Archival Innovators: Rachael Cristine Woody on the Creation of the Archivist-in-Residence Program.

This is the latest post in our new series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of the individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of the archivist in society.

In this installation of Archival Innovators, SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachael Woody was interviewed for her role in founding and sponsoring the Archivist-in-Residence program at Northwest Archivists. Woody is known in professional circles for her advocacy work on behalf of archives and for her role in protecting and promoting the value of archivists. She’s also previously written on the value of archivists for ArchivesAWARE!, here, here, and here.

Rachael Cristine Woody is the owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC, a firm that provides services to archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations. She specializes in establishing collection programs, teaching grant acquisition strategy, and implementing digital collection management platforms. During her 15 year career she’s successfully revived the archives at the Freer|Sackler Museum of the Smithsonian Institution and launched the Oregon Wine History Archive at Linfield College. Woody is active in Northwest Archivists and the Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness, the Ad-Hoc Salary Transparency Working Group, and the Independent Archivists group; and is an alumna of the Archives Leadership Institute.

Q: What is the Archivist-in-Residence program?

RCW: The Archivist-in-Residence program offers $5,000 stipend for one graduate student (or recent graduate within two years) to receive an Archivist-in-Residence opportunity. The purpose of this residency is three-fold: 1. To offer upcoming and new professionals with paid career development opportunities to apply knowledge in archives, libraries, museums, or a related field; 2. To teach new archivists how to accurately calculate the value of their education, experience, and overall value as an archivist; and 3. To provide an opportunity for archival organizations to work toward the long term goal of eliminating unpaid work within the field. This is a unique experience for a new professional to develop a project based on their career goals and work directly with an organization to determine the project’s scope and outcomes.

The Archivist-in-Residence application is now open with a deadline of March 1, 2021. You can read more and find instructions for application here.

Q: What was the impetus for the creation of the program?

RCW: For several years now I’ve researched and written on the value of archivists. Our profession is chronically underpaid and the numbers show (when accounting for inflation) that the salaries for archivists are going down, not going up, not even staying the same. The standard entry job position descriptions we see out there are requiring a masters degree, sometimes two, in addition to 1-3 years of experience. And the degree most commonly sought and “required” (according to most job positions) has a minimum 5-figure dollar amount attached–leading to even more crippling student loan debt. Due to two recessions in 12-years and other market factors, there are more entry-level archivists than there are jobs. All of these issues are contributing to a profession on the brink of collapse. So, how does this relate to why I created the Archivist-in-Residence program? Partly it’s because we have to start somewhere when it comes to untangling this problem. Unpaid internships are unethical. They take advantage of people by forcing new professionals into the untenable position of uncompensated labor that takes time away from their paying jobs. And on top of that, many of these unpaid interns are paying for the “opportunity” of unpaid work because school credit costs money.

What it comes down to is this: If we as professional archivists aren’t paying new archivists to do professional-level work, then we are not just perpetuating an unethical system, we are actively facilitating the devaluation of our work.

Additionally, unpaid internships serve to contradict and undermine any Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives the organization may claim to be committed to. Unpaid internships are a gatekeeping mechanism–only those who can afford to complete unpaid work will pass through to become an archivist. And at this point we should all be aware that the socioeconomics at play here have racial oppression corollaries.

Q: What challenges did you face in starting the program and how did you navigate them?

RCW: The most pervasive challenge I ran into were people on the NWA board who couldn’t conceive of how the program could work. I had to attend several NWA board meetings, write several explanative emails, and address multiple rounds of Q&A before I received the green light to start the pilot program. I’ve found the overall nature of archivists tends to be overcautious, and to be fair this type of program had never been done at a regional organization before. It was uncomfortable for them and they needed a lot of information (sometimes repetitively) to feel confident in saying: Yes. What it came down to for me was persistence and constant communication.

Q: Why do you think there aren’t more programs like this one available?

RCW: I think what I experienced (mentioned in the previous answer) is commonly found in many organizations. Also, this is a complicated problem. I know many archivists want to pay interns but the organization either doesn’t have money period, or chooses not to prioritize funds to appropriately fund internships. For example, a colleague shared with me that their historical society was offering an internship stipend below minimum wage. This caused them great concern and they took this concern to the director. The director was shocked. They simply hadn’t done the math and they increased the stipend the following year. What’s needed at many organizations is education on living wages and professional-level pay, advocacy from staff to force changes at the organization, and fundraising when more funds are needed. And that’s all going to take time.

To read more about reprioritizing the budget, please see Rachael’s post on Lucidea’s Think Clearly Blog: Unpaid Internships: A Reason to DEAI the Museum Budget.

