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Are We A Profession or Aren’t We?

First, a disclaimer: This post represents my personal views. It should not be construed to reflect the views of my employer, professional associations, family, or Friday night karaoke group.

Last week the Archives & Archivists listserv hosted an extended and contentious conversation about the state of the job market for early career archivists. The whole thread is worth reading (part I, part II), but here is a brief summary:

On Tuesday, a recent University of Glasgow graduate shared a critique of a job posting by the New York School of Interior Design for a part time temporary archivist position. He expressed concern that “people with influence in our field are not more vocal about how positions like this exploit a buyers market, and the long term damage this will do to the profession’s ability to identify, acquire, develop, and retain a more talented and diverse workforce.”

A handful of listserv subscribers concurred. About six hours after the original post,  a well-meaning adjunct lecturer in NYC shared his perspective on the job market quandary. In addition to advising archives students to pursue a diverse skill set, he wrote:

“Just don’t tell me the only world in which you are WILLING to look is the world of archives, libraries, and museums, because then I will tell you that you have wasted your time and money on that archives program.

You did so without beforehand checking out the employment marketplace.

That isn’t the fault of the archives programs; it isn’t the fault of the employers; and it isn’t the fault of the currently-employed archivists (senior or not).”

This post triggered a small firestorm, with several authors (including former SAA president Richard Pearce-Moses) writing in with advice about alternative career paths while others questioned the ethics of a job posting that offers subpar compensation for advanced professional qualifications.

By the next morning, the debate had caught the attention of several archivists on Twitter (sample of Twitter reactions) who have been heavily engaged in the discussion of archives employment issues.  Points that resonated most strongly with the Twitter crowd included cynicism about the concept of a “living wage” and contention over the concept of privilege.

UPDATE: A related conversation took place on the Lone Arrangers listserv during this same time period. You can review the thread with an SAA website account here: http://forums.archivists.org/read/messages?id=118594

Similarly, visit tumblr and Twitter to see how this debate is playing out in the library profession at large. For a primer, I recommend Bibliocracy’s recent post “On Precarity”

Instead of posting a response to the listserv, I spent the past few days letting the cumulative debate percolate in the back of my mind. What follows are my thoughts on the meat of the labor equity issue and some suggestions for moving forward.

Question 1: Are we a profession?

For a comprehensive consideration of the term “profession”, I looked to Jon A. Schmidt’s 2008 article “What is a Profession?” for Structure magazine. Although the article focuses on engineers, it has significance for archivists as a defense of fair compensation for professionals.

Guided by a 1978 doctoral dissertation by Myron Lubell and the writings of Ernest Greenwood, Schmidt described five key components of a profession (listed below in italics).  In terms of the archives profession as codified through SAA, we can identify several parallels.

1) Systematic theory – Professionals have a knowledge set that is based on abstract principles, more so than operational procedures, and thus must pursue an extensive formal education.

SAA’s Statement on the Core Values of Archivists emphasizes that archivists “accept an evolving theoretical base of knowledge, collaborate with colleagues in related professions, develop and follow professional standards, strive for excellence in their daily practice, and recognize the importance of professional education, including lifelong learning.” Archives students in accredited graduate programs are exposed to a growing corpus of professional theory that is rigorously peer-reviewed. Archives theory serves as the basis of our certification and  informs our professional standards .

2) Authority – Professionals have significant control over the nature and extent of the services that they render, because they serve clients who are generally unable to judge the quality of those services.

SAA’s Statement on the Core Values of Archivists outlines the many ways that archivists meet this criteria, although we are often reluctant to declare ourselves a vital stakeholder the management of information. Schmidt addressed this dilemma in his article for structural engineers, writing, “If we wish to continue being acknowledged instead as true professionals, it is vital that we be more effective in communicating the unique value of our capabilities to our clients and to the public at large.”

In his statement to the International Council on Archives forum at the 2013 SAA Annual Meeting, ICA Secretary-General David Leitch cautioned that “we must stop apologizing for being archivists” lest we apologize ourselves out of a profession. This timidity is central to the debate I hope to address here.

3) Community sanction – Professionals are subject to licensure or certification that delineates varying degrees of occupational jurisdiction in accordance with criteria over which they have considerable influence.

