Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody’s Annual Conference Coverage on the Value of Archival Labor Sessions

RachaelWoody

Rachael Woody (photograph courtesy of Rachael Woody).

This is the latest post in our series Responses and Retrospectives, which features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession. Interested in contributing to Responses and Retrospectives?  Please email the editor at archivesaware@archivists.org with your ideas!

For me, attending the annual Society of American Archivists conference is time to reconnect with beloved colleagues and reengage with topics I care deeply about. I can’t afford to attend the conference every year, so I always view the conference program before I make the final decision. Are there sessions I want or need to attend? Are there topics that are new or finally being covered? Or, does it look like the conference is repeating topics without contributing anything new? As someone who has to pay my own way, I have to make sure there’s a return on my investment of both time and money. This year, SAA’s annual meeting theme had my attention from the start: TRANSFORMATIVE!. As in transforming archives. The program sessions followed suit with panelists willing to tackle tough topics and start new conversations.

My Work on Fighting the Devaluation of the Archivist

Before I dive into my response to a block of the SAA 2019 Annual Conference sessions, let me preface by saying that the value of archival labor is a topic that I am deeply involved with. In the last two-years I’ve:

  • Written the current NWA job posting policy requiring salary ranges;
  • Performed a literary review of American Archivist articles on everything from A*Census to the multiple articles on how recent graduates are struggling to find healthy employment in the field;
  • Conducted a regional survey on the value of archival labor (with findings forthcoming); and
  • Am currently spearheading the creation of a paid internship program at Northwest Archivists.

In my research I’ve found that the literal value of archival labor has been stagnate for the last ten-years. Additionally, the student loan debt to entering archivist salary ratio has caused instability in the profession; particularly in geographic areas that aren’t flush with archival repositories with government-backed budgets. I believe that we have reached a critical point in time in which we must acknowledge this devaluation of the archivist, and address it before our entire profession atrophies.  It’s through this lens that I respond to three SAA sessions focused on the value of archival labor.

SAA Sessions: My Response

On Sunday, August 4, 2019, there were three sessions dedicated to archival labor: an open forum, session 210, and session 410. Below are links to the sessions and the session summary italicized for easy reference:

Open Forum: SAA Council Forum on Archival Salaries

This special forum, hosted by SAA Council members Melissa Gonzales and Steven D. Booth, will explore the notion of requiring salary information in position descriptions for jobs boards, the benefits and challenges of doing so, and the potential impact this ideal may have on the archival profession. Invited panelists and the audience will explore why professional associations should and should not take a position, and if so, how can archivists at all levels frame it to truly advocate for the profession and not harm it.

The open forum was well attended with several hundred seated in the ballroom. There was no formal content to present and the panelists began the discussion with SAA Council’s recent angst over whether or not to require salary ranges for job posts. What gets sticky here is that SAA makes money from the job board. So, trusting SAA to make the ethical decision to require job post quality indicators can be challenging when the system currently in place benefits SAA. As noted in several tweets, the forum discussion revealed that SAA makes $60,000-$90,000 in annual revenue from the job board. (SAA’s FY20 Budget states it revenued $85,000). Sadly, that amount is much more than the average mid-career archivist’s annual salary.

Screenshot of Tweet by @akaGladys: Learning at salary forum that SAA's job board generates $60-90k of revenue for the org a year #saa19" 10:03 AM Aug 4, 2019 Twitter by IPhone 2 Retweets 23 Likes

When reviewing the “cons” of SAA requiring a salary range on job postings there were no cogent arguments from the panelists. Instead, strawman arguments that showed more privilege than sense were provided. The following points were offered as a justification for SAA to forego responsibility of providing space to predatory job listings:

  1. People keep taking these low-paying jobs so organization will keep offering these low salaries.
  2. If SAA requires salary ranges “Will it really provide change that leads to better salaries?”.
  3. The assertion that people who seek higher paying jobs have “bad intentions”.

Screenshot of Tweet by @rachaelcristine Aug 4: Several #archivist salaries forum persons see "cons" to requiring salary range in job post. One remarks they would question motives for those who apply for jobs with more money. Me: Since when is being paid your worth a bad thing?! #saa2019 #saa19 #devaluationofthearchivist Symbols at bottom show one comment, 6 retweets, and 33 likes

The panelists who denied SAA’s responsibility placed it instead on those who are struggling against these damaging job practices currently allowed in the profession.

