Post-SAA Howl

(Edited August 16, 2020 to include a transcript at the end of this post.)

(If you want to share today’s comic, please link to this post instead of copying the image–the context is very important. Thank you!)

Those of you who know me as an archives tech, rather than as a webcomicker, know that I am passionate about supporting archives students and new archivists. I started the original Crash Space for Archivists and listed my house. I support my local SAA student chapter. I CC-license my comics so that students (and others) have a large collection of free, archives-themed images to use in their papers and presentations. You could say that my interest in these issues, as an aspiring archivist,  is somewhat self-serving, but as someone with a full-time, non-grant-funded archives job, I am unaffected by many of the issues facing new members of our profession (and pretty damn lucky).

When I attended SAA this year, I was fortunate to meet lots of experienced archivists–many of whom were excited to meet me because I post drawings on the Internet. But you’ve probably read their papers and seen their conference presentations and subscribed to their blogs already.

I also met some great students and recent grads. You probably wouldn’t recognize most of their names. And these are the people I want to talk about, because I worry about them, archivists. It is amazing the things that people will tell you when you have no power to hire anyone, and now I’m angry. Really angry. It almost makes me want to…howl?

Enter a caption

I worry about these kids. And I worry about you, archivists, and your profession,  because I worry that these archivists will take their skills and ideas and find jobs outside the field instead of putting up with all this bullshit. And how can you truly preserve your collections in the long term if there is no one to replace you if you change jobs or retire or get crushed in your own compact shelving?

I know there are influential archivists out there who read this blog, as well as plenty of people new to the field. I want to read all your ideas for how to fix this, here, elsewhere on the Internet, or privately. (You can post anonymous comments here, but WordPress will show me your IP address on the back end–if that makes you nervous, don’t leave a comment.) I want to get back to writing the humorous comics you’ve all come to expect from DnD, but I can’t work on the funny stuff unless other people step up to take care of the serious stuff.


(Photo credits, top to bottom: National Library of Wales, George Eastman House, the Library of Virginia, the U.S. National Archives, JWA Commons.)


I saw the new archivists of my generation

destroyed by burnout,

starving desperate unemployed,

dragging themselves to internships

where they worked for nothing but the promise of “good work experience,”

idealistic scholars accumulating debt

for a degree that guaranteed nothing,

who delayed plans for houses,

and marriages,

and children,

citing the uncertainty of their chosen vocation,

who relied on the income

of partners they otherwise regarded

as their equals,

who vented to me

outside the hotel

before leaving

the conference

she used

her vacation time

to attend,

as the illusion

of equality

among colleagues


with the last

plenary session.


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85 Responses to “Post-SAA Howl”

  1. Craig Says:

    I didn’t even have vacation time to use to go. My current archives job is part-time and missing hours means money out of pocket. Via twitter I was able to sorta keep up with friends/colleagues attending sessions I would have liked to have been in on, but mostly I just have to hope they took good notes that I can get a chance to look at. It’s a bummer and it becomes a bit of a Catch-22… SAA10 would have helped me to network more (haven’t I enough already?) and learn some things that might help me get a full-time job which I need in order to manage to get to SAA (since, w/o full-time work, I have other pressing concerns. Like, How the hell do I pay for health insurance?)

    I’m not brand new to the profession, Got my Masters 2 years ago and have been working in archives jobs for about 5. And even for me finding a full-time job is proving pretty difficult. what to do?

    • Dee Dee Says:

      Yes, the lack of health insurance for unemployed and temp archivists is huge, and I really should have mentioned it in the post or comic. Thanks for sharing, and stay healthy!

  2. Young Archivist Says:

    Thanks for this. I think the idea that SAA supports young archivists is kind of preposterous. To keep myself from starting my own blog on the subject, I’ll limit myself to one example:

    In the case of conferences, I don’t think student research (talks or posters) should be segregated from professional research. As a non-research field, most professional archivists do not conduct any rigorous research. Meanwhile, many MLIS and PhD students are conducting valid, publishable research on the same level as that presented by those professionals who are engaged in research activities. While SAA may believe they are creating opportunities for students, I believe they have effectively ghettoized them instead, making it easy for professionals (afraid of “give me a job!” requests) to avoid them.

    That’s not my only impression of SAA10, which had a lot of high points. But it’s one that will stick with me.

    • Sheepy Says:

      As a student who has presented in both student and “regular” sessions at professional conferences, I have to disagree with you. You’re not wrong that the sessions become easy to avoid, but IMHO the benefits outweigh that. Especially as there’s nothing preventing students from submitting regular proposals.

      Conferences are highly competitive, and without student sessions, first year master’s students would be competing against full time research professors–and might never have a chance to go present while in school, which could in turn discourage them from presenting later on.

      Also, the student sessions are as easy to *seek out* as they are to avoid, and there *are* people out there looking to recruit new blood or find someone to mentor.

      • Young Archivist Says:

        Fair enough.

        It would be great if there was a middle ground between applying for a student session and proposing fully-staffed sessions, as I realize that it’s not easy for professionals proposing sessions to know of the student work that might be well-suited to their sessions.

        Another option might be roundtable and section meetings including more student presentations. I attended some roundtables with great presentations, and some with no presentations, and it seems like it would be a slightly less-red tape-heavy way of getting more young voices heard.

  3. Lisa Says:

    Great way to sum it all up. Perhaps a session featuring people like me who had to leave the profession to earn a reasonable amount of money would be handy – of course, given the way SAA session proposals work, we’ve likely missed the cutoff for 2015 at this point. I know I’m not alone in this by any means – if you have techie skills, the simple fact is that they will be better rewarded elsewhere, even if the profession sorely needs them. I miss seeing archivists and cool old things every day at work, but not worrying about paying my mortgage trumps that, alas.

  4. @meshedlibrarian Says:

    I’m presently looking into “opportunities” that come into my e-mail from various listservs so that I may address them appropriately. Here is one that I recently received:

    WSU Press: Journals and Library Digital Scholarship Internship
    20/hrs week
    September – December

    This internship is a collaboration between Wayne State University Press
    and the Wayne State University Library systems. As an intern with
    scholarly journals and the library’s institutional repository, interns
    learn about the interconnectivity between university presses and
    libraries and also about how to work with online scholarship.

    • Assist with WSU Library institutional repository maintenance
    • Track information through spreadsheets and presswide database
    • Prepare projects and images for copyediting, typesetting, and
    • Review sample edits from copyeditors
    • Review page proof
    • Upload and help maintain journals online
    • Attend department and press staff meetings, if schedule allows

    Here is a snippet I sent to my boss asking for our official stance on this posting (the Reuther Library is outside the library system at WSU):

    “Am I wrong to assume that this sort of practice goes against a
    fundamental pillar of Reuther/Wayne culture? I think very strongly that
    this sort of practice ought to be shut down immediately. In my eyes this
    exemplifies unfair labor practice. Please advise.”

    As an archivist and sometimes activist, I think it is up to information professionals everywhere to look out for those coming into our chosen profession. For those who have a fair appreciation for what the above “internship” entails in terms of work, it is plain that this painfully affects archivists who are presently unaffiliated, unemployed or underemployed. We must advocate for ending practices such as this, which are tantamount to unpaid professional jobs. Please consider doing your part in combating other examples such as this anytime they come across your media net.

    -P.S. Neirink

  5. Laura Says:

    Well said, Rebecca. One of my friends at SAA commented on the surprising number of young archivists in attendance compared to the last few years. But will they be able to afford to continue attending? Or will they even want to? It’s something for all of us to consider.

  6. Jess Says:

    Thank you for this post. I have been extremely lucky in the last year: after graduating and a six month period of applying to anything under the sun, I was able to find a good position that pays for professional development. But I know that is not the case with many of my colleagues.

    I also have to say that after attending the Business Meeting I was appalled at the fact that not only were “Voting Members” segregated from “Non-Members,” but we were then put into one spot so as to make a quorum (aka. the 100 people needed to have the meeting and vote on things). And well, I have to say that 100 people should not be able to vote on things that affect the whole. I am not a spokesperson for a contingency of Archivists say for a region or a round table group. And in the current state, only those who have the money or support to go to the Annual Conference can vote on issues that affect the whole group. This is a great inequality in my opinion.