The Academy of Certified Archivists offers formal certification which is universally recognized in the U.S. although it is not required. Certification criteria is determined by established professional archivists. Our support of ALA’s accreditation standards serves a similar purpose.

4) Ethical codes – Professionals adhere to standards of behavior that are explicit, systematic, binding, and public service oriented; prescribe colleague relations that are cooperative, equalitarian, and supportive; and are enforced by their associations.

SAA published joint statements on the Core Values of Archivists and the Code of Ethics for Archivists. Under the Code of Ethics, archivists have a professional obligation to “cooperate and collaborate with other archivists” in a way that is “honest, fair, collegial, and equitable.” The work of archivists is explicitly oriented towards public service. There is no mechanism in place to formally sanction professionals who violate this code; it is largely self-policing.

5) Culture – Professionals have a career orientation that leads them to high personal involvement in their work and satisfaction with not only monetary rewards, but also symbols such as titles and awards.

This last point is difficult to quantify, but it seems consistent with the archives profession. Through frequent engagement in professional organizations, conferences, publishing, and practice, archivists demonstrate high personal involvement in their career. SAA awards special recognition to individuals who have made outstanding contributions.

Question 2: If we are a profession, what does that mean for individuals?

Specifically, if we are professionals, what does that mean in terms of compensation? Are we, as Schmidt wrote, “mere technologists – and compensated accordingly”, or does our professional status entitle us to higher wages than a person lacking our unique qualifications? If not, what does that communicate about our intrinsic value as a profession?

The principle of “supply and demand” was repeatedly invoked in the recent A&A listserv debate as an argument against paying early career archivists a living wage (various resources define the concept of a living wage here, here, here, and here). It is signficant to note that the term “living wage” is typically employed in terms of setting a minimum wage for unskilled laborers, rather than defining a fair compensation structure for professionals.

Supply and demand assumes the supplier and the purchaser are perfect competitors, with neither having direct influence over the price of the commodity. Assuming perfect competitors on each side, the inclining slope of supply and the declining slope of demand will meet at the point of wage equilibrium. The behavior of the demand curve with respect to the supply curve depends on whether the commodity being traded is classified as an inferior good, an ordinary good, or a superior good.

Setting aside the question of whether or not people should be treated as commodities, an archivist’s advanced education and certification should elevate her value above that of an ordinary good (a person without said education and licensure). For a more serious discussion of how education impacts the labor market, I recommend H.G. van de Werfhorst’s 2011 article “Skills, positional good or social closure? The role of education across structural-institutional labour market settings”

In the real world, employers are willing to pay more to hire people with superior qualifications. Presumably, as members of the Society of American Archivists, we believe that archivists have a unique set of skills that allow them to contribute to society in meaningful ways. If employers are not willing to pay early career archivists a wage that reflects the value of their unique qualifications, I posit that we (the profession) are responsible for failing to communicate that value.

Question 3: What can be done?

Those of us who have criticized the professions’ dependence on volunteer labor, low wages, and adjunctification see a stark disconnect between our supposed value as professionals and the compensation we are able to demand. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the abundance of well-intentioned but misdirected advice in the “Do We Eat Our Young” debate, this is frequently misunderstood as an empty plea for more jobs (or, bizarrely, for career advice).

As I recently tweeted, the central issue is not that there are too few archives jobs to go around (although that may also be true); the issue is that too many of the jobs being posted are underpaid, overspecialized, or adjunctified. The proliferation of these substandard positions threatens to permanently devalue our profession.

SAA members have argued that the organization should do more to advance the public standing of archivists, although some members question the practicality of these expectations. Some archives professionals (including the original poster in the “Do We Eat Our Young?” thread) feel that responsibility for low wages lies in part with the individuals who pursue these jobs, while others question the fairness of blaming a job candidate who is looking for any job opportunity they can get. Some participants (including myself) argue that individual institutions and employers have a responsibility to create and maintain positions that reflect the professional value of archivists.

