Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody Reflects on 2019 Issues

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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!

As the end of the year approaches we begin to take stock and reflect. The ArchivesAWARE! Responses & Retrospectives (R&R) series began December 19, 2018 and what could be more fitting than a retrospective piece on what the R&R series held for us this year? This post will provide a reflective summary on the response piece issues we covered.

Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody on the Decline of History Majors and Its Impact on Archives, December 19, 2019. We started the R&R series with the not-so-small topic dominating headlines from Thanksgiving to New Year: the history major is dying. While not all archivists are history majors, seeing the history major in decline held obvious implications for archives and archivists. This post covers the issues precipitating history majors in decline and ties the perceived lack of value for history majors to archives and archivists. This would be the first of several posts written on the value of archives and archivists.

Responses & Retrospectives: Alexandra Bisio on “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” Konmari, and Archival Appraisal, January 30, 2019. Bisio wrote a post on the still trending topic of “Tidying Up.” On January 1, 2019, Netflix released a short series featuring the “Tidying Up” creator Marie Kondo. In the series (and her book) Kondo teaches us how to sort through and discard our items that no longer bring us joy. While “bringing joy” is not an official appraisal method for archivists, it does have appraisal features. Then, about half-way through the mini-series Kondo makes the recommendation we keep no more than 30 books and people had some feelings about it. This conversation included librarians and archivists on both sides of the issue. The uproar reached such a crescendo that Kondo had to release a clarification two-weeks after the Netflix series release saying it was OK if people kept more than 30 books. Bisio covers the deaccession issue and describes how the Konmari method relates to archival appraisal.

Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody on Myspace and the Precarity of User Content on Social Media Platforms, July 11, 2019. On March 18, 2019, Myspace lost millions of songs, photographs, and videos published to the platform prior to 2016. Though the platform is not as popular as other social media tools it did still raise significant concerns on where we place our digital items and how easily they can disappear. This post reviews the limited ability for users to receive a backup of their content from popular social platforms and offers some guidance on how to safeguard digital content.

Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody’s Annual Conference Coverage on the Value of Archival Labor Sessions, September 6, 2019. The SAA Annual conference held several session opportunities specific to the value of archival labor. This post summarizes the salary forum and panel sessions with additional facts, critiques, questions, and suggestions. The forum and sessions revealed that there are many who care about how archival labor is valued and are experiencing direct, negative repercussions in a field that is literally being devalued. How do we know this? The SAA A*Census report published in 2006 (initiated in 2003) stated an average salary of: $49,329 – that’s $68,507.86 in 2019 dollars. The Archivist Transparency Survey that came out of a grassroots effort from the annual conference shows an average salary of $62,775. That’s a deficit of $5,733. Since the conference an adhoc SAA salary group has been formed to explore actions to alleviate this issue, but a volunteer group can only do so much so quickly. Without active organization support from SAA, many archivists are already too overworked and have little time or energy to dedicate to this issue – keeping in mind the other professional services (free labor) they are involved in.

Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody on October is American Archives Month, October 1, 2019. This retrospective piece offers a summary of activities and links to resources for American Archives Month. Initiated in 2006, American Archives Month just celebrated its 13th anniversary.

Responses & Retrospectives: Rachael Woody on Resources for How to Convey the Value of Archives, October 15, 2019. With 2019 centering around value this American Archives Month post focused on how to create the archives value proposition and provided a summary of resources from both SAA and peer organizations.

Responses & Retrospectives: “Maybe She Just Has to Sing for the Sake of the Song” Rosemary K.J. Davis on Student Loan Debt and Its Impact on the Archival Profession, November 12, 2019. This response piece was adapted from Davis’ SAA annual conference presentation. Student loan debt is a national crisis with many new to mid-career professionals impacted. Early statistics indicate that student debt laden professionals are postponing home ownership and some are even foregoing having children. This issue is so pervasive that it’s part of several Democratic presidential candidate platforms. And bonus: A recent study shows that student loan forgiveness would boost the economy. Given that student loan debt adds to the archivist devaluation crisis, it will be interesting to see where this issue lands closer to the 2020 election.

