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Entry-Level Archivist Position: UR DOIN IT RITE

October 25, 2013
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‘Twas a little while ago that I was embroiled in a Twitter-fight (which, of course, always end well) about the relentlessly negative tenor of this site and how said tenor alienated a lot of people. Which, OK, fair enough (though one could argue that the people or institutions being alienated deserve to be. But anyway). It is thus heartening to be able to post an example of a job posting for an entry-level position that basically gets it completely right. The position is at the University of Maryland-College Park, for an Athletics Archivist, PMP (what that is will become evident shortly):

Responds to all information and assistance requests from the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and athletics-related requests from individuals and organizations outside the University of Maryland community. Within a team environment, supports building, maintaining, preserving, and publicizing of the athletics-related holdings of the University Archives and promoting knowledge of the history of University of Maryland athletics.

The Post-Master’s Program (PMP), a hiring initiative of the University of Maryland Libraries, matches recent post-master’s professionals with short-term positions aligned with the Libraries’ strategic priorities. Both sides win. The post-graduate professional develops their skills in a professional workplace, and the University Libraries gain the expertise of recent graduates to respond to a rapidly changing environment. Post-Master’s Program professionals and the University Libraries each make a 2 year commitment to the position. Relocation costs are not available for Post-Master’s Program professionals.

QUALIFICATIONS/EXPERIENCE:

Must have thorough knowledge of archival theory and practice and familiarity with library and archival descriptive standards. Must be able to work effectively with others in a team setting. Demonstrated excellence in oral and written communication skills and in assisting researchers in a special collections setting. Must be able to manage a broad variety of tasks in response to varying time pressures with shifting priorities and changing constraints. Evidence of a strong service orientation.

Must have a minimum of six months experience working in an archival repository, including significant experience in responding to diverse and time-sensitive reference requests. Must have experience with archival materials relating to intercollegiate athletics.

EDUCATION:

Master’s degree in library science from a graduate program accredited by the American Library Association or subject expertise through the attainment of an advanced degree relevant to this position.

What we are essentially looking at is a post-doc (er, post-mast?) for archivists, which is something that has been discussed on this blog and elsewhere as a natural progression for entry-level archivists. The job ad is very forthright about the temporary nature of this position, which is not an ideal situation but which is also not necessarily a deal-breaker for any professional, especially one at the beginning of his/her career. Qualifications are pretty standard for a position of this type and with these duties (there are some additional preferred qualifications which ask for digital preservation and social media experience). Since salary isn’t listed I can’t comment on that aspect, but unless it is especially high or especially low it’s not really relevant to this analysis.Why, then, did I single this particular job ad out for praise? Primarily, this is a posting with a good attitude.

So many of the bad listings that have been singled out on this site are, actively or passively, exploitative of their applicants and the eventual selected candidate: they require the full suite of training and experience for a job that pays well below a livable wage for the area, if it is even a full-time position at all. Employers are able to get away with this because the job market is abysmal right now. There are WAY more graduates of archival programs than available positions, meaning that employers who take this tack can be assured that there will almost always be some takers for all but the most obviously insulting job-salary combinations. (We haven’t seen any minimum-wage archivist jobs—yet.) When the need to eat goes up against the need to have professional self-respect, the former usually wins, which is the entire reason these jobs exist. There is very little evidence that these employers are very concerned about the physical or professional well-being of whoever ends up taking their position.

In THIS position’s case, though, the employer’s respect for its short-term employee is written right in the title—certainly, the employee is expected to contribute to the needs of the institution, but the institution is also expected to contribute to the development of the employee. The position is specifically reserved for a recent graduate, and specifically calls out the value of having a recent graduate, which is even rarer. The employee is valued not just for his/her ability to fulfill the needs of the department, but for the skills recently learned over the course of archival training that he/she can bring to help the department as a whole operate better. This is a really underestimated benefit of having employees fresh out of grad school, in my opinion. (To take but one example, I am reasonably certain that for all the immersion in e-records that I’ve been doing over the last 3 years, graduates who have taken actual focused courses in it are going to have a lot of fresh perspectives on what we could be doing better.) Even the language of “The university will make a 2-year commitment to the position” says to me that UMD is really interested in making the experience a good one for its new hire.

But wait, there’s more: A lot of these temporary positions tend to hit extremes in terms of work experience, often either involving more work than the new archivist is ready to assume at this point in his/her career, or consigning the new archivist to the same kind of narrow work day-in and day-out, which can leave him or her unprepared for positions with broader duties. In this case, I worked for the UMD Archives as a wee archiveling, and I can say with some confidence that Athletics is a big thing at Maryland. Even as a student I did a lot of work with reference requests and building exhibits for athletics staff and other researchers, and this position gives the archivist control over all aspects of working with these records—donor relations, reference and outreach, processing, digitization, etc. So it’s a pretty good bet that the person who gets this position is going to be kept busy and will develop a lot of skills that will serve them well in their next stop.

But! Because of the nature of this program, my guess is also that this person will be working closely with the University Archivist and staff to help them with problems that may not have come up in library school and which are only really addressable by experience. A lot of institutions have that kind of safety net in place by virtue of having really supportive staff and management (UWM is, happily, an example of such a place), but it’s really nice to have it built into the position itself. (Plus, Anne Turkos, the University Archivist at Maryland-College Park, is extremely nice and very helpful. So there’s that.)

Overall, if I was a soon-to-be-archives graduate I would be very excited about this position, and wonder why more job ads for new graduates don’t look like this. (Really, I wonder that as a 6-year veteran, too.)

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