Personally,  I think it will take a concerted effort from all stakeholders – professional organizations, new professionals, archives employers, educators, and institutions – to engage this topic. However, it is naive to pretend that all groups have equal capacity to affect change. Recent graduates in particular have little influence and even fewer resources to persuade employers to improve compensation practices.

New professionals may feel pressured to accept unpaid post-graduate internships, temporary jobs, or subpar compensation if they want to find work (especially when established archivists respond “if only life were fair.”) Others decide to leave the field entirely, taking their skills, ambition, and expertise to private industries. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in high enough numbers it should raise serious concerns about the future of the archives profession (a point which was central to the argument of original poster Tom Tiballi).

Here are my suggestions for possible courses of action.

SAA could*:

  • Revise formal recommendations on employing volunteer labor  in archives to explicitly uphold the professional value of archivists

  • Draft formal recommendations for early career positions (See SAA Standards Committee draft on Best Practices for Internships as a Component of Graduate Archival Education for a related model)

  • Establish guidelines for jobs posted to the SAA Online Career Center, including a requirement that employers list salary ranges for the position

  • Revisit the issue of accreditation to determine whether archives programs are producing graduates with relevant skills to advance and sustain the profession

  • Support formal mechanisms for facilitating communication between recent graduates, new professionals, and change agents such as professors and the Committee on Education

  • Continue to mainstream employment issues in its Council agenda (see January 23-26, 2014, Council Meeting Agenda, “IV. Mega Issue Discussion”) and throughout the work of SAA’s committees and subcommittees

Established archivists could:

  • Take concrete steps to improve the status of the positions they manage by advocating for professional titles, permanent appointments, and professional wages.

  • Responsibly steward their institutional resources to support these efforts (where possible)

  • Communicate and demonstrate the professional value of archivists to their clients

  • Engage with new professionals in productive discussions about the state of the job market

All archivists could:

  • Engage with other professionals to gain a more diverse understanding of their experiences

  • Challenge unethical and out of date practices

  • Engage with professional associations to enact change

  • Pursue fair compensation for their work

  • Advocate on behalf of those who cannot advocate for themselves

  • Carry out SAA’s call to “actively work to achieve a diversified and representative membership in the profession”

At this point, my treatise is long enough. If you have other suggestions for concrete action, please share them in the comments!

*When this post was originally published on January 27, the SAA Council had just concluded its January 2014 meeting in Chicago. The question of archives employment was discussed at length as a “Mega Issue” on the Council Agenda. More information from the council is forthcoming; when it is available, I will provide a link here. Thank you to all who have productively engaged on this issue so far. 

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A Library Student’s New Year’s Resolution List

#1 is my favorite! I’ve got to add that to my list as well.

HLS

With the holiday season wrapping up (pun intended) and the New Year quickly approaching, do you have your 2014 resolutions list made yet?

I am a huge fan of making lists, so the New Year always gives me the perfect opportunity to make another. Since I will be graduating next May my list includes things I want to accomplish while I am still a library student — also because it is too scary to plan anything post-graduation. Other than applying for jobs and networking, I also want to spend my last semester taking advantage of student discounts and the flexibility of grad life. Below is a broad list of my library student wishes and goals, but feel free to steal and adapt as your own!

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Hack your Professional Organization

My second post for Hack Library School!

HLS

There is no better time than graduate school to join a professional organization. Many LIS organizations have special incentives in place to attract library school students. The offerings will vary between organizations, but this post should give you an idea of what to watch for.  

TYPES OF ORGANIZATIONS

Professional organizations exist at several levels, including international, national, regional, state, and local. Smaller organizations may give you more opportunities to participate directly, but larger organizations will offer a broader spectrum of roundtables and sections. As a student, I have found national and regional organizations to be the most beneficial because I am still figuring out what I want to do with my career. Some organizations offer joint membership programs for library school students and support staff. This is a great way to make your membership dues go farther. Additionally, student chapters on your campus can be a great way…

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A Liberal Arts Major’s Guide to Coding

Check out my first post for Hack Library School, a blog by, for, and about library school students. Before I joined HLS as a blogger, it was one of my favorite ways to plug into the broader community of LIS students.

A Liberal Arts Major’s Guide to Coding.

