Category Archives: Employment

Keeping Evidence & Memory: Archives Storytelling in the 21st Century (Presidential Address, SAA Annual Meeting), August 17, 2018 by Tanya Zanish-Belcher

A pre-recorded video version of this address is available here.

Good morning and welcome again to the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists. I am honored to be speaking to you this morning as SAA’s 73rd President and would like to express my gratitude for having the opportunity to represent our organization this past year.

Three years ago, our SAA annual meeting theme was about Telling the Story of Archives as part of President Kathleen Roe’s Year of Living Dangerously. Recently the term storytelling just kept popping up everywhere for me. I subscribe to the Brain Pickings newsletter (edited by Maria Popova) which has the literary arts as a focal point. While I often delete the messages due to lack of time, I do save them if a subject catches my eye. And so, while I was reading what I had set aside, the word “Storytelling” appeared three times in conjunction with authors Iris Murdoch, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Susan Sontag. In the next day or so, the SAA Annual Meeting Program came out and I signed up to attend A Finding Aid to My Soul, an open-mic storytelling session tonight. In May, I was interviewed for a blog post on diversity in archives created by Pass It Down, which advertises itself as a digital storytelling company. And finally, just last week, I was standing at the elevator and saw a Wake Forest flyer advertising the MA in Sports Storytelling Program.

Beyond simply telling our own archives stories, though, I realized the term can also be used in how we consider the documentary record. Archives storytelling is, in every way, dependent on recorded evidence and memory. Researchers use the records we collect to make sense of the past, present, and future. Through archives and their use, there is a cycle of storytelling with multiple characters and perspectives, different endings, and even never endings.

As Murdoch observes “we are constantly employing language to make interesting forms out of experience which perhaps originally seemed dull or incoherent.” The making of sense belongs to the genealogists, researchers, scholars, and students who visit us or view our materials online. We can only hope that what we have acquired and collected can provide those interesting forms.

We need to remember that as Sontag points out “To tell a story is to say: this is the important story. It is to reduce the spread and simultaneity of everything to something linear, a path.” This is why we collect about inadequately represented communities, create a documentation strategy, or interview and capture the stories of those who have been left out of the historical record. Wherever archivists focus their attention and effort can expand the number of stories told.

Finally, Le Guin observed that One of the functions of archives is to give people the words to know their own experience… Storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want.”

However, how do we tell our story? The story of archivists? Who are we, and what do we want?

So, here is a short tale of what SAA (and when I say SAA, I mean all of us) has been working on over the past year. I’ll focus in particular on Advocacy, Diversity, the SAA Foundation, and Membership. There will be more to come in a forthcoming article in the American Archivist.

Advocacy
One of the primary ways we tell our story—for archivists, users, and the records, is through the practice of advocacy.  Nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of historical record issues for this past year or two, especially at the federal record level. Public records, including local and state records, truly are essential to the functioning of American democracy. In my years as SAA President and Vice President, we have created numerous issue briefs and position statements, signed letters and petitions, and responded to external requests representing crucial national records concerns. The most recent relate to our support of the Presidential Records Act, concern over the illegal removal of Iraqi records from Iraq, and opposing the nomination of Gina Haspel as Director of the CIA (given her destruction of records documenting torture). We spoke about the importance of Net Neutrality, the Use of Private Email by all government officials, the need for Transparency in Public Records, the Value and Importance of the U.S. Census, and Police Mobile Camera Footage as a Public Record. For anyone interested in the labor-intensive and complex process by which these briefs and statements come to pass, please see my Off the Record blog post from July 16.

Why does SAA dedicate its time to advocacy and why is this important for us? Archivists play a special role in the preservation of the historical record and in many cases the preservation and access of these records are dependent on our local, state, and federal governments. Awareness building also allows us to share who we are with the public and why records are integral to their lives. Through these efforts we do our best to ensure that archival sources protect the rights of individuals and organizations, assure the continued accountability of governments and institutions based on evidence, and safeguard access to historical information and cultural heritage.

Diversity
Fostering diversity and inclusion within the profession continues to be a high priority for SAA. Fundraising for the MOSAIC Scholarship and the Brenda S. Banks Travel Award continues, and our key partnership with the Association of Research Libraries in the IMLS-funded Mosaic Fellows Program will last 2 and possibly 3 more years. I am also pleased to again announce that Council endorsed the Native American Protocols earlier this week.

The Task Force on Accessibility is updating our 2010 Best Practices for Working with Archives Employees and Users with Physical Disabilities and is expanding them to include neuro-disabilities, temporary disabilities, and others that may be in scope. A draft was shared earlier this week with Council, and member review will take place shortly.

Our Tragedy Response Initiative Task Force was proposed by our Diverse Sexuality and Gender Section, who were motivated by the Pulse Night Club tragedy as well as far too many other incidents in the past few years. The TF will provide guidance regarding policies, procedures, and best practices for acquisition, deaccessioning, preservation, and access of memorial collections. An update was provided in the Off the Record blog post on July 30 and a final report will be submitted by 2020.