Q. What is the ideal outcome you hope to achieve with this program?

RCW: My ideal outcomes are two-fold: 1. Teach archivists how to calculate their value and reenforce that value with an increase in appropriately paid opportunities; and 2. Show organizations that we can be part of the solution. And overall, I want new professionals to have a better experience than I’ve had in this profession. Recognizing and paying each other our worth is the ultimate sign of respect and I want more of that in our profession.

Q: What barriers or challenges did/do you face?

RCW: In addition to the above, the most frustrating opposition I receive is the old line of: “But these students need to have an internship in order to graduate and get a job. Do I just not hire them (as an unpaid intern)?” Look, it’s not all or nothing here. This is a complicated problem that requires multiple angles of attack and it’s going to take time to create permanent change. When I say unpaid internships are unethical, I’m not saying stop everything immediately. I know that’s unrealistic. But what I am doing is challenging *you* to make steps towards change. Prioritize finding funds to pay students and stop capitulating to the superficial resistance of the “But we’ve always done it this way.” crew.

The other challenge that we will continue to face is lack of available funding at our organizations. This has always been a problem, and will remain a problem as we watch COVID-19 continue to wreak havoc economically. Some of this is reprioritizing budget lines to prioritize staff and intern compensation (a direct DEI support mechanism), and fundraising funds from donors or grants–both of which LOVE to pay for student labor. Knowing that organizational funding can be such a challenge is part of why I chose to found and sponsor the Archivist-in-Residence opportunity.

Q: What worked? What didn’t work? Were there any surprises in the process of developing your work, or lessons learned that you can share with us?

RCW: Fundraising took work, but was ultimately a smooth process. It helped that my company funded 50% ($2,500) for the first residency, because that meant we had a solid foundation to move the residency forward as a possibility. The other pleasant surprise was the team I’ve had the pleasure of serving with. This residency model is common in the arts, but there was no model for us in the archives field at a regional organization. We had to figure out application, financial, and other logistics from scratch. After working with them closely on this program for going on 2-years, I can say this has been the best committee I have ever served on. They have each worked hard and have been incredibly dedicated to all aspects of the creation of this pilot program. They are:

Erin Stoddart, University of Oregon (Oregon)
Kathryn Kramer, C.M. Russell Museum (Montana)
Laura Cray, Oregon Historical Society (Oregon)
Rachel Thomas, George Fox University (Oregon)
Sara Piasecki, National Park Service (Alaska)

Q: Where would you like to see the work continue?

RCW: For the Archivist-in-Residence program at NWA, I would like to see our program moved from pilot to permanent and to increase fundraising so that we can fund more residency positions. More broadly, I would like to see other regional and national organizations adopt this type of program, in addition to doing their part to advocate for and protect the value of our collective labor.

Q: What tips do you have for budding innovators?

RCW: Creating something new is challenging and risky. A lot of people are going to say no, because that’s what they’re comfortable with. Failing is a possibility. However, trying new things, challenging the status quo, and creating new opportunities are the only way we’ll be able to move forward.

We have to be our own heroes here and save ourselves.

Q: What is your favorite part of this program?

RCW: Once our first resident got started and again when they completed their residency, I felt such pride. It took a lot of work to make the residency a possibility, especially during COVID-19, and I am so so proud of myself, my team, and Abbey for the incredible work we’ve done.

You can read more about Abbey (the first Archivist-in-Resident) and her project here and here.

Q: What’s next for you?

RCW: I have been pondering this myself. I would like to see the Archivist-in-Residence transition into a permanent program, and I think I will spend more time this next year on performing larger advocacy work for archives and museums as COVID-19 has had a devastating financial impact. To read more of my thoughts on this issue, please see the post I wrote for the Northwest Archivists’ blog: 5 Actions to Take Right Now to Combat COVID-19 Economic Fallout.

Q: How can people connect with you to learn more about your work?

RCW: They can reach me or learn about me on the following accounts:

Email: consulting@rachaelcristine.com
Website
Linkedin
Twitter
YouTube
Newsletter

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

RCW: Yes, I’d like to take a moment and thank our co-sponsors for this project. We just signed on a second group of sponsors who I am particularly grateful to as I know COVID-19 has impacted everyone. Many of these sponsors are doing so for the second year in a row and their involvement in supporting this program signals to me that they are companies who have a great respect for our work as archivists. Those Gold-level sponsors are: Schellinger Research, Lucidea, Emporia State University School of Library and Information Management, Hollinger Metal Edge, and Permanent.org. With Gaylord Archival and the Northeast Document Conservation Center supporting this program at the Bronze-level.


Do you know an Archival Innovator who should be featured on ArchivesAWARE?  Send us your suggestions at archivesaware@archivists.org!

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