Black OR Queer? Life at the Intersection

Please check out this exceptional post from guest author Fobazi M. Ettarh at Hack Library School on intersectionality in the MLS field. This is one case where I definitely recommend reading the comments, because the conversation happening there is every bit as informative as the post itself.

HLS

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Fobazi M. Ettarh.

Black people are more homophobic.

Racism is over. LGBTQ rights are the new Civil Rights.

Well at least Black people can get married!

My classmates spit these words at me during the discussion of Civil Rights in young adult literature. I had expressed my discomfort at the conflation of the Civil Rights and LGBTQ movement. These words, while familiar, still stung. As usual, I was the only person of color (POC) in the room. Many studentsandlibrarians have talked about diversifying the MLIS and field of librarianship. But what about the librarians already in the field?

My journey in getting the MLIS has been difficult. As someone who identifies as a queer person of color (QPOC), the overwhelming white heteronormativity of the program here at Rutgers is disheartening. I have been able to build racial and queer themes…

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#HLSDITL Day 4: Juggling work and school

UPDATE: If you enjoyed this post, check out these great articles from Hack Library School: “Obstacles and How to Deal with Them” and “Being Thankful… for Failing“. If you find yourself in a rough semester, remember you’re not alone!  Reach out to your peers, colleagues, and professors. You might also enjoy the science oriented  http://whatshouldwecallgradschool.tumblr.com/.

Like many library school students, I am working while I complete my graduate degree. The benefit to this arrangement is that I will have valuable real world experience when I start looking for professional jobs. The downside is that I have to sacrifice a lot of my non-academic interests during the school year. I still try to squeeze in a few things here and there, but my husband acts as the voice of reason when I try to overextend myself.

When I try to balance work, life, and school.

In the meantime, I do what I can to make my life easier. I chose an asynchronous online program to accommodate my work schedule. I listen to lectures and read on my lunch break, at the gym, or on the way to work. I use evenings and weekends to work on my assignments.

My professors typically stagger deadlines so that one class runs Sunday through Sunday, another runs Thursday through Thursday, and so on. This is really helpful when I need to triage my homework, but it makes it harder to remember when things are due. I use Google Calendar to keep track of assignments and school deadlines. I color code each class and set up e-mail reminders.

A typical month of classes.

A typical month of classes.

I find it really tedious to sit and read for hours on end. Apparently, it’s also really unhealthy. To counter my couch-lizard habits, I have standing workstations set up around my house for reading, listening to lectures, and writing papers. I purchased a refurbished iPad a few years ago which I use with a Logitech keyboard and iPad stand combo.

Here are some photos of my workstations.

My husband built this standing work station. It used to be a music stand, but I rarely have time to practice.

My husband built this standing work station. It used to be a music stand, but I rarely have time to practice.

This is my kitchen station, so I can listen to lectures while I bake or make totally grown up things that are not macaroni and cheese.

I listen to lectures while I bake or make grown up meals that are totally not macaroni and cheese.

I have a few iPad apps that I use heavily for school.

The first is Blackboard Mobile.  My university pays for us to have access, but you can also purchase the app for $1 a year or $5 for life. It had some major issues when iOS 7 first came out, but most of the bugs have been fixed in recent patches. I like the app because I prefer to work from my iPad whenever possible. I also like that Blackboard Mobile will send my notifications when new course content is available or grades have been posted.

I am a huge fan of Dropbox (get your own account here), a cloud storage app. Dropbox allows me to access journal articles, assignments, and drafts on almost any device that connects to the internet. I use it to share documents, photographs, and media files between my iPad and home computer. Since I can also save documents for offline access, it is very helpful when I am traveling. Dropbox syncs with Blackboard Mobile, allowing you to download assignments and course reserves to your device. If I need perpetual access to an article, I generally open it through iBooks instead.

Google Drive http://drive.google.com performs a similar function to Dropbox with the added bonus that I can edit documents. I primarily use Google Drive to write and edit drafts for my blogs, discussion board postings, and assignments. Of course, I also use it to review my many school related spreadsheets.

TuneIn Radio and Pandora are my last recommendations, because I love to jam to music while I study. One of my favorite stations right now is the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s Classic fm.