Finally, sharing our expertise should be a priority. In my first job at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, I learned to process and describe collections and to grapple with the enormity, complexity and, quite often, the awfulness of American history. As a transplanted Yankee, it didn’t take me long to figure out the reason for the Confederate flag above the Capitol, or why the state holidays list included Confederate Memorial Day and Martin Luther King, Jr./Robert E. Lee Day (still). I understood too well why the street on which I was fortunate to attend the dedication of the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center also hosted a Ku Klux Klan march several years later. This is not isolated to Alabama, or even to one region of our country. The symbols of oppression and our violent past are all around us.

Last fall’s events in Charlottesville point to the need for archivists to use our skills and experience to assist our communities in researching and determining the history of the names, images, and monuments in our midst. The Council’s Diversity and Inclusion Working Group has begun the process of creating a series of Diversity Toolkits available online for archivists and anyone else who needs its resources. The resources currently include materials for facilitating discussions, helping communities in crisis, researching monuments, and how to teach hard history at the K-12 level. A Bibliography for Monuments and Symbols of Oppression is also available on the SAA web site via an Off the Record blog post. The goal is to provide a starting point to learn more about these issues.

All this work is good. But more needs to be done. Diversity and Inclusion is not simply the purview of the Diversity Committee or our Sections or Council but is a responsibility for all of us.

SAA Foundation
Too many archival stories this past year have involved natural disasters–hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and the terrifying fires on the west coast. Fortunately, the SAA Foundation’s National Disaster Recovery Fund was expanded in 2017 to include eligibility for Mexico and non-US Caribbean Islands and to award up to $5,000 in grant funding. As you can imagine, Hurricane Maria and the Mexican earthquake damaged many archival repositories. To date, the Foundation has awarded nine grants to archivists and repositories in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Mexico. We are grateful to our Latin American & Caribbean Cultural Heritage Archives Section for translating the application materials. We have a growing role to play in the American hemisphere and it is important we take that responsibility seriously.

The Foundation also supported a new travel grants program for 2018 to provide grants of up to $1,000 each for travel to attend the SAA Annual Meeting. We received nearly 80 applications for 10 grants! Sustainable funding for professional development is an obvious problem for archivists and so as I transition to the position of Immediate Past President and remain on the SAA Foundation Board for (at least) one more year, one of my goals will be to explore how we can connect with external foundations and match their available funding and interests with our needs.  In the meantime, I am happy to report that SAA Foundation Board recently approved $10,000 in travel grants for Austin 2019.

Membership and Professional Development
Recently, SAA has undertaken two recent membership surveys, one focused on institutional support for professional development and the other for the needs and interests of mid-career archivists. The results provided key data about what our members need for their success. I mentioned exploring foundation support for professional development, but we also obtained good information about what continuing education archivists would like to see SAA provide—courses on career planning, management, and leadership, among others. Your feedback in these surveys provide a path for SAA to follow over the next several years.

SAA members have recently reviewed the updated Principles of the Annual Meeting, the Code of Ethics, Best Practices for Internships as a Component of a Graduate Archival Program, and Best Practices for Volunteers. Treat these as the opportunities they are for having your voice heard. And never feel hesitant to contact your elected officers and Council.

These are only some of the SAA stories from the past year.

Here are some Recommendations for SAA’s Future.

First and foremost, we need to refocus our energies for Diversity and Inclusion. How can we better document and share the unique diversity projects being undertaken in so many of our repositories?  Archivists need to create case studies, essays, and articles and make them available through the SAA  website–this can help us ensure our important collection development efforts inspire others to establish new programs. The Diversity Toolkits also need to be finalized and we need all our members to contribute ideas and sources. If everyone in this room submitted a 500-word annotated source, the Toolkits would be a tremendous crowd-based resource for all. There will be a call after the annual meeting, so please plan to send in your suggestions.

Second, we need more information about the makeup of our profession so that SAA can work to meet the many needs of its members. In his 2016 President’s Address, Dennis Meissner called for the creation of a Task Force on Research/Data and Evaluation. The Task Force, created last fall, presented some preliminary findings at the May Council meeting. What questions would I like to see answered about us?