    In the age of internet voting, this arcane way of voting makes little sense. While I understand that setting up digital voting takes time and effort, it seems that those who do not have the good fortune to be able to go to SAA should have a say in the organization.

    • FirstSAA Says:

      The business meeting was really an eye opener. I’m glad it was pointed out that the voting quorum only represented 1% of the SAA membership. One could argue that those interested in voting need to merely show up and be counted. Sadly it’s not like voting in your local mayoral election where it’s free to vote and in your own neighborhood.

      BUT lower paid archivists who can’t afford to attend SAA, or all the way to the day of the membership meeting are clearly excluded and it appeared to me that the vast majority in that room didn’t care about how the actions of a tiny minority affect all archivists.

      • Marcella Says:

        Coming very late to the party, I’d point out that while I attended SAA this year, I couldn’t make it to the business meeting because I had a flight to catch. Sure, I could have waited till Sunday to fly out, but I really wanted that day to recuperate.

        It’s been pointed out elsewhere–Kate Theimer has more than once argued this–that, yes, internet voting needs to be used more instead of relying on the in-person business meeting.

  7. michelle Says:

    Personally, I’ve made it through the post MLS unemployment/under employment/not paid enough to eat phase, and am now in a much better place than many of my cohort. But I’m still seriously considering leaving the profession due simply to the rampant ageism–and I’m 35 years old.

    • Sheepy Says:

      Don’t let them chase you out! Help us show the curmudgeons in the profession that those of us under (50? 60?) have things to offer.

    • FirstSAA Says:

      As a young archivist and a first time SAA attendee I was nervous about trying to connect with older archivists. I wanted to mingle and network with both people my age (late 20s) and older archivists. I actually had a pretty positive experience with the experienced (25+ years) archivists I met. But maybe I was just lucky to connect with the right people.

    • olderandnot Says:

      Hey michelle et al–I’m a “curmudgeon” I suppose being over 50, but I’m new to the field. second career.
      I wish all would have a voice–all archives desperately need to converge the old and new worlds to stay present and accounted for in culture at large and to hang on to cultural heritage. is there an organizational avenue for intergenerational or tech/luddite communication?

  8. Elizabeth Keathley Says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you!

  9. Jacquelyn Says:

    Thanks for posting this. Many of my informal conversations at SAA revolved around the same topic but few people seem to be willing to discuss it openly. I’ve seen several bright young archivists suffer over the past few years. I’ve seen the majority of my former student employees struggle to find professional positions as they scrape by in glorified student jobs, and many ultimately leave the field or rely on their partners to make ends meet. And I’ve seen others who were fortunate enough to land good jobs (3-5 years ago before the economy took a nosedive) leave the field because salaries are lacking and there’s little growth potential.

    After years of doing all the things I was told I should be doing (moving cross-country for a permanent position in a supportive organization, attending conferences and networking, and being highly involved in professional organizations), I recently left the profession because my skills were more valued in an allied field, and I didn’t see many opportunities coming down the pipeline.

    I realize that we’re in the midst of a recession and that we should be glad that so many of us still have jobs at all. But why are we not rallying behind those in our ranks who are severely under-employed and/or taking out loans to go to archival programs that continue to churn out students even though employment opportunities are abysmal? And, except for the lucky few, the best outcome will likely result in a series of project positions or a low-moderate paying job with little growth potential? This is a sad state of affairs, and I’m happy to finally see it discussed outside of the back corners of SAA.

    On a positive note, I see hope for the health of the profession as evidenced by the large number of people who are willing absorb the cost of conference attendance despite limited means. This is true, in my experience, of both new archivists and many others who’ve been paying their way to SAA for years despite modest salaries and little to no organizational support. Now how can we channel that passion into support of each other and of the profession?

  10. Scott Says:

    Thanks for this post, and for opening this important conversation. I’m personally in a pretty good position now, but am grant funded and know that I better save money with the view of living off of savings if I don’t get picked up for another project.

    I’ve had plenty of unpaid positions while in school and before I started. I don’t know that I’ve ever been mislead about my options, though. When you write:

    “It is amazing the things that people will tell you when you have no power to hire anyone… ”

    I wonder if you can give some examples (without using names, of course). I think a lot of people who post unpaid positions do so because there is no funding option, and not to exploit people.

  11. Diana Says:

    I’m an archivist with over 20 years experience and I’m working 2 part-time archival jobs. Mostly it’s a function of not being able to leave the area to look for a full-time position. So in the meantime, I’m on my husband’s health insurance and getting at least something dumped into a 401(k) by one employer. I stay because I love the work and the people, and am lucky to have a partner with health insurance.

  12. Tanya Says:

    Thanks for this post, I think it is important for us to realize we are all in this together and the more we can help each other, the better. I am in the position where I can hire, but the one position they were allowing me to add, was taken away with budget cuts last year. I want to hire folks, especially young, dynamic, skilled archivists! The key is money and finding it.

    I am hoping one answer might be the passing of PAHR (Preserving the Historical Record) by Congress:

    If authorized, the PAHR Act would create a formula-based competitive grant program that would fund archives programs in every state and at every level. This would bring much-needed funding into archives.

    Another option is to also consider attending a regional conference–it is not at the national level at SAA, but does offer connecting, networking and education at a more affordable price, and it might help folks connect with potential jobs.

    And btw, that issue of such a small number of SAA members voting on issues of importance to the entire organization has been noted, and SAA Council is working on changing the rules in the next year to allow online voting for constitutional changes and dues increases.

  13. terryx Says:

    I’m one of those older, curmudgeonly, 25+ year archivists, but this subject is still close to my heart. It was discussed in some detail at both SAA’s Diversity and Membership Committee meetings. I’d really like to thank Rebecca for forwarding this conversation in her (un)usually insightful way. We need to keep this conversation alive *and* find ways to make real change in our professional world.

  14. stackedfivehigh Says:

    For me, it’s the fact that I can’t even really get started for another couple years until I’m out of undergrad. No one really wants to talk to me yet. I’m volunteering at a museum to get experience; I can’t even get an internship with most organizations, and as an adult with a family I can only jump through so many hoops.

    I figure I’m going to end up in records management or a similar path that has more potential for the corporate world and can be transferred between organizations more than other fields because I need to know I’ll be able to find a job (or at least to increase the likelihood).

    Thanks for bringing attention to this. Can I get 10,000 strong for undergrad archival studies?

  15. Scott2 Says:

    Good to hear discussion of this but I have yet to hear anyone touch on what the real problem is- universities have to stop expanding and/or creating archival studies programs.

    In English Canada, since I finished less than ten years ago, two new archives-specific streams have emerged at library schools (Dalhousie, McGill,) and two of three exisitng programs (UBC and U of Toronto) have exponentially expanded the amount of students entering each year. Is it any surprise then that jobs are harder to find than when I graduated?

    So what does SAA need to do?

    It needs to agressively start certifying US archival studies program and not be afraid to reject schools that don’t meet its criteria. This will be unfortunate for some who paid alot of money to attend a school that doesn’t make the grade but it will slow down the rampant unemployment of new grads.

    • Brad Houston Says:

      This is, I think, an unfortunate but necessary step, and one that could equally be applied to the Library School world as a whole. At the risk of sounding like the Annoyed Librarian, the “librarian shortage” that library schools/iSchools/whatever play up every year is pretty clearly a mythical thing, and in the even-more-specialized Archives field even more so. I consider myself EXTREMELY lucky to have landed a permanent archives position straight out of grad school, as I know many– if not most– young archivists quickly find themselves in the contract position morass.

      I attribute part of my good fortune to my history degree and my willingness to take records management jobs, but I’m not going to pretend that there’s not a fair bit of luck involved as well– there are so many young and hungry archivists out there that for me to believe that I was the only one qualified for my position would be an unbelievably naive belief. I see MORE archives jobs being posted on various sites than there were even a year ago, but the demand still severely outstrips the supply.

      And so the library schools’ response to this problem is to admit MORE archives students? Um, I think someone needs to re-read their Adam Smith, or at least their David Ricardo.