My Top 3 Take-Aways (YMMV

1. It’s okay to do things that aren’t school related. It’s a degree, not a prison sentence!
2. At the same time, you don’t have to do everything right now. That book you’ve always wanted to write? Maybe it can wait a few months. If not, there’s always NaNoWriMo
3. If it helps you get your work done, you’re doing it right. I won’t judge you for writing assignment reminders on your arm if you don’t judge me for listening to “Can I Kick It?”  while I code.

Today’s Tweets

[tweet https://twitter.com/Sam_Winn/status/396001261612314624] [tweet https://twitter.com/Sam_Winn/status/396116306342080512] [tweet https://twitter.com/Sam_Winn/status/396116475015995394]

#HLSDITL Day 3: Scholarships, rankings, and teachers, oh my! (On choosing a library school)

As I mentioned at the end of Day 1, I get a little obsessive when it comes to making decisions. I like to compartmentalize my anxieties and wrap them up in shiny, color-coded diagrams. Organizing information this way helps me to visually process it, which in turn helps me to feel more confident about my choice.

Pictured: confidence

Since graduate school is a serious investment (as ominous headlines about the looming student debt crisis like to remind us), I knew I had to break out the big guns. This is the process that worked for me, but it was tailored for my own unique needs and circumstances. Although I love my program, I’m not necessarily saying that it will be better or worse for you than any other school. Anyway, take it or leave it.

Here are my steps for finding a graduate program:

1. Search the Directory of ALA-Accredited Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies

Since I wanted to have the option to continue in academia, I avoided schools that lacked clear accreditation. The searchable database allows you to limit results based on your particular program preferences. Since I work full-time in an archives, I knew I wanted a 100% online program that offered concentrations in archival studies, records management, and/or digital libraries. Pro-tip: Search for the concentrations separately, or you’ll only see a list of schools that offer all three. I made a master spreadsheet of the programs that met my requirements.

Here is a snapshot of the searchable ALA database of accredited schools.

Here is a snapshot of the searchable ALA database of accredited schools.

2. Get the real scoop from the school’s website

The ALA directory was not always accurate. I went to each school’s website to find up to date information about tuition, scholarship opportunities, credit requirements, concentration offerings, application requirements, internship programs, credit for work experience, and and whether or not the school required me to visit the campus for any reason (i.e., an orientation or practicum course). I also looked for schools that offered asynchronous instruction, meaning students don’t have to “attend” class at a scheduled time.

3. Check out the school’s reputation

Library school rankings have questionable value as a measure of a program’s actual quality, but they can tell you a lot about its reputation. I also watched social media networks and blogs like Hack Library School, INALJ, and Hiring Librarians to see what people have to say about various programs. This played a fairly minor role in my decision, but it was still helpful.

Here is some food for thought on library rankings in general:

4. Narrow down your top candidates

I whittled my master list down to 12 programs. After eliminating incompatible candidates (highlighted below in grey), I chose four universities to apply to. The number four was arbitrary. Basically, I had my top three and a safety school (highlighted in pink). The key factors for me were tuition price (including expected financial aid), available concentrations, spring enrollment, and visitation requirements. I also looked at what kind of courses each program offered and made note of any that particularly appealed to me.

My name is Sam, and I have a spreadsheet problem. (Hi, Sam)

My name is Sam, and I have a spreadsheet problem. (Hi, Sam)

I ended up applying to three schools. My top choice, Drexel, offered me a generous scholarship so I took the money and ran.*

My Top 3 Take-Aways (YMMV

1. Don’t be fooled by inflated rankings; take the time to figure out what you want out of a program.
2. For insights about library schools, other students are often your best resource.
3. If you’re happy with your program, you made the right choice.

*I apologize for the terrible, terrible Steve Miller pun. I hope this video will make up for it.

Day 3 Tweets

#HLSDITL Day 2: When the best laid plans fall through…

To pick up where I left off on Day 1

By Spring 2011, I decided to apply to a graduate LIS program. I had everything planned: with 21 credits left to complete two bachelor degrees and a minor, I would graduate in Spring 2012 and start library school in the fall. I felt fairly sure that I wanted to pursue a concentration in archives, having had a positive experience as a student worker in the university archives.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Featured: My plans.

