The Jobs Thing…

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

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.”

24 responses to “The Jobs Thing…

  1. Reblogged this on Archivasaurus and commented:
    Current SAA president Danna C. Bell provided a summary of the recent Council debate over archives employment issues.

  2. Given the spirited discussion last week on the listserv about employment (which I assume prompted this post), I strongly encourage you to invite Tom Tiballi to present his research at a special open forum at the annual meeting in DC this summer. Despite good intentions, listservs, blogs, tweets, and other online forums are not ideal spaces to carry out such a complex discussion on a topic about which there are so many strong opinions.

    • That’s an interesting idea Jordon. Do you think that you could work with one of the sections or roundtables to move this idea forward? And if you can’t an open forum this year (we already have a bunch of groups clammoring for the limited space) would you consider creating a session proposal for the Cleveland conference?

      • Danna, I am on the Steering Committee of College and University Archives Section, so I can ask them. I think Cleveland is probably too late to begin this discussion. All due respect to the other groups that want space at the meeting, but this appears to be *the* leading topic of interest among the profession, and SAA would do its membership a service to recognize that.

    • Excellent suggestion Jordon. Doing archives has asked Tom to speak at an upcoming Google Hangout (times to coincide with the New England Archivist Spring meeting on 2014.03.20 @ 1200 PST.

      There are also representatives from a legal clinic that serves the archival community … there are opportunities for Q + A both before and after the recorded session.

      Details are here
      hangouts on air
      2014.001 USA Doing archives (at) New England Archivists spring 2014 meeting

      Presenters (10m)
      Henrik Mondrup, MA student Aalborg University Copenhagen DNK
      Art Neil, founder / director New Media Rights USA (how can archivists take advantage of available legal services)
      Teri Kobonick, staff attorney New Media Rights USA
      Tom Tiballi, author {Title} (speaking about “displacement + exploitation”)

      Christopher Felker, creator Doing archives

  3. I’m glad that SAA is discussing this, but I still feel like the discussion is becoming a bit cyclical. Not to speak for all of my peers, but I think this reflects some of the frustration experienced by many newer archivists who have lived the reality of the terrible job market over the last few years.

    I would really like to see SAA do three things, immediately:

    1. Develop an annual or biannual salary survey broken down by demographic information, type of archive, and length of job time – it will be easier for archivists to ask for and negotiate salaries when we know what our peers are making. We need more data on our field in order to effectively advocate for it. I bet several SAA component groups, such as SNAP, Archival Management RT, and the Membership Committee would be good partners for mobilizing this survey.

    2. Look to some of our peer organizations for how we might develop salary guidelines. I am really impressed by a lot of the work done by ALA-APA’s “Improving the Salaries and Status of Library Workers” ( and I think it would be excellent to see a similar portal of work from SAA.

    3. This is a bit loftier and admittedly very higher education specific, but I would like SAA to join forces with other library organizations in order to begin working towards college/university accreditation criteria that elevates the standing of librarians and archivists. We’re starting to see adjunct instructors agitating towards this, why shouldn’t librarians and archivists do the same? Here is some more information about this and

    • I strongly support all of Eira’s suggestions. ALA-APA has compiled comprehensive data and actionable guidelines towards advancing the salaries and status of library workers. A similar database of archives salaries would provide powerful data for new professionals seeking to negotiate their salaries and for archives administrators seeking to establish equitable pay for their employees.

    • I really agree with everything Eira suggests. It is one reason Doing archives was created – to provide a global perspective on 11 important indicators involved with archives.

      With Tom Tiballi’s assistance, the project is leading efforts to compile rich (and freely available) data sets around numerous sustainability indicators.

      To date, we have open datasets on the SAA Digital Archives Specialist certification (which implies a holder will gain professional status / salary advantages over non certificated professionals); the Society of California Archivists Western Archives Institute (which is targeted at 4 ‘vulnerable’ professional sub communities whose repositories and careers will benefit – “those whose jobs require a fundamental understanding of archival skills, but who have little or no previous archives education; those who have
      expanding responsibility for archival materials; those who are
      practicing archivists but have not received formal instruction; and
      those who demonstrate a commitment to an archival career”.

      At a time of endemic under (and un) employment, the lack of solid data showing the participants in these courses receive concrete career benefits is really shocking (for an information based) profession.

      If you have direct experience with either of these programs, as either a learner or educator, you can add to what little we understand about the success of these programs using these links.

      2014 004 archival education @archivists_org
      2014 005 archival education @calarchivists @archivists_org

      In short – the promotion and existence of these post – post graduate training programs imply that internships, additional training (residencies?) are a prerequisite to career advancement and satisfying work experiences.

