“Feeding Our Young”

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Jackie Dooley delivered her presidential at the 2013 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in New Orleans, Louisiana.  She began her career at the Library of Congress as a prints and photographs cataloger (1983-84).  She was a special collections librarian at the University of California, San Diego (1985-92).  She then worked as Head of Collections Cataloging at the Getty Research Institute (1992-95).  She was Head of Special Collections and Archives at the University of California, Irvine (1995-2008).  Since 2008, Dooley has worked at OCLC Research.  Her address was published in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of the American Archivist.

Dooley focused her address on the plight of new archivists, which she defined as both students and new professionals.  She cited some interesting statistics about SAA’s membership (11):

  • “21 percent are under the age of thirty; a total of 49 percent are under
    the age of forty.
  • 51 percent have been SAA members for five years or less.
  • 21 percent of individual members are students.
  • 19 percent pay dues in the ‘under $20,000/year’ category”

She included some insights into her SAA presidency — rather than set her own agenda, she instead “decided to focus on listening, and to lots of different voices.  To be an effective leader, one must know whom she is leading and carefully consider their needs and concerns” (12).  Her desire to listen led her into the social media world.  She subscribed to the listserv of the Students and New Archives Professionals Roundtable (SNAP), and she discerned three primary themes among these messages: “network, learn about SAA and our profession, and get a job” (13).  She also entered the “Tweet-o-sphere,” where she discovered great rage against SAA and developed personal frustration at the “impossibility of conducting nuanced dialogue in messages of 140 characters or fewer” (15).  Yet Dooley still discovered some useful information from Twitter, especially relating to employment (16):

  • “How frustrated some new archivists are by the dismal job market
  • How virulently angry some are about management practices they’ve encountered in the workplace
  • How unfettered they can be in expressing their anger and disgust, sometimes anonymously
  • How controversial the topic of internships can be”

She also began following some blogs of young archivists, including the one that inspired the title of her speech.  She acknowledged the job horror stories that were the crux of this site are nothing new, but obviously the mechanism for communicating them was much broader than the smoky bars where complaints were aired when she was a new professional.  Dooley posed a thought-provoking question about the typically negative focus of much social media:

“Is there a blog out there that addresses the positive employers and strategies part?  One that could serve to feed our young instead of focusing principally on the absurd job postings that require a graduate degrees for part-time, temporary positions that offer no benefits and barely pay a living wage?” (16)

She asserted the way SAA can improve the job market is by “developing modes of advocacy that heighten the image and value of archives” (17).  She identified the “severe lack of true entry-level jobs” as a significant impediment to entry into the archives profession.  She acknowledged that some experience is necessary to qualify for most any professional job, but she urged those in charge of defining archives positions to include “paraprofessioanl, intern, fellow, student, temporary, or part-time” in their definition of experience (18).  She  referenced the ire generated from the booklet SAA and NARA wrote in 2012 about using volunteers in archives.  She asserted volunteers don’t directly compete with professionals because professional work requires leadership, not just doing.  She also cited the 2013 court decision that adopted strict guidelines for unpaid internships, which included a strong education component for such internship experiences.

Dooley acknowledged the criticism that archival graduate schools are producing too many graduates for the available positions, but her response was to point to the “soft edges” of the archival profession that overlaps with “librarianship, records management, digital libraries and repositories, information technology, discovery system design,” etc. (19).  She included three pointed questions for archival education programs (19-20):

  • “Are they teaching the subjects that make a student competitive in the job market? (One word: digital.)
  • What will graduate schools that require internships do to ensure that their students gain meaningful preprofessional experience if the available opportunities start to dry up?
  • Are graduate schools doing enough to help students realize how many other types of work truly take advantage of archivists’ skills?”

Dooley concluded with three suggestions for how experienced archivists can aid those new to the profession (20):

  • “Offer praise and credit wherever you see it due.”
  • “Listen without correcting.  New archivists have legitimate complaints.”
  • “Learn: they know things we don’t.  We know how things have always worked—or not.  They know what’s possible today.”

She also offered three suggestions of how new archivists can aid established archivists (21):

  • “Trust us”
  • “Teach us”
  • “Don’t stereotype us: we’re as different from each other as you are from the members of your cohort.”

