Special thanks to Nancy Beaumont and Kathleen Roe for their input on this post.
When I came back from Chicago after the SAA Council and Foundation Board meetings I had planned to write a brief post noting some of the highlights of both meetings. I was excited that we got our strategic plan actions finished and that we have a living document that will help guide us for the next few years. We also reviewed six issue briefs created by the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy that we hope to have available in May, did background work to inform SAA’s next budget and reviewed the annual reports of the sections, roundtables, committees and task forces of the Society. The Foundation Board began discussing fund raising opportunities but also how the funds raised could support ongoing research projects and new educational programming.
But there is one issue that continues to be at the forefront for many of our members. It’s one we discussed several times during our Council meeting including spending one half day totally focused on this one issue. Before I could get unpacked and attack the massive piles on my desk, I felt it was important to share information on the topic of employment because it is of serious concern to our membership and to Council.
In fact, we are extremely aware of the issues challenging not only new professionals but also mid-career archivists who are looking to move into management or find other ways to grow as professionals. Our discussion on the mega-issue of employment was intense, fascinating, difficult and honest. We kept in close mind discussions that have taken place at the Annual meeting, on twitter, blogs, the Archives and Archivists list, and a range of other physical and virtual locations. We talked about the concerns regarding the lack of positions that pay a “living wage,” certification, the number of students graduating from archival education programs, the current economic climate and how hiring officers may either use volunteers or hire people who have not completed archival education programs to serve as archivists.
One of the first things we did was to acknowledge that the employment situation is not an immediately solvable problem but a complex, wide-ranging dilemma to be managed. The reality is that SAA cannot change the global and U.S. economic outlook, and many of our sister professions are facing this challenge as well. However, we did think about ways in which we can make some inroads to improve options and opportunities, and to listen to and support our membership. We discussed ways to help prospective students learn more about archival education programs and make informed decisions on program content. We discussed the Best Practices for Internships as a Component of Graduate Archival Education standard that we adopted during the meeting. We also discussed developing a best practices document discussing the use of volunteers in archives, and we hope to have a completed document that has been reviewed by SAA members and the Standards Committee ready for review in time for the May Council meeting. We considered ways to help inform hiring officials about the skills needed to be an archivist and providing information on the importance of hiring trained archivists for collections. Most importantly we added finding ways to work on the employment issue to the actions section of our strategic plan to ensure that it stays in the forefront of our thinking and in any plans we make over the next few years. We are committed to serving our members throughout their careers and will share our ideas and actions as we work on this important issue.
It is vital for the SAA membership to realize that the employment issue affects not only students and new professionals. It affects all SAA members because it strikes at the core and character of our profession. We can’t be adversaries; instead, we have to come together and discuss ways to support all of our members in their professional experience. We are a large organization and we must find ways to work with each other and with other professions to make a firm and committed effort to address this dilemma from all sides.
To this end I ask that the leaders of all SAA component groups contact their members and ask them to identify the top one or two issues that need to be addressed and more importantly, one or two tangible things that could be done to help address these issues.
Those who wish to respond individually can send email to me or one of the other Council members or to SAA headquarters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We would appreciate receiving responses by March 7th.
As challenging as this issue is, we can make progress if we work together toward positive change.”