Responses & Retrospectives: Not Just Your Problem: Metadata Shame, Imposter Syndrome, and Archivists by Jodi Allison-Bunnell, December 3, 2019. Imposter syndrome featured as a popular panel session during the SAA annual conference. In this post Allison-Bunnell dives into an area where she sees a lot of shame: metadata. As archivists we know that we’re working on a never-ending backlog of items to catalog and legacy data to clean up – and limited resources. And yet, the shame we feel is there. Allison-Bunnell ties shame to a larger issue: imposter syndrome and offers compassionate advice for how we can get through it to the other, shame-free side.

Conclusion: The predominant focus on value and especially the value of ourselves as archivists, contrasted with our conflicting sense of imposter syndrome marks this year as one filled with dissonance. As current events, political and economic issues, and social justice movements continue their march through 2020, I forecast that we will continue to feel these reverberations within the profession as we grapple with systemic problems and institutions that are slow (resistant?) to change. While no one wants to hear that we will continue to struggle in 2020, I find hope in the volume of voices that are speaking out. There is communion found when we pitch in to help raise each other up. And if there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s the unequivocal value of archivists.

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: Not Just Your Problem: Metadata Shame, Imposter Syndrome, and Archivists by Jodi Allison-Bunnell,

Photo of Jodi Allison-Bunnell. Color.

Jodi Allison-Bunnell (courtesy of Jodi Allison-Bunnell).

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!

It usually happens during the tour of the stacks: As we stand among the grey boxes, in a dark corner, a colleague will lean toward me and confess, sotto voce, that their metadata—accession records, finding aids, donor records, or digital collections—is really a mess. Their eyes are downcast with shame at the gap between the standards that they know and what they actually have. They are certain that they are the only individual or institution with this problem.

But what I know—and am always truly delighted to tell them—is that they are not at all alone. Twenty-three years of work in large and small institutions, a regional consortium, and as a consultant has shown me that everyone has ugly metadata. Everyone carries shame about it. And it doesn’t need to be that way.

Last spring, at the annual meeting of Northwest Archivists in Bozeman, Montana, I co-presented a panel with fellow consultants Rachael Woody and Maija Andersen to predict the future of archives in 2020 (http://northwestarchivists.org/resources/Documents/NWA%202019%20Program.pdf). During that panel, we discussed a number of important themes, including salaries in the archival profession (Rachael’s passion!) and the continued certainty of constrained resources. I used the framework of “The good, the bad, and the ugly” to predict that a year from now, your metadata will still be ugly. And there’s no shame in that.

Metadata shame is part of a larger phenomenon: imposter syndrome. First identified in 1978 by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes, it’s when an individual believes they have insufficient skills, intellect, and experience for a given task or environment, usually professional, despite objective evidence to the contrary. (Clance, Pauline R.; Imes, Suzanne A. (Fall 1978). “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” (PDF). Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice. 15 (3): 241–247).  Although Clance and Imes’ initial paper was focused on high-achieving women, the term has since been applied to all genders of highly intelligent, qualified, and achieving people who suffer this crushing self-doubt.

The Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale, a non-diagnostic self-assessment, asks a respondent to indicate degree of agreement or disagreement with statements that include: “I can give the impression that I’m more competent than I really am,” “I’m afraid people important to me may find out that I’m not as capable as they think I am,” “I rarely do a project or task as well as I’d like to do it,” and “Sometimes I’m afraid others will discover how much knowledge or ability I really lack.” (https://paulineroseclance.com/pdf/IPTestandscoring.pdf, accessed 2019 Oct 11. From The Impostor Phenomenon: When Success Makes You Feel Like A Fake (pp. 20-22), by P.R. Clance, 1985, Toronto: Bantam Books. Copyright 1985 by Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., ABPP.)

Clearly, there are many archivists who would agree with many of those statements. At the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists last August, Session 701, “My Comeback Story: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in the Archives Profession” drew hundreds of attendees that overfilled the largest room in the conference facility. The presenters shared their stories of struggling with imposter syndrome and how they have transformed that experience into positive outcomes. Some of their experiences were related to race, education, or the specific dynamics of their institution. But Drew Davis of the College of American Pathologists gave examples that are universal: We have so much to do and so much to know, and one response to that reality is shame. We compare ourself to other professionals and are certain that they are more successful. Davis ultimately found that he is naturally competitive. Instead of fighting that tendency, he turns his comparison with others into an opportunity to be inspired, motivated—and successful