      Regarding accreditation for Archives programs, as far as I can tell it’s been discussed for years but nobody can decide what criteria they want to use or if SAA has sufficient professional clout to unilaterally accredit. I’d love to see it happen but I am skeptical.

    • Rachel Says:

      I also believe the existing schools need to lower their enrollments. We don’t have enough job opportunities to support hundreds of new archivists every year in the United States and Canada. I spoke with an archival educator at SAA about this issue, and she said that the archives program at her institution was seen to not be “pulling their weight” if they didn’t keep accepting more and more students.

    • Eliza Says:

      I have often wondered why so many library and archives students are admitted each year when there is such a stark mismatch between graduates and number of available positions. The reason is pretty clear: Master’s degree students tend to pay full tuition. So, we make money for the Schools of Information while our swelling numbers provide these schools’ viability within the competitive academic funding politics taking place at all universities these days. This is a good short term solution perhaps, but in the long term will most likely prove unhelpful to academic programs and the archives profession alike.

  16. DK Says:

    I agree with all of these comments about trying to help younger archivists, aspiring archivists, AND experienced archivists to find full-time work that pays an appropriate salary. It strikes me too, though, that by airing our views and complaints in this forum, we are preaching to the choir. Until archivist skills are valued by society as a whole, archives everywhere will be underfunded and understaffed, sometimes severely so.

    So, then, what do we need to do to improve the public perception and value of the work that we do?

  17. Qixote Says:

    Much of the problem is supply and demand caused by too many archival education programs and delays in retirements. This is not going to be solved quickly. That said, I would focus a solution on what kind of experience a student coming out of a program should have. For many reasons, internships are not the answer. I would like to see library and archival education programs integrated into their university’s library system such that the MLS students have graduate assistantships, if not actual full time jobs, in an actual library through their period of study.

    When I talk to an undergraduate wanting to go into libraries, I recommend that they figure out where they want to go to grad school; apply for jobs at that school’s library; and then work their way through school. While this may take an extra year or two, they will come out of the process with real work experience, strong references, few if any student loans, and the degree they wanted. Couldn’t this process be institutionalized by an education program working closely with their own university library?

    • FirstSAA Says:

      I like the idea of working one’s way through school. Too often I hear our interns and student workers say they want to rush through a 2 year program in just 18 months and I have to ask them, “why?!”

      I think many graduate programs, whether it’s libraries or humanities have the problem that many students decide to go to grad school just because they want to go to grad school. They may like the subject but have no clue what jobs in that field entail. I know many of my friends unfortunately did this.

    • Margaret Says:

      While I think the idea of working through library school is great, I represent someone who took that path and has been stuck in the same job since graduating. I am in a better position than most, but I am still frustrated with the lack of opportunity for young archivists. I may have deluded myself into thinking that 5 years of solid archives experience, with 2 internships on top of that, paired with an MLIS w/ archives concentration, would facilitate the job hunt, but it hasn’t. I do think Rebecca has hit upon a serious problem of there not being room in the profession for new up-and-comers who are going to grow frustrated with the field before they have a chance to even get their feet wet.

    • Lauren Says:

      I think the “work through school” method is good but that’s assuming you can GET a job while in school. I just finished my MLIS with an Archival Admin. certificate and I’ve been applying to jobs since February under the “start applying 6 months before you graduate” model. The job I still have and had during my schooling is a part-time circulation clerk job at a local public library. I applied to my school’s Graduate Student Assistanceship program three times and was rejected all three. The last time I was rejected was because I was graduating within the year and wouldn’t be around long enough. I’ve done volunteer work at archives in my area and I just completed my practicum. I’m currently applying to any kind of job I can.

      I think the message students are given, that a million old librarians will retire and others will get their jobs, is the reason why myself and my fellow graduates can’t find jobs. A friend posted a poll through Twitter asking why people who have reference jobs don’t apply for the directorship and manager jobs that are available. The response she got was a lot of “why would I apply to that, I don’t want that kind of responsibility, I’m comfortable where I am” comments. This is incredibly disheartening for a new graduate to hear. I think the archives and library faculties need to be more honest with their incoming students and doing more to help them find the experience they will need to succeed upon graduation.

      I’d love to participate in a howl-up online or at least have access to the transcripts of what happens at the meeting.

  18. Susan Says:

    This is a great post. As we know, working in archives is the greatest job in the world, but sometimes I wonder if it warrants what it often requires. Archivists do not generally receive a lot of money, power or prestige for their labors. They are working in service of the historical record and getting to see some really cool stuff in the process. Our profession is asking people to make sacrifices of time, money, and to jump through networking hoops. I think it undermines the whole profession. Bravo to Rebecca for writing about it and for everyone who is commenting and taking issue.

  19. Acid Fraught Archivist Says:

    As I ask my staff to take professional involvement seriously as part of developing their own professional profile, I am also aware that I ask them to do in the wake of a very challenging and less-than-ideal economy.

    I work at a very large institution in a major metropolitan area. One that you would think professional development would be well funded. Well, it’s funded.

    I take my responsibility to mentor and encourage the next generation of professionals very seriously. And the lack of monetary support that my institution gives to project archivists (0%), students (0%), and full time permanent staff (never 100%) is an embarrassment. As a result many of my staff never attend SAA because of the costs associated–particularly lodging, meals, and travel. These are all excellent archivists who have skills to share and can benefit enormously from attendance. And, let’s face it, the cost of living in a major metropolitan city does not allow them much in the way if disposable income.

    As one poster noted, regional conferences are an alternative and tend to be cheaper, local organizations also offer an alternative. But regional conferences are–depending on where you go–less than ideal as it’s usually the same thing every year (and they can, let’s face it, suck), and local organizations can become stagnant as it’s usually the same pool of people bitching about the same institutions. You really do need to attend the national conferences regularly to get a broad exposure to ideas and people.

    As a manager I do understand that the bottom line is money and it’s not always there. But the extent to which money is often wasted on receptions, pet projects, and one-off events makes me crazy. In one case, one professional and well respected program is never funded because the person in charge of fund allocation doesn’t like it. (This is absolutely true!)

    When we take the long view, better archivists are better public relations for your institution. People want to work for you and want to learn from you. When those opportunities are taken away, so too is one of your very real mechanisms of recruitment, retention, and reputation.

  20. Dana Says:

    Great post Rebecca. I just wanted to join in your howl of outrage, and to note to some of the commentators that some of us, even some of us who are lucky to have grant-funded positions, are already talking about this. Even at SAA.

    I put together a panel last year for SAA AGM 2009 on this exact topic- and called it Professional Sustainability. My introductory data analysis won’t make you feel better but it might make you angry- for example there are too many grads competing for far too few jobs and many archives schools have become shameless degree mills; pay scales that are on average lower than notoriously underpaid teachers; a painful lack of diversity in the field because it costs $65K for a degree that will pay you $38K when you get out; and the list goes on. My panelists included a brand new grad with great internship experience but no job; myself, an enthusiastic 3-5 year newbie who can’t find a permanent job and is tired of moving very 2-3 years; a seasoned pro who has reached the ceiling in her 40s and will have to leave the field and become a library administrator to move up; and a very contented

  21. Dana Says:

    (oops… sloppy hands there… cut off too soon)

    …a very contented public librarian who was a used and abused archivist who worked projects all over the Bay Area, but recently left the profession for better horizons kicking homeless out of the art books collection in her local library, with better pay and a permanent job to boot.

    Want to read more of the session? Look for session 106, or my slides are here: Direct link:

    Bullshit? You’ve got that right. This job is certainly worth doing, but not under these ridiculous conditions. Any profession operating under all those constraints is bound to either kill itself in due time or restrict itself to attracting only elite trust-funders who can afford not to work for their daily bread. By the way, where I work, all the professional processing archivists are being replaced by volunteers.

    I’m co-chair of the SAA Issues and Advocacy. I would like to call out to these folks and find out how we can help you, or what we can do to solve this problem. I have a few ideas- like securing real funding for education and lowering the cost and the admission numbers, like integrating advocacy into the profession like a sea change so people not only know what we do they respect and pay us more than pin money– but my ideas are not enough, and there are many voices who want to deny that this is happening. For one, I’ve run across archives educators who say that students simply don’t apply broadly enough. Nonsense. I would estimate there are at least 10 grads for every job. And what about all the early to mid career professionals out of work? Do you blame them for not wanting to move all the time? When you earn your archives degree, do you also turn in your license to have a family and personal life and ties to your geographic area? Some would argue yes.