      The label “jobs thing” appears slightly tone deaf when the crux of the issue is whether reasonable investments in education and career paths likely results in any predictable success in the employment market. If you look critically at the current structure of the profession, it is expected persons will (in the USA) spend 2 years (and $15,000 – $30,000) in tertiary graduate education that many, if not most active professional societies realize results in gaps that prevent degree holders from becoming “certified” archivists. And that can cost another $1000 – $15,000 over an archivist’s career (and there are currently few low cost or no cost options for archival start up academies).

      As SAA’s (and a broad spectrum of other professional societies) actions show, the remedy is less “carer advice and coaching” and more taking measurable steps to know its members (and perhaps more importantly non members unable to afford to attend conferences, workshops and dues) in descriptive statistics. When made available (and the USA is compared to other countries), the state of the profession will become much better known (and it might look a little ugly).

      On salaries – resources such as The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), in collaboration with the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR), recently completed revisions to academic library position descriptions included in surveys covering salaries, benefits and other benchmarks are useful, but the release and analysis of their data often is predicated on membership in those organizations (published summaries, complete datasets are not freely available).

      Doing archives has a third open dataset on salaries (internships) and volunteer work in archives, it is located here

      2014 002 salaries

      When any of these datasets has 100 data points (this one currently stands at 10) – the data is pushed out to a Harvard Dataverse for anyone to analyse and use. These surveys (which are designed to remain open for 25+ years) will likely to provide data of a quality high enough to allow for probabilistic conjoint measurement (testing quantitative hypotheses in survey and report layouts, making it possible to read interpretable quantities off the instrument at the point of use with no need for further computer analysis). All data is aggregated at the country (and state / regional level) – and is collected on a “strictly anonymous” study design in which it is impossible to trace data or information back to the contributor from whom it was obtained.

      Everything produced, written and shared in our project will remain forever free and in the public domain. We launched a little over 60 days ago (and are always looking for like minded professionals to add their voice and talents). With the inclusion and support of insightful people (like Tom and the other project volunteers), I am convinced that a profession that cares (and shares) as as archivists (and lawyers) – can collectively move the understanding of these issues to a higher level.

      If interested, you can continue to follow the project’s work on Twitter (@Doingarchives / #doingarchives).

      Christopher Felker (in conjunction with 11 current project council members)
      creator, Doing archives

  4. I second Eira’s suggestions and would add that SAA might want to think about setting guidelines for jobs posted on its online career center. Guidelines that stress providing equitable salary based on required qualifications (and maybe outright rejecting the posting of jobs with ridiculous salary-to-qualification comparisons — like requiring a BA degree only for a professional position or requiring 5 years experience and offering only $30K).

    Perhaps these guidelines exist already, but I didn’t see them in a look at the site. Posting them publicly and prominently would help promote (and often educate others about) professionalism. It would also help avoid the appearance of SAA’s implicit support of these types of low-wage/high-qualifications positions.

  5. Elizabeth Kelly

    I second Erin’s suggestion and third Eira’s. Great ideas here that move towards better opportunities both for job seekers and the currently employed.

  6. Absolutely agree with what Eira and Erin say here. Note that some of the data Eira is looking for is already available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (, but it’s necessarily *highly* generalized– additional granularity through asking SAA members directly will be a huge step in getting data people can use for their particular job situation and reading. Although I can’t speak for the Records Management Roundtable authoritatively without consulting the rest of the Steering Committee, I feel pretty confident that we would be willing to help with a survey of this type.

  7. Agree with all above — I’d like to see something on job titles as well.

  8. Yes, please do a salary survey! I’m helping a new archivist with a job interview for a position that is horrifically below the living wage. I’m finding good stuff through ALA-APA to educate her before she interviews, but I wish SAA also had some data.

  9. I was glad to see the Best Practices for Internships standard. But I would also like to see a similar document for grant funded/term/Project Archivist positions.

  10. James Cartwright


    One of my on-going concerns for archivists has been the cost of membership, especially for new professionals. I raised the issue with Ms. Felzer while she was treasurer and have brought the issue up again with Mr. Duffy a year or so ago. I have a difficult time understanding how an annual income of $20,000 can be used as the boundary for an increase in dues from the bottom level, regardless of how small that income may be, to a second tier of $105. annual dues. If you or I were only earning $20,000 annual income, we would not be able to join SAA with dues of $105. Anyone earning $35,000 annually (the next level of dues) will be hard pressed to pay $130 dues.

    I realize that the dues structure significantly helps to fund our operations. Nevertheless, we are pricing ourselves above the means of new archivists and thereby depriving the organization of a lot of good new members and depriving them of the benefits of membership. I strongly feel we need to “tax the wealthy” to ease the burden on the poorer members of the profession and hence increase the number of new professionals who can afford to join SAA.