  • What is the current breakdown in percentage of degrees held by archivists? Thirty years ago, the predominant source of archives degrees was 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? How can our continuing education programs assist in fostering community among such a disparate group?
  • How can we better collaborate with the graduate programs which funnel students into the profession? I have heard comments about the number of graduates and the perception they are overwhelming a small job market. SAA has done many evaluations and reports which indicate we simply cannot afford the cost of an official accreditation process. So, it may be time to think creatively about what SAA CAN do.
    • We can collect better documentation of all archives graduate programs, no matter the discipline, and increase the understanding of their strengths
    • We could collaborate with archival educators and host an annual forum as an invited opportunity for all archives program representatives, educators, and practicing archivists to meet and discuss issues?
    • We can foster forums for the various degree programs to discuss curriculum and other issues impacting archives students
    • We can explore collaborative assessment projects for programs and highlight student projects from a variety of programs?
  • 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—how can we encourage more transparency for the profession? The National Council on Public History and the American Association for State and Local History recently introduced policies that any job ads shared on their site must have salaries posted. And 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.
  • Knowing more about the various subsets of SAA membership would also be helpful, as we try to collect more valid and useful data. As I mentioned previously, what has happened to the Mosaic Scholarship participants, Mosaic Fellows, and Harold J. Pinkett Scholars? Are they still in the profession or have they moved to other careers? Why? How can we truly assess and improve our recruiting and retention efforts to expand the diversity of the profession? How effective is our mentoring program? Does our partnering structure work? How can we improve this experience? It is time to explore the ways we can truly examine our hiring and organizational practices.
  • It is apparent that the archives profession has many economic issues. These range from how graduates find the programs they attend, the lack of underrepresented communities participating as archivists, the increasing number of students, the limited number of permanent positions, and the overwhelming prevalence of Part-Time and Temporary positions, among others. SAA members recently reviewed the Best Practices for Internships and Volunteers, with many good ideas for revisions. However, in addition to these Best Practices I would suggest we proactively develop solutions for institutions to consider.Some possible ideas:
  • Investigate grant possibilities for the support, either profession-wide, or a consortium of institutions, much like our MOSAIC program to provide financial support
  • Fundraising in your home institution to create endowments or expendable accounts to support interns, and SAA-developed guidelines on how to make that happen.
  • Provide best practices to guide archivists communicating with their local graduate archives programs (who require internships as part of their degree process) to discuss these concerns further and develop ways to either provide support for interns, tuition remission, or provide the credit hours without cost to the student.

Given that the Task Force will most likely recommend the creation of an SAA Committee dedicated to Research, I would therefore propose the consideration of a subcommittee answering to the larger group. This subcommittee would be specifically dedicated to economic equity and collect data about employment matters, including benefits, internships, salaries, how and when graduates enter entry-level positions, promotions, retirement, and broader work topics such as developing apprenticeship programs and how to make our labor visible.

Until we have the data and the ability to thoroughly analyze the results, it is difficult for SAA to respond in a substantive manner.

It will always be difficult for a large/complex organization to move nimbly and be flexible, given competing priorities and SAA’s commitment to building consensus. Does SAA always get it right? Of course not.

However, I would argue that SAA succeeds more often than it fails. And I would like to believe that we are an organization that learns from its mistakes to do things better the next time.

Much like democracy, SAA is us, after all.

Challenges for the Archives Profession

While SAA faces significant tests, the broader archives profession also faces challenges. Sometimes these intersect and overlap, but not always. By joining SAA, you have already chosen a leadership position for the profession, and it is important to 1) be knowledgeable about organizations and affiliated professions other than your own and 2) consider how decision-making and discussions can also affect non-SAA members.

  1. The Value of the Public Record

Over the past three decades, there have been increasing pressures on the very concept of public records, something so key to the functioning of our American democracy. Secrecy and efforts to hide corruption and wrongdoing and “fake news” have been present in our political life dating back to the earliest days of the Republic. As we now live in a digital world, many of our basic beliefs about what can be controlled in the creation or alteration of a record, its authenticity and very meaning are called into question. Preservation and access to the public record, whether you are a government records archivist or not, should be a concern to you as a citizen.

The political spoils of our election system do have consequences for the historical record and have a direct impact on the efficacy of the archival enterprise. Current challenges for government archives sustainability include the overall shrinkage of governments and budget cuts for archives; the political appointments of individuals without archives experience or backgrounds; archives being subsumed by government bureaucracy and overwhelmed by unfunded mandates; and officials not understanding the role or importance of electronic records and digital preservation.

Citizens still have ways to challenge and question records restriction or destruction and protect open access, including FOIA requests, Sunshine laws, and calls for public comment on appraisal decisions. Just two weeks ago, CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) have brought Federal Records Act (FRA) lawsuits against the EPA, filed a FOIA request with the State Department, and after filing a complaint with NARA, an investigation is underway to determine if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) violated the law by deleting records of immigrant families split at the border.

I would ask of you to serve as archives experts and responsible citizens to closely monitor your local archives, state archives and SHRABS, and NARA. Be an advocate and stay informed. Write letters to the local newspapers and talk with your legislators and representatives about the importance of archives. There are advocacy publications and affordable webinars forthcoming from SAA—use them. SAA and individual archivists have an important role to play as consistent and constant advocates.

  1. International Human Rights

I represented SAA at the International Council on Archives in Mexico City last fall and I came to some conclusions about the importance of SAA’s international activities. We have a major role to play in the American hemisphere and world, not only as a role model, but also sharing resources such as disaster funding, copyright discussions, and developing collaborative projects which can impact archivists in multiple countries. Given our meeting location in Austin next year, I would very much like to see a concerted effort to invite archivists from throughout the American hemisphere, especially Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and Southern America to join us and discuss both the questions and possibilities.