    Finally, when an employer in a big metropolis says they want to hire you to start a new archives program in which you’ll be processing, doing outreach, public services, and writing grants, and they can pay you say $38,000 a year, realize that they’re also saying they expect you to live with roommates, not be able to save for retirement, and skip happy hour because you can’t afford to drown your sorrows. You might as well have signed up to work in the non-profit sector, where burnout in 3-5 years is typical. I think my library school brochure, with its promises of retiring baby boomers, stable jobs, and decent pay, missed a few things.

    Please continue to be outraged. Nothing changes with complacency. And let’s use the I&A Roundtable, an official SAA group, to change at least one of these problems for the better.

    • FirstSAA Says:

      My experience with archival and library science educators has been that they are out of touch with how the job market really is. I’ve heard library school/ischool professors tell their grad students there are tons of jobs out there and it makes me cringe because they are just perpetuating what all the brochures say. Unless you’ve searched in the last few years or served on a hiring committee, I’m not sure as a struggling new archivist working a temporary grant job, I can believe you.

      Maybe archival and library science programs need to aggressively survey and study their recent alumni to find out how long it took to find a job, what type of jobs people are getting and follow up in 5 years to see if they are still in the field. I suspect some are thinking about this. But it might take years for the results to influence admissions numbers and recruitment. Sadly academia is not about educating people anymore, it’s about making money off of particular programs.

    • Megan Says:

      Thanks for posting these slides (and for all the hard work behind them). Sing along if you know the words: I couldn’t afford to go to the conference that year, so I’m very interested in seeing past presentations. Your point, “When you earn your archives degree, do you also turn in your license to have a family and personal life and ties to your geographic area?” especially resonates with me, as my family is very far away and getting to look at “cool stuff” doesn’t always make up for missing them.

  22. Wannabe Political Archivist Says:

    Thank you for your post: it has spoken volumes to me. Currently I am two weeks from finishing my Masters at a university in the UK. I have been applying for jobs but am aware that I am competing with last year’s graduates from my Masters course. Through the grapevine I have heard not many of them have got jobs.

    As discussed above, I believe some courses are accepting too many applicants and some with very little archival experience. I am fortunate to have been accepted onto a well regarded traineeship with an archive before my Masters. That lasted a year and was such a great learning experience. Prior to that I had been a volunteer in another archive for two years. Some of my classmates have had only two weeks work experience in archives before joining the course.

    Although it is important to be exposed to theory (which can’t always happen in a busy archive!), balancing practical work experience with coursework would be far better in our profession. I believe an apprenticeship scheme (not unlike ones given to plumbers and joiners in the UK) would be more beneficial.

  23. jordon Says:

    Good post as always.

    Regarding the glut of archives students and archival studies programs, I don’t see this as a problem per se, given that I believe Archives is the most important information science field and one of the most important professions in our society, up there with medicine and teaching. That is, if you define Archives as the preservation of memory–which we all should, and should be terrified at the prospect of a world in which this service is not valued.

    So I think related information science fields–knowledge management, cataloging, scholarly communication–can benefit from someone from an archives background, since provenance, appraisal, rights management, and contextual documentation are things we deal with on a daily basis. But two things need to happen: archival educators need to teach students these skills and get them to think expansively about the role archival science plays in culture, and, crucially, you need employers creative enough to hire these young turks.

  24. jordon Says:

    I think I just used the term archival science. My apologies.

  25. James Cassedy Says:

    Well thought out, Nicely done. I do have a couple of thoughts about previous postings by previous commentators. Both involve the creation of positions and supply/demand.

    I’m all for the PAHR thing. But is this the only thing SAA is advocating? Is Government funding the only solution to long term archival employment challenges?

    And is too much supply the only problem? Is SAA somehow establishing an elitist “guild,” which decides which programs should exist and which should not, in order to limit supply, a real solution?

    I think we really need to create a demand for archivists- and I am not convinced that we archivists (perhaps organized by SAA) have done enough to advocate for archivists in the real, dare I say it, corporate/business world.

    Has any group in SAA taken a corporate directory, composed a thoughtful letter detailing the importance of archivists to the corporate bottom line, and advocated the hiring of archivists? And done so again, and again, and again- because that’s what it’s going to take.

    And all them smart folks we have in the archives world with electronic skills- the actual gathering of information and the processing of the information to advocate for archives would be a piece of cake- sort of.

    We live in a multicultural, multi-institutional, big ol’ mosaic beyond that taken in by Archivists and SAA. We’re gonna have to deal with the world as it is, not the world we want to be.

  26. Renee Says:

    How about empowering all of our un- and under-employed colleagues to go for different kinds of opportunities? Jordon makes a great point that we need to do a better job of letting *non-academic* institutions know that we have a skill set that desperately need. We need to stop focusing on academic institutions and look at the myriad collecting organiztions out there who really need us – such as business/corporate, smaller and independent cultural orgs and public libraries. What about something like a way to team up archivists with orgs who need them and then helping them to apply for Basic Processing Grants to get them in the door? I know it’s not perfect, but it is an idea. We need more ideas for action, we need to get creative. This is great Rebecca (Badass!) and an important conversation.

  27. Jacquelyn Says:

    I think we need some really good metrics to get a better picture of what’s really going on. There’s A*Census but that data is already old and isn’t focused on new archivists. Some graduate schools track this data but to my knowledge this data is often superficial—if you have a job, they count you as gainfully employed even if you are out of the field or in the same paraprofessional job you had before graduating. And I vaguely recall a research forum poster about this topic a couple years ago. We have all these anecdotal stories and a scattering of data, but I think we need some cold hard numbers if we’re going to be able to advocate for ourselves and find solutions. Would anybody like to join me in a mini-research project to collect this data?

    • Dee Dee Says:

      Yes, I’m so in! Will email you from my work account.

    • Scott Says:

      I also would be very interested in helping find real numbers so we can help ourselves. I would love to help in any way possible. Perhaps we can start a group somewhere to brainstorm how to do this? Perhaps a Google group or another blog — some space to think out these issues?

    • AnonymousCoward Says:

      Count me in as well! As a paraprofessional just starting library school, this is a research issue that is near and dear to my heart (and one that I actually wrote on in my very first library school course). In addition to the A*Census, there is an even more outdated American Archivist article from 2000 that directly addresses recent archival graduates (both MLIS and history graduates). See: Elizabeth Yakel, “The Future of the Past: A Survey of Graduates of Master’s-Level Archival Education Programs in the United States,” American Archivist 63, no. 2 (2000): 301-321. Also, I found Arlene Schmuland’s blog from earlier this year – “That Elusive Archives Job” ( – particularly informative.

      I’ve been putting off commenting for a while. First, I have more to say than I can even begin to wrap my head around here; second, I’m a little (healthily?) paranoid about expressing my opinions in any sort of open forum on the Web. That said, if this beautiful (and all too true, from my p.o.v.) comic generates some sort of large-scale research endeavor, then I would love to sign-on and offer my support!

      My first “life plan” was to become a history professor – probably sounds familiar to many of you. I entered a doctoral program in history, did that for a while, and in a matter of years got incredibly jaded about the future of that profession and questioned my commitment to the field (obviously, this is a much longer story, but I’ll just cut myself off here, heh). Long story short, I jumped ship from my history program, treaded water for a while, and finally came ashore – landing my current paraprofessional position.

      I write all this as a preface to saying that, in my honest opinion, “things” are done quite differently over here in archives-land. I’m going to chant my mantra here – I know I’ve found my calling, I’m passionate about what I do, I love my work, I love my job – but, boy is it a struggle sometimes! And, this is coming from someone who has lived the quote-unquote “starving history graduate student” lifestyle before. Library school is the first I’ve ever had to pay tuition (I’ve always received academic scholarships/fellowships before), it is the first time I have been severely disappointed with the quality of my instructors (thankfully, not an archives course), and – keep in mind I’m just starting out – I’ve not had classes this easy since high school — really I’m not exaggerating…

      Similarly, working as a paraprofessional is the first time I’ve ever been treated as such an intellectual lesser-being, been actively made to feel like a second-class citizen, and has, from time to time, been pretty downright soul-crushing. Thankfully, I have some wonderful mentors here and these behaviors don’t extend to all my professional colleagues, but sometimes, oh my! Let me repeat again: I LOVE MY JOB, I LOVE MY WORK, I LOVE THIS FIELD (I just think we need to make it better).