Patronizing statements were made by some of the panelists to those struggling, saying essentially:

  1. People should do their own research to determine what an adequate salary is. How?; when the Census data is extremely outdated and government salaries hardly translate to other organizations? SAA is in the best position to provide this information to archivists and organizations – with parameters given for organization type, geographic area, various job levels, and requisite salary.
  2. People should negotiate better. Negotiation is rarely available to those in the profession. Also, then shouldn’t SAA be providing negotiation education and support?
  3. People should be willing to move for a better job. Some of us can move. Others cannot due to family or other life obligations. This is a tone-deaf statement rejecting the real-life realities many archivists face.

Why Salary Range is so Important

Requiring salary ranges on job posts aids in salary transparency. Salary transparency reveals wage inequity and helps put a stop to gender, race, and gender identity or sexuality discrimination. Increased salary transparency across the profession will lead to healthier financial realities for archivists, and addressing wage inequity will support actual diversity within the profession. It’s important to note that both Northwest Archivists and Southwest Archivists have already made this a policy.

210 Low Pay in Archives: Review of Recent Events, and Where Do We Go From Here? [Pop-Up]

This Pop-Up Session will discuss the current state of generally low pay for archivists in the U.S., discuss SAA and regional archival organizations recent attempts at doing something about it, including archival certification, salary job listing requirements, recommended salary minimums, and the current literature in the field; look at salaries across the country and useful statistical data like the salary required to own a home in a specific city; and strategize additional ways the profession can help push salaries upwards, including possibly unionization.

This session was a little less frustrating for me as the panelists appeared to agree that something needs to be done about the financial health of our profession. Rosemary Davis was brave and bared all – including her student loan debt number. This panel delivered real talk on what many in the profession are experiencing: you have a master’s degree with the student loan debt to show for it and you can’t make ends meet because entry-level archivist positions are sub-$45,000. This session introduced the concept of the “spousal subsidy”. As in, you can only afford the luxury of being an archivist on low pay because your spouse has the pay and benefits to cover you both. This has obvious repercussions on who can afford to be an archivist and directly damages diversity within the field.

Screenshot of a Tweet by @vgillispie Aug 4: The "spousal subsidy" concept is too real. I was recently offered a job with a salary offer $20K below my current salary. The hiring manager said he was hoping I had a "family situation" that would allow me to accept the offer. I do not. #s210 #saa19. Symbols show 1 comments, 5 retweets, 27 likes.

410 Short-Term Jobs for Long-Term Careers: Designing Ethical Project/Contract Positions

With SAA defining standards for interns and volunteers, archivists on short-term projects or contracts are the next frontier in the ethics question. These archivists have barriers to completing their work–including time, funding, and skills–making their supervisor’s role crucial in designing and supporting a successful contract employment experience. Aimed at project managers, supervisors, and contract archivists, this session is intended to foster dialog among participants about ways to create more sustainable models of project positions.

This panel is an adjacent topic to archivist salaries as temporary or project positions are becoming more and more common and less of a stop-gap measure for organizations that are struggling. It also highlighted that allowing regular archival work to become temporary or project-based only helps to devalue the work. And further, we must be more precise in identifying archival labor as work, a long-term endeavor that requires skill. Versus calling our work a project, a word that indicates it’s temporary, can be stopped at any time, and potentially requires less-skills. This thinking extends to how project positions are professional positions, not pre-professional positions, and should be treated (i.e. paid) accordingly.

Screenshot of Tweet by @alexiadpuravida Aug 4: Advocate that project positions ARE professional positions, not a pre-professional position [emojis show 4 hand claps] #saa 19 #s410 (symbols show 2 retweets, 24 likes)

SAA’s Mission and How We Are Actively Working Against It.

SAA’s mission is to promote the value and diversity of archives and archivists. The anti-salary range panelists (and the majority of SAA Council) appear to contradict SAA’s stated mission. How can we say we champion diversity and value archivists when we allow rapacious practices such as low-wage jobs, no salary transparency, temporary or term jobs, and unpaid internships? (Yes, SAA Council did vote to disallow unpaid internship job postings, but more can be done to discourage the practice pervasive in organizations nation-wide). It is known that by allowing these practices we perpetuate a system built on discrimination against race, gender, and gender identity and sexuality. If you’re in a management position, in academia, or work for the government – congratulations! You’ve avoided the worst of it with your elite position. But you’re leaving the rest of the profession behind and such short-sightedness will devalue the entire profession (including you).