His response is the map for all of us: rather than letting shame overcome us, we can put that energy toward action. When I was building a Digital Public Library of America hub at the Orbis Cascade Alliance, we confronted the challenge of half a million digital object records that had been created before the consortium had Dublin Core best practices. A few core fields needed remediation before the content could be aggregated efficiently at the regional and national level. As part of a series of workshops I developed with consultant Anneliese Dehner and Julia Simic (Assistant Head, Digital Scholarship Services, University of Oregon), we inserted humor and cultivated the concert of the “metadata shame-free zone.” We wanted to create an atmosphere that inspired action, bolstered skills, and created clear priorities for metadata cleanup. And we delivered the results we needed: 100,000 digital objects cleaned up, aggregated, and ready for DPLA.

So let’s come out of that dark corner of the stacks, openly reveal our challenges to colleagues, and support one another in developing solutions. Let’s share our comeback stories to make the profession better for all of us. No more metadata shame. And no more imposters.

This post was written by Jodi Allison-Bunnell. Jodi Allison-Bunnell has twenty-three years of experience leading and participating in collaborations to increase access to unique content in archives, libraries, and museums by using shared systems and standards. She is the owner and principal consultant at AB Consulting (http://consulting.allison-bunnell.net). She was the program manager for Unique and Local Content at the Orbis Cascade Alliance until 2018; prior positions include project manager for Northwest Digital Archives and archivist at the University of Montana. She holds an MA and an MLS from University of Maryland at College Park and a BA summa cum laude from Whitman College.

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: “maybe she just has to sing for the sake of the song” Rosemary K.J. Davis on Student Loan Debt and Its Impact on the Archival Profession

black-and-white head shot of Rosemary K.J. Davis.

Rosemary K.J. Davis (courtesy of Rosemary K.J. Davis).

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!

This text has been lightly adapted from its original form, which was presented at the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting in Austin, TX on August 14, 2019.

maybe she just has to sing for the sake of the song

I owe almost $160,000 in student loans. This number is terrifying to me. I hate to say it out loud or even see all those digits lined up on the page. The very fact of it, the way it feels so inevitable yet so completely avoidable. And it’s both. Truly. 

There is little comfort in knowing that I am not alone in having this complex, conflicted element in my life. It’s an undercurrent for so many of us, a constant little…catch that is triggered by looking at your bank account, by searching for a new job, for paying some bills but not others, by taking on extra work, by not doing things like: having kids, buying a house, traveling, having adequate health insurance. 

Low pay and the notion of a thriving wage are vital topics of conversation within the archives field, certainly, but for me, and maybe for many others, compensation cannot be discussed without an open acknowledgement of debt, of the financial and emotional weights carried as we try to make space for ourselves in this profession.  

I took out my first student loan when I was eighteen because my divorced mom made just enough money that Northwestern University’s financial aid office assumed she magically had thousands and thousands of dollars in reserve to pay for my tuition and housing. The university assumed that those imaginary funds, along with non-existent child support from my dad, would certainly be enough to keep me afloat and pay the bills–I can assure you this was not the case.  

I took out student loans every semester because the choice between staying in Chicago and going back to East Texas didn’t feel like a choice at that point in my life. 

I had to make my first student loan payment six months after I dropped out of Northwestern halfway through my third year. There have been deferments and tearful calls to loan servicers begging for adjustments, but always, eventually, payments. Relentless. I know I am not alone in feeling the fear of this weird emotional and financial low-hanging cloud that dulls joy and takes away possibilities.

When I decided to go to library school, the fatalism of already being six figures deep in unrepayable debt was almost liberating. Because, you know, at that point: fuck it

I worked full-time and took classes at Pratt during the evening. At one point, I did a practicum at the Fales Library at NYU and while the experience I gained there was invaluable both practically and in the form of a resume line, it was also unpaid. Well, I wasn’t paid. But I did use student loan money to pay for tuition in order to get credit for my unpaid internship. 

That’s certainly a song that many of us know how to sing. Hello, to the choir of my colleagues. I can hear you.

I don’t really have a concrete number for how much debt I took on in order to get through my MSLIS degree, but it was most likely about $36,000, which is essentially the entire bill for grad school. Salary from my full-time office job paid for my rent, for my food. I’m aware of the immense amount of privilege it takes in order to just…decide I’m taking on this additional debt. The way that I just got to assume “I’ll figure it out somehow”–it’s particular brand of carelessness that so many people cannot emotionally, professionally, or financially afford to exercise. But when you are sunken so deep into the unreality of a number this big, a few more thousand can feel like pocket change. It can feel like both a salvation and like a curse you cast upon yourself.  