      I’ve never really let future hiring prospects scare me (I’m stupid, naïve, clueless, I know…), but given that I’m jumping ship from the proverbial worst-case-scenario of finding full-time tenure track employment in a humanities field to the archives, I actually am MORE hopeful for my future than ever before (but talk to me in a few years…). My big problem is the professional/paraprofessional divide as I’ve seen it played out both in literature and in practice. To use Rebecca’s phrase, “I worry about these kids!” (and, unfortunately, I’m one of them).

      Perhaps because I’m a failed academic I tend to feel that the best way to approach a problem such as this is through academic rigor, analytical study, published results, and a cross-country conference paper tour. Rather than whine, I like to research. When I’m angry, I get my Zotero on and write. So, I guess I’m saying, let’s work together to improve the situation for future archivists! (Wow, that was nauseatingly chipper…) Ok, off soap box.

      P.S. – Though I’ve posted anonymously, I’ll follow up with Rebecca and “reveal my true identity” if/when needed. Thanks!

  28. MK Says:

    Great post, DeeDee. I absolutely agree that more needs to be done.

    Some of this sounds straightforward. Take the easiest options – on an individual level, more established and veteran archivists could mentor people and make charitable contributions to SAA and other groups to help fund some awards and grants. (Heck, fellow older professionals, if you can go out and buy that new gizmo for your home when you feel like it, you certainly can contribute to SAA and help your successors by “paying it forward.” You got where you did because others helped you; turn around and help others, too.) Especially the awards for funding travel/training.

    We all can make non-monetary contributions, too, by getting more involved in advocacy, helping to promote archives, etc. Speaking of advocacy, I agree with James Cassedy that more needs to be done to persuade corporations, businesses, and other organizations of the value of archives. Thing is, there are a competing forces for such entities, some of which push the other way. I mean, if you look at some records managers’ forums, depending on the topic, you may see more talk about the risk of keeping records beyond a bare minimum retention time than about the benefits of longterm retention. Because of fear of discovery in litigation, corporate lawyers often argue for reducing risk by keeping as little as possible for as short a time as possible. So you have to do some targeted selling. Put the greatest emphasis on reaching out to entities for which preservation of institutional memory is more likely to have an upside than a downside. It’s going to be harder to reach the ones who face the greatest risk of being sued by consumers or who are gun shy because of past litigation.

    It’s not just that the economic situation is so bad. It’s that the public is so diverse, ranging from scholars and genealogists who absolutely depend on records, to people who have a vague notion of how records can be used and are open to learning more, to people (some stirred up by demagogues) who are anti-intellectual or suspicious of experts and knowledge. That makes it harder to sell the need to fund private and public sector heritage organizations and knowledge repositories than it was when times were better and things less unsettled. I’m disappointed that historians, especially big name ones who write bestsellers, don’t seem more interested in working with and advocating for archivists than they do. They could spend a lot more non-monetary capital on helping us educate the public than they do now.

  29. Jenny Says:

    To Dee Dee and the other posters: Did you all know how abysmal the hiring situation was before you entered your archival studies programs? Or, were you assured that there was a need for you and your degree? This is a frequent topic of discussion with fellow alumni. We graduated before the economy tanked and things were looking good. I am wondering about current and very recent grads.

    • Jacquelyn Says:

      I had been working in the field as a paraprofessional before I entered my program (in 2004) and my impression from talking to other young archivists at the time was that it was a mixed bag but that after a year or two in, most people had a good permanent job. The job market was still fine when I left my program in 2006 but I still knew plenty of people who had difficulty landing permanent full-time gigs. The situation seems to have gotten steadily worse since then. As I said before, I consider myself to be one of the very lucky ones, but I saw a lot of unlucky ones all around me before and after the economic meltdown.

    • Rachael Says:

      I was assured that there was a TON of need for archivists. If you go to the website, you’ll see that while it is listed as competitive, they talk about an increasing demand as older workers retire – as I think another person mentioned. I’ve had many people in career advising capacities also assure me that there is an increasing demand for Library Science degrees, but they do tend to be a little perplexed when I try to pin them down on what area, exactly, of library science.

      • MK Says:

        The predicted boom in government jobs might be affected by a couple of things. Some people aren’t retiring as early as they anticipated, especially if some of their assets depreciated in recent years or they still have kids in college, etc. And then there is the situation with people who do retire but don’t have their positions filled the way they used to be. I don’t know about the Bureau of Labor Statistics per se, but something to keep in mind about government is the fact that during the Bush administration there was a big push to “outsource” (contract out) a lot of jobs that previously had been permanent civil service. Some records type jobs that used to be done by permanent full time federal staff at non-archives agencies were switched over to contractors. (I know several retired NARA folks who became contractors after retiring.)

        Contractors don’t get federal benefits and who don’t have the job security. Contracts run for a set time and can be awarded to another company when they expire. Feds, once they get past their probationary period, which can run 1 or 2 years, do ok unless they get caught in a Reduction in Force (not frequent) or turn out to be poor performers.

        So the issue isn’t just that not everyone is retiring when eligible, some who have retired haven’t been replaced. That really varies from agency to agency. The Department of Defense always has used a lot of contract staff, including contract historians and records support staff. Other agencies started using more contractors during the Bush years. Its a way to get into federal assignments, but unless you can jump into civil service vacancies, it doesn’t have the security and permanence that civil service jobs once did.

      • MK Says:

        Hope my ramblings above were clear (might not have been). I meant there are federal employees leaving positions, some through retirement, they’re just not always being replaced with other federal employees. If there were library schools that were touting potential federal openings, they probably should have looked a little more closely at how things were playing out with government jobs during the last decade. During downsizing, sometimes agencies fill 1 vacancy for every 2 that occur. Sometimes, depending on the job, they turn to contractors to carry out certain functions, since they don’t have to factor in the benefits they pay permanent staff. Some of the approaches used during the last administrtion have been looked at recently. But staffing ceilings remain an issue for many federal agencies.

    • AnonymousCoward Says:

      Yup, both my text books and my LIS instructors have repeatedly assured me that we are in a dynamic and growing field and more archivists will be needed in the coming decade and blah, blah, blah. I had the unique experience of serving as the lone paraprofessional representative on a search committee for some open positions in my institution in the same month that I was starting library school. I already knew what I was getting into before I started school, but seeing the volume of applications we received was mind-boggling. Having to spend my days reviewing giant stacks of applications and then come home to read on my distance ed. discussion boards about “rapid job growth” was kind of a joke. I’m sure my classmates got pretty sick of my being Debbie Downer, but I just kept repeatedly posting comments along the lines of “No, no, no— this will not be easy! Start being proactive now! Read this blog! Sign up for this listserv!” Gotta say, that was not the best way to start out library school – feeling as if I was the only one in the class (instructor included) that had a clue. I should note that this was an LIS core course (not archives), so I dunno whether the story would have been different in that forum, but still… you shouldn’t have to wait until you a few semesters in and starting your concentration before you are forced to face the facts.

      All that said, I’m really not so doom and gloom about it (of course I’m still a bit away from job searching so check with me later…). I just think it is a massive disservice not to be warning folks that they REALLY need to be proactive and be their own best advocates — and even then they need to hope for a modicum of good luck.

      Being realistic about the current state of the profession is an absolute necessity and should be a major topic for discussion in all programs, many of which are pumping out new archivists at a lightening pace. At risk of sounding like a broken record, on day 1 in a history PhD program (actually, at my fellowship interview before I was even admitted) I was informed about the state of the field and told of the uphill battle I would face.