The documentation of human rights was also discussed. Past SAA President and former Interim Archivist of the United States Trudy Petersen reported on her work with Swisspeace, an effort (in collaboration with ICA) to preserve records in digital format in different geographic locations for protection purposes. They recently shared the draft Guiding Principles for Safe Havens for Archives at Risk for comment from the archives community. Amnesty International is also announcing a project for the preservation of digital records. According to their press release, “the new archive will accelerate investigations into human rights violations and protect digital records of significant historical importance to the global movement.” It is important we support this work and recognize that both activists and archivists play a role in ensuring the preservation and access to these records.

  1. Allied Memory Organizations and Professions

The various communities comprising digital humanities, digital libraries, history, 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 associated collection and memory professions and how our grants, projects, and research activities impact all of us.

Later today, we will be meeting with representatives of nearly 20 organizations, including the American Association for State and Local History, the Association for Moving Image Archivists, the Coalition for Networked Information, the Digital Library Federation, and RBMS, among others. We plan to discuss how we can more effectively collaborate and share information about data gathering, advocacy strategies, research methodologies, and user infrastructure, when we remain so incredibly siloed.

  1. Leadership and Service

I want to conclude this presentation with some brief points about your own leadership practice as I believe this is where SAA truly has so much to offer to each of you. Both SAA and the archives profession need you. It needs every one of you—your energy, your willingness to work hard, your perspective. Keep these things in mind as you write your own story.

Be strategic and mindful about your archives career and service. Dedicate yourself to what you truly care about and are willing to spend the time on.

Leaders are made, not born. Consider every experience you have as an important step on your path and as a part of your individual story.

Believe in yourself and share yourself with others. Smile and say hello to someone at this meeting you don’t know. Share a story from your archives. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. When a colleague calls on you for advice, answer.

Finally, I would also advise the following given how emotionally taxing our work can be at times.

Remember why you do what you do. Take time for reflection and introspection.

Take comfort in the friendship and support of your archives friends and colleagues.

Appreciate and feel the gratitude of your donors, no matter if they are individuals, offices, or agencies.

Remember the integral role you play in creating the historical record. Be creative and strategic on how you accomplish your vocation.

And here’s my final thought. While archivists are about records, what we really are about is people. The people who created and saved the records, present, past, and future and the people who want to use them to construct new narratives. Our mission is how can we best serve as thoughtful and dedicated intermediaries to ensure their stories and lives are not forgotten.

Thank you for sharing this time with me today.

What About Invisible Labor? by Tanya Zanish-Belcher

Invisible labor has been a hot topic in the archives profession over the last couple of years. The invisible labor of archivists, so often unseen and underappreciated, is a constant theme on Twitter and a source of real angst. It is difficult to do work you believe in when that work remains discounted. The increasing presence of temporary positions—full time, part time, project archivist, and unpaid internship—has resulted in a growing sense of frustration in the profession, as indicated by the recent letter from UCLA Temporary Faculty. I will discuss these issues briefly in my presidential address (Keeping Evidence and Memory: Archives Storytelling in the 21st Century) on Friday morning, August 17, at the Joint Annual Meeting.

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education described six stereotypes of archivists, none of them flattering. The author later tweeted that her “affectionate” article was simply misunderstood, that the Chronicle loved it, and that archivists were coming after her with “pitchforks.” One of the things I love most about our profession is that, although we may squabble and disagree with each other, when someone comes after our profession and our calling, our deep emotions about what we do kick in and are on full display. As SAA’s letter to the editor of the Chronicle noted, “…here’s something essential to know about archivists: We are passionate stewards of the collections we keep, and we are committed to providing access to the records in our care and assisting researchers in discovering records that are relevant to their projects. We are your allies in the stacks, and all of us—researchers and archivists alike—are on the same side.”

What might have been more relevant and helpful would be for the Chronicle to publish an article focused on an archivist and researcher, who could discuss the actual professional give and take of a collaborative relationship. How might we redirect our passion to make sure this is the kind of story told, as opposed to spending our energies on responding to a snarky and disrespectful one? It would reaffirm our efforts, both as individual archivists and as a professional association, to share more about who we are, what we do, and the impact we have. We need to connect and build alliances with our media partners to ensure that the deep complexity of our work is represented appropriately.

Finally, I also want to make the observation that we have invisible labor right in front of us, too, namely the SAA staff. We have 12 full-time staff. We employ people. They work for us. Our dues pay them and pay for the programs they run for us. They oversee the governance of our appointed groups and sections, develop workshops and organize the instructors to teach them, work with authors to write books. They build alliances with other organizations, plan the Annual Meeting, answer membership questions. Our dues feed back into financial support for the sections, the programming we do, our advocacy efforts, the workshops we teach, the publications we publish, and the support we provide for those who are willing to volunteer and serve. Many of the things that we worry about as archives professionals, such as burnout, life balance, and professional development, also apply to these individuals who work for our professional association.