And obviously, the cost of dealing with this debt isn’t just financial. It’s depression. Guilt. Fear. Disenfranchisement. These are not uncommon states of being for many people in our profession. A recent contingent employment survey done by the New England Archivists  shows that a majority of us are taking on significant amounts of debt in order to finance a career in a profession that is chronically underfunded across the board and is, in many cases, still under the impression that unpaid internships that provide “good experience” are good enough, that job postings without salary information are just “an institutional prerogative” instead of an antiquated, bullshit form of gatekeeping that keeps applicant pools remarkably undiverse. 

The Issues and Advocacy Section of SAA recently completed a temporary labor survey that reveals some pretty unsurprising information: precarious, underpaid, unsupported labor not only actively drives people away from this profession, but it also creates a cross-section of archivists who are constantly searching for work, endlessly balancing multiple jobs in order to stay afloat, and who feel like they’ve taken on a mountain of debt for a shot at doing work they care about in conditions that deny them stability, progress, and joy.

After five years of jobs with expiration dates and less than stellar salaries, I am now paid well and in a permanent position. I’m thankful for that, certainly, but also: about 14% of the money I make every year goes directly to student loan payments. I am now almost two decades into making payments on my student loans and the principal amount has absolutely never decreased once. I doubt it ever will. Every year, my monthly payment amount goes up, instead of down–it’s pegged to my income (and to the income of my partner, who has zero debt but has become responsible for mine because we are in love and legally bound). I got word a couple of days ago that my promotion portfolio was accepted. Salary increases, like the one I will get with this promotion, are lovely, but usually feel a bit more grayscale than technicolor. I know that the increased amount siphoned away toward loan payments will absorb most of the small gains I make. 

I am so lucky right now. I can pay my bills. I have financial and emotional support from a wonderful partner. I don’t have dependents who require assistance. I did, finally, buy a house. I have debt beyond my student loans, but I can usually handle it. 

Still. 

Uncertainty and anxiety don’t slip away so easily. They become hardwired in a way that can feel impossible to dismantle. And when you’re surrounded by waves of professionals doing awesome work but who are struggling with a heaviness I can so well recognize, who are coming up against the same walls over and over again, who are facing limitations I can’t begin to imagine shouldering, you have to realize that reaching back to give a hand up is good but it’s certainly not enough. 

There has to be a systemic examination of how our profession values the labor being done. This examination must necessarily be linked to an acknowledgement of the full spectrum of experiences carried by the individuals who perform it. That includes debt, family obligations, health, and a raft of other needs that shape who we are and how we work.

None of this is news, but it is maybe my own little personal call to action. My nudge to examine your working conditions and those of the people supported by the work you do. My request that we make our labor more valued through visibility. My hope that together we can lift the tide a bit for all.

Let’s find some new songs to sing together. 

This post was written by Rosemary K. J. Davis. Davis is the Accessioning Archivist for the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. She received her MSLIS + Archives certificate from Pratt Institute. Currently, she serves as Vice-chair for SAA’s Committee on Ethics and Professional Conduct, as a member of the Steering Committee for SAA’s Women Archivists Section, as Co-chair for the New England Archivists’ Inclusion and Diversity Committee, and as Managing Editor for the Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies.

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 Resources for How to Convey the Value of Archives

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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!

American Archives Month is an annual reminder of why we do what we do. Archivists across the country mobilize to promote collections, articulate what archives are, define what archivists do, and advocate for the value of our work. Articulating the value of archives and ourselves as archivists is hard to do. Speaking for myself, the value of archives and archivists is so evident that I have a hard time trying to explain our value proposition. The difficulty is often compounded when I realize I also need to explain why history is important, why liberal arts education is vital, and why critical thinking and the evaluation of historical resources are imperative for a healthy democracy. These are big concepts to convey and we as archivists need to continue our work on breaking them down so that they’re consumable for the public.

To get us started, I’ve compiled a list of resources to help use identify and articulate the value of archives.

Resources to Help you Talk About Archives and Their Value

Books on Advocating for the Value of Archives

Craft an Elevator Speech on Why We Value Archives

Check out COPA’s elevator speech cheat sheet with prompts to guide you toward your perfect pitch and review Talking Points on the Value of Archives for elevator speech examples.

