Some Archives Questions Need Answers by Tanya Zanish-Belcher

The Task Force on Research/Data and Evaluation will present its preliminary findings to the SAA Council at its upcoming May meeting. Some of their initial findings include the following needs: standardized tools for gathering and analyzing data; a centralized repository of data, tools, and other authoritative aids; training on gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and using data; up-to-date, basic facts and figures about archives and archivists; and a clearinghouse to support archival surveys and research.

These are all areas we need to explore but, for the moment, I’m most interested in the up-to-date, basic facts and figures about archives and archivists. Some of the questions I would like to see answered:

  • What is the current breakdown in percentage of degrees held by archivists? Thirty years ago, the predominant source of archives degrees were history programs. In A*CENSUS (2004), the breakdown was 39.4% for the MLS/MLIS vs 46.3% for the MA/MS/MFA. It now appears that most archivists entering the field are coming from library school programs—but it would be good to have those numbers confirmed. However, there are still many, many people working as archivists who chose another path to this profession. How can archivists coming from different backgrounds—and, in some cases, philosophies—communicate and collaborate most effectively?
  • As a profession, we also need more information about archivists’ salaries, organized by location, type of degree, type of repository, and geographic location. These data would give us important information that would enhance our programming and advocacy efforts. Increasingly, job ads with no salaries are the norm. As with the American Library Association, it would be good for SAA to provide an average salary by state in order to strengthen archivists’ negotiating power.
  • The SAA Foundation provided the financial support for Ben Goldman and Eira Tansey’s “Existence and Location of Originals: Gathering and Documenting Archival Repository Location Data,” a one-year project to identify, gather, standardize, and make publicly accessible United States archival repository location data. It’s difficult for me to believe this information didn’t already exist, but it’s true! Humanities groups have already expressed interest in these data, which could provide much-needed information for advocacy work. Once completed, the dataset will also be available for archivists and SAA, too, giving an opportunity for further research projects.
  • As the various digital, communities, historical, library, museum, and public history fields that overlap with the archives profession continue to expand and splinter, there is a distinct need to map our allied professions. The more we know about each other, the more we can connect and collaborate. Knowing more about the various subsets of SAA membership would also be helpful, as we try to collect more valid and useful data. What has happened to the Mosaic Scholarship participants and Mosaic Fellows? Are they still in the profession or have they moved to other careers? Why? How effective is our mentoring program? Does our partnering structure work? How can we improve this experience? What continuing education do we need to provide for archivists—throughout their careers—including those who are not trained professionally? And finally, what can we provide for those community and citizen archivists who have needs?
  • Following the lead of the museum profession, as archivists, we must fully explore the process of audience building. How can we find those who have never used archives before? How can we determine what resources they need from us? How can we be creative about bringing our resources to new generations and groups?

Brainstorming is the easy part. My hope is that the Task Force will propose a way forward to creation of a robust research agenda that will lead us into the future.


6 responses to “Some Archives Questions Need Answers by Tanya Zanish-Belcher

  1. Hi Tanya and all,
    This is a very important step forward for the profession!

    May I add one (or two) more items to the list? Now that the SAA-ACRL/RBMS Joint Task Force on the Development of Standardized Statistical Measures for Public Services in Archival Repositories and Special Collections Libraries has sent in their final report and SAA-ACRL/RBMS Joint Task Force on the Development of Standardized Holdings Counts and Measures for Archival Repositories and Special Collections Libraries’ report should soon follow, may we start gathering some of this standardized dat to use for benchmarking?
    The OCLC Research “Research and Learning Agenda” had as one of it’s activities exploration around “Building a Cross-Institutional Data Set” that would include cross-institutional and longitudinal data about staffing, budget, programs, collections, and use.
    I’m hoping the TFRDE is exploring ways to gather and expose some of the data to assist archives and archivists in our work.

  2. tanyazanishbelcher

    Thanks Margery!I have forwarded this along to the Task Force.

  3. It would be good to partner with schools on a lot of this. Some of these areas would be good PhD dissertations.

  4. tanyazanishbelcher

    Here is the Task Force report, currently on SAA Council’s agenda for the May meeting:

  5. Tanya, thanks for this update and the shoutout to our Repository Data project! If anyone wants to follow our work, you can read about our efforts on our grant project blog: We’ll also have an article in the next issue of Archival Outlook!

  6. Pingback: Tanya at SAA - ZSR Library

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s