      This gets to another “concern” I have. I can’t help but feel that, in addition to the ongoing commentary that archival educators are “out of touch” with the state of affairs for practitioners (not gonna touch that one with a ten foot pole), that a lot of the trouble here stems from the fact that – like it or not – institutions with LIS schools treat them like the income factories that they are and expect revenue from them that they never would expect from “academic” graduate programs (well, at least not in the humanities). Admit more students, charge ridiculous tuition, offer little-to-no merit-based scholarships, rinse, repeat, and move on. And, this isn’t even working! How many library schools have been shuttered in the past decades?

      It just isn’t sustainable to keep this up. Quantity of graduates over quality will only work for so long. I dunno how we can increase respect for our archival education programs, but – at the risk of sounding like an intellectual elitist – here are some ideas:

      1. Certainly the courses should be more strenuous – at least on par with those in graduate programs for other academic disciplines, which, in my pov they are FAR from being currently. Sorry for being crass, but I shouldn’t be able to pump out a crap research paper in three hours and receive a response from the instructor saying (and I’m directly copying and pasting here, grammar oddities and all): “Wow! I think you’ve done the final paper already. Wonderful. A bit technical. I had to read your paper many times to get clear ideas :) Why don’t you submit this to a conference or a journal with refinement?”

      2. The culture of the field should be more inclusive to students AND EXPECT MORE FROM THEM! I can’t believe how many times at SAA established professionals, upon hearing that I just started library school a couple months ago, said to me: “Wow, it was really ambitious of you to attend! I hope you aren’t feeling intimidated… this can be overwhelming!” My response (in my head of course): “Umm, no? Aren’t I supposed to be a GRADUATE student and a budding professional? Shouldn’t this be expected of me (it certainly was in history…)” Of course, I lucked out and SAA was a couple hours away, I had friends to crash with, and so on (or else I wouldn’t have been there), but still…

      3. Encourage promising individuals to enter the field from the start and get them to choose the field (over other options) by enticing them with the same treatment they would receive from graduate programs in other fields. At the risk, again, of sounding like a pompous jerk, I went into a PhD program in history because they wanted me, offered me a decent stipend, and promised to parade me around to conferences. I had thoughts about going to library school, but the vibe was much different… basically, you pay us, you jump through the hoop, we’ll give you a piece of paper when you are through. I know, I know, I know, this is a gross over-generalization, but as a college senior looking out to the world for guidance, this was the emotional response I got. No wonder I entered a doctoral program… they actually seemed to want me. So, I know it sounds silly to suggest that we should entice more folks to enter the field given that we are talking about a dearth of jobs and a glut of graduates, but, if we want university administrators to take our LIS and archives programs more seriously, it is probably necessary. We are asking them to go along with a massive paradigm shift – to transition from viewing LIS schools as “practical” programs that are a source of income (ummm… the “executive MBA model”?) to view them more like their other graduate programs. To do this, increasing the quality of applicants is a necessary first step. Sorry if that seems “mean,” but thems the breaks kids, at least as I see it.

      Ok, gotta stop typing now. This was going to be a short “yes, I’ve been told the potential for jobs is awesome,” and its gotten away from me again. I guess I need to heed my bosses advice and “learn to be less passionate.” (Yea, LOVED getting that advice, btw). If we want things to improve, imho, we have to get away from the state of affairs where an interested party already employed in a paraprofessional position (ahem, yea, me) on inquiring about library schools receives the following “sage” advice from an experienced practitioner in the field: “Well, you will be bored, but it is necessary. You can probably get through it pretty fast, it won’t challenge you academically, it will just challenge your patience and stamina.”

      Really? This is the best we can do? Its a good thing I’m “passionate” about the field…

  30. Archives Howl-Up « Derangement and Description Says:

    […] Derangement and Description A crazy little archives webcomic « Post-SAA Howl […]

  31. ArchiveSurvivor Says:

    I was supposed to be at the conference, but just couldn’t afford it. I hated letting down the other panel members, and missing out on any networking opportunities (and the food!). Luckily, I was able to send my presentation, and a friend was able to make an audio recording of the panel for me. Thanks for this chance to Howl about some things that have been on my mind during the job hunt..

    I’m not a young archivist, but I am a new archivist (graduating with my MLS and archives certification 3 years ago). I have a whole other career behind me, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen another profession that is so mired in the sentiment that we need to ‘pay our dues,’ through low-paying, or no-paying jobs for extended time periods. Its been 3 years, and I’ve had to defer my student loans twice, and go on food stamps, even while working a state archives job with no benefits at all. Thank goodness I like my fellow employees. I’m working at a net loss every month, and my savings will be gone soon. Then I guess I’ll have to go outside the profession, anything to leave the bottom levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Sometimes I think we might be better off if we unionized.

    Every job I’ve gotten an interview for has complained about the number of applicants they had (which is crazy, right?) to wade through; they usually say over 75. And don’t even get me started on the vast number of institutions that don’t acknowledge applications, or bother to send out rejections, claiming it’s too much work. Sending an automatic form email to job applicants is too much work? Uh, no; it’s setting up one filter in your email stream, based on the email header that you specified in the posting. Frustrating to say the least. Employers expect professionalism from applicants, shouldn’t we expect the same back? Can you tell that’s my pet peeve these days? LOL

    The job requirements are getting crazier over time, too. Under ‘Required”, they are listing things that are clearly more appropriate to the “Preferred” category, which has forced me to self-select out of applying. Have we truly reached a point where every archive needs a Comp Sci professional who happens to also be an archivist? Why haven’t they offered professional development in those skills to their existing employees? Don’t get me wrong; I’m pretty handy with a computer and most software, but expecting new grads to do LAMP and all the usual archival duties for $10-12/hour, part time, is just sad. I’d like to say that’s an exaggeration, but we’ve all seen the job postings.

    We pump out more graduates than the market can bear, and I don’t think we do a good job of giving incoming students a fair assessment of the market. OK, I’m done howling. It felt good to get that off my chest.

    • AnonymousCoward Says:

      Yea, and regarding the technology thing one of my personal pet peeves is that, when established professionals/existing employees fail to update their technology skills, who does all this high-end technical stuff fall to? Well, if they can’t bring in new blood and hire professional staff, it falls to PARAPROFESSIONALS! (Or, worse yet, volunteers, students, interns… at least I’m getting benefits…)

      I’m sorry, but this is not appropriate. I respect that most folks already established in the field are way too busy, have to pick up the slack with retirements and open professional lines staying open for longer or being cut altogether, and are just all around stretched way too thin to dedicate the time necessary to acquiring and refreshing skills relating to technology. But it shouldn’t fall to the “support staff” to be the front line for ALL technical/computer-related projects because members of the professional staff don’t care to keep up with new technologies. Its not always time or (a completely understandable) fear of new technology, either. I had one professional colleague tell me that, basically, the “computer stuff” was beneath her because, “she was a trained curator and, as such, dedicated her time to ‘big ideas’ and artistry.” Web work “took no such artistry” so it didn’t interest her. Funny that a couple days later I had to fix her computer…

      Unfortunately this is my daily reality. I’m “support staff” but I have to contend with the fact that, in many cases, the staff I am supporting doesn’t have a clue how to do my job. Its just all around awkward. Add to this the fact that often I’m not allowed to take credit for any of the work that I do. Many of the things I do are treated like state secrets because I can’t be widely known that I am doing things “above my pay grade.” So, when evaluation time rolls around each year I find myself spending inordinate amounts of time “sterilizing” my employee narrative so that it will be approved up the chain of command and actually make it to HR. Grrrr…

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying “no” when I’m asked to do things that I know I am not “supposed” to do. I’m looking out for number one and I know getting the chance to, for example, hone my Web development/graphic design/computer skills will only serve to help me down the line (hopefully?).

      But, then there is the added fact that since I’m not “supposed” to be doing such work, I’m not typically given the software/hardware tools I need to perform these duties. So, though professionals in the department that don’t know HTML from Latin have Dreamweaver, I was stuck doing all our Web design with Notepad (well, at least until I was cleaning out a supply closet and found an installation disk for Dreamweaver — of course, its Macromedia DW 8.0. Sigh.)

      I’m hoping a lot of this is localized to my own workplace, but I fear its not.