SAA’s Role in Advocating for Archival Value

SAA’s advocacy efforts are directed to three principal audiences:

  • We target policymakers for important messages on archives- and records-related public policy.
  • We work to raise general public awareness of the importance of archives–and the important work of archivists.
  • And we provide resources for members to enhance advocacy within their own organizations with key decision makers, colleagues, and others.

SAA Groups Specific to Advocacy and the Value of Archives

SAA Resources for Advocacy and the Value of Archives

SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness – ArchivesAWARE! Blog

COPA’s ArchivesAWARE! Blog hosts several series to help to promote the value of archives and archivists.

  • There’s an Archivist for That! features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.
  • Keeping ArchivesAware is a recurring roundup of some of the latest archives-related news stories, features, commentaries, announcements, and projects that have caught our eye, with links to the original sources.
  • Asserting the Archivist is focused on the importance of highlighting archivists and archival work in outreach efforts, rather than just focusing on the collections themselves.
  • Archives + Audiences features the perspectives of archival audiences – scholars, journalists, filmmakers, artists, activists, and more – for whom archives have been an important part of their life and work.
  • Archival Innovators aims to raise awareness of the individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of the archivist in society.
  • Responses & Retrospectives features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession.

 Interested in Contributing to ArchivesAWARE!?

If you’re interested in contributing a piece to ArchivesAWARE! lease email the editor at archivesaware@archivists.org with your ideas!

Conclusion

We still have work to do when it comes to distilling for a general audience the complex issues that surround the importance of archives and our role as archivists. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on how to communicate the value of archives and/or archivists. Please share them in the comments of this post or email me at consulting@rachaelcristine.com.

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 October is American Archives Month

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!

It’s that time of year again. No. Not pumpkin spice latte time – though it’s that time of year too. It’s American Archives Month!

 

Quick History Lesson

American Archives Month was launched in 2006 by the Society of American Archivists in support of their mission to advocate for the value of archives and archivists.

Archives Month Activities

Archives across the country can participate in archives month activities by doing any of the following:

  • Host an archives open house
  • Publish an article on your archives or collection
  • Create a display of highlights from your archives collection
  • Offer an archives workshop to the community
  • Give a lecture on a topic related to your archives
  • Write a blog post or post a video about your archives
  • Advocate for the resources you need for the archives to run smoothly

And Don’t Forget About #AskAnArchivist Day!

#AskAnArchivist day is October 2 this year and SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) will be hosting a Twitter takeover of the SAA twitter account (@archivists_org). To learn more about #AskAnArchivist day and how you can participate please check out this SAA webpage.

Hone Your Archives Elevator Pitch

American Archives Month is a great time to work on your elevator speech. Not sure where to begin? Check out COPA’s elevator speech cheat sheet with prompts to guide you. Need examples to inspire you? Check out Talking Points on the Value of Archives for elevator speech examples. And for Twitter friendly speeches check out the Twitter #Archivesin5Words to see just how succinct (and funny) we can be.

American Archives Month Resources

A major partner and contributor to American Archives Month is the Council of State Archivists (COSA). Please check out the COSA Archives Month Resources page for information about Electronic Records Day, a sampling of Archives Month 2018 programming, press releases and governor proclamations, and example of state archives’ websites. COSA also offers a library of past American Archives Month posters to help inspire you.

Additional Resources to Help You Plan American Archives Month

Resources to Help with Media

 And don’t forget, International Archives Day is June 9, 2020!

In 2004, membership from the International Council on Archives petitioned the United Nations to create an International Archives Day. The date was chosen in honor of the ICA’s founding date: June 9, 1948. Just like Christmas in July, we can revisit our American Archives October activities and celebrate Archives Day in June.

Past American Archives Month Activities

To see a summary of activities archives across the country have hosted from 2006-2018, please see these pages:

Conclusion

Some of the resources offered in this blog post and on the American Archives Month webpage are dated. Do you have resources, tips, or toolkits we should know about? Please let the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) know in the comments on this post or send an email to consulting@rachaelcristine.com so that COPA can continue to offer up to date outreach resources.

Now get out there and let us know what you’re doing for American Archives Month by sending an email to saahq@archivists.org.

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’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.