Conclusion

We’re just beginning these tough conversations and there’s obviously a lot to be done before we can begin to see progress. Here’s what I’d like to see next:

Recommendations for SAA Council and Organization:

  1. Officially support the grass-roots archivist salary spreadsheet. Now at nearly 500 entries, this is the most recent and robust national archivist salary data we have available.
  2. Financially commit to conducting the census more regularly. Yes, I realize it costs money. However, letting the census lapse 15-years is absolutely preventable. Decisions about how to best support the profession can’t be made if we don’t have current and accurate numbers.
  3. Call for a membership vote on whether or not to require salary ranges for job postings.
  4. Take a more active role in protecting and advocating for archivists and not just archival organizations. Explore ways in which SAA can do this; such as: conducting an exploration of how SAA can support unionization, offer collective benefits, provide guidance on appropriate job salary scales, etc.

Recommendations for Archivists Against Devaluation:

  1. This was an excellent conference, but the conversation needs to continue. For those who did panels, tweeted, and discussed the topic in-person; we need you to do more of that. For those who want to join in, please join in!
  2. When SAA calls for guideline reviews, feedback, and votes; you have to show up and give your feedback. Better yet, run for Council. Council needs your voice.
  3. Contribute blog posts and professional writings to the field that help educate and advocate around this topic.
  4. Speak up and repeatedly at your work, at your regional group, and at SAA and related national conferences.

This post was written by Rachael Cristine Woody, a member of The Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). The opinions and assertions stated within this piece are the author’s alone, and do not represent the official stance of the Society of American Archivists. COPA publishes response posts with the sole aim of providing additional perspectives, context, and information on current events and subjects that directly impact archives and archivists.

Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody on Myspace and the Precarity of User Content on Social Media Platforms

RachaelWoody

Rachael Woody

This is the latest post in our series Responses and Retrospectives, which features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession. Interested in contributing to Responses and Retrospectives?  Please email the editor at archivesaware@archivists.org with your ideas!

 On March 18, 2019 the world learned that Myspace lost millions of songs, photographs, and videos posted prior to 2016. Myspace reports that the loss of data occurred due to a server migration project gone wrong. Such a loss of digital content received mixed reactions as some were horrified and others relieved that their Myspace content was lost. Once a major social media platform from 2003-2008, Myspace has since declined in usership with the rise of Facebook as the predominant social platform. Now, in 2019, Myspace is mostly used for musicians to share work and connect with fans.

It Can Happen to You

What happened to Myspace isn’t an isolated event. It can and will happen again. Social media platforms are not oriented to prioritize the preservation of user generated content. These platforms have the capacity to store user data, but don’t necessarily have backup measures in place for their digital content – as was the case for Myspace. Or, if you are of the more cynical persuasion, some technology experts believe that Myspace may have intentionally deleted millions of digital files so as to not have to maintain them.

When these social media platforms emerged and for almost a decade into most of the platform’s lives, there was no way to download your content. If you wanted to leave Myspace you had to delete your account and there was no way to download any of the content you uploaded during your time using the platform. How do I know this? Because, like many of you, I began on Myspace only to leave it a five years later for Facebook.

Myspace Love Letters

I joined Myspace the summer of 2005 and left the spring of 2010. Myspace had photos, posts, and messages that I didn’t have anywhere else thanks to a computer hard-drive crash and the nonexistence (in my world) of smart phones with cloud syncing. Sure, I could have selected and right-clicked on every photo to download, and copy+paste each post, but that would’ve been a tremendous amount of labor. However, there was one cache of data I could not leave behind: the love letters my husband and I wrote to each other when we first began dating. I consulted with several of my digital archivist peers to figure out if I had any options available to me to save those love letters. The consensus? Print them out.

MyspaceLoveLetters

We Need an Exit Strategy

As archivists, when we consider things such as a collections management system (CMS) we are now experienced enough to know that any platform considered must have an exit strategy for the collection data. Things change, software companies fold or merge, collection needs change, technology changes, and budgets change. Any one of these reasons is enough to instigate data migration to another CMS platform.

Most social media platforms are beginning to offer exit strategies. The top platforms now offer options to retrieve your content, though, I admit, from an archivist’s perspective the options aren’t great.