By the end of the Spring 2011 semester, the full-time archives assistant left our department to pursue other opportunities. She encouraged me to apply. My initial thought was “no way”. What about my perfect plans? I already felt like I had been in school forever, and I couldn’t bear the thought of delaying graduation again (like when I changed majors from humanities to history, or added a second major, or added a minor, or …)

In the end, it turned out that taking the position would only delay my graduation one full semester (from Spring 2012 to Fall 2012). This seemed like an easy sacrifice to make in exchange for full-time experience as a paraprofessional. I was also persuaded by the generous benefits, including tuition assistance to finish my undergraduate degrees.

Even though I felt ready to start graduate school RIGHT AWAY, taking the full-time job was the right decision. Not only did it lift my family above the poverty line, decrease our debt burden, and give us access to long-needed medical and dental care, but it exposed me to a whole new level of archives. I had a lot to learn about working in academia.

My experiences a part-time undergraduate assistant had not fully prepared me for the challenges of working as a full-time paraprofessional. Physically and mentally, it is simply more demanding to do something for eight hours at a time than it is for four hours. I “knew” that, but I didn’t really know it. I found it incredibly hard to come home from a full day of work and eat, do homework, go to the gym, do more homework, and sleep (if I had finished all of my homework). I felt tired all the time even though my job was not particularly active or strenuous.  I’m not alone in this experience; studies have shown that extended mental effort translates to real physical fatigue.

This was me most afternoons.

I also had to learn new skills for working in a professional capacity. Sure, I understood the basics of best practices and I knew a few of the collections, but there were decisions I never had to make as a student worker. In some cases, I didn’t even know they had to be made, much less who should make them! As a paraprofessional, my actions suddenly affected other people and other departments in a very real way.  As a student worker, I had enjoyed considerable freedom to choose my projects (much more than I realized at the time). Now, the priorities of the department had to become my priorities.

In short, it was a real awakening. The good news is that I still enjoyed the work and felt even more confident in my decision to pursue a career in archives. Fortunately, I have a very patient supervisor who is willing to help me navigate these strange waters. I have been in this position full-time for 25 months;  January will mark four years since I started in this department.

I just might be getting the hang of this…

As for my perfect plans, I managed to make it work. Attending classes part-time, online, in the evening, and over the summer, I finally graduated in Fall 2012. I started graduate classes at Drexel University (College of Computing and Informatics) in April 2013.  I expect to graduate in Fall 2014 with dual concentrations in archives and digital libraries. After graduation, I hope to find a full-time job in an archives that deals with humanitarian collections or the performing arts. That’s the current plan, anyway. Who knows what could happen between now and then?

My Top 3 Take-Aways (YMMV

1. Don’t let plans get in the way of a good opportunity. I have learned things in this job that I never anticipated when I applied.

2. Figure out what your supervisor needs from you and if you are willing to make it happen. Don’t underestimate what they can offer you in return, whether it’s knowledge, experience, or professional support.

3. When the going gets tough, you can probably endure more than you think. I learned that I can endure almost any hellacious schedule for one semester.

Day 2 Tweets

#HLSDITL Day 1: How did I get here, anyway?

This week, I will be participating in Hack Library School’s “Library Student Day in the Life” project.  It offers a way for library school students across the country to connect virtually with each other and with people who are considering an LIS program. From October 28 through November first, I will blog and tweet about some of my experiences in library school. To find other students participating in #HLSDITL, check out the official wiki.

I missed my window to blog last night, but I did get a few tweets in.

[tweet https://twitter.com/Sam_Winn/status/394812921303154689]

[tweet https://twitter.com/Sam_Winn/status/394813243010449408]

[tweet https://twitter.com/Sam_Winn/status/394986996398977024]

Here’s a belated introduction to make up for it.

Day 1: How did I get here, anyway?

Image

Let’s just say there were some bumps along the way.

It seems obvious in retrospect that I would find a career in information science (I’ve always loved to arrange and describe objects), but it did not occur to me until my junior year of college that I could actually do this for a living.

