Nancy P. Beaumont 2016-05-12 11:48:13
An interesting conversation took place on SAA’s Facebook page on March 31 following publication of Dennis Meissner’s President’s Message (“Building an Inclusive Profession”) in the March/April issue of Archival Outlook: Meghan Courtney: I hope we are able to address the ways in which archival education impacts diversity in our field. Most students are unable to rely on outside economic support to work for free. Margaret Burzynski Bays: This! The unpaid internship is the scourge of the archives profession. It sets up the expectation of low pay and sacrifice in exchange for "following your bliss" and "doing what you love." Margaret Burzynski Bays: Until SAA starts to address the very low pay in the profession, the diversity problem will never go away. I'm tired of hearing about positions that require an MLIS and years of experience and a very high skill level, but pay $15 an hour, or less, with no benefits. I'm tired of hearing about grant-funded positions that pay next to nothing and funders that are perfectly ok with it. Only the very privileged can take these types of jobs, and once you narrow your search pool to the very privileged, you don't get to wring your hands about the lack of diversity in the profession. Meghan Courtney: You're absolutely right. And to be fair, SAA is us. We'll all have to do the work of improving both diversity and pay. Margaret Burzynski Bays: It begs the question: who is responsible for this situation? Who are the people who are writing the grants and job descriptions that include a pay scale that is barely minimum wage and cannot support a family or a single person with student loans? Are SAA members working for organizations that don't really value what they do, so don't want their archival employees to encourage decent wages? And what about grant funding organizations who look at the submitted budgets for archival projects and don't blink an eye at paying a person with a graduate degree and years of experience $15 an hour and no benefits? I'd like to see SAA start there, and do a survey of funders and their expectations for a solid project budget. I’m tired of it, too, Margaret. “. . . Address[ing] the very low pay in the profession” is a major driver of SAA’s Goal 1.2., “Educate and influence decision makers about the importance of archives and archivists.” “Importance” and “value” should, after all, translate to more resources and better pay . . . It’s natural for archivists to turn to SAA to “do something about it.” That’s what professional associations do. In my previous position with the 75,000-member American Physical Therapy Association, we spent a lot of time and resources doing something about physical therapists’ salaries. We had the advantage of being able to target one agency—the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services within DHHS—that was enormously influential in determining reimbursement for PT services. Crack that nut and Pts would make more money. APTA has spent years prying it open. A critical component of their success is the remarkable engagement of members advocating for themselves. Archivists’ salaries aren’t determined by one or a few resource allocators. You’re dispersed and your reporting structures are variable. So what can SAA do? I have that conversation with SAA’s leaders regularly. Here are a few things we’ve done: Published “Best Practices for Internships as a Component of Graduate Archival Education” (http://www2.archivists.org/sites/all/files/BestPract-Internships.pdf) noting that, “interns should receive compensation (in the form of academic credit or a stipend) for their work commensurate with the qualifications required for the position.” And that, “The work of interns must not replace the work of professional staff.” Implemented public awareness campaigns (http://www2.archivists.org/advocacy/publicawareness) whose primary tactic has been to put resources in members’ hands so that they help spread the word. New on our redesigned website is an “Advocacy” button and the section, “Within Your Institution.” Pledged to implement a research agenda that attaches metrics to the “value” of archives. See Dennis’s January/February column. Per Margaret’s last sentence, SAA Vice President Nance McGovern, who has vast experience with granting agencies, will consider how we might influence them to implement a higher standard for archivists’ time in project budgets. I appreciate your comment, Meghan, that “SAA is us.” Yes, it is . . . . And so I welcome anyone’s specific ideas about what we might do. You might expand your thinking by first reading SAA member Stacie Williams’s intriguing ideas posted following her April 8 presentation at the OAH annual conference (“Implications of Archival Labor” at https://medium.com/on-archivy). Reach me at email@example.com or 866-722-7858.
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