How to Get a Copy of Your Content

First of all, if you use a smartphone then chances are good that the digital content captured on the phone is syncing to a cloud. That’s good because it means that you still have access and control over all of your original content and its original file quality. The top three social media platforms each offer a way to retrieve a copy of your data. Facebook allows the most customization as you can select a time period, type of content, and a low/medium/high quality setting for the files. Facebook will then provide you an HTML or JSON file for you to download. Twitter offers to send you a file of your content but there is no way to customize what you receive, nor is there mention of what type of file you receive. Instagram lacks customization as well and will provide you a JSON file.

Archivists and the Appraisal of Social Media Content

When we use social media platforms we tend to share without a thought given toward how we might sustainably access the digital content later. As archivists, appraisal as we know it tends to only happen when a length of time has passed. Time and perspective help archivists decide on whether the material in question is of sufficient historical value to be accessioned. As social media users and digital content generators, we may need to save all digital items for a future appraisal to take place. But how can we guarantee access to our digital content? Why is there no easy way to do this?

Preserving Digital Content Isn’t Easy

As digital archivists are well aware, the management and long-term access to digital files is amorphous and hard to predict. Why is preserving long-term access to digital files hard to manage or predict? Here’s a few reasons:

  • Changing file formats and software used to create and access files
  • Poor past practices
  • No intuitive file naming conventions
  • Data corruption
  • Physical medium damage to disks, USBs, CDs, etc.
  • Inability to digitally migrate the content to an accessible format

Preserving (Digital) Objects with Restricted Resources (POWRR) is a great resource for those who want to learn more on how to protect their digital content.

How to Safeguard Your Content

Being proactive is the best strategy to help safeguard your digital content on social media platforms. Here are a few recommendations to consider:

  • Make sure you have a digital file backup system in place and that it’s working. I’ve encountered many people who thought they had a backup system in place only to find out it wasn’t working like they thought it would.
  • If you have the option to automatically sync your content to a cloud then do so.
  • Invest in cloud storage with trustworthy companies that practice at least some digital preservation principles (such as Dropbox or Google Drive).
  • If you’re an institution that generates a lot of web content then consider services such as Archive It for additional support.
  • Request a copy of your “archive” from the social media platforms you use.
  • When in doubt, (if it’s important to you) print it out. Paper is still King when it comes to formats we know will be around for a while.

This post was written by Rachael Cristine Woody, a member of The Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). The opinions and assertions stated within this piece are the author’s alone, and do not represent the official stance of the Society of American Archivists. COPA publishes response posts with the sole aim of providing additional perspectives, context, and information on current events and subjects that directly impact archives and archivists.

Responses and Retrospectives: Alexandra Bisio on “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” KonMari, and Archival Appraisal

This is the latest post in our series Responses and Retrospectives, which features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession.

In January, Netflix launched its new reality show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, based on the bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. The show is just the most recent iteration of Marie Kondo’s work, which has been adapted into a lifestyle blog and, surprisingly, a manga. Kondo also published an illustrated companion to her first book in 2016.

The original book introduced the “KonMari Method” of organizing to American audiences. Kondo, who has been passionate about tidying since she was a child, was a well-known personal organizer in Japan before enjoying international success as a lifestyle guru.

Kondo’s method, which is heavily influenced by Shinto practice and “places great importance on being mindful, introspective, and forward-looking,” provides those besieged by clutter with a simple rubric to begin a new life free from the mental noise of material overload. At its core, her method “encourages tidying by category – not by location – beginning with clothes, then moving on to books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items. Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service – then let them go.”[1]

While the American response to Kondo’s 2014 book was unabashedly positive, particularly among interior design and lifestyle bloggers, the show has sparked an unusual amount of vitriolic backlash against its host, especially among the book-loving set.

Reacting to Kondo’s advice to pare down paper records, be more discerning about family photos, and set a limit on book collections to thirty volumes, Twitter was especially vicious, with one user going so far as to  declare her a “monster.” The Washington Post’s books section even published an article by book critic Ron Charles entitled “Keep your tidy, spark-joy hands off my book piles Marie Kondo.

Many on the web were quick to defend Kondo, and point out not only the gross overreaction to her advice, but the racist and classist undertones of the criticism levied against her as well.[2]  For me as a person whose name can be followed by the letters MLIS, however, there was one thread of tweets that flew above the rest:

While Duncan’s point about deaccessioning in general libraries is a wonderful defense of Kondo’s method with regard to books, I would like to point out to her that archives don’t keep everything they are given in perpetuity either, but rather have our own methods for trying to discern what in our holdings really “sparks joy” and what actually has little archival value.