    I realize this is not one of the topics you expected feedback on, but….

    Sincerely with love to you and best wishes for the rest of your presidency.

    Jim Cartwright

  11. Want to +1 Jim’s point. Although it was arguably a very good problem to have, I went from a student membership due level to a full membership level this year when I gained my new position, and my dues tripled. I am lucky enough that this alone isn’t a huge problem, but in my new position I also need to join some other organizations, and the dues really add up.

    I’d like to see SAA form more membership dues partnerships with other orgs. Maybe these exist, but I don’t think they’re well known. I seem to recall something from several months about being able to add on an ICA membership for a nominal fee to your SAA membership. It’d be great to have more opportunities like this.

    • Is this something the SAA Regional Archival Associations Consortium can be asked to investigate?

      • Danna C. Bell

        tcartmn, can you tell me more? Do you have something specific that the Regional Archival Associations Consortium should investigate or should they just explore all of the aspects of the jobs issue? It might be helpful to hear more from the regionals about how their members are dealing with the lack of jobs or if the lack of jobs is felt more in one area than it is in another.

      • I was referring specifically to Eira’s suggestion about membership dues partnerships. Seems like RAAC is the logical place for this discussion to occur.
        And, yes, Dana, the jobs discussion is happening at the regional level too, so sharing information across the associations would be helpful.

  12. I like the comments so far, esp. the salary survey idea. SAA might also look at the other end of this idea: online career center data. Does SAA use job descriptions in the career center for anything other than job posting? If not, it could be part of the agreement by the posters. It seems a shame that this data goes away, at least to members, after 2 months.

    To make data more useful, SAA could also require that all employers post an actual salary (whether range or base) in the career center listings. This would be extremely useful in tying salary info to qualifications, education, etc.. Some of the career center data is standardized: type, educational requirement, location, salary, but structuring some of the qualifications and other info. might help to analyze this problem even more

    This is only one small part of a larger problem; it’s not only an archival one that’s true, but SAA shouldn’t let that stop them from addressing these huge problems. Many people look to SAA for leadership in the profession, but without actions and results, I fear people will look elsewhere for that leadership. A lot of these issues have been hashed and rehashed by others more articulate than I am. I hope members will get a chance to see all of these great ideas that have been submitted to SAA leadership.

  13. Library Journal has some data on salaries ( though it’s broad. The bigger problem is that any salary statistics should include a ton of zeroes for all the unemployed graduates; which to me seems like the bigger scandal than lowish salaries for two reasons:

    1) The glut of library school graduates directly leads to lower salaries
    2) Salary data only accounts for the winners in the game, not people who never got the chance to play. For SAA to publish statistics like “The average starting salary is 45k” without a corresponding “Only 50% of graduates got professional, permanent, full-time jobs” would be disgustingly unethical.

    Lastly, I believes SAA should do a better job of tracking graduate outcomes; Inside the Law School Scam ( helped force law schools to report accurate statistics about graduate outcomes, with a corresponding dip in enrollment when the reality of the job market set in. I quickly tried find membership retention statistics on the SAA website, but couldn’t; SAA could quickly calculate how long members who first joined as students remained in the organization, which would provide a rough snapshot of outcomes (it could also be parsed by school, which would be useful information).

    I will see you all at SAA 2016: Salary Compression Slaughter.

    • Ryder – As if we needed further proof that the message is not really being received was this post (4 days after this thread began) from someone who is looking to “future proof” in digital curation. The psychology of volunteer = future payoff is genuine, but the notion that the buzz created by archival options without serious data leaves many (like this poster and his advisors) in the dark. Reddit “Archivists” at (662 members, that is almost 10% of the SAA membership).

      You are very much on point to describe what is happening in much larger disciplines (like the law). Blogs like Above the Law have almost daily features that suggest that the education = increased opportunity mechanism in the US is in a fundamental sense – unglued. Read this example

      I think Obama has it right in suggesting policy to ask that universities disclose data on educational outcomes, and archivists could certainly benefit from having more transparent information throughout their career cycles. Although professional investments are smaller (but no less significant for those few who have to pay instead of their employers), graduate interns are almost certain (like law students) to be engaging in risky borrowing to subsidize work for academic credit.

      With a little work (much supplied by SAA volunteers) – the approximately 900+ people who took SAA courses this calendar year could tell much about whether enrollment / career trends in the field is, in fact, trending in a predictable pattern. SAA is to be commended for ensuring that adversarial commentary is to be avoided, but more transparency is always welcome – and just putting some numbers out there (about how many zeroes there are) would be of great value.

  14. Pingback: Paid internships FTW | Library Historian

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