I’m currently employed by has gone through some major shifts/reorganizations; one where over 3,000 highly skilled working professionals lost their jobs.
        It’s critical to have ‘realistic expectations’ of the position you take and your employers need to remain profitable, which many times means changing their makeup and business model.
        It’s also important to ‘stay ahead of the curve’ in your profession, by following new technologies, changing practices, collaborating with others, and making recommendations to your employer that assist them in more effectively and efficiently managing information, content, holdings (collectively information assets) to do what you can to reduce risk and assist the bottom line.
        And speaking of bottom lines, mine here is if you take jobs that are fixed term with or without benefits, then you shouldn’t have any expectations that it will turn into anything else… and as the end of term nears, you should be looking for your next position. If you know prior to entering a field these are the types of employment scenarios you’ll be facing, as soon as you accept a job, you should be looking for your next one… and you should plan to remain ‘agile’.

  9. Professional Female Archivist permalink
    April 27, 2012 11:59 am

    I’m not sure how this discussion went from inequalities in pay and opportunities to a justification of the profession as a whole, but I would like to to bring it back to the the original topic. I am very lucky to work at an organization that is respectful and fair in regards to gender equality, and I have a boss and administration that supports continuing education and professional development. I make a living wage and am able to live comfortably in a city that I love. But – having said all of that – as a woman (and not specifically as an employee of my current organization) it would be a complete lie to say that I have never experienced or witnessed actions that are the direct result of systemic discrimination during my education, training, or professional years as an archivist. If you think this is ok and acceptable.. well, I really don’t have much to say to you and I am grateful that I do not work for your organization.

    Responses that this is how things are, like ’em or leave ’em, if you can’t take the heat get out of the archives – these are meaningless and lazy. Active participation in working towards the improvement of our profession and the professional environment of our colleagues is not an empty goal.

    So, what can we do? How can the profession work to remedy these inequalities not only from within their own organizations but also for the benefit of people without the support at outside organizations? SAA (and other regional organizations) have mentoring programs available free of charge – the bolstering and increased use of these programs (by both potential mentors and mentees) could be one step. Advocating for better pay for support staff and student workers is not only an ethical decision but can also then raise the accepted level of pay for professional staff. Don’t write grants that include the minimum level of pay for contract workers; if you do not have the other resources to adequately support the grant program (funding for supplies, office space, supervisory experience) then you would not be able to apply for that grant, period. This needs to include worker pay. If your organization can only commit to paying a full time professional archivist $25k per year, then you can not adequately support that grant.

    There are many MANY things that we can do to better our situations and those of others in our field. Acknowledging that there is an existing problem, and that we can effect the change, should be step one. Many thanks to Maureen at YOTBA for this post!

  10. Brad H. permalink*
    April 27, 2012 1:35 pm

    There seems to be a disconnect here between the working archivists/archival students and the professional records managers regarding “reality checks” and questions of supply/demand vs questions of ethical/moral appropriateness. This is, I think, at least partially reflective of the temperament differences that push people towards one career path or the other. I do think it’s telling that there have only ever been two presidents of SAA from corporate archives (three if you count Edie Hedlin, who is officially listed as a Consultant), and while I can’t find a similar historical list for ARMA, it’s similarly telling that only one current board member is from a non-corporate institution.

    Although officially I am both an archivist and a records manager at UWM (and am, you know, chair of SAA’s Records Management Roundtable), I feel much more of an affinity towards my archival colleagues largely because of this disconnect. The vast, vast majority of the ARMA programs I’ve attended are really focused towards dealing with records in a private sector environment, with perhaps some mention of government records and records management in a university setting coming in a distant third, if at all. This emphasis is natural on the face of it, since the preponderance of ARMA members are corporate, but dig a little deeper and you see structural issues: $175 for full membership, no gradations? $50+ for downloadable standards? _$1000_ for registration for the annual meeting? I don’t know many archivists/RMs in the public sector who can afford this, much less afford membership in both ARMA and SAA, and so they choose the one that is both cheaper and has a more direct relevance to their professional development. Thus, the divide widens, and groups like RMRT can only do so much to bridge it.

    Anyway. This is by way of saying that a lot of what Larry and Patrick are saying about “realistic expectations” and “supply and demand” seems to come from a mindset that is very different than the mindset held by most of the contributors to and commenters on this blog. Again, SAA in general and archivists in particular need to do a better job of reaching out to the companies that Larry describes and explain to them why a “classically trained archivist” adds value to a company that a records manager alone, or a contracting company like History Associates, can’t provide. (I don’t have the answer to this problem, though there is a potentially very productive discussion to be had there.) To the extent that it is possible to increase the supply of available jobs, we should do so.

    But I also don’t accept this idea that “job insecurity is the new normal” or “the state of the market may require you to settle” or anything like that. We SHOULD want to do better than that. Of course we need to have flexibility as professionals (which is why I specialized in records management in the first place), but we should also not feel compelled to take positions that are wholly unappealing (which is why I passed on the first job I was offered out of school, which would have paid twice as much but would have been a miserable work environment). And as established professionals, it is incumbent upon us to advocate, to the fullest extent possible, for the kind of pay, benefits, and working conditions that we would want if we were in the shoes of the job seekers. To be silent on these issues is to assent to the status quo.