Like homes of the clutter-besieged participants on Tidying Up, our buildings only hold so much material, and we must be just as discerning about the things we keep. As archivist Mark Greene pointed out in “A Brief and Opinionated History of Archival Appraisal Theory to 2005,” appraisal theory has long been a prominent part of archival discourse. “Writers on appraisal have given us (in rough chronological order),” he writes, “’moral defence of archives,’ cost/benefit analysis, primary/secondary and evidential/informational values, appraisal based on record type, the ‘black box,’ documentation strategy, ‘total archives,’ institutional functional analysis, macro appraisal, social use, functional requirements, risk analysis, and the ‘Minnesota Method,’ to name only the most prominent.”[3]  This ever-expanding canon is meant to guide archivists in making decisions about what to keep and what to discard methodically, and with regard to an agreed upon set of best practices. No collection being alike, however, we acknowledge as a profession that some of these decisions will be made based more on professional judgement than an application of infallible rules.

In many ways, Kondo’s method of tidying up is not unlike these theories. Her method gives people who are overwhelmed by the material objects in their lives guidelines to start making measured decisions about what they do and do not need. Though Kondo makes suggestions as to how many of a particular type of item people should keep (the thirty volume rule for books simply being the number of books she keeps in her own house, not an absolute for everyone), her method leaves room for the judgement and needs of the person applying it. On her show, she never forces anyone to get rid of anything, she merely facilitates the act of letting go.

I find nothing professionally problematic with the KonMari method, and, hopefully, knowing that even archivists and librarians aren’t opposed to tidying sets even the most anxious mind to rest. However, if, as an archivist, I was going to advise someone who was interested in applying Kondo’s method to their own collections of papers, photographs, and books, but was worried that doing so might lead them to destroy what could potentially be a valuable resource for research someday, I would give them my own complementary rubric to ease their concern. Instead of asking if the materials “spark joy,” they could instead ask:

  • Why do you value the material?
  • Is the material unique, or could similar items be found elsewhere because the material was mass-produced?
  • Does the material speak for itself, or would you have to explain its meaning if taken out of the context in which it was created?
  • Who, specifically, might be interested in the material besides you or your family?
  • How do you think this material might be used by people in the future?

I would like to emphasize that, at the end of the day, personal belongings are just that. Very few of us think about the detritus of our lives with posterity in mind, and people should be empowered to hold on to things that are meaningful to them, and rid themselves of material sources of stress without fear.


[1] “What is the KonMari Method?” KonMari Media Inc., accessed January 28, 2019, https://konmari.com/pages/about.

[2] Kerri Jarema, “The Marie Kondo Books Debate Has Classist & Racist Undertones that Can’t Be Ignored,” Bustle, entry posted January 2019, accessed January 28, 2019, https://www.bustle.com/p/the-marie-kondo-books-debate-has-classist-racist-undertones-that-cant-be-ignored-15796044.

[3] Mark A. Greene, “A Brief and Opinionated History of Archival Appraisal Theory, to 2005,” Society of American Archivists: Fundamentals of Acquisition and Appraisal Pre-Readings, posted November 7, 2016, accessed January 28, 2019,  https://www2.archivists.org/prof-education/faa-pre-readings.


Alexandra Bisio

This post was authored by guest contributor Alexandra Bisio, Lead Processing Archivist in Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Oregon. Alex earned her MSLIS in Archives Management and MA in American History from Simmons College, and her BA in American History from Santa Clara University. Before joining SCUA at the University of Oregon, she served as the Associate Archivist of the Jesuit Archives: Central United States in Saint Louis, Missouri, and the Archivist for the Critical Theory Archive at the University of California, Irvine.

Interested in contributing to Responses and Retrospectives?  Please email the editor at archivesaware@archivists.org with your ideas!

Responses and Retrospectives: Rachael Woody on the Decline of History Majors and Its Impact on Archives

This is the first post in our new series Responses and Retrospectives, which features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession. Interested in contributing to Responses and Retrospectives?  Please email the editor at archivesaware@archivists.org with your ideas!

