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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