Both in her introduction and conclusion, Dooley summarized her intended takeaways (21):

  • “The limited job market for new archivists is a very serious problem, and we all should think deeply about how we might better understand and address it.
  • More job postings could be designed as true entry-level positions.
  • We’ll all understand each other better if we engage using shared communication channels.
  • Social media are here to stay; they should connect generations, not separate them.
  • Civil public discourse plays an essential role in a mutually supportive professional environment.”
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“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Archival Profession and Future Challenges”

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This week’s address is exciting for me because it marks the first speech I heard in person.  Gregor Trinkaus-Randall delivered his presidential address at the 2012 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists held in San Diego, California.  He first  worked at the State Historical Society in Wisconsin and then moved to be an “Archives, Library, Preservation and Security” consultant at Yale.  He also worked at the Computer Museum, the USS Constitution Museum in Boston Harbor, and the Peabody Museum of Salem.  Since 1988 he has served as the Preservation Specialist at the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.  His address was published in the Spring/Summer 2013 issue of the American Archivist.

Trinkaus-Randall identified the digital age as one both exciting and challenging and suggested collaboration as the key to progress:

“We need to break out of these silos and push ourselves into the wide world of information professionals, whether kicking and screaming or willfully, or we risk being left behind. . . .  We need to interact with others such as librarians, museum curators, and IT personnel as well to ensure that users and researchers have access to ALL, and I emphasize ALL, our holdings” (12-13).

He summarized his interactions with the leadership of the American Library Association and the American Association of Museums regarding collaboration, emphasizing four possibilities:

  • coordinated educational offerings
  • combined research on digital preservation, especially that useful to smaller institutions
  • advocacy across libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs)
  • coordinated leadership training

Funding comes into play with both digital preservation and advocacy as LAMs must work in a concerted way to insure funding for ongoing initiatives, such as digital preservation.  Trinkaus-Randall went on to suggest that communication must be improved — both with allied professions as well as within the archival profession.  He asserted,

“We need both instigators as well as radical collaborators to move us forward. . . .  Collaboration is our way of the future” (15).

He also identified the need for better research into our users and especially how they search for information.  The possibility of federated searching is certainly a reason to foster collaboration among LAMs.  Finally, regarding the preservation of ever-changing digital media, he asserted, “we will need to ‘curate’ from its inception and through its life cycle” (17).  In closing Trinkaus-Randall acknowledged the image problem of archivists as inhabiting “dusty, moldy, backrooms or basements, caring for equally dusty, old, and often irrelevant collections” (17).  He challenged his listeners to overcome this stereotype through advocacy, cooperation, collaboration, and leadership.

“On the Occasion of SAA’s Diamond Jubilee: A Profession Coming of Age in the Digital Era”

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Helen R. Tibbo delivered her presidential address at the 2011 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in Chicago, Illinois.  She has spent her career in education, serving on the faculty of the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 1989.  I both took several classes from her and worked with her on the Closing the Digital Curation Gap grant project during my time at SILS.  Her address was published in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of the American Archivist.

Tibbo identified the 75th anniversary of SAA as a turning point for the archival profession — a “coming of age in the digital era” (18).  She suggested three steps necessary for archivists to move forward in this digital era (19):

  1. learn about new technologies
  2. acquire new skills
  3. implement these skills

She cited research that underscored the overwhelming shift from analog to digital — in 2000 about 75% of information was in analog form, but by 2011 over 99% of information was born digital.  She identified some milestones related to electronic records:

1939: Records Disposition Act defined punch cards as records

1943: Records Disposal Act included in its description the phrase “regardless of physical form”

1965: the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) helped the Bureau of the Budget inventory punch cards and computer tapes

1968: the Data Archives Staff was formed by the Archivist of the United States

1970: NARS accessioned the first electronic records from federal agencies

1989: the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators and the University of Pittsburgh sponsored “Camp Pitt,” an advanced institute for government archivists focusing on archival electronic records

1993: Armstrong v. Executive Office of the President brought attention to the importance of email management and preservation

The intervening years “have witnessed extensive progress toward robust repository models and architectures, preservation tools and strategies, collaborations and community building, and trustworthy and sustainable digital curation” (23-24).  Yet archives still struggle to plant themselves firmly in the digital realm.  A 2010 report from OCLC entitled Taking Our Pulse listed these results of a survey of special collections in Association of Research Libraries institutions (24-25):

  • “Half of archival collections have no online presence;
  • User demand for digitized collections remains insatiable;
  • Management of born-digital archival materials is still in its infancy;
  • 75 percent of general library budgets have been reduced;
  • The current tough economy renders ‘business as usual’ impossible.”