      Oh, my other favorite story, when I first started I wasn’t even allowed to have a computer… I had to share. About 80% of my job is hand-coding EAD, graphic design, digital imaging, and being the de facto webmaster…. but I can’t have a computer?!?! Luckily, this has since changed. And, just to be clear, this state of affairs didn’t exist because there wasn’t money in the budget to support equipment or software, it was (according to a long-time colleague) a remnant of past policies that stated that only professionals could have computers (and private desks, and cubicle walls, and phones, and contact info on the website – these policies, however, have remained in place).

      Howl. I love my job, I love my job, I love my job… Exhale.

      • Low on the food chain Says:

        Sadly this is not just you, although luckily it doesn’t seem to be as extreme at my workplace. But portions of what you said are sadly familiar.

    • pak152 Says:

      “The job requirements are getting crazier over time, too. Under ‘Required”, they are listing things that are clearly more appropriate to the “Preferred” category, which has forced me to self-select out of applying. Have we truly reached a point where every archive needs a Comp Sci professional who happens to also be an archivist? ”

      the institutions are using the “required” to sift filter applications. If you don’t have something that is ‘required’ then they can put you application aside. I know of a state agency several years ago that said the CRM designation was required of applicants. At that time they received over 50 applications, of that number only 3 had the designation

      “I was supposed to be at the conference, but just couldn’t afford it. I hated letting down the other panel members, and missing out on any networking opportunities”

      did you know at the time you accepted the opportunity to speak that you couldn’t afford to attend? seems to me that if you make a commitment you do everything you can to meet that commitment unless something beyond your control comes up.

      “Every job I’ve gotten an interview for has complained about the number of applicants they had (which is crazy, right?) to wade through; they usually say over 75”

      if you’re talking about archival positions, i’m not surprised considering how many archivists are being turned out by the schools. too many people chasing after too few positions. it is a buyer’s market and you need to present a resume that stands out from the other 74 resumes in the stack. having been on both sides of the interview table I know how difficult it is. as the person doing the interview the resume is the first thing we see. In many cases it may have been vetted by an admin asst first

      • ArchiveSurvivor Says:

        “the institutions are using the “required” to sift filter applications. If you don’t have something that is ‘required’ then they can put you application aside. I know of a state agency several years ago that said the CRM designation was required of applicants. At that time they received over 50 applications, of that number only 3 had the designation”

        Of course they are used to filter applications; that’s understood. What is happening more and more though, is institutions putting everything but the kitchen sink into the ‘required’ category, when many of the items would more usually be found in the ‘preferred’ category. They want the full wish list; who wouldn’t? We also see the reverse in some job postings: a HS diploma and being over 18 is ‘Required’, and a masters in LIS is ‘preferred.’

        “did you know at the time you accepted the opportunity to speak that you couldn’t afford to attend? seems to me that if you make a commitment you do everything you can to meet that commitment unless something beyond your control comes up.”

        Again, of course I tried everything I could. It’s a bit much to expect that over the course of a year your financial situation won’t change at all.

        “if you’re talking about archival positions, i’m not surprised considering how many archivists are being turned out by the schools. too many people chasing after too few positions. it is a buyer’s market and you need to present a resume that stands out from the other 74 resumes in the stack. having been on both sides of the interview table I know how difficult it is. as the person doing the interview the resume is the first thing we see. In many cases it may have been vetted by an admin asst first”

        As I said, this is for jobs for which I’ve gotten an interview . So, yes, my resume did stand out enough to be interviewed.

  32. Young archivist, thankfully employed Says:

    I’m a fairly recent grad (2 years ago). I’ve always said that I cannot think of another profession where it is normal for Masters degree graduates to settle for part time or volunteer work because there is just nothing out there. Well, maybe theater would fall into that category.

    I am blessed to be a newish/young archivist employed at in institution that has abundant travel funds, and I was able to attend the event. We also consider conferences as part of the job so no vacation time was used. I feel terrible for today’s grads though. ArchiveSurvivor makes some good points on job requirements for “entry level” being more for experienced archivist positions.

  33. Low on the food chain Says:

    I’m currently a paraprofessional working in a great archive with an unbelievably supportive boss. I started my MLS last year, and have really been hustling to be professionally involved, keeping my skills sharp, etc etc etc. I don’t get paid much, but it’s enough to live comfortably (but with a roommate) and go out for a nice dinner now and then. I know that I am damn lucky to have health insurance and some institutional support for conferences and workshops.

    I am absolutely terrified of what I’ll be facing when I graduate in a couple of years. Everyone tells me that my combination of what will be several years of parapro experience upon graduation plus my professional involvement plus (hopefully) some publications is a surefire path that will land me a sweet professional level archivist position. I pray they are right, but I have met so many people that have done the exact same things I’m trying to do now, and so many of them cannot find a job.

    I agree with the insanity of the whole paying your dues mentality, it’s absurd, it maintains godawful elitist structures in the profession, and I would abolish it in a second if I could. On the other hand, at my place, unpaid interns are a lot of the reason we can get collections processed. Although I know I got where I am by a large amount of hustle, hard work, and knowing the right people, I also realize that a lot of what separates me from an unpaid internship is just dumb luck. It sucks.

    I absolutely think it should be a requirement that no one should be allowed to graduate from an MLIS program without at least one year’s equivalent of work, whether that’s through paraprofessional, volunteering or internships. I would even take this a step further and say no MLIS program should take anyone UNLESS they have worked in the field for at least one year, whether paid or unpaid. This would allow schools to do away with a lot of the basic intro to library/archives classes that students who are already in the field fly through (with sheer amounts of boredom I might add).

    I don’t know what the solution is, or if there is one, but bravo for this conversation taking place and may it continue on until the whole profession recognizes what we’re going through.

  34. Stimmy Says:

    I find much of this interesting, but not surprising. What I DO find surprising is that the great majority of people who elected to enter this profession when they began their studies were seemingly UNAWARE of the pay level, lack of jobs, and potential dissatisfaction with working conditions.

    This is nothing new for the field of archives management, and as corporations and organizations in the private sector are downsizing and more and more content is being generated electronically, the potential for growth of positions is increasingly limited.

    Aside from the Federal Government, no organizations are REQUIRED to have a formal archive, nor do many employ a formally trained archivist. There are many that don’t even employ trained records managers, but they all are required to manage records of their business transactions and activities to meet some local, state or federal obligations. And those that DO have records managers are typically satisfied to have them provide whatever archives needs they may have.

    This is not intended as a ‘virtual bitch slap’ at anyone, I mean there are plenty of reasons to enter a profession other than to get rich… and many people who enter this one may do so for those reasons. But to enter it not having done sufficient research to know you may not be employable on completion of your education, or may have to intern and not earn a living wage IS rather foolish.

    And you should surely have a fallback position- your studies should have included an exposure to library and/or records management, business or computer technology, or something that would allow you to seek gainful employment beyond that which requires you to say “Would you like fries with that?” or ask the question of the ages, “Paper or plastic?”.

    As for the cost of attending Conferences, whether they are identified as International, National or Local, these professional Association and Trade Groups have GOT TO GET A GRIP! Many employers are unwilling to pay the cost of registration or attendance at conference (travel, lodging, ground transport, incidentals, food) and their reasoning is, I hate to admit it, rather sound. The comment I hear most from people being denied is the employer doesn’t see the value to their “bottom line” of paying a person’s salary AND all of these other costs for them to spend 3-5 days at an event when the majority of what they’ll be exposed to is available on line or elsewhere. And naturally, you miss out on the social aspects and the personal interaction with others, but again… where’s the bottom line value?

    If the costs were more reasonable, events were held in cities that are less expensive to travel to and get lodging instead of ‘destination locations’, and possible held once every 2 or 3 years… well, then MAYBE there would be greater acceptance. But these events are fringe benefits, and to expect for them to be covered and reimbursed is like expecting to get full benefits, tuition reimbursement, a boatload of vacation and sick time and a living wage in some categories of jobs.

    Hopefully this hasn’t ruffled too many feathers, (if it gets posted at all), but people better wake up and smell the coffee when they choose a profession and begin their ascendancy to the summit.