    • Peterk permalink
      April 28, 2012 1:55 pm

      “$175 for full membership, no gradations? $50+ for downloadable standards? _$1000_ for registration for the annual meeting?”

      so are you suggesting that ARMA should have a progressive dues structure like SAA? ie should they be like AIIM and have a name your price dues structure? How many people drop their SAA membership as they climb the salary ladder because they now have to pay more in dues? I took a look at the membership breakdown for SAA and after some analysis found that if they implemented a standard price ala ARMA (and not ARMA’s price) that SAA would have increased dues receipts. It would also make more sense from an accounting standpoint. I hear way too many folks whining about the cost of membership, but how many of those same folks are buying a Starbucks coffee everyday? Even a plain regular coffee at $2.50 for vente? figure the cost at that amount they’re paying $75 per month or $900 per year. or do it just 15 days per month and they are paying $450 a year. way more than membership.
      how about a cell phone? what is the monthly cost? It all comes down to what is important to you. If it is really important you’ll find a way to pay for it.

      as for the cost of standards have you seen what ISO charges?. Should not the university pay for those standards since you depend upon them to do your work? do you not budget for the purchase of standards and other reference materials.
      as for the cost of the conference you failed to mention that early bird registration gets a discount. What should the cost of the conference be? $500, $750, $250, free? do you want the conference at a nice venue or down market? price is but one factor

      “I don’t know many archivists/RMs in the public sector who can afford this, much less afford membership in both ARMA and SAA, ” I do know a number in the public sector who do belong. as for membership in both organizations if my primary duties are RM related then I would think that ARMA is the one to join, or if archival work is primary then SAA. once again take a look at the cost of coffee or cell phone service. If membership is important then you’ll find a way to pay for it.

      “I also don’t accept this idea that “job insecurity is the new normal”” didn’t realize it was the new norm, 30 years ago I didn’t expect to stay with the same company, I knew that in order to grow in my profession that I may have to move around in order to gain new knowledge and experience.

      “it is incumbent upon us to advocate, to the fullest extent possible, for the kind of pay, benefits, and working conditions that we would want if we were in the shoes of the job seekers”

      and as has been pointed out if you have people applying for and accepting offers for positions that are low paying, few benefits and poor working conditions then you have validated those positions. the best bet is to not apply. if no one applies or the quality of applicants is not what the organization wants then the organization will change those things. just demanding higher pay, benefits and working conditions won’t do the trick

      • Brad H. permalink*
        April 29, 2012 11:37 am

        This and your other post deserve a full response, but we’ve veered WAAAY off topic from the original entry. Check my personal library blog ( later today or tomorrow for that. For now, I just want to address this part:

        “and as has been pointed out if you have people applying for and accepting offers for positions that are low paying, few benefits and poor working conditions then you have validated those positions. the best bet is to not apply. if no one applies or the quality of applicants is not what the organization wants then the organization will change those things. just demanding higher pay, benefits and working conditions won’t do the trick”

        This is, as previously noted, not an adequate response to this problem in the current economic climate. Even if we assume that this blog is read by 100% of job seekers in Archives (which is laughable on its face), it is not realistic to tell a new archives grad with mountains of student loan debt and rent to pay to not take a job because it “demeans the profession”. If you need work, you need work– and all else being equal, if you’re dedicated to an Archives career you’re going to favor staying in the field vs. getting a higher-paid position elsewhere and letting your skills atrophy. (The very reasonable thinking behind this is that the MLIS is a sunk cost, and not getting a job in a field that requires it is writing said cost off.) That is, as has been noted, that person’s choice– but it is notably THEIR choice, not that of anyone on this blog.

        This blog must necessarily work on the supply side vs. the demand site of available positions if it is to have any impact at all on hiring practices. When jobs are plentiful and potential archivists have their pick of positions, sure! Don’t take that horrible position, it’ll go unfilled, and the institution’s expectations when they repost it will adjust accordingly. But in the current buyer’s market of Archives positions, institutions can, with very few exceptions, reasonably expect that SOMEONE will take their position for lack of better options, which leaves hiring culture change as the only realistic road to improvement until the market picks up (if it does at all).

        (In fairness, the market HAS gotten better even in the 5 years since I was actively on the job market– I follow various job lists and see many, many more postings for Archives jobs that I did when I was looking in 2007. But as evidenced by the persistence of these terrible postings, it has not improved ENOUGH– and the Zombie Lie about opening positions (“The Boomers will be retiring any minute now and there will be an archivist/librarian shortage”) is still largely in effect.)

      • Rebecca permalink*
        April 29, 2012 5:28 pm

        I agree with what Brad said above, but would add that even if archivists refused to take these terrible jobs, I don’t think that would solve the problem. If an archives posts a terrible entry-level archivist job and no one applies, the archives could respond by:

        * making the job part-time at a better hourly rate (but PT jobs have their own problems:
        * dropping the master’s degree requirement and/or reclassing it as paraprofessional (but professional-jobs-in-disguise also have problems:
        * not hiring anyone (which doesn’t help anyone get a job, and just leaves the archives with overworked staff or no staff at all)

        Would it help if archivists who are in a position to turn down terrible job offers did so? I think so. But many of us aren’t in that situation, and managers also have a role to play in fixing things.

    • Peterk permalink
      April 28, 2012 2:09 pm

      “d while I can’t find a similar historical list for ARMA, it’s similarly telling that only one current board member is from a non-corporate institution. ”

      one of the more recent past presidents for ARMA (and remember they serve as president elect, president and CoB thus a 3 yr term) was from a university.

      then you should submit an application to run for the Board

      the key in both situations is support from one’s employer. serving involves a significant commitment on the part of the individual including time away from work


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