Although I recognize the budgetary challenges that our small non-profit organization faces, I would be remiss if, at the end of my term, I didn’t share that I believe a lack of staff is holding SAA back in myriad ways. There are so many important chores done by volunteers, with a hardworking staff responding to fire after fire that we are often unable to focus our efforts where they would have the most impact. I would recommend the creation or reorganization of already existing staff to oversee the following (mind, these are only recommendations for consideration by the Executive Director):

First is the hiring of a Development Officer who would oversee grant solicitation and administration as well as fundraising for our Foundation. It’s time for SAA to examine how foundations can help us in our work, and while I do plan to spend some time on this issue next year, there is a distinct need for someone to permanently drive and supervise this work.

Second, given the impetus to conduct research about archives and archivists and the necessity for long-term permanent storage of these data, SAA has a distinct need for a Research and Standards Coordinator. The Coordinator would work directly with the Committee on Research (yet-to-be-created), the Research Forum, the Standards Committee, and others to develop long-term strategies.

Third, we have an Executive Director and a number of positions reporting directly to her. I would add a Deputy Executive Director, whose responsibility it is to respond to member requests and supervise the overall running of the SAA office. This would free the Executive Director’s time to focus on broader issues, including SAA’s mission and vision as well building alliances among our allies, the media, and external organizations.

I understand SAA’s budget does not necessarily support the addition of positions. However, there may come a time when we have no choice.

How do we make the invisible visible? By both documenting the important role of the archivist and the historical record, and demonstrating it constantly, consistently, and strategically. This is time-consuming and labor intensive, to be sure. However, as Tim Ericson points out in his article “Preoccupied with our Own Gardens: Outreach and Archivists” (Archivaria 31 (Winter 1990-1991), pp: 114-122) “Regarding our concern with image, awareness and education, it is important to keep our focus on the records we are preserving and the impact they have ( or may have) on the lives of people who would benefit from using them….As long as we stay in our reading rooms and avoid touching the lives of those whom we would serve, then all of our well-intentioned efforts to improve our image, and all our programs to explain what we do and why it is important will fall on deaf ears. We need to show people, not tell them. “

 

 

 

Preliminary Results from Mid-Career Archivists Pop-Up Survey by Tanya Zanish-Belcher

In April, SAA fielded a pop-up survey focused on mid-career archivists. “Mid-career” was defined as more than five years in the profession and more than 10 years until retirement. The goal of the survey was not necessarily statistical, but to collect ideas and issues for education programming and to ensure that we are considering the concerns and needs of this group in SAA’s strategic planning. Here are some preliminary results.

How long have you been working in the archives field?

There were 698 responses that broke down as follows:

5-10 years:         40.54% (283)
10-15 years:       28.80% (201)
16-20 years:       20.06% (140)
21+:                      10.60% (74)

What issues are of the greatest concern to you at this stage of your career?

The three issues at the highest level were burnout and stress; little opportunity for growth and promotion; and life balance. Although SAA may not be able to deal with these issues directly, it’s important that you can rely on your professional organization for support for your continued development, networking, and career progress.

What do you find most challenging at this stage of your career?

The answers (in priority order) were staying current, career planning, salary, workloads, networking, and internal advocacy. SAA’s education programming is there to help you with training needs. We’re already planning a webcast on salary negotiation (see this past post too) and are working on gathering other online resources on career planning and advocacy.

What do you think that SAA, as your professional organization, should do or provide to help you at this stage of your career?

Online courses: 57.48%
Courses and training: 48.59%
Annual meeting programming: 42.81%
Certificate program in leadership and/or management: 40.89%

Overall, the survey answers were both enlightening and worrying. One resource that I hope more members will consider is participating in the SAA Mentoring Program, either mentoring others or being mentored. SAA will continue to advocate for the needs of archivists and explore programming to answer some of the difficult questions raised by the survey participants, but it is also up to us to take care of each other as much as we can.

 

 

Guest Post: Becoming an Archives Consultant

At our most recent SAA Council meeting, we discussed potential changes for participating in the Directory of Archives Consultants.  In response to feedback received from their members, the Independent Archivists Section recommended that SAA reconsider the current pricing structure of the Archival Consultants Directory. The section leaders believe that reduced pricing would stimulate greater participation by section members and result in a more robust resource for those seeking a consultant.
The Council discussed the implications of these changes and ultimately directed this business decision to the staff to determine the best solution. Staff will be in contact with the Independent Archivists Section to discuss further.

However, this started me thinking about the practice of archives consulting, and how one might move into a consulting practice–whether part-time, full-time, or as a retirement job. Margot Note and Rachel Woody agreed to share about their transition experiences.

author/consultant bios

Margot Note has 20 years of experience in information work in the national and international sectors. She’s the founder and principal of Margot Note Consulting, LLC, a New York City based archives and records management consulting company. She is an author, a Certified Archivist, and a Certified Records Manager. She received her Master of Arts in History from Sarah Lawrence College, and holds a Master’s in Library and Information Science and Post-Master’s in Archives & Records Management, both from Drexel University. She is a professor in the graduate history program at Sarah Lawrence College.