    • @meshedlibrarian Says:

      Dear Stimmy:
      I believe that most people following this thread will agree with you on a number of points, and politely disagree on others. For example, I disagree with your position on interns. Interns are people, and all people need to be paid for their work. In the context if this tread, paying interns for their work is just as much a matter of professional ethics/fairness as it is legality. Please read: for more information.

      P. S. Neirink

      • Stimmy Says:

        Not arguing that, but also note the document you attached was issued in January of 2010- most of the people commenting about this aspect of my post interned prior to that date.

        And I didn’t say they shouldn’t be paid, I said they may not be paid a “living wage”, which depends on where they decide to seek work. this is SUBSTANTIALLY different than a minimum wage, negotiated salary, or a stipend. If you are interning in NYC, SF, LA, Seattle, you may not receive salary adequate to live comfortably where you’re interning.

  35. NewArchivist Says:

    The Howling Continues…

    I am sure that most of you have seen the Post-SAA Howl on Derangement and Description, as well as the amazing discussion that has followed. If you have yet to see it, please check it out. Rebecca suggested that I put out a call for contributions on thi…

  36. Jackie Says:

    A good discussion. One small bit threw me: Young Archivist said “… making it easy for professionals (afraid of “give me a job!” requests) to avoid them.”

    Why would any professional be afraid to meet a person who’s interested in a job that’s on offer? We’re all beyond eager to meet talented archivists who are on the market! Walk right up to potential employers, introduce yourself, ask questions, answer questions, get their business cards, and have a “calling card” of your own to give back.

  37. Howled Migration « Derangement and Description Says:

    […] to go back to being a humor blog. I propose migrating the discussion sparked by last week’s Howl over to NewArchivist, and to start you off, I’ve got a guest post up over […]

  38. Richard Cox Says:

    As a long-time archival educator (since 1988), I will stick my neck out here and say that, yes, a lot of these comments are right on target. Of course, some of these problems/challenges are evident in many other fields as well (each of you probably have friends or relatives who have lost jobs and had difficulty finding a new one — this is the worst economic situation I have ever experienced).

    However, there is a certain tone to some of the messages that bothers me. Some of the postings sound conspiratorial, as if the education programs are deceiving you or that SAA has not done enough. However, it is amazing to me the number of students who come into these programs without having evaluated employment prospects or even with an idea of the nature of archival work (both lead to heightened angst among the students). It is like someone ordering a $50,000 car without ever looking at it, and then wondering why, after driving it for a while, they don’t like it or are disappointed.

    We have taken steps at my school to set a limit on the number of new students admitted and, meeting with mixed results, I intend to submit some additional proposals to have reasonable limits. I try to be as honest as possible with prospective students (when they ask) and I am certainly honest with students who have expectations for the program that they ought not have (for example, if someone is interested in being a processor I certainly would not encourage them to come here but would explain other options — if someone is interested in leadership, research, managerial, and other such positions I would encourage them to come here). However, such dialogue only occurs after the student is here, already having committed to a move and costs. When given the opportunity, I encourage individuals to apply after getting some experience and having, at the least, visited and talked with working archivists.

    These are difficult times, for sure, and there are many different kinds of programs out there preparing archivists and there are many different reasons for why the education of these programs is very difficult, costly, and promising uncertain results. I too lament the decision about the SAA decision to raise dues and, by the way, every such debate and decision has generated similar concerns and been made by the small number attending business meetings.

    I could go on, but you can find my perspective on education in my new book, The Demise of the Library School: Professional Reflections on Professional Education in the Modern Corporate University (Library Juice, 2010) — the corporate university also contributes to many of the problems being discussed here — I am presently sending off to a publisher another book, Archival Anxiety and Vocational Calling, that will appear in 2011 also published by Library Juice (I am working with this publisher because it keeps costs down and charges what I think are reasonable prices).

    Let me just assure you that there are many archival educators concerned about the same issues being brought up here, and they have been here for some time. Yet, there is a flood of applications coming in at an unprecedented rate and when we turn away students we also hear complaints. We have a long way to go before the economy will improve, if it will improve. This also would be a good time for the field to reconsider its own articulation of its mission for its relevancy in society (and that has been a theme in my own writings going back a long time).

    I wish all the best out there.

  39. Do what you love. Love what you do. « archiValerie: Archivist and Arch-villain in Training Says:

    […] when we’re either working mindless repetitive day-jobs for little pay or appreciation, or training under internships that pay nothing at all. It is even more frustrating to not have any occupation at all, nothing to challenge or stimulate […]

  40. How you know there are too many archives students « You Ought to Be Ashamed Says:

    […] school shouldn’t be selling themselves as being able to get their students jobs.  However, the other side of the story is needed as […]

  41. Why I’m Blogging (Here’s How I Roll) | NixoNARA Says:

    […] in tackling some tough issues. People such as those blogging at You Ought to Be Ashamed and Derangement and Description. The particular posts at those sites to which I just linked started me thinking this past summer […]

  42. Gypsye L. Says:

    AM interested to hear what those who have responded to this post think about this:

    Are they trying to clear out the backlog to make room? Are they getting work that might need more checking for free instead of making a hire? OR is the a way to get some experience to ad to a vita/resume?

    Best to all,


  43. “Anyone who disagrees with me is just in the way” | NixoNARA Says:

    […] I’m Blogging (Here’s How I Roll).” If younger people in the field could blog about difficult issues with courage, why couldn’t an older historian such as I be inspired to write about my issues? […]

  44. So let’s get social! | NixoNARA Says:

    […] one she wrote after the Society of American Archivists’ annual conference last year, “Post SAA Howl.”   Thoughtful, heartfelt, and brave!  Another one I liked was “It Gets Better (in […]

  45. Some @ thanks, and then some! | NixoNARA Says:

    […] and Description.  (The name of the blog itself is such a gem!)  Two posts she wrote, “Post SAA Howl” and “It Gets Better (in the Archives)” influenced me greatly in the courage and […]

  46. Lunch at NARA, Dinner with Rebecca Goldman | NixoNARA Says:

    […] Rebecca wrote there and in Post SAA Howl inspired me, as did what Maureen Callahan has done with her fellow bloggers at You Ought to Be […]

  47. Happily ever for now: the post-SAA 2012 reflection « archiValerie: Archivist and Arch-villain in Training Says:

    […] I’m not the only one who’s come a long way in the year since Rebecca Goldman’s Post-SAA Howl. After feeling like recognition of students and new archivists was lacking in the organization, the […]

  48. Peach State #archives woes. . .no sugar coating | NixoNARA Says:

    […] When I heard recent reports about the proposed closure of the Georgia State Archives, I thought back to what I wrote on the Archives & Archivists Listserv in Novemer 2010.  It’s way too long for me to post under Archivesnext’s series of good posts on the current proposals (go, Kate!), of which the most recent is here.  I may take up more of this later, there’s a lot going on, in my view.  You’ll see that I linked to thoughtful comments by people such as James Cassedy of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) under @derangedescribe’s (in hindsight historically significant blog post) “Post-SAA Howl.” […]

  49. The Newbie’s Guide to Acting Up in SAA | Archivasaurus Says:

    […] action is Rebecca Goldman’s (@derangedescribe on Twitter) work with the SNAP Roundtable. She took her frustration with the dire experiences of students and new archivists whom she met at the 2010 SAA meeting and […]

  50. Professional privilege: get uncomfortable | You Ought to be Ashamed Says:

    […] my experiences were not typical for new archivists. I talked about this a little in the intro to my Post-SAA howl post. I didn’t use the word “privilege” at the time, but that’s the experience I was […]

  51. “Finding aids as discovery tools” | NixoNARA Says:

    […] in tackling some tough issues. People such as those blogging at You Ought to Be Ashamedand Derangement and Description. The particular posts at those sites to which I just linked started me thinking this past summer […]

  52. lagerwhat Says:

    Reblogged this on Finding Aid and commented:
    I’m not sure I still think getting a MS in information and library science was a better choice than a PhD in ancient Near Eastern art and archaeology.


  53. Crumbs for our young « Eira Tansey Says:

    […] old posts, I found what I’m 99.9% sure was an anonymous comment from myself on the Howl post in 2010: “Although I know I got where I am by a large amount of hustle, hard work, and knowing the […]

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