This post was written by archivist and COPA member Rachael Woody as a response piece to the recent articles published in November and December 2018 stating that the History major (as well as the majority of other Humanities majors) have reached a “crisis” level of decline.

The decline of students who pursue humanities education and the noted decrease of those who seek history undergraduate degrees has been a concern since the Great Recession of 2008. It’s recent resurfacing as a crisis in late-November and early-December 2018 is a direct result of Benjamin Schmidt’s report, “The History BA Since the Great Recession: The 2018 AHA Majors Report,” published by the American Historical Association in its series Perspectives on History (November 26, 2018).

In Schmidt’s report[1] the history degree has seen the steepest decline among humanities degrees since 2008. Schmidt notes that the decline began due to the economic reality post-2008, but warns that this is not a temporary shift. He states, “That the declines have continued among students who entered college well into the economic recovery shows that the shifts are not just a temporary response to a missing job market; instead, there seems to have been a longer-term rethinking of what majors can do for students.”[2] He continues with indicating that related subjects that make up the majority of humanities’ degrees are also seeing long-term signs of decline.

Schmidt and others[3] attribute this decline in large-part to be related to the inaccurate perception that there are fewer career options paired with concerns of less earning potential. In terms of “fewer career options,” there are actually substantial statistics out there that prove persons with history degrees are employable across a broad spectrum of jobs. The claim of less earning potential is viewed as more accurate when comparing the history degree against STEM fields; however, recent studies are showing that history majors earn more than other humanities fields, including English, psychology, and sociology.[4]

So, what else could be contributing to this steep decline in the humanities? When interviewed by The Atlantic last August, Schmidt states his frustration with old tropes being “trotted out” to explain the crisis: student debt, postmodern relativism, and vanishing jobs. To the job aspect Schmidt emphasizes a critical difference in our collective understanding of why students aren’t majoring in humanities:

“Students aren’t fleeing degrees with poor job prospects. They’re fleeing humanities and related fields specifically because they think they have poor job prospects.”

But it’s not just about jobs. To think so would inaccurately simplify what is amounting to a critical, evolutionary shift in how we perceive the humanities.

In response to Schmidt’s report, Jason Steinhauer published a Time.com article on December 6, 2018, “Fewer Students Are Majoring in History, But We’re Asking the Wrong Questions About Why.” Steinhauer recalls successful cases of history degrees rebounding at Yale University and also at Villanova University, where he is director of the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest. When Yale noticed a decline in history majors (historically one if its most robust degrees), they asked students about it. In response the students indicated that it went beyond perceived job prospects and earnings—they wanted a logical path to follow (through the degree and out of it) and a cohort. Interestingly, these are also the hallmarks of STEM programs. STEM has evolved as an educational program to provide a variety of pathways students can follow towards a degree and a career, cohorts are formed that build in support and community, and there are clear and direct entries into a variety of jobs.

From these recent articles there are two main calls to action:

  1. The perception of job prospects and earning potential for history (and humanities) degrees needs to be critically evaluated. In addition to gathering and publicizing statistics, an effort needs to be made to show clear and definitive pathways into a variety of careers that provide livable wages.
  2. The way history is offered in academic institutions needs to evolve in order to attract and retain students. A restructuring of how the subject is taught, the introduction of support and communities, the ability to specialize in non-Euro- and U.S.-centric histories, and the regular interaction with history (primary resources) as if it were a lab should be pursued.

Why is this important to archives and archivists?

The importance of the decline of history programs within academic institutions is two-fold for the archives’ profession:

  1. If the decline of history degrees continues it will greatly impact the pool of interested and qualified applicants into the archives profession. This could lead to the atrophy of the profession as a whole and impact the overall care and management of archives across the United States.
  2. If there are fewer history departments, history classes, history students, and history professionals, then there will be fewer people who access and use the archives regularly. Archives being used less will have a compounding effect that can lead to a decrease in resources for the care and maintenance of those archives.

The abandonment of the history degree is being tied to the perceived lack of its financial and societal value. It is not a big leap to then assume that institutions tied to the study of history—archives and museums—are also decreasing in perceived value.

We have some related problems to consider.

It’s no secret that many archivists are struggling within the profession. The recent Wars/SAA Salary Survey and resulting 2017 SAA Annual Meeting panel presentation revealed some depressing statistics on the health of the profession. If you’re thinking, “We love our jobs and aren’t in it to make money,” you’re right about one thing: We aren’t in it to make money. However, the assertion that we love our jobs is complicated by the documented and concerning levels of mental (and, I would argue, physical) health issues archivists have developed as a result of their employment in the profession.