Rachael Cristine Woody has 10 years of experience in archives, with expertise in creating or relaunching archival programs. She is the owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting, a firm that provides services to archives, libraries, and museums. Previously she was at the Freer|Sackler Museum of the Smithsonian Institution and the Oregon Wine History Archive at Linfield College. She is active in Northwest Archivists and the Society of American Archivists, and is an alumna of the Archives Leadership Institute, a National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC) program. She received her Master of Science in Library and Information Science from Simmons College.

  1.       Why Consulting?

Rachael Woody: As is true in many areas of the United States, archivists jobs are hard to come by in the Pacific Northwest. I have 10 years of experience in the profession which has placed me in the awkward position of no longer being a beginning-level archivist, but also not competitive enough for the few senior-level positions. There’s an unfortunate, but not uncommon phenomenon of mid-range archivist roles no longer being available. This is a huge problem for the profession as I see many of my colleagues leaving the profession entirely, or they’re left with the depressing prospect of staying in jobs they’ve grown out of. What will happen when higher-level jobs need to be filled? We’re not only losing talented professionals, we’re losing contributors to our field and institutional (individual organization and SAA) memory.

Margot Note: Becoming a consultant was coincidental. Like Rachael, I had worked for a decade as an archivist, and longer in the library field, and was considering my next steps. Two years ago, I anticipated a layoff and was job searching, but couldn’t find an employer who was the right fit. After I was laid off, I slowly realized that being an independent consultant was what I wanted to do, even though I knew it would be challenging. Now, I have a better work/life balance and can build wealth while doing work that I love. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

  1.       What surprises have you encountered?

Margot Note: The biggest surprise is the market. I first assumed that established archives would hire me. Most of my clients, however, are organizations that want to launch their archival programs. Potential clients abound, but they might not even know our profession exists or that they can hire archival consultants.

Rachael Woody: How interesting! I’ve found that to be true for me as well! While I do consult with a couple organizations that are more traditional in form, most of my client base are emerging archives and/or archives that exist in communities outside of the traditional museum, government, or school organization. These are archives that may not be able to afford a full-time/permanent archivist, but can afford a temporary expert to help provide them assessments, training, project creation and management, and expertise.

  1.       What challenges have you come up against?

Rachael Woody: I’ve spent the last year really investing in business fundamentals. While I’m an experienced and credentialed archivist, I’m was new to business basics when I started consulting. It was often hard to reconcile the uncomfortable feeling of having confidence in myself as an archivist, but having little confidence in my identity as a business woman. I have archival skills and expertise up to here *gestures to head* but only business skills to here *gestures to kneecaps*. As a result, I would sometimes sell myself short or battle with imposter syndrome.

Margot Note: Yes. My main challenges are conquering imposter syndrome and becoming comfortable with a fluctuating income. To battle imposter syndrome, I remind myself that I have the training and experience to offer my clients tremendous value and insight. As far as income, thriving in a feast or famine environment is part of the consulting experience. I supplement my income beyond project work through writing, teaching, and editing.

  1.       How does SAA support your consulting work?

Margot Note: SAA’s listing of consultants is invaluable to me. My entry has produced more potential than any other source.

Rachael Woody: Yes, I agree with Margot. I’ve found SAA’s consultant directory to be the place my clients will go to in order to find a credentialed consultant. In addition, SAA members William Villano and Michelle Ganz recently (in the last year) started the Independent Archivists Section. The group has grown quickly with 460 archivists listed as members of the Section. While it’s still young, I believe this group has great potential to support consulting archivists who are navigating consulting fundamentals, seek solopreneur support, and provide business referrals. I look forward to seeing where this Section evolves.

  1.       What do you wish your fellow archivists knew about consulting archivists?

Rachael Woody: Consulting doesn’t appear to be common for our profession and as a result, I think archivists in traditional, brick and mortar organizations have a hard time knowing how we operate or how they may engage with us. There can be misunderstandings of what my time looks like – usually people assume I have a lot of free time to come out and meet them or take on an additional volunteer task. Sometimes I do have that flexibility, but the misunderstanding seems to be that non-consultants aren’t aware of how much work goes into a business before, after, and outside of the direct client work. In addition, I’ve noticed consultants aren’t often thought of when it comes to professional programs, events, resources, or education offerings. As consultants we’re in a variety of environments and often have a depth of experiences we can draw on to help inform partnerships, panels, papers, and the profession as a whole. I’d like to see us more represented when it comes to what we can offer our colleagues and the profession, and what our colleagues and the profession can offer us. As I mentioned above, there are 460 SAA members that have joined the Independent Archivists Section – clearly there’s a solid portion of membership that identify as an independent archivist.