My dad worked as nuclear technician in the Navy before studying engineering, and my mom trained as an oceanographer before teaching chemistry and physics. With my love for Legos, robotics, and Rube Goldberg contraptions, I planned to enjoy a long career in mad science STEM. Long story short, brain fatigue from years of titrating solutions and calculating derivatives helped me to discover a new passion for history and political science (my least favorite subjects in high school).

Information science allows me to unite all of my passions into a unified praxis. This semester, for example, I am scratching my STEM itch through a course in software development. An introductory course in Geographic Information Systems provides an informatics focus, while an archives course offers all the liberal arts rhetoric I could hope for. Later in the week, I’ll discuss the strategies I have used to identify a career focus.

I first suspected I might want to work in this field after getting a part-time position in a public library. I was working in a retail store, but I had to find a new position after my hands went numb, I filed a worker’s comp claim, and the manager “accidentally” cut all my hours. There happened to be a position available in the city library’s circulation department, and I happened to have worked as a circulation technician for a year in my junior high library. Unlike my retail job, the library worked around my class schedule and closed in time for me to finish my homework AND sleep.

I spent about a year and half working there before taking on another part-time job in my university’s archives department. I did not know whether I wanted to work in archives long-term, but I didn’t want to miss the chance to find out. After a semester, I left the public library to focus more hours on my work in the archives. That position eventually lead to a full time job, which gave me the confidence to apply to an LIS program. I invested more time testing the waters before library school than many of my peers. That just happens to be the approach that worked for me; I’m that one friend who wants to read the entire rule book before we  play a new board game at a party. This experience has benefited me in many ways, but it is not the only path to an information science career.

My Top 3 Take-Aways (YMMV)

1. There is no wrong way to get to library school (but…)
2. The more you know before you apply, the less surprised you’ll be when you get there.
3. You don’t have to work for free to get experience before you graduate.*

* I happened to be in the right place at the right time for these positions, and my husband’s income supported us while I worked part time and went to school. I did do an unpaid internship for class credit, but ultimately found the experience unfulfilling. That might not be your experience. You may have a chance to pursue a dream internship for class credit, volunteer in a century old parish archives, or tackle a unique collection in an unexpected place. Whatever opportunity you find, only you can decide whether the experience is worth the sacrifices you’ll have to make to get it. In my case, I prioritized paid positions. 

The Great Internship Debate: What’s Next?

If you attended Jackie Dooley’s presidential address at the 2013 SAA Annual Meeting or followed the reactions which took place across the blogosphere (including here, here, and on my own blog here), you may have found yourself wondering “What next? Why should I expect this conversation to go any farther than every other recent debate about archival internships?” Your skepticism is shared by people who have been fighting this fight much longer than I have.

It’s a fair question. We’re a profession that likes to talk; as many of my peers in library school have recently lamented, we are still arguing about many of the same issues that seized the archives community thirty years ago.  So why should this time be any different?

I believe we are witnessing a perfect storm for action. First, a robust discussion group and advocacy network exists thanks to the tireless efforts of advocates like Rebecca Goldman of Derangement and Description, Kate Theimer of Archives Next, and Maureen Callahan, founder of You Ought to be Ashamed. Second, the archival internship crisis coincides with a larger public conversation about the value of internships and the ethical treatment of interns. If you think of these conditions as smoldering coals and dry tinder, Jackie Dooley’s speech was a metaphorical bucket of butane.

On August 22, SAA Council Member Michelle Light announced plans for the Council to develop best practice guidelines on internships and volunteer work. In September, a special task force comprised of Council Members Geof Huth, Elisabeth Kaplan, Lisa Mangiafico, and Tanya Zanish-Belcher prepared a draft report on “Best Practices for Internships as a Component of Graduate Archival Education”.

A draft of the working paper was sent out to the SNAP listserv on October 8 with a call for comments by Monday, October 21.   Since the draft was technically shared with the SNAP membership, I will not link to it. However, SNAP is a public forum that does not require SAA membership. If you have not yet offered feedback on the document, I urge you to do so. Personally, I think the guidelines could better address the expectation that MLIS holders pursue internships and volunteer work post-graduation to gain the “real world experience” that should come with an entry-level job.

Till the next milestone arrives,
Archivasaurus