There’s also the, in my opinion, unethical predominance of unpaid internships and their inherent classism, the lack of availability of livable-wage entry-level jobs for graduate students, and the atrophy of mid-career jobs that are directly contributing to the overall devaluation from within the profession to address. From 2000[5], 2010[6], and 2015[7], SAA has published three separate articles in American Archivist studying the issue of the entry-level job market graduates face and revealing that inadequate salary is the number one or two reason archivists leave the profession. Across all three articles (spanning 15 years) these statements repeatedly occur:

  • Given cost of living, professional experience, and job scope, less than half of respondents indicated that their salary was “enough”
  • Due to the higher number of temporary and part-time positions paired with the evaluation that archivist salaries are insufficient in the majority of cases, many are leaving the archives profession
  • Two of the three studies (2000 and 2010) directly state that salary is one of the top reasons given for leaving the profession

Given that the cost of education to become an archivist is only increasing, it is understandable that many looking to join or who have recently joined the profession are alarmed at archivists’ relatively low salaries. And this isn’t just a problem for recent graduates, though much of what could be stated is only anecdotal as there’s not been an SAA census since the 2006 A*CENSUS.[8] Much has changed in the last 12 years, from technology becoming an integrated part of archivist’s jobs to the continued impact of the 2008 recession.

5 things we can work on right now. 

Both issues—the decline of history majors and the atrophy of the archives profession—are rooted in the fundamental belief that those things are no longer as valuable as they used to be. While either point can be argued, that doesn’t change the actions that can and should to be taken:

  1. Reduce the cost of education (debt) and/or increase the entry-level archivist salary so that the return on investment (ROI) increases
  2. Increase the perceived and actual value of archivists by paying commensurate salaries, paying interns, and ceasing the practice of temporary positions in place of permanent positions
  3. Frequently and voraciously speak to the value of the study of history, archives, and archivists
  4. Find ways to increase the intangible benefits of the job to increase the job satisfaction and overall health of archivists as people
  5. Be better as a profession about gathering statistics more frequently and take steps to implement improvements stated in the census reports[9]

In the end, we are in this job because we value history. I’m a big believer on change coming from within. If, through our conscious actions we can become better at valuing archives, our fellow archivists, and ourselves, we can return value to the profession.  By upholding the value of archives and archivists from within the profession, we can influence external audiences and how they value archives and archivists.

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[1] Schmidt’s report relies on data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), with the most recent data available from 2017.[2] Benjamin M. Schmidt, “The History BA Since the Great Recession: The 2018 AHA Majors Report,” Perspectives on History (November 26, 2018), accessed December 8, 2018.

[3] Paul B. Sturtevant, “History is Not a Useless Major: Fighting Myths with Data,” Perspectives on History (April 1, 2017) accessed December 8, 2018.

[4] Data provided by the University of Texas System and analyzed by Schmidt in an August 23, 2018, post.

[5] Elizabeth Yakel, “The Future of the Past: A Survey of Graduates of Master’s-Level Archival Education Programs in the United States,” American Archivist 63:2 (Fall/Winter 2000), 301–321.

[6] Amber L. Cushing, “Career Satisfaction of Young Archivists: A Survey of Professional Working Archivists, Age 35 and Under,” American Archivist 73:2 (Fall/Winter 2010), 600–625.

[7] Matthew R. Francis, “2013 Archival Program Graduates and the Entry-Level Job Market,” American Archivist 78:2 (Fall/Winter 2015), 514–547.

[8] Victoria Irons Walch, Nancy Beaumont, Elizabeth Yakel, Jeannette Bastian, Nancy Zimmelman, Susan Davis, and Anne Diffendal, “A*CENSUS (Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States),” American Archivist 69:2 (Fall/Winter 2006), 291–419.

[9] The author notes that there were recommended actions provided “A*CENSUS (Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States),” American Archivist, that were not (noticeably) implemented; such as the call for conducting surveys every 10 years.

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This post was written by Rachael Cristine Woody, a member of The Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). The opinions and assertions stated within this piece are the author’s alone, and do not represent the official stance of the Society of American Archivists. COPA publishes response posts with the sole aim of providing additional perspectives, context, and information on current events and subjects that directly impact archives and archivists.