Tibbo asserted that while cost is certainly a factor inhibiting electronic records management in archives, inadequate education is the more significant problem.  She suggested there should be graduate programs in digital archiving, technical courses, and systematic continuing education for archivists.  She pointed to three initiatives during her tenure as SAA president that addressed these needs:

  • The “Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies” (GPAS) were updated.  Tibbo explained “GPAS can only provide a framework and metrics for excellence but no recognition or enforcement” (26).  However, Tibbo contended GPAS serves an important role in raising expectations for  graduate programs.
  • The SAA Digital Archives Continuing Education Task Force designed the Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) Curriculum and Certificate Program.
  • Along with Cal Lee, Tibbo helped develop the DigCCurr digital curation curriculum at SILS.  This framework includes the Matrix of Digital Knowledge and Competencies and the High-Level Categories of Digital Curation Functions.

Tibbo concluded with four challenges to her listeners (33):

  1. “do something significant before next year’s SAA conference to advance your skills and knowledge”
  2. “design your digital repository or how you are going to participate in some sort of digital consortium”
  3. “go get funding support”
  4. “take some steps and do something to preserve digital content important to your collection and your users”

“Unifying the Archival Profession: A Proposal”

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Peter Gottlieb delivered his presidential address at the 2010 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in Washington, D.C.  Gottlieb began his career as assistant and then associate curator in the West Virginia Collection at the West Virginia University Library (1977-1983).  He then served as head of the Historical Collections and Labor Archives at Penn State University (1983-1990).  For nearly 20 years, he was the Wisconsin state archivist.  He is now an emeritus professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His address was published in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of the American Archivist.

While other SAA presidents spoke about the need for greater collaboration with allied professions such as historians and librarians, Gottlieb proposed greater cooperation among archival organizations.  He used his diverse professional experience to build an argument that the lack of a “single, unifying national organization for archivists” generates confusion by obscuring the commonalities among archivists, including a “body of knowledge and practice” and “shared professional values and ethics” (29).  In addition to acknowledging the reasons for the development of regional archival associations and specialized organizations, Gottlieb also noted the overlapping memberships that are common for SAA members in the Council of State Archivists, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, and the American Library Association’s Rare Books and Manuscripts section, for example.  In addition to presenting a more united front, he argued that resources could be used more efficiently if all these organizations were not duplicating efforts with regards to continuing education, annual meetings, research, etc.

Gottlieb presented several possibilities for generating connections among these disparate archival organizations (31):

  1. “a grand merger of our associations into a single larger organization with a consolidated membership” — though he acknowledged this would not be a good approach
  2. strengthen collaboration among archival organizations on key issues
  3. a federation of archival organizations

He identified a number of advantages to the federation, which existing organizations would voluntarily join.  It would provide “a way to unify the archival profession in pursuit of widely shared and long-held goals” (31).  And rather than replacing existing organizations, this federation approach would gain from their strength.

Gottlieb analyzed the umbrella approach practiced by the American Library Association, which includes specialized groups, regional organizations, committees, affiliates, and roundtables.  He also considered the models offered by the American Association of Museums, the Society for American Archaeology, and ARMA, concluding that “we archivists with our plethora of separate, disconnected organizations are exceptionally fragmented” (33).  The advantage of a federation would be “a single national organization with the strength to pursue a national agenda that also allows its constituent groups to continue serving members in ways they are best equipped to do” (34).  He suggested a tiered governance system, with a representative council to make policy decisions and an executive group to handle operations.

He concluded with three reasons why this new federation would be a good idea (36):

  1. “a unified archival profession gives all members a stronger and more persuasive voice on the issues that matter a great deal to us: state and national policies that affect archives and archivists, particularly access to records, state and federal funding for archives, professional standards, and the role and status of the National Archives and Records Administration”
  2. archives and archivists need to have a united front for defending our work as well as for establishing standards
  3. a unified organization could  better serve its members, especially with continuing education

He finished with this summation of his argument:

“We believe that archives are not just good things; we believe that they are essential.  We believe that a vibrant civic life in this country can no more exist without active and accessible archives than it could without engaged citizens.  We know that archives protect Americans’ democratic rights and entitlements, enrich their cultural lives, and keep their organizations accountable.  It is time for us to come together to support these beliefs, these professional principles, and with the power of unity and common purpose build a future where we turn our aspirations into accomplishments” (37).