Margot Note: Yes, and even more specifically, I wish the field would better address and advocate for archivists that work as lone arrangers or independently. Understandably, academic archives that are reasonably funded and staffed are well-represented in our profession–in membership, in the  professional literature, and at conferences. The exciting stuff happens at the edges with community archives, family and personal archives, and institutions with burgeoning archival collections. Work beyond traditional repositories is where our sustainability as a profession lies.

Rachael Woody: Yes, exactly! SAA and regional membership outlets have clearly shifted to community archives as a priority, and yet, the consultants who have extensive exposure to community archives through their consulting work are not nearly as well-represented! Something for us to work on, for sure.

  1.       When should an organization bring in a consultant?

Margot Note: An organization hires a consultant when there is an urgency. Most people will agree that information assets are significant, but a crisis has to be eminent enough to have someone contact a professional. This pain point can be either physical,  such as building renovations or moves, or fiscal, such as sales of collections or the potential to receive grant money. Having a burning need presses the client not only to take action by hiring a consultant, but also allows the consultant to manage change within the organization successfully. Hire an archival consultant if you want to fix that pressing problem!

Rachael Woody: Yes, Margot brings up excellent points. In addition, many of the clients I work with are interested in archives, but either 1. Don’t have an archives background; and/or 2. Don’t have the time necessary to dedicate to the project. A lot of pressure is placed on my clients to meet grant, stakeholder, and/or regulatory requirements and they need a temporary person with a high-level of experience and expertise to help them successfully execute their archival projects.

Incerto Exitu Victoriae (Of Uncertain Victory), or The Successful Job Candidate’s Lament: Guest Post by Beth Myers

Tanya Zanish-Belcher: A key competency for any archivist starting out or moving up is the ability to negotiate a fair and equitable salary. Statistics show that accepting a smaller salary than you deserve can cost you thousands over the course of your career, so it is well worth investing the time to develop the skill of negotiating with a potential employer.

To that end, Beth Myers, Director of Special Collections at Smith College, agreed to write a guest post focusing on this issue. Beth and I taught a workshop on Career Planning for Archivists at the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) Annual Meeting in Milwaukee (2016) and salary negotiation was a component of the curriculum. While we are taking a break from teaching this workshop for the year, it will be available as part of MAC’s Speakers’ Bureau (hosting fee only) in 2019: http://www.midwestarchives.org/speakers-bureau

Although there are many archivists who do not have an MLIS, the American Library Association’s Advocating for Better Salaries Toolkit (2017) provides additional information on this important topic:
http://ala-apa.org/files/2010/02/2017-ALA-APA-BETTER-SALARIES-TOOLKIT-6th-ed.pdf

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) recently published this research on the salary negotiation patterns between men and women in academic libraries. The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) also provides resources.

Beth Myers, Smith College

If ever there was a reason to celebrate, a successful job search is at the top of the list. For most people there is a palpable relief that so much hard work is in the rearview mirror — mulling the posting and potential ramifications of getting a new job (good, bad, and unknown), crafting and submitting the application, the waiting, the interview(s), the reference calls, the waiting. But in other ways hard work still lies ahead and few other psychological roadblocks loom as large for so many people as the salary negotiation. The negotiation period places the job seeker and organization making the offer in a nebulous sociocultural-economic space loaded with assumptions, guess work, power dynamics, and awkwardness. Like an ABD distinction for PhDs, the salary negotiation period conveys the status of incomplete (or perhaps uncertain) success—a journey not yet finished.

Not all jobs come with a period of negotiation for salary and benefits, let alone so-called perks. Some first offers are also final offers due to internal constraints that are rarely visible to the job candidate. Term positions, hourly positions, and entry-level salaries are often, but not always, fixed. Some organizations don’t negotiate as part of a unique workplace culture or, more whimsically, the habit of a particular administrator. Some organizations are more transparent in the process than others, but none that I know of completely reveal the boundaries or wiggle room or define exactly what is on offer. In the absence of specifics, most job candidates are forced to guess at the limitations of the offer:  Where is the real ceiling and where is the real floor? All the while, a psychological ripple begins for the job candidate:  How much do they like me? Need me? What if I ask for too much? The reverse of this can also be true. Hiring managers often function under institutional pressure to keep labor costs low. If too low, the best candidates may well (and rightly) be out of reach.

There are steps a candidate can take to enter the negotiation period with confidence that, with some luck, will result in a quadam victoria — certain victory (or, more likely, certain compromise). First and most important is knowing what your red line is. The red line is the package that you need in order to live the quality of life that you require. The red line is so-called because it is non-negotiable, solid, and inflexible. The red line exists so that you know well in advance what it will take to complete the negotiation and at what point you are willing to walk away regardless of how tempting the job might be.

You will know your red line because you’ve done your homework to determine the amount of income and benefits that you, and often your family, need to flourish: 1) if relocating, cost-of-living changes from housing to commuting costs, gas, electric, insurance, and similar; 2) health insurance, including dental and eye care; and 3) long-term benefits, such as retirement package and employee support for dependents of any age. That includes school tuition discounts and family leave support not otherwise determined by the federal government. There are a bevy of tools out there to help you determine the economics of your job transition. One of the more oft-cited is the living wage calculator from MIT.

There are other ways to do your research a bit closer to the profession. Some of these sources are dated now, but can be instructive: SAA’s A*CENSUS (2004), SAA Salary Survey (2015), Association of American University Women (2016), Digital Asset Management Foundation (2014/2016), and Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook (2014). Newer work, especially the 2017 WArS/SAA Salary Survey: Initial Results and Analysis by Robin H. Israel and Jodi Reeves Eyre of Eyre & Israel, LLC, is also very helpful.

It is also important to gather as much unofficial information as possible. Tap your professional networks and friends and, by extension, their networks and friends. Although there is a general reluctance in U.S. culture to talk about salaries, there absolutely should not be. Ask around — public academic and government job salaries and grades are typically posted publicly; academic and corporate jobs are as often obscured. Sometimes the only way to get a sense of the salary is to ask friends or former employees at that institution. If quality of home life is a main motivator to change jobs, talk to people who live in the area. The more you know, the better prepared you will be.

Once you have done the homework, determine your red line. Remember to consider the full package on offer, not just the pre-tax salary. The employer will be thinking in terms of salary + insurance + retirement + cost of employment over time, and so should you. The retirement package in particular is often overlooked, especially by new/newer professionals, but it has the greatest long-term impact on the employee.

Do some soul searching: How much do you really want the job? No job is perfect, no institution is perfect. Even self-employment has its drawbacks. What a new position offers is potential and hope. That hope can be for advancement.  How does the job fit in the longer professional trajectory? That hope can be for a better work environment and culture. How do people get along at work? How does the institution support its workers? That hope can be for a better living environment. Is it time to leave the city for the town or vice versa? Although it would be easier to reduce a prospective job to the salary, such an approach ignores the real impact and complexity of making a professional move.

A few more suggestions to keep in mind prior to starting your salary negotiations:

  • Know that everyone wants a positive outcome.
  • Odds are that no one is trying to deceive you, but it’s good to remember that there are systems and expectations at work that will not be visible to you.
  • While it is important and reasonable to have high expectations about the offer, be prepared to compromise.
  • It is likely that your initial salary number will be high and the first offer low. Respond professionally. This is a 5K, not a sprint.

There are also practical concerns when negotiating salary. Typically negotiations will take place over the phone. You will likely be negotiating with the person who will be your supervisor, but it might be a representative from human resources or another person in the organization who is authorized to negotiate. Typically the first offer comes from the employer. Keep notes on the conversation to reflect on later. Ask clarifying questions. If you feel pressure or are uncertain, ask for a little time to think about the offer. Twenty-four hours is common, but you can ask for more time. If the offer is truly too low and below your red line, tell the employer and provide a counter offer. If you think the negotiation is not moving forward productively, you can ask to speak to someone in human resources (although responses to that request will vary by institution).

Importantly, do not forget about so-called “periphery benefits”: What kind of tech package do you need to be successful on the job? What support is guaranteed for professional development and training and professional association memberships on an annual basis? What is the organization’s approach to short-term schedule flexibility? What support will the institution offer for a trailing partner or spouse? Is there a chance for a one-time signing bonus? Ask about raises: What’s the five-year average for merit-based raises or contractually mandated raises? Are funds for continuing education for advanced degrees and certifications available? Does the institution support paid leave for research and scholarship? Does the institution offer subsidized housing? Relocation support?

No matter how high the stress or emotions involved, avoid ultimatums and framing your needs in absolutes. (This is a poor negotiation tactic in any circumstance!) Instead, frame your needs from a practical point of view. The core language of a job search is that an organization has a need / opportunity and that you are the best possible answer to that need. Throughout the negotiation, restate your commitment to the job, the specific ways in which hiring you will benefit the organization, and the unique skills and abilities you will bring—all of which translates to how you are worth the investment.  Because you are.

Finally, no deal is final until you get the offer in writing from the institution, so hold off on making any public announcements or giving notice at your current position until that all-important letter arrives. Once it does, put on the party music because it’s time to celebrate a victory for all involved.

 

Selecting an Archival Education Program: Supporting our Prospective Colleagues

I was at MARAC last week (my compliments to the Host and Program Committee members for a great conference and to SAA Vice President Kathleen Roe for an outstanding plenary speech) and between sessions spent a lot of time talking to students, new professionals and some longer tenured archivists about issues relating to archival education programs. Continue reading

Throwing the Cat Amongst the Pigeons or Where do Archivists belong? With Librarians, Historians, Both or Neither?

It’s been interesting reading the comments and ideas that have come out of the post I did on the employment situation for archivists. The comments have been thought provoking and I was glad to see that some of them were similar to ideas that SAA has been considering for a while.

Several of these ideas related to education programs. Several suggested the need for salary guidelines. Others have suggested the need for a checklist for those considering archival education programs. And a number also recommended that we need to explore accreditation of archival education programs. Continue reading